309 - A Fresh Vision of God (Ezekiel 1–3)
Our service to the Lord will vary greatly from one person to another, but one quality that should characterize all of God’s servants is faithfulness. God’s call of Ezekiel reminds us that faithfulness in service is tied closely to our understanding of who God
A Fresh Vision of God
An article appeared in Harper’s Weekly magazine way back in 1857—you would think it was written yesterday. It said this: “It is a gloomy moment in history. Not for many years has there been so much apprehension. Never has the future seemed so [uncertain].”
Little did this author know that four years later, the American Civil war would break out—or that fifty-seven years later World War I would begin.
Every generation can claim this statement for themselves—“Never has the future seemed so uncertain.” That will never change until the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, brings His kingdom to earth.
Today we begin our Wisdom Journey through the book of Ezekiel at a time when this same description of life is undoubtedly being expressed by the Jewish exiles who have been taken into captivity in Babylon. It is indeed a gloomy moment in history, filled with apprehension.
The fall of Jerusalem, which Jeremiah witnessed firsthand, took place in 586 BC. The Babylonians had already invaded Judah nineteen years earlier (605 BC) and taken young men back to Babylon to train them in the university system, preparing them for top-level positions in that empire. One of those young men was Daniel, who eventually became the prime minister of Babylon.
In 597 BC—just a few years after Daniel was deported—the Babylonian army returned to the land of Israel to put down a rebellion, and they took more people captive. And this time, one of those captives was a young priest by the name of Ezekiel.
There is no doubt in my mind that Ezekiel and Daniel knew each other. I would not be surprised if they compared notes as they wrote their prophecies about the future of Planet Earth.
The prophet Jeremiah’s ministry had taken place in the land of Israel. But Ezekiel’s ministry will take place in the land of Babylon. Their messages are going to be similar. In fact, Ezekiel was a little boy when Jeremiah began preaching in Jerusalem. He knew the messages of judgment and also of future restoration. And as Ezekiel arrives in Babylon, what the exiles need are those messages. But the people of God here in Babylon also need something more than that.
The famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson lived during that time Harper’s Weekly called a day of gloom and uncertainty. As Tennyson neared death, someone asked him, “Is there anything that you need?” And his answer was, “Yes, a [fresh] vision of God.” And quite frankly, beloved, that is exactly what we need today.
The opening verses of Ezekiel set the context for this book of prophecy. Ezekiel is a priest living with other exiles of Judah along the Chebar canal south of the city of Babylon. The “thirtieth year,” mentioned here in the opening verse, more than likely refers to Ezekiel’s age. In other words, he has now reached the age when a priest can officially begin his ministry (see Numbers 4:1-3). Priests were highly respected and revered among the people. That was not the case with the true prophets of God. They were categorically despised and disliked and usually ignored. Ezekiel the priest is about to be called by God to a new and very difficult ministry as a prophet.
Maybe you can identify with Ezekiel. You have been called by God to a tough assignment. You are underappreciated and undervalued and probably underpaid. You and Ezekiel are going to have a lot to talk about one day.
Now here in the fifth year of his exile, Ezekiel receives this fresh vision of God. Verse 3 says, “The word of the Lordcame to Ezekiel the priest . . . and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.”
The vision described for us through the rest of chapter 1 is really strange, to say the least! It begins in verse 4 with a hurricane wind coming from the north, and inside this great wind appear four creatures. Ezekiel writes in verse 5, “And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.” Verse 10 tells us the four faces are those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, and each one faces a different direction.
Many Bible scholars have weighed in on what these characteristics symbolize, but they do not fully agree. I am not going to settle the argument today, but what we do know is that later on in chapter 10 and verse 15, Ezekiel writes, “The cherubim mounted up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the Chebar canal.”
Cherubim are a special class of holy angels created by God. Cherubim is the plural of cherub. And a cherub is not exactly a fat little baby flying around shooting people with its little bow and arrow. Cherubim are the mightiest of angels. Satan himself was created the highest ranking among the cherubim. He originally stood closest to the glory of God. In fact, when cherubim appear in Scripture, they seem to be associated with God’s presence and glory. And that is what is being emphasized here.
Ezekiel describes four wheels here in verse 15 of chapter 1—one wheel for each of the four cherubim. Each wheel has a second wheel inserted at a right angle, and this allows the wheels to move quickly in any direction. Verse 18 tells us, “The rims of all four [wheels] were full of eyes all around.”
This entire contraption is what one author called a “supernatural chariot.” Upon these wheels there is the “likeness of a throne,” verse 26 tells us, and seated on the throne is “a likeness with a human appearance.” Ezekiel describes this figure surrounded by brilliant light and a beautiful rainbow.
So, what is Ezekiel seeing? I believe he is having a hard time describing the indescribable—namely, a vision of the Lord in His glory, seated upon His throne. Theologians call this a Christophany—a preincarnate appearance of the Son of God.
Ezekiel’s response is exactly what ours would be. He says here in verse 28, “And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”
God then tells Ezekiel what he is to do—Ezekiel 2:3-4:
“Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn.”
You will notice that the Lord addresses Ezekiel here, as He does throughout the book, as “son of man.” This term will take on messianic meaning in Daniel’s prophecy, and Jesus will use it in reference to Himself; but here in Ezekiel, the phrase emphasizes human weakness. He is a son of mankind, and this is a reminder of his need to depend on the Lord.
The Lord then issues a strange command to him. Ezekiel is given a scroll, which verse 10 says is filled with words of “lamentation and mourning and woe.” Then in Ezekiel 3:1, God tells him to eat the scroll. When Ezekiel eats it, he finds it “sweet as honey” (verse 3). The symbolism here is that by eating the scroll Ezekiel is accepting God’s message.
This act also affirms that he is willing to proclaim God’s message to the people; in fact, God tells Ezekiel in verse 17 that he’s a “watchman for the house of Israel.” He is not responsible for how they respond, but he is to warn them with the word of God.
To this day, beloved, we are to deliver the Word of God to our world. Whether people choose to listen is not our responsibility. But let’s be faithful watchmen—let’s taste the honey of God’s Word; let’s remember this vision of God in His glorious splendor as we serve our soon-coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
 Mark F. Rooker, Ezekiel, Holman Old Testament Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 13.
 Ibid., 26.
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