‘And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of the throne was something that seemed like a human form. Upwards from what appeared like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and downwards from what looked like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and there was splendour all round. Like the bow in the cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all round. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.’ (Ezekiel 1:26-28. NRSV)
Ezekiel was very much a seer, God spoke to him visually and he also experienced the hand of the Lord on him, the heavens opened and visions of God. If you have ever experienced the glory of God or a vision of it then you would say, ‘WOW!!! What more can I say? Nothing!!!’, as you can connect with what Ezekiel is saying.
If, however, you have never experienced God in this way then it can be a bit difficult to get your head around it. I’ll look at three things to help you get your head round it a bit, at what is in this chapter in Ezekiel, from elsewhere in the Bible and from my own experience to help you connect with what he says more.
What is a vision?
What Ezekiel saw was a vision of heavenly beings (the living creatures with their wheels that he described in Ezekiel 1:5-22) and of God himself on his heavenly throne. But what is a vision? Is it just like a dream or a day-dream or is it different.
With a vision you are definitely awake, it is not an idle day-dream where your mind just wanders, it is God touching you and all your senses physically. Dreams and pictures can be gentle, but there is nothing gentle about having a vision, it is God touching our physical reality with heaven’s reality (which if anything is actually more real than this physical reality). You are there physically, and all your physical senses are working and you also can physically interact in the vision, as Ezekiel did when he ate the scroll in Ezekiel 3:2.
[Now one word of warning, some people say there are different levels of visions and differentiate between visions in and out of the body as if it is important – it is not. I say this with confidence as this was Paul’s view, ‘I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.’ (2 Corinthians 12:2 NRSV). If Paul didn’t consider it important as God is the only one who really knows the answer anyway, then neither do I!]
If you have had a vision yourself, or you talk or read about one that is in the Bible then you get ‘like’ coming up a lot. In the NRSV we read ‘like’ 23 times, and that is just in Ezekiel 1! There is always a difficulty describing a vision because there is difficulty in expressing heavenly things in our earthly language, we don’t have a frame of reference of heavenly things, only of earthly things so there is always this difficulty in describing a what has been seen and experienced in a vision.
Another aspect of God’s indescribable glory is the fact that God’s glory has physical weight. This is one reason why when people encounter it they are very soon flat on their faces, on the floor and unable to get up like Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28) was until the Spirit lifted him up (Ezekiel 2:2).
When the prophet Isaiah was called we read, ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.’ (Isaiah 6:1 NRSV). Royal regalia is heavy, it is not just for show that Queen Elizabeth II had Maids of Honour carrying her train when she was crowned, that is the picture here and gives a good description of the glory of God.
God’s glory has a physical weight and presence. If you have a vision of God then you will experience it, and you may experience it at other times as well, both in corporate gatherings and alone. Even in corporate gathering not everyone will experience the same thing. There are occasions when God’s glory falls in a mighty way, such as times when he is moving in revival power, when this happens then everyone will be flat on the floor and will know it is God who is present in a mighty way.
If God does have his hand upon you and you experience the weight of his glory then you won’t be able to move until he either removes it or until he enables you to stand in his presence by the Spirit raising you up, we see examples of both in Scripture.
The Fear of the Lord.
A vision is never like a nightmare! When you have a vision you experience the fear of the Lord in a very real way, this is completely different from the frightened fear that you have when you have a nightmare.
What do I mean? For one thing, ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18 NRSV), for another, under the New Covenant God is our Father. If I watch my young 3¾ year old son interact with my husband, his father, we see what this means, he is bold with his dad and loves him beyond measure, he does not fear him, but he does know that his dad is the ultimate authority, and that what his dad says goes! This is how it should be with God, and is why the fear of God is so different from a frightened fear. You could say that it is perfectly rational fear, it is the awe we were created to experience, not an irrational fear that fears punishment that is a result of the fall of humankind.
Have you ever seen a vision or experienced God’s glory like Ezekiel? Do you know what it really is to know the fear of the Lord? If you haven’t, has this post helped you understand better what Ezekiel is talking about? I would love to hear your views.