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 Predetermined and Perfect Plan

And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. Genesis 1:4-13 ESV

As Moses began his record of the creation account, he described a darkness being “over the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2 ESV). The Hebrew word he used is חֹשֶׁךְ (ḥōšeḵ), which can be translated as “darkness, obscurity, or secret place.” It comes from the root word חָשַׁךְ (ḥāšaḵ), which was used to refer to the absence of light. Unlike everything else Moses is about to describe, the darkness was not created by God. It was simply the void created by the absence of light. For the ancients, darkness became a symbol for evil. It came to represent such things as misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. In the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures, darkness is used to represent all that stands in opposition to God. It was also associated with God’s judgment.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. – Exodus 10:21-23 ESV

The prophet Isaiah wrote of a coming day when darkness would be invaded by another source of light.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV

And the apostle Matthew would later reveal that Isaiah’s prophecy had been predicting the coming of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.

Now when he [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:12-16 ESV

God’s great work of creation began with the coming of the light. And His grand plan of redemption began the same way. In Jesus, the light entered the darkness once again, setting in motion the divine plan for the re-creation of all things. The theme of darkness and light will continue all throughout the pages of Scripture, setting up an ongoing contrast between the forces of righteousness and wickedness, the godly and the ungodly.

But the glaring difference between darkness and light is not the only contrast found in the opening chapter of Genesis. As Moses presents the sequential nature of God’s creation timeline, he records a number of important divisions or contrasts that seem to separate one thing from another.

On the first day, God invaded the darkness with His light, providing a stark contrast between that which was good and all that would later come to represent evil. Moses states that God “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4 ESV). The Hebrew word is בָּדַל (bāḏal) and it refers to a separating or distinguishing of one thing from another. God set apart His light from the darkness and deemed it “good” or טוֹב (ṭôḇ). According to the NET Bible study notes, the Hebrew word ṭôḇ refers to “whatever enhances, promotes, produces, or is conducive for life.” By contrast, the darkness was unproductive and incapable of promoting or sustaining life. It represented the absence of God’s life-giving light and, therefore, was deemed as being the opposite of “good.”

The separation of the light and the dark established the end of the first day of creation. But God was far from done. There was another separation or division to take place. On the beginning of the second day, God created the “expanse.”

“Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters…” – Genesis 1:6 ESV

The Hebrew word is רָקִיעַ (rāqîa) and it refers to what we would call the upper atmosphere. But to the ancient Hebrews, it was used to describe “an expanse of air pressure between the surface of the sea and the clouds, separating water below from water above” (NET Bible Study Notes). In we recall, the creation story began with the earth was shrouded by water.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1:2 ESV

At this point in the story, God separates the waters and, in so doing, He creates the upper atmosphere or what is sometimes translated as the “firmament.” There are some biblical scholars who believe that this separating process created a band of water vapor around the earth that would later become one of the primary sources of water that helped to create the worldwide flood recorded in chapter 6-8 of Genesis. There we read, “on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:11-12 ESV). It is believed that, at this time, the canopy of water surrounding the earth was released and acted as a major source of the water necessary to flood the entire earth in a very short period of time. It is also believed that this canopy served as a protective barrier from the sun’s harmful rays and helps to explain the longevity of human life prior to the flood.

But God separated the waters, creating yet another distinction between one thing and another. He “separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse” (Genesis 1:7 ESV) and He called His creation, “Heaven.” While the Hebrew word can be used to refer to heaven, in this context it makes more sense to translate it as “sky.” On this second day of creation, God separated the earth from the sky.

At this point, God turned His attention to the earth, where He performed another act of separation or division.

“Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” – Genesis 1:9 ESV

The earth, which had been covered and obscured by water, was suddenly exposed. God separated the water, allowing the formerly hidden land masses to become visible for the first time. What is significant about this phase of God’s creative act was that the land was going to be necessary to sustain human life. Man would not be able to exist in an atmosphere of total darkness or in an environment consisting of nothing but water. So, God sovereignly separated one thing from another so that mankind might have a proper place in which to live. This was all preparatory work for God’s greatest act of creation: Humanity.

Moses states that “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10 ESV). God deemed it good because it was all part of His perfect plan. It was all according to His sovereign will and just as it needed to be to support the human life He would soon be creating. He knew that humanity would need air to breath, water to drink, and dry land on which to live. And so, He created all this for mankind’s good, long before they even existed. But God was far from done. Humanity would also need food to eat. So, He began the next phase of His preparatory work.

“Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” – Genesis 1:11 ESV

And, once again, God declared His work to be good. Everything He made was just as He had planned it and every aspect of His creative work had a purpose. There was nothing that God created that lacked a reason for being. It was all highly intentional and pointed to something even greater to come.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.