22 June 2011

"Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord, When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking." (v. 28)


These verses are part of Ezekiel's description of his vision of when he was among those who had been exiled from Judah to Babylon in the sixth century BC. The exiles were far from home and did not know whether God was with them. Because they had been conquered and taken into captivity many thought that God had abandoned them. In his vision Ezekiel saw the glory of God coming to Babylon from the north transported by four living creatures. The image is one full of movement, majesty and mystery.

The dome over the heads of the living creatures (verse 22) reminds us of the firmament in Genesis 1:6 (the same Hebrew word is used) which separates the waters. Here the dome separates the earthly from the heavenly but it is not a complete separation, there is continuity between the two. The references to the "Almighty" and the "sound of an army" (v. 24) indicate that Ezekiel was in the presence of God whose titles include "Almighty" and "Lord of Hosts".

Verses 26-28 describe the throne of God but the frequent use of the phrase "something like" makes it clear that God cannot be fully described in human language. The one seated above the throne is in the likeness of a human form. This is God who created humankind 'in the image of God' (Genesis 1:26-27). God is described both in terms of human likeness and divine incomparability. God is separate from, but in a close relationship, with creation. The reference to the rainbow reminds us of the covenant between God and the earth (Genesis 9:13). God reigns in Babylon, in Jerusalem and universally, in stark contrast with Judah's King Jehoiachin who was taken powerless into exile.

The references to amber and to fire (verse 27) remind us of the beginning of the vision (verse 4). The mysterious substance translated here as amber hints at mystery, excitement and danger.

The experience is one of splendour, fire, colour and sound. It is little wonder that Ezekiel's response was to fall on his face in worship and in humility at "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord".

To Ponder

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the presence of God? What happened? How does that experience sustain and support you today?

Which titles given to God do you find most helpful? Why?

How are you challenged by the image of God in a covenant relationship with creation? How does this idea affect the way you live?

Bible notes author: The Revd Ruth Gee

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