There the hand of the LORD was on him.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So reads the opening line of Charles Dickens’s classic novel A Tale of Two Cities. It’s a good description and assessment of the life and times of Ezekiel too. Back in Jerusalem it was the worst of times – the loss of covenant land, the temple destroyed, its anointed king and thousands of its people were taken into captivity by the invading Babylonians. It was to be a 70 year long, dark time of bondage, exile and desolation. This led to a crisis of faith expressed in the words of Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” For Babylon it was the best of times as a conquering nation. They were seen everywhere in their wealth, military might, cultural and educational expertise. There was also the world renown wonder of their hanging gardens and pagan religious gods with their impressive temples. It was here that Ezekiel was found in an alien land, amongst an alien people. But it was there by the Chebar river that God turns up to speak His word, reveal His purpose, display His character and “there” he lovingly places his hand on his servant. God was near. Near and close to reassure, strengthen and encourage Ezekiel.
Ezekiel may have read many times the wonderful verses of Psalm 139, “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me,” vs 5 and then vs 10 “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Ezekiel would have known that the phrase is used figuratively in Scripture to describe the closeness of God. It was also a description of His creative and sustaining power, His care, guiding and protecting love. All this and much more is being communicated to Ezekiel not in the familiar circumstances of home ground but “there“ in a strange land as a minority, marginalised believer where his life now knew the limitations and restrictions of a difficult period in God’s plan. But God wasn’t restricted in His ability to open the heavens and to show Ezekiel visions of Himself. The eternal world and the eternal, infinite God turns up where he decides and plans. Wherever we are today and whatever our circumstances the Lord is “there”. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6)
The main vision here in Chapter 1 is of Almighty God enthroned on a spectacular, awesome mobile throne supported by creatures and moving on wheels. The chariot wheels of the enemy may be threatening but they cannot compare with these spectacular, awesome four-dimensional wheels. God’s Sovereignty is no static, immoveable, limited or abstract truth located and restricted by one place or time. Rather it is always on the move, dynamically mobile and entering into new situations, creatively responding to new challenges facing the Lord’s people. The thrilling culmination of the vision is a glimpse “high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man” (1:26). This is a preview of the day the God-Man Jesus will be on the throne. The time when his humiliation will be reversed by resurrection and ascension. His captivity over and the sovereign rule and reign of the gospel age has begun. The vision also includes a symbolic rainbow reminding Ezekiel and all those with him that His Covenant promise is still alive to preserve His people and through them His saving plans and purpose.
Today as believers we are in a minority and marginalised as if in a captivity of an atheistic, secular culture which denies God and Christ. But let’s look and see the vision of a splendid, magnificent throne with Almighty God seated upon it and our perfect representative man – Jesus is there too. May we today know his hand of grace and mercy being stretched forth to rest upon us for our support, strength and security.
Meirion Thomas, Malpas Road