NOTE: This is a new series posting each Thursday morning. For over a year, we covered the Latter Epistles in that time slot. In most cases, we covered one chapter each week. With this series, we may cover more than a chapter each week. It is my intent to cover chapters 2-3 next week. Many of the references, especially Max Lucado, A. W. Tozer and Charles H. Spurgeon have limited materials in the Study Bibles that I have for Ezekiel. Most of that section will be from commentaries.
ALSO NOTE: While I chose the Latter Epistles series due to being moved by an audio version while traveling, I am motivated in a different way regarding Ezekiel. Ezekiel (48 chapters) is the fifth longest book in the Bible behind Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Genesis. I have quoted from Ezekiel a little over a dozen times. The subtitle in the Stedman book states “Flaming Wheels and Living Bones.” But what of the many chapters between those visions? I have read the book many times. I know there is more, but I have never studied Ezekiel. This study is for my own enlightenment and hopefully we can both learn together.
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
On the fifth 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, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him.
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
- Ezekiel 1:1-28
Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments
Ezekiel 1:1 ‘Ezekiel’s call’: “Ezekiel had been a young priest in Jerusalem before the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, besieged and finally demolished the city. Among the ruins were the Temple and Jerusalem’s walls. Almost the entire remaining population of Judah was taken off to Babylon, to live in exile and serve the captors. During the disaster, Ezekiel had real and dramatic encounters with God. He had experiences with God that were personal and compelling.
“Although of the Hebrew priestly line, Ezekiel was called upon to become God’s prophetic voice during the exile. God gave him a specific call and ministry. He was to convey God’s warnings and threats for continued unfaithfulness. He was to warn the surrounding nations as well. Finally, he was given a vision that promised release to the captives and the restoration of Jerusalem. The Temple would be rebuilt. There would again be the true worship of God in the land.
“For Ezekiel in exile it was the worst of times. He was surrounded by fellow Hebrews who felt complete hopelessness, discouragement, and dejection. Yet in such a setting, the prophet provides us with a graphic and personal revelation of God and His glory.
“Ezekiel refers to his personal word from God and his call to speak for God. With clarity and simplicity he tells us that there were four factors marking his encounter with God.
“First, ‘the heavens were opened’ (Ezekiel 1:1). Second, Ezekiel was given visions of God. Third, the word of the Lord came expressly to him. Fourth, the hand of the Lord was upon him. It is notable that Ezekiel could pinpoint exactly the details of his experience with God, right down to the year, month and day!
“A real and vital experience with the Lord gives us that gracious, abiding sense of God’s being there. Knowing that, we live and move and have our being in God. And as a result, we consciously experience His presence with us.”
- A. W. Tozer, Men Who Met God
Ezekiel 1:4-10 ‘the four creatures’: “The book opens with the dramatic vision God gave to Ezekiel by the river Chebar in the land of Babylon …
“These are among the strangest creatures described in Scripture. Each has four faces – the face of a man, the face of an eagle, the face of an ox, and the face of a lion. These four faces looked out in all directions. …
“It’s only natural to wonder what all of these symbols mean. Yet, as much as we would like to, we simply can’t interpret all of these symbols and images because there is a mystery to the person of God. Some of these symbols can be unlocked by comparing them with other passages of Scripture; others are more difficult and obscure. But one thing is sure: In even the most obscure of these symbols, we know that Ezekiel is glimpsing the immensity, authority, and power of God.
“The four living creatures illuminate God’s character for us, as symbolized in the faces of the lion, man, ox, and eagle. Each face represents a certain quality in Scripture. The lion depicts sovereignty and supremacy – ‘the king of the beasts.’ The man is the picture of intelligence, understanding, and wisdom. The ox is the symbol of servanthood and sacrifice. And the eagle represents power and deity, soaring over all creation.
“It’s significant that the four gospels in the New Testament present exactly these same qualities in their portrayal of Jesus Christ. He appears first in the gospel of Matthew as a lion, as the sovereign king. Next, in the gospel of Mark, He is presented as a servant, the ox. In the gospel of Luke, He is the perfect man in His intelligence, insight, and understanding of life. And finally in the gospel of John, He is deity, depicted here as an eagle. These four symbols, taken together, reflect the character of Jesus Christ.”
- Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible
Ezekiel 1:4 ‘a whirlwind’: “Judgment on Judah, in a further and totally devastating phase, (beyond the 597 BC deportation) is to come out of the north, and later did come from Babylon in 588-586 (Jer. 39, 40). Its terror is depicted by a fiery whirlwind emblematic of God’s judgments and the golden brightness signifying God’s dazzling glory.”
- John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)
Ezekiel 1:15 ‘the part of the wheel that never moves’: “In a wheel there is one portion that never turns around, and that is the axle. So, in God’s providence, there is an axle that never moves. Our state is always changing; sometimes we are exalted and sometimes depressed, yet there is an unmoving point in our state. What is this axle? What is the pivot on which all the machinery revolves? It is the axle of God’s everlasting love toward his covenant people. The exterior of the wheel is changing, but the center stands forever fixed. Other things may move. But God’s love never moves; it is the axle of the wheel.
“Yet more. When the wheel moves rapidly, we can discern nothing but the exterior circle. So, if we look back to history and read the story of a thousand years, we set the wheel of providence revolving rapidly, and we lose sight of all the little things within the circle. We see only one great thing: that God is working out his everlasting purposes in the world. We sit down and take a book of history – say the history of England – and we will say of one event, ‘Now that seems to be out of place.’ We say of another, ‘That seems to be out of time.’ Another, ‘That seems to be adverse to the cause of liberty.’ But look through a thousand years, and those things that seemed as if they would crush liberty have been those that have caused the sturdy oak of liberty to take deeper root. Take the whole together, instead of taking the events one by one – look at a thousand years, and we will see nothing but one round ring of symmetry teaching us that God is wise and God is just. So let it be with us in our lives. Here we are fretting about troubles today. We think also of the past – put all our troubles together, and they are not troubles at all. We will see that one counteracts the other. If we take our life – not today alone, but look on forty years of it – we will be obliged, instead of lamenting and mourning, to bless God for his mercies toward us. Let the wheel go round, and we will see nothing but a ring of everlasting wisdom revolving.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
Ezekiel 1:18 ‘eyes’: “These may picture God’s omniscience, i.e., perfect knowledge, given to these angelic servants so that they can act unerringly in judgment. God does nothing by blind impulse.”
- John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)
Ezekiel 1:28 ‘rainbow’: “The third object Ezekiel sees is a rainbow [after the chariot and throne] in the midst of this fire. The rainbow immediately reminds us of Genesis 9, where it is a sign of the covenant that God will never again destroy the earth by a flood. So now we move from chariot to cherubim to throne to rainbow. Ezekiel is reminded not only of a God who is near and who reigns, but also a God who is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. Deportations to Babylon does not mean that God has dispossessed his people or that the covenant has been abrogated.
“All that Ezekiel can do is to fall facedown when he beholds the glory of the Lord. He does not say a word. He simply observes. Now we shift from something Ezekiel sees (vv. 4-28b) to something he is about to hear (v. 28b).”
- Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible
Rev. Tozer speaks, with an exclamation point, about how Ezekiel knew the year, month, and day that this happened. I remember when I accepted Jesus as my Savior, almost to the hour, but when it comes to other times that I feel God has spoken to me or led me in a particular direction, I may not even know the year that those things happened. So, is this remembrance worthy of an exclamation point? Absolutely, because God spoke to Ezekiel on that day.
Whether you buy into Ray Stedman’s interpretation of the meaning for the four creatures, which is a powerful concept, you must admit that these creatures, or even the wheel, are among the strangest visions in the Bible. It is a good thing that someone of Old Testament times saw this vision or people might think him crazy or might think he was smoking something. Maybe his friends and neighbors did think that. Maybe after telling and retelling the story – after writing it down – the people might have shrugged and said, “He may have seen something, but what he says that he saw?! Forget about it!”
But, even so, what movie producer these days would let a screen writer start with something like that? No, no. Let’s have a woman spinning in a field on a hillside outside Salzburg, Austria, singing. Then BAMMM! A deer gets run over by an eighteen-wheeler. (And no, although they sing about a deer, the deer thing is not part of The Sound of Music. But the way Hollywood is going these days, it might be in the remake.) Even the beginning of Jaws, as ominous and menacing as it was, was tranquil… until… Duhn duhn. … Duhn duhn. … Duhn duhn. And then the girl disappears from the surface. Ezekiel begins with one of the most bizarre visions in the Bible, no tranquil lead other than to check the calendar and a map.
Maybe that is why Stedman subtitled the chapter, “Flaming Wheels and Living Bones.” But to use Jaws as a parallel, we could summarize Jaws as “a girl disappearing from the surface of the water and ‘I think you’re gonna need a bigger boat!’” There is more to Ezekiel than the bookends.
Then the technical writer in me goes from whirlwind to lightning to a bright light, and I see no “fire” and then Ezekiel describes the “fire.” But have you ever been around any metal purification furnace? Ezekiel even mentions “glowing metal.” Even the feet of the four creatures were like burnished bronze. Some metals do not glow as readily as others. In an aluminum launder (trough to carry the molten aluminum from one place to another), the aluminum has a soft glow, a salmon color. It looks like you could reach out and touch it, but you who lose whatever finger you touched it with – the aluminum melting point? About 1,221 F or 660 C and this aluminum is hotter than that. But inside the melting furnace, the surface of the aluminum is white hot. You must shield your eyes. I have seen molten steel in a ladle that had waves of visible heat coming off it, and even whisps of fire as the heat ignites the dust in the air above the ladle’s molten contents. Some modern editors might complain about the disconnect, but I understand what was written, and it does not take much to bridge the gap.
Understand, Ezekiel is seeing this. He is not making it up. He was probably a bit excited at that moment.
Then we have the description of four strange creatures. How can they have a resemblance to a man when they have bovine feet and four sides and four faces? Okay, the torso and thighs maybe. Are the hands attached to the underside of the wings or were there arms under the wings?
For all these details, does it really matter? As the scholars say in the quotations above, it shows the glory of God, and that glory will involve things in Heaven that there are simply no words for here on earth.
But after the creatures are described, Ezekiel talks about wheels that go as the creatures go, because the wheels contain the spirit of the creatures. Again, the details are amazing. MacArthur and the Baker Commentary equate the “wheel” to a chariot, in case you were trying to figure out the Baker Commentary quote.
But then there appeared someone like a man. Okay, a man with glowing metal for the top half of his body and fire for the bottom half. There was a throne, and there was a rainbow that glowed.
All of this is what Ezekiel saw, at least what he had words to express about what he saw. The chapter ends with Ezekiel falling on his face and the Voice speaking, but what the Voice said is in the next chapter.
Some Serendipitous Reflections
“1. God obviously has Ezekiel’s attention: What does God have to do to get yours?
“2. The way God reveals himself to your group will differ radically from Ezekiel’s ‘special effects’ vision. Why is that? Why was his vision unique, unlike yours? Why does God seem to appear that way only to certain Old Testament prophets?
“3. What aspects of God’s nature revealed here most appeal to you? Which most disturb you? Why? What is your bottom-line response to Ezekiel’s God?
- Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
The second question is rather odd from a Biblical context. The question is written for a small group discussion, but even in a small group, the members might experience things differently. Saul (Paul) talked to Jesus on the road to Damascus, but all the others in his party simply heard the loud noise and the text never says if they even saw a bright light (Acts 9:7). There are other instances where the one that God wanted to hear the message heard and saw things and the others did not. Then you had the apostles and others in the room experiencing the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, all individually but also as a group. But the meaning of this question is Old Testament revelation versus the revelation of today. This question, in group discussion, could include cessationism, but that could pertain to only miracles. There are biblical answers to this question from an “oracle” standpoint, in that God has given us all we need in the Scriptures, but when we say that we hear from God in prayer, could it not be in a vivid dream similar to Ezekiel’s vision? If so, the question, as written in the Serendipity Bible, assumes something that may not be true.
And I love the third question, even the last two words, “Ezekiel’s God?” This begs a follow up question as to whether Christians become guilty of creating their own version of Jesus or God the Father. This is not what the Serendipity Bible is saying. God, as portrayed in this bizarre vision full of imagery, is one person’s image of God. Maybe a better question is to ask how you picture God when you try to imagine Him? I like Mark Lowry’s song that pictures Jesus Laughing. But you may have a totally different image of Jesus or God the Father. And can we even put a face to the Holy Spirit? If not, then why not?
If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.