Random Studies in Ezekiel, Part 2

Ezekiel had been a priest in Jerusalem but now he was an exile in Babylon, a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s second siege of Jerusalem in which he and many others had been chosen to participate in the king of Babylon’s “relocation program.” The opening verses of chapter one give us an interesting tidbit of theological information:

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin—the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar
River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him. (Ezekiel 1:1 – 3 | NIV84)

Nobody except Ezekiel knows what “in the thirtieth year” means. Could he have meant it had been about thirty years since the book of the Law had been found in the wreckage of the Temple, which caused a national revival? Some have suggested it had been thirty years since the last Year of Jubilee. Others believe Ezekiel was referring to his own age. Turning thirty was a big deal for a Jewish male, indicating he had attained maturity. This seems the likeliest meaning, with “the fourth month” telling us it was mid-summer when this soon-to-be-prophet had his breathtaking vision. It was also the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s exile.

Assuming our presuppositions to be correct, Ezekiel had been in exile for some five years before his vision and his call to be the exile’s prophet. That “the heavens were opened” means that nobody else saw what he saw; only Ezekiel was given this rare glimpse of God’s glory.

Daniel was also in Babylon at this time, but he was living and working among the Babylonians, carrying out his duties as a politico in the king’s courts, fulfilling God’s calling on his life. But Ezekiel the priest lived and worked among the Jews, also fulfilling God’s calling on his life. Both men, both devout servants of Jehovah, both doing exactly what God wanted them to do, exactly where He wanted them to do it, for the benefit of His people, the exiles.

Ezekiel must have thought he would live out his years ministering before the Lord and His people. It was what he had been trained to do, after all. And as a priest, he was performing a sacred work for God. Yet, at the age of thirty, everything Ezekiel knew or thought he knew, about his life and calling would change. That God would give such visions under such circumstances shows the extent of His great sovereignty. He needs no earthly Temple in which to give visions! And the fact that “the hand of the Lord was upon him” tells us that it was God who was in charge of Ezekiel, supervising and superintending the events of the man’s life.

Creatures of the night, 1:4 – 14

I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal… (Ezekiel 1:4 | NIV84)

The whole thing started with a windstorm out of the north. Here’s a passage that tells us why this statement is so significant:

Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak with outstretched neck. No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. (Psalm 75:5 – 7 | NIV84)

God’s dwelling is many times depicted as being in the north or to the north, the only direction not mentioned in Psalm 75. This was not an ordinary storm; it had something to do with the presence of the Almighty. Unfortunately, it had to do with His judgment.

and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man… (Ezekiel 1:5 | NIV84)

But these were certainly no men, as the prophet’s description proves. It appears they may have been cherubim, a category of angels. They were stationed at the four sides of a supernatural chariot. This was not a UFO. It was not a futuristic mechanical contrivance inhabited by aliens. Ezekiel was simply, to the best of his ability, describing what he saw.

Each of the four creatures had four faces: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Why these four faces specifically? Some scholars tell us that these were traditionally the four most impressive land animals and air animals. Man, head of all creation, the lion as king of all wild animals, the ox which was the most useful of all domesticated animals, and the eagle as the head of all the birds of the air. So in these four faces – four creatures – is seen all the intelligence, strength, ferocity, and freedom of all creation.

This vision told Ezekiel two things which became evident shortly after he saw it. First, God is about to move; He is about to do something. Second, whatever God is planning, it will happen in Mesopotamia, to the exiles who thought God had forgotten them completely. God hadn’t forgotten His people, and even though the Lord is showing Ezekiel that the forces of Nebuchadnezzar were about to loosed upon what was left of Jerusalem, God was the One in charge of what was going to happen, not the king of Babylon.

Wheels within wheels, 1:15 – 25

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about d as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. (Ezekiel 1:15 – 18 | NIV84)

Ezekiel is not seeing a UFO and he is not seeing God. He is seeing a portrayal or a drama of the power, ingenuity, majesty and sovereignty of God. The Bible is correct when it asserts that “no man has seen God at any time.” Moses saw the glory of God, but not the person of God. Man has been forbidden to even make a likeness of God. We don’t even know what the Son of God looked like before He came to us as a man. But there is within every human being a longing to see God. God gave Ezekiel a glimpse of His Person in a way Ezekiel could relate to.

Verse 18 tells us that God is a God who sees all and has a purpose for this planet and universe. It would have been tempting for these exiles to remain dispirited and discouraged, thinking they had been all but abandoned by God. This verse told them the opposite was true. God’s eyes are everywhere; He sees everything. As the “wheels within wheels” moved and progressed, Ezekiel knew God was on the move and He was moving quickly and with purpose.

When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezekiel 1:19, 20 | NIV84)

The “wheels” give us a picture of what the ceaseless activity and energy of God looks like. Just like a well-oiled machine are the plans of God, always, relentlessly, and perpetually moving forward.

So far in his vision, Ezekiel has seen dramatized before his eyes the Lord’s judgment. But here the mercy of God is seen by the prophet.

Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. (Ezekiel 1:26 – 28 | NIV84)

What an incredible scene! Ezekiel saw what was probably the Christ, who will one day come changing judgment into mercy. The inclusion of a “rainbow” means that mercy is on the way, just as the Lord promised to Noah.

His reaction – falling on his face before the Lord – was the only appropriate posture a man could take in the presence of the Lord of the universe. It’s an incredible picture of our holy God. I give Ezekiel credit for staying put and watching it unfold. I probably would have hidden in a cave somewhere.

Throughout the Old Testament, it was common that when man came into the presence of God, they fell face down. Remember Isaiah?

Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 | NIV)

There is nothing else a human being can do in the presence of God. This vision is a barest, sliver of a glimpse of the majestic and awesome glory of the Lord. It is also a picture very similar to the vision given back in Exodus 19 and 24 at the giving of the Mosaic Covenant. How appropriate it was, therefore, that the same manifestation of God be given now, at a time when God was executing the judgments and promises of that very Covenant to the very people with whom it was made.

Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God is, perhaps, the most profound vision of its kind in the Bible and may well hold the key to all the visions found in Scripture. It’s not insignificant that both Daniel and Ezekiel were busy prophesying about the End Times from Babylon, during the Captivity or Exile of their people. The book of Revelation and even Jesus’ Olivette Discourse, owe much to both the prophecies of Daniel and to the apocalyptic visions of Ezekiel. You and I are living, as it were, in a kind of exile. When we became Christians, we entered the Kingdom of God and became citizens of that Kingdom, even while we are putting in our time on earth. Sometimes we get discouraged and disillusioned as we wait for our Lord to return and establish His spiritual kingdom in reality on earth.  Ezekiel may have experienced what he did and prophesied long ago to people long gone, but his words resonate with the world-weary believer down to this very day.

 

 

 

 

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