Category Archives: Visions

Ezekiel 2-3 – The Sweet Scroll and the Watchman

context

Where as chapter one was filled with visions of God, these chapters contain the words of God and the command to Ezekiel to receive His word and speak it to the nation n of Israel. We remember the greater context of Ezekiel living with the exiles in Babylon – an exile which came about because of Israel’s persistent rebellion. The chapter opens with Ezekiel by the Kebar river in Babylon and fallen face don because of the awesome visi n of the Almighty that he has seen…and he hears the voice of one speaking.

Observation

As far as a structure to these chapters go, it should be seen to include chapter one also. This allows us to see that Ezekiel’s vision bookends the section of 2:1-11 and that 3:16-27, although related, make a separate event.

  • 1:4-28 vision of the LORD
    • 2:1-7 Speech
      • 2:8-3:3 Action
    • 3:4-11 Speech
  • 3:12-15 vision of the LORD
  • 3:16-27 The Call to be a Watchman

The theme of this section seems to revolve around God commanding Ezekiel to take His words and speak to Israel, who are most likely not going to listen – but Ezekiel is to listen. Let’s look at some of the interesting phrases that appear in the text.

“Son of man” This appears several times. It is aimed at Ezekiel and could mean either, he is just a man in comparison to the Almighty voice speaking to him, or it could point to a biblical title for all of Israel. Daniel 7 uses the phrase as a title which we know points to Jesus as the true Israel and the true King on the throne. It’s likely that it simply compares Ezekiel with the Almighty.

“stand up on your feet…the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet…” 2:1-2 The voice commanded Ezekiel to rise (since he was prostrate) and then sends the Spirit to raise him. This is a beautiful picture of God’s command for us to follow and giving us his Spirit to obey. The image is of a ‘dead man’ being raised up – an image that will come again in bulk at chapter 37! Notice the amount of times the Spirit is described as raising and moving (2:2, 3:12, 14, 24). This Spirit was active throughout the vision of chapter one also.

“the Israelites…a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me.” Israel is called rebellious (2:3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3:26, 27), obstinate and stubborn (2:4, 7) and also thorns, briers and scorpions (2:6). This is why Israel is in Exile and why they will be further removed from the land. They are stubborn rebels who will not listen. But they will not be allowed to be punished without warning – this will further mark their doom.

“They and their ancestors.” 2:3 This is not to state that the sin is from their ancestors but that God has been very patient with them.

“Do not be afraid…You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen…” (2:7, see also 10-11). It is not wasted to speak the words of God to the people of God even if the expectation is not to listen. God is with Ezekiel and he is not to fear those he will speak to. God will give Ezekiel a head that is hard as Israel’s heart to protect him and keep him firmly on task. Is this where the expression “he’s a hard headed man” come from?

“But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you…” 2:8. In contrast, this is the expectation of Ezekiel. He will prove to be a very loyal prophet but not without a hiccup. 3:14 seems to suggest that Ezekiel was not looking forward to this assignment. 3:15 places him among the Exiles in Tel Aviv saying nothing and deeply distressed. See below on 3:16.

“…a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll…And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat the scroll…”…So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (2:9-3:3) This is odd. The hand comes from the glory of the LORD and in it is a scroll. These symbolise the message that is to go to Israel by Ezekiel, and they are words of “lament and mourning and woe.” The scroll is full of these words on both sides. Ezekiel is being “spoon fed” the message to go back to the rebel nation. They refused to receive God’s word but Ezekiel is asked to feed on it and fill his stomach (3:3).

Although the words are lament and woe, the taste to Ezekiel is sweet. This is a description of the word of God found also in the Psalms (Psalm 19:10; 119:103). Wisdom is described as honey to taste in Proverbs 24:13-14. This Ezekiel event is replayed in the book of Revelation which describes the message of the scroll to be bitter to the stomach but sweet in the mouth (Rev 10:9-10).

I have an image in my mind of children who refuse to eat what their parents put on the table. They cry and whinge and rebel. But when the hand of the parent stretches out and places the food in their mouth, they agree that the food is yummy to eat. While the word of the LORD that is targeted at Israel is woe and destruction, the word of God contains life and joy to those who will listen and digest it. See the prayer for the week below for an Anglican prayer taken from the Prayer Book.

“I sat among [the exiles] for seven days – deeply distressed. At the end of the seven days…” 3:15-16. Rather than speaking the words of woe to the rebels in Tel Aviv, Ezekiel kept quiet and in distress. This was a massive task for him to do. One man speaking against a nation of rebells and scorpions! These two verses remind me of the prophet Jonah, although Ezekiel didn’t run away. Earlier, in 2:5-6, Ezekiel was reminded that he is not going off to a strange land with strange tongue but to his own people. He is not being asked to do what Jonah did. Actually, this will be harder because a foreigner to Israel would repent and listen!

“I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel.” 3:17. This section from verse 16-27 acts like a second commissioning of Ezekiel. He was commissioned to go and he was sent to the exiles in Babylon but he said nothing. Now, God instructs him on how important for himself it will be to speak. If he stays silent and the people are judged, Ezekiel too will be found guilty. But if Ezekiel speaks, no matter what the outcome, Ezekiel will not be guilty for their blood. See Hosea 9:8 and Jeremiah 6:17 for other times the title ‘watchman’ is used. It is the picture of an eye for the city to see what danger approaches. Isaiah 52:8 has a watchman rejoicing because the Lord returns to Zion but Ezekiel, Hosea and Jeremiah describe the watchmen as keep watch for danger but nobody is listening to them. Ezekiel sees the danger coming and is being asked by God to do his job as a watchman.

“I will hold you accountable for their blood” 3:20. This sounds quite harsh but the warning is for Ezekiel to get on with the task that God has commanded him to do. If he refuses, then judgement will fall on him also. See Acts 20:26-27; 1 Timothy 4:16. Note that the heavy warning in Ezekiel is for Ezekiel. We must remember that this message for God is first and foremost written to that prophet for that time and that reason. Having said that, we ought to take a sober lesson from this principal. If we know that there is judgement coming and remain silent about it, are we serving our King proudly? The guilt of sin remains on the sinner. We, however, ought to be ready to make ways of warning people. See 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. We may not find ourselves guilty of anyone else’s blood, but we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.

Meaning

Judgement against rebellion did not come from God without more than plenty of warnings. God’s word is sweet and we ought to consume it, listen to it, read it and obey! We should also expect many to not listen to God’s word but this is not an excuse to remain quiet.

Application

  • As Christians, we have the word of God and the same choice as Ezekiel to either feed on it or refuse it.
  • The word of God is sweet to those who know and fear God but to the rebel heart, it is bitter and full of bad news.
  • If God has reconciled you to Christ and you still of air in your lungs, you are God’s representative on earth – his mouthpiece. What kind of words can we be speaking to this generation? In what ways can we bring the gospel to others?
  • God is patient with us when we are slow to obey him. But he does desire for us to trust and obey.
  • The Spirit of God is with us to do the work of an evangelist.
  • When we speak, it is not our mission to make sure a conversion happens as if our souls depend on that. The hearer will either respond and live, or walk away at their own peril. Our prayer is that the Spirit of God does what He does well.
  • Especially the ministers of the gospel who have been set apart to preach God’s word – they have the responsibility to preach and teach without fearing what people think, say or do. Not only paid ministers, but especially them! Pray for boldness and courage to fear God more than men!
  • Are there any other applications you get from this passage? Is there anything specific that your group could talk and pray about?

Prayer of the week – this is a prayer (a ‘Collect’) copied and pasted from the Anglican Prayer Book.

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ezekiel 1 – The Likeness of the Glory of the Lord

Welcome to Ezekiel. It’s a book that doesn’t get a lot of screen time in our contemporary church. A few reasons for this are (a) there are many confusing things in the book that require time to consider, (b) the first 24 and even 33 chapters contain the message of doom and gloom – that’s a lot of reading before the grace of God is spoken clearly, (c) it is just a long book!

When time is given to Ezekiel it is often chapter 36 or 37 that is quoted or referenced or sung about. But, all scripture is God breathed and useful. The early church only had the Old Testament and the stories of Jesus to learn from. Ezekiel was part of their learning. The study on the Temple and true restoration are strong in this book.

To make sense of the book, we really need to understand the context – the history that this is placed in. We cannot make sense of the book without it!

Context

We start at the beginning. God created everything. I mean everything! He is God and there is nothing or no-one greater than him. This was not enough for humanity. Our race rebelled against God and gave ear to the idea that God is not really for us. He lies. He tricks us. He is too controlling. He doesn’t care about us like he says. So, the God who created all things by His Spirit and by His Word dealt with rebellion by ejecting Adam and Eve from the beautiful garden of Eden. They were exiled from the garden, from access to the tree of life and from God’s presence.

But that was not the end of the story for God. In about 2200BC (I may need to double check that but, ball-park), God made promises to Abram (renamed to Abraham). He gave his word to Abraham that his offspring would form a great nation, that they would live and enjoy a great land where God himself dwelt (made clearer through Moses) , and that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring. God’s people, in God’s place, receiving God’s blessing and rule (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:5-7; 17:1-8).

In Joshua’s time, the first two promises were somewhat fulfilled (Joshua 21:43-45). David was eventually established as a king of Israel after God’s heart and under his son, Solomon, the Temple of the Lord was built. The Temple was, as the tabernacle had been, the place known as the dwelling place of God. Israel were God’s people, living in God’s place, with the rule and blessing of God with them. Wow!

But, like Adam and Eve, Israel took their eyes off their great Sovereign King and chased after the things of this world. They preferred to be like the other nations than to be distinct and trusting in God alone. For generations, king after king showed how rebellious Israel could be. The obvious sin was their worship of foreign gods.

In 586BC, 1,600 years after Abraham and about 500 years after David, God sent Israel into exile for their rebellion. This meant that they were physically removed from the land, crippled as a nation and under the rule of a foreign king (Nebuchadneser). God gave them blessings and he, like he promised Moses (Deuteronomy 28-30), gave them curses.

This is the scene of Ezekiel. Chapter 1 verse 1, our prophet said”…while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” Ezekiel was not in Israel but in Babylon, by the Kebar River, with the other exiles. While the exile meant judgement for Israel, it was not the end of the story because God has more to say to Israel. He’ll be talking to Ezekiel and asking him to communicate with the exiles. Do you hear the story of Adam and Eve all over again?!? What will God do this time? If God chooses to bless Israel, won’t they just make the same mistakes again? What on earth can God do to take away the sin and rebellion from Israel and his world? Anyone?

Observations

Try and draw what Ezekiel saw in his vision! It’s hard! Does it even make sense? The key to unlocking this type of scripture (actually any of the scriptures) is not to get bogged down with what is hard to understand but to highlight what is clear. Taking note of what is easy to understand can lead to clarity on what is hard.

What is easy to understand?

1) Ezekiel was physically by a river in the year 593BC – ie, 5 years after King Jehoiachin went into exile.

2) While in the company of, or living amongst the exiles, Ezekiel saw visions of God. 1:1 and 1:28 bookend the chapter with this clear message – Ezekiel saw the likeness of the glory of the LORD. So, the content of this chapter is about Ezekiel seeing something that showed or displays the glory of God. They were visions and a likeness.

3) Verse 1 and then verse 4 onward in this chapter are the words of Ezekiel. Verses 2-3 appear to be a comment from a later editor to clarify the time and person of Ezekiel. This does not make verses 2-3 less the word of God. This is how the bible is constructed – not God’s words dictated to us but the acts of God testified to us.

4) Ezekiel saw a lot of lights and movement and wheels and animal heads and wings and it was coming from the north!

What is harder to understand?

1)  “I saw a windstorm coming out of the north” (v4). The description continues with a lot of movement and flashing and hot metal and so on. This is not a quiet breeze but an unmissable and turbulent event travelling (coming) from the north. This is the direction of judgement (Jeremiah 1:14). This is where Israel’s enemies came to conquer them. This time, however, it is not a human army coming, it is God.

2) “What looked like four living creatures” (v5). We may have a mental image of what cherubim look like (fat babies with small wings, curly blonde hair and a bow) but this is what we are meant to understand Ezekiel seeing here. They are described to have wings (vv6-9) and carrying a vessel (v22). This may remind you of the ark of the covenant which seated two cherubim on top – wings stretched across it to cover or guard the box/vessel/vault. The vision that Ezekiel is seeing is on the move (see previous point) and is describing something holy.

3) “Their faces looked like this…” (v10). The face like a human, a lion, an ox and an eagle. This is the sort of detail that we can get lost up in. But keep this in mind, if the bible doesn’t give us the answer, then it may very well just be an impression that we are to be satisfied with. The point? They were living creatures (v5 and 13). The human is the height of God’s creation. The lion is the head of the wild animals. The ox is the head of the domestic animal. The eagle is the head of the winged animals. That’s one thought. What the passage says at least twice is that these were living creatures.

4) “Wherever the Spirit would go, they would go.” (v12 and 20). The passage mentions a couple of times that the creatures didn’t turn as they moved (v9, 12, 17) and that the creatures and the wheels would go wherever the Spirit went. The message is that this thing is being driven by the Spirit of God. It’s not the wheels or the creatures or the vault or the throne moving mechanically but being transported by the Spirit of the living God. We will see later in the book of Ezekiel that the prophet himself will be picked up and transported by the Spirit. God is on the move. God is working. God is active.

5) “The creatures sped back and forth.” (v14) The movement that is in the passage is fast. Lights flashing and creatures speeding back and forth. There are different directions that God is travelling in. It is not just from the north and landing in Babylon. God is travelling this way and that. What is he looking for? What is he seeing? Why is he going back and forth? It perhaps underscores one message of Ezekiel and that is that God is not bound by the Temple but is free to roam where he pleases. He’s God after all!

6) “This was the appearance and structure of the wheels…” (v16). They were awesome looking – impressive in size. They were eight wheels all counted? Four on the ground in front of each creature (v15) and each wheel appeared to have a wheel intersecting it. You could count four wheels or eight – depending how you read Ezekiel’s description. The idea though, seems to be the ability to go in any direction. Also the image is of power like the chariots of war.

7) “A throne of lapis lazuli” (v26). Exodus 24:10 describes Moses and Aaron and 72 other elders of Israel seeing God who was standing on a pavement made of lapis lazuli. This is a deep-blue stone that looks really impressive. The Exodus passage describes it as “bright blue as the sky.”  (see also Job 28:16; Isaiah 54:11). The throne is described and the reference leads us to conclude that this is a throne for God. On the throne, however, is a “figure like that of a man.”

8) “Like the appearance of a rainbow.” (v28) It doesn’t say there was a rainbow there but the appearance of a rainbow. Visions like these give us pointers of what to think about as we read them. The pointer here is obvious: the rainbow of Noah. This was a covenant promise from God that he would not forget to save the world from universal flood again – not to repeat the kind of judgement that wipes away humanity forever. The rainbow is a reminder of God’s grace and mercy. So, is this coming of God to be judgement or grace? Could it be both? The rainbow gives us a glimpse toward the end of Ezekiel, from chapter 34 onwards.

9) “And I heard the voice of one speaking” (v28). This vision of chapter one is about God approaching Ezekiel to give him His words. It is like the vision of Isaiah in Isaiah 6. The literal visions are different and worth the time comparing if you have it, but they compare in that both prophets saw a vision of the glory of the LORD before the LORD commissioned the prophets to speak.

New Testament Perspective

Hearing of a throne with a figure of a man seated on it reminds us of Jesus. Stephen, in Acts 7, “looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ [Stephen] said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'” (Acts 7:55-56). Jesus is in the place of authority. We know that he is loving and kind, gentle and meek, but we cannot escape the reality that he is also God, creator and judge.

Meaning

God is going to speak to the people in exile. Although they have been cast out from the presence of the Temple, God will come to them. It is a vision of God coming to declare his Word to a rebellious people who were too stubborn and hard hearted to listen before.

Application

  • It is a reminder of the continued mercy of God to persevere with his people who are rebellious.
  • It is a vision of God’s holiness and glory and sovereignty. He is not little Jesus meek and mild and lying in a manger. He is a mighty warrior King, seated on his throne and awesome in power.
  • Ezekiel’s response to seeing this vision was to fall facedown (v28). How do we convey that in our life? Is this a category shift for us with regards to God and Christ? Holding only this view of God is unhealthy since we understand grace and love but excluding this reality of God is to deny who he is.
  • The Spirit is the mover in this vision. The Spirit of God is always active in the work of God. While our focus is on the one on the throne, rightly so, we give thanks for the work of the Spirit who elevates Christ and brings his glory to us.

Prayer of the week

Heavenly King, you are far beyond our imagination. You are our God, our King, our ruler and our judge. Have mercy on us, we pray. By the power of the Spirit and the work of your Son who is now seated on the throne, rescue us from sin. Save us from the captivity of sin and rebellion. Help us to listen to you when you speak and to respond immediately in trust. Amen.