Transplants

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colors came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders.   “ ‘He took one of the seedlings of the land and put it in fertile soil. He planted it like a willow by abundant water, and it sprouted and became a low, spreading vine. Its branches turned toward him, but its roots remained under it. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out leafy boughs.   “ ‘But there was another great eagle with powerful wings and full plumage. The vine now sent out its roots toward him from the plot where it was planted and stretched out its branches to him for water. It had been planted in good soil by abundant water so that it would produce branches, bear fruit and become a splendid vine.’   “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Will it thrive? Will it not be uprooted and stripped of its fruit so that it withers? All its new growth will wither. It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it up by the roots. It has been planted, but will it thrive? Will it not wither completely when the east wind strikes it—wither away in the plot where it grew?’ ”   Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Say to this rebellious people, ‘Do you not know what these things mean?’ Say to them: ‘The king of Babylon went to Jerusalem and carried off her king and her nobles, bringing them back with him to Babylon. Then he took a member of the royal family and made a treaty with him, putting him under oath. He also carried away the leading men of the land, so that the kingdom would be brought low, unable to rise again, surviving only by keeping his treaty. But the king rebelled against him by sending his envoys to Egypt to get horses and a large army. Will he succeed? Will he who does such things escape? Will he break the treaty and yet escape? – Ezekiel 17:1-15 NIV

There is clearly a lot of historical context here that is tied to this specific place and time, but there is also some deeper philosophical water here. God is describing a forcibly transplanted people, the people of Israel. As a gardener this passage holds special meaning to me. Plants are transplanted for a range of reasons. The ones that come to mind are: 1) to increase the success of young plants that may have difficulty starting out; 2) to allow “root bound” plants to continue to grow and send out deep roots to reach water and nutrients; 3) to quickly transform a landscape by planting mature plants. All of these have interesting allegorical significance in light of God’s current and past dealings with His people. Let’s dig into these one at a time.

I have had the blessing of many gardens during my lifetime and I love to plant my own starts in the spring time to get a jump start on gardening before the weather outside is able to support tender plants like tomatoes and peppers.  In raising seedlings it is important to time the planting and transplanting right so that they are not too big or too small when it is time to transplant them into the garden.  God has a similar challenge with the people of Israel.  He knows that in order to grow they need to be moved from their “comfortable coffin” in Jerusalem.  The tricky part is timing.  Transplant them too early and the tender plants will whither under the strain of their new surroundings.  Transplant them too late and they will have become root bound and stuck in their ways — unable to send their roots in the direction they need to send them to reach the real water they need and bear good fruit.

I am a nursery “junky” come spring time. I love to walk through the aisles of young plants dreaming about the gardens and beautiful landscapes they can become. I suspect God looks upon us that way sometimes. We all have such potential when planted in the right location, in good soil, and with access to the Living Water God promises for those who follow Him. All this potential can be lost by stubborn plants who refuse to be moved from their comfortable spot in the greenhouse. Plants left too long in their pots become root bound and/or “leggy”. The green growth is not supported by the improper, or out of proportion, root development. This is an apt description of the people of Israel and their place in Jerusalem, the city of David. It is a comfortable greenhouse and the people of Israel are content becoming root bound in their small pots, but God has dreams of a much more magnificent garden and landscape. He needs to move them to accomplish His “garden”.

God wants to take the these transplants out into the “desert”, i.e. this land of Oblivion, to transform it into a beautiful place.  I think the relationship God has fostered and cared for with the people of Israel was never simply because they were special.  They had a purpose.  That purpose was to bear good fruit and transform the place they were planted into a beautiful place. I think all modern-day God followers have the same position and purpose.  We are are meant to transform our world into a beautiful place, or at least try our best to do so.

We are all transplants from a place that is not like earth, the secret place, God’s greenhouse if you will. Here on earth we are subject to harsh winds, scorching heat, and drenching rains. If we are to survive and thrive we need the care and support of the one who planted us here. We must not only survive, but thrive, where God has planted us and bear the fruit were are intended to bear.

Prayer: God help us to thrive where we are planted. Give us the support we need when the place we have been transplanted to is harsh or unfamiliar.

Posted in Covenant, Discernment, Ezekiel, Following God, garden, God's Love for Us, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | 1 Comment

Washed with Water

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The Washing of the Feet (Le lavement des pieds) by James Tissot

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.   “ ‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”  I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.   “ ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord , and you became mine.   “ ‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord . – Ezekiel 16:1-14

Today’s passage recounts a stark (actually stark naked) beginning to the nation of Israel.  Ezekiel is providing a rich word picture of the beginning of the people of Israel and their relationship with God.  They were as a baby born with no one to care for it, an abandoned infant, unwashed and unclean.  Tossed in a field to fend for itself.  Not a pretty picture of the beginnings of a great nation…kind of like a king being born in a dirty stable full of animals I guess.

God intervened and took pity on this abandoned child and said “I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” “.  God wanted this baby, thrashing about in its own blood, to have a home and a parent to care for it.  He adopted the nation of Israel and cleansed it with water, “I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you”.  God entered a covenant relationship with the people of Israel when they had nothing to contribute to the relationship.  It was God’s reaching arm that saved them rather than their own ability to reach out and “grab” God by the hand.

God then reminds the people that all the adornment and success that followed this initial adoption is a gift from Him – “you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen”  Their “hairy crown” was a result of actions that God took to make them great rather than their own skill and knowledge.

It think there is a very important word for all those who have accepted their status as adopted children of God.  We were all no better than the early Israelites when God “found” us bleeding and thrashing about in the world without Him.  He cleansed us with the living water of His spirit and clothed us with all the righteousness we need to stand in His presence.  We, like the Israelites in this passage, must not forget that all the success and “adornments” that we obtain in this world are gifts from God rather than deserved privileges we have earned.

Prayer: Thank You God for adopting us, cleansing us, and clothing us with all the clothes we need to stand in Your presence.

Posted in Covenant, Ezekiel, Following God, God's Love for Us, Prophecy, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clouds and Cherubim

DSCN6980I looked, and I saw the likeness of a throne of lapis lazuli above the vault that was over the heads of the cherubim. The Lord said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” And as I watched, he went in.   Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord . The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.   When the Lord commanded the man in linen, “Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim,” the man went in and stood beside a wheel. Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took up some of it and put it into the hands of the man in linen, who took it and went out. (Under the wings of the cherubim could be seen what looked like human hands.)   I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like topaz. As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went. Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. I heard the wheels being called “the whirling wheels.” Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.   Then the cherubim rose upward. These were the living creatures I had seen by the Kebar River. When the cherubim moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the cherubim spread their wings to rise from the ground, the wheels did not leave their side. When the cherubim stood still, they also stood still; and when the cherubim rose, they rose with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in them.   Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord ’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.   These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River, and I realized that they were cherubim. Each had four faces and four wings, and under their wings was what looked like human hands. Their faces had the same appearance as those I had seen by the Kebar River. Each one went straight ahead. – Ezekiel 10:1-22

Today’s passage marks a return to the complicated and sometimes fantastic imagery here in Ezekiel. Ezekiel is having a vision of Jerusalem as he resides on the banks if the Kebar River with the exiles. The last two chapters have described a judgement taking place in Jerusalem in which the foreheads for some would be marked so that they could be saved from the judgement, an interesting parallel to the Passover marking of the door frames. The “man clothed in linen” is apparently the one passing judgement and he has a writing kit in his hand according to the preceding passages. There are terrible things happening in the temple that are demonstrating that the people of Jerusalem have abandoned God.

The next phase of the judgement is described in this passage where the “man in linen” takes hot coals from beneath the Cherubim and scatters them over the city. The “man” enters the temple and the temple is immediately filled with “the radiance of the glory of the Lord” – a cloud of God’s presence. This must have brought back memories of God’s early interactions with the Israelites as a cloud in the temple. I am not sure who this man is, except that this “man” in some sense contains the Glory of the Lord so it seems it could be a reference to Jesus or the Holy spirit on earth, some sort of “Godly condensate“.

I confess I do not understand this complex scene of whirling wheels and hot coals, perhaps we are not intended to fully understand it any more than those who has first hand encounters with angels during the time of Jesus’ coming to earth understood what they were seeing.  We are in a sense seeing something from another “dimension”, not a physical dimension, but rather a spiritual dimension that we are not really a part of until we leave our earthly body.  I guess if that is the case it is not too surprising that our earthly eyes see this as something incomprehensible.  It is a bit like trying to use our eye to “see” sound waves travelling through the air.  They are designed for seeing sound waves and do a pretty poor job of it.

I think our spirits locked in this physical body are not equipped, except in very unusual and rare occasions like this one, to see into the spiritual realm that surrounds us.  When we do get a glimpse it is confusing and nebulous, kind of like a cloud.   I look forward to continuing my float through Ezekiel as it is certainly giving me lots to think about.

Prayer: God you intersect with our world in strange and amazing ways, help us to see and understand when You do.

Posted in Ezekiel, Prophecy, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wet with Urine

lead_largeThey have blown the trumpet, they have made all things ready, but no one will go into battle, for my wrath is on the whole crowd.   Outside is the sword; inside are plague and famine. Those in the country will die by the sword; those in the city will be devoured by famine and plague.   The fugitives who escape will flee to the mountains. Like doves of the valleys, they will all moan, each for their own sins.   Every hand will go limp; every leg will be wet with urine.   They will put on sackcloth and be clothed with terror. Every face will be covered with shame, and every head will be shaved. They will throw their silver into the streets, and their gold will be treated as a thing unclean.
Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath. It will not satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs, for it has caused them to stumble into sin. They took pride in their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols. They made it into vile images; therefore I will make it a thing unclean for them. I will give their wealth as plunder to foreigners and as loot to the wicked of the earth, who will defile it. I will turn my face away from the people, and robbers will desecrate the place I treasure.
They will enter it and will defile it. – Ezekiel 7:14-22

In the past several passages God is describing a wrath of God which is horrible.  Parents will eat their own children, sacred places will be desecrated, and many will die terrible deaths. The wrath of God will fall on all who stay in the city of David, Jerusalem.  They apparently will not be able to even defend themselves – “…but no one will go into battle, for my wrath is on the whole crowd.”  God is really angry with the people of Jerusalem.  They cannot escape the city as the sword awaits them on the outside and “plague and famine” wait for them on the inside.  All is lost when they are separated from God.

They apparently will not be able to even defend themselves either – “…but no one will go into battle, for my wrath is on the whole crowd.”  God is really angry with the people of Jerusalem.  They cannot escape the city as the sword awaits them on the outside and “plague and famine” wait for them on the inside.  All is lost and they are separated from God.

Even the lucky few who escape this wrath will become like “doves of the valley” separate and lost in their own sins.  The people will lose all their strength and even wet themselves in their fear and sense of loss. I confess I have not had the experience of “wetting myself” out of fear, but it cannot be a very positive experience.

All the material possessions that have taken the place of God in the lives of the people, their gold and silver, will be tossed into the streets, worthless.  Clearly the rich and the poor will be subject to God’s wrath, regardless of positions, power, or prestige. No one will be able to “buy” their way out of the wrath that is coming.

God is clearly indicating that the people have grown accustomed to trusting things rather than Him and the consequences are that God will leave them with only these things to defend themselves in the coming calamity.  They have taken the prosperity and promise that God provided them in the Promised Land and selfishly squandered it on themselves.

God is even willing to allow something that is sacred to Him, the temple, to be defiled in order to get the people’s attention…this sounds eerily familiar. Jesus came to earth to atone for our sins.  He constantly tried to help people realize that they were using the gifts of God on the wrong things and in the wrong way. God allowed Jesus to endure the cross, the ultimate defiling so that we would realize what we were using to replace God in our lives.

God wants us to be fueled by Him and nothing else.  Any other fuel will only result in misfires and a poorly operating “engine”.

Prayer: God You are the fuel that we are designed to run on.  Help us to see the things we are using to replace You in our lives.

Posted in Death and Dying, Discernment, Ezekiel, Obedience, Prophecy, Sin, The Nature of God | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Hin of Water and Human Exrement for Fuel

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Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it iand put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel. “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel. “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her.  I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege. “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” The Lord said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”   Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign Lord ! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.”   “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.”   He then said to me: “Son of man, I am about to cut off the food supply in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin. – Ezekiel 4:1-17

God is really asking a lot of Ezekiel in this passage.  It starts with some relatively easy commands to make a model of Jerusalem out of clay.  Then it gets decidedly strange.  Ezekiel is asked to rest on his left side for 390 days, over a year, for the sins of the people of Israel.  Then he is asked to lay on his right side for 40 days for the sins of Judah.  As far as I can remember this is the first time God has asked someone to take on the sins of another in a sort of atonement, albeit a very different sort of atonement.  It is interesting also that God refers to Ezekiel as the “son of man”, the same name used to refer to Jesus when He came to take away the sins of the world.

God is to bind Ezekiel with rope so that he will not turn aside from the awesome and strange responsibility of this “siege” that he is supposed to bring upon the people of Israel and Judah.  I cannot help but think this in some sense a prescient vision of the walk of Jesus to come.  He also will be bound and punished for the sins of the people.  Many of whom are unwilling to listen to His message.

God allows Ezekiel to eat and drink during his odd “side sitting” for the sins of the people.  God initially allow Ezekiel to have a specific amount of food (20 shekels) and water (one sixth of a hin) taken at regular intervals throughout the day.  The God’s direction takes a rather odd turn.  He asks Ezekiel to cook his bread, in front of the people, using human excrement.  Apparently God wants to provide the people with a vivid word picture of the exile and desecration that will befall them as a result of their poor choices and sin. Seeing someone’s dinner cooked using human poop would definitely leave an impression on me if I saw it.  At this point Ezekiel has had enough of God’s requests.  He objects to having to defile himself so God can make a point.  I can’t say I blame him.

God relents and allows Ezekiel to use animal dung instead of human waste to cook his bread.  God provides some insight into why He wants to go to such great lengths to provide this picture for the people.  He wants them to know that those who remain in Jerusalem with see and be forced to do similarly horrible things – “The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair”.  Having chosen to disconnect themselves from the spring they will “be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin”.

I think God is reinforcing the point that without Him they are lost.  He says the same to us as we make choices throughout our life.  When we choose to go our own way we risk the same result. We are left cooking our food over human excrement and eating food that does not satisfy.  God just want the people of Israel to rely upon Him for their food and water. When we rely on ourselves we end up wasting away wallowing in our own sin.

Prayer: God You can provide for us if we are willing to accept Your provision.  Help us to accept the sacrifice you made to take away our sins.

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Return to Kebar River – Tel Aviv

archaeologyAnd he said to me, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.”   Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound as the glory of the Lord rose from the place where it was standing.  It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed.   At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.   “Again, when a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before them, they will die. Since you did not warn them, they will die for their sin. The righteous things that person did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the righteous person not to sin and they do not sin, they will surely live because they took warning, and you will have saved yourself.”   The hand of the Lord was on me there, and he said to me, “Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.” So I got up and went out to the plain. And the glory of the Lord was standing there, like the glory I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. – Ezekiel 3:10-23

The emotional detail in this passage is really interesting. There are also some odd and confusing details in Ezekiel’s vision. Ezekiel has been transported by the strange vehicles described previously, which were in some way a manifestation of God’s spirit. Ezekiel is not really going with a joyful heart. He is going with “bitterness and anger”. I get the sense he is saying to God “why me”.

God is sending Ezekiel to a settlement in Babylon along the Kebar (Chebar) River called “Tel Aviv”, which apparently means mound (Tel) of the Spring (Aviv).  As I investigated this name a little further I learned that the term Tel can also have a deeper meaning.  It was used to describe archaeological “mounds” where many layers of settlement have coexisted and co-mingled.  A built-up mound of the remains of a culture or people.

I think it is interesting that the exiles are in a settlement which loosely translates “a pile of remains of the spring”.  This is in fact what this people is at the moment they are disconnected from God, the spring of living water, in a foreign land.  They have all their traditions and rituals piled around them, but many have lost their meaning.  Perhaps this is why Ezekiel finds such a dejected and depressed people and why he is “deeply distressed” to spend a week with them talking about God.  They are not a receptive audience.

God warned Ezekiel of the reception he would receive, but did not let him off his responsibility to warn them about their “evil ways”.  He was to do this “whether they listen or fail to listen”.  God is calling on Ezekiel to tell the exiles they are sinning against God – never an easy conversation.  God makes a deal with Ezekiel, if he faithfully shares the message God is sending him to deliver all will be well with Ezekiel — regardless of how this message is received.

In many ways this is a hard teaching as it seems to be calling on Ezekiel to do something that American culture is very averse to doing – naming and calling out the sin in someone else’s life.  Of course Ezekiel was specifically called to do this in a rather dramatic way, so perhaps that lets us off heading out to the streets with signs and tracts to confront “sinners”.

So what is the take away message here?  I certainly do not think it is as simple as go tell people lost in sin that they will burn in hell. Ezekiel went to live with the people in Tel Aviv for a seven days while he was sharing his message of judgement.  Maybe if we are to hope to share a hard message with people it requires us to become, at least for a season, a part of their community so we can earn the right to have hard conversations about how a person is living their life.  My sense is that Ezekiel will be called up on to do this again in the future so perhaps we will learn more about this complex process.

Prayer: God You sometimes call us to share hard messages with others.  Help us to invest the time getting to know those who you have called on us to share so that Your message can be heard.

Posted in Christian Community, Conflict, Covenant, Ezekiel, Faith, Free Will, Obedience | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wheels and Rushing Waters

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Wormhole device from the movie “Contact”

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.   When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.   Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.   Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord . When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28

I have trans-located across the country over the last several days so I have had several days to pray and chew on this passage. I am not sure I understand it any better than the first time I read it.  This passage continues the description of Ezekiel’s first vision.  This part of the description makes it clear that the four-faced creatures are not the presence of God, but merely accompany God’s presence.

The descriptions here are as perplexing as the beginning of the vision I reflected on July 22nd.  The addition here is what sounds like something mechanical or at least very non-animal like — the rotating wheels that accompany the four-faced creatures.  As I have read and reread this passage I find myself reading it from two very different perspectives: 1) as a scientist trying to put these creatures and objects into a logical context; and 2) as a follower of Christ trying to understand the spiritual symbolism that Ezekiel is describing that defies, and perhaps transcends, natural physical laws.  Unifying these two very different perspectives was part of the motivation for starting this blog.  Perhaps by reflecting on these two very different perspectives and postures separately it will become more clear to what extent they are compatible or complimentary.

First the scientific point of view.  The four-faced creatures are something outside my experience and outside the realm of most observable science.  The closest thing I can think of would be a genetic mutation or perhaps a robotic device designed to look like a four-faced humanoid creature.  It is interesting that the author seems to go to some effort to make it clear that the descriptions here are the way things appeared.  This implies that the author may intend them to be understood metaphorically or perhaps metaphysically.  More on this to follow.

Each crLarge_Topaz_Gemstoneseature was accompanied by a “wheel”.  Each wheel was identical and sparkled like topaz.  Topaz is a silicate mineral with aluminium and fluorine (Al2SiO4(F,OH)2).  It is typically honey- or amber-colored, but it can be almost any color.  To be honest the the description of the wheels sparkling like tdownloadopaz sounds like the lights on many of the Hollywood depictions of spacecraft.  The form of the wheels was a “wheel intersecting a wheel”.  Two objects immediately came  to my mind when I read this: 1) the worm-hole device in the movie “Contact”; and 2) a gyroscope.

The wheels seem to move with the creatures in one of four directions, perhaps the four directions of the compass or the axes on a gyroscope?  The wheels did not change direction as the creatures moved.  This sounds very much like the way a gyroscope behaves and functions as I understand them.  The rims of the wheels were full of “eyes” perhaps another allusion to lights scattered around the rim?  The description then get more confusing.  The “spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels”.  I have not idea what this means.  It sounds almost as if the wheels were in some sense projecting a virtual presence like an avatar, but I will not pretend to understand this reference from a physical perspective.

Above the creatures and the wheels was a “vault”.  The vault was also “sparkling like crystal” which implies to me lighting of some sort emanating from something larger than the creatures and the wheels.  The creatures had wings that were moving.  The wings made  a sound “like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army”.  This sounds to me very much like the loud sound a propulsion device for a space vessel might make, at least the way Hollywood has depicted them.  In the vault is a what looks like a throne the color of lapis Lazuli.  This is an interesting detail from a geologist’s perspective.  Lapis Lazuli looks to me like a night sky full of stars or perhaps a stormy sky mixed with clouds and sun.  It definitely has an other-worldly appearance.

Above the throne was something that had a figure that looked like a man.  This “man” from his waist up “looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him”.  The light around this “man” was like a rainbow, emanating from no one location and filling the space around him.  Then Ezekiel reveals that this “man” is “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord”.  So it is a manifestation of God on earth, or at least in the vision of Ezekiel.  Ezekiel responds as I think most would — he “fell facedown” and listened.  So that is my take on this vision from a scientific and purely logical perspective.  Now lets me come at it from a metaphorical and spiritual perspective.

So the creatures with four faces would seem to suggest spiritual beings with different natures.  This is consistent with my understanding of God’s complex “nature” that allows Him to be both the Lion and the Lamb at the same time.  The meaning of the intersecting wheels from a spiritual perspective is less clear.  Perhaps these could symbolize planets and the their orbits around the sun?  I do not know.  If one were to go with that idea then the creatures would be a bit like the planetary guardians described by C. S. Lewis in his science fiction story “Out of a Silent Planet”.  In this book the main character, Ransom, is taken to Mars and discovers that a spiritual being called “Oyarsa” is the guardian spirit of Malacandra (the planet Mars).  These guardians would be similar to what many think of as angels.  This is the closest thing I can think of to what is being described here with the creatures and the wheels.

Clearly the creatures and the wheels are subject to something “above” them which is different.  This “Man” resides in a vault and is “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord”.  I take this to mean the God that rules all angels and humans.  This awe-inspiring view of God makes Him seem huge and unapproachable.  I am thankful that God chose to extend His arm so that we could know Him in a different way — a more personal way.  What is amazing to think about is that the same unquenchable fire that Ezekiel sees here became flesh and dwelt among us.  No wonder so many people were drawn to Him and some feared Him.

Phew that was hard — class IV rapids for sure.  I am sure as I continue my float through Ezekiel I will encounter other rapids that will be equally challenging, but all this whitewater helps me to learn about the River.

Prayer: God this vision is both confusing and amazing.  Help us to approach You with the same wonder and awe that Ezekiel experienced.

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