We are starting a new series called A New Heart which will come from the book of Ezekiel. We are told in the first three verses of the book that Ezekiel is a priest who had been taken into exile in the land of Babylon. Though a priest, he is commissioned by God to be a prophet to the captured people of Judah. We also learn that Ezekiel was by the Chebar River in Babylon when he saw the visions of God. There are God’s people who remain in Judah and Jerusalem after the first and second Babylonian invasions. It is in the second invasion that Ezekiel and many of the workers of Judah are captured and taken to Babylon. But Ezekiel’s task is to preach to the people who have been taken. In your Bibles there is another prophet named Jeremiah who preaches to the people who were not captured in these invasions.
But God has not written off his people even though they have sinned, even though they have been captured, and even though they are now living as exiles in Babylon. What will be God’s message to his people who have been punished for their sins? What is God going to do for his people now that they are in exile? How are things going to be different as God looks to change the hearts of the people to be what he has called them to be? The book of Ezekiel is not just a prophecy about judgments. Sometimes we can read the prophets with this lens. The book of Ezekiel is going to explain what went wrong, getting underneath their sinning problem, and then explain the solution so that the people will have new hearts and a new hope. So this is how we are going to look at the book. What is God telling his people and what do the people need to learn? What does God promise his people and how does he communicate that message? Knowing the book of Ezekiel is critical to our walk with God because he is going to show us what he wants us to be as his people in this book.
Ezekiel’s Glorious Vision
If you have read the book of Ezekiel before, you have likely been completely blown away by the first chapter. The first vision that Ezekiel receives is an amazing vision. If you have not read the book of Ezekiel before, then you are in for a treat. This book contains amazing visions. As we read this vision, I want you to do two things. First, I want you to do your best to visualize what you are seeing as if Ezekiel was seeing it. Now there are some difficulties with this because this is the spiritual realm. So what you will see can be confusing. But as we read, visualize it like Ezekiel was seeing it. Second, I want you to think about why God is showing this vision to Ezekiel. Why is the vision that Ezekiel needs to see and the people need to know? What is the meaning of this vision and what would it communicate to the people? So let’s read Ezekiel 1.
Messages From The Vision
There are a number of messages about God in this vision. The vision shows us the glory of God in this throne room. But what a different vision of the throne room than what Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6. So what was God trying to show Ezekiel and the people in exile with this different picture of God and his throne?
God is not limited.
One picture that we see of God is that he is everywhere and he goes everywhere. There is a wheel on the earth (1:15). There are wheels within wheels that allow the throne to go every direction. We are seeing God’s global rule. Nothing is out of God’s jurisdiction or control. God is even with Ezekiel though Ezekiel in at the Chebar River in Babylon (1:3).
God is not ignorant.
Another picture we see of God is that he is not ignorant. The rims of the wheels have eyes all around (1:18). He sees everything. There nothing outside of God’s knowledge or consent.
God is not crooked.
One of the amazing pictures of the wheels is that there are wheels within wheels so that the throne goes in all directions without turning (1:17). This is a key attribute of God. God does not turn (cf. James 1:17). God does not shift. God does not change. Everything God does is straight and right. God does nothing wrong. God is right and goes straight in all he does, all he allows, and all he consents.
God is not passive.
Did you notice how much action is going on in this throne vision? We have living creatures that are moving. The wheels are moving. Wings are moving which is causing a sound like many waters and like the sound of a mighty army. All is not quiet in the throne room of God. God is not asleep. We see constant action. Further, in verse 4 you will notice that God is pictured as coming in a stormy wind, a great cloud with brightness all around it, and in the midst of a fire. These are images of judgment which is confirmed in that he is pictured as coming from the north (1:4). God is at work. God sees. God is preparing to judge as he comes from the north like an invading nation.
God is not unfaithful.
There is beauty in the picture of God’s throne. As Ezekiel looks above the throne one of the things he sees is a rainbow (1:28). The appearance of the brightness above the throne is described as a bow in the cloud on a rainy day. The rainbow reminds us that God is always faithful. The rainbow was a sign to Noah that God will keep his word. God keeps his promises and keeps his covenant.
God is not like us.
Finally, we see that God is not like us. God is so not like us that Ezekiel has difficulty describing the this throne scene and we have trouble understanding what we are reading. God is not like us. We must not make his like us. We must not bring God down to our level. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. The glory of the Lord cannot be described and defies visualization. So what is God trying to teach the people and trying to teach us with this vision?
First, beholding the glory of God must lead us to be in deep awe of God. We need to see who this God is. We need to see God with this majesty and glory. Beholding the glory of God is to lead us to worship, submission, and humility. You will notice that this is the response of Ezekiel. Look at Ezekiel 1:28. When Ezekiel saw this, he fell on his face. The glory of God puts Ezekiel on the ground. Ezekiel cannot stand but is on the ground at this scene. But to be more accurate, notice what the text says Ezekiel saw in verse 28. Notice that the text does not say that Ezekiel saw the glory of God. The text does not even say that he saw the likeness of the glory of God. The text says that he saw the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God. He did not get the full glory of God. Ezekiel is seeing a vision. The vision is showing the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God and it puts Ezekiel on the ground. We need to have this view of God. We cannot stand before the Lord. We cannot stand before the glory of the Lord. We cannot stand even in a vision of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God. We need to see that glory and let us move us each day to worship him, to submit to him, and to be humble.
Second, the New Testament says something staggering about this idea. Listen to what is said about Jesus in the Gospel of John.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 CSB)
No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him. (John 1:18 CSB)
Did you catch what John said? We saw the glory of God. No one has seen God. But we have seen Jesus and when we see Jesus, we are seeing glory. This is what the apostle Paul is seizing on when he writes to the Corinthians.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
How will we be transformed from our old self to the new self? How will we put sin to death? How will be put on the armor of God? How will be we changed into what God wants us to be? The apostle Paul says that when we behold the glory of the Lord we are being transformed into the same image. Seeing the glory of the Lord is what will change us. Seeing who our God is, a God who is not limited, who is not ignorant, who is not crooked, who is not passive, who is not unfaithful, and who is not like us, we are going to experience the transformation God wants us to have. God is showing himself to Ezekiel and the exiles so that the heart transformation can begin. We must have our eyes open and behold the glory of the Lord.
Finally, this vision helps us see that in our darkest times, God in all of his glory is there with us. Go back to Ezekiel 1:3. Ezekiel is by the Chebar River in Babylon. He is not in Jerusalem anymore. He is not in the promised land anymore. He has been captured and taken away from God’s promised land. Judah has experienced God’s punishment for their sins. That is why Ezekiel is in Babylon by the Chebar River. But Ezekiel 1:3 says that the hand of the Lord was upon him there. God is with you wherever you are. What a glorious comfort! The vision begins with the God of the storm and ends with the God of the rainbow who is on his throne. When sitting alone in the darkness, feeling separated from God, know that God is with you in that dark space and turn your eyes upward to the glorious throne of our Lord.