Prophetic Priests

Jeremiah and Ezekiel

Children often follow the career paths of their parents. For instance, how many doctors do you know whose parents were doctors? There is a similar pattern for teachers. In Old Testament times, the office of priest was hereditary – son followed father into sacred service, as ordained by Jehovah, 1 Chr. 23. 13. That is why the priests were generally referred to as the ‘sons of Aaron’.

In this article, we focus on two individuals who were born priests but are better known as prophets – Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Both came from priestly families, Jer. 1. 1; Ezek. 1. 3, but for different reasons neither man was permitted to serve in the temple at Jerusalem. Because of his preaching, Jeremiah endured occasional banishment, Jer. 36. 5, and because he had been captured by the Babylonians, Ezekiel lived in permanent exile, Ezek. 40. 1.

their opportunities for service had been curtailed, God in His sovereignty had purposes for both men, Jer. 1. 5; Ezek. 2. 4. God’s unstoppable programme emerges as a key theme throughout Old Testament prophecy. Jeremiah neatly summarizes the truth that God’s intentions will be fulfilled in our lives; some of His most-quoted words are, ‘I know the plans I have for you’, Jer. 29. 11 ESV.

In divine providence, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were each in the right place at the right time. Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem for the last few years before its destruction, while Ezekiel was in Babylon during the same period. We will briefly consider three aspects of these prophets’ consistent message to God’s people.

1) Exposing Ritualism

Frequently, when the Lord’s people grow complacent in their devotion, ritual replaces reality. Outward business cloaks inward barrenness. Can we diagnose this tragic spiritual condition in Jeremiah’s day? Consider how the people took refuge in repeatedly chanting about ‘the temple of the Lord,’ Jer. 7. 4, while they persisted in fraud, abuse, and idolatry. Idol worship even occurred in the temple itself – Ezekiel had a sneak peek at the wicked behaviour of the Jewish leaders in God’s house, Ezek. 8. 5-12. We must be on constant guard against the same danger. How easy it is to go through the motion of devotion while our hearts are far from the Lord!

2) Forecasting Ruin

Both prophets predicted the same outcome, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. How it must have hurt their national pride and their priestly instincts for Jeremiah and Ezekiel to announce that their city would be ransacked, and their temple demolished! However, since this message had been committed to them, they were obliged to tell it, Ezek. 3. 17; 33. 7. Similarly, in our society we cannot veer away from communicating uncomfortable Bible truths.

We notice that both prophets were affected personally by their tragic forecast of ruin. Because the city was ripe for destruction, Jeremiah was forbidden to marry, Jer. 16. 2. Ezekiel, on the other hand, was already married but his wife died, Ezek. 24. 18, as a sign to the people that Jerusalem would fall. The intimate burden of prophecy marked these men’s lives with sorrow.

3) Anticipating Recovery

The Old Testament prophetic message is essentially optimistic – there is a glad future for God’s people. Recovery will come out of ruin. This was true in the short term, since the Babylonian captivity would be completed in seventy years, Jer. 25. 11; 29. 10, and the people would return in a second exodus to the promised land.

Ultimately, there is a future day of deliverance and blessing for the nation of Israel, Rom. 11. 26. This restoration involves a new covenant, Jer. 31. 31-34, and a new temple, Ezek. 40-43. Although the people in Jeremiah’s day had forsaken the Lord, Jer. 2. 13, He lovingly promised to ‘be their God and they shall be my people’, 31. 33. Although Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord depart from the temple, Ezek. 10. 18, the prophet-priest was privileged to preview a full return of that glory, 43. 5. We can be glad that human weakness and failure cannot frustrate the purpose of God for His people.

I write this article during the C-19 pandemic, when there are severe restrictions on gathering with fellow believers or publicly preaching the gospel. We draw encouragement from the experiences of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, men who lived through equally difficult days. Despite their straightened circumstances they served God faithfully. Jeremiah exclaimed, ‘Great is thy faithfulness’, Lam. 3. 23. In our present difficulties, let us enjoy God’s faithfulness while loyally seeking to serve Him.