In the book of Ezekiel (“The Prophecy of Ezekiel”), Ezekiel the prophet (whose names means something like “God will strengthen” or “God’s strength”) tells of apocalyptic visions he had received from God while in Babylonian captivity (during the fifth year of the captivity) along the Chebar river (in present-day Iraq).
He describes a vision of a “whirlwind from the north” from which four creatures with the heads of beasts appear (each was later interpreted by Christian theologians to represent the four Gospels). Above a voice from the firmament echoes from a throne. The Lord comes into Ezekiel and calls him “son of man” in the King James translation. God tells Ezekiel of the rebelliousness of Israel, and he opens a scroll with His hand, a text containing lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
God calls Ezekiel to preach to Israel, to warn the righteous as well as the wicked, for God will speak through Ezekiel, and Israel will punish Ezekiel. He delivers a series of odd propitiations for Ezekiel to follow in Jerusalem.
Then later, God appears again to Ezekiel in his home (Chapter 8) and physically delivers him to the city wall, through which he digs to a door, which leads him to the abominations of the wicked -an image of hell, perhaps. Slithering creatures and men worshipping the sun. God rises on His cherubim and orders a writer to identify all those who are not wicked in Jerusalem with a mark, and he orders others to go and commit violence on the men of Jerusalem without “spare” or “pity”. The book contains a variety of parables and metaphors as God plans to bring His judgment on Israel and Egypt, and other surrounding nations such as Gog in the land of Magog. He sees a famous vision of the “Valley of the Dry Bones” (Chapter 37) – God calls Ezekiel to prophesy to the scattered bones and they become animated and brought to life. The purpose of this vision is for God to show Ezekiel that he needs to prophesy to Israel so he can reanimate the people.
In total, there are six total visions in Ezekiel. They warn of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The first half of the book focuses on punishments to Judah/Israel, then on punishments to surrounding nations, and finally the book ends with hope of redemption -a new city and a new temple will be built. One common theme among the latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) of the Hebrew Bible is that the reason for the downfall of the kingdom of Judah to Babylon is not due to any other reason aside from the Hebrews turning their backs on God, and pursuing an immoral life and city. Thus the Israelite exile in Babylon is actually a punishment from God.
As with the books of Daniel and Isaiah, we are given a glimpse of dark visions from a prophet of Israel in Ezekiel, however in Ezekiel we hear the voice of God speaking. His anger is fully exemplified in the pain he intends to inflict on Israel, from His throne surrounded by cherubs.
Here is Michelangelo’s portrayal of Ezekiel in his famous Sistine Chapel (1508-1512) ceiling. In the painting, an elderly Ezekiel turns abruptly to his right to face the “Fall of Man” and also address Zechariah, a minor prophet to his right, while holding a scroll in his right hand. Behind him stand two children, one (perhaps a female) points upward and the other looks off in alarm. Perhaps they are the cherubim who appear with God. Ezekiel’s head is wrapped, perhaps because he foretells in his prophecy of the need for the people of Jerusalem to shave their heads and beards and cover them.
The following is Gustave Doré’s (1832-1883) portrayal of Ezekiel’s vision of the ‘Valley of the Dry Bones’ taken from Chapter 37, a scene that numerous other artists have conveyed. It depicts a silhouette of Ezekiel speaking to the scattered human bones as they rise from the valley: