God Has Left the Building

Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in appearance like a throne. And he said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.”

And he went in before my eyes. Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.

And when he commanded the man clothed in linen, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel. And a cherub stretched out his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings.

And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. 10 And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. 11 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went. 12 And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. 13 As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the whirling wheels.” 14 And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

15 And the cherubim mounted up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the Chebar canal. 16 And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them. And when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels did not turn from beside them. 17 When they stood still, these stood still, and when they mounted up, these mounted up with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in them.

18 Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.

20 These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal; and I knew that they were cherubim. 21 Each had four faces, and each four wings, and underneath their wings the likeness of human hands. 22 And as for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the Chebar canal. Each one of them went straight forward. Ezekiel 10:1-22 ESV

As Ezekiel gazes in wonder, he sees a familiar sight; the glory of the Lord that had appeared to him on the banks of the Chebar River in Babylon. In his vision, he has been transported to the city of Jerusalem, and yet there, in the courtyard of the temple, he is given another glimpse of God’s holiness and majesty. The omnipotent, omnipresent God was not limited by time or space. He could appear to Ezekiel in the distant land of Babylon and still be present in the prophet’s homeland of Judah.

But all is not well in the capital city of Jerusalem. God has given Ezekiel an up close and personal glimpse of the sorry state of affairs back home. The sins of his countrymen are worse than he could have imagined. They have erected idols in the temple. They are clandestinely worshiping false gods in hidden rooms within the temple grounds. Their spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness have reached a whole new low – even for the people of Israel.

Now Ezekiel was about to witness a scene that would be devastating for him as a prophet of God. The glory of God was going to abandon the very temple designed as His dwelling place. All the way back on the day when Solomon had dedicated the Temple upon its completion, God had given this unique structure His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by filling it with His glory.

When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. – 1 Kings 8:10-11 NLT

At that moment, God had taken up residence in the temple that Solomon had built for Him. He had filled it with His glory and, now, hundreds of years later, God was about to leave the premises. And with His exit, He would be making a not-so-subtle statement concerning the extent of Israel’s apostasy. Their sin had become so great that He could no longer dwell among them.

As Ezekiel watched, the glory of God transitioned from the courtyard to the main entrance of the temple. From there it moved to the east gate of the temple grounds. God was methodically moving further away from the Holy of Holies, the innermost section of the temple where the ark of the covenant was contained. His departure was well-orchestrated and intended to dramatize His dissatisfaction with His chosen people. He was no longer able to dwell in the house built for Him because it was no longer set aside for Him alone. The people had defiled it by erecting idols to false gods within its walls.

The temple of God was no longer the temple of God. Because the people had desecrated it with their idolatrous actions, it had lost its distinctiveness and so, God prepared to remove His presence. This symbolic representation of God’s majestic glory departing the temple was meant to drive home Israel’s pending doom. The God who had chosen them as His own was preparing to leave them on their own. They would be left to face the Babylonians without the presence and power of God Almighty on their side. They would have a temple filled with idols dedicated to false gods, but the one true God would have vacated the premises.

What a sad statement. What a chilling reality. The God of the universe was removing Himself from their midst. He was no longer willing to tolerate their rebellion and open rejection of His authority over their lives. This was a sad day for Israel. But it was not the first time the glory of God had left them. Back in the days before there were kings over Israel, the prophet Samuel witnessed another dark day in the life of the people of God. They were at war with the Philistines and things were not going well. So they decided to bring the ark of God from where it was kept in the tabernacle in Shiloh.

They treated it as some kind of magic talisman that could bring them victory over their enemies. They knew that God was enthroned above the cherubim that decorated the top of the ark, so they reasoned that if they could bring the ark to the battle, God would come along with it. They believed they could force God to do their will by physically hauling the ark from one spot to another. But they never asked God for permission or sought His advice about the war with the Philistines. They simply wanted a quick fix for their pressing problem. But it didn’t turn out well.

The ark was captured by the Philistines and more than 30,000 Jews were killed. The rest ran for their lives. Not only that, Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli the priest, were killed in the battle. When Eli received news that the battle had been lost, his sons were dead, and the Ark had been captured, he dropped dead. When Phinehas’ pregnant wife got word that her husband was dead, she went into early labor and died. But she stayed alive long enough to give birth to a son and she named him Ichabod, which means “the glory has departed.” Her son’s name would be a permanent reminder of Israel’s sad state of affairs.

“The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.” – 1 Samuel 4:22 NL

The glory had departed. God had left the building. All hope was lost. But wait. While these two stories are sad and leave us with a sense of impending doom, we can’t forget the fact that the Spirit of God indwells all those who have placed their faith in the saving work of His Son Jesus Christ.

As Christ-followers, our bodies serve as temples for the Holy Spirit. We have been indwelt with His presence. We have been set apart for His use. The very power of God resides within us, and it is a permanent condition. His glory will never depart from us. Yet, you and I can quench the Spirit. We can determine to live our lives outside of His control and refuse to listen to His voice. We can conduct our lives in such a way that we obscure the glory of God that is present in our lives. So, the apostle Paul exhorts us, “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:12-14 NLT).

We have the glory of God within us. But like the people of Israel, we must decide to allow our lives to be directed by God. It is not enough to have His indwelling presence. I must choose to obey His word and follow His will. I can’t treat the Holy Spirit of God as some magic talisman that I tap into when I need a quick spiritual fix or a fast solution to a problem. He is God and He is to be feared and obeyed. While He will never leave me, He can choose to leave me to myself, allowing me to walk in the flesh and suffer the consequences. He will continue speaking to me and attempt to convict and direct me. but I must choose to listen and obey. To not do so is to run the risk of missing out on the glory of God in my life. And the sad truth is, many of us as believers live as if the glory of God has departed. If we’re not careful, the story of our life could be named “Ichabod” – the glory has departed. But if we live in obedience to the Spirit’s presence and in submission to His power, we can experience the reality of “Immanuel” – God with us.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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