Today we will begin a look at the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. While Jeremiah did most of his work in Jerusalem, Ezekiel did his work while with the exiles in Babylon. Ezekiel was a priest from Jerusalem. However, after he was taken into captivity he was unable to perform his priestly duties. Ezekiel, still, worked to bring encouragement to the exiles, often in unconventional ways as we will discover.
"In the nineteenth year, in the fourth month of the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens opened and I saw visions of God." (Ezekiel 1:1)
The first twenty-four chapters contain Ezekiel's visions and pronouncements dating between 593BCE and the fall of Jerusalem in 587. Ezekiel's vision takes place in Babylon. His experience is very similar to that of Moses, Elijah and Isaiah. God appears to him by way of a windstorm, clouds and lightening. (Ez. 1:4-5)
O.K., in order to understand the Book of Ezekiel we again must remember all that we have learned so far about the exile of the people. Remember, Jerusalem fell along with the temple and some of the people were taken to Babylon, while others were left behind. Ezekiel was taken into exile along with almost 5,000 other people. Who were taken to Babylon and who were left behind? The people who were taken were leaders of the community; royalty, scribes, counselors, craftsmen, and religious leaders. Who stayed? Those who had little or nothing to offer.
The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple were traumatizing events for the Judeans. It was as though they lost a loved one. Ezekiel was somewhat of a counselor to the people. Much like Jeremiah, Ezekiel did not serve to give the people a false hope. There was hope, and God would act, but it may not be anytime soon. Still, Ezekiel's message was; "You never give up hope." Ezekiel's pastoral support was to expose the people's responsibility for the disaster that befell them. Their only hope for recovery was to change.
"The center of the fire looked like glowing metal and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man...This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." (Ez. 1:5b,28b)
I skipped a lot of scripture here, but I encourage you to read the entire passage. The imagery is very interesting with wings, different animals and lots of wheels. "I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces." (Ez. 1:15b) This is quite a visual. What is it about? Again, the people were lamenting the fact their temple had been destroyed. However, it was not just about the building. If the temple housed God, and the house was destroyed, then where was God? Many believed that God went into the wilderness as we discovered in Isaiah. Anyhow, the people are now a long way away from Jerusalem and what was left of the temple. Wherever God was, they were a long way away from God. Also, when the people were led away into captivity they were taken the long way around the desert areas to get to their destination. So, what then is this vision about? Ezekiel is declaring, or God is declaring, that regardless of where God went or has been, God will not stay there. In fact, exile will not keep God from coming to the rescue of his people. God may have been "housed" in the temple. Perhaps God then went out into the wilderness..., but God now has a set of wheels. This vision declares that God will come to wherever the people are.
Oh, there is nothing like a set of headlights that you recognize. Years ago when I was still at home my father was a truck driver. I knew his routes and how long it would take him to return home. From our window you could look down the stretch of highway that ended with a curve. I would look down toward that curve and follow with my eyes each vehicle as it made its way toward my house. I knew my dad's headlights. I would watch for those lights and with delight would shout "It's Dad! He's coming!" Well, a few years later I got married...in West Virginia. My new bride and I made our way back home...to Missouri. We broke down... in Indiana. My wife, whom I hardly knew (true story) started crying for her mother. The more I bravely declared: "don't worry, I'll take care of you," the more she cried for her mother. Of course, in 1989 there were no cell phones. And, we were on the interstate. Thankfully, an Indiana State Police Trooper stopped to help us. I called home and explained to my Dad our dilemma. "Don't worry, Son, I'll be there," was his answer. I waited, and waited. Melody cried for her mother some more. We waited, she cried for her mother. I have to say that we had plenty of time to get acquainted as we waited. (we really did not know each other. And, no she was not pregnant.) Then, some of the nicest people, complete strangers, brought us a meal of spaghetti and warms blankets. So, we waited, we talked, we ate, and she cried some more. Then, I saw those headlights. They said only one thing; "Dad is here!" Well, nearly twenty-eight years later we haven't forgotten that experience. Today, we wouldn't trade that experience for anything. For these people in exile they are waiting, they are crying, they are living their lives out in a foreign country, but God has a set of wheels, and God is coming to them.
Tomorrow we will look more at the work of Ezekiel as he tries to get his "message of hope" across. Have a great evening. -Pastor Rick