Hi everyone! My name is Nathan and I help Eric run truthsaves.org. This is the first of a series of posts on the book of Ezekiel. If you’ve looked around the site, you may have noticed a number of great outlines for the books of the Bible. These outlines were put together by Tim, and the outline on Ezekiel is really helpful. In these posts we are going to dig down a little more deeply on this Old Testament book.
An Incredible Vision
The book of Ezekiel begins with jolt—something incredible shows up in an unexpected place. The Prophet Ezekiel had an amazing vision. Ezekiel 1 is packed full of the details of what he saw. (You should take a moment to read it now if you aren’t familiar with it.) Ezekiel 1:4 says,
As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.
In verses 5-14, we find four living creatures with wings, arms, four faces, and an appearance that burned like a torch. In verses 15-21, Ezekiel describes magnificent wheels that shone like precious stones and that were covered in eyes beside the four creatures that moved with the creatures wherever they went. And in verses 22-28 we see that above the creatures and their powerful, loud wings, there was a platform that sparkled like crystal with a throne high above and a figure like that of a man, “like glowing metal, as if full of fire . . . and brilliant light surrounding him.”
What is this? Can you image being Ezekiel and witnessing this? Reading it is strange and unsettling enough. Imagine it happening to you! An experience like this is completely out of the ordinary. But there is more out of place here than just having an incredible vision of God. The final verse of chapter 1 explains what Ezekiel saw.
As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.” (1:28)
What Ezekiel saw was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” These four living creatures brought what seems to be God’s chariot throne, and God Himself riding upon it, to Ezekiel.
In 1:3, we learn something important about Ezekiel. He was a priest of the nation of Israel. As a priest, he would have known that the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD that he saw that day was out of place with him in exile from his homeland (1:1-2). God’s glorious presence belonged in Israel’s Temple in Jerusalem.
God’s presence is a key part of the storyline of Scripture. If you know the story of the Bible, you know that there is something profoundly broken about us and our world. But it didn’t start this way. At the beginning, we lived at peace with God, ruling over His creation on His behalf, enjoying Him, His presence and relationship. But that all changed with an act of disobedience, an act that flowed from hearts that doubted God’s goodness and care. Adam and Eve rebelled against God and plunged our world into the chaos and destruction of thinking we know better than our Creator.
Everything changed that day that the first couple disobeyed, but God did not give up on those who bore His own image and likeness. In the book of Genesis, we find that God chose a man named Abram to bless and through whom to bless this broken world. God promised to make him into a great nation, and that’s what He did.
In the book of Exodus, we find the nation of Israel birthed and given a purpose. God made a covenant with this new people, meant as a course correction for humanity. There were lots of rules! Instructions for how to live morally upright; procedures for how to deal with their sin and be forgiven by God. You can read about them in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. If Israel would keep God’s covenant, they would be blessed spiritually and physically. Their nation would be wealthy and sovereign. There would be tons of kids! Like a flashing neon light at the crossroads of the world, God would say to the nations, “This is what it looks like to live in right relationship with your Creator! This is a taste of what the world could look like without sin and the curse.” And the centerpiece of this covenant was a restoration of the presence of God with His people. God calls them as a Kingdom of Priests, those who live in the presence of God.
But God’s presence was different for Israel than it was in the Garden. In the beginning there was no sin, no shame, no punishment. There wasn’t anything that hindered people from being in the presence of our perfect, holy God. But like the rest of humanity, Israel had major problems. God’s manifest presence was fearsome and unsafe. It first appeared to them in the great cloud that led them through the desert on their way out of Egypt, and then at Mt. Sinai the cloud stormed with thunder and lightning, and it smoked like a furnace because the Lord descended on the mountain in fire. God gave Moses instruction to build a tent. It was a place for God to dwell with the nation. Once it was constructed, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex. 40).
In time God established the nation of Israel and set King David as ruler over the people. His son Solomon built a more permanent structure for God’s presence, the Temple in Jerusalem. Just as it was with the Tabernacle, so the cloud and God’s glory filled the Temple.
Second Chronicles 5 gives details about the dedication ceremony filled with music and praise for the Lord. In the midst of their refrain of praise, the Temple was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. It was a beautiful moment at the Temple shared by God and His people.
In contrast to this high point in Israel’s history is Ezekiel 1. Verse 3 not only tells us that Ezekiel was a priest, but it also says that he is nowhere near the Temple in Jerusalem:
“the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and there the hand of the LORD came upon him.”
From the reign of Solomon to Ezekiel’s day, the nation of Israel made a slow and steady decline in their devotion to the Lord and His covenant. There were bright spots over the years, but on the whole, the nation was not faithful to their God. And just as God promised to bless the nation for their obedience to the covenant, so He promised to curse them and discipline them if they turned away. And that’s what He did.
Ezekiel himself experienced that curse and discipline. What remained of the nation of Israel had lost its true sovereignty to Egypt in 609 BC, when King Josiah and Israel were defeated in the Jezreel Valley. A few years later, in order to avoid the destruction of Jerusalem, King Jehoiakim aligned the nation with Babylon. But in 601 when Babylon stumbled in an attempt to invade Egypt, Israel turned from Babylon back to Egypt for protection. Though Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, stumbled with Egypt, he did not fall. He came back with a vengeance, and in 598 he returned to Israel with an army, laid siege to Jerusalem, and waited for its capture, which came the following year. He installed a new king (Zedekiah). He plundered the Temple, and he took thousands of Israelites as “hostages” back to Babylon. Ezekiel was among this group that was taken and were now living by the Chebar river in Babylon.
In this foreign land, Ezekiel sees a vision of the glory of God. Why was God’s glorious presence there with Ezekiel, so far from the Temple? What happened that made God come find Ezekiel so far from Israel?
Well, we’ll find out in the next post as we continue . . .