10 February 2020Ezekiel 1:2-11
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 the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was on him there. (vs. 2-3)
Psalm: Psalm 134
We are told in verse 1 that Ezekiel received this vision among the exiles by the River Chebar, which is thought to be a river in Babylon. He also uses the term "the heavens were opened" (Ezekiel 1:1) which helps us place this book very firmly in the literary genre of apocalyptic. In other words, it represents a heavenly perspective and revelation on earthly events.
The chief event affecting Ezekiel and his fellow Israelites was their exile in Babylon following the defeat and imprisonment of King Jehoiachin in 593 BC by the Babylonian army. So to have received such a vision as a member of a people whose sense of God was tied to a place from which they were exiled is very remarkable. This was truly revelatory and must have profoundly challenged Ezekiel's sense of who God is.
The vision itself seems incredibly strange and difficult to understand. But this very otherness holds a clue to its meaning because it conveys a sense of the holiness of God, defined not by morality but by separateness. But even this is not a true image of God; it is instead "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God". In other words, God three stages removed from the true reality. Ezekiel falls on his face when he saw it and no doubt believes that he would have died had he seen God face to face.
Yet there is something to see, starting with the four creatures who were like human beings except that they had wings, cloven feet and four faces – a human, a lion, an ox and an eagle. In Ezekiel's eyes, the human is the foremost in creation, the lion represents the highest form of wildlife, the ox the foremost domestic animal and the eagle the highest of the birds of the air. Above them sits a dome with a throne on top upon which sits a fiery figure in human form. God may be 'other', but there are some identifiable aspects to which Ezekiel could have related.
- The hymn 'What a friend we have in Jesus' evokes an intimacy with Jesus Christ. How do you react to the otherness of God represented in this passage?
- The people of Israel had a sense of God's presence being primarily in the Temple in Jerusalem. The exile and this vision challenged that profoundly. What limits your understanding of God? And what might you do about it?