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.

 

Just As the Lord Had Promised

1 And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it. So the city was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, and the Chaldeans were around the city. And they went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho, and all his army was scattered from him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—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. 10 And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11 And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. 12 But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.

13 And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon. 14 And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, 15 the fire pans also and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. 16 As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands that Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight. 17 The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a capital of bronze. The height of the capital was three cubits. A latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were all around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with the latticework.

18 And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; 19 and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and five men of the king’s council who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the city. 20 And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21 And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land. – 2 Kings 25:1-21 ESV

Zedekiah, formerly known as Mattaniah, received his new name and his right to rule over Judah from King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He replaced his nephew, Jehoiachin, who had surrendered to the Babylonians in order to end the siege of Jerusalem. And rather than allowing Jehoiachin’s son, Coniah, to become king, Nebuchadnezzar chose Mattaniah, who became a vassal of the Babylonian state. But Mattaniah’s new role and newly acquired Babylonian name did not make him amenable to Nebuchadnezzar’s plans for Judah. So, he decided to rebel against the Babylonians. But in doing so, Zedekiah was actually rebelling against the will of God. The prophet Jeremiah had warned Zedekiah to submit to the Babylonians as divinely ordained agents of judgment.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up. Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon. So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it.” – Jeremiah 27:4-8 NLT

But King Zedekiah was getting bad advice from false prophets who were telling him, “The king of Babylon will not conquer you” ( Jeremiah 27:14 NLT). Yet Jeremiah warned the king not to listen to these men.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘I have not sent these prophets! They are telling you lies in my name, so I will drive you from this land. You will all die—you and all these prophets, too.’” – Jeremiah 27:15 NLT

These charlatans had even prophesied that all the golden articles plundered from the temple would soon be returned. They assured the king that everything was going to be okay. But Jeremiah had let Zedekiah know the painful truth. It was actually going to get much worse.

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has spoken about the pillars in front of the Temple, the great bronze basin called the Sea, the water carts, and all the other ceremonial articles. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon left them here when he exiled Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, to Babylon, along with all the other nobles of Judah and Jerusalem. Yes, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says about the precious things still in the Temple, in the palace of Judah’s king, and in Jerusalem: ‘They will all be carried away to Babylon and will stay there until I send for them,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will bring them back to Jerusalem again.’” – Jeremiah 27:19-22 NLT

But all these warnings fell on deaf ears.

“…neither King Zedekiah nor his attendants nor the people who were left in the land listened to what the Lord said through Jeremiah.” – Jeremiah 37:2 NLT

Yet, Zedekiah would have the audacity to ask Jeremiah to pray that God would reverse His plans to destroy the city. He had become encouraged and emboldened by the sudden arrival of the Egyptian army. It seems that their unexpected appearance had caused the Babylonians to call off their siege of Jerusalem. Zedekiah must have seen this as a good sign and proof that the false prophets had been right all along. So, he asked Jeremiah to seek confirmation from Yahweh that the city of Jerusalem had been spared. But Jeremiah would not tell Zedekiah what he was hoping to hear.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not fool yourselves into thinking that the Babylonians are gone for good. They aren’t! Even if you were to destroy the entire Babylonian army, leaving only a handful of wounded survivors, they would still stagger from their tents and burn this city to the ground!” – Jeremiah 37:9-10 NLT

Infuriated by the prophet’s message, Zedekiah would eventually have the prophet flogged and imprisoned, falsely accusing him of treason. But undeterred by this treatment, Jeremiah would later give the king another ultimatum.

“This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” – Jeremiah 37:17-18 NLT

In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, his worst fears were realized. The Babylonians returned. And for two long years, they laid siege to the capital. In time, conditions inside the walls of Jerusalem would become so bad that the people began to starve to death. When the Babylonians eventually breached the walls of the city, King Zedekiah and some of his troops attempted a nighttime escape. But as soon as they got outside the walls of Jerusalem, Zedekiah’s men abandoned him, leaving him completely defenseless and an easy target for the Babylonians.

They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:6 NLT

Zedekiah suffered a fate worse than death. He was forced to watch the execution of his own sons, then was blinded and led away in captivity, never to see the city of Jerusalem again. But had he been able to look upon the devastating scene taking place on Mount Zion, he would have been appalled. The great city of David was aflame and in every quarter of the capital, the Babylonians were enacting a reign of terror. Those who were not killed were taken captive, soon to be transported as slaves to Babylon. And King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the systematic destruction of all the city’s infrastructure. The walls were torn down. The royal palace and all the administrative buildings were destroyed. There wasn’t a single house left standing, including the house of God. The Babylonians plundered every last item of value from the temple, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said they would.

The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars in front of the Lord’s Temple, the bronze water carts, and the great bronze basin called the Sea, and they carried all the bronze away to Babylon. They also took all the ash buckets, shovels, lamp snuffers, ladles, and all the other bronze articles used for making sacrifices at the Temple. The captain of the guard also took the incense burners and basins, and all the other articles made of pure gold or silver. – 2 Kings 25:13-15 NLT

Then they burned the temple to the ground. For the Jews, this scene would have been incomprehensible. For them, the temple was the symbol of God’s power and presence. To watch it being plundered and then go up in flames would have been inconceivable. But Jeremiah had warned them that this would happen.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 7:9-11 NLT

They had placed their hope in a building rather than in the one for whom it was built. And God had warned them that He would destroy the temple because they had turned it into an idol – a replacement for Him.

“I will now destroy this Temple that bears my name, this Temple that you trust in for help, this place that I gave to you and your ancestors. – Jeremiah 7:14 NLT

And not only did God commission Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the temple, but He also ordained the execution of those men who had been responsible for its care and for the spiritual well-being of the people. And with the smoke of the city rising up behind them, the disheveled and demoralized citizens of Judah began their long march to Babylon and back into captivity.

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