A Glimpse of God

1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. – Ezekiel 1:1-3 ESV

The book of Ezekiel was written by the man for whom it is named. He was a Jewish priest who found himself exiled to the land of Babylon along with many of his fellow countrymen. And with their capture and deportment to Babylon, they joined the ranks of the other exiled Israelites who had arrived years earlier.

But how did Ezekiel end up in this predicament? What events transpired that resulted in this 30-year-old priest from the southern kingdom of Judah becoming just another captive in the land of Babylon?

It’s a long story that extends back to 605 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ascended to the throne of his father. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was defeat the Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish that same year. Having defeated these two superpowers, Nebuchadnezzar assumed control of their vassal states, including the southern kingdom of Judah. He began a siege of the city of Jerusalem in 605 BC that ended in its surrender and the capture of thousands of its leading citizens, who were promptly deported to Babylon. This would have included a young man named Daniel, who would become a prophet and a contemporary of Ezekiel.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. – Daniel 1:1-6 ESV

Daniel ended up being a prophet in the land of Babylon, but it would not be long before Ezekiel joined him there. That initial deportation would not be the last because the people of Israel would remain unrepentant and unwilling to give up their idolatrous ways. As a result of their stubborn refusal to repent, God would send Nebuchadnezzar again, this time with orders to destroy the capital city of Jerusalem. In 598 BC, the Babylonians would lay siege to the city once again, eventually breaking through the walls the destroying everything in sight, including the temple of God.

This devastating event had been foretold by the prophets of God. They had repeatedly warned God’s people that, unless they repented and returned to Him, they would suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power.

“Behold, I am bringing against you
    a nation from afar, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.
It is an enduring nation;
    it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know,
    nor can you understand what they say.
Their quiver is like an open tomb;
    they are all mighty warriors.
They shall eat up your harvest and your food;
    they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;
they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
    they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
your fortified cities in which you trust
    they shall beat down with the sword.”  – Jeremiah 5:15-17 ESV

Over the years, God had patiently and persistently called His people to repentance but they had refused to heed the warnings of the prophets. Despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be unfaithful and disloyal to Him, repeatedly worshiping false gods and regularly violating His commands. It was because of their spiritual infidelity and moral impurity that God determined to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians.

“Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great.

“How can I pardon you?
    Your children have forsaken me
    and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
    they committed adultery
    and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
    each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this? – Jeremiah 5:6-9 SV

Jeremiah was a prophet whose ministry took place in the capital city of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. He began his prophetic ministry sometime around 627 BC, about four years before Ezekiel was born. It is likely that Ezekiel was familiar with Jeremiah’s ministry and had heard his messages concerning God’s pending judgment. Ezekiel would have been a young man when the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem. He would have witnessed the second wave of deportations, as the brightest and the best of Judah were taken captive to Babylon.

Jerusalem fell in 597 BC, but the final deportation did not take place until the next year. It was at that time that Ezekiel became another victim of the Babylonian empire’s aggressive expansion efforts.  He soon found himself living in a refugee camp along with the other exiles from Judah on the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon.

But in that remote and far-from-idyllic setting, God came to meet with Ezekiel. While He had brought destruction on the people of Judah for their sin and rebellion, He had not abandoned them. He would not leave them completely isolated and alone. God would call on Ezekiel to be His spokesperson to the exiles in Babylon. There on the banks of the Kebar River, God appeared to Ezekiel. This young prophet received a remarkable vision of God in the midst of the doom and gloom of Babylonian captivity. When things seemed to be at their worst, God showed up. He displayed His glory to Ezekiel and gave him a message for the people of Judah. And that vision, while somewhat fantastical and difficult to understand, illustrated God’s power and majestic presence. It accentuated His holiness and stressed His otherness.

The vision that Ezekiel saw left no doubt about just how great and powerful God was. He got a glimpse of God in the midst of his darkest moments. And when Ezekiel saw Him, he fell down and worshiped.

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. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me. – Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT

Even in our darkest days, God is there. Regardless of what is going on around us, He never ceases to be God. He does not change. His status does not diminish. His power does not decrease or wain. He remains holy, powerful, distinct, and worthy of our worship. God wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to see Him for who He is. He wants us to get our focus off of our circumstances and back on Him. He is our help and hope. He is constantly reminding us of His presence and power.

There on the banks of the Kebar River, living with the dejected and devastated exiles from Judah, Ezekiel needed a vision of God. He needed a reminder that His God was great and was still on His throne, reigning in power. He had not forgotten Ezekiel or the people of Judah. Could you use a vision of God today? Look for Him in His Word. You’ll find Him.

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.

 

Yet…

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Hosea 1:3-11 ESV

Hosea has received a difficult assignment from God. He’s been instructed to marry a woman who has a reputation as a prostitute. In that day and age, this would have been an act of social suicide, rendering Hosea an outcast from polite society. Women were already viewed as second-class citizens, with few rights and little value other than that of bearing and raising children. So, an adulterous or promiscuous woman was considered particularly repugnant and worthy of the community’s scorn and rejection. No self-respecting, God-honoring Hebrew male would knowingly choose to marry a woman of “ill-repute.” But here we have Hosea being commanded by God to do just that. And to make matters worse, God let Hosea know that this was not going to be some kind of symbolic marriage or acted-out parable intended to teach a moral lesson. Hosea and his new bride were expected to begin a family. And with a prostitute for a wife, Hosea must have known that his children would face the constant whispers and rumors questioning the identity of their “real” father.

None of this was going to be easy for Hosea. Yet, at no point in the story do we see or hear of Hosea questioning the will of his heavenly Father. There are no signs of resistance or declarations of divine injustice. Hosea doesn’t argue or bargain with God. He doesn’t offer an alternative plan. He simply obeys. When the Lord said, “Go,” Hosea went.

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. – Hosea 1:3 ESV

Verses 4-8 present what is obviously a highly compressed chronology of Hosea’s life. In just five verses, Hosea goes from being a single, unmarried prophet to a husband and the father of three children. But what makes this abbreviated timeline so interesting is that God was the one to name each of Hosea’s offspring. And each name had a specific meaning or connotation. With each child’s birth, they would quickly become the talk of the town. The gossips would have a field day. And when the names of each child became common knowledge, the people of Israel would realize that God was making a not-so-subtle statement about them.

God named Hosea’s firstborn son, Jezreel. Interestingly enough, this name was not particularly bad. It actually means, “God sows.” But God lets Hosea know that the boys name in linked to a particular geographic location, the Valley of Jezreel. Years earlier, in that very valley, King Jehu of Israel had fulfilled the pronouncement that God had made against the wicked king, Ahab, and his equally wicked wife, Jezebel.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. – 2 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

Jehu had been anointed by the prophet of God to become the next king of Israel. But Joram was the reigning king at the time. It was in the Valley of Jezreel that Jehu killed King Joram, and declared himself the rightful king of Israel. Jehu went on to kill King Ahaziah of Judah as well, and ordered the slaughter of 42 of his relatives. This merciless and unnecessary action was not part of God’s plan. And it seems that God has chosen the name Jezreel as a way of commemorating Jehu’s egregious overreach. God tells Hosea that his son’s name will be Jezree as a constant reminder to the people of Israel that He will “punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel” (Hosea 1: 4 ESV). God swore to “put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hosea 1:4 ESV), just as He did to the dynasty of Jehu. Despite his initial obedience, Jehu had proved to be as godless as all the kings before him.

 But Jehu did not obey the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit. – 2 Kings 10:31 ESV

So, only four generations of Jehu’s descendants would rule over the kingdom of Israel. And God warned Hosea that the Valley of Jezreel would be the site of another slaughter and it would take place “on that day.” This was fulfilled in 733 B.C. when King Tiglath-Pilesar III  and the Assyrians defeated the armies of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.

Hosea’s second child, a girl, received the Hebrew name, Lo-ruhama, which means, “No mercy.”  And the meaning behind this name takes far less brain-power to figure out. God makes it perfectly clear.

“I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.” – Hosea 1:6 ESV

This poor little girl would be a constant reminder to Hosea that Yahweh was done extending mercy and grace to the rebellious and unrepentant nation of Israel. Every time Hosea called her name, he would have to recall the sobering words of God, and the disheartening news that, while Israel would receive no forgiveness from God, the southern kingdom of Judah would enjoy His undeserved mercy and grace.

“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” – Hosea 1:7 ESV

As will become painfully clear, the names of Hosea’s children only get worse with time. The third child, another boy, is saddled with the very awkward name, Lo-ammi, which means “not my people.” This poor kid would constantly bear the brunt of cruel jokes and hurtful comments questioning his birth legitimacy. As if being born to a mother with a reputation for being a prostitute, this boy’s name would be like a billboard declaring that Hosea was not his father.

But God had a much greater purpose behind the name. It was meant to be an indictment against the entire nation of Israel. The day was coming when they could find themselves living in exile in a foreign land. God would have them physically removed them from their homes and cities, and relocated to a distant where He would become little more than a fading memory.

But despite all the unattractive names and their equally unpleasant meanings, God left Hosea with good news for the people of Israel.

“Yet the time will come when Israel’s people will be like the sands of the seashore—too many to count! Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said, ‘You are children of the living God.’” – Hosea 1:10 NLT

These names, while far from flattering, would not end up defining the children of Hosea and Gomer. While we know nothing about their childhood experiences or what happened to them after they grew up, we can assume that they went on to marry, have children, and live their lives just like any other Hebrew. And though the people of Israel would eventually suffer defeat and deportation at the hands of the Assyrians, God was not done with them. God speaks of a future day when He will restore and reunite His people.

Then the people of Judah and Israel will unite together. They will choose one leader for themselves, and they will return from exile together. What a day that will be—the day of Jezreel—when God will again plant his people in his land. – Hosea 1:11 NLT

At this point, Hosea is being given a glimpse into God’s preordained and preferred future for His disobedient children. Yes, there will be a time of judgment. The people of Israel will have to face the consequences for their rebellion and failure to repent. But, as God will reveal to Hosea, His judgment will be followed by mercy. His discipline will accompanied by His desire to bless those whom He has chosen as His own possession. Just as Hosea has married an unfaithful wife, God has covenanted with an unfaithful people. But He will remain unwavering in His love and totally committed to His covenant promises to them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson