An Encounter With God-Ezekiel 1

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Big idea: An unforgettable encounter with the very real visceral presence of the living God.

"Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance (brilliant light) around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory (kabowd) of the Lord. [This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me.] When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking" (Ezekiel 1:28).

  • Is Ezekiel's vision relevant to us today?
  • Does this vision of God mean more to Ezekiel and to those in his time than it does to us today since our culture is different?
  • What can we do practically to grasp this glorious vision for ourselves?
  • Will or can such a vision help us overcome our real current pressing problems, issues and difficulties?

Ezekiel had been preparing to be a priest to serve in the temple at Jerusalem all of his life. But at age 25 he was forcibly exiled to Babylon in 597 B.C. during the first of several Babylonian exiles (Jer 52:28-30). Five years later he saw a glorious vision of God (Eze 1:1-2). How might Ezekiel have felt during his five years of exile before he saw this vision?

Like his fellow Israelites in exile, Ezekiel likely felt oppressed, abandoned, downcast, dejected, despaired and depressed--as though God had abandoned them in a foreign nation, Babylon (Isa 40:27). Personally, he could not live out his dream to be a priest to serve in the temple in Jerusalem, since in exile, he would never be able to return to his homeland. He was homesick and heart sick. It is like living without any hope of anything good ever happening to him or to his people. It was at this low point of his life that he saw this glorious vision of God.

Introduction: Ezekiel was carried off to Babylon at the age 25—one of 10,000 captives (597 BC--the first Babylonian exile). In the fifth year of his captivity (593 BC) God called the young priest to prophesy to "a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me…(who) are obstinate and stubborn" (Eze 2:3-4). For > 25 years Ezekiel faithfully carried Jehovah's message--of judgment for rebellion and the restoration of a holy remnant--to a captive nation in a distant and foreign land.

Ezekiel 1:

  1. The Context (1-3).
  2. The Wind (4).
  3. The Creatures (5-14).
  4. The Wheels (15-21).
  5. The Throne (22-28).

Ezekiel’s whole ministry was virtually framed by the awful sight of this glory of Yahweh. The word “glory” (kabowd) has to do with “weight” or “substance.” It portrays the sense of God’s majestic reality, the overwhelming power of his presence, the “weight” of his eternal Being. What does this vision reveal about God?

  1. Transcendence. The vision proclaims/reveals the transcendent glory of God. Everything in this vision proclaims God's glory: the dazzling brilliance of the entire image, the gleam of the creatures' bronze legs, the jewels on the wheels, the crystalline platform, the lapis lazuli throne, the amberous (fine translucence) and fiery form of the "man." Everything about the vision cries "Glory!" (Ps 29:9), even the prophet's frunstrating search for adequate forms of expression. Unlike man-made gods, the glory of God defies human description, verbally and visually. Also, man made gods need to be taken care of, but God's glory radiates from his very being.
  2. Immanence. The vision proclaims the immanence and presence of God among the exiles. God is with his people in Babylonian exile far from their native land. God is with them,  regardless of their place of residence. 
  3. Holiness. The vision proclaims the transcendent holiness of God (Isa 6:3). The creatures cover their body with their send pair of wings (Eze 2:11). God sits on his throne separate from all his creatures, with no confusion about how they are distinctly separate.
  4. Sovereignty. The vision proclaims the sovereignty of God. God is enthroned, the King over all (1 Cor 15:28)! The universality of his reign is reflected in the prominence of the number four (four winds), and especially the absolute freedom with which his heavenly chariot moves, and his invasion of Babylon, the heartland of the god of Babylon Marduk's realm, to appear to Ezekiel. God has served notice that regardless of the fate of Jerusalem (she will be soon destroyed), he remains in full control.
  5. Affinity. The vision proclaims God's love, interest and affinity toward his people. His condescending appearance in human form undoubtedly finds its basis in Genesis 1:26-27 in a remarkable role reversal where God appears in the likeness of humankind. But what Ezekiel sees is not an actual representation but a reflection of deity. Thus, there are no idolatrous notions unlike pagan idolatry. Here the glory of God cannot be reduced to human definition. Everything about the vision is in the superlative mode. God is alone above the platform, removed from all creatures and stunning in his radiance. There is none other beside him. But this does not prevent him from communicating with mortals.
  6. Judgment. The vision hints at the impending judgment of God. Several features of the vision have an ominous ring. For the moment this vision reassures Ezekiel of God's presence. But in 13 months the heavenly chariot would transport God's glory out of the temple and out of Jerusalem, thus removing the last hindrance to Nebuchadnezzar razing and destroying the city and the temple. The burning coals (Eze 1:13) in a later vision will show a man taking these coals and spreading them over Jerusalem (Eze 10:2).
  7. Clarity. This vision serves notice that whoever would enter into divine service must have a clear vision of the one into whose service he or she is called. This service is a vocation like no other. It requires conscription (voluntary enlistment) into the service of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the one who who sits on his glorious throne, unrivaled in majesty and power. God's kingdom will be built, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and his servants go forth on his behalf.

Introduction: The book of Ezekiel relates to one of the most critical periods in the history of Israel. It is one of the most interesting and compelling books of the Hebrew Bible, and it is simultaneously one of the Bible's most difficult and perplexing books. It presents the visions and oracles of Ezekiel son of Buzi, which span a period of 22 years from 593 to 571 BC. [cf. Isaiah 740-700; Jeremiah 626-587; Daniel 604-535.]

Ezekiel was a Judean priest and prophet exiled to Babylon in 597 BC together with King Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim of Judah as part of the first exile by King Nebchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Ki 24:8-17; 2 Chr 36:9-10). This first exile took place some 10 years prior to 587/586 BC, when Nebchadnezzar invaded Judah a seond time to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon and to exile a major portion of the surviving Jerusalemite/Judean population to Babylon. 

Ezekiel was a priest of the line of Zadok who was trained to serve at the Jerusalem Temple during the last 10 years of the Judean monarchy. But he was taken into captivity and was settled at Tel Aviv, which in Hebrew means "hill of spring." When he reached his 30th birthday (Eze 1:1), the age at which he would have begun service in the Jerusalem Temple had he not been exiled to a foreign land, he saw visions of God, which marked the beginning of his new career as a visionary prophet of Yahweh.

Ezekiel wrote his messages to the exiles in Babylon in essentially a chronological order. He, as a watchman, warned Judah that her disobedience to the Mosaic covenant would bring cursing in the form of judgment on the land and on Jerusalem. Ezekiel employed every means to communicate his message: speaking, acting, visions, symbols, allegories, parables. But Judah had gone too far. Yahweh's glory was removed from the Temple and from Judah in preparation for the coming judgment. Systematically Ezekiel removed all their arguments against such a judgment. Then Jerusalem fell. Judgment was also announced on the nations around Judah who cheered at her collapse and sought to plunder her.

The final portion of the book brought hope. Just prior to the news of Jerusalem's fall by the exiles in Babylon, Ezekiel received and proclaimed 6 night messages of blessing on Judah through cleansing and restoration of the land of Israel in the future. With the return of Israel to her land, Yahweh's glory would return to the new Temple constructed as His dwelling place among them.

In brief Ezekiel portrays the purging of Jerusalem, the Temple and the people to reconstitute them as part of a new creation at the conclusion of the book. With Jerusalem, the Temple, and the people so purged, Yahweh stands once again in the holy center of the created world. Ezekiel then points to the return of Yahweh to the holy temple at the center of a reconstituted Israel and creation at large. It ultimately represents a profound attempt to encounter the holy in the profane world, and based on that encounter, to sanctify the world in which we live. By him Judah was to know of the future restoration of all Israel to the Promised Land by the Messiah.

Ezekial is mostly a mystery to modern readers with his relentless denunciations, unconventional antics, repetitive style and his bewildering array of topics. He is like a stranger from a distant time and land.

  • Who is this priest who, on his 30th birthday, has a dazzling vision of God on a wheeled throne?
  • Who is this odd prophet who engages in outlandish street theater and speaks for God on international affairs?
  • Who is this seer who paints murals of apocalyptic doom and then of a restored temple bursting with emblems of paradise?

Ezekiel means "whom God strengthens." The prayer of his parent when he was born is "May God strengthen him." He was born in 622 BC [based on the assumption that when he was 30 (Eze 1:1-2), it was the 5th hear of King Jehoiachin - 593-592 BC]. It was the year the book of the law was discovered in the temple, which spurred King Josiah's reforms (2 Kings 22; 2 Chr 34:3-7). He had been king for 18 years since 640 BC.

Ezekiel's visions include:

  • a vision of Yahweh's throne chariot in Ezekiel 1, which appears to him while he stands on the banks of the Kebar River (1:1).
  • a vision of Yahweh's decision to destroy the city of Jerusalem and to kill or exile its population (Ezekiel 8-11).
  • a vision of the new temple which portends not only a new temple structure in Jerusalem, but a renewed and reconstituted Twelve Tribes of Israel and even creation at large (Ezekiel 40-48).

Ezekiel's visions are characterized by bizarre imagery and concepts, such as:

  • the vision of the four cherubim who bear Yahweh's throne chariot through the heavens in Ezekiel 1, each of whom has a body of burnished bronze, the feet of cattle, three sets of wings, and four faces, which represent four aspects of the divine character.
  • the vision of the restoration of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, which plays a major role in defining expectations concerning resurrection in both Judaism and Christianity.
  • the vision of the restored temple in Ezekiel 40-48, which differs markedly from what is known of the First Temple, built by King Solomon son of David, and the Second Temple, built at the beginning of the Persian period.

His actions are also frequently bizarre:

  • He cuts off his hair, divides it into 3 portions, and chops, burns, and scatters it to illustrate the fate of the people of Judah (Exeziel 5).
  • He refuses to mourn for his dead wife to emulate Yahweh's response to Jerusalem's demise (Ezekiel 24).
  • He serves as watchman to warn his people concerning the approach of danger, including danger due to their own alleged wrongdoing (Ezekiel 3 and 33).

Key verses are Ezekiel 36:24-27, 36:33-35.

"For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanseyou from all your impurities and from all your idols.26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws" (Eze 36:24-27).

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it.35 They will say, "This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited" (Eze 36:33-35).

The key chapter is Ezekiel 37: Restoration & Resurrection of Redeemed Israel.

 The awesome visible manifestation of God in the vision of Ezekiel 1 (Block):

  1. This vision proclaims the transcendent glory of God. Everything in this vision cries “Glory!”
  2. This vision proclaims the transcendent holiness of Yahweh (Isa 6:3). He sits alone on his throne.
  3. This vision proclaims the universal sovereignty of Yahweh. He is enthroned as King over all.
  4. This vision proclaims God’s interest in his people. His condescending appearance in human form.
  5. This vision proclaims the presence of Yahweh among the exiles. It expresses vividly that Yahweh is here.
  6. This vision hints at the impending judgment of Yahweh.

Questions:

  The Context (1:1-3)

  • Who was Ezekiel (1:3; 2 Ki 24:12–16)? When did he begin to prophesy? Where was he when called (1:1,2)?
  • What does the expression “the hand of the Lord was upon him” mean (1:3; 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15, 16; cf. Ezekiel 3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; 40:1)? Of what and whom does Ezekiel see a vision?

The Wind (1:4)

  • What did Ezekiel first see (1:4)? From what direction did it come? What might this signify (Jer 1:14; 6:1; 10:22; 46:20; 47:2; 50:3)? With what are clouds and lightening often associated (Dt 4:11; Ps 104:3; 144:6; Mt 24:30; Lk 10:18)?

The Creatures (1:5-14)

  • What are the four “living creatures”? Describe them. What might their “four faces” signify (1:5–14)?

The Wheels (1:15-21)

  • What was beside each of the four living creatures? How many of these were there associated with each creature?  Describe them (1:15–21).

The Throne (1:22-28)

  • What was upon the heads of the four living creatures? What could be heard from there and when (1:22–25)? What was above the crystal firmament? Describe the One seated there (1:26–28)?

Ø  What do you think this vision is intended to represent to Ezekiel?

 

References:

  1. Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, NICOT (New International Commentary on the Old Testament). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997.
  2. Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Ezekiel, BST (Bible Speaks Today). IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2001.

 

 

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