Ezekiel’s Rhetoric

In chapter 1 of Daniel Block’s By the River Chebar, Block stresses the importance of knowing the prophet, his audience, the nature/structure of the book, and his message.

But how does one actually preach Ezekiel?

Well, there are two more points Block gives us for knowing Ezekiel’s purpose that I didn’t post in my review. I’ll post the first one now, and the second reason will be in my next post, ending with a final post on preaching Ezekiel 16.

The preacher must understand Ezekiel’s rhetorical and homiletical strategy.

Block says, “Rhetoric involves communicative strategies employed to break down resistance to the message in the audience and to render the message more persuasive” (p 15). Rhetoric involves five elements, and each one is relevant to Ezekiel.

  • Invention: This is the “discovery of relevant materials” which is seen in Ezekiel receiving his speeches from God.
    • Sometimes Ezekiel revises Israelite history, but not because he’s embarrassed. It is always to make a point.
      • Rather than coming from Abraham, Ezekiel identifies Israel’s history with the Amorites and Hittites of Canaan (16.3).
      • He tells them God gave them judgment which were “not” good and by which they “couldn’t live.”
      • He introduces Nebuchadnezzar as being the royal figure of Gen 49.10.
        • “Ezekiel functions primarily as a rhetorician rather than as a dogmatic theologian or interpreter governed by modern rules of grammatical historical exegesis” (p 15). Rather than actually being incorrect on his history, Ezekiel is working to open up Israel’s eyes to their rebellion against God.
  • Arrangement: Ezekiel “hand-“crafted his speeches to certain rhetorical forms:
    • Vision reports.
    • Dramatic sign acts.
    • Disputation speeches.
    • Parables.
    • Riddles.
  • Style: Ezekiel’s style is daring, and quite shocking.
    • Ezekiel was warned from the get-go about the hardened hearts of his people, “so he pulls no punches in trying to break down that resistance” (p 16). Ezekiel is disgusted by Israel’s idolatry and it is seen in his strong language of sexual imagery (Ezek 6, 16, and 23). No prophet pushes the boundaries like Ezekiel, and translators work hard to soften his words to modern day hearers. It’s unfortunate though, for in softening his harsh language, as uncomfortable as it is, it softens the reality of Israel’s idolatry against the one true YHWH.
  • Memory: How the speeches are remembered and to be remembered.
    • Ezekiel regularly uses the number ‘7’ in terms of lists and orderings, and occasional cuts speech-texts in half for easier remembrance.
  • Delivery: This is the technique used when actually giving the speech, which at times was to act out what YHWH told him to do (37.16-23).

In Closing

For the preacher to create, form, and give a sermon on Ezekiel, probably using most if not all of these five forms of rhetoric, he must understand the way in which Ezekiel himself creates, forms, and gives his own sermons. Knowing this, along with everything else that should be known about the book, will help greatly in providing accurate theology and, hopefully, application to the church body.

Next time we’ll look at one final point the preacher is focus on in preparation for preaching Ezekiel.

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