The First Vision: The Majesty and Glory of God
Come the Conquering King, 597 BC: 2 Kings 24:8-17
Ezekiel (God will strengthen) was a priest who had been living in Jerusalem when the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, attacked for the first time. Though the city was spared, many prisoners were taken into exile as hostages. Ezekiel was among the captives, along with King Jehoiachin and 10,000 others. Political and military leaders, and skilled craftsmen were compelled to leave the Holy City.
While in captivity, Ezekiel lived in his own house at Tel-Abib, near the river Chebar, an irrigation canal that redirected the waters of the Euphrates River into the surrounding arid region.
The Commissioning of a Prophet, 593 BC: Ezekiel 1:1:6, 10
When he was 30 years old, in the fifth year of his captivity, the year he would have been installed as a priest in Israel, Ezekiel was sitting by the river Chebar when the heaven’s opened and he had a vision. Ezekiel saw a storm cloud approaching. Inside the cloud Ezekiel saw four strange creatures with wings outstretched and touching. Each creature had four faces—a face of a man, a lion, a bull, and an eagle.
Associated with each winged creature was a wheel. Then Ezekiel noticed that the four-winged creatures gliding on four wheels were supporting a platform. On the platform was a throne. On the throne sat One glowing, enshrouded with fire. Ezekiel described it as “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezek. 1:28). This was God riding His royal throne across the heavens. The word for glory in Hebrew is kabowd (kaw-bode), which means heavy, or significant. Glory is used in Scripture to express the physical manifestation of God’s presence.
When God appears, there is glory, as Moses discovered at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19, 24, 25). The glory of the Lord was present over the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:21, 22).
As a priest, Ezekiel would have been aware of the significance of the glory of God being manifested, but why was the Lord in Babylon, a pagan city, ruled by a King who worshipped idols and persecuted the people of God? Chapters 1 – 11 of Ezekiel’s book will reveal the answer to that inquiry.
God’s Controversy with Israel: Ezekiel 1 – 3
If Ezekiel was astonished by what he saw in the heavens, he was more amazed when the Lord spoke to him personally after commanding His prophet to “stand upon his feet (Ezek. 2:1). In that moment, the Lord was commissioned Ezekiel to be a prophet to the nation of Israel, and to deliver a message from on high. Ezekiel was to accuse Israel of breaking the Covenant. Specifically, Israel was guilty of worshipping others gods, social injustice, and violence. As a result, God appointed Ezekiel to warn the people of their impending destruction, predicated on the principle that grace precedes judgment. The first invasion by Babylon was going to be followed by another if God’s people did not repent and turn from their wicked ways. Jerusalem, the Temple, and the people all faced imminent destruction.
The Sign Messages: Ezekiel 4 – 5
To impress upon the people in Exile of the seriousness of his message, Ezekiel employed not only words, but physical acts of theater.
Ezekiel was to go out in public and build a tiny model of Jerusalem, and then small it to illustrate the utter destruction of the Holy City and her inhabitants.
He was to shave off his hair, and then chop it up with a sword in anticipation of how the women of Israel would be treated. They would be enslaved and the glory of their hair would be taken from them as they were treated as objects for sexual pleasure.
On the Day of Atonement, Ezekiel was to play the part of a scape-goat.
An extreme performance of Ezekiel was when he laid on his side for a year, and at food cooked over excrement to anticipate the terrible food people would one day have to eat during the next seize of Jerusalem.
The Hardness of the Human Heart
Despite his commission from God, despite the power of his words, and the presentation of his personal performance, Ezekiel was told the people would not listen to him. His message would fall on spiritually deaf ears. Hard hearts would not be touched. Israel would reject what the Man of God had to say. “But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted” (Ezek. 3:7).
History was repeating itself for though the Exodus Generation saw many miracles, their hearts became hardened to the grace and mercy of God. Moses warned of Five Cycles of Divine Discipline, including forced exile (Lev. 26:16-33).