We Can Do This the Hard Way

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out. And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

“Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. 10 And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”

11 Thus says the Lord God: “Clap your hands and stamp your foot and say, Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, for they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. 12 He who is far off shall die of pestilence, and he who is near shall fall by the sword, and he who is left and is preserved shall die of famine. Thus I will spend my fury upon them. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when their slain lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak, wherever they offered pleasing aroma to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land desolate and waste, in all their dwelling places, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 6:1-14 ESV

Four separate times in 14 verses, God insists that when He is done, the rebellious people of Israel “will know that I am the Lord.” God is a relational being and He had chosen the nation of Israel to enjoy a unique relationship with Him. He had set them apart as His own prized possession with the intent of revealing to them His glory and goodness. Even all the way back in Egypt, long before Moses had delivered them from their captivity, God had promised to reveal Himself to them in powerful and highly tangible ways.

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.” – Exodus 6:6-8 ESV

Their miraculous deliverance was intended to demonstrate the power, majesty, and sovereignty of God. He was greater than the Egyptians and their plethora of false gods. He was the covenant-keeping God who could be trusted to keep every promise He had made to Abraham, whose descendants would eventually escape captivity in Egypt and find themselves safely ensconced in the promised land of Canaan.

All along their journey from captivity to Canaan, God revealed Himself to His people. After miraculously delivering them across the Red Sea on dry ground and defeating the forces of Egypt, He had led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had sustained them with manna from heaven and water from a rock. And during their four-decade-long journey through the wilderness of Sinai, He had even kept their clothes from wearing out. He had given them His law to reveal His holy expectations of them and regulate their behavior. And knowing that they would fail to keep His law perfectly, He provided them with the sacrificial system to atone for the sins they would commit so that they might be able to restore their broken relationship with Him.

God had repeatedly proven His greatness, and they should have known that He alone was the one true God. He had no equals. In His deliverance of the Israelites, He had exposed the gods of the Egyptians as frauds and nothing more than the figments of the imaginations of men. And when they began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God was with them, providing them with victories over much larger armies. The Canaanites and their gods proved to be powerless before Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And even before their conquest of the land had begun, God had warned them about adopting the religious practices of the Canaanites. They were not to emulate their pagan ways or worship their gods.

“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:29-31 NLT

But the people of Israel would fail to keep God’s commands. Over the centuries, they developed an unhealthy love affair with the false gods of the Canaanites. The kings of Israel had a track record of adopting the false gods of their enemies and adulterating their worship of Yahweh with unacceptable practices that He found deplorable.

And all along the way, God had warned His people about the dangers of their rebellious ways. He was a jealous God who would not tolerate their unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. By this time, they should have known that He alone was God. But they were still prone to seek the help and favor of any pagan god who might be able to give them a leg up on their enemies. They had become equal-opportunity idolators, willing to cozy up to any god who might provide them with an advantage or satisfy their insatiable lust for power, possessions, and pleasure. For them, Yahweh was not enough. They wanted more. And they were willing to prostitute themselves before the false gods of the Canaanites in order to satisfy what the apostle John described as “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

Their blatant unfaithfulness had resulted in the Babylonian invasion of Judah. God informed the prophet, Jeremiah, that King Nebuchadnezzar had been handpicked by God to serve as His agent of judgment against His rebellious people.

“I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.” – Jeremiah 25:9 ESV

And by the time Ezekiel penned his book, King Nebuchadnezzar had already defeated Judah and taken thousands of its citizens captive. But God was not done. The people of Judah remained unrepentant and unwilling to give up their love affair with false gods. That is why God gave Ezekiel a message for the people living back in Judah. He was to declare God’s pending judgment against the “mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 6:3). This reference most certainly included the most prominent and important mountain range in all of Israel: Mount Moriah. This mountain range included Mount Zion on which Jerusalem sat and within whose walls the temple of God was located.

But God made it clear that His holy mountain was surrounded by altars and shrines to false gods. The land of Judah was literally filled with sacred worship sights dedicated to the gods of the Canaanites, and God was not pleased.

“I am about to bring war upon you, and I will smash your pagan shrines. All your altars will be demolished, and your places of worship will be destroyed. I will kill your people in front of your idols. I will lay your corpses in front of your idols and scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you live there will be desolation, and I will destroy your pagan shrines. Your altars will be demolished, your idols will be smashed, your places of worship will be torn down, and all the religious objects you have made will be destroyed. The place will be littered with corpses, and you will know that I alone am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 6:3-7 NLT

It’s as if God is saying, “We can do this the hard way or we can do this the easy way.” God is a relational God. He chose the people of Israel to have a relationship with Him and to get to know Him – intimately and personally. He chose to dwell among them. He gave them His law to follow. He led them, directed them, protected them, and even spoke to them. He revealed Himself to them through miracles and divine intervention. He won battles for them. He rescued and rewarded them. All so that they might know Him. But the people of Israel decided to reject this personal God for a litany of impersonal, impotent, man-made gods.

Instead of recognizing and appreciating the power and presence of Yahweh, they turned their attention and affections elsewhere. So, God decided to reveal Himself differently. They were going to get to know Him the hard way. They would experience the power of God moving in their midst, but it would bring destruction, not blessing. He was going to smash their pagan shrines, demolish their altars, and destroy the places of worship where they pursued other gods.

When all the dust had settled, they were going to know that God had been in their midst. They were going to know that He had spoken and He always does what he says He will do. They were going to know that God was powerful and deadly serious about His people living lives that were set apart and distinctive from those of the other nations.

“You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey my decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you.” – Ezekiel 5:7 NLT

One way or the other, the people of God were going to get to know their God. But they were choosing the hard way. They were making it difficult on themselves. God had wanted to reveal Himself through blessing and abundance. He had wanted to have an intimate relationship with them that was characterized by care and compassion. In His grace and mercy, He had chosen them from among all the nations, not because they deserved it, but because He wanted to reveal Himself in a special way to a very specific people. He had intended to use them to showcase His love. They were to be His living illustration to the world.

But they refused to accept His love and obey His commands. He pursued them, but they rejected Him. So now they were going to get to know God the hard way.

But this chapter provides a powerful lesson for every child of God. Why do we make it so hard on ourselves? Why do we force God to reveal Himself through discipline and prove Himself to us by rebuking us? God has given us His Son. He has chosen us for a personal, intimate relationship with Him. He wants us to know Him closely and deeply. But far too often, we choose the hard way over the easy way.

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.

I Am Against You

7 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not walked in my statutes or obeyed my rules, and have not even acted according to the rules of the nations that are all around you, therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. 10 Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers. And I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to all the winds. 11 Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity. 12 A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them.

13 “Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the Lord—that I have spoken in my jealousy—when I spend my fury upon them. 14 Moreover, I will make you a desolation and an object of reproach among the nations all around you and in the sight of all who pass by. 15 You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes—I am the Lord; I have spoken— 16 when I send against you the deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will send to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you and break your supply of bread. 17 I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will rob you of your children. Pestilence and blood shall pass through you, and I will bring the sword upon you. I am the Lord; I have spoken.” – Ezekiel 5:7-17 ESV

It seems that, at the end of the 430 days, Ezekiel was given a message to deliver to the people living in Babylon. His period of God-ordained silence was over and he was allowed to deliver a stinging explanation for his dramatic performance. If anyone had somehow missed the message contained in his more than 14-month-long parable in a play, his little sermon at the end would clear up any lingering confusion.

They had done the unacceptable and unimaginable. They had made an enemy out of God Almighty.

“I myself, the Sovereign Lord, am now your enemy. I will punish you publicly while all the nations watch.” – Ezekiel 5:8 NLT

The people of Israel had enjoyed a one-of-a-kind relationship with the God of the universe. He had chosen them as His own special possession, after having formed them out of nothing and transforming them into a great and powerful nation. There had been a time when the people of Israel were nonexistent. Centuries earlier, God had called an obscure Chaldean named Abram and commanded him to leave his native land and travel to a place called Canaan. This former pagan and his barren wife received a divine commission to abandon all they had ever known, including their false gods and families, and travel to a place that God promised to give them as an inheritance to their children.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

And Abram obeyed the command of the Lord, traveling all the way to Canaan, where God blessed him abundantly. But Abram would eventually die, having never seen the majority of God’s promises fulfilled. Yet, from him would come a grandson named Jacob, who would one day move his small family to Egypt in order to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And God had provided Abram with a forewarning of these events.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land…” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

Jacob and his family would remain in Egypt for more than four centuries and, during that time, their numbers would expand greatly. God eventually changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and the small clan of 70 who originally entered the land of Egypt would grow to number in the millions, causing the Egyptians to see them as a potential threat to their way of life. So, Pharaoh came up with a plan to persecute and enslave the Israelites.

“Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.”

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. – Exodus 1:9-11 NLT

But this was all part of God’s plan for the seed of Abraham. He had ordained every facet of the story, including their eventual deliverance by the hand of Moses. And long after Moses helped lead them out of their captivity in Egypt, he would write the following words to remind them of their unique relationship with God.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Now, centuries later, after having inherited the land of Canaan, just as God had promised to Abraham, the people of Israel had proven to be far from grateful and less than faithful. They had taken for granted their privileged status as God’s prized possession.

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 NLT

They had failed to appreciate their one-of-a-kind calling and repeatedly refused to keep the terms of the covenant God had made with them. God had promised to bless them if they would only live in obedience to His commands.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. – Deuteronomy 28:1 NLT

But their failure to keep God’s commands would come with serious consequences.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you…” – Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT

And for centuries, the people of Israel had wavered back and forth between obedience and rebellion. They had repeatedly proven themselves incapable of remaining faithful to God, as they regularly worshiped the false gods of the Canaanites. And God warned them time and time again that their unfaithfulness would require Him to punish them. And the people to whom Ezekiel was ministering in Babylon were there because God had sent Nebuchadnezzar and his forces to besiege the city of Jerusalem. They had been taken captive and exiled because they had violated the terms of the covenant.

Now, Ezekiel warns them that more devastation was in store for Jerusalem because the infidelity of its citizens remained unchanged. Despite the fall of the city to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces and the capture and deportment of thousands of its citizens, the remaining population continued to live in stubborn disobedience to God.

“Because of your detestable idols, I will punish you like I have never punished anyone before or ever will again. Parents will eat their own children, and children will eat their parents. I will punish you and scatter to the winds the few who survive.” – Ezekiel 5:9 NLT

The second siege of Jerusalem was going to be far worse than the first. This time, the conditions within the city walls would deteriorate to such a degree that the people would be forced to eat their own children in order to survive. And God makes it clear that these horrendous conditions will be the direct result of their unfaithfulness and infidelity.

“So I will turn you into a ruin, a mockery in the eyes of the surrounding nations and to all who pass by. You will become an object of mockery and taunting and horror. You will be a warning to all the nations around you. They will see what happens when the Lord punishes a nation in anger and rebukes it, says the Lord.” – Ezekiel 5:14-15 NLT

The chosen people of God would find their holy city destroyed, the temple of their God demolished, and their status as a mighty nation diminished beyond recognition. It is not as if God had not warned them. All the way back during their days in the wilderness as they made their way to the promised land, Moses had given them a warning from God.

“Just as the Lord has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the Lord will find pleasure in destroying you. You will be torn from the land you are about to enter and occupy. For the Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations you will find no peace or place to rest. And the Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were night!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘If only it were morning!’ For you will be terrified by the awful horrors you see around you.” – Deuteronomy 28:63-67 NLT

Now, centuries later, God’s warning was become reality. The news would soon arrive of Jerusalem’s fall and the destruction of the temple. And a new wave of captives would arrive in Babylon bringing with them terrible tales of the horrific conditions during the siege. They would confirm all the details of God’s predictions. And all those who had witnessed Ezekiel’s strange but mesmerizing street performance would know that he truly was a prophet of God. And they would know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that their less-than-ideal conditions in Babylon were because they had chosen to make an enemy of God. They had willingly spurned the love of their Holy Father, responding to His affections with disdain, disobedience, and disloyalty.

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.

 

Holiness Is Non-Optional

1 “And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city. And a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe. And of these again you shall take some and cast them into the midst of the fire and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will come out into all the house of Israel.

5 “Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes.– Ezekiel 5:1-6 ESV

Can Ezekiel’s assignment get any stranger? He has already been commanded to spend the next 430 days lying in the street next to a miniature model of the city of Jerusalem. Each of those days, he has to act out the siege of Jerusalem while subsisting on a diet of nothing but bread and water. As the months go by, his body will begin to waste away from lack of food, and he will endure the ridicule and rejection of the very people for whom his message was intended.

But God was not done. He added another bizarre twist to this parable-in-a-play, commanding Ezekiel to remove his hair and beard using a sword. God’s choice of a sharp sword as Ezekiel’s shaving instrument was intentional and designed to illustrate the military nature of the siege. The residents of Jerusalem would be armed for battle because their city was under attack by the Babylonians. But the long duration of the siege and the resulting famine inside the city walls would leave its inhabitants hungry and demoralized. And the imagery of Ezekiel’s shaved head and beard was intended to reflect the severe state of mourning that will take place within the walls of Jerusalem.

The Mosaic Law prohibited God’s people from practicing the mourning rituals of the pagan nations around them.

“Since you are the people of the Lord your God, never cut yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead. You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:1-2 NLT

The Torah interpreted these verses to be a prohibition on tonsuring, the pulling out or cutting of hair to express sorrow. This was a common practice among the pagan nations living in the land of Canaan. But God commanded His chosen people to abstain from such practices.

Yet, God commanded His prophet, Ezekiel, to shave his head and beard in order to demonstrate the severity of the siege and the humiliation the people would suffer for their rebellion against him. What made this command even more difficult for Ezekiel to obey was that it violated God’s laws concerning the priesthood of Israel.

“The priests must not shave their heads or trim their beards or cut their bodies. They must be set apart as holy to their God and must never bring shame on the name of God. They must be holy, for they are the ones who present the special gifts to the Lord, gifts of food for their God. – Leviticus 21:5-6 NLT

The people who witnessed this shocking display of self-degradation by Ezekiel would have understood its significance. By shaving his head and beard, this young priest would have willingly violated God’s law, rendering himself defiled and unholy. But what they might not have understood was that his action was a demonstration of their own spiritual state before God. They were defiled and unholy as well. Because of their stubborn refusal to repent, they were no longer considered holy or set apart as God’s chosen people.

And God had another bizarre element to add to Ezekiel’s performance. He was to take the hair and weigh it on a scale, dividing it into three equal parts.

“Place a third of it at the center of your map of Jerusalem. After acting out the siege, burn it there. Scatter another third across your map and chop it with a sword. Scatter the last third to the wind, for I will scatter my people with the sword.” – Ezekiel 5:2 NLT

It is important to remember that every phase of God’s instructions to Ezekiel was to be acted out in public. He was required to carry out God’s commands so that his fellow exiles could witness it with their own eyes. This message was for them.

So, God commanded that upon completion of his 430-day demonstration, Ezekiel was to burn one-third of the hair in the center of the model he had built. This was intended to represent all those who would be slaughtered within the city when the Babylonians broke through the walls.

Then God commanded Ezekiel to take another third of the hair and use his sword to chop it up outside the walls of his miniature model of Jerusalem. This action was intended to represent the wholesale massacre of all those who attempted to flee the city. And Ezekiel was commanded to take the final third of the hair and scatter it to the wind, illustrating all those who would end up “blown” by God’s will to the four corners of the earth. Some would escape and relocate to foreign lands, while a large number of the people would end up as captives in Babylon just like Ezekiel and his fellow exiles.

The book of 2 Chronicles records the devastating details surrounding the eventual siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

So the Lord brought the king of Babylon against them. The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. – 2 Chronicles 36:17-20 NLT

Everything that God commanded Ezekiel to act out would eventually become a painful reality for those still living within the walls of Jerusalem. God was using His young prophet to provide an eerily accurate portrayal of the fall of Jerusalem. He wanted the Jews living as exiles in Babylon to understand that His anger was not yet assuaged. There were some among them in Babylon who were suggesting that their days of suffering were almost over and they would soon be returning home. Others had become comfortable in their new surroundings in Babylon and had long ago given up hope or interest in returning to their homeland.

Even back in Jerusalem, there were those who were propagating the idea that the Babylonian siege would be shortlived and unsuccessful. The civil and religious leaders were trying to convince the people that God was going to rescue them from their predicament. But God had given His prophet, Jeremiah, a dramatically different message to deliver to the people.

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

Rather than confess their sins and return to the Lord in humility, these people were declaring themselves to be innocent and worthy of God’s rescue. Even Jeremiah would attempt to inform God about the deceptive rhetoric of the other self-appointed prophets of Judah.

Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.’” – Ezekiel 14:13 NLT

He was fighting a one-man battle against disinformation and false news. But Jeremiah wasn’t telling God anything He didn’t already know. In fact, God assured Jeremiah that these false prophets would pay dearly for their lies.

Then the Lord said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine!” – Ezekiel 14:14-15 NLT

Meanwhile, back in Babylon, Ezekiel was putting on a show for the exiles, attempting to drive home the severity of God’s anger with His people. Their very presence in Babylon was proof that God was serious about sin and was more than willing to punish it severely. And He was far from done. Their fellow Jews back in Jerusalem were continuing to live in disobedience to God’s will and refusing to answer His call to repentance, and their actions had not escaped the eyes of the Almighty.

“…she has rebelled against my regulations and decrees and has been even more wicked than the surrounding nations. She has refused to obey the regulations and decrees I gave her to follow.” – Ezekiel 5:6 NLT

Ezekiel’s lengthy dramatic performance was meant to remind the unrepentant Jews in Babylon that God expects obedience from His chosen people, no matter where they live. And their failure to live holy lives and reflect the glory of God would eventually have devastating consequences.

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.

Trust and Obey

“And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” 13 And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself. From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.” 15 Then he said to me, “See, I assign to you cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” 16 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17 I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment. – Ezekiel 4:9-17 ESV

During the first 390 days of Ezekiel’s one-man theater production, he was limited to a diet of water and bread made from a strange blend of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and emmer. This unappealing and nutritionally insufficient food regimen was intended to illustrate the conditions the people would suffer in the actual siege of Jerusalem. It would be long in duration and result in the inhabitants of the city living off a subsistence diet made from whatever grains they could find. God restricted Ezekiel’s food intake to a meager eight ounces of bread and just over a liter of water per day. Subsisting for more than a year on this nutritionally deficient diet would have left Ezekiel emaciated and weak. And because he was commanded to act out this parabolic lesson in full display of the people, they would have witnessed the startling and discomfiting transformation in Ezekiel’s physical state.

All of this was intended to provide a vivid illustration of the horrific conditions within the walls of the city of Jerusalem when the Babylonians conducted their final siege of the city. And Moses had warned of this day centuries before.

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you. The most tenderhearted man among you will have no compassion for his own brother, his beloved wife, and his surviving children. He will refuse to share with them the flesh he is devouring—the flesh of one of his own children—because he has nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns. The most tender and delicate woman among you—so delicate she would not so much as touch the ground with her foot—will be selfish toward the husband she loves and toward her own son or daughter. She will hide from them the afterbirth and the new baby she has borne, so that she herself can secretly eat them. She will have nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns.” – Deuteronomy 28:53-57 NLT

But for Ezekiel, the most startling part of God’s command was the requirement to bake his bread over a fire made with dried human dung. Of all the strange things God had asked him to do, this was the part that got Ezekiel’s attention. He was appalled at the thought of doing such a thing because he knew it would render him ceremonially impure. God had intended this unsavory action to remind the exiles of the spiritually impure state of their current conditions.

“This is how Israel will eat defiled bread in the Gentile lands to which I will banish them!” – Ezekiel 4:13 NLT

Without the sacrificial system, the people of God living in Babylon had no way of receiving atonement and cleansing for their sins. As a result, they remained in a perpetual state of spiritual impurity and separation from God. Their very presence in a foreign land living among pagans left them defiled and unworthy of coming into God’s presence.

But while Ezekiel was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do, this part was too much for him, so he appealed to God.

“O Sovereign Lord, must I be defiled by using human dung? For I have never been defiled before. From the time I was a child until now I have never eaten any animal that died of sickness or was killed by other animals. I have never eaten any meat forbidden by the law.” – Ezekiel 4:14 NLT

Even while in exile, Ezekiel had labored to remain faithful to the Mosaic Law. The thought of defiling himself in such a way was unacceptable to him. So, God graciously allowed him to use cow dung instead. Amazingly, this was the only part of God’s plan at which Ezekiel balked. He was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do – without question – even though it all appeared strange and senseless, and would probably result in his own humiliation in the eyes of the people.

The remarkable thing about this story is not the mysterious symbolism of the brick, the number of days involved, or the content of Ezekiel’s diet. It is the faithful obedience of Ezekiel in the face of a very strange request from God. None of this made sense. Ezekiel was being asked to do something patently absurd that would result in him making a fool of himself. And he knew that nothing he did or said was going to make an impact on the people. God had already told him that they would not listen or repent.

But Ezekiel obeyed anyway. He did what God asked him to do. And this will be the pattern portrayed throughout the pages of this book. Over and over again, Ezekiel will respond obediently to the commands of God. He will do what he is told to do, regardless of its difficulty or credibility. He will consistently and persistently obey – time and time again.

But what about us? How do we respond to the Word of God in our lives? Do we obey or do we rationalize, argue, debate, or simply disobey? Does it all have to make sense before we do what God is asking us to do? If it requires us to humble ourselves or get out of our comfort zone, do we balk and bail?

God is looking for men and women who will faithfully obey and do what He is calling them to do – no questions asked. It may not make sense, but it will make a difference because God is behind it all. He has a plan. He knows what is best. There is always a method to His seeming madness. We just need to trust and obey.

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.

The Performance of a Lifetime

1 “And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year. And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city. And behold, I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege. – Ezekiel 4:1-8 ESV

Ezekiel was a priest who had been commissioned by God to be His prophet, but then God made him a prisoner in his own home. And with the opening verses of chapter four, Ezekiel receives yet one more role – that of a performance artist. Not only would he be required to speak on God’s behalf, delivering His messages of judgment to the people, but he was going to have to act out those messages in a series of strange one-man plays.

Evidently, Ezekiel was given a reprieve from his God-ordained house arrest, long enough to carry out the first of God’s bizarre parables in 3-D. These performances were intended to visually demonstrate God’s pending judgment upon the nation of Judah. Without speaking a word, Ezekiel was to stage a one-act, outdoor theater production complete with props and a plot line.

“…son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel. – Ezekiel 4:1-3 NLT

One can only imagine the look on Ezekiel’s face when he received this command from the Almighty. There is no way of knowing whether Ezekiel was an introvert or an extrovert, but it is safe to say that neither temperament would have made this command easy to obey. After all, God was asking His prophet to make a fool of himself – in public. Ezekiel was going to have to put on a performance as “a sign for the house of Israel.” He couldn’t do it in the privacy of his own home but would be forced to take his show on the road, acting it out in the streets for all to see.

The thought must have run through Ezekiel’s head that this little parable in a play was going to get less-than-stellar reviews. He must have considered the stinging ridicule he would have to endure as he carried out God’s command. But the text contains no record of Ezekiel’s thoughts. We are provided with no insights into his state of mind as he received the divine script for his first performance. Like a mime, Ezekiel was to act out this drama without any words. God provided him with a detailed list of the props he was to use along with the state directions he was to follow.

God commanded him to take a common clay brick and draw on it the image of the city of Jerusalem. He was to place the brick outside his house, in full view of the people, then build siege walls, ramps, and an enemy camp around it. Like a little boy playing with toy soldiers, Ezekiel was to construct a model of the siege of Jerusalem. But that’s not all. It gets worse. God commanded Ezekiel to erect an iron plate, then to lie down on his left side for a period of 390 days with the iron plate between himself and the “city” of Jerusalem. When the 390 days were up, he was to turn over and lie on his right side for another 40 days.

There has been much debate over the years as to what all this was intended to mean. It seems obvious that God was commanding Ezekiel to act out the siege and eventual fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. But why would God have Ezekiel act out an event that had already occurred? After all, the people of Judah to whom Ezekiel was prophesying were in Babylon because of the fall of Jerusalem. They have lived through these events. But there is some speculation that Ezekiel was acting out two different sieges of Jerusalem. The first took place in 597 BC and is recorded in 2 Kings 24:10-17. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar’s troops entered Jerusalem and “carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold” (2 Kings 24:13 ESV). The Babylonians took 10,000 people captive and it is likely that Ezekiel was among them.

But 11 years later, the Babylonians would return and lay siege to the city again. This time, they bring about its complete destruction.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 25:8-10 ESV

It seems likely that Ezekiel was acting out the second siege of Jerusalem which had not yet taken place. While his audience would have experienced the terrors associated with the first siege of 597 BC, God was letting them know that there was more judgment to come.

There were those among the exiles who were declaring that their stay in Babylon was coming to an end and God was going to return them to Judah. The rumors had been circulating that their predicament was temporary in nature. God was going to spare them and allow them to return home. But they were not living in obedience to God’s law and had never repented of the sins that had led to their captivity in the first place.

Hundreds of years earlier, God had warned the people of Israel what would happen if they failed to remain faithful to Him. Through His prophet, Moses, God had conveyed the curses that would come upon them if they refused to keep His commands.

“They will attack your cities until all the fortified walls in your land—the walls you trusted to protect you—are knocked down. They will attack all the towns in the land the Lord your God has given you.

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you.” – Deuteronomy 28:52-53 NLT

Now, centuries later, God was having Ezekiel act out the ramifications of their continued rebellion. Even though they had personally endured the first siege and ended up as captives in the land of Babylon, they had never repented of their sins. Some commentators believe the iron plate was represent the barrier between God and His chosen people. Because of their ongoing stubbornness and continuing unfaithfulness, the remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem would find their prayers unanswered and God’s help unavailable. He would not rescue them from their coming trial.

And the exiles watching Ezekiel’s performance would discover that any hopes they had of returning to Jerusalem were nothing but wishful thinking. God gave Ezekiel firm instructions that were to communicate a clear message.

“…set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city.” – Ezekiel 4:7 ESV

Ezekiel was to play that part of God in this divine drama. His bare arm was a symbol of God’s all-powerful and inescapable judgment. The Almighty would be behind the second siege of Jerusalem and would bring about its utter destruction.

There has been much debate regarding the meaning behind the length of days that Ezekiel was required to lie on his side. God makes it clear that the days represent years.

“I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel.” – Ezekiel 4:5 ESV

And if you add the 40 days to the 390, you get 430 total days or years. But what do they represent? It is interesting to note that this was the same number of years the Israelites were captives in the land of Egypt before God delivered them through Moses. Perhaps there was a not-so-subtle message concerning God’s future deliverance of His rebellious people when He eventually allowed a remnant of them to return to the land of Judah under Nehemiah.

But while we cannot ascertain the exact meaning behind the 430 years, God wanted Ezekiel to spend more than a year of his life acting out this drama. And to help him do so, God divinely restrained him with ropes.

“I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege.” – Ezekiel 4:8 ESV

God knew this was going to be a difficult assignment and, along the way, Ezekiel would face plenty of temptations to quit. God had already told him his audience would prove disinterested and unwilling to hear what he had to say. So, day after day, month after month, Ezekiel would act out his drama to an unresponsive and unappreciative audience. But he was to complete the task assigned to him, and God made sure that he did so.

Yet, as distasteful as this assignment was, God was going to make it even more difficult, all in order to dramatize the devastation awaiting His rebellious and unrepentant people.

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.

Speak When Spoken To

16 And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”

22 And the hand of the Lord was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.” 23 So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face. 24 But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house. 25 And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. 26 And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house. – Ezekiel 3:16-27 ESV

Ezekiel had been handpicked by God to serve as His spokesman or prophet to the people of Israel living in the land of Babylon. And after receiving the details of his commission from the Almighty, Ezekiel spent a solid week in a virtual state of shock as he considered the gravity of his divine assignment.

And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. – Ezekiel 3:15 ESV

But God disrupted Ezekiel’s listless period of stupefaction with another important message concerning his new role.

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. – Ezekiel 3:17 NLT

God declared Ezekiel to be His צָפָה (ṣāp̄â) or watchman. In Hebrew, the word refers to a lookout or spy. It was often used to describe the role of a guard or sentry who patrolled the walls of a city at night, looking for any threats to the community’s safety. If he saw enemy movements outside the wall, he was to sound the alarm, warning the inhabitants to take appropriate action.

And that was the point behind God’s message to Ezekiel. He was to wait, watch, and warn. Whenever God spoke, Ezekiel was to pass on His message to the people of Israel. The inference is that the message Ezekiel must share will be one of God’s pending judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel. Even though they were already living in captivity because of their sins, they were not free to continue their disobedient and disrespectful treatment of God. He was watching and He still expected them to repent from their sins and return to Him in faithful obedience to His will.

And God warned Ezekiel that his role as watchman would require obedience on his part. If he failed to do his job well, he would pay dearly for it.

“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:18-19 NLT

As God’s prophet, Ezekiel was the sole source of divine communication for the people of Israel. They had no way of hearing from God except through the mouth of God’s spokesman. So, if Ezekiel failed to deliver God’s warning of judgment and the people remained unrepentant, he would be held accountable for their deaths. They would die in their sins because God’s prophet had failed to warn them.

But if Ezekiel faithfully fulfilled his commission and passed on God’s warning to the people, he would be declared innocent of their deaths should they fail to repent. In other words, Ezekiel was only required to communicate the message, not convert the hearers. His only responsibility was to deliver the message accurately and leave the results up to God.

Ezekiel had two primary audiences: The wicked and the righteous. He was to warn the former to turn from their wicked ways so that they might escape the coming judgment of God. But he was also to warn the righteous to remain faithful to God and refrain from pursuing a life of wickedness. In both cases, Ezekiel’s responsibility was to clearly communicate the words given to him by God. Nothing more, nothing less.

It seems that God wanted His newly appointed prophet to understand the gravity of the situation. Ezekiel had spent the last seven days contemplating his new role and had likely come up with a list of objections and questions. So, God wanted Ezekiel to know that his commission was non-optional and came with a high price tag.

Immediately after delivering this call to faithfulness, God sent Ezekiel into the valley of the River Kebar, where He allowed the prophet to witness His glory once again.

“Get up and go out into the valley, and I will speak to you there.” So I got up and went, and there I saw the glory of the Lord, just as I had seen in my first vision by the Kebar River. And I fell face down on the ground. – Ezekiel 3:22-23 NLT

What happens next is fascinating, considering what God just said to Ezekiel. He had commanded His servant to faithfully deliver His words regardless of the response of the people. Yet, the first thing God commanded Ezekiel to do was to return to his own home.

“Go to your house and shut yourself in. There, son of man, you will be tied with ropes so you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. – Ezekiel 3:24-26 NLT

God put Ezekiel in solitary confinement. Not only that, He had the prophet constrained with ropes. It is unclear who did the restraining, but it would appear that this was a supernatural event that involved angelic beings and not men. However God did it, Ezekiel found himself bound within the walls of his home and unable to venture out. The prophet was a prisoner. And to make matters worse, God made Ezekiel mute.

At first glance, none of this makes much sense. Why would God restrict the actions of His newly appointed prophet and remove his capacity to speak? How was Ezekiel to warn the people? What good was a prophet who couldn’t talk? How was he to call the people to repentance if he was under house arrest?

But God was actually protecting Ezekiel – from himself.  God knew Ezekiel well and understood that this young man would be quick to take up an offense for His glory. Once Ezekiel began his mission among the people, he would see the stubbornness and rebellion of the people firsthand and become angry at their refusal to heed his words.

For Ezekiel’s own protection, God secluded him away until the moment he was needed. Ezekiel was restricted from ministering or speaking until God had given him something to say. God had made it perfectly clear, the only time Ezekiel was to speak was when he could say, “Thus says the Lord God…” (Ezekiel 3:11 ESV).

God was not interested in Ezekiel’s opinion. He did not need His prophet to give his two cents worth. The only time he was to speak was when he was declaring the message given to him by God. That is why God said, “you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels” (Ezekiel 3:26 NLT). God knew that Ezekiel would become increasingly frustrated with the sinful dispositions of his fellow exiles. Their failure to listen to God’s warning would prompt him to lash out in anger and say things he would ultimately regret.

The longer Ezekiel did his job, the angrier he would become about the sins of the people. He would come to share God’s hatred for their rebellion and failure to repent. So, at the outset of his ministry, Ezekiel found himself bound and gagged by God, so that he might learn to speak only when spoken to.

If God had not prevented him from speaking, Ezekiel would probably have had plenty to say to and about his less-than-righteous neighbors. He would have been more than happy to give the people a piece of his mind, read them the riot act, and chew them out for their sinful lifestyles and rebellion against God. After all, he was God’s spokesman. But God was not going to allow Ezekiel to say anything at all until He had given him something to say. Ezekiel was going to have to shut up until God spoke up. Any words that came out of his mouth were going to have to be God’s and not his own.

What if we approached our relationships with others the same way? What if we decided to keep our mouths shut until we knew we had heard from God? Too often, we decide that we have something that others need to hear, yet the content of our message didn’t come from God. We boldly and confidently attribute it to Him, when all the while, we are the source. We give God credit for a message that we came up with. But God wants us to speak at His command, not on His behalf. As His messengers, we don’t get to make up the message, we simply get to communicate it. But too often, we end up sharing our opinion instead of declaring God’s Word. We give it our slant. We put our words in God’s mouth.

God knew Ezekiel was going to be prone to the same problem, so He did him a favor and made him mute – until it was time for him to speak. For some of us, that might be the best thing that ever happened to us. But in the meantime, let’s see if we can’t learn to speak less and listen more. So that when we do speak, we are confident that what we say is from God and not 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.

 

A Difficult Calling

And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” 10 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. 11 And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”

12 Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” 13 It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake. 14 The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. 15 And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. – Ezekiel 3:4-15 ESV

After consuming the scroll that God had given him, Ezekiel was commanded to regurgitate its content to his fellow captives living in the land of Babylon. While the message contained in the scroll was filled with words of “lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10 ESV), Ezekiel found it to taste “as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 3:3 ESV). Ezekiel had discovered the truth behind the psalm.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! – Psalm 119:103 ESV).

And the prophet Jeremiah also learned to develop a hunger and delight for the word of the Lord.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. – Jeremiah 15:16 ESV

God’s Word may be difficult to hear but, when obeyed, it always proves to be a delight to the soul because it is filled with wisdom and truth. Ezekiel had feasted on the Word of God and found it to be both pleasant and filling. But the difficulty would come when he tried to share that message with his fellow exiles. This young priest-turned-prophet was going to have to share what he had learned with the rest of the Jews living along the Kebar River in Babylon, and God warned him that they would not be a receptive audience.

“…the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn.” – Ezekiel 3:7 NLT

The Almighty God had chosen to reveal Himself to Ezekiel in the middle of a Judaen refuge camp in the land of Babylon, and He had delivered to Ezekiel a message that was intended solely for the people of God. The words contained on the scroll had been directed at His chosen people and not the Babylonians. God was not above delivering words of warning to foreign countries. He had used Isaiah to pronounce a powerful message of future destruction to the Babylonians.

Babylon, the most glorious of kingdoms,
    the flower of Chaldean pride,
will be devastated like Sodom and Gomorrah
    when God destroyed them.
Babylon will never be inhabited again.
    It will remain empty for generation after generation.
Nomads will refuse to camp there,
    and shepherds will not bed down their sheep. – Isaiah 13:19-20 NLT

But the message God had given Ezekiel was for the people of Judah alone. And God seems to infer that Ezekiel’s task would have been much easier if his audience was made up of foreigners who spoke a completely different language.

I am not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! – Ezekiel 3:5 NLT

The problem Ezekiel was going to encounter would not be that of a language barrier. No, his audience would hear and understand every word he said, but their stubborn and sin-hardened hearts would prevent them from responding in repentance. The same words that Ezekiel found to be as sweet as honey would be bitter and distasteful to the rebellious people of God.

But Ezekiel was not to be afraid or disheartened. In fact, God declared that he would be divinely equipped for the task. The people of Israel would meet their match in Ezekiel.

“I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.” – Ezekiel 3:8-9 NLT

God was going to equip Ezekiel with a supernatural source of stamina and determination that would allow him to stay strong even in the face of repeated rejection and the evident failure of his mission. God knew that there would be days when Ezekiel felt as if his task was ill-fated and his ministry was doomed to defeat. He would be tempted to throw in the towel and abandon his mission. That’s why God encouraged him to take time and meditate on the words he was about to deliver. He was to think long and hard about the content of God’s message long before he began to deliver it.

“Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” – Ezekiel 3:10-11 NLT

Ezekiel was to be more than just a conduit through which the words of God flowed. He had been commanded to ingest the words of God so that they might flow from his heart and not just his lips. It was essential that the messenger believe the words of the message and trust the One who had delivered it. God wanted Ezekiel to learn the truth found in Psalm 119.

I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word. – Psalm 119:15-16 ESV

The Lord knew that Ezekiel would need endurance in the days ahead. The ministry to which he was being called would prove difficult and disheartening. His message would fall on deaf ears. His calls to repentance would be rejected. And the psalmist seemed to have presaged Ezekiel’s pending predicament.

My soul longs for your salvation;
    I hope in your word.
My eyes long for your promise;
    I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
    yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?
    When will you judge those who persecute me?
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
    they do not live according to your law.
All your commandments are sure;
    they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love give me life,
    that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. – Psalm 119:81-88 ESV

And, as if to provide Ezekiel with one more tangible form of encouragement, God allowed him to hear a thunderous proclamation from heaven.

“Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!” – Ezekiel 3:12 ESV

The entire vision Ezekiel had been given the privilege of seeing had been a dramatic display of God’s glory, and now a voice from heaven confirmed it. And Ezekiel saw and heard the wings of the four living creatures flapping in unison and the wheels within wheels turning as the glory of God began to move. This was not a static scene in which Ezekiel could remain and worship the glory of God forever. He had a job to do. And the Spirit of God lifted Ezekiel up and took him away. The vision had ended but his mission had just begun, and Ezekiel expressed his dismay by stating, “I went in bitterness and turmoil” (Ezekiel 3:14a NLT). He was struggling with doubt and fear. The mission before him was overwhelming and he felt underqualified for the task. And yet, he declared, “the Lord’s hold on me was strong” (Ezekiel 3:14b NLT).

Ezekiel had received a commission from God Almighty, and while he wrestled with doubt and feelings of inadequacy, he could not resist the calling. He must obey. So, with the vision completed, Ezekiel returned to his mission field among the exiles from Judah. And for seven days, he continued to struggle with an overwhelming sense of fear and foreboding as he contemplated his new assignment. His life had been radically altered by God and he would no longer be able to enjoy the same relationship he had once had with his friends and neighbors. He had been set apart by God and his life would never be the same.

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.

A Bitter-Sweet Assignment

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.

“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10 And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. – Ezekiel 2:1-3:3 ESV

Ezekiel had been given a vision of God’s glory, and it left him face down on the ground in reverential fear and wonder. As this exiled young priest stood by the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon, the God of the universe made an unexpected and highly spectacular appearance.

Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. – Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT

It is safe to assume that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Ezekiel. He had never seen anything like this before, and to have the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob appear to him in the remote recesses of the land of Babylon must have been a shock to his system. He was just a lowly priest who had been taken captive just like all the other residents of Jerusalem when the city had fallen to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces.  Jehoiachin was the king of Judah at the time and, according to 2 Kings 12:9, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord as his ancestors had done.” Like most of his predecessors, Jehoiachin chose to use his royal power to promote idolatry that fostered unfaithfulness to God, and he suffered greatly for his refusal to honor the Almighty.

At that time the generals of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched to Jerusalem and besieged the city. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city while his generals were besieging it. King Jehoiachin of Judah, along with his mother, his servants, his officials, and his eunuchs surrendered to the king of Babylon. The king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took Jehoiachin prisoner. Nebuchadnezzar took from there all the riches in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He removed all the gold items that King Solomon of Israel had made for the Lord’s temple, just as the Lord had warned. He deported all the residents of Jerusalem, including all the officials and all the soldiers (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen and those who worked with metal. No one was left except for the poorest among the people of the land. – 2 Kings 12:10-14 NLT

Living amongst the exiled people of God, Ezekiel had firsthand experience with the apathy and complacency that had taken hold of them. A long way from home and no longer able to avail themselves of the temple and the sacrificial system, they had begun to lose interest in the things of God. Their circumstances had left them feeling abandoned by God and distraught over the far-from-ideal conditions of their captivity. With the passage of time, God had become out of sight, out of mind. They simply assumed He had turned His back on them and so, in time, they gave up hope and determined to make the most of their situation in Babylon.

But God had other plans that included appointing Ezekiel as the one who would deliver His message to the exiles. He had not forgotten about them. They had not been abandoned. Their exile had been intended to get their attention and to bring them to a point of repentance. Now, Ezekiel was going to be commissioned to serve as God’s spokesperson, delivering His call to repentance.

Having gotten Ezekiel’s full attention through the grand display of His glory, God delivered the details of his new assignment.

“I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’” – Ezekiel 2:3-4 NLT

God makes it painfully clear that Ezekiel’s new task would not be easy. He would have to deliver a message from God to a people who had a track record of stubbornness and insubordination. And God warns Ezekiel that his audience may not receive his message with open arms.

“And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.” – Ezekiel 2:5 NLT

There was no guarantee that Ezekiel would experience success. Despite the fact that he would be speaking the words of God, he had no way of knowing how the people would respond. In fact, God made it sound like his mission was doomed to certain failure.

What would you do if God called you to a task that He knew you were going to fail at? What if He even told you your efforts would be fruitless and non-productive? Most of us would bail. We would give up long before we got going. Because we’re wired with one thing in mind – success – and failure is not an acceptable alternative. But when Ezekiel got his marching orders from God, he was also given the not-so-great news that his ministry would be unsuccessful because his audience was going to be unresponsive.  God even told Ezekiel to expect threats and animosity. This was going to be one difficult job assignment.

In a sense, God was foreshadowing failure, but demanding obedience. Ezekiel’s success would not be measured by the number of callous, carnal Israelites he converted, but on his willingness to carry out God’s assignment faithfully, even in the face of rejection, ridicule, and poor results.

Even the message God gave Ezekiel to share was anything but good news. In his vision, Ezekiel was given a scroll that was covered with writing front and back, from edge to edge. It’s content?

“Funeral songs, words of sorrows, and pronouncements of doom.” – Ezekiel 2:9b NLT

It was a veritable compendium of bad news. So, not only would Ezekiel have a non-responsive audience, he was given an unappealing message. But God fully understood the foreboding nature of Ezekiel’s assignment, and he knew that Ezekiel was already wrestling with whether to follow through with His command. The young priest was afraid of how he and his message might be received by the people, but God encouraged him to have faith.

“Do not fear them or their words. Don’t be afraid even though their threats surround you like nettles and briars and stinging scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls, even though they are rebels.” – Ezekiel 2:6 NLT

God was telling Ezekiel not to be frightened by the things they would threaten to do to him, the harsh words they might say about him, or the negative reaction they would inevitably have to him.

“Son of man, do not fear them or their words. Don’t be afraid even though their threats surround you like nettles and briers and stinging scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls, even though they are rebels. You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” – Ezekiel 2:6-7 NLT

Ezekiel was going to experience resistance. His message would not be well-received and the people would hold him responsible for its content. It was only a matter of time before they sought to kill the messenger. That’s why God warned Ezekiel to refrain from emulating the rebellious nature of his audience. He was not to reject God’s assignment just because it sounded difficult and more than a bit dangerous. God was open and above board as to the difficulty of the mission. He didn’t attempt to sugarcoat the assignment or paint a rosy picture of its outcome. Instead, God gave His newly appointed prophet all he would need to succeed.

“Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion. Open your mouth, and eat what I give you.” – Ezekiel 2:8 NLT

God held out a scroll, upon which were written lamentations, mourning, and woes. In other words, it was filled with bad news. The sheer volume of disheartening content was so great that it covered both sides of the scroll. God’s indictment against His people was great and He commanded Ezekiel to consume every last bit of it. He was to take it all in so that he might regurgitate it, word for word, to the disobedient people of God.

“Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” – Ezekiel 3:1 ESV

But much to his surprise, Ezekiel found the less-than-appealing content of the scroll to be “sweet as honey.” (Ezekiel 3:3 ESV). There is a similar scene described in the book of Revelation. In it, the apostle John is given a vision of an angel who descends from heaven with a scroll in his hand. He presents the scroll to John and commands him to eat it.

“Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach.

Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” – Revelation 10:9-11 NLT

Both John and Ezekiel would find the words of God to be both sweet and bitter. When the truth of God is consumed, it is pleasant and life-giving, but it can also result in conviction and condemnation.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

For Ezekiel, consuming God’s word was sweet to the taste, but declaring it to the people would be a bitter experience. They would find it distasteful and difficult to swallow. But God was calling Ezekiel to be faithful and fearless in declaring its truth regardless of the outcome.

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.

Our Indescribable and Inexplicable God

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28 ESV

For centuries, artists have attempted to recreate the fantastic scene described in Ezekiel’s vision, and their efforts have resulted in a host of ethereal, otherworldly depictions that almost defy the range of man’s imagination. Their depictions border on the surreal and illustrate man’s incapacity to understand or explain the glory of God. But in their defense, each of them based their artwork on the words of Ezekiel. They simply illustrated what Ezekiel attempted to elucidate. But this young priest was at a great disadvantage because he was trying to describe the indescribable and explain the inexplicable. Hampered by a finite human mind and a limited vocabulary, Ezekiel did his best to recreate his vision with words. But his efforts would prove futile because he was attempting to describe “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV).

While Ezekiel appears to be describing a series of different individuals and objects, the scene is meant to illustrate the glory of the Lord. This entire chapter should be viewed as a depiction of the majesty and magnificence of Jehovah, the Creator-God who rules and reigns over all. The all-mighty, transcendent God of the universe was providing Ezekiel with a composite picture of His essence that was intended to engender a response of awe and reverential fear. And it worked, because Ezekiel claims, “When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground” (Ezekiel 1:28 NLT).

Ezekiel got the big picture. He correctly viewed the entire scene as a divine depiction of his God. And, as a priest, Ezekiel would have known that it was impossible for any human being to see God and live to tell about it. He would have been well versed in the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The man whom God had chosen to liberate His people from their captivity in Egypt had expressed his desire to see God’s glory. Moses had seen God’s glory displayed in the burning bush and had repeatedly spoken with Him, but he longed for something greater.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18 ESV

But God let Moses that his request was not only impossible, but it would also be suicidal. So, He provided Moses with a viable alternative.

…and he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Ezekiel 33:19-20 ESV

Like Moses, Ezekiel would see God’s glory and live to tell about it. He would see indescribable things and attempt to explain them with words that could never do them justice. The four living creatures, the wheels within wheels, the crystal expanse, and the sapphire thrown were all intended to depict God’s glory. Ezekiel was being given a rare opportunity to see the Almighty but in a way that produced awe and wonder instead of death.

It was the apostle Paul who described Yahweh as “the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords” (1 Timothy 6:15 NLT). And he went on to explain God’s transcendent, unapproachable nature.

He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! – 1 Timothy 6:16 NLT

It is impossible to know exactly what Ezekiel saw but that has not stopped artists from trying to depict it. But no painting, engraving, or illustration will ever be able to capture the glory of God.

Every aspect of Ezekiel’s vision was meant to reinforce the greatness and glory of God. The four different faces of the four living creatures reveal that God is sovereign over all creation. He rules over humanity, the wild beasts, domesticated animals, and the birds of the air – because He made them all. And the wheels within wheels were intended to depict God’s omnipresence; completely unhindered by time or space. According to Ezekiel, the wheels “went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” ( Ezekiel 1:17 ESV). The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes, illustrating the omniscience of God. He knows all because He sees all.

And He accomplishes all this while sitting on His throne above the great expanse. Ezekiel’s focus becomes fixed upon “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT). But He is far from human in nature.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

This is no ordinary king seated on a man-made throne. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel is being given a glimpse of God Almighty, but it is a representation and not the real thing.

“It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

It is interesting to note that Ezekiel does not attempt to describe God’s face or countenance. All he writes about is the appearance of gleaming metal, fire, and brightness. According to Paul, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). The psalmist states that God “wraps Himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2 BSB). The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of God and he described it in similar terms.

…the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 ESV

Both Daniel and Ezekiel were given the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and both found it nearly impossible to put it into words. They were struck by the brightness of His very presence. He emanated light so bright that it could only be described as burning fire. It was intense and virtually unapproachable. This imagery reflects the holiness and purity of God. It was the apostle John who wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

This majestic, all-knowing, holy, omnipresent God of the universe was reminding Ezekiel that He was still on His throne and well aware of the fate of the people of Judah. He had not turned His back on them. His power had not diminished and His love for them had not faded. The all-powerful, ever-loving, always-faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about to deliver a message to His chosen people and He had chosen Ezekiel as His messenger. God had gotten Ezekiel’s attention, and now Ezekiel was ready to listen to what his glorious God had to say.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

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.

A Vision of God’s Glory

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. – Ezekiel 1:4-14 ESV

It was while Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon, living near the Kebar River, that God came to visit him in a vision. Little did Ezekiel know that his role as a priest was about to be expanded to that of a prophet. A long way from home and far from the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Ezekiel was going to receive a vision and a commission from God Almighty.

Ezekiel would later describe this life-changing event in very intimate terms.

the hand of the Lord was upon me there – Ezekiel 3:22 ESV

…the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. – Ezekiel 8:1 ESV

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

God revealed Himself to Ezekiel in an unforgettable and virtually indescribable manner. This was no burning bush encounter like the one Moses experienced in the wilderness. Ezekiel was given a much more intense and comprehensive glimpse of the Almighty, and it began with a vision of what the dumbfounded prophet describes as four living beings.

As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings – Ezekiel 1:4-5 NLT

One can only imagine Ezekiel’s shock as he witnessed these strange-looking apparitions appear before his eyes. The text does not reveal whether this bizarre vision took place while Ezekiel was awake or came upon him in the form of a dream. But the strange and surrealistic nature of what Ezekiel saw must have left him shaken and more than a bit scared.

A powerful thunderstorm suddenly appeared on the northern horizon, accompanied by lightning and brilliant light. This was no ordinary storm and that face was quickly confirmed by the sudden appearance of the four creatures. Ezekiel’s attempt to describe these bizarre beings reveals just extraordinary they were. He had never seen anything like them before and was at a loss as to how to describe them. To his eyes, they were an other-worldly amalgam of human and animal characteristics that were beyond belief.

At first glance, they appeared to be human but, upon closer examination, Ezekiel saw that they each had one head with four faces. “Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back” (Ezekiel 1:10 NLT).

Ezekiel is given no explanation for this disturbing combination of facial features. But it would seem that each was meant to represent something significant about God’s creative order. Man was meant to be the apex of all the living creatures God created. The lion was the king of the beasts, the most powerful of all the wild animals. The ox was the most valuable of all the domesticated animals, a creature equipped with great strength and intelligence. And the eagle was considered the king of the skies, a majestic bird of prey whose keen vision and powerful talons made him a mighty hunter.

According to Ezekiel, these four-faced creatures each had four wings and human hands. They used one pair of wings to cover their bodies, while the other pair of wings were fully extended with the tips touching the wings of the creature next to them. It seems that the four creatures formed a square so that “each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around” (Ezekiel 1:9 NLT).

But even as mesmerizing as these creatures were, Ezekiel’s attention was drawn to something that appeared in the midst of them.

In the middle of the living beings was something like burning coals of fire or like torches. It moved back and forth among the living beings. It was bright, and lightning was flashing out of the fire. – Ezekiel 1:13 NET

It is difficult to ascertain whether this light emanated from the creatures themselves or from something else. But it seems as if the vision was meant to draw Ezekiel’s eye ever higher, exposing him to something far more significant than the creatures themselves. As fantastic as these heavenly beings appeared to be, they were not the focus of the vision. They were simply a preview of what was to come.

“These spiritual beings who were part angel, part human, and part animal were fitting representatives of the whole created order. Their activity affirmed the relationship of God to his creation as Lord of all things. This idea was vital in helping Ezekiel and the captives in exile and the people in Judah understand that in the midst of the storms of life, God was still on his throne. He was not oblivious to their circumstances.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

God was setting the stage for what was to come. These divine apparitions were meant to get the prophet’s attention and prepare him to receive the message God had in store for him. God could have just appeared to Ezekiel, but He chose to preface His appearance with a supernatural outpouring of signs that accentuated His power and glory. In the midst of all the doom and gloom of captivity in Babylon, Ezekiel was being given a veritable light show designed to remind him of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.

The God of Israel was manifesting His presence in the midst of His exiled people. He had not forgotten or forsaken them. He had always promised to remember and redeem them, and He had communicated those intentions to the prophet Jeremiah.

“When the time for them to be rescued comes,”
says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
“I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.
I will deliver you from captivity.
Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them.
But they will be subject to the Lord their God
and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them. – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

As Ezekiel’s vision will make clear, God was still on His throne and fully in command of all that was going on in the world. The captivity of His chosen people had been part of His plan, and their future redemption would also come about just as He had promised. Ezekiel was being given a much-needed reminder of God’s glory and greatness so that he might receive, believe, and deliver God’s message for the helpless and hopeless living in exile in Babylon.

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.