The book of the prophet Ezekiel opens with a wild vision! He sees the majesty of God on the plains of Babylon (Ez. 1). Modern sci-fi special effects have stunted our imagination, but I want you to try to picture in your mind’s eye the ultimate multimedia experience. Four living creatures, later called “cherubim” (10:1), appear, each with four faces and four wings. The four outstretched wings vibrate powerfully. The creatures evidently form a square, joined together by their wing tips, and each one faces outward with a human face. The effect of this symmetrical pattern is that from whatever angle Ezekiel gazes, he evidently sees a different face on each creature, with all four creatures visible at the same time. The one nearest would be a man, the one on the left an ox, the one on the right a lion, and the one in the rear an eagle. Burning fire is in their midst, out of which burst forth flashes of lightning. There are four wheels, one next to each creature, and a wheel within each wheel, as in a gyroscope. The rims are full of eyes.
Above them is an expanse, like awe-inspiring crystal. Above the expanse is what looks like a bright blue throne. God is on the throne, with a human appearance, but with gleaming metal like fire from the waist up. Also, there is a circle of brightness like a rainbow all around him. When his voice speaks, everything stands still, and the living creatures let down their wings. Then something dramatic happens! God speaks to Ezekiel for the very first time (1:28).
That’s the God we serve – great, awesome, holy, and almighty! The book of Ezekiel uses a “recognition formula” repeatedly: “then they will know that I am the LORD.” But a cursory look at the book shows that this recognition of the one true and living God will extend even to Gentile nations (Ez. 25-32). The moral dilemma raised in Ezekiel is that God is left with no alternative but to punish the sin of Israel and bring them into captivity, but in doing so, God brings his own name into disgrace among pagan nations.
Consequently, he must do something dramatic in the years that follow for the sake of his own reputation – the honor of his name among all the nations of the world. Through a series of mind-altering visions, Ezekiel sees a glorious future in which God vindicates his glory, reestablishes his people, sends a Savior-King, and gives his people “a new heart” and puts “a new spirit” in them (36:26-27). Finally, there is an acute awareness of God’s presence among his people. The last words of the book give the new Zion a fitting name: “the LORD is there” (48:35).
The study of such grand revelations is not for spiritual novices. In a Bible class, I confessed to my Ezekiel students that this book was an enigma to me for years, and in some ways, it continues to be. However, the more I make an all-out attempt to understand it, while meditating on its mind-blowing contents, the greater my sense of reward as certain difficult passages finally yield their meaning. Some portions of scripture are just that way. It’s as if God is presenting a few challenges for us to see how deep we’ll dig, but for those who continue to excavate, gold awaits them. I’m also reminded that many people serve a “god” who is not worthy of such an effort, so their spiritual thoughts are severely stunted, along with their lazy handling of the Bible. How big is your “God”? The next time you bow in prayer, you might think of this awesome throne scene described in the first chapter of Ezekiel.