“I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1). It’s difficult to imagine a stronger start to a book of prophecy, and beyond that, it’s difficult to imagine the visions themselves, even with the description Ezekiel offers. But what occurs in these first two chapters of Ezekiel is not meant to be the kind of description you give a police sketch artist to create a crisp, accurate rendering. Rather this description of the glory of God is meant to leave us in awe, heads spinning, minds whirring, with a realization that what Ezekiel saw is infinitely beyond our imagination or ability to comprehend.
This is not to say that the description is untrue, but rather that human language is inadequate for the task of describing God in all His glory. What Ezekiel gives us is a glimpse of that glory and a partial view of the reality of God.
He describes wondrous creatures with faces like noble animals (ox, eagle, and lion) and wings that extend toward one another and touch (vv.4–12). We can’t miss the resemblance to the cherubim that graced the top of the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies in the temple. And these creatures follow the spirit of God wherever it goes (vv.5–12).
He describes the throne of the Lord and the Lord, Himself—beyond beautiful in His splendor, yet “like a human” (v.26). Ezekiel says, “The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the likeness of the LORD’s glory” (v.28).
Such descriptions as of the cherubim and of the Lord on His throne are meant to wow us, but also to reveal something to us. Ezekiel is reminding us of God’s covenant faithfulness. The same God who dwelt with His people in the temple, whose messengers filled the holy of holies, is the God speaking in this book. It is no coincidence that the glorious light around the throne is like that of a rainbow, the covenant promise made by God of faithfulness and presence to Noah and all future generations.
The fulfillment of that covenant is found in the One on the throne, He who is both beyond comprehension in glory and in the form of man. Ezekiel is gazing into the reality of an eternal, unchanging, covenant-keeping God and doing his best to share what he sees, just as John did in Revelation. (The description in Revelation 4 of the creatures, the throne, and even the rainbow are strikingly similar—because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.) May Ezekiel’s visions of God leave us aghast—anchored to the timeless, unchanging faithfulness of God this Lenten season.