Just when I think I can get my head around the Bible, I encounter a book like Ezekiel. I am instantly humbled when I come to this text and behold the mysterious, extraordinary God we find there.
The first three chapters detail Ezekiel’s inaugural vision. He was thirty years old, and it was July 593 b.c. The first group of exiles had been deported from Babylon in 597. The nation of Israel had rejected God, and Ezekiel is sent as a prophet to the exiles, showing them their sin and reminding them of the infinite holiness of God.
We get hardly a paragraph of introduction before we are completely immersed in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of the Lord. The incredible sight of the winged creatures and the wheels of fire is as difficult to imagine as it probably was to put into words. Ezekiel sees and then falls on his face. In the presence of God’s glory, Ezekiel is left in paralyzing humility.
What follows is Ezekiel’s call, but God is the primary actor here. The Spirit enters Ezekiel and sets him on his feet (Ezek. 2:2). What a beautiful image of dependence on almighty God. He does not call Ezekiel, or us, without the understanding that he himself is the one who will accomplish what he wills.
Ezekiel is then commissioned to speak to the rebellious Israelites, and God gives him the scroll to eat containing words of “lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezek. 2:10). The scroll is sweet to the taste, but once the vision recedes and the Spirit again lifts Ezekiel, he is bitter in his spirit (Ezek. 3:14). Ezekiel has been given divine perspective on sin, and his anger is a reflection of how God feels toward the sinful ways of his people.
Then Ezekiel comes to the exiles who are living near the Chebar canal, and he “sat there overwhelmed among them seven days” (Ezek. 3:15). The Hebrew word for overwhelmed here is shamem, which means “to be desolated.” Ezekiel is devastated, completely destroyed by the depth of the Israelites’ sin and its consequences. These seven days are an echo of the seven days Job spends mourning after his life is in complete ruins, when his own wife suggests he should curse God and die.
I am struck both by God’s mysterious holiness and our complete dependence on him to be in his presence. The Spirit has to enter Ezekiel in order to set him on sure footing to hear from God. Thanks be to God that we stand solidly upon the rock of Jesus and his saving work for us. He has set our feet upon a rock and made our steps secure in him (Psalm 40:2).
Also remarkable is the depth of suffering and sorrow that God, and then Ezekiel through God, feels over our sin. Seeing and feeling the weight of this makes us appreciate all the more the scandalous mercy and grace of the cross.
There is much ground yet to cover in Ezekiel, but, skipping ahead to chapter 36, hear God’s heart for his people:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. (Ezek. 36:25-29)
Thanks be to God!