by Pastor David Groendyk
Before we begin this long trek through the book of Ezekiel, I’m reminded of something Kevin DeYoung once said. Before preaching a sermon from Revelation, he said that perhaps the only book of the Bible more difficult to understand than Revelation is Ezekiel. So, brother or sister, if you find yourself confused while reading through this section of the Bible, take heart. You’re not alone in not understanding Ezekiel. Your three pastors will do their best to explain the text of Ezekiel but also make it relevant and applicable and, above all, worshipful and God-glorifying.
Ezekiel the prophet was born around 623 BC and began prophesying around 592 BC (don’t forget that in the BC timeline the numbers go backward). If you know your history, you’ll know that Judah has begun to be conquered by Babylon around that time. There were a few mini-exiles leading up to the final nail in the coffin where Babylon overthrew Jerusalem in 586 BC, and Ezekiel himself was part of a mini-exile in 597 BC. Hence, Ezekiel is prophesying about Judah while living in a foreign country (Ezek. 1:3). Wrath and judgment have started to be poured out on God’s people, and it will be finished in just a few years. And that history helps us to understand the message of this book. Ezekiel is about God giving blessing to his special covenant people, removing it from them, and promising to give it back. In very strategic places throughout the book, there are grand descriptions of the glory of the Lord. His glory either is dwelling with the people (Ezek. 8:4) or is leaving the people (Ezek. 10:18) or is coming back to his people (Ezek. 43:5). When the glory of the Lord is present, then the Lord himself is present, and he is in good relationship with his people. However, due to Judah’s sin and rebellion, the Lord had sworn that he would punish them and remove his presence; and yet, there is tremendous hope at the end of this book in the form of God’s glory and presence returning. But it’s not just Judah that is in God’s line of sight. Another major theme in the book is the universality of God’s reign, rule, grace, and mercy. “They will know that I am the Lord” (or something similar) gets repeated in Ezekiel something like 75 times in 48 chapters. There’s a clue right there about what you’re supposed to take away from reading this book! The Lord is making himself known, not just to his people, but to the entire world.
Ezekiel can be broadly divided up into three parts:
1. Judgment coming to Jerusalem (chapters 1–24)
2. Judgment coming to the nations (chapters 25–32)
3. Hope and restoration coming to all of God’s people (chapters 33–48)
Chapters 1–3 describe God calling Ezekiel to be a prophet. It very much parallels Isaiah’s call (Isa. 6:1–13) and Jeremiah’s call (Jer. 1:4–19), except that Ezekiel’s call is far more elaborate and complex. All of chapter 1 is nothing more than the Lord approaching Ezekiel. I highly recommend not trying to draw what you read. The descriptions of this scene are both awe-inspiring and perplexing. Who are these flying living creatures? Do they really each have four different faces? Ezekiel later identifies them as cherubim (angels) in Ezekiel 10:20. The four faces may simply be poetic imagery to teach us that they are utterly majestic and different from us, or perhaps he is being literal. Although with these grand prophetic and apocalyptic scenes, it’s usually best to understand wild descriptions as poetic rather than literal.
The throne with wheels inside of wheels and covered with eyes is difficult to interpret too. But the gyroscope-like nature of the wheels indicate that this is a throne that can move anywhere and everywhere, in all directions. The eyes may be gemstones that line the wheels, or maybe they truly are eyes, indicating that God is not just omnipresent but all-seeing as well. However, verses 26–28 is the grand climax. It is the Lord himself. This heavenly vision is very similar to Israel seeing God on the top of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19–20, as well as the apostle John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 4. There are angels, lightning, fire, clouds, a mighty roaring sound, a great brightness, and the presence of the Spirit. This is a vision of the glory of God unlike almost any other in Scripture.
But again, do not get too wrapped up in this other-worldly description. Because it’s meant to be incomprehensible and indescribable! What kind of God would we have if we could simply and accurately write down on paper exactly what it’s like to behold his glory? Rather, this description is incomprehensible to us because God’s glory is incomprehensible to us. We will spend ten thousand years and then forevermore trying to comprehend our God in heaven and singing his praises, and we’ll have only just begun! Verse 28b is what we all need to take away from chapter 1: “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face.” Ezekiel’s response ought to be our response too. We fall on our face before the majestic and mighty Creator, the holy and just judge who punishes all sin, and the redeemer and savior who makes a way to dwell with us again. Spend some time meditating and praising God for his matchless and inexpressible greatness.