Ezekiel in Babylon
1:1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.1 2 On the fifth day 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, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.
The Glory of the Lord
4 As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.2 5 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, 6 but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 9 their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit3 would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.
15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them.4 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions5 without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures6 was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.
26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire;7 and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him.8 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
The Glory of the Lord Leaves the Temple
10:1 Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire,1 in appearance like a throne. 2 And he said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.”
And he went in before my eyes. 3 Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. 4 And the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD. 5 And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.
6 And when he commanded the man clothed in linen, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel. 7 And a cherub stretched out his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. 8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings.
9 And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. 10 And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. 11 When they went, they went in any of their four directions2 without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel3 faced, the others followed without turning as they went. 12 And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings,4 and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. 13 As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the whirling wheels.” 14 And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
15 And the cherubim mounted up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the Chebar canal. 16 And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them. And when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels did not turn from beside them. 17 When they stood still, these stood still, and when they mounted up, these mounted up with them, for the spirit of the living creatures5 was in them.
18 Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the LORD, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
20 These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal; and I knew that they were cherubim. 21 Each had four faces, and each four wings, and underneath their wings the likeness of human hands. 22 And as for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the Chebar canal. Each one of them went straight forward.
The Lord of glory came down among us, and in Jesus Christ, the glory of God came to His temple. But the people did not want Him, so the glory of God left Jerusalem, not on a flying platform, but carrying a cross.
The Glory appeared and the Glory departed, but thank God, the Glory will return. Jesus Christ rose from the dead and one day He will return in power and glory. When He does, we will see Him, we will be like Him, and we will enjoy Him forever.
Most adults look forward to their thirtieth birthday, but for the prophet Ezekiel this may have been the hardest day of his life. He had spent his whole life preparing for ministry in the temple of God, but at age twenty-five, in the middle of his training, war broke out and he was carted off to the Chebar canal.
A priest’s thirtieth birthday was the day on which his ministry in the temple would begin, and if Ezekiel had been back home, it would have been a great day of celebration. But what can a new priest do if he is seven hundred miles away from the temple?
Ezekiel was a man with crushed hopes and shattered dreams. If only he had lived at another time. If only he could be in another place. If only! Circumstances seemed to have blocked his path to ministry, and he found himself among a group of confused and discouraged people in a backwater near Babylon.
Perhaps you can relate to Ezekiel. Maybe you had high hopes and big dreams, and you never imagined you would be where you are today.
God’s People in Two Places
At the time of Ezekiel, God’s people were in two places. 10,000 of them were at the Chebar canal in Babylon, and the rest were back in Jerusalem where King Zedekiah was holding on to power by the skin of his teeth.
Ezekiel was called to speak the Word of God to the 10,000 exiles, and at the same time, Jeremiah was speaking the Word of God to the remaining community in Jerusalem.
Families were divided and everyone was wondering what would happen next. Would the beleaguered community in Jerusalem survive? When would the exiles be able to return? Next month? Next year? Ever?
There was no shortage of answers from people claiming to speak the Word of God. False prophets were eager to assure people that what had happened was only a temporary setback: “God would never leave his temple. The exiles would soon be home. How could Zion ever fall?”
The prophet Jeremiah had a different message, and it was not good news. In a letter to the exiles, he told the 10,000 deportees that 70 years would pass before God would allow them to return. Their entire lives would be spent in a strange and foreign land (Jeremiah 29).
The Glory Appears
More than anything else, these discouraged and displaced people needed a glimpse God’s glory. And that is what God gave them through the ministry of Ezekiel: “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).
Ezekiel saw “a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually” (1:4). It must have been like gazing through smoke into a blazing fire. As Ezekiel looked into this cloud, he could see four living creatures that are later described as cherubim (10:1).
Each of them had four faces and four wings (1:6). They were positioned in a square, with their wings connecting at the corners, and above them was an “expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal” (1:22). This expanse was like a platform, and above the platform rested the throne of God (1:26).
Then Ezekiel saw some wheels. Imagine a wheel facing north to south, being intersected by another wheel going east to west. These wheels could move in any of four directions, which would be extremely useful if you were parking your car and found yourself two feet from the sidewalk. You could just switch to lateral mode, and slide in!
These wheels gave mobility to the giant platform on which the throne of God rested. Bible scholar Don Carson compared their movements to that of a cursor on a computer screen – up and down, left to right.
Then Ezekiel saw that the cherubim, who were supporting the platform, could fly. The whole platform could take off like a helicopter (1:19). God’s presence is not fixed to any one location. There are no restrictions on God. He is free to move in any direction.
We are also told that the wheels were “full of eyes” (1:18). This mixed metaphor is simply a way of saying that nothing is hidden from the throne of God. Just as there is no place that God cannot go, so there is nothing that God cannot see.
As Ezekiel gazed into this vision, he kept looking higher. Above the creatures, was the platform. Above the platform, he saw “the likeness of a throne.” And above the throne he saw “a likeness with a human appearance” surrounded by brilliant light (1:26–27).
The higher Ezekiel looked, the more difficult it was to find words to express what he saw. The best description he could give was to say, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face” (1:28).
Scandal in the Temple
Ezekiel was given another vision in which he saw a massive idol in the temple of God. He also saw loathsome images of idols scrawled on the temple walls (8:7–10). Obscene things were going on in secret, even in the temple, and people were saying, “The LORD does not see us” (8:12).
Then Ezekiel saw the same glory of the Lord that he had seen in his earlier vision (8:2–4). It was as if God was squaring off with the idol. The Lord was getting ready to destroy the false worship that had desecrated His temple.
Many false prophets were telling God’s people that Jerusalem could never fall because the temple of God was there (Jeremiah 7:4–8). But God was showing Ezekiel not only that Jerusalem would fall, but that God would destroy His own temple!
The Glory Departs
Some time later, Ezekiel saw the vision of God’s glory again. He saw the platform, the wheels, and the throne of God moving toward the door. God was about to leave His temple and His city (Ezekiel 10:4, 18; 11:22–23).
Put Ezekiel’s two visions together: God’s presence, symbolized by the flying platform, was leaving Jerusalem. But Ezekiel had already seen the same flying platform beside the Chebar canal! God was abandoning Jerusalem, but He had not abandoned His people or His promises. The focus of His redeeming work was moving away from Jerusalem, and was now focused on a backwater in Babylon where thousands of God’s people would be preserved and eventually brought back (11:16-20).
God was leaving the temple, but His presence would now be made known among the exiles beside the Chebar canal. Ezekiel was far from his home and far from the temple, but he was right in the center of the will of God.
The Glory Returns
Twenty years after Ezekiel’s first vision, God spoke to him again. And what Ezekiel saw next must have brought joy to his heart. “The glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east… and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple” (43:4–5).
God gave Ezekiel a vision of a new temple built on a massive scale. God’s glory would one day fill a temple that would serve as a center of worship for people of every tribe and nation.
This Is the Bible Story
Ezekiel’s visions give us the entire story of the Bible in miniature. Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence and blessing of God in the garden, but when they sinned they were thrown out of the garden, just as God’s people were evicted from Jerusalem. But God did not abandon His people. He came to us in Jesus Christ, so that those who seek Him might find Him and know His presence.
God will one day bring His people back to a new creation, greater and more glorious than anything we have ever seen before. The Bible story points forward to the time when the great exile of human history will be over and God’s people will be brought into His presence to enjoy Him forever.
This Could Be Your Story
Ezekiel saw the glory of God when he was thirty years old. He was a gifted man in the prime of life, yet he found himself relegated to an obscure backwater in Babylon. His prospects seemed bleak, his personal hopes for the future shattered.
Maybe you have felt like that. Something happened in your life and you find yourself saying, This isn’t how it was supposed to be! Or perhaps God has taken you from a place where you were happy and moved you somewhere else.
Think about Ezekiel’s flying platform. It reminds you that God’s glory and His blessing are not limited to one place. If God moves you on, His presence will go with you. He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). There is no place on earth where His presence cannot go. Ezekiel discovered that it was better to be in Babylon with the presence of God, than to be in Jerusalem without it!
Seventy years after Ezekiel’s first vision, a community of exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple. And about five hundred years after that, Jesus Christ was born. He is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
The eternal Creator, the Lord of glory, came down from the throne, and took human flesh: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
- Have you ever said (or thought), “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!”?
- What is your reaction to Ezekiel being far from home and far from the temple, but still being right in the middle of God’s will?
- How is Ezekiel’s vision like the story of the entire Bible in miniature?
- Explain the statement in your own words: “It is better to be in Babylon with the presence of God, than to be in Jerusalem without it.” Do you think it’s true?
- In what sense is Jesus the Glory of God? Why did He leave Jerusalem?