8. Feeling with God

Meditations from Ezekiel: 8.  Feeling with God

Ezek 2:8-10   Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

The down side of Ezekiel’s ministry: There is a danger as we read these chapters to get caught up with the awfulness of Ezekiel’s mission. In chapters 2 and 3 he is told eight times that Israel are a rebellious people and twice the Lord speaks of them as obstinate and the reason for that is that they have become hardened. And he is told to go to speak to this people. It is a pretty bleak future! Four times he is told not to be afraid of the people and three times he is told to speak to them regardless of whether they listen or fail to listen.

Take in the Word: But at the end of 2:8 the command comes, open your mouth and eat what I give you.” We then see what God is referring to: “Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.” (2:9,10) The command to eat is reiterated: “And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.” (3:1,2) Then a third time, “Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (3:3)

Remember, this is still all within the vision but what have we seen? A scroll written on both sides (a substantial message) with “words of lament and mourning and woe.” If this is the message Ezekiel is going to have to bring – and we must assume it is – then he is to be the bringer of bad news. Now in the bigger view of the book there are ‘good news’ sections about Israel’s future but the main emphasis – in calling for repentance – is going to be on bad news, the awful things that will happen to Israel and to Jerusalem IF they do not repent. Why will there be this emphasis? Because the Lord know Israel will NOT repent and so His disciplinary and terminal judgment will fall on Israel and upon Jerusalem, and for the inhabitants, that will be very bad news!

Taken to his people: The Lord reassures him that he is only going to his own people, the people of his language who will understand his words (v.4-6) but they will not listen because they are hardened by sin (v.7) but He will make Ezekiel as hard as they are in the bringing of his ministry to them (v.8,9).  He reiterates His call for Ezekiel to go and speak to them (v.10,11) and he then hears sounds of the movement of the creatures (v.12,13) – they are obviously moving on in the will of God – and he found, “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River.” (v.14,15) It is now time for Ezekiel to settle with his people and the Holy Spirit empowers him and directs him (no doubt to walk) from his present location near this irrigation canal to a more populated site where his people were.

Feeling with God: Notice he goes “in bitterness and in the anger” of his spirit. When he had eaten the scroll of mourning it had tasted sweet – God’s word always does initially – but as he absorbs it and takes in all the Lord has been saying, it leaves him feeling bitter and angry. Bitter simply means distressed by all he has heard. He is angry because of the folly of his people and in this he identifies with the feelings of the Lord. The word of God that he has eaten, taken in and digested, devastates him: “And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–overwhelmed.” (3:15b) The whole experience and particularly what he has seen and heard, overwhelms him and he sits in silence for a week.

Personal Testimony: Now as I have prayed over this passage this morning, I have been reminded of something that happened many years ago. I was feeling anxious about someone my wife and I knew and I commented to my wife, “I think I am feeling as the Lord feels for her.” My wife initially suggested we couldn’t feel as God feels and over the next three days we discussed this until the evening of the church’s prayer meeting. There, half way through, one of the ladies in the group brought what I believe to have been the most amazing revelation that was, I suppose, a combination of word of knowledge and prophecy. In it the Lord used the literal words my wife and I had been using in our conversations over the previous three days, and concluded, “And you can feel my heart.” A number of months later, a national prophet visited our church and prophesied over me, “And you shall know my heart and convey it to my people.” Do I believe we can feel as God feel? Yes, I do!

Bringing Personal Prophecy: Now Ezekiel’s word was a word of doom. Our word, unless we are moving at a very significant ministry level is, in this period of grace, a word of love and acceptance that is available to people. I have summed it up for the last twenty-five years as “God loves you exactly as you are, but He loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” There have been times when I have encountered people whose lives I felt left much to be desired and although I wanted to bring words that demanded repentance, the Lord would only allow me to bring words of acceptance and, to my surprise, they brought tears and repentance!  God is much better at convicting people than we are and our role is to hold open the door of the kingdom of heaven and if people reject it, that is down to them and they will be answerable to God. But they may just go through the door.

Ezekiel & Jeremiah’s ‘Partnership’: Ezekiel has a unique ministry. In Jerusalem Jeremiah is prophesying and demanding repentance. He has been doing it for a number of years and will continue up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel is his support ministry from Babylon. Jeremiah is more concerned with getting the people to repent before Jerusalem is destroyed, but the people reject his words and it is destroyed. Ezekiel is one of the exiles in Babylon and for the time being he will join in the calls to repent and bring warnings of destruction, but after the destruction has taken place, we will see, he becomes a messenger of hope for Israel in exile.

Prophesying for the long-term: The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of 99% of Israel is not the end of the people, but there will still be a work to do in getting their hearts changed to be prepared to be able to go back decades later to rebuild the city, rebuild the temple and rebuild the people. Hard they may be now, but how much will Ezekiel’s words be used to change their hearts in the long-term, so that in decades to come they will be in a fit state to return to the Land?  This is a long-term calling.

7. Ezekiel’s Mission

Meditations from Ezekiel: 7.  Ezekiel’s Mission

Ezek 2:1,2   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.

God’s personal communication: From the strange nature of chapter 1, as we move into chapter 2 we move into simple straight forward instruction. Now it is almost so obvious that we don’t usually think about it, but what we find behind all that we have read so far in this book, is that the Lord is revealing something of Himself and His glory because He has a message to convey to Ezekiel and the Lord wants the message to come in the overall context of the heavenly vision. Now of course He could have sent a single angel to convey this message to Ezekiel as we find with such figures that we have referred to previously, Gideon, Zechariah and Mary, but when it comes to calling a prophet it seems God appears to speak to the prophet personally. (See Jeremiah or Isaiah, for example) The point is that God has a task for Ezekiel and when we speak of his calling, we refer to what God calls him to do for the rest of his life. Observe.

Son of Man:He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” Note, ‘Son of Man’ a designation used over 90 times in Ezekiel emphasizing his humanity. The Lord knows his frailty as a human being and will provide accordingly, but also it may be He uses this designation to keep Ezekiel in a humble perspective because he is going to be the recipient of amazing prophecy and there is always a danger in that. The apostle Paul said the Lord had given him a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to counter any pride that the enormity of revelation he received might stir up in him (see 2Cor 12:7). C.S.Lewis had Aslan the Lion refer to the children as “son and daughters of Adam”, his way of conveying the same thing, but perhaps it also reminds us that we are part of the sinful human race and we constantly need God’s mercy and grace.

Empowered: Ezekiel is flat on his face so the Lord instructs him to stand up because He wants to speak to him face to face, but, “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” (v.2) The power of the holy Spirit accompanies God’s words and it is the Spirit who raised him up. When God instructs, He also enables.

Directions: Then comes the message we’ve been waiting for all this time: “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. Say to them, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’” (v.3,4) He is going to receive words from God and he is to convey those words to the Israelites there in Babylon, and maybe those words will get back to Israel and Jerusalem as well. He is to be under no illusions about this task for the Lord sees that this people “are obstinate and stubborn”. On what does He base that assessment? On the fact that He has sent His word to Israel again and again and again, calling them away from idolatry and back to Himself but, in His words, they had been in rebellion and revolt against Him for decades, if not centuries.

Now Ezekiel is given some helpful encouragement: “And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (v.5)  i.e. it’s not down to you whether they respond; all you have to do is bring the message with the result that they will know you are a prophet from me and will never be able to say they didn’t know what I want.

But then He brings a stronger instruction: “And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” (v.6-8) Three times he is told not to be afraid of the people. Yes, they are obstinate, yes, they will reject you, yes, they may even oppose you, but you don’t need to be afraid of them. All you need to worry about is that you convey my word to them; don’t be like them and disregard or rebel against what I am saying to you.

Now we may understand the context a little more, the incredible vision of chapter 1, of which these verses are still part. The enormity of heaven and the powers of heaven are behind you Ezekiel, the Lord God Almighty is with you and sending you. His might and authority go with you.

And Us? Now there are similarities and differences here from what we experience. First of all we have been called and the result of our calling is that we are now Christians, we are part of the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27). As such God has plans and purposes for each of us:  “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Moreover God will gift us with whatever we need to do whatever He calls us to do: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:4-6)

The big difference for us is that neither you nor I are called to speak to a whole nation (There may be someone out there called to speak to a community of whatever size) but most of us will operate with the leading, the calling, the empowering and the gifting that God gives to us as PART of the body of Christ, the Church. In general terms we are all called to be witnesses to Christ whenever we have the opportunity, but a few of us will be called to be evangelists, some pastors and teachers and so on.

How we are ‘called’: Now honesty demands that I acknowledge that few Christians sense a very specific call to a particular ministry. Some do and that may be you, but many of us find we get ‘called’ by dint of circumstances or heart yearning and opportunity. What will happen is that we find a particular desire or even burden on our hearts and this the Lord uses to lead us into His ‘good works’ (Mt 5:16) that He knows you will be good at. That may be being merciful to the needy, it may be teaching Sunday School, or it may be bringing prophetic encouragement, the range is extensive. But here’s the thing: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) that we’ve already quotes but which needs emphasizing. YOU and EACH ONE, those are the words to note. Every single Christian is a member of the body of Christ and the purpose of that analogy is to get us thinking and doing the WORKS of Jesus. The works of God for Ezekiel will be conveying His message to His people. That’s what will be coming in an intriguing variety of ways. Watch this space.

6. Man on the Throne?

Meditations from Ezekiel: 6.  Man on the Throne?

Ezek 1:25,26   Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. 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.

So we have considered the angelic beings revealed as a unity, four living creatures and the wheels that accompany them and now, nearing the end of the chapter we are allowed to see past them, so to speak.

Reality conveyed Symbolically: The creatures come to a halt and Ezekiel hears something: “Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings,” (v.25) and as he look he sees, “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.” (v.26)

Now in a conversation with the Samaritan woman, the Son of God declared, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit,” (Jn 4:24) but we are looking in on a vision that Ezekiel had in which God seeks to convey to this human being, realities of heaven and of Himself, and so everything that we see must be symbolic, picture form of reality that is beyond human comprehension.

As we have commented before the reality of the vision itself was so ‘other-worldly’ that it was confusing to the observer which is why we read just now, “was what looked like a throng of sapphire.” Was it a throne of sapphire? No it’s a vision and that is how it appears to this limited human mind. But it does give the impression of being a throne, a seat where a ruler sits. As for ‘sapphire’ all we can say is that this was a stone highly prized in the ancient world, and so we are shown what appears to be a throne made of the most costly and precious material.

The God-vision: It was on this throne that we read “was the figure like that of a man.” Again notice the word, ‘like’. This in reality wasn’t a man but in the revelation that is how He shows Himself to Ezekiel. Why should God show Himself to us in human form? Well, first, perhaps it is to identify with us and let us identify with Him. If we simply speak of God as Spirit, that is difficult to comprehend.  Scrabbling to define spirit I have suggested ‘energy with personality’ but even that defies our understanding. Second, even though that may be God’s intention, the reality is still far from a normal human man, as we’ll shortly see.

Ezekiel then sees, “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.” (v.27) So the lower half of this figure appears ‘normal human’ (with which we can identify) but the upper half is something else! He’s like glowing metal as if just having come out of a foundry, so full of fire and light, and brilliant light thus surrounded him. The apostle John spoke of the Son of God, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) This is the truth; this figure IS life, all life emanates from Him, energy, power, and it is seen in the form of light that blazes forth from Him when revelation allows even a tip of the reality of Him being shown to mankind.

Impact: But then we read, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (v.28a) Do you see what this is saying? This light that pours forth from Him impacts everything around it and everything is revealed in a myriad different aspects of that light. We refer to a rainbow as an expression of this light split up into the spectrum in water droplets that form a cloud. Here His light is shed on everything around Him and it reveals everything in this wonderful way. His radiance reveals the immense variety and beauty of the reality that God has brought into being at the beginning of all things. If you and I had been able to stand there the many facets of the wonder of the Lord would be reflected in us as we stood there reflecting His glory (ponder on 2 Cor 3:18 in the light of this).

Whenever God is revealed through revelation to us (for there is no other way we can see or even discern Him) it is His wonder or His glory that we behold.  His life, His light, is what impacts us and when it is shown or revealed in our human, material context, it comes as bright light in clouds as we have noted before. But when it is revealed, it impacts those who see it: “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.” (v.28b) So incredible was this vision that it seemed to sap all the energy of Ezekiel and in the vision (or maybe literally) he fell on his face. It was too much to behold and maybe it also left him feeling he was unworthy of such a sight.

Perhaps the apostle Peter caught something of this when Jesus took his boat and performed a miracle: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Peter may have been a brash fisherman, but did Jesus, I wonder, choose him because he was so good at seeing the reality. We see another example of it where we read, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:16,17) Peter ‘saw’ it!

How have we coped with this vision in this first chapter? Our response reveals our spiritual state, our spiritual health, if you like. Jesus often spoke about how it needed people with open hearts to God to discern the wonder of the truths that he was bringing. If you feel you need it, ask the Lord afresh to open your eyes to the wonder of this amazing, almost bizarre, chapter. Remember it is prophetic reality being conveyed through symbolic pictures, God seeking to convey to us realities.

First there was the reality of the angelic body, shown in such a way as to convey a host of truths about the host that inhabits heaven – beings who serve God but ministering to mankind, coming with the might and authority of God (like lions), coming to serve the will of God (like Oxen) and coming with the revelation of God (like eagles) – a host that is utterly united in purpose, to serve the Lord, who move at great speed to do that and who herald Him and glorify Him. An example for us! Then there is the Lord Himself, revealed as the supreme ruler who identifies with His human creation and yet who cannot but pour forth the life that is His, that is seen as incredible power, revealed as light, one with us but utterly different from us. This one alone is worthy of our worship. Pray that these will be more than mere words for us.

5. Wheels within Wheels?

Meditations from Ezekiel: 5.  Wheels within Wheels?

Ezek 1:15  As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces.

The Angelic Unity: If we thought the subject matter of the previous study strange, what is coming is even more so. We have observed, so far, these ‘four living creatures’ who are identified as cherubim, angels but who are portrayed in symbolic form to convey truths about them. There is one important thing about them we have not yet noted: Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved,” (v.8,9) and “Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body.” (v.11) In other words, because each one touches two of the others, they move as a block of four. This suggests a unity in the angelic purpose.

Conveying the holy will of God: But we also read about them, “The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.” (v.13,14) i.e. the whole of this block was lit up by flames of fire that appeared to emanate from within the block. In the picture reiterated in chapter 10 we see reference to this fire and to their hands: “Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took up some of it and put it into the hands of the man in linen, who took it and went out. (Under the wings of the cherubim could be seen what looked like the hands of a man.)” (10:7,8) Fire speaks of the holiness of God and so putting together these various things we can say that the angelic body moves with great haste to convey the will of the holy God.

The whirling wheels: And we come to verse 15 – “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.” (v.15,16) In chapter 10 we find, “I heard the wheels being called “the whirling wheels.” (10:13). The description of intersection suggests what we see when we see a gyroscope, two wheels at ninety degrees to each other which allows total movement in any direction.

Here are told that the wheels went wherever the four living creatures went (v.17) and “Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around,” (v.18) In chapter 10 we are told of the four creatures, “Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels.” (10:12) Eyes of course speak of seeing and so these creatures and their wheels have total sight and see and know everything and in that respect reflect the nature of the Lord. Note also, in passing, that these wheels are described as “high and awesome”. They are big and scary!

But then we read something even more significant, speaking of the four living creatures: “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.” (v.20) This unity is repeated to make the point: “When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.” (v.21) In other words 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.

The Heavenly Platform: we now see a linkage with the very presence of God: “Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome.” (v.22) Sparkling like ice and awesome speaks of holy purity. This we will shortly see reveals the presence of a divine being (in the next study) This part concludes, “Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.” (v.23,24) The sound of the movement of these four living creatures is awesome and it speaks of power. As they come to a halt they lower their wings.

Angelic Ministry: So, for those with eyes to see, we find the heavenly presence coming to Ezekiel’s awareness and as it comes he is first made aware of the presence of the angelic force that stands with God in heaven that moves instantly to convey His will. The whole emphasis on wings and wheels says to us that movement is at the heart of their role, movement to convey the will of God to mankind.

We see it numerous times in scripture, for example, an angel coming to Gideon with a message of encouragement (see Judg 6), to Zechariah with a message about a son (see Lk 1), and also to Mary for the same reason. What we don’t see in those instances is the might, majesty and power that accompanies these angelic messengers for in each case they don’t come to scare but to encourage, and so come in simple human form.

Reason? Perhaps we might suggest that this picture in chapter 1 comes in the form it does to convey might, power and purpose of an immense magnitude, to put Ezekiel’s understanding in perspective, for up until now he has only been aware of the might and power of Nebuchadnezzar and his army. This prophetic picture of these angelic beings is conveyed in such a manner that their significance and power and purpose will remain with him for the rest of his life and will put his ministry in perspective. He is about to join in the ministry of these angelic beings he has just been shown. They are divine messengers, and so now so will he be. They come with immense power and authority and he may take comfort that he speaks with that same power and authority backing him. They reveal divine purpose and that also is what he will be conveying in the years to come. Awesome!

4. The Nature of Cherubim

Meditations from Ezekiel: 4.  The Nature of Cherubim

Ezek 1:10  Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.

We are, we must remember, considering a vision and we have already noted that the things Ezekiel sees are beyond his understanding and experience and so the most common word he uses to describe what he sees is ‘like’.  But it is a prophetic vision and prophecy either simply declares the glory and greatness of the Lord or it declares His intentions. Moreover prophecy often declares the truth in picture or symbolic form and so when we come to the things before us now, we have to ask, what is this picture or this part of the picture seeking to convey to us?

Pictures of Cherubim: We are considering these ‘four living creatures’ who take up so much of chapter 1 and we have noted that Ezek 10:1,2 identifies these four living creatures as cherubim, i.e. angels, but the descriptions here are nothing like those that we would normally attribute to angels.  So let’s suggest that what we have here in this vision is a prophetic picture conveying truths about these ‘angels’. So what do we see?

The description starts, In appearance their form was that of a man.” (v.5) That is an easy starting place because that is the image we normally have of angels, they come in human form. Yet the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve.” (Heb 1:14) Even as God is Spirit, so angels are actually ministering spirits from heaven who, when sent to earth to serve the purposes of God, come in human form. It continues, “but each of them had four faces and four wings.” (v.6) More is said about both their faces and their wings in a moment so we’ll leave the comment.

Their Legs & Feet: “Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze.” Straight legs identify them with human beings who, although we have knee joints, transport ourselves mostly straightly and straight usually denotes directness or purpose and it is true that angels go with purpose of God. When they serve God they are always purposeful. But then this symbolic, prophetic picture shows feet of a calf. Malachi once prophesied, “you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Mal 4:2) Those who live on a farm with animals will testify to the calves who, when let loose from the pen, often prance around. They have an agility, an ability to be light footed, they are secure on their feet. But their feet also “gleamed like burnished bronze.” Burnished bronze speaks of strength and hardness. These beings can go anywhere without fear of what they tread on. To summarise, these creatures, these angels, move with God’s purpose, move with lightness and agility and are able to go anywhere. It is that simple.

Their Wings: Reference to their wings is spread out through the chapter so let’s group all the references together: “each of them had … four wings…..” (v.6) Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another….” (v.8,9) Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body…. (v.11) ….. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body…. (v.23)

Now when we look at birds, wings speak of movement, of flight, and associated with these verses we also find, “Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved…. (v.9)… Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went….. (v.12) When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.” (v.24) So their wings show us that these are not merely stationary guards but they are creatures of great movement: “The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning,” (v.14) and one might suggest from what we have learnt earlier that they go quickly to perform the will of God for the sake of the elect and their movement is quick and immediate. Note in verse 11, they go “Wherever the spirit would go.” They go as the Spirit leads.

Their Faces: We now come to the really strange aspects of these pictures.  “Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces.” (v.10,11) OK, remember, it is just a symbolic prophetic picture. What do each of these animals suggest to us? Man = humanity. A lion = strength and a ruler (king of the jungle). An Ox = service & work (an Ox is a beast of burden used to pull ploughs, carts etc.) An Eagle = revelation (an eagle soars high and sees all.) The face of the man (their humanity) predominates because it is at ‘the front’ so, as we’ve already learnt, they go to do the will of God for humanity but in so doing they go with the strength rule and authority of God (Lion), they go to serve (Ox), and they go with revelation (Eagle).  Isn’t it simple and straight forward! As long as you remember it is simply a symbolic prophetic picture.

Why?  So why is it like this? Well perhaps we might suggest that God does not share his pearls with swine (Mt 7:6) and so understanding of these things will only be given to those who seek Him and really seek to know what He says. Many people will see the words and turn away confused. That’s why Jesus said he would teach in parables (read Mt 13:10-17) You bothered to read this far. Be blessed!

3. The Coming of the Lord

Meditations from Ezekiel: 3.  The Coming of the Lord

Ezek 1:4,5  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, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.

We are about to enter one of the strangest passages of scripture in the Bible, a passage that is detailed, complex and even confusing. It starts out very simply. I don’t know if the makers of the film, ‘Independence Day’ used this passage to get an idea for the coming of the alien space craft but that has been the best I have ever seen of anything like that described in verse 4. Remember this is a vision but in it he sees this immense cloud with flashing lightning and brilliant light.

Clouds? Now of course we know that when Moses approached Mount Sinai with Israel, the presence of the Lord was accompanied by thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain.” (Ex 19:16) but that was literal and not just a vision, but the Lord had said, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” (v.9) When Moses first erected the completed Tabernacle we read, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34) Many years later when Solomon finished building the Temple, as he came to consecrate it we find, “Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” (2 Chron 5:13,14)

Later on in Ezekiel we will see this same cloud accompanying the glory of the Lord, but why a cloud? It is almost as if the Lord is reticent to reveal His glory unhindered to the earth and so initially all we see is the cloud and only gradually comes the revelation of the Lord and those with Him. Indeed the point is made in the verses above that it was often a ‘thick’ cloud, or a ‘dense’ cloud.

Similarities but different: Now there are several ‘heavenly passages’ in scripture and we will note them in a moment but there is both unity and disunity in the pictures, i.e. similar beings but different descriptions. Why? I’m going to suggest two reasons. The first one is the human reason, that what is revealed is confusing to the human mind, so unlike anything else we have encountered that for the onlooker it was so ‘other world’ that he struggled to describe.  So, for instance, in chapter 1 of Ezekiel the word ‘like’ occurs twenty times when talking about descriptions. In verses 4 & 5 above we read, “The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.” It wasn’t that but in human descriptive terms it was like that. The second reason for the differences is that different things are being conveyed by the pictures presented.

The Four Living Creatures: So we come to these “four living creatures”. Hold on to the fact that this is a vision and the writer (and God) is trying to convey truths in picture form. We’re going to see more as we move on but let’s jump to chapter 10 where we read, “I looked, and I saw the likeness of a throne of sapphire above the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim. The LORD said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim.” (Ezek 10:1,2) There the creatures are called cherubim.

Now when Isaiah had his ‘heavenly vision’ we read of the Lord, “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isa 6:2) Fans of the film, ‘Sister Act’ will remember the nuns singing of ‘cherubim and seraphim’. Dictionaries usually simply describe both as ‘orders of angels’ but the picture here in Ezekiel doesn’t convey the cherubic-like figures that many early painters portrayed or even the usual picture of a single human figure. In the two passages we’ve quoted above, the seraphim were over God’s throne but in Ezekiel the cherubim were under the throne. Perhaps this is why my dictionary describes cherubim as “one of the winged heavenly beings that support the throne of God or act as guardian spirits, any of the second order of angels, usually ranked just below the seraphim.”

In John’s heavenly vision in Revelation we have these “four living creatures” again (Rev 4:6) but each one was like a different creature. In Isaiah the seraphim “were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isa 6:3) and in Revelation the four living creatures are shown as, “Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come,” (Rev 4:9) but in Ezekiel there is no mention of them saying anything.

And Us? Because of the complexity of the description of these “four living creatures” we will leave it until the next study, but what, initially do these things say to us? First, the description is definitely ‘other-worldly’; this is a heavenly vision and it is completely different from anything we know or experience. Second, there is clearly structure and purpose in the things revealed. These four living creatures that are conveyed to us, that appear in slightly different forms in different passages, seem to have the role of accompanying the throne of God and declaring His greatness. It may not be so much that they have to do this but that they cannot help themselves doing what is obvious to those closest to the throne, declaring His wonder.  God is holy, God is almighty, God always has been and always will be, and God’s glory is visible on the earth for those who have eyes to see.

What is strange about the Ezekiel vision is that so much of the chapter is given over to the description of these creatures and the figure on the throne is not mentioned until, and then only briefly, near the end of the chapter. Why? Only a suggestion but is it first because these were the things that came to Ezekiel’s attention first of all, but then that these things which seem to accompany the presence of the Lord highlight the strangeness and the glory of the Lord, and by this we mean His utter difference from us. Part of that, we have already observed, is to emphasise or proclaim His wonder and difference, that is what holiness is really all about.

This vision lifts us out of our usual, humdrum, mundane lives and takes us into another experience altogether. There is more to existence than the little bit we call our material world. When you pray, realise you are touching this other existence, this other experience and be prepared for the Lord to speak different things to you – if you are open for them. As we noted above, the glory of the Lord across the earth is visible to those who have eyes to see, the wonder of HIS Creation. Dare we ask Him to open our eyes to even greater things, things of heaven?

2. Thinking about Visions

Meditations from Ezekiel: 2.  Thinking about Visions

Ezek 1:1  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.

In our first study in this new series we considered Ezekiel, a thirty year old exile from Israel, taken prisoner to Babylon, together with many of his countrymen. We pondered briefly in this catastrophe in his life, just as he was approaching the age to start in the priesthood, carried away from all that was familiar to all that is unfamiliar. We perhaps rarely think about what it must have been like for such people. At the age of thirty it is probable that he had a wife and a family. We know nothing of them. Did he lose them in the exile? We don’t know. All we do know it that it was a time of immense turmoil.

Visions? And then it was at that we read, “and I saw visions of God.” This expression, “visions of God” occurs at two other significant places in the book: “He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood,” (Ezek 8:3) and much later, “In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city.” (Ezek 40:2)

A ‘vision’ is a picture formed in the mind that is so strong that everything else falls into the background of experience. It is not mere imagination but almost, we might say today, like a video being run in our mind that blanks out everything else. There are a number of such instances in the Bible.

Examples:  At one point in earlier history God’s word came to Abram in a vision (Gen 15:1), as it also did to Israel (Jacob – Gen 46:2). The apostle Peter had a clear vision when he was being sent to share the Gospel for the first time to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-) although it was referred to as a trance (and yet he does later refer to it as a vision in a trance – Acts 11:5). This, of course came after Cornelius had received a vision (Acts 10:3-) telling him to send for Peter. The apostle Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him to come to them (Acts 16:9). The Lord also later spoke to Paul in a vision to encourage him not to be silent (Acts 18:9). The implication from these examples seems to be that the Lord speaks through a vision at particularly important times of people’s lives, times that are particularly significant.

Sometimes the prophetic word of God comes in such clarity about the future that it is referred to as a vision, as in the case of young Samuel (1 Sam 3:15) but the distinction from the former use is that there is no visual picture. It may be that in such cases the reality of the contact with God is so strong that although there is no reference to a picture of what is seen, nevertheless everything else fades into the background in the face of the reality of what the person was hearing. This also appears true of Ananias in Acts 9:10-12.

Heavenly strangeness: And so now we read, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” We note this was specific revelation of heavenly things with heaven being opened. Although we will see specific pictures that we can at least partly relate to, they are nevertheless revelations about what is in heaven, or express the will of God that comes from heaven. Perhaps we might suggest that such was the chaos and confusion in Ezekiel’s life at this time, being carried away into exile, that it needed something as dramatic as a vision, or series of visions, to break into his awareness, which take us back into the historical context.

Time overview: Although verse 1 and later verses come in the first person – “I” – for a moment there is a break in verses 2 and 3 that come in reporting mode in the third person – speaking of Ezekiel as from an observer: “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.”  (v.2,3) Indeed this is the only third-person narrative in the book. Perhaps its purpose is to clarify the date in v. 1.

The historical books tell us in respect of King Nebuchadnezzar, “In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner,” (2 Kings 24:12) and “He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans–a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.” (2 Kings 24:14) which was probably April 597BC. But we read that the word came to Ezekiel in the fifth year of their exile which, it is suggested corresponds to 593BC.

Settled in exile? Now we almost implied earlier in the previous study that this had only just happened to Ezekiel but the truth is that he’s been here for somewhere between 4 to 5 years already. If you have ever watched the film Ben Hur (the earlier version conveyed this better than the remake) the sense of terrible sense of futility and hopelessness that must come on a slave in chains is absolutely terrible, Barring a disaster (which happens in Ben Hur) there is nothing but nothing that you can do to free yourself. You are in this position until you die and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. That must have been the sense felt by these exiles; the unthinkable has happened because Jerusalem has been taken (and is later destroyed). This is the background for this book.

God possibilities: We suggested this before but it bears repeating before we get into the text of the visions. This background should challenge us, that with God the future is NOT set in impossible concrete, we do not know what God might come and do with us. Centuries before he had come to an aging shepherd in the backside of the desert in Midian and said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians …. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Ex 3:7-10) A most incredible message of deliverance but devastating for Moses who after forty years in the wilderness had lost every ounce of self-confidence. Is that us? Has life done that to us? It is NOT the end.

For Ezekiel, it is slightly different; he is going to remain with his people in exile but he is going to bring God’s word to them that will no doubt filter its way back to Jerusalem. He is going to act as the confirming prophet to Jeremiah and he is going to set markers in history for the will of God. He is no longer ‘just an exile’; he is about to become a man with a mission. Bear all this in mind as we enter into the wonder and complexity of what is about to follow – and never say, “I am stuck in these unchanging circumstances.” With God you can never know!

1. A Man in Crisis

Meditations from Ezekiel: 1.  A Man in Crisis

Ezek 1:1  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.

Aim: We have entitled this new series, ‘Meditations FROM Ezekiel’ because we are not intending to cover the book verse by verse but simply dip into it to see what the Lord draws our attention to. It is a mysterious book and yet a book well and truly anchored in history as we will see in these first few verses.

Ezekiel, the man: You will see in your Bible a footnote suggesting an alternative for the first sentence: In the (my) thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day.” In the second verse Ezekiel is referred to as a priest and Num 4:3 suggests that priests and other workers would have to be aged thirty before they started work and so this first sentence probably refers to Ezekiel’s age. The book opens when he is 4 months and 5 days into his 30th year.

Ezekiel in exile: Next we get our first hint of the time frame of this book: “while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River.” We’ll see more of this verse 2. Ezekiel had been carried off by the Babylonians and is now one of the exiles. The Kebar River was a canal off the great River Euphrates, near the city of Nippur, south of Babylon, and possibly a place of prayer for the exiles. In Psa 137 we find one of the psalmists of that time writing, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psa 137:1)

A Crisis Time: Before we go any further, we might observe that Ezekiel is in a place and time of crisis in his life. He is a priest and priests are supposed to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, but he has been carried away in one of Nebuchadnezzar’s attacks. The practice was to take prisoners and dump them in a foreign land where they may or may nor act as slaves. Whatever they were, they were being changed from being Israelites, yet we observe through history, we might say, ‘Once a Jew always a Jew.” God’s chosen people may have been going through a chastising but they would one day, within the next half century, come back to Israel and some half a millennia later, when they were cast out for two thousand years, it was still not the end of them. They are still there. Such are the plans of God!

Heavenly visions: It was in this place of apparent hopelessness that we then read, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” We may be in a place of apparent catastrophe but that doesn’t mean that the Lord cannot speak, that He cannot reach through into the midst of our circumstances to declare His will. There are various instances in Scripture where the Lord speaks into a crisis situation.

It was in a similar situation that Isaiah records, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isa 6:1). Uzziah had been a great and prominent king and so his death would have left a massive hole in the psyche of the nation, no doubt like that which will occur when Elizabeth the second, who has reigned for so long at the heart of British life, eventually dies. It was into that void that the Lord spoke and revealed Himself to Isaiah.

Back, earlier in their history, young Joshua must have been feeling devastated at the death of his elderly mentor, Moses, and again it was into that void that the Lord spoke: “After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites….. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Josh 1:1,2,6).

It must have been into a similar void that the elderly priest, Zechariah, found himself the recipient of a word from heaven after over four hundred years of silence. We may take the example of Zechariah to note something that is shortly going to confront us: “the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (Lk 1:13-15) Apart from the fact that it was an angel (and God’s ways of communicating are sometimes nerve-racking if not downright confusing – consider Moses’ burning and talking bush!!!) everything about this message flew in the face of all he knew – he was old with an old, barren wife, and God has not been on the scene for over four hundred years, and this angel talks about them having a son as if they were young people. No wonder he struggled to receive that word.

We need God’s help: Now I say this because the book of Ezekiel is, I believe, one of the more stranger books of the Old Testament and later on especially, there are many pages which leave you wondering why they are there. The Bible, the word of God, the word from heaven, is not always easy to comprehend at first sight and so we may well need to pray even more than we usually do, to really get to grips with this book. But that should not leave us surprised because life is often like that. Bluntly we need to hear from God and indeed we need to hear from God to understand what God has already said!

The Challenge of Chastening & Suffering: There are, I suggest various challenges that confront us straight away as we ponder on this book, and they will only be clear as we meditate on what we find here. First, there is this whole area of suffering and, more particular, suffering as a child of God. Ezekiel is a thwarted priest. Verse 3 tells us he was a priest and our first verse suggests he had now just arrived at the age to enter into the role of a priest – but had been carried away into captivity miles away from Jerusalem. How unfair! Well, actually, no, this is all part of God’s chastising of the people of God in Israel and it comes with decades of warnings from Jeremiah back there in Jerusalem and it is about the be added to by Ezekiel in the land of the oppressors. Ezekiel thinks he is going to become a priest but God has plans for him to be a prophet, a very, very significant prophet! Very often when the circumstances come crashing round our ears, it is not the end of the world but simply the beginning of something much greater that God has on His heart for us.

The challenge of strangeness: The second thing is the complexity and strangeness of what we are going to find in this book. There are going to be strange things but there will also be glorious things and we will, almost certainly, need the grace of God to understand them. But think back to the first days when you came to Christ, the strangeness of it all. I remember going out and buying my first Bible, a little King James version which struck me as being very strange, yet something had happened that propelled me along and I persevered with it, moved on to an RSV and later to an NIV and today even often use an ESV, not to mention one or two of the paraphrase versions. It is worth the effort. There is going to come an awesome sense of holiness in this book that is rarely found in the historical books of the Old Testament and if we let the Lord touch us with it, we may never be the same again. Are you ready? Then let’s do it!