Ezekiel I. Experiencing God in a Time of National Catastrophe.

Key Notes:Who gets the mesage? A vision of God visiting Judah. Four faces of the cherubim. The kings of Judah.

Ezekiel was one of three key servants of God working at the time of Israel's catastrophe--the destruction of Jerusalem and exile into Babylon, 586–587BC. Daniel was in the court of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah was on duty inside the siege of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was sitting with the exiles in Babylon. From this book, we gather that Israel was still rebellious and unrepentant. The text is abrasive and painful even to the modern reader. It is a dark book, but with flashes of brilliant light. It rewards the student with profound insights about God, prophecy, history, and human behavior.

An outline of Ezekiel is in four parts:
 1–24. Prophecies of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem.
25–32 Judgment on surrounding nations: Edom, Ammon, Moab, Philistia, Tyre and Sidon.
33–39 The restoration of Israel.
40–48 A new temple.

The puzzle of Ezekiel is that while he was among the exiles in Babylon, his messages were also directed to Judah and Jerusalem, some 700 miles away and in territory fought over by the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Some of his prophecies were acted out for the people around him in Babylon. Doubtless they were not be happily received because they were painful and fiery. How could his messages be transmitted to Jerusalem? We might wonder why they were written so far away when Jeremiah was on duty in Jerusalem during the fall of the city to the Babylonians. The problem is so obvious that some interpreters have advanced the hypothesis that Ezekiel was not in Babylon at all, but living near Gilgal in Israel.

This raises another more general question. A number of OT prophets wrote about the nation-states around them. Isaiah pronounced judgments on Ethiopia, Assyria, Babylon and Arabia as well as those nations surrounding Israel and Judah. Nahum's message is a denunciation of Ninevah. Did these messages ever reach their primary audiences, or were they intended only as consolations for Israel? How was written communication delivered in the ancient world? Could the prophet trust his message to camel-drivers and traders? Did the prophets have personal ambassadors?
    
Each lesson in this series contains spiritual messages. The most important lesson of the book is "...and they shall know that I am the Lord." It is repeated 65 times in the book. Like the other Bible studies, these notes are not a substitute for personal study but a support to the student's efforts.

"Ezekiel saw the wheel."

1:1–3 A vision was given to a 30 year-old priest, Ezekiel ("God is strength"), son of Buzi ("contempt") in the 5th year of the exile of Jehoiachin who had been king in Jerusalem. It was 593 BC, during the destruction of Judah which extended over twenty years, from 606–587BC. He was exiled with other Judeans living in Babylonian Chaldea by the River Chebar. They were not prisoners, but subject to the Babylonian government.

1:4–28 The vision started with a windstorm out of the north, then lightning, and a cloud with four creatures appearing in the center. The four creatures had four faces: a man (front), a lion (right), an ox (left), and an eagle (back). They had four wings, two covering their bodies, and two for flying. They looked like transparent gold and their wings touched each other.  Above them was a platform with a throne of deep blue and a man-figure seated on it, blazing like fire. There was a complex wheel beside each creature, perhaps like a gyroscope, and the unit was in motion, moving in any of four compass directions without turning. The rims were full of eyes. [God sees everything.] Around the whole was a rainbow, a symbol of hope. The sound was a loud roar like the thunder of the Almighty. This was the appearance of the glory of the Lord. Ezekiel fell on his face.

Discussion:

"Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air." This happy song takes a light view of an extremely sober subject, the vision of God coming to the destruction of the Hebrew homeland, His image awesome and frightening. The figure on the throne resembles the description of Christ in Rev. 1. Since John 1:18 says "no one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father has made Him known," we believe that the appearances of God in the OT are of Christ in his pre-incarnate form. The best direct proof that OT physical representations of God refer to Christ is in Isaiah 6, cited in John 12:40.  
 
The puzzle is about the four living creatures, called cherubim in Ezek.9:4 and their faces, faces of four other creatures.
*Cherubim guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were forced out. Gen. 3:24 
*God sits "enthroned upon the cherubim". Psa. 80:l; 99:1; I Sam 4:4; II Sam 6:2; IIK’:15
*Two cherubim were carved facing each other on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. Ex. 25:18. Their figures were woven into the tabernacle fabric and the veil. These four faces also are seen on the four living creatures in Revelation 4:7.

Commentators have correlated the faces with the Gospel images of Jesus.

Four faces----------------Four Gospels
man: thinking, creative---- Luke. Christ, the Son of man
ox: serving, suffering-------Mark. Christ, the Servant of God  
lion: ruling-----------------Matthew. Christ the Messiah-King of Israel
eagle: soaring, seeing------John. Christ the God-man

How did it happen that God and this man Ezekiel had such an overwhelming, awesome encounter? We have to review the events of 500 years which have led to this time of judgment.

1000BC David was King. Israel was united and strong. Her territory stretched from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates.
970BC. Solomon was King. Israel was prosperous and peaceful but Solomon became a slave to his wives and their pagan gods.

930BC. As a judgment against Solomon God divided the kingdom into Judah and Benjamin with Jerusalem in the south, and the ten northern tribes called Israel with Samaria as their capital. Israel quickly became apostate, and never recovered in spite of the work of Elijah and Elisha, Obadiah, Joel, Amos and other prophets. She did not have even one good king in 20.

Judah had eight good kings: Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah. But each of these good kings made a major spiritual blunder of arrogance and rebellion. The majority of the kings were  corrupt. The evils they did were the same or worse than the Canaanites had done before them.

720BC.  God gave Israel (Samaria) into the hands of the Assyrians and that part of the nation disappeared. (IIK 17). Isaiah and Hosea were their prophets in the crisis.

690BC. Manasseh was king of Judah and the nation was at a low ebb, far from God. He was the worst of Judah's twenty kings, a violent man, and God vowed at that time to put Judah out of the land.
    
640BC. Josiah was king for 31 years. He made many religious reforms, but the nation did not follow him. God gave Judah a reprieve, but not a pardon. Josiah was killed by Pharaoh, who was heading north to fight the Babylonians.

609BC. Jehoahaz was king for three months and was deported to Egypt. Pharaoh replaced him with his brother Jehoiakim.
609BC. Jehoiakim reigned wickedly for 12 years.

605BC. In the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar crushed the power of Egypt and Assyria. His troops made the first Babylonian raid on Jerusalem. Daniel went to Babylon with the first captives, a group of nobles.

597BC. Jehoiachin reigned for three months until Nebuchadnezzar took him to Babylon. Ezekiel was among the deportees.
597BC. Zedekiah survived ten years as a client of Nebuchadnezzar. When he rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. Judah was deported to Babylon.  Jeremiah was left behind with the tiny remnant to maintain the land.

The good news was that the Babylonian captivity came to an end 536BC when rebuilding of the Temple began.

In summary, 593BC was a very sad and messy time. The nation of Judah, a pitiful remnant of David's kingdom, was dying spiritually, physically and politically. But God was there. He sent Ezekiel among the exiles to remind them of their sins and to offer them salvation as well.

What did God communicate to Ezekiel by the vision? He saw a royal carriage, with a throne carried on the wings of angels. The angels were at the four corners of the carriage with wheels at their feet. There was brilliant light and lightning, and fire. Gold, blue and bronze were the colors. The sound was like a tumult. This was a visible picture of the glory of God. The main message was that God in His Glory was coming in judgment through the forces of an alien army.

Yet again 500 years later, God would communicate with Israel, not by a prophet, but by the Christ Himself bringing healing and salvation to Israel, one more time to a disobedient and gainsaying people.

God Strengthens. D. Thomas. Evangelical Press. 2003 is a good up-to-date commentary on Ezekiel.