Ezekiel was one of the Four Major Prophets of Israel. As Pope St John Paul II observed, he was “a witness of one of the most tragic ages the Jewish people lived through: the destruction of the Kingdom of Judaea and its capital, Jerusalem, followed by the bitter exile in Babylon.”
Ezekiel was among a group of 10,000 Jews who were forcibly relocated to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar during the siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24:14-17). Along with the other exiled Jews, he made his home on the banks of the River Chebar.
One day, while outside by the river, he experienced an amazing vision of God in glory. He saw God seated on a heavenly chariot, accompanied by winged angels. God called him to be a prophet to Israel, saying: “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:7)
Ezekiel then spent his life calling his fellow-Jews to repentance. He did this in various ways. He shared visions, told parables and even ‘acted out’ God’s message through weird street theatre. While the people found his preaching entertaining, they rarely changed their ways (cf 33:30-32).
Ezekiel spoke of the upcoming ruin of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon, as well as the judgements that would fall on the seven nations that surrounded Judaea. But he also comforted the people, sharing with them God’s promise of future deliverance and of an eventual return to their homeland.
From his book we learn a little about him as a person. He was a priest, which explains his strong focus on the Temple (1:3). He was also married, although sadly his wife died during his ministry (24:15-18). It’s also fair to say that he could be a bit intense, even admitting he was somewhat of a hothead (3:14).
Pope St John Paul II reflected on the prophet’s focus on a new start for Israel. He said: “Ezekiel himself, in chapter 11 of his prophetic book, had proclaimed these divine words: “I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (11:19-20)”.
The pope then linked this passage with Ezekiel 36:24-28, in which he says that “the prophet takes up this oracle and completes it with a marvellous explanation: the “new spirit” given by God to the children of his people will be his Spirit, the Spirit of God himself (cf. v. 27)”. This was a glimpse of the future role of the Holy Spirit.
This detailed mosaic of the prophet is found within the Oratory of St Philip Neri, in Birmingham. It’s one of a set of four. Each of the arches of the dome features an individual mosaic of the Four Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel). Designed by Nathaniel Westlake in 1914, the mosaics were made by craftsmen in Venice, who then travelled to England to install it.
The design shows a bearded Ezekiel wearing a turban (cf 24:22-23) and holding a scroll with the words of Ezekiel 36:27 (“I will put my Spirit in the midst of you”) in Latin. Ezekiel appears because the Birmingham Oratory is based on the Chiesa Nuova in Rome, which also features images of the Four Major Prophets in the arches of its dome.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
The Oratory of St Philip Neri, Edgbaston
Read the relevant passage