- The VISION
- a) The Whirlwind
- b) The Cherubim
- c) The Wheels
- d) The Firmament
- e) The Rainbow
- The LESSON
- a) The Glory of God Cannot be Limited
- b) The Judgement of God Cannot be Avoided
- c) The Blessing of God Cannot be Taken for Granted
Now it's a delight to welcome you all to our Bible Reading this evening here in the Iron Hall. It's our second study in the book of Ezekiel, and it's great to see you all with us. We trust that as we meet around the word of God this evening, that the blessing will be ours from the Spirit of God. Ezekiel chapter 1 - now, we've a lot of material to get through this evening, and a lot of detailed verses of Scripture. So, please do read - I hope you've read this passage before you've come to the meeting tonight - but please do read it carefully with me, because we hope - God willing - to get through the whole of this chapter this evening.
Verse 1: "Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity, The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him. And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies. And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings. And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings. And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake".
Martin Lloyd-Jones in 1939, at the outset of World War II, wrote these words: 'I feel that there is a tremendous opportunity for preaching. At the moment what is wanted is the comforting to help the people over the shock, but following that the need will be for the prophetic note to awaken the people'. In the light of a national catastrophe Martin Lloyd-Jones called for the comforting of the people, but after the comforting of the people the need for the prophetic note to sound and awaken the people. I believe that the vision that we have just read did exactly that for the prophet Ezekiel. It was both a comfort by the river of Chebar, that God was still with His people, that God was still speaking to the prophet - yet at the same time there was a great warning, a great note, for the people to awaken and to follow their God again and to repent for the glory had departed. It was a warning that God was coming to His nation in judgement.
He had already deported some Jews from Judah, from the city of Jerusalem, in the first deportation - Daniel went with that. Now Ezekiel is a captive in this concentration camp at the river Chebar, that is the second deportation. Then there would be the third, and with the third the temple would be sacked - destroyed - and the whole city of Jerusalem would be burnt down. So the call of God, through this vision to the prophet Ezekiel, is: 'Waken up! I am with you, I will not leave you. My glory has departed, but you must awaken, you must repent of your sin - or else there will be trouble'.
We learnt last week that the context of this great prophecy was a time of great change. Individual lives were being shattered, there was sudden catastrophe had come into homes, they were broken up. Rich people, the aristocracy, the politicians were all lifted out of their homes, from all their riches, from all their affluence and wealth, and were taken to the land of Babylon and placed in this concentration camp. It was a time of despair. We read last week from Psalm 137: 'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, and there we wept as we remembered Zion' - they despaired! They were away from God's city of Zion, they were away from the temple - the visible place where God's glory dwelt.
The false prophets were coming and speaking peace when there was no peace. The false prophets were telling the people that God would destroy Babylon, that God would deliver them and bring them back to their city of Zion - He would set the captives free. But the great prophet Jeremiah had sent the message to the people in captivity: 'Settle down', he said, 'you're going to be here for 70 years, you're not going to get out until it's God's time, and until you all repent of your sin'. A time of great change, a time of great despair, and we learnt that the primary theme of this great prophecy is the departure of the glory of God from Judah.
We ask the question, and I believe accurately: is there not a great parallel with our age in which we live today? Do we not live in a society that is wrecked with great change, and hearts that are broken and failing them for fear because of despair? Ecclesiastically, within the church of Jesus Christ, is there not a time of the departing of God's glory from within it? What is the answer? We can wreck our brains, and scan the Christian bookshelves, we can go to America, we can find out church growth plans, we can devise new praise bands, we can think of more casual services to attract the lost into the church, we can appeal to the sign gifts that have departed since the New Testament, we can do all sorts of things - but it seems that the departure is still there. The glory does not return, therefore what is the need of the hour?
I believe the need of the hour is exactly what that need was in Ezekiel's day, and that is: a fresh vision of the glory of God. That is the theme of this great vision that you see the picture of on the back of your sheet - William Macdonald's conception of Ezekiel's vision. You can see the notes at the bottom of that drawing, that it's not completely accurate, because if you notice the cherubim all should have four faces: each of a lion, each of an ox, each of an eagle, and each of a man - but, for the sake of necessity in drawing it, he has only one face there. But that gives you an idea of what we've just read, this complicated passage of Scripture - but the point is that we are faced tonight with a vision of the glory of God. That is what is displayed within this vision.
So, what is the vision that we have before us? Well, you know that Ezekiel is full of visions - and indeed I believe that chapter 1 of Ezekiel, this particular vision, is the key to all visions within the Scriptures. I believe it's the key to all the visions within this book, within the book of the Revelation, within the book of Daniel, and I believe that it's the foundation of the apocalypse - the last book of our Bible. But we cannot fail to see, as we read this passage, how difficult it is to understand this vision. Indeed John Calvin, the great reformer, said: 'If anyone asks whether the vision is lucid, I confess its obscurity and that I can scarcely understand it'. Vernon McGee (sp?) says, in relation to Calvin's commentary: 'I am certainly a Calvinist in the sense that I must concur with his statement - neither do I understand Ezekiel's vision clearly'.
As we read these words, and they are so complicated, we can see right away that they defy the capacity of human speech for description. Whatever Ezekiel saw, as he tried to put pen to paper and put it into words that men and women could understand, it falls far short of the actual thing that Ezekiel saw. We must remember that as we read these words: this was not actually what he saw. What he saw could never be described! Yet nevertheless it must be written down, it must be conveyed, as it has been by the Holy Spirit. But we must remember as we begin this evening that this vision, above all things, was an experience. It wasn't a passage of scripture for Ezekiel, it wasn't a letter, but it was something that this prophet was caught up within himself - and we can never experience it. We can never fully understand what this man saw, and the only way we can share in it is in the words that he has left for us.
Now picture it, look at the diagram in front of you. He begins by sitting by the river of Chebar, and he is in a physical reality - OK? He's sitting beside that river, and he sees a physical storm coming towards him from the north. With that storm there are clouds and there are flashes of lightning, but as he watches that storm approaching him it's as if that storm is opened up - like curtains on a stage - suddenly drawn back to reveal a heavenly scene. Beyond those immediate curtains of earthly reality, the prophet Ezekiel is taken into a supernatural realm where he sees a vision of the chariot of God's glory. It seems that he sees this chariot as God rides triumphantly and irresistibly through all the eras of time.
You can see that he saw four living creatures, they're described as cherubim. You can see that they're connected with the chariot, yet they're individually distinct from it - they're not part of the chariot, but they're connected to it. Above all of that, you can see there's a throne. You can't see who's sitting on the throne, because there's a cloud in that diagram - but the word of God tells us that there is a man who sits on the throne. Now let me just say this before we go on any further: this is the highest vision of God that we have within the Scriptures, and within it there is a vision of a man who sits upon the throne. Now before we go any further, I want you to notice that this is a vision not of God - no man has seen God at any time, and I believe no man will ever see God - it's not a vision of God, it is a vision of the glory of God, it is a vision of the presence of God.
Now first of all, in the context of chapter 1, you can see that this vision first of all was an authentication of the call of Ezekiel to the prophet's office. All the prophets had some kind of supernatural visionary experience to bring them into the prophetic realm, and that is what it is here personally for Ezekiel. But more than that, it introduces us to all of the themes that we find within the prophecy - all of them are outlined within this one vision. God waited five years before speaking to Ezekiel, and sometimes silence speaks louder than words to show that God is not pleased, that God is angry with His people.
Now let's look at this vision as quickly as we possibly can, because we want to deal with everything within the passage. First of all there is a whirlwind - verse 4, look at it: 'a whirlwind came out of the north'. Now that is speaking of judgement upon Jerusalem, because Babylon - those who have captivated them, and taken them to their empire - they came from the north, the empire of Babylon, right down into Jerusalem and destroyed it. So the north there speaks of the Babylonian empire coming into Jerusalem and taking them captive. But within the word of God the direction of north is also a type, or a sign if you like, of the throne and the presence of God. You can see that from Isaiah 14 and verse 13, when he describes the fall of Satan and the motivation - that Satan wanted to exalt himself to the sides of the north. What did Lucifer want to become? He wanted to become like God, to exalt himself to the throne of God, to the sides of the north - and that is the general direction that the Old Testament people of God understood as the place where God was - northward. It's the idea of heavenward, that we look up toward God - look up for your redemption draweth nigh. That is the direction that the people of God ought to have their sights directed and focused to. In other words: God is there, God is up yonder, God is in that direction.
So, you've two things: you have the judgement of the Babylonians coming from the north, and you have the direction of the throne of God in the north. Two things that, to the Jewish mind, seemed to contradict one another - but it's not the case, it's the exact opposite. For what God's Spirit is saying through this vision is: 'You believe that My throne is to the north, the Babylonians are coming from the north, and the interpretation is this: I am the one who is sending the Babylonians'. Do you see it? There is a whirlwind, indicating a tremendous movement from the throne of God. What is that movement? It is the judgement of God. If you look at verse 4 you see that there is a fire as well, a light that is brighter than the sun - perhaps like an atomic blast - incandescent heat and light. There, in the midst of that whirlwind, there is great fire - why? Because our God is a consuming fire, our God is light! Remember at Paul's conversion there was a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun. You have a whirlwind, you have great judgement, you have great heat and great light, and all of those things are speaking to us of the unapproachable presence of God.
From the north - to the Jew a place of mystery, a place of darkness, a direction of distress, a place of judgement - there comes Judah's enemies toward them, by the hand of God influenced and directed, coming towards them. We are right away [shown] God's glory as the glory of a judge. Ezekiel's awe is not just from what he saw, but from what he heard - because he heard the whirlwind. Several times he tries to describe the sound that accompanied the vision. He says, look at the passage, that it was the voice of the Almighty. That's all he could describe it as: the voice of El-Shaddai.
If you go into Psalm 104 and verses 3 and 7 you read these words - you don't need to turn to them, I'll read you them: '[God is the one] who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who rideth upon the wings of the wind: At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away'. God is described as the one 'who rideth upon the wings of the wind' - that word 'riding' is the same word that you find in Genesis chapter 3 and verse 8, where God is described as 'walking in the cool of the day' after Adam and Eve's transgression. Now you might hear people say or depict that God was walking in the garden, having a stroll of some kind, leisurely - that is not the sense of the passage. The word is that God was 'riding', God was walking in the cool of the day, and it's a sense of judgement, it's the sense that - because of Adam and Eve's transgression - God was seeking them out in the garden, riding judgementally in the cool, on the wings of the wind.
That was the noise that accompanied the visions of Isaiah in chapter 6, the vision of John in Revelation chapter 1, and indeed we know that that is the noise that will accompany our Lord Jesus as He returns from the clouds - 2 Peter 3:10: 'But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up'. A fiery whirlwind from the north - speaking of judgement, speaking of their enemies, speaking of a God who would come in His unapproachable presence and holiness and righteousness as a consuming fire to His own people.
Then secondly we see the cherubim. In case you think I'm jumping the gun, verses 5 to 14 you find the cherubim, we know they're cherubim from chapter 10 of Ezekiel verses 1 through to 22 - where there's an even more detailed description of some of the things that they are doing in this vision. The cherubim, we read, could see and they could move in all directions without turning at all. That's important: they could move and see without turning. They could move quickly to accomplish God's will. They had four faces, they could see in all the directions of the compass. If you look at your sheet you will see that they each had the face of a lion, the face of an ox, the face of an eagle, and the face of a man. Many scholars believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who sits upon the throne, is revealed in His four aspects within the Gospels. In the gospel of Matthew you find His kingship, symbolised by the lion. In the gospel of Mark you find His servanthood, symbolised by the ox. In Luke you find His humanity, symbolised by the face of a man. Then in John you find His deity, symbolised by the flying eagle.
Now that may well be the case, but I believe the primary interpretation of these four faces was twofold. First of all they display the glory of God - we must remember that this is a vision of the glory of God, and these four faces depict the characteristics of God. But not only do they do that, I believe they also convey to us God's sovereign glorious rule over all of His creation. Think of a man, the face of a man, speaking of God's intelligence - man is the highest of all God's creatures, and indeed God put him in charge of the whole of creation. So there you have it: God's intelligence, but at the same time God rules over all men. Then you have the strength and the boldness of a lion: God is strong, God is bold - but yet the lion is the king, as we often say, of the jungle, he's the king of beasts. So the word of God is saying that God rules over His creation: intelligent man; He also rules over all the beasts - even the king of beasthood, the lion. You go on to the ox, and you find there faithfulness and service - and yes, in the Lord Jesus you have His faithfulness, you have His servanthood in the gospel of Mark. But more than that, it shows over all creation God is also over the king of domestic animals - the ox in the field. Then you have the eagle, speaking of divinity in the heavenlies, speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ who was not just a man, but who was the God-man. But you also have there the eagle, the king of the air - and the depiction is, in these four faces of the cherubim, that God is sovereign, that God in all His great characteristics is over all of His creation. God's character and God's rule.
Now, if you add them up, the four faces and the four wings make sixteen faces and sixteen wings in all. Look at verse 6, you see that each of them had four faces, each of them had four wings - that means this: that no matter where Ezekiel was standing, he could see all four faces. Have you got that? With each of them with the four separate faces, wherever he was standing as they turned and as they moved, he could see all the characteristics of God's rule. If you look at your diagram you will see that two of their wings, being extended so far they touched one another to make a square - and the other two wings they used to cover themselves, we read that in verse 11. Under their wings - you can't see it in the diagram - are the hands of a man, in other words speaking that these hands were ready to succour, to comfort God's people, to help them when they needed it, or also they were there to strike in judgement if necessary. But the point is this: all of these depictions are under the control of Him whose heart is concerned with His creation. God is over His creation - that's the message!
We read in those verses of those cherubim, that they went every one straight forward. Every one went straight forward - do you know what that means? That all of them, nothing could turn them away, nothing could turn them aside, there were undeviating principles of divine government. Have you got it? They went wherever they desired, and wherever the Spirit within them told them to go - and no-one could stop them: undeviating principles of divine government. We read that the fire that went up and down among the living creatures, and the lightning, and the bright amber flames - what does that speak of? It speaks of the Shekinah glory, the manifest presence of the glory of the God of Israel - that uncreated light that once abode over the mercy seat and between the cherubim in the holiest place of all, in the tabernacle of the wilderness, in the temple built by Solomon. That very glory that God said has departed from Judah, has now followed the children of Israel in their captivity, gone from the temple, gone from Zion, gone from Jerusalem - and now there's only one man in the whole of Judah that's seeing it in a vision of God. In other words: the glory had departed and gone back to heaven.
Then thirdly you have the wheels - verses 15 to 21. Now one thing is for sure: the wheels don't visualise today's technological society, as some prophetic teachers would say. Even one, when men started to fly in aeroplanes, he said that this was prophesied in the first chapter of Ezekiel in these wheels! That type of preaching brings prophetic ministry into ill-repute, doesn't it? But what are these wheels? Well, they're very confusing - and the passage tells us that they're not parallel to one another, in other words it's not like the rim of a bicycle wheel and the hub in the middle. They're both parallel to one another, but the wheels - as you look at your diagram - are at right angles to one another, they're crossing one another like a gyroscope top. The wheels are constantly turning - and it necessitates that if they're turning and all the animals can go in one direction or another, the living creatures, because they're faced in the four directions, they could move anywhere without changing. Do you see that?
Verse 18 tells us that those wheels were full of eyes. So there you have the rule of God over His creation, these wheels are full of eyes - in other words speaking to us of God's omniscience, that God rules in His creation, that God never changes in any way, but yet He can go where He wishes just like the cherubim. His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and good. All that we read tonight speaks of the great glory of God! Now please don't miss this among all this picture and details and intricacies, don't miss that what it is saying is that God is constantly moving and working in His world. He is a powerful God, He is a glorious God, He is a God who is present in all places, He can see all things. He has a purpose for man, He has a purpose for all of creation, He has a purpose in His providence - and the world in Ezekiel's day that was full of terror and change, the message to that world was: God is in control! What a message for us today.
Fourthly we see in the vision: the firmament - verses 22 to 27. It's described as, literally, a beautiful platform - if you look at your diagram - above the wheels and the cherubim. It's a platform that contains the throne of God. In other words: God is still on the throne. 'Ezekiel, you're in Babylon, you're by the river Chebar, you know that the glory has departed, but listen: God is still on the throne! His will is still being accomplished in His world, even if you don't see it Ezekiel'. The complex movements of the cherubim and the wheels reveal how intricate God's providence is in His universe. In other words: only He can understand it, only He can control it - but the message is: there is perfect harmony, there is perfect order in everything that God does, even in the midst of apparent chaos!
In verses 26 and 27 you see an amber throne in azure blue, you see a sapphire studded throne flashing like a diamond in colour like a rainbow, you see a light that blinds and obscures. In verse 28 it is described as the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. He saw a vision of the glory of the Lord. That firmament there, a dome covering the whole of the living creatures - in other words God's divine government was over all of His creatures. In verse 26, if you look at it, it tells us that upon that throne sat the likeness of a man. Who is the man? Well I believe Paul gives us the answer to that question in 1 Timothy chapter 3 and verse 16, he says: 'Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh'.
I believe this man, the likeness of a man, is the man of God's counsels - the Lord Jesus Christ in a pre-incarnate state, but yet depicted in a body, showing the intent of God: that He would be the Lamb crucified before the foundation of the world. Here the Lord Jesus sits on this throne in a place of power, a place of majesty - and now, at this very moment, now that redemption has been accomplished, the man Christ Jesus literally sits in His glorified human body on the throne of the Eternal! Amen! Isn't it wonderful to think, at this very moment, that the Lord Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament? Isn't it wonderful, as we delve into this great prophecy, to realise that the book of Ezekiel is a Christ-centred book?
Then there is the rainbow, fifthly - in verse 28 you read of it. In the storm there was a rainbow and, if you remember the book of Genesis, you read that Noah saw the rainbow after the storm - after it. In the book of Revelation you see John the apostle, and he sees a rainbow round the throne, and he saw it before the storm. But here the prophet Ezekiel sees it within the storm - and God is showing that His glory is at work in the world, He is judging the sins of His people, He is keeping His covenant - the rainbow, a depiction that God will keep His covenant with His people, yet He will keep it with a remnant in the midst of judgement! The message of the book of Revelation is that the storm may rage, the very sun may seem to be blotted out of the heavens, but the word of our God shall stand forever! He will not break His covenant, and what comes out of His lips He will keep. Oh, isn't that wonderful? Isn't it wonderful to have your eyes lifted heavenward to see God's plan, to see that no matter what is happening to you in your life and in your circumstances God is in absolute control!
Now what is the lesson of this vision? It's important that we understand this: what is the purpose of this vision? Now, you know, you can get so taken up with all these descriptions and these little details that you can miss the whole point entirely! Because the point of the vision is that Ezekiel was overwhelmed by this sight of the glory of God! It stunned him, it prostrated him! For all the religious upbringing that he had, the theological training as a priest that he had, there was absolutely nothing that could prepare him for seeing the vision of the glory of the Living God. If we enquire too closely into the possible symbolism of the creatures and the four faces and the wheels, you know, you could miss the point! You could miss the point that the details are part of the total vision, and the totality of the vision conveys to the prophet one thing - what does it convey to him? This: an awareness of a dimension of reality and power that were totally and utterly beyond his comprehension! That is it! Something beyond him - beyond him as a theologian, beyond him - if I can say it - as a believer! If we miss that, and if we can stand up tonight and say: 'I understand this whole passage, this whole vision', we've missed the whole point of it! If you can say: 'I know how to put God into a box, and I have my doctrinal scheme, and I can comprehend the incomprehensible' - you can't!
So, that is the lesson. In exile Ezekiel sees the vision and it becomes clear to him that, yes, they have been cut off from Jerusalem; they have been cut off from the temple; they have been cut off from the visible sense of the Shekinah glory of God - but they cannot be cut off from God forever! Wasn't God's glory seen in that Shekinah, wasn't it? It was the visible manifestation of His presence among His people. That's how they knew that God was still with them - and that's why, at the dedication of Solomon's temple, you see it come down. You see it in Isaiah chapter 6, in Isaiah's vision - but there's something I want you to see between Isaiah and Ezekiel that is so different. Isaiah's vision was the Lord high and lifted up on a throne in the temple - do you see it? A state, a static, stately vision of God in the temple - it is a vision befitting the symbol of God's permanent resting place, He appears to His people in their visible sight of God's presence - the temple.
Indeed that was their belief, wasn't it? That as long as they had the temple, they had God. Indeed, in Lamentations, we see that even their enemies knew that the kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem. They thought that it was impenetrable, it could never be beaten - the armies of Jerusalem could never be beaten, because God - Jehovah, their God, the God of Israel was there dwelling with His people - and they saw the temple like a lucky charm! That: 'As long as we have the temple, we have God, and we can do what we like!'. Hence you have that false assurance, that false security. Hence you have a complacency of men and women running around shouting, as in Jeremiah 7: 'The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!' - it was their charm. They put more faith in the temple of the Lord than the Lord of the temple!
So when Jeremiah comes along, and when Ezekiel comes along, and says: 'The temple will be destroyed. Jerusalem will be destroyed' - it was seen as high treason. They were seen as national traitors to do such a thing. But Jeremiah pointed back into Israel's history to Samuel's youth - and you remember there the people of Israel did a similar thing, they put faith in the Ark of the Covenant - not in the God of the Ark, but in the Ark of God! You know what happened: that symbol of the presence of God, instead of being the reality of His presence, was taken - Shiloh was destroyed, and the Ark was taken into exile. We read in 1 Samuel 4:22, literally: 'Glory has gone into exile from Israel: for the ark of God has been captured'.
Now, what is the point of this vision? This is the point: there are two things that really are all you need to see in this vision - first of all: motion. There is a movement. In other words: God is moving in His world. The wheels are moving, the cherubim are moving - everything is moving - the light is moving, the sounds are moving. God is moving and working in His world - but here's the thing: the Shekinah glory of God is moving from Jerusalem, and moving back to heaven! That brings the second thing - it's judgement. That's what it speaks of: judgement.
There's so much akin to the book of Genesis in this vision, because you have a strong wind - and you remember, after the flood, that there was a strong wind came to dry up the waters. You have the Spirit - the ruach - the wind of God breathing over the waters, you have that in this passage of Scripture. If you think of the backdrop of this vision as being the book of Genesis, you find something here - I believe the Spirit of God is reminding the people of God of the creation story! You see man, you see the ox, you see the lion, you see the bird - God is saying He's ruling over all of His creation, He's reminding them of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. Do you know what He's saying? 'My people, I want you to compare your own experience of exile with Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden. You were put out, and there were cherubim that stood over the way of the garden to protect the way of God'.
That is the message of this vision - and there are three things that we see in it, finally, let's look at them. First of all there is a statement that the glory of God cannot be limited. You have in it the nature of God. Now, you think about this: Ezekiel was a theologian, he had been trained as a priest, he had been prepared for divine service - yet all of his theology was inadequate! Please note that! God overwhelmed him, even though this vision was less than the reality of what God was actually like - it was only the likeness of the appearance of the glory of God - yet here's the paradox of the whole thing: if we cannot understand a great deal of this vision, we have understood it! Have you got that? If we cannot understand this vision, we have understood it! Because the message of it is this: you cannot understand God.
If, as we read this passage tonight, like me you stand in awe, and think: 'How can we make head nor tail of this message?' - you do well, that's a good position to be in. This great theologian, with all his theological propositions - and sometimes our theological propositions can be as much a transgression of the second commandment of making idols as anything else! When we put God into a box, when we say: 'God cannot do this', or, 'God must do this' - apart from His divine revealed will, of course, He's always faithful to that - but when we subtract God, and suppress Him from His being to our little theological A-B-C, we commit an awesome sin!
Then you have the glory of God that could not be limited geographically. You know, they tended to confine God, didn't they? They said: 'He's in Jerusalem. He's been in Jerusalem for years, He's going to stay there. And if you say - Ezekiel and Jeremiah - that He'll not be in Jerusalem, and the temple will be broken down, that's treason! But him to death!'. We do that sometimes, don't we? We confine the experience of God to particular places, to locations, and you can't do that! You can't confine Him to a place, whether it be a church or a city or a country - and Ezekiel realised that he was actually, think of this, experiencing the presence of God in a foreign, godless land that was at enmity with God! Not only was it experiencing God's presence in an unexpected place, but if we could put it further: it seemed to expect God's presence in the unexpected!
Paul, many centuries later - and I think this is wonderful: you who are going through trials, you who are broken hearted, you're in the midst of chronic illness, you're having trouble in your family and trouble in the workplace - isn't it wonderful to know that no matter where you are, as Paul said centuries later: 'I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord'! Nothing can separate God's people from God when they have a heart toward Him!
Secondly, he said that the judgement of God cannot be avoided. You will know that a rainbow speaks of the mercy of God, as we saw last week - but you know, people think that because they see a rainbow there that that denies judgement. Of course it doesn't! You can't have a rainbow without rain. Isn't that right? In fact it denies the possibility of rain if there is no rainbow - and, indeed, without rain there couldn't be the sight of this mercy sign. What this rainbow is asserting - yes - is the faithfulness of God in the midst of overwhelming judgement, that it is Israel's only hope - and without the mercies of God they would be consumed, as Lamentations says. But the point is this: there is no escape from the judgement of God!
It's not popular to preach a message of judgement today, sure it's not? Indeed I read today of one Pastor who's one goal, he says, in his church's 'seeker services' is: 'In order that', I quote, 'in a non-threatening atmosphere the seekers share a delightful, thought-provoking hour in which they are introduced to the person of Jesus Christ'. It's very doubtful that Ezekiel would have expressed his experience with the Living God as a 'delightful, thought-provoking hour', isn't it? It was a threatening atmosphere, because it is never comfortable for sinners to fall into the hands of an angry God.
Thirdly and finally, the message was: the blessing of God cannot be taken for granted - the blessing of God cannot be taken for granted. A lady reputedly asked Abraham Lincoln, during the dark days of the Civil War in America, if he was confident that God was on their side. 'Madam', he said, 'I am less concerned whether God is on our side, than whether we are on His side'. Can I speak personally to you? No matter what our history has been, we cannot assume and take for granted the blessing of God. Our nation is filled with churches that have become memorial symbols to orthodoxy in a bygone day, and spiritual fire - but the message of this vision is, to Israel and to Judah, that God is no respecter of tradition - and still He is not! When tradition becomes merely the dead heritage of the past, do you know what He says in the book of Revelation that is so akin to this book? 'I will remove the lampstand from the midst of those who have forsaken their first love'.
How does it happen? How does it happen that a church building becomes a carpet warehouse, or a restaurant, or a Moslem mosque? How does it happen? It happens through the error of Judah! What is it? A contentment with the externalities of religion, a society that thinks it is enough to have the form of godliness while denying the power!
The encouragement and the challenge to us tonight, as we close, is this: God will achieve His purposes with or without us.
Let us pray, and wouldn't it be refreshing if, as we just bowed our heads, we considered that we come into the presence of the One who we've just read of: Father, we worship Thee and we pray that we will know more of who Thou art - and that our reaction would be that of Ezekiel's, in our lives and from our hearts, that we will fall at Thy feet, prostrate. Help us never to take Thee or Thy blessing for granted, but to realise, Lord, that if You cannot work with us that You will raise up another people, and You will work through them. Forgive us Lord, and give us grace in the days that lie ahead to do Thy will and to honour our first love. Amen.
Preach The Word
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "Visualising The Invisible" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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