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!