On July 31 of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. 2This happened during the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity. 3(The Lord gave this message to Ezekiel son of Buzi, a priest, beside the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians and he felt the hand of the Lord take hold of him.)
1:1 July 31 of my thirtieth year. The NLT understands the MT's "in the thirtieth" year as referring to the prophet's age, as Origen first suggested (so also Allen 1994:21; Blenkinsopp 1990:16; Block 1997:82). Undefined as it is, the reference has occasioned diverse interpretations. Some have taken the "thirtieth" to refer to: (1) the reign of a king—Nabopolassar, Jehoiachin, or even Manasseh (see Allen 1994:20-21, for details and bibliography); (2) the time since Hilkiah's discovery of the Book of the Law (2 Kgs 22:8; so the Targum, Jerome); (3) a year in a Jubilee chronology, making the year of Jehoiachin's deportation the midpoint in a 50-year cycle, or the deportation of Jehoiachin the start of a symbolic Jubilee cycle, either one related to the "twenty-fifth year" date in 40:1 (Kimchi, Hitzig, in Zimmerli 1979:113), or a garbled editorial dating related originally to 1:2-3 (Zimmerli 1979:114, citing Fohrer 1952). The NLT reading requires the fewest extratextual assumptions and does justice to the text as we have it. This date and others throughout the book reference the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar (see NLT mg; see Freedy and Redford 1970, and Kutsch 1985, for definitive treatments).
while I was with. Whereas most prophetic books begin with title-like superscriptions (cf. MT in Isa 1:1; Jer 1:1-2; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Amos 1:1; Mic 1:1; Nah 1:1; Hab 1:1; Zeph 1:1; and Mal 1:1), Ezekiel begins with a first-person narrative report, which is characteristic of the entire book (similar to Jonah 1:1; Hag 1:1; and Zech 1:1).
the Judean exiles. Heb., haggolah [TH<H1473>, ZH1583]. In Ezekiel, haggolah refers either to the community of deportees from Jerusalem and Judah, as it does here, or to the experience of being exiled (as in 12:3-4, 11; 25:3). It can refer to the entire exilic community in Babylon (1:1; 3:11) or to the specific enclave of exiles at Tel-abib (3:15; 11:24-25).
the Kebar River in Babylon. The NLT adds "in Babylon" (i.e., modern-day Iraq) to make the location explicit. Cuneiform evidence links the Kebar River with a canal, nor Kabari, in the vicinity of Nippur, not the more important artery, Shatt en-Nil, as was once thought (Greenberg 1983:40).
1:2 This happened during the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity. This note synchronizes 1:1 and 1:3, tying the unspecified 30th year of 1:1 to a specific time in the Exile assumed by 1:3. Verse 2 should perhaps be included in the parenthesis with 1:3, parallel to the syntax of Hag 1:1 and Zech 1:1. See also the Introduction on "Date and Occasion of Writing."
1:3 The Lord gave this message to Ezekiel. lit., "the word of the Lord was/came unto Ezekiel." This standard rubric frequently introduces prophetic oracles. It occurs 48 times beyond this occurrence in Ezekiel, all of them in the first person ("This message came to me from the Lord"; cf. 3:1, 16; 6:1; 7:1). The NLT places all of 1:3 in parenthesis, recognizing the way this normally introductory rubric seems to interrupt the flow of the opening lines of the book as we now have it. The third-person reference may indicate that it is an editorial note intended to bring the book's opening lines more into conformity with the superscriptions of other prophetic books (cf. Jer 1:3; Jonah 1:1; Zech 1:1).
a priest. Although Ezekiel's father was also a priest if Ezekiel was (and vice versa), the parallel syntax in Zech 1:1 supports taking "a priest" to refer to Ezekiel (Zimmerli 1979:111). That is, the text flags the priestly identity of Ezekiel, not of his father.
he felt the hand of the Lord take hold of him. Six times Ezekiel uses this rubric to describe the Lord's apprehension of him in a major spiritual transport or direction (also 3:14, 22; 8:1; 37:1; 40:1-2). "Take hold of" translates MT's "was upon," conveying the potent divine engagement involved in the expression. Because the other five occurrences of this rubric are all first-person references, some, with support of the LXX, Syriac, and some Hebrew mss, emend to a first-person reading here (Allen 1994:3-4). (The third-person reference here may depend on the other notes for its language.) In the occurrence of this phrase at 1:3, the MT includes "there," locating the event emphatically in Babylon, outside the sacred precincts of Jerusalem (cf. 8:1) and forming an inclusio with the final word of the book, naming the city yhwh shammah [TH<H3068>/8033, ZH3378/9004], "Yahweh Is There!"
Strictly speaking, the opening three verses as they now stand introduce not the book as a whole but the first vision of the enthroned glory of the Lord (1:4-3:15). This vision presents the call and commission of Ezekiel as a prophet to the nation of Israel. It locates this vision temporally in the year that Ezekiel would have become a priest, and geographically and socially in south Babylon among Judean exiles, who had been carried away from Jerusalem with King Jehoiachin five years earlier (March 597 bc). They had been settled along one of the small irrigational and navigational canals lacing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers' floodplain (see notes on 1:1).
At the same time, because of its location, the paragraph serves practically as an introduction to the book as a whole. These lines emphasize God's sovereign and gracious initiative in opening the divine theater and granting Ezekiel sight of realities totally beyond his normal purview. They place one immediately in a visionary experience, visions intended as "message"—that is, being and containing "message" content. They couch the presentation in Ezekiel's distinctively autobiographical stance. Paradoxically, here as through the book, they focus primary attention on God himself as the subject of the disclosures. They introduce "the hand of the Lord [taking] hold" of Ezekiel as the hallmark metaphorical description of God's seizure of Ezekiel in powerful spiritual experiences of transport and revelation. All of these prepare the reader, not only for chapter 1, but also for the book.