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BOWING BEFORE OUR AWESOME GOD
By Warren W. Wiersbe
David C. CookCopyright © 2000 Warren W. Wiersbe
All rights reserved.
From Priest to Prophet
Like Jeremiah (1:2), Zechariah (1:1), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5ff.), Ezekiel ("God strengthens") was called by God from being a priest to serving as a prophet. As God's spokesman to the Jewish exiles in the land of Babylon, he would rebuke them for their sins and expose their idolatry, but he would also reveal the glorious future the Lord had prepared for them. He was thirty years old at the time of his call (Ezek. 1:1), the normal age for a priest to begin his ministry (Num. 4:1–3, 23).
It would have been much easier for Ezekiel to remain a priest, for priests were highly esteemed by the Jews, and a priest could read the law and learn everything he needed to know to do his work. Prophets were usually despised and persecuted. They received their messages and orders from the Lord as the occasion demanded and could never be sure what would happen next. It was dangerous to be a prophet. Most people resent being told about their sins and prefer to hear messages of cheer, not declarations of judgment.
Jeremiah had been ministering in Jerusalem for four years when Ezekiel was born in 622 BC, but surely as he grew up, he paid attention to what Jeremiah was saying. It's likely that Daniel and Ezekiel knew each other before the captivity, though there's no evidence they saw each other in Babylon. Ezekiel's prophetic ministry was greatly needed in Babylon because false prophets abounded and were giving the Jewish people false hopes of a quick deliverance (usually by Egypt) and a triumphant return to their land (Jer. 5:30–31; 27:1–11; 28:1–17). It's possible that King Zedekiah's visit to Babylon (51:59–61) and the arrival of Jeremiah's letter to the exiles (Jer. 29) both occurred the year Ezekiel received his call. Jeremiah's letter told the Jews that they would be in Babylon for seventy years and therefore should settle down, raise families, and pray for their captors. But Jeremiah also announced the ultimate fall of Babylon, a message the exiles were only too eager to hear.
The most difficult task of a prophet is to change people's minds. This means pulling up the weeds of false theology and planting the good seed of the Word of God. It also means tearing down the flimsy thought structures that false prophets build and constructing in their place lasting buildings on solid foundations of truth (Ezek. 13:10; 2 Cor. 10:3–6). To prepare him for his difficult ministry, the Lord caused Ezekiel to participate in three dramatic experiences.
1. Beholding the Glory of the Lord (1)
The kingdom of Judah had suffered greatly at the hands of victorious Babylon, and many Jewish people wondered if Jehovah was still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Ps. 74). Were the Jews not God's chosen people? Had not Jehovah defeated their enemies and given them the Promised Land? Was not Jerusalem His Holy City, and did He not dwell in their holy temple? Yet now His chosen people were exiles in a pagan land, their Promised Land was devastated, Jerusalem was in enemy hands, and the temple had been robbed of its precious treasures. It was a dark day for Israel, and the first thing Ezekiel needed to understand was that, no matter how discouraging the circumstances, God was still on the throne accomplishing His divine purposes in the world. There are many unexplained mysteries in the vision Ezekiel had, but one message comes through with clarity and power: Jehovah is the sovereign Lord of Israel and of all the nations of the earth.
The storm (vv. 3–4). The Chebar River (Kebar NIV) or canal flowed from the Euphrates River, south of the city of Babylon, where the Jewish exiles gathered for prayer (see Acts 16:13). Ezekiel mentioned it in Ezekiel 1:1; 3:23; 10:15, 20, 22; and 43:3. Apparently Ezekiel was there interceding with the other captives when the Lord called him to his new ministry. Isaiah was worshipping in the temple when God called him (Isa. 6), and Paul and Barnabas were engaged in worship at Antioch when they received their call (Acts 13:1–3). When Ezekiel went to the prayer meeting, it was just like any other day, but the Lord made it a turning point in his life. We never know what a difference a day will make when we're on the path of duty.
The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel in the form of a vision, and the hand of the Lord laid hold of him and claimed him for special service. The phrase "the word of the Lord came" is used fifty times in his prophecy and speaks of the authority of his message, and "the hand of the LORD" is found also in Ezekiel 3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; and 40:1. The word of the Lord brings enlightenment and the hand of the Lord enablement (see Eph. 1:15–23). In Scripture, a storm is often an image of divine judgment (Prov. 1:27; Isa. 66:15; Jer. 4:13; 23:19; Nah. 1:3). Since the immense whirlwind cloud Ezekiel beheld was coming from the north, it indicated the invasion of Judah by the Babylonian army and the destruction of the land, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple (Jer. 4:6; 6:1). For forty years, God had graciously led Israel by a fiery cloud, but now a fiery cloud was bringing chastening to His disobedient people. The prophet Jeremiah saw a similar vision at the beginning of his ministry (Jer. 1:13–16).
Ezekiel saw bright light around the cloud and an enfolding fire, like molten metal, within the cloud. Both are reminders of the holiness of God, for "our God is a consuming fire" (Ex. 19:16, 18; Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). As he described this vision, Ezekiel used the words like and likeness at least twenty-five times, indicating that what he saw was symbolic of realities God wanted to reveal to him. Throughout the Bible, the Lord uses familiar things to illustrate spiritual truths that are beyond human vocabulary and description.
The cherubim (vv. 5–14). In 10:15 and 20, Ezekiel identified the living creatures as the cherubim, heavenly creatures first mentioned in Genesis 3:24. The tabernacle curtains were embroidered with images of the cherubim (Ex. 26:1), and two cherubim were on the golden covering of the ark, the mercy seat (Ex. 25:18–22). Cherubim were very much in evidence in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:23–29; 2 Chron. 3:10–13) and in John's visions in the book of Revelation (Rev. 4:6–9; 5:6–14; 6:1–11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4). The creatures had the body of a human, straight feet like those of a calf, four faces and four wings, with human hands under the wings. Their wings were so arranged that the creatures did not have to turn; they could fly straight forward and change directions quickly. Their wings touched so that each creature was at the corner of a square that would be outlined by their wings.
Of special interest are their four faces: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (Ezek. 1:10). Man is the highest of God's creatures, being made in the image of God. The lion is the greatest of the untamed beasts of the forest, while the ox is the strongest of the domesticated beasts of the field. The eagle is the greatest of the birds and is even a picture of God (Deut. 32:11–12). But there is also a connection here with the covenant God made with Noah after the flood (Gen. 9:8–17). God promised not to destroy the world again with a flood, and He gave this promise to Noah (a man) and his descendants, the birds (the eagle), the livestock (the ox), and the wild animals (the lion). The presence of the cherubim before the throne of God is assurance that God remembers His promise and cares for His creatures. But it also reminds us that all of creation is used by the Lord to bless or to chasten His people. In this vision, they are a part of God's judgment on His sinful people.
The life of these creatures came from the "spirit" (or Spirit) within the cloud (Ezek. 1:12, 20), and this life enabled them to move like lightning; in fact, in their movements, they even looked like flashes of lightning. When Ezekiel first saw these creatures, he compared them to fiery amber or molten metal (v. 4); but as he watched them closely, he compared them to sparkling bronze (v. 7), burning coals of fire, lamps, and lightning (vv. 13–14). Like the apostle John describing the beauty of the Holy City (Rev. 21—22), the prophet ran out of words and had to draw pictures!
The wheels (vv. 15–21). There were four wheels (v. 16), each with an intersecting wheel and each associated with one of the cherubim. The intersecting wheels enabled the creatures and the cloud to move in any direction instantly without having to turn, moving like a flash of lightning. These wheels looked like chrysolite, a yellow or greenish-yellow precious stone; they were very high, as though reaching from earth to heaven, and their rims were awesome and full of eyes. The spirit (Spirit) of the living creatures was in the wheels, so that the living creatures moved in whatever direction the wheels moved. It was indeed an awesome sight, the huge wheels, the living creatures, the enfolding fire, and the eyes in the rims of the wheels. What an arresting picture of the providence of God, always at work, intricately designed, never wrong, and never late!
The firmament (vv. 22–25). This awesome expanse looked like sparkling ice (crystal) and stood over the heads of the cherubim. Now we get the total picture: a heavenly chariot with four wheels, moving quickly from place to place at the direction of the Lord. As it moved, the noise of the wings of the cherubim sounded like the noise of great waters coming together, "like the voice of the Almighty," and like the sound of a mighty army (Ezek. 3:13; 10:5; Ps. 46:3; Rev. 1:15; 14:2; 19:6). The wheels symbolize the omnipresence of God, while the eyes on their rims suggest the omniscience of God, seeing and knowing everything. Ezekiel was beholding a representation of the providence of God as He worked in His world. But one more item remained.
The throne (vv. 26–28). The wheels depicted God's omnipresence and omniscience, and the throne speaks of God's omnipotent authority. The throne was azure blue, with flashes of fire within it (holiness; see Rev. 15:2) and a rainbow around it (covenant grace). Noah saw the rainbow after the storm (Gen. 9:13–16), the apostle John saw it before the storm (Rev. 4:3), but Ezekiel saw it over the storm and in control of the storm. In His wrath, God remembers mercy (Hab. 3:2). Ezekiel realized that he was beholding the glory of the Lord (Ezek. 1:28), and he fell on his face in awesome fear (3:23; Dan. 8:17; 10:9, 15, 17; Rev. 1:17). The "man" he saw upon the throne was probably a preincarnate appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. (See Ezek. 8:2 and 40:3.)
The glory of the Lord is one of the key themes in Ezekiel (3:12, 23; 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18–19; 11:22–23; 39:21; 43:2, 4–5; 44:4). The prophet will watch God's glory leave the temple and go over the Mount of Olives, and he will also see it return to the kingdom temple. Because of Israel's sins, the glory left the temple, but God's promise is that one day the city of Jerusalem and the temple will be blessed by the glorious presence of the Lord. The city will be called "Jehovah Shammah—the Lord is there" (48:35).
Now we can begin to grasp the message that God was giving His prophet. Though His people were in exile and their nation was about to be destroyed, God was still on the throne and able to handle every situation. In His marvelous providence, He moves in the affairs of nations and works out His hidden plan. Israel wasn't the victim of Babylonian aggression. It was God who enabled the Babylonians to conquer His people and chasten them for their rebellion, but God would also bring the Medes and the Persians to conquer Babylon, and Cyrus, king of Persia, would permit the Jews to return to their land. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33 NKJV).
No matter what message God gave him to preach, or what opposition arose from the people, Ezekiel would be encouraged and strengthened because he had seen the mighty throne of God in the midst of the fiery trial. He had seen the glory of God.
2. Accepting the Burden of the Lord (2:1—3:3)
Ezekiel was now to receive his official commission as a prophet of the Lord God, and the Lord told him he was facing a very difficult task. Whether it's raising a family, teaching a Sunday school class, shepherding a church, or evangelizing in a distant nation, we have to accept people as they are before we can lead them to what God wants them to be. God gave Ezekiel four important commandments to obey.
(1) Stand and listen (2:1–2). As a result of beholding the vision, Ezekiel fell to the ground, completely overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord and the wonder of His providential working in the world. Who but the sovereign Lord could have a throne like a chariot and move as quickly as He pleased? Who but the Lord could travel in the midst of a fiery whirlwind to accomplish His great purposes?
Ezekiel is called "son of man" ninety-three times in his book, a title that the Lord also gave to Daniel (Dan. 8:17). "Son of Man" is also a messianic title (Dan. 7:13), which the Lord Jesus applied to Himself at least eighty-two times when He was ministering on earth. But in the case of Daniel and Ezekiel, the title "son of man" emphasized their humanity and mortality. Ezekiel was facedown in the dust when God spoke to him, reminding him and us of humankind's humble beginning in the dust (Gen. 1:26; 3:19). "For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14 NKJV). God remembers, but sometimes we forget.
There is a time to fall down in humble adoration, and there is a time to stand up and take orders (Josh. 7:6ff.). The command of the Word and the power of the Spirit enabled Ezekiel to stand to his feet, and the Spirit entered him and strengthened him. On many occasions, the Spirit would lift him up (Ezek. 2:2, 3:14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5) and give him special power for his tasks (3:24; 11:5). The important thing was that Ezekiel stand obediently before the Lord and listen to His word.
(2) Go and speak (2:3–5). Prophets weren't people who majored only in foretelling the future, although that was part of their ministry. They were primarily forth-tellers who declared God's Word to the people. Sometimes they gave a message of judgment, but it was usually followed by a message of hope and forgiveness. The Jews needed to hear Ezekiel's messages because they were rebellious, stiff-necked, and hard-hearted. At least sixteen times in this book you find the Jews described as "rebellious." They had revolted against the Lord and were obstinate in their refusal to submit to His will. Their refusal to obey the terms of the covenant had led to their defeat and capture by the Babylonian army. Even in their captivity, they were nursing false hopes that Egypt would come to their rescue or the Lord would do a great miracle.
So rebellious were the Jewish people that God called them "a rebellious nation" and used the Hebrew word goy, which was usually reserved for the Gentiles! Israel was God's chosen people, a special nation, and yet they were acting like the Gentiles, who didn't have all the blessings and privileges God had given the Jews. This wasn't a very encouraging word for the young prophet, but he needed to know in advance that his work would be difficult. God gave the same kind of message to Isaiah when He called him (Isa. 6:8–13). But whether the people listened and obeyed or turned a deaf ear, Ezekiel had to be faithful to his task (1 Cor. 4:2).
(3) Don't be afraid (2:6–7). Three times in verse 6 the Lord admonished the prophet not to be afraid of the people, and He repeated it again (Ezek. 3:9). He had given a similar caution to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus gave the same warning to His disciples (Matt. 10:26, 28, 31). "Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass?" (Isa. 51:12 NKJV). Ezekiel was to declare God's word boldly no matter how his listeners responded. His own people might act like briars and thorns, and even like painful scorpions, but that must not deter His servant.
(4) Receive the Word within (2:8—3:3). Being a priest, Ezekiel knew that the Hebrew Scriptures pictured God's Word as food to be received within the heart and digested inwardly. Job valued God's Word more than his "necessary food" (Job 23:12), and Moses admonished the Jews to live on God's Word as well as on the bread (manna) that the Lord supplied daily (Deut. 8:3; see Matt. 4:4). The prophet Jeremiah "ate" the Word of God (Jer. 15:16), and so did the apostle John (Rev. 10:8–10). God's prophets must speak from within their hearts or their messages will not be authentic.
Excerpted from BE REVERENT by Warren W. Wiersbe. Copyright © 2000 Warren W. Wiersbe. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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