The Expository Files

The Appearance of the Likeness of the Glory of the Lord

Ezekiel 1

It has never been an easy thing to think about God. I can talk about His attributes easily enough. I can say He is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, glorious, love and righteousness. But I cannot come up with a mental picture of God. Others have tired to and have failed. He does not look like man, or any other creature of flesh and blood. God is spirit. (John 4:24; Luke 24:36-39; Romans 1:21-23).

But we do have a picture of God's glory. Want to see it?

It is a "word picture" which is designed to bring to our minds a mental image that expresses something about God's glory in terms the human mind can comprehend. It was not concocted by the imperfect mind of man, but rather a picture God chose Himself. Let's look at the picture God paints of Himself!

Ezekiel's Vision
"...the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God... the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest... in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and there the hand of the LORD was upon him." (Ezekiel 1:1-3).

This occurred in the 5th month of the year 593 B.C. We know this from the information given in verse two.

Ezekiel was far from home. He, along with ten thousand other leaders of Judah, had been taken into captivity during the first deportation by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (or Chaldea). Soon, according to prophecy , there would be yet more deportations and finally the city of Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed. This would also be fulfilled the following decade.

Ezekiel and others were relocated by the River of Chebar. Recent excavations have uncovered Jewish settlements there giving further evidence that this account is historically accurate.

It is here that the "word of the Lord" came to Ezekiel in the form of a vision. In dealing with visions and their meanings, it is best to keep it simple. For example, if I say "cat" you picture a "cat" in your mind. You do not get bogged down with the history of the word; the sound one makes when he says the word, and so forth. Just look at the symbols shown to Ezekiel and consider what each one might suggest about God.

God's Purpose
"And as I looked, behold, a great storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire." (Ezekiel 1:4).

In verse 4-21, we have a description of heavenly purposes being fulfilled. The words "like" and "likeness" occurs some 15 times in these verses. This suggests the inadequacy of human language to convey exactly what Ezekiel saw. The best that could be done was to find earthly things in the human experience that were "like" the things in the vision.

Out of the dark cloud descending from the north Ezekiel sees figures resembling four living things (vs. 5). They looked somewhat human in form, but closer examination shows otherwise. They each had four wings (freedom of movement) faces (seeing every direction; vs. 6). This would suggest ability to know and act in whatever way God commands.

Their feet were glowing (purity of purpose; vs. 7) and hands (helping hands; working hands; vs. 8). Their faces never changed direction (singleness of purpose; vs. 9). The four faces on each creature were different (vs. 10). Each had the face of a man (reason); lion (majesty); ox (strength) and eagle (swiftness).

The tips of their wings touched one another (unity; vs 11). There was flashes of light coming from the midst of these beings, perhaps suggesting judgment (vs. 13,14). There is a description of wheels (vs. 16-21). Forget about designing one of these yourself! Suggested is that the steady, ongoing work of God will continue through all obstacles and conflict. God's purpose will always prevail!

God in His Glory
"Now, over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse... above the expanse that was over their hands there was something resembling a throne, and on that which resembled a throne was a figure..." (Ezekiel 1:22-26).

First, we are called to look at the throne of God, sitting on something like an awesome, gleaming crystal platform (vs. 22,23). This vision is complete with audio, and there are three similes used to describe the sounds Ezekiel was hearing (vs. 24,25). There was the sound like abundant waters; the sound like the voice of the Almighty (thunder; Psalm 29:3,5) and the sound like that of an army on the move. These sounds came from the wings of the creatures. When the wings stopped, so did the sounds.

The figure on the throne was like that of a man, but the upper portion was like glowing metal with fire all around it. The lower portion was like fire, and there was a radiant, multi-colored glow all around Him, like a rainbow, the sign of hope (vs. 26-28). Out of the dark, flashing cloud of judgment comes peace and hope. Other passages also describe the glory of God (Exodus 33:20; 19:16-18; 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10).

God then speaks to Ezekiel. "Then He said to me, 'Son of man, stand up that I may speak to you!" (Ezekiel 2:1). He speaks to Ezekiel about judgment upon the people for their faithlessness. He speaks to Ezekiel of his mission to speak to them whether they will listen or not. He also speaks of mercy which will be extended to those who will repent.

God still speaks to us today. It is the same God; no different from the One of Ezekiel's vision. His purposes will be accomplished. He has not been silent and speaks to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:3). We'd best be listening to and obeying Him!

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 8.8; August 2001