The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – God’s Supposed Cruelty – Part 1

Death of Ezekiel’s Wife
By William Blake (1757 – 1827)
Wikimedia Commons

Yahweh told Ezekiel, “I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke” (Ezekiel 24:16).

Did God kill Ezekiel’s wife? Some people who believe that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster believe that Yahweh killed Ezekiel’s wife to provide the prophet with an illustration for his message to the people in exile in Babylon.

But, did Yahweh kill Ezekiel’s wife? Those people who accuse Yahweh of murder do so not because the text says that Yahweh killed her, but because they read the text with a preconception that God killed Ezekiel’s wife.

The text says, “I am about to take” your wife. It does not say, “I am going to kill your wife.” The text says, “I am about to take” through/by/with/because of maggēpah. Those who accuse Yahweh of killing Ezekiel’s wife do not try to ascertain the meaning of maggēpah.

In addition, people who accuse Yahweh of killing Ezekiel’s wife look at the text in isolation, that is, they only look at Ezekiel 24:16 in isolation without looking at the large context of Scripture. The large context of Scripture provides a better understanding of what happened to Ezekiel’s wife.

First, take the expression “I am about to take” your wife.” The Hebrew verb lāqah has different meanings and the word acquires a meaning from the context in which the word is used. The basic meaning of lāqah is to take or to grasp. Before Moses went to see Pharaoh, Yahweh told him “take (lāqah) in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake” (Exodus 7:15).

In another context the word lāqah means “to take with” or to “take along with,” “Abram took (lāqah) his wife Sarai” (Genesis 12:5). In another context the word lāqah carries the idea of “carrying away.” When Ezekiel had his vision of God, he said, “The Spirit lifted me up and took me away” (Ezekiel 3:14).

In the Hebrew Bible, the word lāqah is used several times with a theological meaning. Below are five examples of the theological use of the word lāqah.

“Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him” (Genesis 5:24).

In the genealogy of the antediluvians, every individual’s life ended with death: “Thus all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty-nine years; and he died” (Genesis 5:27). But in the case of Enoch, it is said that “God took him.”

In several passages the expression “he was not” can refer to death. When the psalmist believed he was about to die, he prayed, “Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more” (Psalm 39:13). The author of Hebrews believed that Enoch did not die because God took him, “By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death” (Hebrews 11:5). So, Yahweh “took” Enoch, but Yahweh did not kill Enoch.

Take the case of Elijah: “He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life’” (1 Kings 19:4).

After Elijah had his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah. Elijah, afraid of what Jezebel could do to him, fled to the desert and there he “seeks a lonely place in which to die, an isolated man . . . he had enough” (Proven 1995: 144). Elijah prayed to Yahweh: “I have had enough, LORD, . . . Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV).

Elijah is not asking Yahweh to kill him. Elijah wants to die. In this context, to take one’s life is to die.

“The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?’” (2 Kings 2:5).

“This is what happened when Yahweh took Elijah up to heaven” (2 Kings 2:1 NJB): the disciples of Elijah came to Elisha and said to him: “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” (2 Kings 2:5). The disciples of Elijah were puzzled because their master had disappeared. They did not know that “Yahweh took Elijah up to heaven.” God took Elijah to heaven, but Elijah did not die.

Take the case of two psalmists. One psalmist said, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49:15 NIV).

The other psalmist said, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (Psalm 73:24 NIV).

In these two psalms, the psalmists believed that because they trusted in Yahweh and because they had walked with integrity before their God, that they would somehow be taken by God, that is, after death they would be taken to be living with God in heaven.

In Israel, the concept of the resurrection of the dead was a late development, but these two individuals declared their faith in God’s power to bring them back from the grave to live in fellowship with Him. As von Rad writes, “This statement can hardly be referred to anything other than a life after death” (von Rad 1962: 406).

The use of the Hebrew word lāqah in these five texts is very significant. In his study of life after death in the Old Testament, von Rad said that the concept of taking a person away (lāqah) reflects Israel’s “idea that Jahweh had other realms at his disposal, and had the power and liberty to translate men into them” (von Rad 1962: 406).

This is the way the word lāqah is used in Ezekiel 24:16. When Yahweh told Ezekiel that he would take his wife from him, God was not telling Ezekiel that he was going to kill his wife. God was telling the prophet that his wife was about to die.

Second, Yahweh told Ezekiel that his wife would die through/by/because of maggēpah. The word maggēpah comes from the Hebrew word nāgaph. The basic meaning of the word is “strike, smite, plague.”

Generally, the word is used in the context of divine punishment. But the word also can mean “to hurt” (Exodus 21:35). “to injure” (Exodus 21:22) or to die in war (2 Samuel 2:17). The word maggēpah can be used to designate death by violence and death by disease.

This is the case when Ezekiel’s wife was taken by maggēpah. In his study of the the Hebrew word nāgaph, Preuss writes, “Sudden death by and after disease is envisioned in Ezk. 24:16, where maggēpah denotes the sudden death of Ezekiel’s wife” (Preuss 1998: 212).

This is how the Bible in Basic English (BBE) understood the meaning oft the word  maggēpah: “Son of man, see, I am taking away the desire of your eyes by disease” (Ezekiel 24:16 BBE)).

The death of Ezekiel’s wife has bothered many people because they approach the text with preconceived ideas. Some people say that the prophet’s wife was an abused woman. There is no evidence in the text that she was abused. The woman was a woman loved by her husband, she was the delight of her husband’s eyes (Ezekiel 24:16). To read the text as a case of abuse is to incorporate ideas into the text that impugn the love Ezekiel had for his wife.

Some people call God a murderer for killing Ezekiel’s wife. They call her death abusive and immoral, but the text never says that God killed Ezekiel’s wife. Ezekiel’s wife was taken by disease. We do not know what her illness was, but when she died, like the psalmist of Psalm 49, God took Ezekiel’s wife “to himself” and like the psalmist of Psalm 73, God took Ezekiel’s wife “into glory.”

The God of Ezekiel is a God who wants people to live. Yahweh said, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezekiel 18:32). The God of Ezekiel is a God of salvation; his will is that all people should live, including wicked people. Yahweh said to the people. “Is it my desire that a wicked person shall die?” (Ezekiel 18:23). The answer is no. If God told Ezekiel that he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, why would God kill Ezekiel’s wife?

People who accuse God of murdering Ezekiel’s wife say that the way God killed Ezekiel’s wife is unfair. This is the same accusation the people in Ezekiel’s time lodged against God: “The way of the Lord is unfair” (Ezekiel 18:25). In response God told the people, “Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?”

The accusation that God killed Ezekiel’s wife is unfair to God because the text does not say that God killed her. The assassination of Ezekiel’s wife by God never took place. This view is the nightmare of the human imagination. The view that God deliberately killed Ezekiel’s wife comes from a complete misinterpretation of the text. It is also unfair to God because people do not understand the work of God in the world.

In explaining the strangeness of the death of Ezekiel’s wife, Walther Zimmerli wrote, “Because God acts in this way, he sets his own honor at stake in the judgement, and himself becomes an object of scorn and contempt in the eyes of the world. Into what depth of foolishness does God’s judgement lead, where men regard it with their own cleverness! In his judgement does God not put himself to death in the eyes of the world?” (Zimmerli 1979: 509).

Zimmerli is right, God has become “an object of scorn and contempt in the eyes of the world” because they have a misconception of the nature and character of God. In my book, Divine Violence and the Character of God, I address the issue of divine violence and discuss the true nature and character of God.

The death of Ezekiel’s wife was not an act of divine violence. Her death was not a judgment for her sins. It is unfortunate that some people cannot accept the fact that Ezekiel’s wife was sick and that she died suddenly because of her illness.

Like the psalmist, Ezekiel’s wife cries for vindication: “Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from those who afflict me” (Psalm 9:13).

As Zimmerli writes, “Into what depth of foolishness does God’s judgement lead, where men regard it with their own cleverness!”

Posts on the Death of Ezekiel’s Wife

The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Prophetic Acts

The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Ezekiel’s Wife

The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – The Message To Israel

The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – God’s Supposed Cruelty – Part 1

The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – God’s Supposed Cruelty – Part 2

The Death of Ezekiel’s Wife – Ezekiel and the Prophetic Office (forthcoming)

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

If you enjoyed reading this post, you will enjoy reading my books.



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Mariottini, Claude F. Divine Violence and the Character of God. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2022.

Preuss, Horst Dietrich. “nāgaś.” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Volume 9: 210–213. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Rad, Gerhard von. Old Testament Theology. Volume 1. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 1. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979.

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