Sometimes it’s nice to just go and sit beside a river bank. The flow of water combined with all the sounds of nature can bring a soothing to the troubled soul. Perhaps this is why Ezekiel found himself there.
The Bible tells us that Ezekiel was thirty years old when he sat along the bank of the Chebar Canal. This canal is believed to be a tributary of the great Euphrates river that ran along the regions of northern ancient Babylon or near present day Baghdad. It was here that Ezekiel sat as a thirty-year old refugee in exile.
What had gone wrong? This was not supposed to happen. His entire life was preparing him for a certain path that now seemed to be eroded and gone. You see, Ezekiel was of the priestly age, thirty, which meant that should be serving as a priest. He had fully pledged himself to the priestly order of Israel and was set to continue this honoured tradition. His entire life was aimed and groomed for such a purpose. Ezekiel was to be a servant in Yahweh’s Temple and perform the ritual duties of worship and sacrifice within Israel. But now he sits exiled and alone in a pagan nation. How could this happen?
History tells us that Israel had been conquered and sacked by the Babylonians as part of their quest to dominate the ancient Near Eastern landscape. Under King Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonians had successfully de-throned the dreaded Assyrian Empire that was dominating most of middle earth. Employing Babylon’s strength and military greatness, King Nebuchadnezzar now ruled over many nations with power. Ezekiel, like other captives, were exported from their native lands to begin their assimilation into the Babylonian way of life. It was a drastic and abrupt change.
This was especially troublesome for Ezekiel, and other Hebrews who potentially held onto a view that Yahweh would never let this happen. Many Psalms (songs of the Hebrew people) were written and penned with confident expressions that God would make an eternal house and home for His people (Israel) here on earth. The hope of the nation was in Yahweh’s desire to establish a ‘city’ within their land. Jerusalem (the city of God, Zion) was this place where God would dwell. This confidence birthed an understanding that God would protect His people from any and all harm that would come their way. In other words, God would never allow His beloved city to fall into the hands of pagan nations or allow His people to lose their territory to neighbouring overlords. This simply could not be.
That type of thinking is referred to as ‘Zion theology’. It was a perspective or worldview that understood that the Ark of the Covenant would provide covenantal power and act as God’s secret weapon against Israel’s enemies. This led to comfortable prophets and prophecies which led many to believe that God would never allow Jerusalem to fall. God, as their divine warrior, would fight for His people.
Thrown into the mix of all this thinking was the understanding that ancient deities were also aligned with geographic territories. Each nation had a patron god whose power was demonstrated within their region or land. In other words, if Yahweh truly was more powerful that other gods, then no harm would come to His people within their nations borders. However, Ezekiel now sat in a conquered state within a foreign country that had just demonstrated its power over Israel. What did all of this mean for Yahweh’s power, promises and prophecies? What was Ezekiel to understand now that everything he had ever been taught, believed in and worshipped seemed to all come crashing down? Where do we go from here?
I do not know if you are asking any of those questions due to recent events. Perhaps or perhaps not. However, allow me to encourage you with a few thoughts from the God of the whirlwind.
The Bible tells us that even in exile, the hand of God found Ezekiel. In a spectacular vision, Ezekiel sees, feels, hears, and even tastes the supernatural wonders of Yahweh. This vivid encounter with the living God of the universe ultimately left Ezekiel overwhelmed for seven days! This truly was a powerful experience.
Ezekiel tells us that he encountered a form of the LORD’s glory that day. It was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day (1:28). Prior to this, Ezekiel had witnessed wheels of motion, angelic beings, creatures of earth and God’s Spirit working and empowering it all. The heavens have opened for Ezekiel and he was able to see the power of Almighty God. From Creation to the Cosmos, all things were moving according to the Spirit of Yahweh. It seemed that Yahweh is not bound to physical space, aspects of time, or theologies of man. He is simply bigger and beyond it all. He is the Most High God.
For Ezekiel and us, there are three things that I would like to highlight:
Yahweh is Sovereign: The Bible is an affirmation that the God of Israel is indeed the God of the Universe. He made the Cosmos and Creation with determination, design and destiny. There is also a point, purpose and plan to everything He does. He has a goal and mission that involves the cosmic powers and created beings of both realms. It is all moving as planned.
Yahweh is Transcendent: Yahweh is completely and wholly ‘other’. He stands beyond our time, space and matter. He is altogether completely different from anything created. He is from eternity to eternity. He is Spirit. His realm is beyond ours. He stands over and above this middle earth. He sees all things and is not surprised by any of it. History is His Story.
Yahweh is Immanent: Yahweh is everywhere all the time. He does not just stand afar off on top some mount peering down from the clouds. No. Even though He stands above and beyond all that we can comprehend, He is able to draw near and be present in the world that He made. His arm is never short of reaching in and touching our lives.
From this experience with Yahweh, Ezekiel modelled three responses that transcend space, time and matter. In other words, may we consider responding similarly today:
Be a worshipper: Ezekiel falls face down (prostrate) six times throughout his book (1:28, 3:23, 9:8, 11:13, 43:3, 44:4). Every time he encounters God, Ezekiels worships. No one does it more in all of Scripture.
Be a person of the word: Ezekiel ingests the words of God (2:8-3:3). A scroll was presented to Ezekiel containing words of lamentation and woe. However, when Ezekiel ate of it, it was a sweet as honey in his mouth. The word of God filled Ezekiels stomach.
Be a Spirit-empowered witness: Ezekiel heard God’s voice commission him to speak to the nation of Israel. As God spoke, the Spirit entered Ezekiel and set him on this new pathway towards a prophetic ministry. The priest was now a God’s prophetic voice.
During these COVID days of unexpectedness and uncertainty, please know that there is One who still stands beyond all of this and saw it coming. God was not caught off guard or is pacing up in heaven trying to figure out what to do. No. He has everything aligning towards His climactic end.
Also, please know that He is able to meet with you and bring about life change amidst the confusion, chaos and commotion. Yahweh still rules the universe and His reign is demonstrated via His Spirit here on earth. The Spirit is in the world today working to bring all things under the Lordship of Jesus. That includes you and me. The Spirit has a mission. That also includes you and me.
You can read about the mission, nature, character and personality of God via the Gospel testimony about Jesus Christ, the Nazarene. Jesus is the only perfect icon of God who came to show us the Way. Jesus is the living Word who spoke and communicated eternal Truth to us. He also demonstrated the Life of God’s Kingdom and the mission for all who follow. Jesus truly is Yahweh’s Way, Truth and Life.
Let me ask you this. If you have yet to turn and embrace Jesus within your mind, heart and lifestyle, please do. Allow Him to be Lord of all that you are and all that you do. Allow Him to bring His newness into your spirit, heart and mind. He died so that you can live. His life is abundantly different than anything you have experienced to date. It’s a supernatural transformation that brings love, refreshing, change and transformation. It is like being born again for the very first time.
For those who have already committed their walk to Jesus, I pray that in these days you will continue to respond to His Sovereignty in appropriate ways. May we all continue to lower ourselves in worshipful postures, feed on His faithful and true words, and continue to be filled with His Spirit so that we can function as His prophetic voice in the world.
May we continue to embrace His Spirit of motion, destiny and direction in all that we do. May we yearn for the heavens to open once again for our King to return. Middle earth needs her King, and so do we.
Come Lord Jesus Come!