The Word Made Fresh
1On the fifth day of the fourth month in the thirtieth year, as I stood among the exiles by the Chebar river, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions sent by God. 2It was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile, and on the fifth day of that month 3the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans beside the Chebar river. And there the hand of the LORD was on him.
4As I watched; a windstorm came out of the north. There was a great cloud edged with light with lightning flashing continuously. In the middle of the brightness there was something like shiny amber, 5and four creatures of some kind were in the middle of it. They looked like people, 6but each one had four faces and four wings. 7Their legs were straight, with feet like the soles of calves’ feet, sparkling like polished bronze. 8They had human hands under their four wings, and their four faces and wings were arranged like this: 9their wings touched each other, and each of them moved straight ahead without turning. 10Their faces appeared human, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side was the face of an ox, and each also had the face of an eagle; 11that’s what their faces looked like. Their wings were spread over them. Each creature had two wings that touched the wing of another creature, and their other two wings covered their bodies. 12Each creature moved straight ahead, going wherever the spirit led them, and they went without turning. 13They appeared as something resembling burning coals of fire, and something like torches moved back and forth among them. Their fire was bright as if lightning was coming from it. 14They darted here and there like flashes of lightning.
15As I watched, I saw wheels on the ground beside the creatures, one wheel for each of the four of them. 16The wheels looked like gleaming beryl crystals. The four wheels looked alike, and each seemed to be shaped like a wheel within a wheel. 17They moved without wavering in any of the four directions. 18Each had tall and frightening rims, for they were full of eyes all around. 19When the creatures moved the wheels moved with them. When they rose above the ground the wheels rose with them. 20The creatures went wherever the spirit went, and the wheels rose along with them. The spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21When the spirit moved, they all moved, and when the spirit stopped, they all stopped. When they rose above the ground the wheels rose with them; the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22Something like a dome appeared over their heads, a dome shining like crystal, spread out above them. 23Under the dome their wings were stretched out straight toward one another. Each creature had two wings covering its body. 24When they moved I could hear the sound of their wings, like a mighty roar, like thunder sent by El Shaddai. It sounded like an army. When they stopped, they let their wings droop. 25Then came a voice from above the dome over their heads.
26Above the dome was something like a throne made of sapphire and seated above it was something that appeared to be human. 27Above what looked like its midsection I saw something like amber, gleaming with something like fire surrounding it. It was splendid all around, 28with the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day.
This was like the appearance of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down. Then I heard the voice of someone speaking.
1-3: Fasten your seat belt; you’re in for a pretty wild ride compared to the prophets we’ve read so far. Ezekiel is among the exiles in Babylon. The river Chebar was actually a canal, part of an intricate system that watered the area around the capital. Scholars believe the Judean exiles were put there in a locale known as Tel Abib, an area perhaps demolished during previous wars, making it a mound, which in Hebrew is “tel.” “In the thirtieth year” can best be understood as a reference to Ezekiel’s age. He was a priest, a descendent of Aaron, and as such would be eligible for ordination at the age of thirty (Leviticus 4:3, 23, 30). His “ordination,” however, will be a strange and powerful vision, quite different from the ordination ritual that would have been the case at the temple in Jerusalem. Verse 2 gives us a more specific date: it is during the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, which places Ezekiel’s premiere vision sometime in the year 593 B.C. You will notice that Ezekiel is the speaker in verse one, but an observer/narrator is speaking in verses 2 and 3, leading scholars to speculate that these two verses were added later to help clarify the “thirtieth year” reference.
4-14: The vision is powerful and strange. Keep in mind that what he is describing is not an actual storm but the vision of a storm within a sort of window frame (“the heavens were opened” – verse 1) allowing him to look into God’s abode. He sees a storm approaching from the north (the direction from which God’s judgment comes) that carries within it four “living creatures” of fantastic appearance. Their appearance is described in great detail, yet in such a way that we cannot envision exactly what they looked like.
15-21: The four creatures are grounded by something that looks like gigantic wheels with eyes in their rims. These wheels contain the life force – the spirit – of the four creatures, and Ezekiel is treated to a weird ballet between the creatures and their moving wheels, now rising and falling, now darting this way and that.
22-25: A shiny dome (“firmament” as in Genesis 1:6) appears in the space above the heads of the creatures and a sound accompanies the creatures when they move, a sound like rushing waters. Ezekiel hears a voice above the dome, but as yet no distinct words.
26-28: Now Ezekiel sees the “likeness of the glory of the LORD;” not the actual glory of the LORD but merely a likeness of that glory. Indeed, everything he sees at this juncture is described as being the “likeness” of something and not the actual thing itself. Above something that looks like a shining dome he sees something that looks like a throne over which is something that looks like a human being with fire for legs and upper body, only the midsection actually discernible. The whole thing is surrounded by a splendor that resembles a rainbow. All of this together, he says, was something that looked like the glory of the LORD, and he hears the voice of “Someone” speaking.
At this point Ezekiel falls face down. What took him so long?
Ezekiel is a different kind of literature than what we have read thus far, and its strangeness will not have a rival until we get to Revelation. Enjoy this book – try to envision the scenes being described. Imagine yourself standing with Ezekiel in the land of the Chaldeans – Babylon – where he has been exiled with his people from Jerusalem. You are looking over the Chebar canal, and the vision appears in the sky, but almost close enough to touch.