Monday, January 13, 2014

Ezekiel 1 - The Glory of God

Ezekiel 1:1-3

This book contains the visions and messages God gave to Ezekiel. They began in his 30th year. Ezekiel was a priest. Priests started their service when they were 30.

Ezekiel was “among the exiles”. Remember that the Babylonian army attacked Jerusalem in 598 B.C. King Jehoiakim died. Jehoiachin, at 18 years of age, became the new king The Babylonian army began their attack on Jerusalem in 598 B.C. King Jehoiakim died. His son, Jehoiachin, became the new king. He was only 18 years old. He was evil as his father had been.

Nebuchadnezzar forced his surrender three months after his reign began. He, his mother, his wives, his officials and the leading men of Judah were exiled (taken to Babylon) in 597 B.C. They were settled in an area near the Chebar canal.

There would be no priestly service for Ezekiel, for the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. But, God used his as a prophet, as he did with Jeremiah. In the fifth month of his 30th year, God sent a vision to Ezekiel. Verse 3 also says the Lord’s hand was upon him. God’s hand was on him in that he used him as his prophet. This vision is often called the inaugural vision, because it begins Ezekiel’s ministry.

Similarly, God gave Ezekiel a vision of himself to call him into his prophetic ministry. This is described in Isaiah 6. God did not give a vision to Jeremiah, but did speak with him and call him to speak for him. Paul saw the risen Lord Jesus and was called into apostolic ministry. Those who speak for God and endure suffering triumphantly have a good picture of how glorious God is. No one risks their life for a small god.

1:4 - 3:15
The Vision
The description of this vision is quite long. But we will look at it in parts.

The Storm
As the vision began, Ezekiel saw a storm coming out of the north, with a high wind and a great cloud. The cloud was likely dark, but there was a brightness around it and fire flashing continually. There was gleaming metal in the middle of the fire.

God’s presence is often connected with storm, thunder and lighting. It is a symbol of his power and greatness, literally causing the earth to tremble when he appears in his glory. Isaiah’s vision occurred inside the temple, but the building shook and smoke filled the room. When God gave the covenant to Israel, in Exodus 19, there was thunder and lightening and a thick cloud, smoke around the mountain, and the Lord descended in fire. When the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, there was a cloud over it. When they were to move on the cloud was taken up. By night there was a pillar of fire. (Exodus 40:34-38) John’s vision of the throne in Revelation 4 is accompanied by “flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder”.

The Four Living Creatures
As this furious storm approached, Ezekiel saw four living creatures in the middle of the storm. In 10:20, he tells us they were cherubim. Cherubim guard the presence of God from anything unholy. A cherubim was placed at the Garden of Eden to prevent man from entering it. (Genesis 3:24) Golden cherubim were installed on the cover of the ark of the covenant, with their wings spread to cover the view of it, where God’s presence dwelled. And, in fact, verse 11 says their wings were spread out and touched each other, shielding the view of what is inside, at least partially. The Old Testament of refers to God as “enthroned among the cherubim”. Solomon also put them in the temple. John saw them in his vision of heaven, where they stood around the throne. (Revelation 4:6) So, when Ezekiel sees them, we expect that this vision will ultimately be of the glory of God himself.

You’ll notice the word “likeness” is used frequently in the description. It seems that Ezekiel struggled to describe these things the best way he could. But the descriptions might not be exact.

Why are the faces of the creatures different? There have been several theories, but the text does not explain it, so they are all speculations. The Catholic church taught for some time that they represented the four gospel writers. There are stained glass windows in old churches portraying this. Another is that the likenesses of the creatures represent all of creation. The lion is the greatest of the wild animals, the eagle the greatest bird, the ox the greatest domesticated animal, and man who is to rule them all. In effect, all creation is there to attend to God the creator.

The Wheels
The wheels suggest that we have a magnificent chariot. Note that David called the ark of the covenant “the golden chariot of the cherubim” in the plans for Solomon’s temple. (1 Chronicles 2:18) A king would come into battle in a great chariot. There are four wheels. They are made of a gleaming material, suggesting God’s glory. They are “tall and awesome” according to verse 18. They go in any direction without turning. They went wherever the spirit directed them. And the spirit of the living creatures was somehow in the wheels. Verse 19 also says the rims were full of eyes all around. This likely demonstrates God’s omniscience. He sees everything.

The Loud Noise of the Cherubim
The creatures made a very loud noise as the moved. it was like the sound of many waters or an army. Verse 24 said it was the sound of the Almighty. The noise again signifies the power of the Lord. It is similar to Jesus speaking to John in Revelation with a loud voice like the roar of many waters. (Revelation 1:15)

The Expanse

Verse 24 says there was the likeness of an expanse over the heads of the creatures. This expanse shone like crystal, clear and bright. The word expanse is used in Genesis 1 to describe the sky and space. Above the expanse was the likeness of a throne. An area above space would likely refer to heaven. And in this area there was a beautiful shining throne. Upon the throne sat one with the likeness of a human. (26) But this person had an upper body that appeared to gleam like metal with fire enclosed all around. It was bright all around him. This would be the glory of God.

Above the throne is a rainbow. (28) The rainbow indicates God’s covenant with man not to destroy the earth by water again. John also saw a rainbow around the throne in Revelation 4:3. The descriptions of God’s throne in heaven are very similar in Ezekiel and Revelation.

Ezekiel realized he beheld the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And, as all do in that situation, he fell flat on his face on the ground. John, upon seeing Jesus in heaven, “fell at his feet as though dead”. (Revelation 1:17)

Why all this? As a Jewish priest, Ezekiel would think that God dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem, the the holiest place, on the mercy seat. To be exiled from Jerusalem, and the temple destroyed, would to him mean he and all Israel are cut off from God. But now he sees that God is also in Babylon with the exiles. Indeed he sees everything everywhere.

And, this great and majestic God, present even in the land of the powerful, conquering enemy of Israel, has a message for him to preach.
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