Ezekiel didn’t start out as a prophet. Originally he had been a priest. He became a prophet when he and others were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Just because something bad happens to you doesn’t mean God is finished with you. A lot of times, God will take advantage of your “bad situation” (and what could be worse than being taken captive?) to move you into a new area of service. Christians are called to serve God regardless of their “situations.” John is another good example one who was never a prophet until something bad happened to him. Here was John, the great “apostle of love” who never harmed a flea, suddenly banished to a rocky island. It was there that he became a prophet, writing The Revelation to a handful of churches.

Watch out, because it may well be that for you who are struggling and having to putting up with less than ideal circumstances, God will give great visions of His glory and power. It happened to Ezekiel, it happened to John, and it could happen to you.

1. Setting the scene

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin— the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was upon him.(Ezekiel 1:1—3)

Unlike the book that precedes it, Ezekiel’s book gives us a lot of details we wish Jeremiah had done. Jeremiah, you will recall, is a difficult book to study because it’s not written in chronological order. It’s all mixed up! But Ezekiel was written in order, chronologically and logically. He gives dates and locations, which helps us locate when and where these visions took place.

But how did Ezekiel end up by the Kebar River? Following King Solomon’s death in 931 BC, the nation of Israel split in half and became two smaller kingdoms, The Northern Kingdom (Israel) and The Southern Kingdom (Judah). The Northern Kingdom, Israel, was totally apostate from day one. A long line of prophets was sent by God to warn the people to repent and return to God or face ruin. But, Israel became even more stiff-necked and determined to continue in her apostasy. True to His Word, Israel would fall to the mighty Assyrians in 722 BC.

The Southern Kingdom faired a little better. She wasn’t completely apostate, although the kingdom did have its share of godless, heretical leaders. Generally Judah was Godly but, like Israel, because the people continued to flirt with idolatry and turned a deaf to the prophets that warned them, Judah fell to the Babylonians and Jerusalem destroyed in 586 BC.

Ezekiel, whose name means “God strengthens,” was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah. He had been carried off with King Jehoiachin during Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of Jeremiah in 597 BC. His book begins in the fifth year of that captivity, 593 BC. When Ezekiel 1 was written, The Southern Kingdom still existed in a much weakened state. Jeremiah was still prophesying, still warming his people to repent and return. And he was sending letters to the captives in Babylon warning them not to listen to the false prophets among them. Ezekiel, was not such a false prophet. He was a true believer; a true prophet.

Ezekiel started out serving God in Jerusalem as a priest, bringing men to God. But now as a prophet, he would continue to serve God, living in Babylon, a stranger in a strange land. Ezekiel himself would need to be closer to God than ever.

2. The prophet’s call

Ezekiel 1 is a strange chapter, but it’s not unusual. The vision here is not dissimilar to Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6) and John’s (Revelation 4, 5). Ezekiel was about 30 years old when he had his vision. False prophets had risen to prominence, both in the remains of Judah and throughout the captives in Babylon, telling the people what they wanted to hear. Especially in Babylon, these false prophets kept on telling the expat Jews that their captivity would end soon. Jeremiah, from Judah through his letters to the captives, and Ezekiel in person living among the captives, were preaching the opposite; that the captivity would be long because it was a punishment for their rebellion.

It was in this environment that Ezekiel himself rose to prominence. He was ministering to what amounted to an apostate nation in captivity. Not all the captives were idol worshippers, but many of them were. Those where the ones who were needed to be warned and chastized. Those who were not needed to be encouraged and have their faith built up.

Ezekiel was a prophet of the people, living and ministering among his people. But he was far from alone. Daniel was in Babylon at the same time, holding a high political office, also giving remarkable prophecies of the future of God’s people. So here we have Ezekiel, representing God among the masses and Daniel doing exactly the same thing among the ruling class of Babylon. God cares for all people and He wants all people to hear His Word.

Ezekiel, the man, lived among the idol worshippers that were his people, and in order for him to understand the full extent of the reality of their moral and spiritual depravity, he needed to see and experience the full magnitude of God’s holiness. This is why Ezekiel’s inaugural vision was so stark and so amazing. It’s often difficult to “see the forest for the trees.” The best way to see how sinful the world is, is to compare it to how holy God is.

3. The purpose of his visions

We are told that “the heavens opened” and Ezekiel saw “visions of God.” As was stated, this first vision was given to show the prophet just how far above the people God was. God is a holy God. He and His ways are as different from sinful man as the ways of a worm are below man’s. If that was the initial purpose of this great vision, the overriding purpose of this vision of God was so that the prophet could tell it to the people. God gave the prophet the pictures and the words that he needed to give the people. Ezekiel was not to preach his ideas and his words to the people; the false prophets were doing that and their actions angered God. No, Ezekiel, like Jeremiah and Daniel, was not to give the people anything except God’s Word. The forlorn and forgetful exiles needed the Word of the Word of the Lord, not the feel-good words of the false prophets.

Modern preachers should take heed of this principle. What people, the redeemed and the unrepentant, need today is a strong dose of the Word of God, not another talk on the “seven steps to receiving the Holy Spirit,” or whatever the current “sermon of the week” may be. Among the clergy class today there is a glaring ignorance of God’s Word. A thorough knowledge of a church’s constitution or of Martin Luther’s writings and John Calvin’s doctrines will never save anybody, as worthy as that kind of knowledge may be. It’s the Word of God that changes lives; it changed the course of history in Ezekiel’s day and it changes lives today.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed Himself in three ways: dreams and visions; theophanies; and the audible spoken word. But with the coming of Jesus, God has revealed Himself in a superior way: through His Son, as recorded in His Word, the Bible.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1, 2)

Yes, the Bible is all you need.

4. The vision, Ezekiel 1:4-28

Interpretations of this vision are varied and often fanciful. At the outset, one thing needs to be made clear:  Ezekiel did NOT see a UFO. His vision was that of the glory of God. A component of Biblical “dreams and visions” is an accompanying interpretation. At the very beginning we are told this:

I saw visions of God. (verse 1)

So, no matter how weird the vision is, it is of God by Ezekiel’s own testimony. Furthermore, we read this:

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (verse 28)

It’s pretty clear; there are no UFO’s or aliens in sight. What Ezekiel saw and what he tried to describe as best he could under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was a vision of God and God’s glory.

Ezekiel’s vision may be divided up this way:

The Four Living Creatures, 1:4-14

The vision begins with a storm – a display of environmental upheaval not unlike the what accompanied God’s presence on Mount Sinai and His revelation to Elijah. What we see in these verses is a manifestation of God’s glory (as stated in verse 28) designed to inspire a sense of awe, reverence, and even fear for His Name.

According to subsequent chapters in the book, these living creatures are angels, cherubim particularly. The fire and lightening coming from them represents the soon-coming judgment of God on Jerusalem in 586 BC.

The Four Wheels, 1:15-21

What’s with these four wheels? Remember, this is a vision put into writing; Ezekiel is simply recording, as best he could with the help of the Holy Spirit, what he saw. The swiftly moving wheels indicate that God can, does, and will move quickly to execute His will from all directions. The eyes tell us that God saw the sin of the people and of the apostasy of the nation and that He was even now moving into a position of judgment.

The Vault, 1:22-25

This “vault” or “expanse” was just above the cherubim and represented the platform on which God’s throne rested. It was amazing to look at; sparkling and glorious in appearance, representing the glory of God, of course.

The Throne, 1:26-28

Above, or on top of the vault or expanse rests the magnificent throne of God. On the throne sat someone that “looked like a man.” This was a theophany; a condescension of God where He “appeared” in such a way as to be recognized by man. Ezekiel, or any human being, could never look upon the essence of God and record in an intelligible way.


The things Ezekiel saw in this vision and subsequent visions were by in large for the people of his day. His sermons and messages were not addressed to us. So why is it important for Christians today to read, study, and understand this book? The foundation of successful service to God is understanding the nature and character of God. If we can have a clear picture of the holiness of God, and if see man in the light of that holiness, than we should feel a sense of urgency about two things. First, we will want be holy because not only is God holy but He requires us to be holy even as He is. And second, we see will lost humanity as it really is: lost, in despair, and hopeless because they don’t know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Our service is to introduce them to the Savior.


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