As I said last week, we are now starting a study over the book of Ezekiel. Most of the books of the major prophets (Isaiah-Daniel) begin with a call from God for their ministry. These first few chapters deal with that very call upon Ezekiel. God shows up in all his glory by a river to inform Ezekiel, he is meant for a greater purpose. Ezekiel’s life changes forever next to that river. I guess that’s what happens when you answer the call.
In approximately 593 BC by the River Kebar in the land of the Chaldeans, a man from a priestly family, named Ezekiel, was visited by God and His angels. He saw a great light (from a self consuming fire) and heard a wind like a hurricane. He describes the angels as,”human form, but they had four faces each and four wings each. Their feet: a straight foot, but the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot, and they were sparkling like the gleam of burnished copper. Human hands were under their wings … their wings touched each other … The form of their faces: a human face, but the four of them had a lion’s face on the right, and the four of them had an ox’s face on the leg, and the four of them had an eagle’s face … So the form of the creatures. Their apearance was very coals of fire burning, the very appearance of torches” (Ezekiel 1:5-14, Goldingay).
“It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart.”
— Karl Barth
After the angels came, they brought forth a chariot unlike one Ezekiel had ever seen; made of topaz and very unique wheels. Ezekiel describes them as appearing to be wheels within wheels. However, I visualize spheres. The wheels allow the chariot to move in all directions (forward and back, left and right, up and down) without any trouble. The chariot followed alongside the angels. Then Ezekiel realized the great sound coming from the wings of the angels as they moved with the chariot. Upon the chariot was a throne made of sapphire and upon it sat something that looked human. “I saw the very gleam of electrum, the very appearance of fire within it all around, from the appearance of his hips upwards and from the appearance of his hips downwards I saw the very appearance of fire. His brightness was all round” (Ezekiel 1:27, Goldingay). He even saw a rainbow coming from the human form. Ezekiel recognized this as the glory of God.
“To love God does not mean to meet His needs, but rather to delight in Him and to be captivated by His glorious power and grad, and to value Him above all other things on earth. All the rest of the commandments are the kinds of things that we will do from our hearts, if our hearts are truly delighted with and resting in the glory of God’s grace.”
— John Piper
I recognize that it is an odd place to stop here and question, what is this teaching us. I’m sure theologian across the centuries have discussed this very topic, and you can probably find any book or commentary you want to help discern the meaning of this particular chapter (maybe that is why you are reading this post). The bulk of this passage is describing the grand procession of God to come and meet Ezekiel where he was at. God is beyond our comprehension. We simply lack the true words and ideas to truly express God. I believe that is what is happening in Ezekiel. He is trying to express to us humans what it is like to see the true glory of God. The entire event is described in the grand amazing words and phrases, with imagery, that I might argue we use far too infrequently to describe God. I believe our lack of considering God in this way is what leads to problematic worship; where people are comfortable to merely sit in their seats and listen to some music and a good speaker.
As we move forward, let us remember how Ezekiel explains the glory of God. He is not something that is easily approachable, and should be considered scary. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis uses the beaver to describe Aslan (the God/Jesus character) to the children by saying, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe, But he’s good.” We do not have to be afraid of God, but we can recognize His true glory as something truly awe-inspiring and terrifying. When we can see God in this way, we can truly prostrate ourselves and give He the worship and praise He deserves.