“And they shall know that I am the Lord”: The recognition of YHWH in Ezekiel

I recently bought Marvin Sweeney’s latest, Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2013) and liked how he described Ezekiel’s emphasis on the “recognition of YHWH” in the first 39 chapters of the Ezekiel:

The recognition of YHWH permeates Ezekiel 1-39.  Throughout these chapters, Ezekiel constantly employs the recognition formula “and they shall know that I am YHWH” to identify YHWH as the agent behind the momentous changes that are taking place in Israel and Judah as well as among the nations (Zimmerli 1982:, 1-28).  Such an agenda makes eminent sense in a world that sees the rise of the Babylonian empire and the destruction of Jerusalem, Judah, and the temple as the major events of Ezekiel’s day.  In such an environment, the general public would likely conclude that Marduk, the city god of Babylon, was the preeminent deity of the time.  Certainly, the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation epic, would support such a view insofar as it portrays Marduk’s rise to power as the result of his efforts to defeat the forces of chaos in the world and to build a natural and political order that would place Marduk at the head of the gods and Babylon at the head of the nations (ANET, 60-72).  As a result of Babylonia’s conquests, which included the former Assyrian empire, Aram, and much of western Asia, Babylonia was rising to become the unchallenged power of the day.  Following the conquest of western Asia, many in the world of the time expected that Babylon would take Egypt as well.

But as a Zadokite priest of YHWH from the Jerusalem Temple, Ezekiel would hold no such views of Marduk’s power and standing in the world.  In Ezekiel’s view, YHWH was the preeminent deity of the world of nature and human events, who formed creation in the first place, who raised Israel from a small line of wandering figures in Ur and Haran, who delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, who revealed divine Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai, and who brought the tribes of Israel into the Promised Land.  Consequently, Ezekiel’s oracles constantly conclude with the recognition formula to demonstrate to his audience that YHWH is the true power in the world, who appears to him in Babylonia, who destroys the Jerusalem Temple, who brings the people of Judah into captivity, who beings down the mighty nations of the world, and who will restore the twelve tribes of Israel, the Jerusalem Temple, and creation at large.  Ezekiel does not announce the downfall of Babylon.  Like Isaiah who identifies YHWH successively with Assyria, Babylon, and Persia, Ezekiel identifies YHWH with Babylon.  It is not Babylon or Marduk who destroys Jerusalem and exiles its people; it is YHWH.  It is not Babylon who conquers Edom, Moab, Ammon, Phoenicia, and Egypt; it is YHWH.  And it will not be Marduk who puts the world in order and subjugates it to Babylon; it is YHWH who puts the world in order and oversees it from Jerusalem.

Pp. 15-16. (Bold emphasis and paragraph break added.)

Sweeney’s scholarship is, of course, historical-critical, but he is nevertheless one of the most insightful and careful readers of the Old Testament text I’ve read.  I missed his Ezekiel seminar by one semester when I studied with him back in 2007, so I’m grateful to now have access to his literary-structural insights in this new volume!
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R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

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6 comments on ““And they shall know that I am the Lord”: The recognition of YHWH in Ezekiel

  1. Nevada says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Interesting stuff. I would even argue that the recognition formula casts Israel in a kind of Pharonic role as the recipients of Divine judgment. I actually have a chapter in a book coming out next year on the “iconic” intertextual connections (Ellen Van Wolde’s term) between Ezekiel and Exodus, and the recognition formula in Ezekiel (and Exodus) plays a big part in my argument. If you’re interested in the chapter, I could email you my “tagged” pdf copy. (I’m a shameless self-promoter! As I’m sure you’re well aware!) ;-)

    • Yes, of course! Self-promotion is fine as long as I learn something from it!!!

      I’ve just been struck by how little I know about the deep structure and theological focus of Ezekiel. I know of the broad interests of the book – how it is functioning against the exilic backdrop and situating Yahwism in the diaspora, but I’ve just not spent much time dealing with the specifics of the book. I’m hoping to teach through it in the near future. The more I can learn, the better! Right now, I’m primarily interested in structure questions … Sweeney takes to task the traditional ‘tri-partite’ or ‘topical’ arrangement of the book in favor of letting the date formulae set the program. He links that with Ezekiel’s Zadokite status and draws the focus of the book from there. I was impressed with how Sweeney handled Jeremiah in similar fashion (both the MT and the LXX), although he is sometimes a bit dismissive of topical or thematic approaches, referring to them as “Christian systematic theology.” I think more synthesis can be done between the various emphases, but that’s just a hunch based on what I feel to be common sense.

      But anyway, I digress …

      So in short – yes please … send me the chapter!!! (What book is it going to be in, by the way? Is it some Mohr-Siebeck title or some outrageously priced thing like that?)

      • Nevada says:

        Sweeney looks interesting. I don’t recall the book being out when I was working on the chapter last fall. Though compared to what he’s doing what I’m doing is almost entirely synchronic. (Odd, I know, given my frustrations with Kline’s methodology… Hopefully I practice what I preach!) I assume the canon and look more at intertextual connections that emerge when the books are read together.

        The book will be called “Reverberations of Exodus in Scripture,” edited by R. Michael Fox (not the Michael V. Fox at Wisconsin) and will be published through one of Wipf & Stock’s branches (possibly Pickwick). So it hopefully shouldn’t be too expensive. There are some big name evangelical scholars contributing (Eugene Merrill and Robin Routledge, to name a couple) so it will be exciting to read it all when it comes out.

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