I looked, and I saw a violent storm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
Their faces looked like this: each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upwards, each wing touching that of the creatures on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
Ezekiel 1: 4-14
One thing that is for sure, if you are outside when a firework display begins somewhere, even if just a private one in someone’s back garden, people will stop for a moment and look. This is something that has an attraction for us, to see lights in the sky.
I imagine Ezekiel’s vision as happening during the day rather than dusk or night, and yet there was enough brightness and flashing to attract such attention as a firework display would do at night. Of course, the brightness required is much more during the daytime. And there were other signs attached – just to make sure that Ezekiel’s attention would be drawn to it.
Ezekiel first thought that a storm was coming from the north. He was in a part of the world where storms and rain would be considered precious. If you were not close to a river, the land was very dry and rain was rare. But occasionally there would be rain and it might indeed arrive in a storm – most likely a thunderstorm if it was the season. And it makes sense to look to the north, when you are in this region, because if the weather will bring some damp then it would most likely come from the north.
Even this detail about the vision of God is interesting. That he would reveal himself, maybe as Ezekiel was checking the weather in the north, hoping for some refreshing rain. Yes, he was by a river, but the summer months are hot and very dry in that region. A little summer rain, a thunderstorm, would be pleasant and refreshing, and would also mean some relief from the high temperatures of the summer months.
Relief was coming! But not what was expected. God was coming, and he is certainly the relief in a dry and depressing situation! And He was clearly coming in power. Bright enough to be like a firework display in the day, making parts of the clouds shine like superheated metal. Moving clouds in from the north.
We are not told if others saw this. It certainly seems that the creatures and other beings that Ezekiel meets later were for him alone. But such a display in the sky – surely it would have been seen over a wide area? Even if Ezekiel was taking a solitary walk, yet such a display in the sky must surely have been noticed.
Maybe it is this fact that enabled people to stop and to listen to Ezekiel when he began to tell them his very strange tale of the strange things that he had seen. They had all noticed the fireworks, the brightness in the sky like superheated metal, the storm clouds and the unusual lightning. This was no ordinary storm cloud, and not ordinary lightning. Maybe it was even frightening to see.
The Hebrews in the area, we can think by derivation from the introduction, could well have been thinking that they are despised by God to be in the situation that they were in, away from their homeland and having to work for the powerful people who had destroyed and defeated their country. So maybe they were even wondering if they were about to suffer more judgement and destruction, but this time more directly from God Himself.
This would not surprise me, anyway, because we often leap to the worst conclusions. I don’t know why people are like this, tending to think the worst rather than thinking the best of a situation, yet this is a common experience.
Of course, what was really happening was that God was revealing Himself to His people to show that He had not forgotten them. He was still with them, to care for them and to create a future for them. And Ezekiel was going to be His mouthpiece for this.
I want to pause for a moment and consider this human tendency to think the worst of a situation. The tendency to be negative, to feel we are under judgement if something goes wrong. The tendency to say ‘Typical!’ at such times, or ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ And why do we not say similar things when something good happens?
Maybe I am being too idealistic, but I really believe that there should be a growing difference between the Lord’s people, those who know Jesus, and the rest of the world. I think that difference should be a positive thing that is attractive for other people to see – and not just something that will cause others to say, ‘Weird!’
One way that I believe we should be different – and I am saying this also as a challenge to myself – is that we should become positive and optimistic people, grateful for the things we have and the things we receive. There are many positive and good people in the world, but the balance in society is towards the negative, fearing the worst in situations. And with this a feeling of dissatisfaction, grumbling and ingratitude.
I have spoken before about the potential negative effects of advertising, because for sure it becomes a challenge to be obedient to one of the ten commandments sometimes – that of not envying. The whole point of advertising is to make us lust after things, even sometimes things that really are not necessary at all. And so, especially if your finances are limited, you will see many things advertised that are just out of reach, yet the advertising has done its work and you lust after it anyway.
It is hard in that situation to be grateful for the things that you have, and even harder to realise and acknowledge in your situation that you are infinitely better off than the homeless street kids that exist in the poorer countries of the world.
We have a heavenly Father, when we belong to Christ, who cares for us and provides for our needs. He will provide food, water, clothing – those are the things that Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount. From my own experience with God, I would also add the provision of a safe place to sleep – but I do not have the scriptural authority to say so. And the fact about it is this: anything more than that is a bonus!
How different from the attitudes prevalent in the world today. Even in the way some people choose a partner – women often will not even consider a man who does not have abundant resources so that she can have ‘nice things.’ And this attitude can happen in reverse also, with men sometimes looking for wealthier women, being dismissive of the attentions of those in the same wealth bracket or lower.
Of course, such a relationship is not a partnership, it is to use someone for your benefit – and what in return? Your ‘love’? I would not call this love! Sex? Then what difference is there between this and being a prostitute if this is the gift for a wealthy person or in return for gifts of things?
What is very missing in the world is gratitude. Being thankful for what you have.
Saying grace before a meal seems very old-fashioned, and I am not necessarily saying here that Christian families must reintroduce this if not practised. But I will say this: the constant stream of imported foods did not always exist, nor the money to pay for it. So if the harvest of a crop failed, then in days gone by you could have problems and be really hungry. So it certainly seemed very relevant to be thankful for what you were able to serve at the table, because you could so easily have nothing.
There is more to the practise of gratitude. For one thing, it results in being happier in life. To constantly acknowledge that you have the things you need for life, and to see the provision of the Father, is to know that you are loved and cared for. But we have become ungrateful, not acknowledging the provision and the love of our Lord. We have become like modern ungrateful children who will even throw away and stamp on all the Christmas presents if they do not also have the fashionable toy that ‘everyone’ has or is getting (and because of the popularity is outrageously priced for what it is). And so often even if they do get it, by the time the Christmas season is finished and they have shown it off to some friends, it is hardly ever touched again…
Adults can be the same with God or with their spouse lusting for similar things that are felt necessary, but really are not. For instance, a car – for most people not a necessity and they would have more spare money without one. Or maybe a larger home. Or maybe to have a home in the suburbs instead of the centre. Or even the reverse of the last sentence… Or maybe a larger television (do you really need one at all?). Or a new computer. Or a gaming system (again, do you really need this?). Or the latest top-of-the-range mobile smartphone… This list is endless, and there are many excuses for feeling that you are ‘doing without’ and that your spouse maybe is not doing enough so that you do not have to ‘go without’ these things.
And so to be grateful for the fact that you have food, water, clothing… This is forgotten. Or that you have your health, and that you do not have to sleep in the open air like so many do (and are persecuted for what they cannot avoid).
God has provided you with so much! He is caring for you! And some are so far from realising this that they feel like there is some kind of separation between themselves and God simply for the fact that the TV stopped working and maybe needs replacing. The perspective about things is all twisted and far from natural or normal.
These days I watch very little television. I noticed several changes in me as a result. Firstly, when I do see television or go to the cinema, I notice just how much emotional abuse is normal in the scripts – especially of soap operas. This moves me emotionally much more now that I am not exposed to it as much as those who watch television daily. I recognise the abuse for what it is. And I wonder at the possible results of feeding this to a whole society or culture, and what it might mean to be hardened to such things.
But of course there is more… There is a lot of violence on television and sadness as a result. It was all just a story that I did not blink an eye at in the past, but it often drives me to tears now. And then the way that the news reports also focus so much on violence, and attempt to push the boundaries of what is actually seen. It was all just part of the ‘entertainment’ in the past, something for me to say ‘how terrible!’ (the tendency to negative thinking being fed – did you notice?) Yet now I can hardly bear to watch.
And again the question of what these kinds of things are doing to people and to society to become hardened to such things.
Then add to this the advertising, creating the lust for things. Things matter more than the happiness of our friends and family in this crazy world. As has been quoted in the past: things are meant to be used and people are meant to be loved, yet today we see the reverse of this.
So I long to see a church that is full of people who are truly grateful for the love and care lavished on them by our Lord and Father. A people who are optimistic and positive, because of the divine love, and the sharing of it with each other. A people who are not lusting after things, but who are happy with what they have, knowing that anything more than food, drink and clothing is a bonus (even the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head).
I long to see a people who are caring of each other and attentive to each other – maybe because their attention is not always being taken away from reality by the television or the latest computer game.
A people who know that God never abandons them, but is with them in power.
A people who can show the world what true happiness really is.