Ezekiel is probably my favourite Biblical prophet. This may surprise some people that would naturally think because of my sunny disposition and light-hearted attitude that Jeremiah would be the more natural fit for me. I’m pretty certain that Ezekiel was the first book of the Bible that I actually read a commentary on all the way through cover to cover, this was before I really realised that commentaries were a study tool, and using them as a book to read just before bed wasn’t the standard usage.
Ezekiel starts, as headed in the NKJV with Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory, this wonderfully evocative and frankly slightly confusing image of a whirlwind and living creatures coming out of it. Maybe part of the reason I like the book of Ezekiel so much is that he never takes half measures:
“Then I looked and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.” Ez 1:4 NKJV
Now that’s a sentence! Well to be honest it should probably be at least a couple of sentences, and is so split in other versions, but the NKJV’s poetic language suits Ezekiel well, even if it makes comprehension a little more difficult at times. Ezekiel is trying to describe a fantastical sight, a flaming whirlwind, coming out of the northern desert, and then as if that wasn’t amazing enough, he describes four living beings. Again Ezekiel doesn’t skimp on detail, in fact he tries, and despite our lack of understanding and imagination, mostly succeeds, in describing these strange beings, with their multiple wings, and faces, their appearance as of “…torches going back and forth…” and the somewhat famous “wheels within wheels”.
The thing is, all of this, the whirlwind, the creatures, the flames, the wheels, all of it, is but a prelude, for in verse 24, some twenty verses after he begins to describe this scene, he hears a voice “…like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army…”. Ezekiel sees the throne of God, much like Isaiah had done, yet Isaiah, when he saw the throne of God, he fell to his knees declaring that he was unclean, Ezekiel, before he fell on his face, noticed every little detail of the scene, including “…on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it…”
More awkward wording! A likeness of a throne with a likeness of an appearance of an… you get the picture. Ezekiel is struggling with mere words to explain this wonderful sight he is seeing, this glorious apparition, this vision of, in his words, a throne of sapphire, with fire all around it.
The Glory of the Lord, many of us Christians wish that we could see it, maybe some of us even have been blessed with a vision of God’s glory, but a description of God’s Glory was not what pushed me to write this. No in fact it’s a verse not in chapter 1 at all, but in chapter 2:
“And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you, and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, or dismayed by their looks…” Ez 2:6a NKJV
There are a great many passages in Scripture that can encourage us, and give us strength, the multiple “Be Strong and Courageous” commands in Joshua, the promise of Christ at the end of his ministry that he will “…be with us, even unto the ends of the age…”, the promise and fulfilment of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of Christ’s triumphant return. But these few words in Ezekiel don’t get the attention that these more famous, more forthright encouragements get.
“[Even] though briers and thorns are with you, and you dwell among scorpions…” can there be any better description of what our lives in the world are like. The world surrounds us, tearing at us, dragging us, holding us back from our purpose and fulfilment in God, try walking through a patch of plants that have thorns, especially large ones, and you will find your clothes caught and snagged, your forward process slowed, or even stopped. And while this isn’t usually a danger in the wilds of England, our Christian lives are full of the ever present danger of scorpions, temptations, waiting to trip us up, to sting us, to harm us. God is speaking to Ezekiel, and telling him a nice happy encouraging message…this is going to be hard. We have a God that speaks truth, and doesn’t particularly sugar coat thing. Ezekiel, God says, This is going to be hard, yet despite it’s hardship, despite the difficulty “…do not be afraid…”.
There are times that taking that next step forward, whatever it may be is difficult, it feels like something, often our own fear or doubt, and sometimes the words or looks of others, are dragging us back like thorns stuck in our clothing, but we are called, and lead by the example of Christ, to push through the thorns, into the promise.
The first two chapters of Ezekiel start with Glory, and end in thorns. The story of Christ’s death and resurrection, start with thorns and ends in Glory. No matter how much that crown of thorns weighed, no matter how much it cut, and ripped and tore, no matter the pain, humiliation and sacrifice of the cross, it ended with Christ’s ultimate victory, ascension into heaven and His Kingdom come. Our struggle today, and everyday is with the thorns, the promise, the encouragement is that it ends in Glory.
These words in Romans 8, though not about thorns make for a nice conclusion:
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” Rm 8:18-25 NLT