Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 23 2019 - Ezekiel 1 – The glory of the Lord

The Book of Ezekiel is quite lengthy and is, at times, difficult to understand. We shall spend ten days looking at some of the key passages from the book, beginning with Ezekiel chapter one.

Ezekiel was a priest who had been taken into exile by the Babylonians at the age of 25 after the first siege of the city and when the treasures from the temple and royal palace were looted by the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:8-17). His book opens in the fifth year of the exile, his 30th year, which was the age at which priests began their active ministry (see Numbers 4).

He was in the land of Babylon by the River (or canal) called Kebar. That is to say, he was by the ancient city of Nippur – in modern terms, halfway between Baghdad and Basra. There Ezekiel received an extraordinary vision of the glory of God approaching him. Several of the elements of this vision are echoed in the Book of Revelation. All manner of strange interpretations have been offered of this vision: it is a vision of a space-ship, perhaps even of an alien space-ship; it is the imaginations of a mind affected by hallucinogenic drugs similar to LSD… Such speculations are unhelpful. We need rather, to read carefully what Ezekiel says about what he saw and to seek to understand it within the context of the message and symbolism of the Old Testament.

The vision described by Ezekiel is complex and many layered. It is difficult for us to get a clear picture of what he saw, though some have made an attempt to draw what it might have looked like. "Like" is perhaps the right term, for Ezekiel seeks to have struggled for words to describe it, using the word "like" some 18 times in his description, half of which are in vv. 24-28. The term, "likeness" is also used 10 times in this chapter. What is he struggling to describe?

The four living creatures he sees in the middle of the approaching fire have a human shape but each has four faces. As well as the face of a human, they have the face of a lion, an ox and an eagle. This imagery is later echoed in the four separate creatures which John sees before the throne of God in Revelation 4:7. In some way this represents the entirety of God's animate creation before the throne of God and serving him – with humanity presiding over it all (the human face and form is preeminent). But these creatures also have four wings, two of which stretch out to touch those of its neighbours. This is reminiscent of the description of the cherubim that stood over the Ark of the Covenant in Solomon's temple (see 1 Kings 6:27). The cherubim formed a symbolic throne for the living God (see 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15 etc.).

These four creatures seem to be carried in an elaborate chariot with complex wheels – wheels within wheels. The whole thing is flaming with glory and animated by the Spirit of God. Above these creatures is a vault or expanse sparkling like crystal (see Revelation 4:6, 21:11), above which again was a great throne of lapis lazuli (like the blue of the sky), "and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man" (v. 26). Here especially, Ezekiel is struggling for words to describe what he saw, for in his vision the "man" looks like fire "and brilliant light surrounded him" which was "like the appearance of a rainbow" (v. 27, 28). "This", says Ezekiel, "was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down" (see Revelation 1:12-17).

Ezekiel had been granted a vision of the glory of God, the ruler over heaven and earth and every creature on earth. It must have been a terrifying sight, but it was accompanied by a rainbow, reminding him of God's covenant with creation – his purpose to bless rather than to destroy.

Living God, you have revealed your glory to us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are amazed that your glory is revealed not to crush and destroy us but to save us and bless us – and to bless all creation. We bow down before you, triune God; we worship you. Animate us by your Spirit and set us ablaze with your glory that we may image you and play our part in bringing all of your creation to reflect your glory and echo your praises.

Peter Misselbrook