We have been studying the first part of the first vision of god that was given to Ezekiel the prophet. He received these visions and prophecies during the time of the Exile of Israel in the land of the Babylonians. The people felt rejected and despised by God, but, through the visions of Ezekiel, they were to learn that God had not forgotten them, that He was still very much interested in them, and that He had plans for their future and to prosper them.
We have looked at the description of the strange four living creatures that descended from fire, brilliant brightness, and lightning in the sky. Next to these creatures were four wheels, which moved in a similar way to the four creatures – and so I will not repeat myself by going into a detailed description of how they moved. But these also did not turn.
They were each, in effect, two wheels, because in the description we are informed that they were a wheel intersecting a wheel. In this way there could be turnings that can change with the direction of movement – more turning of the one than the intersecting one – without the combination itself turning or changing direction. This is very much as the four living creatures. They moved with the spirit and without turning.
And this in itself has something to teach us. How much do we respond to the Holy Spirit and to where God wants to take us in our lives? Are we easily distracted? Or do we, like the four living creatures and the four wheels, manage to move without turning in the direction of the Spirit? Is there total commitment, or is there looking to one side or another? I would suggest this as a subject for private meditation at some time…
But now we will move on with the next part of the vision, : Ezekiel 1:22-28
Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one towards the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up her looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Strangely, I found the book that this series of studies is named after is rather useful to help visualise certain things about all this that Ezekiel saw. In this passage, the author, who was also a NASA engineer and designer, visualised the whole thing like a piece of technology. A kind of upside-down helicopter with the rotors underneath the vehicle. And that there were four sets of rotors on support pylons underneath, and at the ends of those pylons were the wheels. And then, of course, when the whole vehicle came to rest, the rotors would be switched off and hang loose, like with many modern helicopters. Above them, the main vehicle (the ‘vault’ and the ‘throne’ above) with a mainly glass, or at least transparent, fuselage. The lights (the ‘rainbow’) were the many colours of the HUD projected onto the transparent fuselage and canopy.
OK, I am not going to support the idea of ancient astronauts here with this vision, because I believe it to be what Ezekiel says it to be: a vision of God. But the overall shapes that one can imagine from the ‘technology’ actually do help to visualise the arrangement of things that Ezekiel was seeing. Also, to help with your visualisation, you need to know what lapis lazuli is like if you do not already know. It is a rock that is bright blue in colour, a blue that is a bit darker than sky blue. There are often veins and marbling in the appearance, so that it is not just a plain face of bright blue.
So on this throne was a being in the shape of a man, from the waist down like fire, and from the waist up like glowing hot metal. I think that if a being like this arrived in front of me, with much loud noise, through a fiery cloud in the sky and with much lightning, and supported by four strange living creatures like those described here, then I also would fall to the ground in sheer fear. Whether you are strong in the Lord, or whether you need to know Him better (which was certainly the case with Ezekiel at this point), this is a very unsettling and scary vision. You would wonder at the possibility of survival if a creature who appeared to be mostly fire would approach you…
Of course, the next chapter deals with the actual interactions with this being – and remember that, back in the introduction part of chapter one, Ezekiel calls this a vision of God.
Some commentators have suggested that this is a pre-incarnation appearance of the Word of God. To be honest, I am not sure what to think about such a suggestion. There are certainly signs in the Old Testament that lean towards indications of the doctrine of the Trinity. Even in this vision we are told about the spirit, but the creature that was addressing Ezekiel (in the next chapter and onwards) was no spirit, but physical.
We can think of other passages of scripture – how the Father is often described as both spirit and heavenly. Yet god walked in the garden of Eden and talked with Adam face to face, even after the fall. We have the visit of God to Abraham – but Abraham was visited by three at that time… We have the appearance of God to Moses, who only saw the rear of God and was nearly killed by the contrast of such holiness and glory to his own fallen human nature.
And then there is the introduction part of the book of Job, where God and Satan meet on the earth to talk with each other face to face. There are other passages in the Old Testament that describe God as spirit. The Psalm of David that teaches about the omnipresence of God. And so on. There are so many ways that God is described, and that He presents Himself, in the Old Testament, but certainly you can begin to understand the trinity by making a study of such things.
Some suggest that this was pre-incarnation Jesus because if it was the Father, Ezekiel could possible be killed, as almost happened with Moses. But then, I am interested to know, was it Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit in the burning bush that spoke with Moses?
Some others suggest that the doctrine of the trinity is not important to know about or to believe in. And yet, if Jesus was not also divine, how could his sacrifice redeem all mankind and the whole of creation? And while he was walking among us on earth, he spoke of only doing that which he saw the Father doing. And then later, of course, he sent the Comforter – the Holy Spirit – to be with us and in us.
About this Paul teaches that we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and so we carry Him into every situation of life, whether sinful or not. There is the belief among some Christians that sin separates us from God. But this passage of scripture by the apostle Paul is in direct denial of such a belief. Because in it, Paul asks what is going on to unite the Holy Spirit (indwelling the believer) with a prostitute. So that if you fall to such a sin, you have taken the Holy Spirit with you into that sin. He has seen all you do (because of the indwelling) and experienced it along with you. Obviously, I don’t think this makes the Lord happy (and this was the whole point that Paul was trying to deliver!). Paul wanted us to be aware of how close the interaction with god really is for those who are his children, and how we have no excuse for sin (including the sin of legalism).
This whole passage of scripture makes me think of and ask the question: how do you see God? Is he only your pal that you can take with you to the bar and enjoy a good time with? Yes, Jesus went to the inn, and spoke with tax collectors and prostitutes, and was friendly, even loving, with all. But Jesus is also God, and so here is the one who used a whip to drive away the money changers from the temple. He is also the one who declared that he did not come to bring peace. He is also the one who declared that brother shall be against brother, and parents against children – and yet he also did not contradict himself over love.
Or do you see the Lord only as a burning fire? The one who will consume you and destroy you for the least sin? The one who is so high and holy that we are only dirty worms in comparison? And so you love verses like that in Isaiah 41 that says not to fear, you worm Jacob.
Or do you only see God as spirit, and omnipresent, so that no matter where you are in creation, he is there also. And how is that for you? The all-seeing eye of the ancient Egyptians? Or the evil eye of the Romans that looks for a reason to curse you?
Do you see the Lord as moody and short-tempered? Or as patient and loving? Studies have shown that, for many, this depends on what kind of parenting we experienced in our natural families. Obviously all parents are different, and some good and some bad. Some very disciplinarian, and some very easy-going. Well, let me tell you something: whatever kind of parenting you received, the Father is the best parent of all! Let Him reveal himself to you, and do not project on to Him the kinds of things that you experienced.
Ezekiel experienced a magnificent display before seeing God (to repeat, it does not say God in our text, but back in the introduction Ezekiel described this as a vision of God). He was left in no doubt as to the magnificence, the power, the majesty, the holiness, and the fearfulness. But, as we shall see in coming studies, God did not want Ezekiel to be grovelling in fear with his nose in the dirt. And he does not want that for any of us.
There is indeed the scripture which says that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (in Proverbs), but who wants to stay forever at the beginning of something? We are born into new life, but should we remain as new-born babes forever? Of course not! So those who brag about being ‘god-fearing’ Christians, I would suggest, need to learn something more about God. Yes, kids know that a Father’s hands can be used in discipline. But with good fathers, and of course we have the best Father, children do not live in fear of their Daddy, but enjoy his company, his hugs, his love, and to have a good time with Him.
How do you see God? Do you include his omnipresence in your thinking, and let this affect your behaviour? How about his indwelling of you, if you are a believer? And how does this affect your behaviour? How about the kingship and authority that has been given to Jesus now? He is at God’s right hand, which means he is honoured as an equal. And how do you view the Father? As a short-tempered disciplinarian, or as a loving carer, or something more?
All of these things affect how we behave, how we interpret scripture, how we understand liturgy and prayer, how we relate to our Lord. The way you see God is important in itself, and sometimes we need to allow God to show himself to us in different ways, so that we may be inspired in the best way to move on in Him.