Ezekiel in Babylon
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. 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. 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 spirit 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. 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 directions 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 creatures 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; 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. 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.
Ezekiel’s thirtieth birthday 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. 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. Ten thousand 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 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 Jerusalem ever fall?”
The prophet Jeremiah had a different message, and it was not good news. In a letter to the exiles, he told the ten thousand deportees that seventy years would pass before God would allow them to return. Their entire lives would be spent in a strange and foreign land (Jeremiah 29). They needed encouragement and God gave it to them through Ezekiel.
The Glory Appears
There are seven elements in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God.
The first was a massive platform made of glass that sparkled in the sunlight (Ezekiel 1:22). The platform was being held up by living creatures, one at each corner. These creatures were angels (1:20). And they held up the platform on their wings, but they had more than one pair of wings, so they could also fly. The platform could take off vertically, rather like a helicopter (1:19).
Then Ezekiel saw wheels: “I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures… as it were a wheel within a wheel” (1:15–16). 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 useful if you needed to parallel park your car in a tight space. You could just switch to lateral mode and slide in!
These wheels gave mobility to the platform. What we are being told here is that God’s presence is not fixed or limited to any one location. God is free to move wherever He chooses and in any direction. There is no place on earth where one of God’s people is ever beyond His reach.
Above the platform, the angels, and the wheels “there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire” (1:26). Notice the word “likeness.” Ezekiel is struggling for language to describe what he sees, and the higher he looks, the more difficult it is to express.
And then above the throne Ezekiel saw “gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around” (1:27). And with it, something else that you would not expect to see at the same time: “The appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain” (1:28). Ezekiel saw fire and lightning that speak of the judgment of God, and at the same time, a rainbow that speaks of the grace of God. And both were coming out from the throne.
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” (1:26). And above the throne he saw a glorious person, “a likeness with a human appearance” surrounded by brilliant light (1:26–27).
What Ezekiel most needed to see when he was far from where he wanted to be was that God was on the throne and that God’s presence was with him. What you most need when you are far from where you want to be is a fresh vision of the glory of God.
The Glory Departs
Sometime later Ezekiel was given a very different vision in which he saw a massive idol in the temple of God. He saw grotesque 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.
When 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).
God’s presence, symbolized by the flying platform, was leaving Jerusalem, but He had not abandoned His people or His promises. The focus of His redeeming work was moving away from Jerusalem. 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.
You may not be where you want to be, but God has you where you are for a reason. And His great eternal purpose of conforming you to the likeness of Jesus Christ will be wonderfully advanced wherever you are.
The Glory Returns
Twenty years after Ezekiel’s first vision, God spoke to him again. And what Ezekiel saw 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’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 Jesus’ Story
Ezekiel saw “the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (1:28). The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3). The glory of God came down among us: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Think of it this way: God came off His platform! The eternal Creator, the Lord of Glory, came down from His throne. This indescribably glorious person, surrounded by the rainbow and the fire and the lightning, took on human flesh, and was born in Bethlehem. The one who sat on the throne upheld by angels lay in a manger, and angels looked down on Him.
Not only did the Lord of glory come down off the platform, He came to His temple and spoke the Word of God. And the Lord of Glory, who had come down, left the temple, not on a platform, but carrying a cross.
But the glory that appeared and departed will one day return. This is where all history is headed. We wait with eager expectation for the day when the Lord of Glory will descend from heaven. We will see Him, we will be like Him, and we will be with Him forever!
This Could Be Your Story
Ezekiel 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.
Ezekiel’s flying platform reminds us that God’s presence is 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!
The glorious presence of God came down among us in Jesus Christ. The Lord of Glory came to His temple, but the people rejected Him and Jesus left Jerusalem 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. The Bible story points forward to the time when the great exile of human history will be over and when God’s people will be brought into His presence to enjoy Him forever.
- 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?
- How does Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God compare with the way you normally think about God?