Ezekiel is one of the most interesting prophets in the Old Testament. If he were alive today, he would be labeled as a “strange bird,” out of step with society, and one who would be known to adopt bizarre behavior to lend imagery to the message he was called to preach. Ezekiel is a book which, because of its difficult passages and mysterious imagery, is often neglected and ignored, but there are many wonderful truths that lay buried within the pages of this extraordinary book.
Ezekiel was born about 623/22 BC, and writes during the time of Judah’s exile (1:2) to a people who were in exile. In 597 BC many Jews, including Ezekiel, were taken into Babylonian captivity. While many of the exiles did not believe the city of Jerusalem would ever fall, Ezekiel at age 30 was commissioned by the Lord (593 BC), that because of rampant sin and forgetting God Jerusalem would be destroyed in judgment for their willful sin. The words he spoke came to pass (586 BC), whereby then his message turned to God’s desire to bring about renewal and reconstruction among His people.
Ezekiel’s call to the prophetic office is one of the most vividly descriptive found in the Bible, as he tries to describe what his eyes in astonishment saw. What his eyes were privileged to witness could not be described with earthly words, but one truth is certain; he had a life-altering encounter with God. He recounts in chapters 1-3 his heavenly vision in most descriptive terms that leave us in worshipful awe. A brief summary follows.
The Whirlwind out of the North: One day while Ezekiel was by the River Chebar (1:3), the vision he experienced began by a whirlwind coming out of the North (1:4). The North signified the land of Israel’s invaders, Babylon. While the majority of those in exile argued Jerusalem would escape judgement, God will give to Ezekiel a message to deliver to the people that Jerusalem will be destroyed (Ezekiel 4).
The Four Living Creatures: After the whirlwind, the first thing that Ezekiel describes of his vision is four living creatures. He later reveals these creatures are cherubim (10:20); but in appearance they are a mixture of angel, animal, and human. They have four faces, that of a man, ox, lion, and eagle; representing intelligence, service, power, and swiftness, respectively.
The Great Wheels: Next to each living creature there were four giant wheels made of two wheels intersecting one another. The wheels are covered with eyes! The wheels moved in every direction and in unison all at the same time.
The Expanse: An expanse sits above the heads of the four living creatures, and above the expanse is a throne, and above the throne is a figure of a man (Divine-Human) gleaming like fire, surrounded by a rainbow-like radiance.
While we can never plumb the depths of Ezekiel’s heavenly vision, there are some wonderous truths that we can glean from what he is seeking to convey. Without getting lost in the details of his vision, there are seven truths that are most evident which are applicable to the day in which we live. We are living in rebellious and reckless times when people for the most part have forgotten God and in turn God’s people think He has forgotten them. Ezekiel’s vision, though, reminds God will eventually judge sin and, as well, is not indifferent to His promise to restore, renew and reconstruct when one repents.
In the imagery of Ezekiel’s vision, we learn:
First, God’s Audience. God’s audience was to those in exile, and Ezekiel would be God’s spokesperson to the people. The vision began by a whirlwind coming out of the north (1:4). The north signified the land of Israel’s invaders (Babylonian); judgement coming like a whirlwind from the north. Many of those in exile thought Jerusalem was invincible, but God gives to Ezekiel a message to deliver that Jerusalem will be destroyed because of her sin (Ezekiel 4). God could rightly judge without warning, but He sends forth His messengers to warn and demand repentance so they that man can never say he wasn’t first warned. While such warnings today may fall on deaf ears, the warnings and the invitation to repent must continue to be sounded to audiences before us.
Second, God is Awesome. God is above our comprehension. He is transcendent above our deepest thoughts and highest intelligence. Ezekiel tried to describe in human language He who cannot be described in words or grasped by our finite minds. How prideful of man to think that he in his limited intelligence can figure out or put in a box all that God is. And how arrogant is man to demand that the Infinite Mind of the universe explain to the finite mind of man that which he could not fully grasp or comprehend anyway.
God’s Awesomeness not only includes His transcendence, but His holiness. The fire about the One on the throne symbolizes eternal purity, and our inability to approach him in our impurity and sinfulness. That God is holy means that He is above sin, that He is righteous, that He is morally pure. Holiness is His self-affirming purity, which He will not allow to be soiled by man’s “unholiness.” All one can do when one realizes they are in the presence of such holiness is to bow and cry out, “I am woefully sinful and dwell in the midst of an unclean people.”
Third, God is Almighty. Ezekiel saw One sitting on a throne, whose throne was high above the breadth of the vast expanse. The One who sat upon the throne was called “Almighty” (1:24) suggesting the sovereignty of God’s rule. In spite of how hopeless or helpless things looked on earth, the Almighty, Sovereign Lord of the universe is still in control. He is not taken by surprise the chaos and confusion on earth; He is not shocked at man’s rebellion and sinful actions. Some thought that God had abandoned Israel (9:9), but the vision is to remind Ezekiel’s hearers that God is still in control even though the people are in exile.
Fourth, God is Active. Ezekiel describes four giant wheels made of two wheels intersecting one another. The wheels move in every direction and in unison all at the same time. This speaks of the truth that the One on the throne is not inactive but is active. The complexity of the wheels moving in every direction and in unison all at the same time speaks of the complexity of God’s activity in Providence, which to us is sometimes incomprehensible. In spite of the evil we see, in spite of things that occur which defy our logic and can’t be explained, God is active in the enforcing the laws of His divine Providence with precision. While we can not always trace the Hand of God, we can always trust the heart of God. Yes, God is active in the world in which we live.
Fifth, God is Aware. Ezekiel records that the wheels had eyes!! This speaks of the fact that God sees all. He is omniscient, knowing all things. Nothing escapes His watchful eye. Nothing slips by Him. No matter what takes place, it does not and will not slip by the all-seeing eye of the One who sits on the throne. Yes, the many eyes on the wheels represent the totality of God’s perceiving all things. Those in exile thought that God did not see what was happening (9:9), but the eyes in Ezekiel’s vision show that nothing can escape God’s vision.
Sixth, God’s Assurance. God commissions Ezekiel to carry a message to the exiled that He cares. Their sin had besmirched the holiness of God, yet the One on throne, through Ezekiel, assures them if they repent, He will forgive and restore. The rainbow is a symbol of assurance that God will keep his promises. God’s holy-love is active in calling men away from the destructiveness of their sin into the light of renewal and reconstruction. The Lord assures us that He cares by sending men like Ezekiel who warn that judgement is coming if there is no repentance from sin, but to those who repent, He promises forgiveness and a renewed and restored relationship with the living Lord is experienced.
Seventh, God instills Awe. In the presence of such a sight, all Ezekiel could do was fall on his face in surrender and listen to the voice of the One on the throne (2:1). Ezekiel’s vision serves notice that whoever would enter into the Lord’s service must have a clear vision of the One into whose service they are called and bow before Him in surrender. No one can share a message they first have not experienced or internalized themselves.
Oh, the wonderful truths found within Ezekiel’s amazing descriptive vision of that which is truly indescribable with human words, but nevertheless a reality. The truths which we find in Ezekiel are truly applicable in our day and time. God is on the throne, is active among us, and His divine Providence is and will bring about that which He has purposed for all creation and our individual lives. While warnings are continually issued that judgement is just reaction of God’s holiness to sin, few listen and the vast majority continue to ignore God’s gracious warnings and invitation to repent through His messengers.
This writer encourages one to prayerfully, reflectively and slowly read and reread the first three chapters of Ezekiel, and as one does ask the Lord to give each reader a fresh vision of the amazing God we serve and in renewal experience a transformed relationship with the God who longs to commune with each of us….and in spite of what circumstances may otherwise say, He is active in our world and in our lives.