Scriptures

Ezekiel 1

Introduction

The book of Ezekiel is sadly neglected by many Christians who think it a hard book to understand. That is not the case. Difficult parts there may be, but it’s never a difficult book. The message is very singular, the method of portrayal very interesting and exciting.

Sadly, many have used it as a happy hunting ground for the weirdest of doctrines and ideas, from Erich Von Daniken to Hal Lindsay. But Ezekiel was meant neither for ‘space gods’ nor premillennial teaching. It was, as Paul said written for our instruction. This study is not meant to deny false teaching, but to understand the book.

Although mention will be made on the way through of certain millennial ideas. In accordance with most commentators on the subject, I agree that a good knowledge of the Book of Jeremiah is of great benefit to the student of Ezekiel. Let 20th century Christians learn from both Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

Unlike many other books of the prophets, the book of Ezekiel has never been seriously questioned as to its authenticity or authorship. It plays an important part in God’s revelation to Israel, and shows clearly once again that God can use the individual characteristics of people to serve His purpose.

The Book of Ezekiel is generally ignored. It is probably not even read by most Christians. This is possibly due to the supposed problems with the first chapter, but we must not let the details of the vision in Ezekiel 1 put us off reading this great book.

What is a prophet?

1. Nabhi (Hebrew) used 400 times in the Old Testament.

a. To bubble up or bubble forth.

b. A spokesman on behalf of another, to call or called.

c. Used of Abraham in Genesis 20:7.

d. Used to refer to a class or group of people until Moses. Deuteronomy18:15ff and Deuteronomy 34:10.

2. Roch.

3.Chozeh.

a. Roch and Chozeh are translated ‘seer’ in the Old Testament. They lay emphasis on the function of the Nabhi. Greek – Prophetes.

b. Definition: One who sees things that do not lie in the domain of natural sight, or who hears things which human ears do not ordinarily receive.

c. Thayer:

‘To speak forth or to speak out, hence an interpreter or spokesman for God. One through whom God speaks. One who speaks forth by divine inspiration.’

d. Vines:

‘A proclaimer of a divine message, denoted among the Greeks as an interpreter of the oracles of God. Hence in general the prophet was one upon whom the Spirit of God rested. Numbers 11:17-29. One to whom and through whom God speaks. Numbers 12:2 / Amos 3:7-8’.

e. Bullinger: Two things which together make a prophet.

1. An insight granted by God into the divine secrets or mysteries.

2. A communication of these (divine secrets) to others, which from the very nature of the case are his purposes of grace with the warnings and announcements of judgement that pertain thereto.

f. Bible definition: Exodus 4:16, Aaron, the spokesman of Moses, but in general a spokesman of God, a mouthpiece. Exodus 7:1, a prophet.

Task of a prophet

1. They were conscious of a divine call and of a privilege of access to the inner council of Jehovah. God communicated to them and backed them with authority during emergencies.

a. God communicated his secret things to them. Amos 3:7.

b. Communicated at sundry times and divers manners. Hebrews 1:1.

c. Communicated by angels. Daniel 8:15-26 / Revelation 22:8-9.

d. Communicated by audible voice. Numbers 12:8 / 1 Samuel 3:4ff.

e. Communicated by dreams and visions. Numbers 12:6 / Joel 2:28.

f. They were under the influence of the Holy Spirit while prophesying. Luke 1:67 / 2 Peter 1:21.

g. They spoke in the name of the Lord. Ezekiel 3:11 / 2 Chronicles 33:18.

h. They frequently spoke in parables and riddles. Ezekiel 17:2ff.

i. Frequently their actions were signs to the people. Ezekiel 4:1ff / Ezekiel 5:1-4 / Ezekiel 7:23 / Ezekiel 12:3-7 / Ezekiel 21:6-7 / Ezekiel 24:1ff.

2. They were uncompromising individuals.

3. They were clean, consecrated in life, lives were exemplary.

4. They were God’s agents in revealing the future.

Ezekiel, the man

1. The name, Ezekiel is found nowhere else in the scriptures except in the book itself. Ezekiel 1:3 / Ezekiel 24:24.

2. Ezekiel means ‘God will strengthen’ or ‘God strengthens’. God tells him that the people will not listen to him. But God will strengthen him. He will need it because of Ezekiel 2:5, His wife dies.

a. He was a married man, but his wife died when he was about 36 years old. Ezekiel 24:15ff. This event played a large part in his message.

b. He was of a priestly family, and destined to become a priest serving in the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 1:3 / Ezekiel 13:21. However, God changed the direction of his life and although called to be a priest, he was to serve God as a prophet. We must be ready for God to change the direction of our lives.

3. He was 30 years old when he was called to the prophetic office. Ezekiel 1:1. He was married and lived in his own house. Ezekiel 8:1 / Ezekiel 24:18.

a. If we understand Ezekiel 1:1, 30th year, as Ezekiel’s age, then he would have been 25 when taken captive in 597B.C. to Babylon. 2 Kings 24:14 / Jeremiah 24. He would be preparing for that time when he would serve in the temple, but he would never see his home land again in the flesh.

4. Ezekiel would have been one of the ‘cream of the crop’, the best that can be offered. 2 Kings 24:14ff / Jeremiah 29:1ff.

3 deportations. Daniel was in the first. Ezekiel was in the second deportation. 597 B.C. into exile.

5. Ezekiel was one of three prophets to the captivity, Jeremiah and Daniel being the other two, also some minor prophets like Zechariah and Haggai. Ezekiel refers to Daniel in Ezekiel 14:14 / Ezekiel 14:20 / Ezekiel 28:3.

His contemporaries

1. Jeremiah a. Jeremiah worked in Jerusalem. He was much older than Ezekiel, by some 20 years. Jeremiah had begun his work in the days of King Josiah 627 B.C. Jeremiah1:2ff. Josiah died in 609 BC.

b. It is possible that Ezekiel and Jeremiah knew each other, as they were both connected with priests.

2. Daniel a. Daniel was taken into captivity in 606 B.C. 9 years before Ezekiel. He had already made a name for himself in the Babylonian court. Ezekiel 14:14 / Ezekiel 14:20 / Ezekiel 28:3.

3. Ezekiel

a. Was meticulous/careful/accurate in dating his prophecies. Ezekiel 29:17, date 575 B.C. last dated prophecy which indicates that he was about 22/23 years in the business of prophecy.

b. Ezekiel was a vivid character. He carried a harsh message to his people, and was often unable to give it because he identified so much with them.

At the same time, he was a bit of an extrovert, and used allegory, figures and symbolic actions and language to enhance his message. Ezekiel 4:1-8.

c. ‘It would appear that there runs through all the prophet’s activities, at least in the earlier period, a strain of mental abnormality, perhaps of actual malady.’ W.F. Lofthouse. ‘The Book of Ezekiel’ (The Century Bible) p.7

‘He loved the symbol, not for itself alone, but for the majesty which it contained, the hidden light which it guarded. It is in this region alone that he seems to wear an absorbed and pontifical air, not with the false sacerdotal desire to enhance personal impressiveness and private dignity, through the ministry of divine powers and holy secrets, but with the unconscious emotion of one whose eyes behold great wonders enacting themselves upon the bodiless air, which the dull and contentious may not discern.’ W.F. Lofthouse ‘The Book of Ezekiel’ p.11 quoting A.C. Benson.

The book and its message

1. Ezekiel uses the bifid method in constructing his narrative. (taking 2 major parts with a cleft in the middle.)

The approaching fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel 1-24 (major part) Prophecies concerning foreign nations. Ezekiel 25-32 (cleft side issue) Israel’s future restoration. Ezekiel 33-48 (major part)

2. It was Ezekiel’s responsibility to remind Israel of the sins which had brought judgement and exile upon them. At the same time, he encourages and strengthens their faith with prophecies of future restoration and glory.

3. Ezekiel vindicates God’s judgements throughout. Ezekiel 14:23 / Ezekiel 18:5-20 / Ezekiel 33:10-20.

4. The prophet is called to be a watchman to the house of Israel. Ezekiel 3:17 / Ezekiel 33:7. He is to give warning to the wicked men and his persistence in it.

5. The only way that this can be achieved is by listening to God and his spokesman and not to the false prophets. Consequently, Ezekiel uses the expression ‘Thus saith the Lord’ at least 117 times in the book.

6. To get across his message he used a number of ecstatic and dramatic acts. Ezekiel 3:25-26 / Ezekiel 4:1-15 / Ezekiel 5:1-4 / Ezekiel 12:3-7 / Ezekiel 12:17 Ezekiel 24:3-5 / Ezekiel 24:15-18 / Ezekiel 37:15-17.

Three major lessons

1. The relationship of the individual responsibility to corporate guilt. (the whole nation.)

2. Amid this harsh judgement of God, his loving arms are ever outstretched.

3. Its result: Society can be reconstituted.

a. The book of Ezekiel is a collection of the events in the prophet’s life, and of his words of prophecy to the exiles in Babylon, delivered to the exiles in Babylon.

b. Ezekiel’s prophecy is directed in three ways:

1. Ezekiel speaks to the exiles in Babylon. Ezekiel 11-25 about their attitudes and actions.

2. Ezekiel speaks to the people of Judea. If I was there, this is what I would say.

3. Ezekiel speaks to the exiles about the people in Judea. What they are saying and thinking.

c. In all of this, he never, literally left the area of Babylon. Ezekiel, once taken captive, never returned to Jerusalem in the flesh. His work was primarily for the exiles in Babylon; Jeremiah was working with the people in Jerusalem.

d. The people’s response to Ezekiel’s message caused the prophet problems. Their response to his message and the events going on around them stimulated part of the message of this book. Their general response was disbelief, and undue optimism. They placed their trust in promises of the past, although they did not properly understand them. They refused to believe that Jerusalem would be destroyed. BECAUSE:

1. The land promise. Genesis 17:8ff.

2. God’s name had been placed in the Temple forever. 2 Chronicles 7:16.

3. God’s covenant with David and Solomon. Psalm 89 / 2 Chronicles 7:18.

e. The problem was, the people missed the punitive IF clauses in these promises and covenants. 2 Chronicles 7:19 / Psalm 89:30ff / Genesis 17:9ff.

e. The message Ezekiel and Jeremiah were trying to get across was that there was to be a total, national captivity, and their city and temple would be destroyed. Ezekiel 1-24 deals with this point.

f. Another problem was Idolatry against which Isaiah warned them. Isaiah 48:8-11. Foreign nations who might question and doubt the reality of Jehovah because of Judah’s destruction, are clearly told that they too will be judged by God. Ezekiel 25-32 deal with that.

g. We then reach historically, the destruction of the city. Ezekiel 33. The judgements having taken place, Ezekiel’s message then changes to one of hope and promise for the future. Ezekiel 34-48.

Outline

The prophet’s call and commission. Ezekiel 1:1-3:15

Prophecies from Ezekiel’s call until the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel 3:16-24:17.

Predictions against and lamentations over foreign nations. Ezekiel 25-32.

The Responsibilities of a watchman and a shepherd. Ezekiel 33-34.

Edom is denounced. Ezekiel 35.

The valley of dry bones. Ezekiel 36-37.

Gog and Magog are judged. Ezekiel 38-39.

The vision of a restored temple. Ezekiel 40-48.

a. One of the major themes running through the book is the sovereignty of God. In over 60 places we find the phrase,

‘They shall know that I am the Lord.’

It occurs in 27 of the 48 chapters. Ezekiel 6:7 / Ezekiel 13:9 / Ezekiel 33:29.

b. Another theme is that of the holiness of God, shown in that he cannot dwell in a temple which is the centre of false worship. Ezekiel 8:6 / Ezekiel 43:10. God will demand holiness of the people when he promises them a future.

c. Ezekiel compiles the book almost as a journal or diary. Throughout, it is carefully dated and arranged in basically chronological order. Ezekiel 1:1-2 / Ezekiel 8:1 / Ezekiel 20:1 / Ezekiel 24:1 / Ezekiel 35:21.

d. Why does Ezekiel date his book so precisely?

It may be partly due to his own personality, but undoubtedly when a date is normally given in a book of the prophets, it usually speaks of a need to understand the historical background. Generally speaking, the prophets cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the history of the times.

Ezekiel and John

a. There are many similarities and connections between the books of Ezekiel and Revelation.

Compare:

Cherubim, Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 10:15 with Revelation 4:6ff.

Protect God’s Holiness. Gog and Magog, Ezekiel 38 with Revelation 20:7ff.

Enemy of God’s people Eating a book, Ezekiel 3 with Revelation 10:1ff.

Make my message yours Written on heart. New Jerusalem, Ezekiel 40-48 with Revelation 21.

River of water of life, Ezekiel 47 with Revelation 22.

Blessing of God overflowing to his people.

Historical background

a. The Biblical history of the period of Ezekiel’s life is found in 2 Kings 21-25 / 2 Chronicles 33-36 / Jeremiah 21-45. Ezekiel was born during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah in about 622 B.C. But we need to go further back to the reign of Manasseh to understand the full background.

b. Internationally, there was a power struggle going on between the failing Assyrians who had been world rulers for some time, the Egyptians who would have been happy to continue an alliance with them, and the Chaldeans led by Nabopolassar who eventually came out on top. (Dates according to Thiele.)

1. Manasseh. 686-642 BC

a. The reign of this king was one of the blackest periods in Judah’s history. Manasseh was almost totally in the hands of the kings of Assyria throughout his reign.

b. He had a tremendous zeal for every kind of idolatry that could be found, even filling the Temple with idols from all over. The worst of these was the god ‘Molech’ to whom they sacrificed live children to be burnt in the ‘hands’ of the image.

c. Any opposition was quickly quenched, until it was said of him,

‘he shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.’ 2 Kings 21:16 / 2 Kings 24:4

d. During his reign, God pronounced that He had had enough. Judah would go into exile for 70 years because of their conduct. 2 Kings 21:10-15. This was despite a turnabout by Manasseh. He was taken captive by the Assyrians, and after his return, Manasseh repented.

e. His turn about was not, however, enough to affect most of the people. This is clearly seen in his own son Amon, who had been influenced into idolatry too far to change him.

2. Amon. 642-640 BC

a. Amon’s reign was insignificant. Simply an extension of his father’s evil reign. He was assassinated in a very short time. Ezekiel 21:19.

3. Josiah. 640-609 BC.

a. Josiah came to the throne when he was 8 years old. He was a good king, one of the best ever in Judah. His reforms were extensive, beginning when he was only 20, in purging idolatry and in promoting true worship of God. He made extensive repairs to the temple, and whilst that was being done, a ‘Book of the law’ was found.

b. This was probably part or most of the book of Deuteronomy. This increased Josiah’s zeal, when the book was read to him, he went on a campaign, purging idolatry wherever he found it. 2 Kings 23:4-14.

c. There is little doubt that his reforms were encouraged by Zephaniah and the young Jeremiah.

d. Josiah’s 31 good years ended when he foolishly faced the Egyptians led by Pharaoh Neco. Neco had no argument with Judah, but was forced to fight with them by Josiah. Josiah was fatally wounded and returned to Jerusalem and died in 609 B.C.

e. The death of Josiah marked the end of obedience to the will of God, and it marked the end of Judah’s independence. Apart from a short period (142-61 B.C.), Judah was always ruled or occupied by someone.

f. However, Josiah’s zealous purge was not enough to undo all the evil done by previous kings, the Lord had already passed judgement on Judah. 2 Kings 23:25-27. Josiah’s reform was ‘too little, too late’. (McGuiggan)

g. Ezekiel was now 13 and would have been influenced by the great reforming king, and the emerging prophet Jeremiah.

5. Jehoahaz. 609 BC.

a. He was the son of Josiah, and reigned for 3 months. On his way back to Egypt, Neco took Jehoahaz captive, put his elder brother Jehoiakim on the throne and made Judah an Egyptian vassal state/tributary.

6. Jehoiakim. 609-598 BC.

a. The 11 years of his reign proved him to be a strong character but a wicked man. Now it was evident how superficial the reforms of Josiah had been. Back came the idolatry, false prophets, corruption, etc. that had been rife in the days before Josiah.

b. Many who opposed this retrograde step were murdered, and Jeremiah himself only narrowly escaped being put to death. Jeremiah 26:10-19.

c. In 605 B.C. the Babylonians showed their supremacy by defeating the Egyptians at Carchemish. Nebuchadnezzar accepted Judah as a vassal state and took some of the people back to Babylon with him (amongst whom were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azeriah). Daniel 1:3-6.

d. Jehoiakim was not a good ruler. He built himself a luxurious house to show off his ‘greatness’. Jeremiah 22:13ff.

e. A short rebellion was soon dealt with by Nebuchadnezzar in 598/7 B.C. when he besieged Jerusalem. During the siege Jehoiakim met his death.

7. Jehoiachin 598-597 B.C. (3 months).

a. Another 3-month region. He took the throne during the siege, but was taken captive to Babylon when the city fell. This time, not a few, but thousands of the people were taken captive to Babylon. 2 Kings 24:14-16. Amongst this group was Ezekiel.

8. Zedekiah. 597-586 B.C.

a. He was the uncle of Jehoiachin, brother to Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. His 11 years proved his weakness of character. The remaining rulers in Jerusalem at this time were divided between a pro-Babylonian party and a pro-Egyptian party. Jeremiah and the prophets preached submission to the Babylonians, but Zedekiah was not strong willed enough to stop the rebellion against Babylon, nor an alliance with Egypt.

b. Even though it is possible that he knew the right way to go. Jeremiah 36. Late in 589 B.C. the Babylonians besieged the city and by July 586 B.C. Jerusalem fell.

c. Zedekiah and his family tried to flee but were caught; his sons were killed before his eyes, then he was blinded and taken captive to Babylon. The other rebellious leaders were also killed. The city was burned, the walls broken down, the temple treasures taken by Babylon and the temple itself destroyed.

9. The Aftermath.

a. Gedaliah was appointed governor of what was left, but was too soon murdered by a small resistance movement among the Jews. They fled to Egypt taking the ailing Jeremiah with them.

The Text

Chronologically Ezekiel begins about the same year 592 B.C. as Jeremiah is dealing with in Jeremiah 34:21-22.

Ezekiel the prophet in exile

The call and consecration of Ezekiel to office of prophet Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 3:21.

The appearance of the glory of the Lord. Ezekiel 1

1. Time and place of appearance. Ezekiel 1:1-3.

2. The theophany and vision of the four cherubim. Ezekiel 1:4-14.

3. The four wheels beside the cherubim. Ezekiel 1:15-21.

4. The throne and glory of Yahweh. Ezekiel 1:22-28.

God’s hand on Ezekiel. 592 BC.

‘In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin—the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was on him.’ Ezekiel 1:1-3

We learn where Ezekiel is, and his circumstances. Ezekiel describes his vision. The prophet introduces himself as the son of Buzi. He gives us his location by the banks of the river Chebar. Ezekiel 3:12-15 further tells us that he lived at Telabib, by the river Chebar.

This has been linked with the main irrigation canal built by Nebuchadnezzar close to Babylon. Telabib ‘mound of the flood,’ Ezekiel 3:15, a Jewish settlement, was in the immediate vicinity of the canal.

He lived among the exiles. ‘30th year’ cannot be conclusively stated what this refers to, but it is most likely to be the age of the prophet. The events of the flood were dated by the age of Noah. Genesis 7:6 / Genesis 7:11 / Genesis 8:13.

There is reason to believe that 30 was the age when the priest took on his proper functions. This is based on the commands given for the Levites. Numbers 4:3 / Numbers 4:23 / Numbers 4:30 / Numbers 4:39 / 1 Chronicles 23:3.

Jewish writings do not confirm this. Some use the fact that Jesus began his work at the age of 30 as added proof, but that proves nothing concerning Ezekiel. That being the case, Ezekiel trains to be a priest. God at the very time when he is ready to take up his duties, tells him he has some other work for him to do.

We may plan what we wish to do for God with our lives, but we must always be prepared for him to have other plans.

If the 30th year of 4th month on the 5th day refers to his age, He was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. and began preaching 5 years after, then his birth date must be approx. 622 B.C.

In this book we find the story of Ezekiel’s life and the prophecies he brought to the people. No other book in the Old Testament has the life of the prophet and the role of the prophet of God been so entwined except perhaps Hosea. The vision is a vision of the glory of God, but it is the glory of God as manifested in his coming in just judgement!

Here in the height of summer, he begins to date his writing by the exile of king Jehoiachin who was considered to be the rightful king by God and the Babylonians, they did not kill him, but treated him with respect. 1st July 592 B.C. 4th Month if dated by Babylon calendar Duzu, if Hebrew Tammuz, 2 Chronicles 36:10 / 2 Kings 25:27-30.

We read,

‘The word of Jehovah came.’

No apologies for the affirmation. No hesitancy or embarrassment. No begging leave to say such a thing. Ezekiel said,

‘God spoke to me!’

The message Ezekiel brings brought him no ease or popularity. It was contrary to his wishes and, therefore, not a daydream.

There is no indication of morbidity in the book, and so he cannot be accused of suffering from melancholia. The book is a perfect balance of realism and optimism. No, the only way to successfully assail the affirmation of verse 3 is to prove there is no God, or God cannot speak, or God could not speak to Ezekiel. Unless one of these is established, there can be no successful negative! GOD SPOKE TO EZEKIEL.

‘The Priest’

‘The hand of the Lord was upon him’

shows Ezekiel’s contact with God. Ezekiel 3:14 / Ezekiel 3:22 / Ezekiel 8:1 / Ezekiel 33:22 / Ezekiel 37:1 / Ezekiel 40:1.

Before moving on it is worth stating at the beginning that the meaning of much of what the prophets say is lost by looking at the details of their words rather than the overall picture. Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of God coming in judgement, that is the overall picture in Ezekiel 1. Understand that, and you understand the first chapter. Now obviously, it will help to look at some detail as well.

Every prophet before starting his work as a prophet was given a vision of God.

‘He who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.’ 1 Samuel 9:9

The prophets had a vision of God. Numbers 12:6. The prophets saw, they did nothing without the motivation of God. The message of the true prophet was never self-motivated. Isaiah 6:1ff / Obadiah 1.

Now if the vision they receive is of or from God, who has the right to interpret it?

The giver of that vision or dream. Hence, only God can properly interpret the vision given to each prophet. Daniel 2:17ff / 2 Peter 1:20ff. Jacob saw God at Peniel and his life was transformed from that hour. Moses went up to Mount Sinai and communed with God face to face and thereafter was marked for the rest of his life.

Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord in the sanctuary and his entire ministry was suffused with the beauty of the holiness of the Lord. Paul saw the risen and glorified Redeemer on the Damascus road and was blinded from that day on to all the allurements of the world. John saw visions of the glorious unfolding of God’s program for Christ, the church and all the redeemed, and as a result was unmoved by the adverse circumstances that surrounded him.

Ezekiel saw visions of the glory of the Lord God of Israel and his ministry never lost the impress of it. Such is the importance for Ezekiel’s life and ministry of Ezekiel 1 of the book of Ezekiel. The vision in Ezekiel 1 is referred to again in Ezekiel 10 and Ezekiel 11.

In this inaugural vision the prophet is seeking to picture something which far surpasses the power of any human language to express.

His picturesque representation can be compared with Isaiah’s vision, Isaiah 6, because it expresses the absolute sovereignty of God. Among the attributes of God emphasized in the vision are His omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence.

The call of Ezekiel can be compared with that of Moses, Exodus 3, Amos, Amos 7:15, Isaiah, Isaiah 6, and Jeremiah, Jeremiah 1:4-10. All had an encounter with God. So, did Paul in the New Testament record.

Not all the prophets record their vision or dream, Ezekiel tries. In his attempt to try and put into words what was before him, Ezekiel is lost for words. In a desperate attempt to explain the vision of a spiritual nature, he uses terms that do not fully explain itself.

Just read through Ezekiel 1, before we get into the text and notice his use of vague descriptive phrases.

   Phrase                         Amount of times it occurs
‘As it were.’                                         1                                                           ‘The likeness.’                                    6                                                           ‘The form of.’                                      1                                                                 ‘Like.’                                              10                                                          ‘Looked like.’                                       1                                                      ‘The appearance of.’                          8                                                         ‘A likeness.’                                          1

28 times in 28 verses

You begin to get the impression that the prophet is having a hard time putting into words what he saw.

Characteristics of the vision

There was an electric storm.

There were 4 living creatures. Later identified as cherubim. Ezekiel 9:3 / Ezekiel 10:1.

They have an overall human shape.

They have 4 faces each, man, lion, ox (bull), eagle.

They have 4 wings, 1 pair folded, 4 hands, straight legs and feet like calves.

There were 4 wheels below them, with eyes in the rims of the wheels.

Two wings touch other cherubim, 2 cover their own body, this creates a square.

Above the 4 creatures is a space. Raqa same word in Genesis 1:5, Firmament.

Above the space is the throne of God.

There was fire in the midst of them.

There was life in the wheels.

There was one on the throne with a rainbow.

Four creatures had perfect coordination and harmony, faster than light, could move in any direction.

Seated on the throne was a human form. As this was a vision of the Glory of God, it must be God sitting on the throne, like fire brightness, and blinding light.

Glory of the Lord It was not Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar whom Ezekiel saw coming in judgement, but Jehovah. Notice whose chariot this is. What was going to happen was not because of the whim of an elderly despot, but by the will of God. Isaiah 10:5ff.

Ezekiel’s vision was from God and about God, the God of Israel was fulfilling what he had already promised. To warn the people by a prophet. Deuteronomy 18:18ff / Amos 3:7 / Genesis 6:13. Glory, kabod, weight, heaviness, honour.

There are nine different Hebrew words for Glory and they appear, 155 times in the Old Testament and wherever you see the words, the Glory of Jehovah or Glory of the Lord it is the word Kabod, it appears 19 times in the book of Ezekiel, 12 times in the first 11 chapters, then a gap to Ezekiel 43:2.

It is the Glory that reveals God’s presence with his people, and proclaims his holiness. The glory appeared on Mount Sinai to Moses and the People. It filled the Tabernacle, once it had been erected, so that even Moses could not enter it.

Why the gap? Is it because the sight of the Glory of God does something to man?

The glory of God first in Ezekiel 1, when Ezekiel was called like Isaiah and John. He sees it again in Ezekiel 3:23. In Ezekiel 8:4, like the vision that I saw in the plain. In Ezekiel 10:15-16 / Ezekiel 11:22 and never again until Ezekiel 43:2.

What is important to notice,

‘the Glory has departed both Temple and city’ Ezekiel 3:4

Go speak to the people, by the river Ezekiel 3:22 go to the plain, Ezekiel 3:23 the same Glory. Then down to Ezekiel 8, we see Ezekiel being miraculously transported from his house in Babylon, where he is speaking to the elders, carried off to Jerusalem.

In his vision he finds himself in a vision of God. So that Ezekiel could see how the people were defiled. And so, we see that the Glory leaves the Temple.

Exodus 25:22, there I will meet between the two Cherubim, so in Ezekiel 9:3, the Glory is at the entrance of the Temple sanctuary. In Ezekiel 10:3, the Glory goes forth and stands over the cherubim in readiness for leaving.

In Ezekiel 11:22-23, they mount into the air with the Glory of the Lord above them and move to the mountain to the East of the city, the mount of olives, higher than Jerusalem and giving a tremendous view over the city.

God had left Jerusalem, as Jesus said your house has left you desolate, Ezekiel’s vision closes here he tells the Exiles what he has seen. The significance, God’s Glory no longer dwells in Jerusalem, nor does his protection, the Babylonian’s can destroy at will. When does the Glory return?

Ezekiel 43:2-6, the Glory returns from the direction from which it had gone, The Glory Fills the Temple once more. The last words,

‘the Lord is there’!

Let’s get back to the text,

‘the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.’

This phrase also occurs in Ezekiel 3:22 / Ezekiel 8:1 / Ezekiel 33:22 / Ezekiel 37:1 / Ezekiel 40:1. This refers to Ezekiel’s experience of the vision. God’s hand is firm and compelling on him. He could feel the pressure and responsibility on him.

‘I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire, was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.’ Ezekiel 1:4-9

Ezekiel saw a great storm cloud coming towards him from the north. As it drew nearer he saw that it was the chariot throne of Jehovah borne by four cherubim. It is a basic Old Testament concept that the sovereignty of God is revealed both in His control of nature and of history.

Ezekiel is to be the bearer of the message that the deportation of the exiles and the coming destruction of Jerusalem are God’s act, so he is first given a vision of the mighty thunderstorm as a mere attendant on God’s throne. Picture the boiling, rolling activity of clouds as they enfold themselves within themselves during tornado type weather.

Picture too incessant lightning activity in the clouds and the rays of the sun bathing the heart of the clouds with a golden, glowing garment of light, and we have some idea of what Ezekiel saw coming toward him out of the north. Clouds and lightning are associated with judgement and destruction.

‘Out of the north’

Why should the vision come out of the north? Because Israel’s enemies normally came from the north, following the line of the

‘fertile crescent’.

Or nearer at hand from Israel, Syria etc. All came from the north. The point being then, that enemies were coming to destroy them. God would use an enemy to destroy Judah as he had the northern kingdom. Isaiah10:5ff. Egypt was the exception, being a southerly enemy.

The glory of Jehovah dwelt in Jerusalem, Ezekiel 8-11, and the vision of its forsaking of the Temple had not yet been given. Jerusalem lay almost due west, and there was no need for God to take the long way around by Carchemish that the captives had had to follow.

The desert was no obstacle to Him. One reason was doubtless to impress on the prophet to be that shame and ignominy, dishonour and disgrace, of the captives was not hidden from their God. He was willing to go the way that they had gone.

More important than this was the Babylonian belief that their gods lived in the far north, Isaiah 14:13. If the chariot throne came from the north, it meant that whatever gods might live there had been vanquished on the way.

This is not to attribute to Ezekiel any real belief in these gods, but it was the sign that there was no power in heaven or on earth that could stop Jehovah on His triumphant way.

Much of the idolatry seen by Ezekiel in vision is at the north gate of the Temple. Ezekiel 8:3 / Ezekiel 8:5 / Ezekiel 8:14. Perhaps Ezekiel is being shown that it is this idolatry which is causing the war chariot to come to Jerusalem. Coming in judgement.

‘Living creatures’

The picture is of God’s war chariot. The cherubim are the chariot of God, His battle wagon, His vehicle of righteous war! He sits enthroned on His chariot. They are expressly called ‘the chariot’ in 1 Chronicles 28:18 and in Psalm 18:10, as we hear of his riding upon a cherub. They protect his righteousness.

It is the cherubim who stand between the transgressors and the tree of life in Genesis 3:24. We find them woven into the veil which separates between the holy place and the holy of holies in Exodus 36:35 so that one could not enter into the presence of God without first passing them, and when this was done on that great day of atonement, it could only be accomplished at the expense of some innocent victim whose blood had to be shed. 1 Chronicles 28:18 / Psalm 18:10 / Exodus 37:1-6.

We find them on the top of the ark of the covenant in Exodus 37:6ff looking downward, gazing as it were at the law, the broken and mutilated law, contained in the box. Exodus 25:18-25.

Were it not for the intervening mercy seat, a mercy seat upon which the blood of the innocent was poured, they would have demanded that righteous judgement be wrought on all the transgressors and that God’s holiness be vindicated.

We find them in Revelation 4:16ff, the closest beings to the One who there sits enthroned. The endless task is to declare his righteousness and unapproachableness of the King by perpetually saying,

‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’

We find them in Ezekiel 9 and Ezekiel 10 as they work the vengeance of God upon both the inhabitants of the city and the city itself.

Six of them come with

‘slaughter weapons’

in their hands, and beginning at the sanctuary, they slay everyone who does not sigh and cry for the abominations done in Jerusalem. Psalm 18:12ff is echoed in Ezekiel 10 when a seventh cherub casts living coals upon the city of Jerusalem thus bringing righteous judgement upon it.

In Ezekiel 1, we find the cherubim clearly pictured as the chariot throne of Jehovah. They are God’s executors of justice, the defenders of His holiness, His instrument of judgement upon the lawless! Cherubim, wherever found in Scripture, are related to the holiness of God.

They do not represent a likeness of God, which was forbidden by command. They are closely involved with the judgement in Ezekiel 9-11, of the city and the people. The cherubim will in fact be directly involved in the figurative ‘cleansing’ of the city and people.

What is the significance of their appearance? We notice that the human form predominated amongst the four creatures. These are creatures, as opposed to the creator who sits above them. This vision is designed to make Ezekiel aware of what his message is to be. What he now sees is what he is to tell the people. Ezekiel 2 and Ezekiel 3.

‘Burnished brass/bronze hoofs’

This speaks of destructive power. This is said of Judah. Micah 4:13, of Jesus. Revelation 1:15. In this picture of judgement there is one small element of mercy, the rainbow. Ezekiel 1:27-28. Many suggest that these are similar to the winged man/animals so often seen amongst the Assyrian/Babylonian buildings. They suggest that Ezekiel was influenced by these.

This is most unlikely. Here we have four creatures, each of which are the highest in their separate arenas. Man is supreme above all, the eagle and the lion chief predators on land and air respectively, the ox or bull, the most powerful domestic animal.

Their wings serve to preserve decency by covering their bodies, and to serve as a protection for the throne section. Each cherubim had four wheels beside it, not attached to it. Ezekiel 1:15. Ezekiel 1:5 / Ezekiel 1:11 and Ezekiel 1:23 pictures four beings each the general shape of a man but having four faces instead of simply front and back.

These beings stand in something of a square or a rectangle. They stretch two of their four wings toward each other thus forming an enclosed square. The other two wings cover their bodies.

The feet of burnished brass, copper, speak of power to destroy. The daughter of Zion is promised ‘hoofs of brass’ that she might arise and thresh her enemies, Micah 4:13. The origin of the symbol is not hard to find. The hoof was the usual instrument of threshing by trampling as we can see from Deuteronomy 25:4.

‘Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning. Ezekiel 1:10-14

Nine times in Ezekiel 1 the word ‘likeness’ is mentioned. We can only think of God by reasoning from what is highest in our thoughts of human greatness and goodness, entirely apart from their present limitations.

Ezekiel did not see God Himself, John 1:18, but certain likeness and appearances conveyed to him the character and attributes of the majestic and sovereign God.

Reverent expositors find in the mention of a ‘man’ on the throne a strong hint of the great truth of the incarnation. He who is meant is the worthy Lord Jesus Christ.

If God is to be portrayed in concrete form, the highest symbol man can use is the human form. When God wanted to reveal Himself in the supreme revelation of His person, He did so in the form of the Man Christ Jesus.

The four faces represent creature hood. The feet are described as straight feet because they were without a bend as at the knee, they were ready for motion in any direction. The hands of a man speak of the power of manipulation and a certain deftness of touch.

The joining of the wings emphasizes the perfect unity of action on the part of the living creatures. Their faces are that of a man, speaking of intelligence; of a lion, standing for majesty and power, of an ox, displaying patient service, of an eagle, depicting swiftness in meting out judgement, and discernment from afar.

The rabbis said of the living creatures,

‘Man is exalted among creatures; the eagle is exalted among birds; the ox is exalted among domestic animals, the lion is exalted among wild beasts, and all of them have received dominion, and greatness has been given them, yet they are stationed below the chariot of the Holy One.’

The burning coals of fire point to the intensely pure and consuming justice of God that must punish sin. The fire travelled up and down, indicating the energy and vigour of God’s Spirit which is unwearied and un-resting, Psalms 104:4 / Hebrews 1:7. This shows God’s purifying and consuming justice being executed Ezekiel did not see a spaceship, but caught a glimpse of the glory of God coming in judgement. Isaiah 6:5 / Revelation 1:17 / 2 Corinthians 12:1-7.

‘As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome.’ Ezekiel 1:15-22

Wheels, it has been suggested mean primarily and naturally the revolution of time. The wheels connect the chariot with the earth. Nothing is stationary in God’s universe, all is in motion and progressing.

Beside, close to, and under, Ezekiel 10:2, the cherubim are wheels, four of them for each creature. The wheels are within each other thus creating the appearance of rims. They are capable of going in any direction, something like the swivel wheels on grocery trolleys in a supermarket.

The rims are full of eyes which gives them a dreadful appearance. The chariot of God knows no limitation of territory. North, south, east or west makes no difference.

This was not true of the chariots of the nations for each knew his limitations and those who did not pay the price; but wherever transgression needed to be dealt with, there the cherubim would go. They could go in four directions, not simultaneously.

The cherubim determined when the wheels moved however. As to the exact construction of the wheels within wheels, there are countless explanations. Notice that these creatures, the wheels, in fact the whole chariot had a ‘life’ about it.

The wheels have eyes which give it a seeing ability. Ezekiel 10:12 suggests that there were in fact eyes everywhere. This chariot sees everything.

The rings or fellies are the circumferences of the wheels. The eyes are symbolic of divine omniscience in the workings of nature and history, Zechariah 3:9 / Zechariah 4:10 / Revelation 4:6 / 2 Chronicles 16:9 / Proverbs 15:3.

The wheels stress movement. God is on the move. The whole chariot moved according to the will of Him on the throne, not indiscriminately, but ‘straight’ towards the prey, the people.

‘Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.’ Ezekiel 1:23-23

The cherubim went straight forward, conveying to us the truth that the principles of God’s sovereignty go on without deviation. It is interesting that with their wings they covered themselves and flew. Worship is first and foremost, then service, Luke 10:38-42.

The noise of the wings of the cherubim when on their way to judge was deafening and awe-inspiring, like the thunder of the mighty waves beating on cliffs, like the noise of a huge host on the march, like the voice of the Almighty Himself which terrorised Israel and Moses in the days of Sinai.

‘Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.’ Ezekiel 1:25-28

In the midst of all the fire and lightning, noise and brightness, there is the rainbow, the one element speaking of mercy which softens the otherwise uniformity of its terror, the bow of promise which even today speaks of a merciful and covenant-keeping God.

The bow shows that the God of all majesty and power is also the God of promise and grace who is ever mindful of and faithful to His covenant regarding the earth. Ezekiel makes it clear that the vision concerns the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

The Talmud says there is the ‘large face’ of God and the ‘small face,’ and man can only see the latter. The effect of the vision on Ezekiel was the same as that on Daniel and John, Daniel 8:17 / Daniel 10:8-9 / Revelation 1:17 / Isaiah 6:5.

The appearance of God

The importance of the vision of this chapter can be seen by the threefold repetition, Ezekiel 3:22ff / Ezekiel 8:4ff / Ezekiel 43:1ff. Its significance was not only in the revelation that the temple and commonwealth of Israel in Jerusalem were to be summarily destroyed but in that God, was still in the midst of His people and would yet consummate His earthly kingdom in a future day in spite of the fact that God’s people were then in exile.

The old temple was to be destroyed, but the new one was yet to be built. The repetition of the vision relates it to all his ministry whether in speaking of judgement or of mercy, showing God’s un-resting activity was controlling all in a spirit of holiness and justice. After the Lord’s self-revelation, Ezekiel will be charged to condemn Israel’s sins and to declare that judgement is soon to come.

No prophet was given so strange, so complicated, nor so significant a revelation at his call as was Ezekiel. He had doubtless read and meditated on the manifestations of God, Exodus 19:16ff / Exodus 24:10 / 1 Kings 19:11 / 1 Kings 22:19 / Nahum 1:3 / Psalms 18:11/ Psalm 50:3 /1 Samuel 4:4 / 2 Samuel 6:2 / 2 Samuel 22:11 / Isaiah 6:1.

In Ezekiel 1 God has brought together in one vision the essence of all that was to occupy Ezekiel, just as is found in the initial vision of the Apostle John in Revelation.

When the average reader of the Scripture comes to a passage such as Ezekiel 1, he sometimes may conceive that the matters under consideration are far removed from his life and service. But the opposite is true.

Just as Ezekiel was a faithful messenger for God, warning of judgement for the unbelieving, and assuring of blessing for the believing, so we today have the unparalleled privilege to call all men to the truth in Christ.

If we have ever had a view of the holiness and majesty of our God, how can we fail to herald His message of urgency to the lost! If we are faithful, He has promised to call forth a remnant from all peoples. May God grant this fulfilment to be realised in our lives.

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