Why do some think that Ezekiel had his first vision on his 30th birthday in [Ezekiel 1]?
- The Bible Project mentions the vision happening on Ezekiel's birthday in this video
Commentators have debated the meaning of "thirtieth year" in Eze 1:1 for thousands of years. Here is a summary of the opinion which can be divided into three broad groups:
1. 30th year of Neo-Babylonian kingdom, ie since Nebuchadnezzar's father, Nabopolassar became king in about 626 BC. This would date Eze 1:1 in 597 BC and correspond with the second Captivity. This does not fit with the corresponding date given in V2 and so cannot be accepted.
2. 30th year of the Levitial/temple reforms begun by Josiah in His 18th year. This would correspond to the year 592 BC and correspond with the 5th year of the captivity of Jeoiachin.
3. 30th year of Ezekiel's life. While this is possible, even probably for the following reasons:
While option #1 above can be discounted on the basis of the chronology, options #2 & #3 are more probable with option #3 being the most likely. However, it is also possible that both are correct, that is, Ezekiel may have been born in the 18th year of the reign of Josiah, but this cannot be proved.
The safest option is #3 above as this fits the facts.
APPENDIX - Some approximate dates, BC (based on Zondervan's Bible Chronology)
639 BC - Josiah becomes king of Judah
626 BC - Nabopolassar founds the Neo-Babylonian Empire
622 BC - 18th year of Josiah when the book of the law is found in the temple
608 BC - Josiah killed in battle. Jehoahaz become king (3 monthgs) then Jehoiakim becomes king of Judah
605 BC - 1st Babylonian Captivity under Nebuchadnezzar - Daniel et al taken captive
597 BC - 2nd Babylonian Captivity under Nebuchadnezzar - Jehoiachin taken captive, Zedekiah king
593 BC - Zedekiah travels to Babylon in his 4th year
592 BC - 5th year of Jehoiachin's captivity
586 BC - 3rd Babylonian Captivity under Nebuchadnezzar - Jerusalem and temple destroyed
Why do some think that Ezekiel had his first vision on his 30th birthday?
Ezekiel's 30th year of his life?
They wrongly suppose that "the thirtieth year" in Ezekiel 1:1 is referring to Ezekiel's birthday. This is because, so it is thought, that the levitical office began at 30 years of age. This view was thought most likely by Patrick Fairbairn in his commentary on Ezekiel.
In fact, there are various passages that speak of the age the Levite men entered temple service: 30 years (Numbers 4:3), 25 years (Numbers 8:24) and 20 years (1 Chron 23:24-28, 2 Chron 31:17). It seems likely that at 25 years the Levite men started a kind of apprenticeship, doing some but not all the tasks, and then entered into all the work at 30 years of age. It is possible King David in his temple reforms reduced the age from 25 to 20 for the beginning of the initiation period, but it looks more likely to me that David dispensed with the 25 and 30 year altogether, and entrusted the giving of greater responsibility to the "apprentices" to the leaders of the temple service. If this is true then the 30th year of Ezekiel was not a significant year for him personally.
The beginning of the book of Ezekiel with this rather cryptic comment of the "thirtieth year" (v1) has been the cause of much speculation, and it begs the question: "Why wasn't the Holy Spirit more clear in what was intended?"
30th year of the Jubilee Cycle
The following view described below was held, amongst many others, by John Calvin, and the highly regarded Jewish twelfth century rabbi David Kimhi/Kimchi usually called "Radak".
Calvin writes in his Commentary on Ezekiel:
We see that the Prophet was called to the office of a Teacher in the fifth year after Jehoiachin had voluntarily surrendered himself to the king of Babylon, (2 Kings 24:15); and had been dragged into exile, together with his mother: for it was, says he, "in the thirtieth year." The greater part of the Commentators follow the Chaldee Paraphrast, and understand him to date from the finding of the Book of the Law. It is quite clear, that this year was the eighteenth of king Josiah; but in my computation, I do not subscribe to the opinion of those who adopt this date. For this phrase -- "the thirtieth year," would then appear too obscure and forced. We nowhere read that succeeding writers adopted this date as a standard. Besides, there is no doubt that the usual method among the Jews was to begin to reckon from a Jubilee. For this was a point of starting for the future. I therefore do not doubt that this thirtieth year is reckoned from the Jubilee. Nor is my opinion a new one; for Jerome makes mention of it, although he altogether rejects it, through being deceived by an opposite opinion. But since it is certain that the Jews used this method of computation, and made a beginning from Jobel, that is, the Jubilee, this best explains the thirtieth year If any one should object, that we do not read that this eighteenth year of king Josiah was the usual year in which every one returned to his own lands, (Leviticus 25) and liberty was given to the slaves, and the entire restoration of the whole people took place, yet the answer is easy, although we cannot ascertain in what year the Jobel fell, it is sufficient for us to assign the Jubilee to this year, because the Jews followed the custom of numbering their years from this institution. As, then, the Greeks had their Olympiads, the Romans their Consuls, and thence their computation of annals; so also the Hebrews were accustomed to begin from the year Jobel, when they counted their years on to the next restoration, which I have just mentioned. It is therefore probable that this was a Jubilee year -- it is probable, then, that this was the Jubilee. For it is said that Josiah celebrated the passover with such magnificent pomp and splendor, that there had been nothing like it since the time of Samuel. (2 Chronicles 35:18.) The conjecture which best explains this is, not that he celebrated the passover even with such magnificence, but that he was induced to do so by the peculiar occasion, when the people were restored and returned to their possessions, and the slaves were set free. Since, then, this was the Jubilee, the pious king was induced to celebrate the passover with far greater splendour than was usual -- nay, even to surpass David and Solomon. Again, although he reigned thirteen years afterwards, we do not read that he celebrated any passover with remarkable splendor. We do not doubt as to his yearly celebration; for this was customary. (2 Kings 23:23.) From this we conclude that the celebration before us was extraordinary, and that the year was Jobel. But though it is not expressed in Scripture, it is sufficient for us that the Prophet reckoned the years according to the accustomed manner of the people. For he says, that this was "the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity:" who is called also Jehoiakim; for Jehoiakim succeeded Josiah, and reigned eleven years. The thirteen years which remain of Josiah's reign and these eleven, make twenty-four. (2 Kings 23:36.) Now, "his successor," Jehoiachin, passed immediately into the hands of king Nebuchadnezzar, and was taken captive at the beginning of his reign, and reigned only three or four months. (2 Kings 24:8.) After that, the last king, Zedekiah, was set up by the will of the king of Babylon. We see, therefore, that nine years are made up: add the space of the reign of Jehoiachin: so it is no longer doubtful as to the reckoning of "the thirtieth year" from the eighteenth of king Josiah. It is true that the Law of God was found during this year, (2 Chronicles 34:14,) but the Prophet here accommodates himself to the received rule and custom.
The signifcance of the Jubilee Cycle appears again in Ezekiel 40:1, as I shall show below, but Calvin died midway through the writing of his Commentary on Ezekiel; it was his last major work; his Commentary does not reach chapter 40.
The remainder of this answer relies on the research of the Bible chronologist, Rodger C. Young, which is available here www.rcyoung.org
Ezekiel was of a priestly family. One of the important tasks of the priests was to keep a meticulous record of the passing of the years since entering the Promised Land.
Every seven years, since the time of entering the Promised Land there was a Sabbatical Year, and every seventh Sabbatical Year, i.e. every forty nine years, there was a Jubilee Year. These years were agricultural years and started on the 1st Tishri after the end of the harvest in September/October. The only exception was the Jubilee Year which began on the 10th Tishri (see Leviticus 25:9).
There is very much speculation in the Talmud about the length of the Jubilee Cycle: was it 49 years or 50 years? It seems the Jewish rabbis could not agree amongst themselves.
In fact, when the 50th New Year's Day was reached in the month Tishri it was exactly 49 years since the last Jubilee and the trumpet was blown on the 10th Tishri to mark the beginning of a Jubilee Year and the year number went back to 1. The 50th year of a cycle was both a Jubilee Year and also the 1st year of the next cycle. If this had not been the case then the Seven Year Cycle of Sabbath Years would have fall out of step with the Jubilee Cycle.
There are two references to the Jubilee Cycle in the book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel 1:1 and Ezekiel 40:1. The two events are 20 years apart: the "fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity" and the "twenty fifth year of our captivity". Ezekiel 40:1 should read like this:
"In the twenty fifth year of our captivity, on New Year's Day, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was smitten, on the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither."
The phrase "at the beginning of the year" is a translation of "Rosh Hashanah", but "New Year's Day" or simply the transliteration "Rosh Hashanah" are both more accurate.
Since Ezekiel 40:1 is twenty years after the thirtieth year in Ezekiel 1:1 then it is the start of the 50th year which is the first year of the next Jubilee Cycle and exactly 49 years after the previous Jubilee Year (in the previous first year).
The Seder Olam Rabbah written about AD 150, a rabbinical attempt at producing a chronology of Old Testament history, tells us Ezekiel 40:1 was referring to the beginning of the 17th Jubilee Cycle:
"And so it says (Ez. 40:1): “In 25th year of our exile, on the day of the New Year, on the tenth of the month, 14 years after the destruction of the of Jerusalem.” When did he Ezekiel have this vision? At the beginning of a Jubilee period. If they stayed for 17 entire jubilee periods, how can there be an excess of 17 years?" (Seder Olam Rabbah, under the chapter headed "Joshua"). See http://www.betemunah.org/sederolam.html
How did the writers of the Seder Olam know it was the 17th Jubilee? The priesthood record of the number of the Jubilees must have been preserved external to the biblical record.
Since the fall of Jerusalem was in 587 BC this would put the start of the Jubilee cycle at 1407t bc, i.e. the year beginning Tishri 1407 bc, in which year the Israelites entered the Promised Land in the Spring of 1406 bc. The year harmonises perfectly to the exact year of Valerius Coucke's calculations. (See also Talmud b Arak 12a.)
The Talmud Megillah 14b indicates that the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah was also a Jubilee Year: most likely, it was because it was a Jubilee Year that Josiah felt stirred up to do his reforms (2 Kings 22:3). The manner in which the Talmud tells us this is hugely convoluted, and it would be best to read Rodger Young's articles to understand what is being said.
So "the thirtieth year" in Ezekiel 1:1 is the 30th year of the Jubilee cycle (in fact the 30th year of the 16th Jubilee cycle) and Ezekiel 40:1 is the 1st year of the 17th Jubilee cycle.
The Holy Spirit wanted it on scriptural record along with the priestly record that the Jubilee in Ezekiel 40:1 was the 17th. This was so that there might be two witnesses to the exact year of the Exodus, and thus great confidence that we have a correct chronology for the Old Testament to at least as far back as the Exodus.
The 17th Jubilee was the last Jubilee Year of the cycle which began with the Fall of Jericho. After the return from the Babylonian Captivity the Jubilee Cycle started from scratch again. Andrew Steinmann presents plenty of evidence that the new Jubilee Cycle began in 533 bc, five years after the decree of Cyrus allowing them to return ("From Abraham to Paul - a Biblical chronology", Andrew Steinmann,2011, pages 188-191).
So without the record of Ezekiel 40:1 and the record of the Seder Olam that Ez 40:1 is the 17th Jubilee we would only have the single witness of the calculations of the reign lengths of the kings in the books of Kings and Chronicles, and a permanent niggling sense that we believe the Exodus was 1446 bc based on faith as much as on calculation.
But with two witnesses we can be confident the calculations from Kings and Chronicles are correct.
Furthermore, some scholars have proposed that the 480 years in 1 Kings 6:1 is just a round number and really means "twelve generations". Since a generation really only lasts about 25 years, then 1 Kings 6:1 should be reinterpretted to mean 300 years (12 * 25 years) putting the Exodus at about 1267 bc. Ezekiel 1:1 and 40:1 taken together with the priestly record of 17 Jubilees shows such reasoning (which always sounded very doubtful) is incorrect. (The "twelve generations" view is also made obsolete by the sixteen generations from Korah to Samuel the Prophet found in 1 Chronicles 6:33-37.. compare with 1 Samuel 1:1.)
Because of this second witness in Ezekiel to the date of the Exodus we can be sure, if we were not already, that in 1 Kings 6:1 where it says "the 480th year" it literally means "the 480th year".
There are at least three consequences of the testimony of Ezekiel 1:1-2 and 40:1 and the Seder Olam record:-
We can be sure of the date of the Exodus is 1446 BC;
It seems certain that Leviticus was written before 1406 BC because Leviticus must have been written before the Jubilee Cycle began upon entry into the Promised Land;
We can be sure that the reign lengths and other chronological data in 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles has been faithfully preserved since the time they were first recorded down to the present time. And this is true despite the fact the reign lengths did not make sense to the copiers.
Finally we can propose a reason why the Holy Spirit chose such a complex manner for presenting the chronology back to the Exodus in the books of Kings and Chronicles, and take note of the ingenious way the Scriptures have been assembled: if the chronology had been straightforward, and the data in Kings and Chronicles had been simple to harmonise, then sceptics could claim that the data in Ezekiel 40:1 and the Seder Olam is merely using the data in Kings and Chronicles and presenting it in a different way: in other words, it could be claimed there are not two witnesses to the date of the Exodus but just one. The complexity, and ignorance of how the data in Kings and Chronicles fits together, an ignorance that remained until the twentieth century, proves that the witness in Ezekiel to the date of the Exodus is entirely independent of the witness of the data in Kings and Chronicles.
God was making sure the two sets of data were independent "that out of the mouth of two or three witnesses everything might be established". This should make us wonder, marvel, and praise God at the divine wisdom of God that is displayed in the use of complex data in Kings and Chronicles.
Why do [some] think that Ezekiel had his first vision(s) מַרְא֥וֹת on his 30th [Sheloshim] birthday?
We read in [Ezekiel 1:3] that Ezekiel | Yechezqel (יְחֶזְקֵ֨אל) as a 30-yr-old would have fulfilled his duty as בֶּן־בּוּזִ֧י הַכֹּהֵ֛ן "Son-of-Buzi The-Kohen" based on laws for Temple "Priests" | Kohanim in [Numbers 4:3] :
"From the age of thirty until the age of fifty, all who enter the service, to do work in the Tent of Meeting." (מִבֶּ֨ן שְׁלשִׁ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה וְעַ֖ד בֶּן־חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֑ה כָּל־בָּא֙ לַצָּבָ֔א לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת מְלָאכָ֖ה בְּאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד)
As a prophet (unable to fulfill his priesthood), Ezekiel remarks : "Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year" (וַיְהִ֣י | בִּשְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֗ה ) - [His Note] : "Sheloshim Shanah" tells us Yechezqel (יְחֶזְקֵ֨אל) was of age to become a Kohen like his father. - This is why Ezekiel's 1st vision occurred when he turned (30) שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים Sheloshim.