In the previous study we had the rather scary part of Ezekiel’s vision, the part where the angels of death were sent throughout Jerusalem. Although I did not mention it last time, I did think about the comparison with the night of the first Passover, when the Israelites were still captive in Egypt. On that night, the angel of death passed by each house where the doorposts were painted with the blood of a lamb.
In Ezekiel’s vision, the agents of death did not touch any person who were marked on their forehead by the angelic scribe. I can’t help also making a comparison with the vision of John the Revelator, where the mark of the beast is placed on the forehead of all. It has often been said that the devil creates nothing except lies, and that nothing new comes from him. So indeed, if this comes into physical reality, there is the scriptural inspiration for the devil to copy.
But here is the thing that some people just do not seem to understand: visions and dreams are pictures to give an idea about a situation – to reveal what God thinks and feels about things, and to reveal something about the ways God wishes to intervene in a situation. Visions and dreams are not literal in every single detail. Yes, the details can teach us something, but a too literal interpretation will lead to error.
Let’s look at the way this is true for the vision of Ezekiel. He did not literally dig his way through a wall in the physical world, and there find a door. And as I said before, the hidden room he discovered with the seventy elders may or may not have represented an actual physical room. But in the vision symbology, the 70 elders represented all the Israelites. That number also represents the perfection of the law, and in this case how this perfection was being ignored, even insulted, by the offering of incense to idols.
Again, there is no record in history about the survivors of the siege of Jerusalem having strange marks on their heads. So this is only symbolic of the judgement – the difference, in god’s eyes – between those who recognised sin and grieved because of it, and those who thought it was OK, or not their business, or who openly approved.
In my view, many crazy things have been assumed particularly from the book of Revelations because people forget that short phrase at the beginning: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.” So, folks, he was not in his body (some even argue and show evidence that he may have been ‘tripping’, because one major industry on ancient Patmos was the cultivation of certain mushrooms that were used for visionary experiences in pagan religious practises. This is also one of the reasons that the council of Nicea argued strongly against the inclusion of this book in the canon of scripture, but were overruled). And if he was not in his body, he was having a spiritual vision in a similar manner to Ezekiel. And that, of course, means that much was symbolic and not literal.
Such things are confusing enough as it is, but then you need to add into the mix that symbology alters with time and culture. There will be things that would be interpreted completely differently back in the time of the Roman Empire, or further back in the time of the Babylonian conquests. Sadly we have to say that some of the richness of meaning has been lost with the passing of time. This does not mean that basic doctrine or teaching has been lost, but it is a warning against trying to read into scripture more than was intended.
OK, with these things said, we move on to the next reading:
I looked, and I saw the likeness of a throne of lapis lazuli above the vault that was over the heads of the cherubim. The Lord said to the man clothed in linen, ‘Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.’ And as I watched, he went in.
Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord. The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.
When the Lord commanded the man in linen, ‘Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim,’ the man went in and stood beside a wheel. Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took up some of it and put it into the hands of the man in linen, who took it and went out. (Under the wings of the cherubim could be seen what looked like human hands.)
Those who have been wondering why I call this series ‘Spaceships of Ezekiel’ will have a full explanation of this in the first study of the series. But mainly it refers to a book that was published in the 1970s by a NASA scientist and engineer, who wrote in response to an idea by Eric von Daniken (author of ‘Was God an Astronaut?’) that he had considered ridiculous. So he tried to design a landing craft based on the descriptions in Ezekiel. To his amazement, he found he had a very practical and useful design, which is even now still under consideration as a possible future landing craft.
This chapter is one of a few chapters in Ezekiel that helped to create that design. So it is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek title for the series. I do not think god needs to be an astronaut, because he is omnipresent. Indeed, he is even bigger than the universe, and that is something that human minds can barely comprehend, because the universe is so incredibly vast. God does not need a spaceship to land on earth, because he is already here on earth. These are visions, and – as you will have noticed from previous studies – the visionary details have significance and show the purpose for why Ezekiel was seeing the kinds of things he was seeing.
However, I want you to notice that God is helping Ezekiel in one sense – that he uses the same appearances and the same visionary object repeatedly, so that Ezekiel understood for himself better the things that represented god and the things that represented the Lord’s people, as well as the things that would give specific spiritual and life lessons. Also, perhaps, one could say that seeing the Lord in a similar manner repeatedly would give a certain sense of comfort and familiarity. These things are important for one big reason: it increasingly removes the element of fear.
I don’t know about you, but for me it is harder to hear the voice of the Lord when I am fearful. It is harder to receive guidance or assurance in spirit when there is the presence of fear or nervousness. It is harder to understand the directions of the Lord, or even to receive understanding when reading the scriptures.
For me, this is one of the main things I take out of the reading today. Yes, there is much more here that can be gleaned from the symbology, but I will look at that another time. For now, I want to speak of the value of peace and comfort with our god.
I am not even speaking here of the peace and joy in our hearts that comes from the knowledge that we are saved and are right with god. Yes, this is a very important, good and wonderful thing. This is the source of our worship and rejoicing as believers. But yet, we face problems in our lives despite this, and we fail in our walk from time to time. People let us down, or we let others down, or maybe we let ourselves down. We can feel unworthy, especially when we can think of or remember some of the more legalistic and angry-god teaching that is often preached. And then there is that word in Proverbs, about the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom, and so many – particularly in USA – describing themselves as god-fearing.
But let’s be clear here: the fear of God is the beginning. It is knowing that you have a reason to fear him if you are not yet saved. Fear is the beginning – we are meant to move on and not stay at the beginning. It is like being invited to a friend for dinner. The threshold of the friend’s house is the beginning of the home. But what is happening? You stay there on the threshold instead of eating at the table with your friend? You say, go ahead and be comfortable, we’ll take our food right here… What? This is silly, stupid even. And so it is for we Christians – if we are still in fear.
Fear is for those who are under the wrath of God. But Christians are clothed with the righteousness of Jesus, won for us through the work of the cross of Calvary. We who are so clothed by faith have no reason to fear. In fact it is even better than this…
If you truly know the Lord and have identified in his death and resurrection, then not only are you now clothed in righteousness, thus covering over all your sin, but you are also now adopted into the family of the heavenly Father. Now, just for a moment, think of being a dad. There are some terrible dads in the world who are angry way too easily and who are always being violent with their kids, or shouting all the time. In most civilised countries, the authorities do the correct thing and remove the children from that terrible and even dangerous situation.
But good fathers are different. I think most parents would prefer their children not to be scared of them. So how would you like your kids to react when you enter the room or when you come home? Do you want them to be silent and try to hide away? Do you want to see the look of fear in their eyes? Do you want to hear words like. “Thank you for letting me live in your home, I am so unworthy, please forgive my unworthiness.”? Is this what you want from your kids? Really?
I think all parents wish to see familiarity, happiness and even joy in the faces of their kids. They want the kids to feel comfortable around them, and not fearful. They want them to live happy lives, even when in the presence of their parents.
Our God is no different – other than that he is a far better parent than any earthly parent. He does not want us to live in fear. He wants us comfortable around him, pleased to see him, and not too scared to ask for the things we need – even if that is just a warm hug.
Here is the beautiful thing. When I am worrying, nervous or fearful, I like to spend some time with God. In his presence there is joy and peace and happiness. If I allow him to, he will remove those negative feelings and emotions from me, and replace them with what he has: joy, peace and happiness. And then after that, I can understand his words for me much better, and hear his voice much more easily.
The Lord draws me closer through love, not through fear.