Ezekiel saw this vision in the fifth year of his Babylonian captivity. He was 30 years old at the time. The vision was something quite extraordinary, to say the least. First, Ezekiel saw a large, dark, storm cloud come toward him from the north. Yet, this was no ordinary storm cloud. It was surrounded with brightness with lightning within it. Yet, within the center of this cloud was something that looked like molten metal gleaming, and from which the lightning originated. It must have looked quite ominous. If you’ve seen the movie Independence Day, it may have looked something like that, but with more light exuding within and without the billowing, folding dark cloud.
So, we first must ask ourselves if this is unique to Ezekiel, or did this occur before? Well, if we go back to the book of Exodus, we see something similar to this. When Moses and the children of Israel gathered at Mt. Sinai after their exodus from Egypt, something similar occurred. They also saw a tremendous black, rolling cloud come toward them from the north, with thunder and lightning, and it descend upon the mountain in front of them (Ex 19:18; Dt 33:2).
Ezekiel then saw what he called four living creatures (Ek 1:5) or cherubim (Ek 10:1). These creatures appeared to have four faces, with each facing a different direction: the face of a man was in one direction with that of an eagle opposite it; to the right was the face of a lion with that of an ox opposite it. The creatures each had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. Each creature had two wings: one set was outstretched and long enough to touch the wings of the other creature near it; the other pair covered their bodies. Each creature traveled straight forward, appearing to dart in all directions, appearing like flashes of lightning. This is how one would expect a sentry to perform if it is protecting something or someone.
It is interesting that when the tabernacle was first erected, three tribes, with their standards, camped on each side of the tabernacle. There was one main tribe on each side. Reuben (with the face of man as its standard) was on the South, Dan (with the image of an eagle as its standard) was on the North, Judah (with the image of a lion as its standard) was on the East, and Ephraim (with the image of an ox as its standard) was on the West. Some have also indicated that these represent the four gospels and their portrayal of the characteristics of Christ: Matthew (kingly nature of Christ, as the lion), Mark (humanity of Christ), Luke (heavenly origin of Christ, as the eagle), and John (the servitude of Christ, as the ox).
We also see how cherubim were portrayed throughout scripture: guarded Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden (Gn 3:24); their replicas placed on Ark of Covenant depicted paying deference to center of Mercy Seat where the Shekinah glory of God was to appear to High Priest in Holy of Holies (Ex 25:19-22); on the veil between Holy Place and Holy of Holies – protecting where God dwells (Ex 26:31); in various places throughout the curtains of the tabernacle and on walls of the temple (Ex 36:8; 1Ki 6:29); and two giant cherubim in Holy of Holies in temple (1Ki 6:27). In addition, we see these four creatures again in Revelation where they stood before God’s throne and sang praise to him (Rv 1:13-16). It seems each time we encounter these creatures, they are associated with protecting God’s throne and his holiness.
Then, next to these creatures were four “wheels.” These appeared to be two wheels together at perpendicular angles, so they could travel in any direction. They were also large and had what appeared to be “eyes” along their rims (Ek 1:15-18). Some have proposed that these “wheels” convey certain characteristics of God: the mobility of the wheels suggest the omnipresence of God; the eyes represent God’s omniscience; and their elevated position represent God’s omnipotence.
Then, above these creatures was a canopy that looked like crystal and on top of this canopy sat what appeared to be a throne, bright blue in color like that of a sapphire. And on this throne sat one who from the waist up looked as bright as molten metal, and from the waist downward the appearance of fire (Ek 1:27-28). You can imagine how awe-inspiring all of this was to Ezekiel. We also see something similar in Revelation where Christ appeared to the apostle John (Rv 1:13-16). We also see someone who appeared to Moses, Aaron, his sons, and the elders of Israel at Mt. Sinai who they met and ate with. This one was sitting on something which appeared the color of sapphire (Ex 24:9-11). It would seem Israel experienced both God, the first part of the Godhead, as well as the pre-incarnate form of Christ, the second part of the Godhead. This second part of the Godhead was always the one who appeared, and revealed himself, to man.
The response of both Ezekiel and John were the same. They both fell facedown (Ek 1:28; Rv 1:17). They were so overwhelmed, knew they were in the presence of someone greater than themselves, and felt very unworthy to be in his presence.
So, despite some who try to make this into an alien encounter, it is actually Ezekiel being visited by God who was revealing his glory to Ezekiel (Ek 1:28). Of course, if you want to get technical, you could claim this to be an unworldly encounter as God is not of this world, although it is part of his creation (Gn 1). Also, Ezekiel saw this vision of God’s glory several times (Ek 1:4-28, 2:12-14, 3:23, 10:1-22, 11:22-23). In addition, we have already seen that both Moses and John also saw something similar to what Ezekiel saw. Something similar is also described several times in the book of Psalms (Ps 80:1, 99:1, 104:3-4).
So, what was the point of God revealing himself to Ezekiel in this manner? Well, I guess only God knows, but it could be some of the following: this proved to Ezekiel he was receiving a message from God, proved to Ezekiel he was the same God as who appeared to Moses, and seeing God’s glory helped Ezekiel feel confident in his message to those who may doubt him. In addition, it showed that even though Ezekiel and many other Jews were now in Babylonian captivity, God had not abandoned them, he still loved them, and he wanted them to obey and love him in return.
Doesn’t God still do that with us today? How many times do we fail him? Yet, he still loves us and gives us more chances. While his patience with us will not last forever, we can be confident that he still loves us no matter what and keeps giving us opportunities to receive him, love him, and obey him. Our God is really a great God, isn’t he? And this passage helps us understand just how great and marvelous he really is!
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