Week Forty Four: Ezekiel 1–3; 33–34; 36–37; 47
The first chapter of the book of Ezekiel has always left me speechless. And that is a major achievement, as I am one inclined to many words. Ezekiel was a prophet of visions. He faithfully recorded these visions no matter how wild or improbable they may have seemed. In so doing, he left an extraordinary record of heavenly hope that has fortified the faithful down through the ages.
Ezekiel was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah. He may have been born around the time Jeremiah first began to prophesy, maybe a year or so before. Unlike Jeremiah, it is believed that Ezekiel came from the elite class of priests descended from Zadok. This inner circle of respected leaders in Jerusalem were among the first deported to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar lay siege to Jerusalem in 597 BC. For context, while Ezekiel was prophesying among the exiled community in Babylon, Jeremiah was prophesying in Jerusalem, Daniel was prophesying to the king of Babylon, and Lehi, after his trials as a prophet in Jerusalem, was following the Lord’s prompting to leave Jerusalem with his family and the bronze plates. Ten years later, the Babylonians returned to totally destroy Jerusalem and deport the large majority of its population to Babylon. Before being exiled to Babylon, Ezekiel might have been a disciple of Jeremiah.
All of Ezekiel’s prophetic utterances were experienced and recorded in Babylon. Ezekiel carefully dated many of his visions and inspirations, recording the day, month and year when he experienced them. This first vision, recorded in chapter one, occurred “in the thirtieth year in the fifth month in the fourth day of the month…In the fifth month in the fifth year of the captivity of King Jehoiachin (who preceded Zedekiah and was taken to Babylon with Ezekiel.) No one really knows what the thirtieth year means… it may mean that Ezekiel himself was 30 years old, which would mean he’d had been taken to Babylon when he was 25, this is the assumption that helps sort out the other dates.
Ezekiel’s first vision is a grand prelude to all the revelations that follow and it is a doozy.
This vision is swept in by a whirlwind from the north…the word for wind in Hebrew is ruach…the same word is used for breath and spirit. Many of Ezekiel’s visions are initiated by wind or the spirit. This first one is saturated with light, color and symbolic creatures who decorate and move in harmony with an extraordinary platform or chariot that hovers aloft, with concentric wheels covered with eyes (perhaps symbols of God’s all seeing eye) that “when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
When those went, these went, and when those stood, these stood: and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.”
This vehicle, bearing creatures at each side who looked like men with wings but who also bore the faces of a lion, an ox and an eagle and an “appearance. . .like burning coals of fire and like the appearance of lamps:….and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightening.”
This tremendous vision sounds a bit like an airborne self-driving vehicle as “the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creatures was as the color of wonderful crystal stretched over their heads above.” The KJV uses the word terrible to describe the crystal but the Hebrew word that is in the original means ‘wonderful’, so I have used that language instead. The vision is more fantastic than my granddaughter’s fantasy novels. And it continues in splendor:
“And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.
And above the firmament that was over their heads it was the look of sapphire stone—the likeness of a throne: and above the likeness of a throne, like a human form upon it above. And I saw the appearance of amber, like the look of fire within it all around—-from the look of the loins above and from the look of his loins below I saw like the look of fire with radiance all around. Like the look of the rainbow that is in the clouds on the day of rain, this was the look of radiance all round, the look of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And I saw and fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.
(Jeremiah 1:20-25 KJV and 1:26-28 The Hebrew Bible)
And thus concludes this stunning first chapter of Ezekiel, a vision of light and rainbow infused color from whence speaks the voice of the Lord, the King James Version records:
“As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.”
Ezekiel 1:28 KJV
I must confess that when I first read this vision of Ezekiel’s as a child, it was weird – even a bit terrifying – to me. But reading it now it is awesome. No modern day fantasy can outdo the wondrous spectacle that Ezekial faithfully recorded. His vision often uses the words “likeness” or ” the appearance of” to clarify that it is only possible to describe it with metaphors or similes….this effort to capture what was seen in words can only be approximated because it was more glorious and fantastic than humans can quite describe. What a brilliant prelude this is to a book packed with visions that, along with astonishment, gave hope, admonishment, counsel and understanding to the exiled people of Ezekiel’s time. Please read this extraordinary record….it is saturated with insight and revelation for our time as well.