June 15, 2010 David Balzer

Ezekiel 1-3: Every move you make, every step you take

A strange sight in an unexpected place. A man sitting in a deckchair.

Not a particularly sensational picture. Unless there are 45 helium weather balloons attached to the chair. That’s a little more sensational.

And it’s even MORE sensational if the man happened to be floating past the window of your plane at an altitude of more than 5000 m.

A strange sight in an unexpected place. It was the sight which greeted the pilots of a Delta Airlines flight over Long Beach Municipal Airport in California. On 2 July, 1982.

The man was Larry Walters, a 33-year-old Vietnam veteran and North Hollywood truck driver with no pilot or balloon training.

He’d filled 45 weather balloons with helium and tied them in four groups to an aluminum deck chair he’d purchased for $110.

He’d loaded the chair with a large bottle of soft-drink, bottles of water for ballast, a pellet gun, a portable CB radio, an altimeter, and a camera.

He put on a parachute, and climbed into his chair from the roof of his friend’s home in San Pedro. As friends, neighbors, reporters and cameramen looked on, Larry Walters rocketed into the sky. A few minutes later he radioed that he was sailing across Los Angeles Harbor towards Long Beach.

Larry HAD planned to fly 300 miles into the Mojave Desert, but the balloons took him up faster than expected and the wind didn’t cooperate, and he quickly found himself drifting 16,000 feet above Long Beach.

That’s where he had his close encounter with the aircraft. Imagine the first pilot to see it. Shaking his head, blinking his eyes. Taking another look. Not quite game enough to point it out to his partner.

Imagine the conversation between the pilots and the control tower!

Shortly after, Larry, feeling cold and dizzy in the thin air, shot several of his balloons with the pellet gun to bring himself back down to earth.

He ended up entangled in a set of high-voltage power lines in Long Beach about ten miles from where he started. The plastic cords protected Walters from electrocution as he dangled above the ground until workmen could cut the power. Larry managed to maneuver his chair over a wall, step out, and cut the chair free.

An strange sight in an unexpected place.

And it’s the same for Ezekiel. One day not long after his thirtieth birthday. He sees a strange sight in an unexpected place.

It had been a BITTERSWEET birthday. Thirty was his coming of age. The time he could begin his official ministry. He was a priest. He’d done the training. Sat the exams. Bided his time.

The only problem was/ there was little chance of starting his new career. He was nowhere near the temple. And he had no way of getting back there in a hurry.

The year was 593 BC, and he’d been stuck in Babylon for close to 5 years. He was one of the first group of Jews to be exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597.

And this particular day, he’s down by the river, with the rest of the exiles. Perhaps praying. Meeting with God’s people to worship God.

Perhaps even singing a song Psalm 137.

(Psa 137:1-4 NIV)  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. {2} There on the poplars we hung our harps, {3} for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” {4} How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

That was Ezekiel. Longing to be home. Back in Jerusalem. In the temple. Where God’s presence was. With the Ark. And the altar. And the sacrifices. Doing what he’s been trained for.

That’s where he is. That’s what he’s doing. When, all of a sudden, he sees it. A strange sight in an unexpected place. V1 of Ch 1.

(Ezek 1:1 NIV)  In the 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.

And, just in case you thought you’d misheard, Ezekiel REPEATS it. V2. A supporting witness.

(Ezek 1:2-3 NIV)  On the fifth of the month–it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin– {3} 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 upon him.

Incredible! That God would be THERE in Babylon. Filthy, despairing, forgotten exile.

No temple. No sacrifices. No holy of holies. No purification. But God was there ANYWAY!

And he goes on to describe how he arrived at that amazing conclusion. That GOD was there.

The hand of the LORD was on him. Experiencing the intrusion of God into his world. And that meant, here, he was seeing some sort of VISION.

1. The Storm

And the vision begins with a storm. A storm coming out of the north. But as he watches, he quickly realises this is no ORDINARY storm. V4.

(Ezek 1:4 NIV)  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,

The storm represents GOD. FIRE. CLOUD. LIGHTNING. All images for the power and majesty of God.

And as he looks more closely, he makes out MORE detail. But what he sees is like nothing he’s ever seen before.

As he sits down afterward to write it all down, he can’t even find the words to use. There’s nothing in his experience to describe what he sees. It’s like an African bushman trying to describe snow.

And so the description is littered with these sorts of phrases “its appearance was LIKE”. Or “they looked LIKE …”

2. The Creatures

And so, what DID he see? The first thing he notices in the storm are the creatures. V5.

(Ezek 1:5-10 NIV)  and in the fire was what LOOKED LIKE four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, {6} but each of them had four faces and four wings.

Four creatures. Four faces. Four wings.

FOUR is the number of completion. Fulness. Totality. Four corners of the globe. Four winds. Four points of the compass. They represent the WHOLE creation.

And look at their faces. V10

{10} Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a MAN, 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.

Man: The most TING creature.

The Lion: the most FEARED creature. The king of the jungle.

The OX. The STRONGEST creature

The EAGLE. The king of the AIR.

Each, the RULERS of their respective realms. They REPRESENT the whole creation.

But it was hard for Ezekiel to catch everything. Because it was CONSTANTLY MOVING. V12.

(Ezek 1:12-14 NIV)  Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. {13} 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. {14} The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.

And as Ezekiel tries to work out how the creatures manage to move in all directions without TURNING. He notices another detail. The wheels. V15. And each of the four creatures moves by them.

3. The wheels

But they’re no ordinary wheels, they’re wheels WITHIN wheels. A wheel INTERSECTING a wheel. And so instead of only being able to go forward and back, these wheels could go LEFT AND RIGHT, forward and back. All without the creatures having to turn.

And after he considers these for a while, Ezekiel’s attention is drawn up. Above the wings of the creatures. V22. It’s an expanse. Or a dome. Sparkling like ice. It’s the same word as the dome that separates the waters below from the waters above in Gen 1.

4. The Throne

But that’s not all. A voice from above the expanse draws his attention still FURTHER up. And it’s there that he notices the throne. V26.

(Ezek 1:26 NIV)  Above the expanse over their heads was what LOOKED LIKE a throne of sapphire, and (finally) high above on the throne was a figure LIKE that of a man.

The CULMINATION of the vision. Everything’s been moving up and in. From the storm to the creatures to the throne to the one on the throne.

God. He’s the centre. The focus. The reason everything else is there.

And listen to how Ezekiel tries to describe him. V27.

(Ezek 1:27-28 NIV)  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. {28} 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….

The whole picture communicates God’s awesome POWER. His sovereignty over the whole creation. God can travel anywhere instantly. That’s the creatures with wings and wheels who constantly and effortlessly move around.

And He SEES everything. That’s the eyes in the wheels. Nothing is beyond his vision. Or outside his control.

And he’s on the throne over it all. Ruling. Exercising his authority.

That’s the God who presents himself to Ezekiel. … Is it any wonder he falls facedown before the throne?

But God doesn’t LEAVE him there. Once he introduces himself to Ezekiel, he’s got a JOB for him. Ch 2 v1.

(Ezek 2:1 NIV)  He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.”

This God who’s on the throne of the whole universe. Is speaking to Ezekiel. HERE in Babylon! He’s the God who COMMUNICATES.

He’s not too busy running the galaxy to be involved in insignificant events of a small group of people. It’s THEIR LIVES which interest him above anything else.

And as comforting as that reality is/ the truth is that God’s interest in them at the moment is experienced in his white-hot WRATH. His anger at their wickedness and rebellion.

They’d experienced it IN PART. The first exile from Jerusalem was only the BEGINNING. God had MORE in STORE. Total destruction lay ahead.

And that’s the message Ezekiel is called to deliver. God’s WARNING against their sin. Continue the way they’ve been going. And even WORSE will come. Continue to ignore God, and exile will be JUST THE START!

And yet the very fact that God bothers TO WARN/ is a sign of GOOD NEWS. IT shows his care and concern. If their response didn’t MATTER to God, why would he go to the trouble of calling Ezekiel to the job?

It should ASTOUND US/ that the God described in this vision. Would bother to communicate a warning to this small group of people. Isolated and cut-off. Forgotten by their countrymen. But not forgotten by God.

And for those of us on THIS SIDE of the CROSS. It should astound us EVEN MORE. That God didn’t stop at sending MESSAGES. When none of that worked. He sent his only Son.

To communicate the warning to REPENT. But Jesus also came to DIE. To provide the ULTIMATE picture of God. The cross paints the picture of God more vividly than the one here in Ezekiel 1.

It shows us God’s holy justice. Sin is SUCH a big deal to God that the ULTIMATE PRICE must be paid.

And it shows us his great LOVE. Because God himself is willing to PAY that ultimate price… For YOU. For ME.

Back to Ezekiel. His task is to deliver God’s warning. God doesn’t promise him it will be easy. In fact, there is probably NO prophet who suffers MORE for his message than Ezekiel.

God’s advertising spiel wouldn’t win any awards. It’s not “Join the Navy and see the world”. It’s “Join the prophets, and sit with briers and thorns, and live among scorpions!” (See there in v6)

(Ezek 2:6 NIV)  And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions.

But even though it’s TOUGH, he DOES promise to EQUIP him for the task. Over in Ch 3 v7.

(Ezek 3:7-9 NIV)  But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. {8} BUT I WILL MAKE YOU AS UNYIELDING AND HARDENED AS THEY ARE. {9} I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house.”

Nothing will come his way that Ezekiel can’t deal with.

God never expects something from us/ without giving us the tools to cope. In this case, Israel’s stubbornness will be matched by Ezekiel’s own stubbornness.

Stubbornness – a spiritual gift! There are times when it’s GOOD to be stubborn.

And God gives him the message. And just like rest of this section, it’s SYMBOLIC. He doesn’t TELL him the message. He gives it to him TO EAT. Look at Ch 2 v7.

(Ezek 2:7-10 NIV)  You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. {8} But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” {9} Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, {10} which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

(Ezek 3:1-3 NIV)  And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” {2} So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. {3} Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

What’s the point of the EATING? What’s the symbolism?

Notice whose words Ezekiel is to speak? “Speak MY words” They’re GOD’S words. It’s not Ezekiel saying whatever he FEELS like saying.

When God is silent, Ezekiel is silent. When God speaks, Ezekiel speaks. The man IS the message.

And he’s not just to TASTE it. He’s to eat it all. THE WHOLE message – written front and back. He’s to FILL his STOMACH with it.

The message was to become PART of him. Nourishing. Energising. Empowering.

A combination of man and God. Yes, it was God’s message. But it would also be distinctively and authentically Ezekiel’s own.

And what of the message itself. It’s a message of judgment/ from a holy and righteous God/ to a rebellious, disloyal, and deaf people.

So it’s no surprise that the message is one of LAMENT AND MOURNING AND WOE. The only result for people who continue in their rebellion is their mourning when God’s judgment falls.

And yet, like all of God’s decisions. It is JUST. And TRUE. And RIGHT.

And when the justice is complete, God will offer RESTORATION and PEACE. And RELATIONSHIP. And so, as hard as it is for sinners to hear. The message is also SWEET to the TASTE.

Eventually, Ezekiel will have the privilege of communicating some of the SWEETEST promises of God in the whole Bible. Of forgiveness. And the gift of the Spirit to all people. And washing clean. And a new temple. And a new Jerusalem. And healing. And resurrection.

And with the task set before him. And the Spirit supporting him. Ezekiel has no option but to accept the task.

6. The Response

But the way I read it, it’s perhaps not the way he would have LIKED things to turn out. Look at HIS RESPONSE. V14 of Ch 3.

(Ezek 3:14 NIV)  The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went IN BITTERNESS AND IN THE ANGER OF MY SPIRIT, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me.

His job is to deliver a message of lament. To a people ALREADY about as low as they could go. Almost ASSURED that he’d fail. A lifetime of speaking impossibly harsh words to a people. And receiving only their REJECTION and HATRED and in return.

Why had God chosen HIM? Wasn’t it bad enough that he was exiled? That he would never serve in the temple? Now, he must put up with the hatred of the people.

Bitterness and Anger are almost UNDERSTANDABLE.

And when he arrives back among his people. He doesn’t know where to begin. V15.

(Ezek 3:15 NIV)  I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–OVERWHELMED.

And that’s where we leave Ezekiel until next week.

So what’s it all mean for US? What’s sort of reaction to WE have? Let me suggest three things.

1. Be AWESTRUCK. This is the God who’s EVERYWHERE. Sees EVERYTHING. Who knows everything.

There’s no hiding from him. No secrets. And he comes in judgment against those who reject him. And rebel against him.

2. But, secondly, be GRATEFUL. Because he’s also the God who COMMUNICATES.

Who SHOWS us what he’s like. Through his Son, and through his word. Who shows us what he expects of us.

He’s the God who WARNS us. Who cares enough about our response, and who loves us enough, to provide us with a MEANS of restoring the relationship. When he turn from our sin, he counts the of his Son as punishment on our behalf, and makes us his friends.    So be grateful.

3. Be ENCOURAGED AND STRENGTHENED. Like Ezekiel, God provides us with EVERYTHING WE NEED for the task of living for him.

Like Ezekiel, he gives us his Spirit. To guide and strengthen and protect and change. and give joy and hope.

Like Ezekiel, he gives us his WORD.

Like Ezekiel, he provides us with the ability to achieve the task. It might not be a forehead as hard as flint. But he DOES promise us the strength to resist temptation.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 God promises

(1 Cor 10:13 NIV)  …I am faithful; I will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, I will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

And he does promise us the words to say whenever we’re called to witness for him. Jesus says in Mt 10:18

(Mat 10:18-19 NIV)  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. {19} But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,

So, as we read of the VISION of God, and the TASK of God. Let’s be awestruck. Let’s be grateful. And let’s be encouraged and strengthened.

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