Day 186 – Thru the Bible
Today we start Ezekiel. Here’s the overview video.
Video – Read Scripture: Ezekiel
How does this video help you understand Ezekiel better?
Ezekiel 1 – The first three chapters of Ezekiel describe the vision given to the prophet as he sat on the banks of the Chebar canal in Babylon. As he stood looking toward the north, Ezekiel witnessed a storm that evolved into a magnificent vision of God and His throne. The message, delivered even in the very details of the vision, was clear: though God had exiled His people to Babylon, He had not abandoned them entirely. He still reigned over all, even the Israelites’ Babylonian captors.
The fact that God comes out of the north is significant. Though Babylon was situated far to the east, its invading army had arrived from the north—forced to march in a northward curve around the massive desert between the two lands. Ezekiel’s vision thus shows God coming to Babylon along the same route, arriving from the north. When God moves to save His people, He does so in a way directly counter to the evil that has beset them.
Ezekiel first sees, coming out of the fiery storm, four living creatures, which are the attendants of God’s throne. Each of the creatures has four faces—that of a human, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Those faces represent the “rulers” of the various spheres of God’s creation—the eagle as the greatest of the birds, the ox as the greatest of the domesticated animals, the lion as the greatest of the wild animals, and the human as the one given dominion over all. In the faces of the living creatures, all creation assembles to attend its Creator.
Ezekiel calls these four creatures “cherubim,” a Hebrew word identifying heavenly beings or messengers. Cherubim appear multiple times in the Bible, and their function seems to be to prevent anything unholy from entering the presence of God. Thus the cherubim guard the way to the tree of life after Adam and Eve sin, they guard the mercy seat within the tabernacle (Exodus 25), and they match the description of those who stand before God’s throne in the book of Revelation. These are the fearsome guardians of God’s throne, and they remind us of our predicament: we are unholy sinners, unworthy to come into the presence of a holy God and deeply in need of a Savior to forgive us and make us righteous.
Here Ezekiel describes perhaps the most perplexing aspect of his vision—the “wheels” that stand beside the four living creatures. Tall and awesome and made of some crystalline stone, the interwoven wheels are able to go in all directions (the four wings of the cherubim enable them to go in any direction without turning). The wheels are also covered with eyes, combining symbols of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Strange as they are, though, the wheels provide the best clue as to what Ezekiel is actually seeing in this vision. He is witnessing the arrival of God’s throne-chariot, the kind of royal seat a king would ride in when he went into battle. God has come to His exiled people girded for war.
He would do so again five centuries later, not as a conquering king but as a suffering king.
As Ezekiel’s gaze continues upward, he sees first a shimmering platform—the floor of the chariot—and then a throne made of sapphire with a blindingly bright figure sitting on it, surrounded by a rainbow. The sapphire throne is probably lapis lazuli, a blue stone considered enormously valuable in the ancient world, and a symbol of the wealth of both Babylon and Egypt. For God to be seated on a throne of lapis lazuli was to assert His supreme royalty, reigning even over these powerful empires and their greatest symbol of wealth. The rainbow surrounding the throne reminds us of God’s promise to keep His covenants. He is a God of unfailing faithfulness, and He reminds His people of that fact as He comes to them in their exile.
The cumulative effect of this vision was terrifying and astonishing to Ezekiel. Notice how, throughout the first chapter, words seem to fail him. His description is full of phrases such as “seems like,” “as it were,” and “what looked like.”
Terrifying though it was, the vision also would have been deeply comforting. God had arrived in power in a counter-invasion of Israel’s enemy. No other god could stand before Him, and no distance or geographical limitation could keep Him away from His people. That is a truth we as Believers should remember in our own lives. No matter our circumstances, no matter our trials, God reigns over all. Indeed, the supreme invasion against the Enemy of God’s people has taken place in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Colossians 2:15).
The vision climaxes in an unexpected way. Ezekiel falls on his face at the glory of what he sees, but the high point of the vision is actually nothing visible at all—it is a sound: “I heard the voice of one speaking.”
Throughout the Bible, it is the fact that God speaks that sets Him apart from all other gods. That is part of the reason why Israel was to make no image of God; what mattered, finally, was not what God looked like, but what He said. Thus the high point of Ezekiel’s vision was not the awesome visual scene, but rather the word of God.
For Believers today, too, what matters preeminently is what God has said in the gospel. Our lives are not determined by personal failure, moral lapse, financial disaster, relational dysfunction, physical ailment, but by the word of grace that hangs like a banner over all of that and injects hope into all of life. Whatever happens, God has spoken. A word has come. The gospel defies what we deserve on our own merit. God has pronounced His forgiveness, acceptance, and ultimate rule. And He has done it through the Word, His own Son, Jesus (John 1:1, 14).
How does this truth remind you of what God has spoken about your identity?
Ezekiel 2 & 3 – These chapters recount God’s instructions to Ezekiel. They essentially contain two main ideas woven together. First, God tells Ezekiel that His message will not be received well by the Israelites. Second, God makes the point forcefully that Ezekiel is a bound man. He is not free to say whatever he wishes, but must speak God’s word precisely to His people. The same two truths were embodied in the ultimate and final Prophet, Jesus. He too was rejected by His people (Matthew 13:57; Luke 9:22) and was bound to say what God said (John 12:49; 15:15).
In these two sections, God tells Ezekiel that the people of Israel are hard-hearted and rebellious. Because of that, they will not respond to His message in the correct way. Nevertheless, Ezekiel must preach to them anyway. He must not be afraid of them (2:6–7) because, God says, He will make Ezekiel as hard-headed as they are (3:8–9). As is true for all human beings, the Israelites were dead in their transgressions. It would take an act of supernatural, life-giving mercy to bring them to repentance.
We should not miss also God’s amazing grace to the Israelites. Despite their rebellion and hard-heartedness, God still speaks to them. Though He would have been justified in abandoning them in their exile, He determines in His covenant-keeping love not to do that. “You shall speak My words to them,” He tells Ezekiel, “whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house” (2:7). Yes, God is angry with His people for their disobedience, but it is a display of amazing grace that He does not leave them in silence.
God shows the same grace to us. Even when we were dead in our sin, He did not leave us in silent condemnation. Rather, He spoke to us through His Son, revealed Himself to us, and acted in amazing grace and mercy to save us.
God makes clear to Ezekiel that he is a bound man; he is to speak the word of God accurately and precisely. Ezekiel’s eating of the scroll in 2:8 symbolizes his internalizing of God’s word. He takes it as his own and assumes responsibility for it. In 3:16–17, God makes the same point with a different image, telling Ezekiel that he is a “watchman” for the house of Israel. This, too, points to his taking on of responsibility to warn Israel about the coming judgment. Finally, and perhaps most pointedly, God shuts Ezekiel in his house, binds him with cords, and takes away his power of speech (3:22–26). In only one circumstance will Ezekiel’s tongue be loosed and he be able to speak (3:27)—that will be when God speaks through him!
How does it encourage you to know that God has not left you in your sin?
Ezekiel 4 – For 21 chapters, God uses his prophet Ezekiel to lay out His case against His people. In a series of oracles and visions, He condemns the Israelites, showing them the judgments that are about to come against them and telling them why those judgments will come. Above all, these chapters show the justice and rightness of God’s wrath against His people. He is holy, they have rebelled against Him, and therefore they have earned His judgment.
This universe has a moral structure built into it, created as it is by a holy and righteous God. We are reminded throughout these chapters that sin infects not only people “out there” but also God’s own people. Only God, of His own initiative of grace, can rectify this hopeless situation. He promises such restoration as a consequence of His faithfulness to His covenant. In Jesus, this is precisely what He provided.
The alarm of God’s impending judgment begins to sound against Jerusalem. As is common throughout this book, Ezekiel does not just speak his message to Israel; he acts it out. God tells Ezekiel to carve a model of the city of Jerusalem on a brick, and then to build miniature siegeworks around it. Worse, though, God tells Ezekiel to place an iron cooking grate between himself and the city. In this prophetic drama, Ezekiel plays the part of God; his face is turned away from the city, and the iron grate symbolizes God’s refusal to be turned from His decision. Though the Babylonian army is physically laying this siege, God is the heavenly director of the unfolding drama.
The coming judgment on Israel would be terrible, a fact illustrated by God’s instructions to Ezekiel. For 430 days, he laid bound on his side and ate almost nothing—the equivalent of about a quarter of a slice of bread a day, which he cooked over cow dung. The people of Israel were filthy, God was saying, and His judgment against their sin would be severe.
At the climax of human history, however, in an astounding act of mercy, God turned His face not from His people but from His own Son (Mark 15:33–34; Galatians 3:13). Though not filthy in Himself, Jesus bore the filth and judgment of His people in their place. As a result, all those who trust that Jesus took their sin upon Himself on the cross are at peace with God. We can—we must—leave our moral resumes at home. Through the provision of the gospel, we base our status before God on Jesus alone.
How does this remind you that your right standing with God is not based on anything you have earned, but on the finished work of Jesus alone?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s video and reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
Videos produced by www.TheGospelProject.com.
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