I’m having trouble sitting down. Already I’ve had 4 cups of coffee and edited my last post 19 times. I recheck my stats. Only two reads so far, and neither all the way through. It must need more editing. But yesterday’s post isn’t what’s really bothering me–it’s today’s. Hebrews is daunting enough. But Hebrews plus Ezekiel feels over the top, and that’s what my One Year Bible is serving up today.
God, please show up.
So who was Ezekiel? He was a 30-year-old priest of Judah, living in exile in Babylon. He was taken there at the same time King Jehoiachin and others were brought during the second wave of Judean captivity. The year is 593 BC, six years before the final fall of Jerusalem. Thirty was the age when a man traditionally began his priestly duties at the temple, but as an exile, he’s a man without a country, a priest without a temple. At the time of Ezekiel 1, he’s been in Babylon five years. (Guzik, enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-1/).
When Ezekiel’s book begins, he’s by the Kebar River in Babylon with the exiles. It’s the “fourth month on the fifth day” of his thirtieth year. I appreciate his taking the time to set the stage with location and date, but what he says in the next sentence sounds like a set up for a sci-fi story, not Bible stories from Babylon.
Ezekiel writes, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God,” 1:1. For the rest of this reading (1:3-3:14), he tells what these visions were. And then he steps back into life along the river, “I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–overwhelmed,” 3:15.
Ezekiel lived more than 2,000 years ago, yet he describes what sounds like technologies available only in the last decade. His details are compelling enough for me to believe he’s describing exactly what he says he’s describing–God himself. The grounding of his vision in matter-of-fact date and location, both before and after it occurs, makes what he writes all the more compelling. I believe it took place just as he describes it.
What did he see? A windstorm, “an immense cloud with flashing lightning surrounded by brilliant light,” came “out of the north.” In its center was a fire that looked like glowing metal, and in this fire were four winged creatures with bodies like men but with four faces each. Their faces were those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. They had human hands under their wings and feet like calves. Ez 1:4-8.
This is a description of cherubim, a kind of angel commonly depicted in the fabrics, sculpture, and wall decor of the temple in Jerusalem. They were believed to be the angels who carried God’s throne. As a priest, Ezekiel would have recognized them.
On the ground next to the cherubim were wheels that moved with them, though they were unattached to them. Ezekiel says, “the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels” so that they went everywhere together. They “sparkled like chrysolite” and were made of two wheels that intersected one another, able to go in any direction without turning. 1:16-21. They sound something like the swivel wheels of baby strollers today, which would have been an extraordinary piece of technology for Ezekiel to describe in the days before iPhones—and before baby strollers, for that matter.
These wheels didn’t roll. Who ever heard of wheels that don’t roll? Surely not previous generations. But we can buy hover boards at Target now. These wheels also have high rims with eyes all around. I haven’t seen wheels with living eyes around them, but with baby monitors and FaceTime putting our eyes wherever we want them, and cars alerting us when we’re out of our lane, I think we’re moving closer to what likely sounded impossible to my parents. Who knows what’s next?
The appearance and movement of the cherubim-on-wheels was like flashes of lightning, And their sound was “like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army.” When they stopped, they lowered their wings, 1:13-14, 24-25.
Ezekiel sees an expanse over their heads, a sky sparkling like ice. Above this expanse, he hears a voice and as it speaks, the cherubim stop and lower their wings. He sees a throne of sapphire above the ice-sky and high above the throne was “a figure like that of a man.” From the waist up, he glows like hot metal, and from the waist down, he’s consumed with fire. A brilliant light shines all around him, radiant like a rainbow. Ezekiel knew it was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” 1:25-28.
When Ezekiel sees him, he falls facedown, but God tells him to stand up. “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” God tells him he’s sending him to the Israelites, “a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me…to this very day.” God says though they’re hard-hearted, Ezekiel is to say God’s words to them, whether they listen or not. He tells Ezekiel not to be afraid of them but to listen to him and to say what he tells him. 2:1-8.
God unrolls a scroll before him with writing on both sides, “words of lament and mourning and woe.” God says to eat it, and he does. It tastes sweet like honey. God says again to go to his people and “speak my words to them.” And not to worry, that though his people are hardened and obstinate, he will make Ezekiel equally as hard as they. “I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint,” 2:9-3:9.
God tells him at least twice more to go and speak and not be afraid. The last time, he says Ezekiel must listen carefully, take to heart all the words God gives him, and tell them to his countrymen, 3:4-11. It sounds like a 3-point takeaway: listen, believe, speak.
What does this mean? For Ezekiel, it seems pretty straightforward: God commissions him straight from heaven to tell his people everything God says. Ezekiel, the priest, is now Ezekiel, the prophet. Unless Ezekiel uses this as an excuse to say that he, and not the dog, ate his homework, he will be standing by the Kedar River the next Sabbath to preach.
Eating a scroll is an odd way to get a point across, but it would be a hard one to forget. Ezekiel didn’t just hear God speak in his vision, he held the scroll of his words. He bit into them and tasted them. He chewed and swallowed. He digested them. He became literally filled up with God’s words, so that they become part of him, fueling his body and empowering his heart to do the job God’s given him. The 3-point takeaway after his scroll snack said basically the same thing.
More than just giving him a sermon assignment, God’s given Ezekiel a charge to let his words impact his own life, change his own heart, and become his own before he speaks them to God’s people.
And suddenly the first three chapters of Ezekiel don’t feel so daunting the way they did. They sound like simple wisdom. Anybody who wants to impact others with God’s words has to listen to them and believe them first for their own life, to let them do their good work in their own heart. Which makes sense. I can’t tell a grand-buddy to respect his brother if I’m not respecting him, too. My son won’t watch his words with me if I’m not watching mine with him first.
So while I love getting the scoop from this story about how important it is to let God’s words work first in me before I can share them, I can’t ignore the context. I’m missing the point if I ignore the utter majesty and splendor of this God and his cherubim drawn chariot on wheels. Ezekiel was so moved and undone by him that he spent seven days afterwards “overwhelmed,” 3:15.
I’m sure it never crossed his mind to refuse God’s commission. But before he could process any words on a scroll or lay out his 3-point sermon for Sunday, he’s got to reckon with the presence of God, his real and awesome presence. The presence that put his face in the dirt when he saw it, the glorious, cherubim-driven, sapphire-standing presence of the Lord God Almighty. I’m guessing there were seven straight days of feels to process. Some of that time, he had to be wondering “why me?”
I’m guessing it would be a hard thing to be humble about, if you’ve ever experienced God’s presence in any sort of way, but especially when you’ve seen it like Ezekiel has. Paul, the apostle, had an experience where he was caught up into paradise, he says, but a thorn was given him to keep him humble about it, 2 Co 12:6-10. Makes sense.
No one wants to hear of someone else’s fabulous encounter with God. Our flesh immediately wonders what’s wrong with us and secretly hopes “the blessed one” will self destruct. Even if we’re able to bring our redeemed self to the discussion, she feels tempted to feel sad, at least. Why him? Why not me?
The key would have to be humility. Paul had humility forced on him. Some think his “thorn” was a speech impediment after his experience. I’m guessing Ezekiel will find humility, too. Jesus is the only one of us who could legitimately be cocky about who-he-is and who-he-knows, but his posture on earth was humble, not proud.
And maybe this is the tell-tale sign, the inevitable outcome, of being in God’s presence: humility. Along with seeing God’s greatness, one’s own smallness can’t be missed. It’s a grand encounter that in itself humbles–a divine reality check.
God, I’m fascinated by this description of you in Ezekiel’s vision. And I’m instructed by the 3-point takeaway to listen-and-believe-before-speaking. But I see that connecting with you also involved Ezekiel emotionally. I want to feel undone and overwhelmed by you like Ezekiel did. It wasn’t just his brain that took in your words that day. And it wasn’t just his body that ate and digested them. His heart was involved, too. I want my worship to move me in all these ways.
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first,” 3:12-14.
Hebrews reminds us of the story of Moses and the Israelites who wandered in the desert after being freed from Egypt. I want to breeze by it since I’ve just been up to my eyeballs in the stories of God’s stubborn people in Jeremiah. I can only hear about so many hard hearts before I’m feeling, well, hardhearted about them.
Skimming this chapter the words harden, rebellion, time of testing, angry, going astray, sinful, unbelieving, deceitfulness, disobeyed, unbelief all pop for me. They’re clues to what the point is, I think. God says not to be like his hardhearted, disobedient people who turn away from him.
He says instead to encourage one another everyday. And I’m surprised. I wouldn’t think that encouragement had that much power, to keep folks from being hardened by sin. But there it is right there in my Bible, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” I’m glad to know I can be this much help for someone else.
There are two places in this chapter where the writer says that unbelief is what causes hardheartedness, verses 12 and 19, which is another surprise. I assumed that it was just general nastiness, a bad mood, wounds from childhood, an enemy. You know, things we can’t control that cause it.
But the good news is it’s just plain ole’ unbelief. And unbelief can be turned into faith by repentance. I don’t have to get to the root of things (I can put my psychology books down), and I don’t have to wait for others to get on board. I don’t have to feel like I’m a hopeless wretch, either.
Whether my heart feels like rigamortis is setting in or just tightens in a particular person’s presence, I don’t have to freak out. I need to turn to God and ask for faith right there where I’m struggling to believe. To repent means to turn. So I’ve already done half of my part right when I ask for his help.
And the believe part? What is it I’m not believing? Maybe that this other person is God’s favorite, too, and deserves kindness. Maybe that I’m afraid to trust her to care and not reject me. Maybe that they didn’t mean to leave me out; it just looked like they did. Underneath all of these temptations to disbelieve truth, is a deeper unbelief that lurks: “I need to be well treated by everyone: I can’t live a happy life without it.” Unbelief leads to hardening because it refuses to trust God, and it shuts me down to others.
But I’ve got the Holy Spirit working in me 24/7, and I’ve got Jesus who watches out for me and tells God what I need. With help like the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, along with encouragement from others, I’ve got a pretty good support team.
There’s so much of living this Christian life that depends on you, God, to do the hard work, and the church, your people, to put their arms around me. I get to more or less point out what you need to get busy on and hang out with friends while you work. I like giving you my honey dos and letting you do all the heavy lifting.
This Psalm begins and ends with God’s glory. It’s another testimony by a different writer of the majesty and splendor Ezekiel experienced. It reads to me like it could have been Ezekiel’s journal for those seven days he was blown away.
These first 23 verses begin with God’s glory as seen in the heavens, and end with his glory as seen on earth. Its last words are about man. While I wouldn’t expect mankind to be the last piece of wonder in God’s creation, I also wouldn’t expect him to be the first. But in the way this psalm is constructed, that’s just what the writer seems to say.
The psalmist writes about God’s glory that trickles down like *water from the beams of his upper rooms and the clouds of his chariot rides and flows over the mountains and into the valleys. It quenches the thirsts of the earth and its creatures, makes grass grow for food, nourishes trees who care for birds. Its pulled by the moon that marks off seasons, affects time and sun rise. The lions roar expecting their food from God. And man “goes out to work, to his labor until evening.”
Because of God’s magnificence, the world works, and all of it benefits man, made in his image, who like God, works. God works and the world works and man works, a full circle of blessing and glory. The psalmist could just have easily written about the praise of God that trickled down and around. Or the love. Or the justice. God is everything good.
*water as a metaphor for God’s glory, goodness, and presence is found elsewhere in places like Jn 4:10-11; 7:38, Ps 87:7, Jer 2:13, Rev 21:6.
My take away today is the magnificence of God alongside his tender care. I see it in Ezekiel in the way he wows him with his glory and makes sure he’s got Ezekiel’s attention, and then delivers his message which is basically, “look after my people.”
Why does he care?
I see it in Hebrews when he warns us not to let unbelief and sin creep in, but to encourage one another daily. He lets our love for one another help to keep us soft and open. He wants us to make it all the way home to him, “holding firm,” til the end, 3:12-14.
And I see it in this psalm. God is the Mighty One “who rides on the wings of the wind” yet bends down to feed the lions. The people who do their work, bearing and caring for their own creatures and peeps, bear his image, his glory.
It’s such a beautiful thing you give us, God, to let us be like you.
Show us more of your glory.