Ezekiel Chapter 1
What a dreadful and alarming but wondrous and powerful vision given to the prophet Ezekiel! At the shores of the Chebar Canal, the heavens open and he begins to dream while awake. The Hand of the Lord had come to strengthen Ezekiel in the place of judgment and despair. When God calls a man to do His work, He strengthens that man. Whom God calls, He equips!
Before the Lord announces judgment on His people through the prophet Ezekiel, He makes certain that His people understand exactly why they are being judged. He gives Ezekiel a vision of His glory- the same glory that has departed from His people. The first eleven chapters of this book speak to the following: God shows His people His glory (for Ezekiel as a prophet shares the vision with the people) so that they will remember the holiness and distinctness of God in order to show them the reason for the glory departing their midst- their own wickedness and disobedience. This is why this vision is so important! It anchors and creates the narrative and reason for the prophetic words that will be spoken forth by Ezekiel. God never reprimands us without explanation. If we are to pass through God ordained trouble or suffering, He will first let us know His reasons. For the people of Israel, God desired to gather His children like a hen gathers her chicks (Matthew 23:37) but they were not willing. This is the same with us. I think we can assign this explanation to many of the trials we have faced.
What does Ezekiel see? The glory of God! The glory of God is the visible manifest presence of God. The exact form that he sees is a chariot of cherubim that carry the throne of God. However, the throne of God is in motion and in the midst of storm and wind. God is moving on behalf of His people but this time it’s different. He is moving in His sovereign judgment.
Throughout the chapter, some of the details are repeated as if to help mortal men recognize the wisdom and sovereignty of God. Whenever any phrase or detail is repeated in the bible, we must pay attention for it is being stressed for a reason. The two important details repeated in this chapter are the description of the storm and the movement of the wheels.
Let’s understand some of the details of this vision:
- vs. 4 A stormy wind from the north: It symbolized the calamity that was about to come from the hands of the Babylonians for they quite literally ravaged Israel from the North, destroying and pillaging until they reached the Southern Kingdom and burned it to the ground. (see also Jeremiah 1:13-14)
- vs. 4 a great cloud with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal: an emblem of the holiness of God, brightness for there is no darkness in Him, and fire for our God is a consuming fire. The presence of God is unapproachable without holiness.
- vs. 5 the likeness of four living creatures: Ezekiel describes them as a “likenesses” for these are just symbolic representations of the revelation of God. Our finite minds are unable to fully comprehend the mysteries of God so He reveals them in human terms.
- vs. 7 feet that were like the sole of calf’s sole: calves were animals of sacrifice and of service. We find cherubim with the Ark of the Covenant (service) and illustrated throughout the tapestries and walls of the Tabernacle and Temple (sacrifice). The cherubim were ready to do the Master’s work.
- vs. 7 feet that sparkled like burnished bronze: as if fresh out of the fire. Throughout the bible, fire is continually associated with God. The coal that touches Isaiah’s lips originates from the altar in heaven, powerful enough to cleanse and purify him for the work of a prophet (Isaiah 6:6-7). Moses kneels before a burning bush at the onset of his calling. We wrongly associate fire with the devil because he will be thrown into hell, but even in that place the sovereignty of God reigns for it is God who created hell for Satan and his angels.
- vs. 8 human hands: for carrying out the duties of God
- vs. 9 wings touched one another: they moved in sync with one another under the control of the Spirit
- vs. 9 went straight forward, without turning as they went: a most clear indication of the sovereignty of God. Every detail, occurrence and event is undeviatingly and implicitly moving towards the fulfillment of the will of God. His Word will come to pass and nothing can stand in His way.
- vs. 10 four different faces: Again, these are likenesses. Some commentators believe this refers to the four gospels and others believe that these refer to different characteristics of Jesus Christ. A human face referring to His perfect humanity, a face of lion representing His royalty, a face of an ox representing His strength in servant hood and the face of an eagle for His deity.
- vs. 11 two wings covered their bodies: Feet are considered unclean and not worthy to be shown to God (Exodus 3:5). The cherubim carry the very glory, presence and throne of God so to cover their bodies would be a fitting acknowledgement of their unworthiness for the task. Even in the other instances where we see cherubim in the Scriptures, they cover themselves.
- vs. 12 wherever the spirit would go, they went: They operated under the unity of one Spirit. Jesus once prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17) He then prayed “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…” (John 17:21). The truth of God is what sanctifies and unites. You cannot have unity without truth.
- vs. 13 appearance like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro: Again, to live in the presence of God is to live in the holiness of God. There is fire all around consuming, cleansing and removing dross.
- vs. 14 like the appearance of lightning: God’s will is carried out right away. The movements of these creatures were as quick as lightning.
- vs. 15 a wheel on the earth beside every creature: The wheels of the chariot are over the earth for our God sits in an elevated position. His glory extends over all of creation.
- vs. 18 and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around: Nothing is hidden from the sight of God. He is omniscient. (Hebrews 4:13) God is a God of purpose. Everything and everyone has a purpose of God to accomplish.
- vs. 22 over the heads of the creature an expanse, shining like awe inspiring crystal: There is a separation between heaven and earth for God sits alone on His throne. Some bible translations use the word “firmament” instead of expanse. The Hebrew meaning of “firmament” is to be made firm by beating or stamping. It keeps the earth in place.
- vs. 24 their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army: The approaching glory of God is not only seen but heard. Revelation 1:15,1 Kings 22:19, Exodus 24:10, Daniel 8:15
- vs. 26 a likeness with a human appearance: a foreshadowing of the incarnation of Christ, the visible image of God. He is Savior and Judge.
- vs. 28 the appearance of the bow: or the rainbow, symbolizes, as in the story of Noah, the faithfulness of God and His intention to keep the covenant He has made with His people.
Ezekiel’s vision is full of likenesses. God revealed himself in this specific way so that Ezekiel’s finite mind could somehow comprehend the glory of God. This chapter reminds me that God took on the cloak of humanity in Jesus Christ so that man could see him. Jesus is also the visible manifestation of the glory of God.
The destruction of the temple was symbolic of the glory of the Lord leaving His people. What I find most amazing about Ezekiel’s experience is that in the midst of great pain, lamenting and deep sorrow, Ezekiel saw a vision of God. He was in a hard and foreign place. He could’ve argued that he was faithful to God and therefore did not deserve to be in this position.
We find in Psalm 137, the song of exile the Israelites sang on the shores of the Chebar Canal. Who could blame them for their lament? The horrors they experienced in the hands of the enemies were many. The Babylonians were not a gentle people but brutal savages without an ounce of remorse. The Israelites saw their precious land and temple burned to the ground. Filled with sorrow, they could not find it in themselves to praise God. This situation is in contrast with the predicament Paul and Silas found themselves when beaten and put in prison, or Daniel in the lion’s den or Joseph a slave in Egypt. They were able to worship, serve and pray to God because it wasn’t their sin that had landed them in those situations. They were full of joy in spite of their trials. Even in persecution, the saints can shout for joy. However, the sins of Israel call for lament and weeping. There is no joy in judgment. The question comes to mind: where are the songs of repentance?
The first half of this Psalm is a lament but in the second half, love of country consumes them. The Israelites wanted to see Jerusalem avenged. They clamor for the Lord to remember what was done to them and repay their evil deeds. One day, it will happen. The Lord will establish his kingdom on the earth and Jerusalem will be its capital. The people of God were right to leave their vengeance to the Lord but it would have been preferable if it was done with godly sorrow as they remembered the mercy of God which they had lost; all they had was regret. How about you? Are you grieved about the sin in you and around you?
But while the people were singing songs of exile, Ezekiel was strengthened and encouraged by God. The people despaired but Ezekiel saw the glory and was reaffirmed of God’s mercy and steadfast love to his people. Again, the glory of God was a visible manifestation of the presence of God. We see this in Exodus as he led his people through the wilderness. Ezekiel saw in the vision what he and his people needed to see the most in their trying times- the Sovereignty of God.
I’m sure that for the Israelites things looked bad. However, God had not left his people nor forsaken them. He was with them even in Babylon. This is the significance of the wheels of the chariot. They are covered with eyes that see everything and miss nothing. They travel about over all the earth in a steady movement as the Spirit is the one who guides without wavering. God is sovereign and providential. If we believe he is holy, wise and powerful, we can rest assured that his order, guidance and governance over this world is best.
Matthew Henry says of the wheels, “Look every way upon the wheel of providence, it has a face toward you.” When we look upon the wheels covered with eyes, we should feel a sense of security and awe for God always has his eye on us. While the sovereignty of God does not relieve us of responsibility over sin and bad decisions, it allows us to shed our anxieties, worries and cares as we serve God and believe that he is always with us.
Can you identify with this chapter of scripture? Reading these words and contemplating on what Ezekiel saw has brought much comfort to my life. It’s been easy to look around at all the natural disasters, the unrest in our nation and the uncertainty of the future and be shaken. But I want to see visions of God. I want to see his providential power and his sovereign wisdom on display in my life.
IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES, WHAT DO YOU SEE?
- Why do you think Ezekiel is only allowed to see likenesses and not the full reality of the glory of God?
- When you read Psalm 137, what do you think was the attitude of the people of Israel?