Read: Ezekiel 1-3
The world was turning upside down during Ezekiel’s ministry. Major power shifts were in play as Assyrians are defeated by the Babylonians and Medes, then the Egyptians assert their influence as our ancestors were defeated over and over again. It was a particularly bad time to be a prophet, especially on the heals of shifting allegiances in Jewish leadership.
Ezekiel’s target audience was focused on the Jews who were taken captive in Babylon. The NIV Study Bible divides Ezekiel into three parts:
- Messages of Judgment against Israel (chapters 1-24)
- Messages of Judgment Against the Nations (chapters 25-32)
- Messages of Consolation for Israel (chapters 33-48)
God is faithful to the covenant, but punishment is not averted, Israel will suffer great loss as Isaiah and Jeremiah foretold.
Ezekiel receives an incredible vision right at the beginning of the narrative, basically chapters 1-3. The imagery described is hard to picture in my mind, perhaps I’m a bit to close to visualizations and graphic design as a technical art and too far from being an artist that can comprehend the detailed description included here.
4 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, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved. Ezekiel 1:4-9
I want to see this thing, but it’s beyond my imagination. I guess I’ve watch too many sci-fi movies! Perhaps the point is that it is impossible to describe–it is simply wonderful and vivid in Ezekiel’s mind, etched in great detail and described as best he could with words.
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. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. Ezekiel 1:28
The voice of the Lord spoke to Ezekiel:
“Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 2:3-5
For they are a rebellious people… I love to point my finger at these rebellious ancestors and pretend I’m not one of them, but I wonder who blind I may be. For the moment, I’ll not wander down that path and stick to the text at hand.
The Lord explains to Ezekiel that he must not rebel, that he must be God’s voice for the people and though they will not receive him kindly, he must simply be the spokesperson, the vessel, that conveys God’s words: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them.” (Ezekiel 3:4)
His response to the vision is interesting:
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 on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed. Ezekiel 3:14-15
I can only imagine, shudder to think, what it must be like to be shown the future then plopped back into the present. To see beyond the veil of that which blinds us to the truth of human thoughts and desire, the selfishness with which I pursue each day. Deeply distressing for sure.
Ezekiel sat there for a week trying to take in the message. Always patient, the Lord speaks to Ezekiel:
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. Ezekiel 3:17-18
Furthermore, Ezekiel was told he could not speak except when the word of the Lord was provided, “Whoever will listen let them listen, and whoever will refuse let them refuse” (Ezekiel 3:27).
The clarity of Ezekiel’s mission could not be more precise. I’m not so sure this is a wonderful calling as a watchman, but it is the mantle placed on Ezekiel.
What would happen if we saw the lost in the world with such clarity? Not that I’m envious of Ezekiel’s calling, but I do long to know precisely what I should be doing this day, week, month, etc. Lord, help me to learn from Ezekiel’s commitment to you. Spirit speak to your servant’s heart with images that can’t be described by words, yet soothing to remove the heaviness I feel today.