I. God’s Appearance to and Commissioning of Ezekiel Ezekiel (1:1–3:27)
I. God’s Appearance to and Commissioning of Ezekiel (1:1–3:27)
A. Ezekiel’s Vision of God (1:1-28)
1:1-3 God called the priest Ezekiel (1:3) into his service as a prophet with one of the most spectacular, and most complex, visions recorded in Scripture. Ezekiel’s reference to the thirtieth year (1:1) most likely reveals his age, which was the point at which a man from the tribe of Levi could become a priest (see Num 4:2-3, 22-23, 29-30). As one of the earliest captives taken from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 598–597 BC, Ezekiel was among the exiles of Judah when he saw visions of God and the word of the Lord came directly to him (1:1, 3). What he saw was astounding. His ministry was under divine mandate and authority.
1:4-14 Ezekiel’s vision began with a whirlwind coming from the north, a brilliant cloud of flashing fire (1:4). But what really captured his attention were four living creatures in the middle of the whirlwind. These were awesome heavenly beings with four faces and four wings each, with feet that were like the hooves of a calf and human hands under their wings on their four sides (1:5-8). Later identified as cherubim, who are bearers of God’s throne and protectors of his glory, each of the four had the face of a human, a lion, an ox, and an eagle; their faces were connected so they could move without turning (1:9-10, 12). As angelic beings who minister in God’s holy presence (see also Isa 6:1-3), the cherubim had an appearance that seemed to Ezekiel like the appearance of blazing coals of fire or like torches as they darted back and forth like flashes of lightning (1:13-14)—a detail that perhaps indicates the burning judgments Ezekiel would be called to deliver.
1:15-21 As the prophet was still gazing in awe at the four living creatures, he saw four gleaming wheels under the four cherubim. These appeared to Ezekiel as a wheel within a wheel, intersecting in a way that allowed the wheels to move in any direction the cherubim moved without turning as they did so (1:15-17). That the rims of the wheels were full of eyes all around (1:18) suggests the all-seeing omniscience of God. What becomes clear in the rest of this chapter is that the cherubim were on God’s throne, which was not a stationary object but a moving platform—like a chariot—that moved wherever the Spirit wanted to go (1:20). This was a picture of Israel’s all-knowing, all-present God who could follow his people wherever they went, both in judgment and in restoration. His presence is inescapable.
1:22-28 Ezekiel saw and heard a brilliant display of God’s glory that overwhelmed him. The expanse mentioned is translated from the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:6 to describe God’s creation of the sky in order to separate the waters above the earth from the waters on it. Here the term describes an “expanse” surrounding God’s throne, or at least the likeness of it (1:22). Throughout this vision Ezekiel used terms like this one in an attempt to find adequate language to describe what he was seeing.
Ezekiel saw something like a throne, on which was someone who looked like a human (1:26). The brilliant light all around him made Ezekiel realize that he was seeing the appearance of the likeness of the Lord’s glory, and he fell facedown as he heard a voice speaking (1:28). The only appropriate response to the glory of God is worship and obedience. This position opens the door for God to speak to us personally.
B. God’s Call and Commission to Ezekiel (2:1–3:27)
2:1-5 God called Ezekiel to a prophetic ministry that would begin with scathing denunciations of Judah’s sins and warnings of worse judgments to come. His prophetic career ended, however, with prophecies of restoration and kingdom blessing. Importantly, the cancer of sin had to be removed before the healing could begin. Repentance is God’s requirement for restoration.
Ezekiel’s humility before God was appropriate, but God had a work for him to do, so the Spirit enabled the prophet to stand up so he could hear what God wanted to tell him (2:1-2). It was not a pretty message. God’s people were rebellious pagans who . . . rebelled against him (2:3). They were a rebellious house (2:5). The rebelliousness of the Israelites, in fact, is a common theme in this book as God moved in judgment against a people who were obstinate and hardhearted (2:4). His people even refused to repent when undergoing divine discipline!
Ezekiel’s job was not to be “successful” as humans define success; rather, he was to be faithful in declaring, This is what the Lord God says (2:4). The compound name “Lord God,” or Adonai Yahweh, was one of Ezekiel’s favorite titles for God. He used it over two hundred times, though it appears just over one hundred times in the rest of the Old Testament. It’s a powerful combination that emphasizes God’s sovereign authority and covenant-keeping faithfulness: these are two themes of the prophet’s ministry.
2:6-7 Ezekiel would need the strengthening of his sovereign and faithful God because in a sense he was being sent into a patch of briers and a nest of scorpions. God told him three times not to be afraid of the words or the scornful look (2:6) he would receive from the rebellious (2:7) people, though. He was to give them God’s message regardless of their response.
2:8–3:3 That message was contained in the scroll that Ezekiel was given (2:9). Even though the scroll had writing on the front and back with words of lamentation, mourning, and woe, Ezekiel was told to eat it and then deliver its message to the house of Israel (2:10–3:1). In other words, Ezekiel was to “digest” the Word of God—to read it and make it a part of himself.
Despite its words of severe judgment, the prophet found the scroll to be as sweet as honey in his mouth (3:3). This indicates that even though a specific message from God can be hard to hear, nevertheless it is still sweet to the believer who appropriates it because it is the Word of God.
3:4-9 Once Ezekiel was fortified with the content of his prophecy, God reinforced Israel’s rebellious nature to Ezekiel by saying that if he were sent to a foreign people whose language he didn’t understand, they would believe him and repent (3:4-6)! But not Israel (or in Ezekiel’s case specifically, the surviving kingdom of Judah); they didn’t want to hear from Ezekiel because they didn’t want to hear from God. The people to whom Ezek-iel was being sent were hardheaded and hardhearted, so God told Ezekiel that he was going to make him just as tough so he could speak to them without being discouraged (3:7-9).
3:10-15 Now it was time for Ezekiel to be returned to the place where his ministry would begin, and it was quite a ride. He had started out among the exiles . . . by the Chebar Canal (3:15; see 1:1), and—don’t miss this—the Spirit . . . lifted him up to take him back there (3:12). But suddenly he heard a loud rumbling sound and found himself being transported on God’s chariot-throne by the four cherubim and the wheels (3:13).
So why did Ezekiel leave that glorious vision in bitterness and in an angry spirit (3:14)? Because the sin of Judah’s people angered him as much as it angered the Lord. The prophet was so overwhelmed by all that had happened and the gravity of his message, in fact, that he sat there among the exiles stunned for seven days (3:15). This is a reminder that true spirituality is manifested when we feel the way God feels about unrighteousness.
3:16-21 At the end of that week, it was God who spoke, not Ezekiel. The prophet’s commission as a watchman over the house of Israel (3:17) involved a two-fold principle: the individual’s responsibility to turn from his own sin and the responsibility of God’s spokesman to deliver his message faithfully. God would hold Ezekiel guilty of the blood of a wicked person if he failed to warn him of his sinfulness (3:18, 20). There was also the promise of vindication for Ezekiel should a righteous person heed his message and avoid sin (3:21).
Believers in Jesus Christ bear the responsibility to proclaim the good news so that sinners may believe, be saved, and follow him in godliness. After all, how can we keep silent when we know how people can escape the wrath of God?
3:22-27 Ezekiel’s commissioning for service continued with a second appearance of God’s glory that was similar to the first vision and brought the same response: the prophet fell facedown (3:23). God ordered him to confine himself to his house lest his fellow exiles in Babylon tie him up with ropes to keep him there (3:24-25). There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this was a physical threat; instead, it seems God intended to create an object lesson for the people about their refusal to hear Ezekiel’s message. The same can be said for Ezekiel’s tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth (3:26). It suggests that he wouldn’t have anything to say to the rebellious Israelites unless it was the message God had given him. Whether the people heard and repented, or rejected and plunged into ruin, the prophet was only to say, This is what the Lord God says (3:27), letting the chips fall where they may. In fact, this should be the posture of every preacher who speaks for God.