The Bible begins with God and man in perfect harmony. Genesis tells us that it wasn’t until after the fall that “the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Gen. 3:8). Because of sin, God’s presence was no longer a comfort but a terror. It was no longer something to seek and enjoy but to shun and cower from.

Much of the biblical storyline revolves around the presence of God. From the garden to the tabernacle to the temple to the incarnation to the indwelling Holy Spirit and the new Jerusalem. One could argue that God’s presence is the central storyline, the common thread that ties the Bible together.

Ezekiel’s Vision of Yahweh

One of the essential attributes of God is his omnipresence (see this blog post; cf. Psalm 139:7–12 ). Thus, we must make a distinction between his omnipresence and his localized or manifest presence. One unexpected manifestations of God’s presence marked the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry as a prophet. This is how Christopher J. H. Wright introduces this extraordinary vision in Ezekiel 1:1–28:

For Ezekiel, however, the personal significance of the day was far greater than its place in the exiles’ forlorn royal calendar. It was his thirtieth birthday, and he was the son of Buzi, the priest. According to Numbers 4, Levites were eligible for their sacred work between the ages of thirty and fifty. Ezekiel would have grown up for twenty-five years in Jerusalem and known the workings of the temple and its priesthood intimately. He had probably trained for the day when he would enter that holy service himself—perhaps on his thirtieth birthday.

Now that birthday had come, but where was he? Not in the temple in Zion, but on the other side of the world. Not in the focal point of the holiness of Yahweh’s presence among his people in his own land, but in an unclean land, surrounded by idolatry and polytheism, mocked by his captors. No birthday-party songs were sung by the side of the canal that day. More likely he sang something like Psalm 137. And yet, by the end of this day when he should have become a priest, Ezekiel had been called (if that is not too weak a word for the awesome experience) to be a prophet.

Let’s keep learning about the significance of God’s presence in this vision of Ezekiel’s. Here is an excerpt from Christopher J. H. Wright’s excellent commentary on Ezekiel in the Bible Speaks Today series.

The Reality of God’s Presence

Pausing for a moment as Ezekiel lies prostrate, what does it all mean? Starting from the climax at the end, we know that the whole colossal phenomenon was a manifestation of the glory of Yahweh. The word (kāḇôḏ) is, of course, richly significant in the Bible, and for Ezekiel it had profound depths. His whole ministry was virtually framed on the one hand by the awful sight of this glory of Yahweh departing from the temple (chs. 8–10), and on the other hand by the joy of its returning there in his final vision (43:1–5). The word essentially has to do with ‘weight’, or ‘substance’. It portrays the sense of God’s majestic reality, the overwhelming power of his presence, the ‘weight’ of his eternal Being. At least four other dimensions of the glory of Yahweh are implied in the dynamic symbolism of Ezekiel’s vision.

The Transcendence of God

First, it portrays the transcendence of God. Isaiah managed to convey the same impression in far fewer words, but the point is the same. Yahweh is the God who is exalted above all else—above the earth, above whatever spiritual beings the four living creatures represent, above the very heavens. There is a distance and a separation in the vision, even though the throne and the one seated there can be glimpsed through the crystal platform beneath them. This sense of enormous altitude, of cosmic exaltation, pervades the worship of Israel.

It does not deny his nearness—another equally precious article of Israel’s faith and experience—but it does warn us against any kind of chummy familiarity that fails to acknowledge that the God who, with incredible grace, chooses to live in friendship with the humble, is the transcendent occupant of the throne of the universe. Ezekiel’s posture—flat on his face—is a good place to start in response to such awareness.

The Sovereignty of God

Secondly, it portrays the universal sovereignty of God. The image of a throne in itself speaks of authority and power, as it does elsewhere throughout the Bible. Yahweh’s throne is the seat of his rule over history, through his kingship over earthly kings; it is the place of his exercise of righteousness and justice. But the somewhat static image of a throne has been transformed in Ezekiel’s vision into a highly mobile, dynamic scene, in which Yahweh’s presence and all-seeing eye can be anywhere at any time, throughout all four corners of the earth. And that sovereign presence is directed solely by God himself, through ‘the spirit’ (12; 20; 21).

Yahweh is Here

Thirdly, and by the very location of the vision itself, Yahweh is here. The place where he seemed to be absent and the place where his people seemed to be utterly rejected has been transformed by this tumultuous invasion. Even if the idea of Yahweh’s omnipresence had been a vague part of Israel’s faith, the exile must have shattered any expectation of it being really true any longer. As we have seen, for many Israelites Yahweh was defeated, disabled, disgraced, and certainly very, very distant.

There is no reason to imagine that Ezekiel would have been immune to the doubts and questions that would have settled like the dust of the Mesopotamian plains on the huts of the exiles. For five years he had mourned and wondered and questioned. Five years is a long time for a refugee. The conclusion that Yahweh had abandoned them must have been close to irresistible—until today, his thirtieth birthday. Yahweh, in all his kingdom, power and glory, has arrived in Babylon. No border guards can keep him out. No place on earth is barred to the throne-chariot of this God. He was there.

The combination of the second and third points above is important for us in holding a proper balance between our faith in God’s universal sovereignty over the global realities of our world and our practiced awareness of his active presence in the more local and daily affairs of our lives. God is everywhere and in charge. God is here and in action. What impact should such combined truths have on the choices and commitments that govern our lives?

Yahweh’s Holy Presence

But fourthly, although there must have been great comfort in realizing that Yahweh was present in Babylon, the vision made it clear that the predominant mood of his presence was one of continuing judgment. This is clear from the repeated imagery of fire. Fire and lightning flashed from the windstorm as it approached (4). The four living creatures were themselves like burning coals (13), or flashes of lightning (14), and seemed to move in a blazing fiery environment. The human figure on the throne seemed full of fire (27), above and below the waist. Though it is not explicit that all this speaks of the fire of God’s judgment, this certainly is how the vision will develop on a later occasion (10:1–7).

Furthermore, the picture of Yahweh riding on a fiery storm-chariot is certainly found elsewhere as a terrifying picture of his wrath in action. And that will be the dominant theme of Ezekiel’s message in the early years of his ministry.

The wrath of God had indeed fallen on Jerusalem in that first deportation of 597, but it was far from exhausted. Much worse was yet to come. Ezekiel would literally strain every nerve in his body to communicate that message before he would give messages of hope and comfort. He would be commissioned to launch passionate evangelistic appeals at his people. God would entrust him with words of the most incredible grace and restoration. But first he must confront the reality of the God he and his people were dealing with. Yahweh was present in Babylon in all his glory, but for now that glory was only felt in the blinding light and heat of his anger.

The Bible Speaks Today Commentary Set

The late John R. W. Stott, an editor for the series, described the Bible Speaks Today commentaries with the “threefold ideal . . . to expound the biblical text with accuracy, to relate it to contemporary life and to be readable.” Visit our store today to learn more about this series.

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