40. Ezekiel (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 40.  Ezekiel (1)

Ezek 1:28, 2:1,2    This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

When we arrive at Ezekiel we are confronted by what is arguably the strangest chapter in the Bible. I have covered this chapter in detail in a previous series we started on Ezekiel and so we will only cover it in a general sweep here. Chapter 1 introduces us to Ezekiel, a priest (1:3), one of the exiles taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (1:1,2), who starts seeing visions about 593BC.

I cannot always help comparing what follows to the incredible clouds that accompany the coming of the aliens in the film Independence Day. It is a dramatic storm appearance with bright light at its centre (1:4) and he then sees what turn out to be four angelic beings (1:5-14) later to be identified as cherubim (10:1,2). With them come the famous “wheels within wheels” (1:15-21) later to be referred to as “the whirling wheels” (10:13). Previously I have summarised this as follows: the wheels were in total harmony with the four creatures. Wheels of course speak of transport and movement and if the presence of wings was not enough, the presence of these big wheels emphasises even more that the angelic presence  is all about coming and going from heaven to earth and back again, conveying the will of God.

Following this we are told that above these four living creatures was ‘an expanse’ (1:22), above which was a throne (1:26) on which was seated a human figure, but much more than a mere human figure (1:26,27) surrounded by multi-coloured brilliance (1:28a). It is at that comes the first part of our three starting verses: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” (1:28b)

In other words the whole of chapter 1 comes as a preamble to the actual calling of Ezekiel. Whereas in Isaiah the heavenly vision was limited to four verses, here the vision fills an entire chapter and Ezekiel identifies what he sees as “the glory of the Lord” and so incredible, so powerful is this weird picture that we find, “When I saw it, I fell facedown.” (1:28:c) It may be that this was from awe but in what follows the implication was that all his energy drained away and he collapsed.

Now we come to his first encounter with the Lord: “and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (1:28d) As we go into chapter 2 we find first of all an instruction, “Son of man, stand up on your feet,” and then a reason, “and I will speak to you.” It would appear that the Lord did not want him to be a quivering wreck on the floor but as His representative who would receive from Him face to face.  To help him do that (and this is why I suggested all his energy had left him), “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet.”  It is the power of the Spirit that raised him up.

Then the Lord speaks to him and gives him his ministry instructions: “He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” (2:3,4)  This is remarkably like the warning given to Jeremiah but this should not surprise it, because they were to go to the same people!

Having observed all this, we might now ask, why do you think the Lord gave Ezekiel this vision whereas He gave Isaiah a much briefer insight into heaven, and Jeremiah no such insight? Well, let’s consider again Ezekiel’s position. Whereas Jeremiah’s ministry was carried out in the security of Jerusalem, despite the opposition we received there, it was relatively secure. Ezekiel, however, has been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar’s army to Babylon with all the accompanying trauma. Ezekiel came from a priestly family and when he had been carried away in that first ‘deportation batch’ with Jehoiachin in 593BC (1:2) he had no idea whether he had any future left. Five years passed (1:2) and it appears he was now age thirty (1:1). Now thirty was the age that a young man of a priestly family would take up his duties and so at the time when this vision comes, he is living in a foreign land, living with the disappointment that if he had still been back in Jerusalem he would just be starting his priestly ministry in the Temple in Jerusalem, but there is no hope of that now.

Imagine you are the son or daughter of a very wealthy businessman who, throughout your younger years, has been promising that when you are thirty he will hand the CEO  role over to you, but then when you are twenty five you are kidnapped and deported, sold as a slave on the opposite side of the world in a country where you have no resources and are utterly reliant upon your captors. How would you be feeling? Helpless and hopeless. There is nothing you can do to change your situation and to all outward appearances you have no future. If there is to be a change, it has to be pretty dramatic. This is Ezekiel – and it is dramatic!

Ezekiel is going to become God’s mouthpiece to the Israelite exiles and, even more, his words are obviously going to get back to Jerusalem to back up all that Jeremiah is saying back there. Why? “And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (2:5)  There is the same thing we said about Jeremiah’s ministry. It’s not about whether he manages to turn the hearts of the people (for he won’t), it’s about being God’s witness against this people so that all of history will see and know. Hence his instruction, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.” (2:7) These words will be written down and they will be a testimony against Israel and the next generation will read them and know the truth and repent so that in forty years after the fall of Jerusalem they will be ready to come back, a purged people.

So Ezekiel receives this incredible vision (and there is more of it in chapter ten) which refocuses all of his thinking and overrides all of any potential fear or anxieties he might have as an exile, and he will be focused on his one goal – to speak God’s words to God’s people. The glory of the Lord – which represents the very presence of God will become a key feature in this book as it goes on. Like no other prophet he is aware of the movement of God in His dealings with the holy city.

For 99.99% of us, we are unlikely to have such a vision because we will not have such a calling, but God will speak to us and the question has to be, will we obey what we hear? It seems that God uses two major things to turn human thinking: either a dramatic vision, such as that in chapter 1 (which is rare) or catastrophe or upheaval, which is far more common. We get such things depending on God’s calling or our stubbornness, but whatever form comes, it will always be the loving God bringing what He knows is best for us, best to bring us into a good place with Him.

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