There are two things that happen in this chapter: Jerusalem is burned in judgment and God departs the temple. You can see the division in the passage as verse 1 begins with “then I looked and behold” (NIV = I looked and I saw), and that is repeated in verse 9.
Chapter 10 continues the vision of judgment on Jerusalem. Having first executed judgment with the sword, the Lord now does it with fire. The man who was first charged with marking any who worshipped God now is charged with executing judgment. He was told to gather coals from the cherubim and throw them over the city. In chapter 1, verse 13, the creatures are described as appearing like burning coals of fire. But, in chapter 1, their function was not explained. Here in chapter 10 we see this chariot and these creatures as the executors of judgment.
The one who told him to do this is the man representing God, he is over the heads of the cherubim on the glorious chariot that Ezekiel saw before. Notice that Ezekiel called them “living creatures” in chapter 1. With a year to reflect, he has now figured out they are cherubim.
Verse 3 says the man went in and a cloud filled the inner court. I believe this is the glory of God, the Shekinah glory. God’s presence then went up to the threshold. There is a sense here of God’s glory moving through the temple, getting ready to leave it altogether.
I think chapter 9 and chapter 10 describe parts of the same event, just from a different perspective. Both chapters speak of the glory of God moving from the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the temple.
The man in linen took fire from the Cherub. He went out to spread it on the city as God commanded him to do.
Fire is often a Biblical symbol of judgment against sin. Deuteronomy 4:24 describes God as a “consuming fire”. The fire comes from the cherubim who guard the presence of God, so it is holy and clean. It is thrown onto a sinful city to burn it up. 2 Kings 25:9 records the actually burning of the city: “And he burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down”.
Jesus also referred to fire as the final judgment. All who rejected him would be thrown into the fire like unproductive branches. 1 Peter 3:7 says “By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”. Revelation 20:14-15 states that the lake of fire is the final abode of the wicked.
Abandoning the Temple
The second part of this vision shows the presence and glory of God moving toward its leaving the temple. The living creatures, or cherubim, that Ezekiel saw in the first chapter rose up from the earth. The glory of the Lord left the temple and joined the cherubim. They are bearing his chariot, as described in chapter 1. The Presence of the Lord moved from the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the temple in chapter 9. Here it moves further, to the east gate. This is likely the gate to the outer court.
Chapter 11 will show that God would, in fact, depart from the temple and the city and leave Jerusalem, once his holy city, to the ravages of the Babylonians. The Jews had abandoned the God of Israel. He would now abandon them.
This vision shows us that worship in Israel was totally corrupted. The people worshipped idols on the mountains and in the forests. Even when they gathered in the temple of the Lord, they did not worship him, but every possible alternative god. And God was offended. He left his house. He terminated his relationship with Israel because they breached the covenant repeatedly.
Pretty much every alternative is worshipped in America today. People worship the earth, the cosmos, the devil, ancient pagan gods and themselves. One of the biggest idolatries is the redefined God. People claim to worship God, but redefine him to fit their needs and desires, particularly the desire to sin. He is the God who does not care that much about holiness, who is ok with sin as long as we do not hurt anyone, especially animals. But, he is not the God of the Bible.
Even when the church gathers, there are times when God is not worshipped. We must be very careful to worship God only. We worship the Father through the Spirit because we believe in the Son. God seeks true worshippers.
Jesus explained this to the Samaritan woman at the well. He said “...the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24).
So, let us all come to worship in the spirit, thankful for our salvation. Let us come in wonder that the righteous God who executes judgment was so compassionate he sacrificed his son to bear the penalty of our sin.