Ezekiel was a young priest when the Lord allowed the armies of Babylon to invade Jerusalem. It was an act of punishment, and it did not come without warning. God had sent His prophets to call His people to repentance and revival, but they would not listen.
When the invasion happened, Ezekiel was among thousands of young Israelite men who were captured and taken to Babylon. While he was there God appeared to him in a shockingly dramatic vision, one like we read about only a few other times in Scripture. In fact, the descriptions of the visions of God to Isaiah (see Isaiah 6) and John (see Revelation 4) use similar images and language to what we read today in Ezekiel chapter 1.
This vision changed the course of Ezekiel’s life. The young priest who hoped to return to Jerusalem someday to serve in the Temple became a prophet who said and did unusual — and downright strange — things to speak truth into the lives of his exiled countrymen. After his initial vision of God and calling as a prophet, Ezekiel preached to clarify the reason for their exile (sin) and to deliver a message of future hope. That is God’s way — righteous and holy and judging sin, but unwilling to leave His people without explanation, future direction, and hope for the future.
Ezekiel was probably leading a riverside worship service for his fellow exiles when he felt the hand of the Lord take hold of him (v.1-3). Suddenly, an other-worldly storm front rushed in from the north, flashing with continual lightning strikes that lit the sky. From out of the clouds overhead, Ezekiel saw “four living creatures” zoom into earth’s atmosphere. The shining extraterrestrials were “darting to and fro” on massive “wheels”, some kind of amazing dual-axis rotors that generated a deafening sound and caused the beings to roll and hover with lightning speed. God had Ezekiel’s attention.
The creatures should be understood as symbolic of God’s perfect nature. Each of them had four faces: lion, ox, eagle, and human. It has often been suggested that the lion represents strength and majesty; the ox (a beast of burden), service; the eagle (which flies high and sees for miles with sharp vision), exaltation and sovereignty; and the human, intelligence. Some even see a connection between the creatures’ faces and the four gospels: Matthew presents Jesus as the Lion of Judah; Mark portrays Him as the servant (like the ox), carrying the burden of the cross; Luke shows Him as the perfect Man; and John presents Him like an eagle, exalted and sovereign.
These beings were amazing, but they were only the introduction for Almighty God Himself. To borrow a phrase from Lecrae, they were just “a trail of stardust leading to the Superstar”. The Lord came into focus in a flash and glow of brilliant glory-light (v.26-28). He was seated on His throne (as Isaiah had seen Him, see Isaiah 6:1), majestic and in control. Ezekiel saw Him as we should see Him: over everyone and everything (v.26). And Ezekiel’s response should be our response: surrender and awe and worship (v.28).
I hope that in reading this chapter today you will catch a new vision of God’s glory. I hope that vision will strengthen you. Just knowing that a God of such awesome power is on your side ought to give you confidence as you face the day. And I hope that as you spend time in His presence, you will hear Him speaking as Ezekiel did.