When Your World Crumbles

Ezekiel was a priest who was called to be a prophet. He was in exile but prophesied about what was going to happen to those yet remaining in Israel. For around twenty years he issued these prophecies that contained a mixture of divine wrath and redemptive purpose. He was given by God deep experiences of his holiness and felt keenly the power and inviolability of the revealed truth of God.

I. This vision of divine holiness, perfection, and judgment was so remarkable that he pinpointed the exact day of its occurrence from two standpoints.

A. He identifies the time as the thirtieth year, the fourth month, the fifth day. It is uncertain what his terminus a quo is in his figuring. R. K. Harrison makes no conjecture, not does Paul House. Matthew Henry, however, as full as ever in his comments, gives three possibilities, with appropriate applications to each. One, it could be the age of Ezekiel, the age at which priests normally would begin their ministry in the Temple. But, in exile, and absent the temple, God calls this priest to a prophetic ministry. Two, it could be the year of Chaldean reckoning of dates, which would be thirty years after the beginning of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s father. Third, it could be thirty years after Hilkiah’s rediscovery of the book of the law in the temple during the reign of Josiah. This would mark the beginning of a new time of testing for Judah. If these three coordinate, then the providential arrangement of Ezekiel’s birth, Hilkiah’s discovery, and the beginning of Nabopolassar’s reign brings together important factors in the development of Ezekiel’s prophecy

B. With melancholy reality, he locates this day also as in the fifth year of the exile of king Jehoiachin. The month was the fourth, April or June, depending on the coordination of calendars over the centuries

C. It is quite possible that until this time, the exiles had been without any prophetic word. He was among the exiles that had come first, prophesied by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 24. He was among the good figs of this vision, about whom God said, “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” Ezekiel himself prophesied concerning this in 36:22-38.

II. This was not a passing impression, but a clear manifestation of a supernatural vision. People languish without the word of God, and this vision perhaps broke a drought of revelatory communication. Note the different aspects of this vision.

A. The Heavens were opened. He seemed to be able to peer into heaven itself, where God dwells. There in the land of the Chaldees, God manifest his divine presence as the Lord of all places and all times.

B. He saw visions of God. He did not see God in his essence, for no man can do that and live. When Paul was caught up to the third heaven he found that he had no possible way of communicating what he saw there. He could not even tell if he were in the body or out. Ezekiel’s visions of God were startling, intriguing, and glorious in themselves, filled with symbolism of divine sovereignty, but were designed for observation by the prophet that he might begin a twenty year prophetic ministry among these exiles.

C. The Word of the Lord came to Ezekiel. Not only was heaven opened, not only did he see visions, but he received words from God that he might not misconstrue any of what he saw. Without specific words, interpretation of events and visions is virtually impossible. For example see the enactments of Ezekiel concerning the siege of Jerusalem followed by the clear word, chapters 4 and 5.

D. The hand of the Lord was upon him. There was such a manifestation of power and holy awe that Ezekiel could not mistake this as being from God. Moses saw a burning bush; Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up so that the temple was filled with his majestic glory.

E. The circumstances were impressive enough and cumulative in nature to provide Ezekiel with the confidence that this was a real revelatory intervention of God. This brings before us the issue of revelation in Scripture. How do we arrive at confidence in the claims to revelation? Shortly, Scripture provides tests for the veracity of prophets. Ideas of revelation are consistent with each other, and grow in their content so that the original idea becomes mature through the entire body of Scripture. Cf. Genesis 1:1 and Hebrews 11:3; John 1:1,2 and Colossians 1:15, 16. Also Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:26-35. The apostles knew that their special encounters with Christ and his call on their lives had set them apart to receive the final revelation of God’s redemptive purpose. See 1 Corinthians 2:6-13; Galatians 1:6-12; Ephesians 3:1-13; Hebrews 1:1, 2, 2:1-4; 1 Peter 1:12; 1 John 4:1-6

III. God Comes and Calls -Ezekiel has visions of four separate scenes that give some sense of what it is like to be in  the presence of God

A. the Four Creatures – 1:4-14

¨      The appearance indicates the stunning glory of all creation when it is purified by the immediate presence of God

¨      Creation thrives when it is unhesitatingly responsive to the movement of God’s Spirit and expressing his will and there is perfect harmony among all of creation in this state

¨      Light, fire, lightning all express the purity of holiness and how magnetic such beauty is to one that desires it for himself.

B. Wheels and wheels within wheels with eyes all around – 1:15-21

¨      The wheels indicate the ways of God and the motivating purpose of God as all his servants execute his plans.

¨      His plans are holy and filled with wonder, and his providence, though mysterious to us, is executed perfectly among all his creatures and will demonstrate the holiness of his purposes

¨      There is nothing accidental about the way in which he moves the world, but all is plain before him, he knows the beginning from the end, for it runs according to his all-wise decree and his exhaustive knowledge

¨      Unfallen angels are presently the best example of how God uses holy creatures for his glory: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).

C. The Expanse above the Living Creatures – 1:22-25

¨      It is only for the purpose of setting the stage for the appearance of a revelation from God that this entourage of splendid creatures has come. As splendid as they are, their glory is overshadowed by the glory of the place of God’s dwelling above them.

¨      They are there to provide both a buffer between the man Ezekiel and the splendor of the heavenly glory as well as to make way for the appearance of God. It is like the arriving of King Solomon on the day of his wedding surrounded by sixty mighty men with swords (S o S 3:6-11)

¨       They proceed with dignity and humility, manifesting by their sound the nearness of God. Seeing and hearing are engaged fully as the word of God nears.

¨      Their sound and motion stop when the voice of God comes from the expanse above them. Their path-blazing is done, God has arrived, and they must be silent. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

D. The Appearance of divine glory in a redemptive covenantal context. – 1:26-28

¨      The throne means that the Potentate of all creation is now making his appearance to call Ezekiel to be his servant in the way the living creatures manifest perfect and immediate service to him.

¨      This vision is peculiarly instructive of the redemptive purpose of God in preserving his people. Had Ezekiel been able to see fully the meaning of this vision (Romans 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:10, 11) it would have been compelling. He would have seen that God was determined to preserve his people through their exile for his redemptive purpose was to be carried out through them and the “Son of Man” that would arise from the tribe of Judah and fulfill all the types involved in the tribe of Levi.

¨      His likeness to man was a foreshadowing of the incarnation. That both above the waist and below the waist this human likeness was embedded in fire and gleaming metal shows that both humanity and divinity would be inseparably united in the single person of the redeemer.

¨      That the brightness was in appearance as a rainbow shows that this is a covenantal appearance of God. He is coming as a God that condescends to sinful man in his mercy to make a means to avoid his destruction.(Genesis 9:8-17) Though the bow was a sign to all living things, not to destroy the world by the waters of a flood, it nevertheless implied that God would in the future deal with human sinfulness in the way of judgment in another way. (2 Peter 3:5-13).

¨      Ezekiel saw the glory of God in this bright appearing, and he heard the voice of God and fell on his face. This is reminiscent of the appearance of the glory of God to Moses in Exodus 33, 34. Moses had been the chief recipient of the covenantal arrangement of Yahweh with Israel, had desired to see the divine glory, and was given that grace. As God passed before him he said, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the father’s on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” This message that Moses received constituted much of what Ezekiel would reinforce in his specific messages to the exiles and the remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem.

IV. The Content of the Call – 2:1-10

A. Verses 1, 2 – Note that what God called Ezekiel to do, the Spirit actually did for him. “Son of man, stand. . . . the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet.” This is a personal experience of what he would prophesy about God’s covenant , “I will put my Spirit within you.”

B. Verses 3, 4 – God announced to Ezekiel the character of the people to whom he was being sent. It was to his own countrymen, not to a people of a different tongue without the revealed will of God (3:6, 7), but to these that had the fathers, the promises, the Law, and the sacrifices. This truth of their consistent rebellion against God might not have been obvious to Ezekiel since the form of religion was very much alive, but God was preparing him for the dullness of heart that he would encounter and was giving him insight into the damning sin of cold-heartedness about the worship of the one true and living God.

C. Verse 5-10 – Since this would not be a pleasing or affirming ministry, Ezekiel must know that his words were to be faithful to the revelation he received whether they received it or not. Outward failure would not matter if he were but faithful to that specific message given him by God. The truth of God must become a part of his very being, it must be his life food. Even though God gave him a message, there would be times when the people would be deprived of that message and thus deprived of saving warning and instruction (3:22-27).

V. Ezekiel is told to simulate in various ways the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and then is given a message about God’s anger toward them – chapters 4, 5, 6:1-7.

VI. God reveals the purpose of this purging and continues his work on the principle of grace toward the remnant – 6:7-10

A. Verse 6:7 summarizes the destruction of Jerusalem and its intent. Many will be slain by famine, pestilence and sword and those remaining will know that this is the judgment of a holy and jealous God.

B. This knowledge will then lead to a true self-knowledge and repentance

¨      With such a massive degree of death and slaughter, nevertheless, God keeps alive a remnant that he scatters through other countries through exile, capture, and escape.

¨      In that condition they will call to mind that this, and even worse punishment, is their due for they have been incessantly rebellious. They have perverted the revealed worship given them, have polluted it with the corrupt idolatry of the nations around them, and have not honored God or been grateful for his having given them a privilege above all other nations. They took their gracious position for granted, believed it was something that they could take and mold to their own purposes. They will “be loathsome in their own sight for the evils they have committed.”

¨      God’s dealing so thoroughly and with such rigor with them was not in vain, but the means by which they would know that he is the Lord.

VII.  Applications

A. Faithfulness to divine revelation supersedes any earthly relationship. Sometimes our love for God and his word might be tested in the context of familial relationships. Jesus himself said, “If any man love father or mother more than me, he cannot be my disciple.” See Matthew 10:36, 37

B. The Bible is the story of God’s redemptive purpose. Every event recorded there is for the purpose of moving us along toward a clearer understanding of God’s faithfulness.

¨      This faithfulness involves first of all the setting of history as the arena in which the attributes of God will be manifest for all living beings to see. If it is not understood now, eventually it will be seen clearly. See Revelation 4 as an interesting parallel to Ezekiel 1 with an interpretive statement concerning the purposes of God’s creation and providence.

¨      This faithfulness involves the establishing of covenants, first of all within himself and, that in turn, reach out to his creatures, that he will accomplish without fail. In the covenant of redemption, the roles fitting to the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit are executed infallibly (See John 17:1-3; Hebrews 9:14; 10:5-10; 13:20, 21; 2 Timothy 1:9-12; Titus 1:1-3)

¨      This faithfulness means that the remnant of the earth’s inhabitants known as the elect of God will certainly be brought to faith and forgiveness in accord with God’s ordained means. Compare Romans 9:22-29

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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