The name Ezekiel (יְחֶזְקֵאל) means “God strengthens.” This is an appropriate name for a prophet who saw remarkable visions about future manifestations of God’s power on behalf of his people.
Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah and of Lehi. However, the three prophets were led to different places as the Babylonian Empire conquered the kingdom of Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem:
- God commanded Lehi and his family to leave their home and travel in the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:2). He led them to a new promised land on the American continent (1 Nephi 18:23-25).
- Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem among the people who were not carried to Babylon. Years later, he was forced to relocate to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:1-7).
- Ezekiel was taken captive and wrote his visions in the land of Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1-3).
I think their stories serve as an important reminder that God doesn’t call us all to do the same thing in the same place. Instead of comparing our service with others, we can be grateful that He can call upon multiple people to fulfill different parts of His work.
Here are some important themes in the book of Ezekiel:
Building a relationship of trust with God
Before the Babylonian Captivity, Ezekiel saw that the city of Jerusalem would fall. He cried out in sadness, “Ah Lord God! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” In response, the Lord promised to remain with the children of Israel even in their captivity: “I [will] be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.” He also promised to give them a new heart if they would take the initiative to eliminate “all the detestable things” and “the abominations” from their lives and would choose instead to “walk in [His] statutes, and keep [His] ordinances, and do them” (Ezekiel 11:13-21). To keep God’s ordinances is to act in a way that is consistent with the principles we have been taught and with the promises we have made.
Additionally, Ezekiel taught that the Sabbath Day is a message we send to God, a sign of our love for Him and our devotion to Him. (See Ezekiel 20:12, 20.)
Responsibilities of prophets and of their listeners
Early in the book, God refers to Ezekiel as a “watchman,” and explained that the safety of his people depended on him being willing to raise a warning voice. (See Ezekiel 3:17-21.) Loving others includes not only welcoming them but also warning them sometimes.
Later, Ezekiel communicates to his listeners that the Lord expects them to respond to the voices of the watchmen He has appointed. (See Ezekiel 33:1-9.) God will strengthen us and will send needed help, but often the blessing only benefits us when we choose to act.
Three kinds of restoration
Ezekiel paints scenes which vividly illustrate God’s ability to breathe life into things that have died. Here are three examples:
- Stony hearts: He testifies twice that God can change our hearts. He promises to remove our “stony heart” and to replace it with “an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19, Ezekiel 36:26).
- Dry bones: Ezekiel tells us that he saw a valley full of dry bones. God asks, “Can these bones live?” and Ezekiel wisely responds, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” Then, he watches in amazement as flesh covers the bones and the people begin to breathe again. (See Ezekiel 37:1-14.) God tells him that this is a metaphor for the restoration of the house of Israel. Taken together with New Testament and Book of Mormon teachings, it also serves as a powerful visualization of the resurrection of the dead.
- Two sticks: After sharing that vision, Ezekiel provides another powerful metaphor. Holding up two “sticks” (pieces of wood) containing writing, he explained that one represents the kingdom of Judah, while the other represents the kingdom of Israel (or Ephraim). Those two kingdoms, he prophesied, will be gathered and unified again. (See Ezekiel 37:15-28.) In 1830, the Lord gave Joseph Smith another interpretation of this prophecy: the Book of Mormon represents the stick of Ephraim, which in our day has been unified with the Bible (the stick of Judah).