The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.
I try to be careful about attributing my feelings as an acceptable interpretation of scripture. But as an imaginative and empathetic person, I often wonder at the inner thoughts that must have been bouncing around in the heads of the prophets. I believe words are used very purposefully in the Bible, and I can’t help but linger on the picture of an overwhelmed Ezekiel.
To set the stage, Ezekiel had just had the heavens opened to him with visions of awesome cherubim and the glory of the Lord in what appears to be a pre-incarnated Jesus on a sapphire throne. God presents Ezekiel with a scroll containing His “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” over the rebellion and idolatry of Israel. Ezekiel is then charged with presenting this message of judgment to the hard-hearted Israelites under the Babylonian exile.
This grand vision is laid before Ezekiel and then he is plopped back by the river where he started. The word overwhelmed seems a bit of an understatement. It can’t possibly capture all the emotions that must have been there! Overwhelmed in this context has also been translated as astonished or in deep distress with an emphasis on silence. The seven days reflect a period of mourning. Perhaps he mourned over the sad condition his people were in, and above all, at the dreadful things he had to deliver to them. Perhaps he was mourning what his past had been and how everything would now be dramatically different. In that one word, we get a glimpse of this prophet’s humanity, and perhaps it points to Ezekiel’s heart before God called him.
Before his visions, Ezekiel was an exiled priest, a sojourner in a foreign land. Is it not possible that he felt abandoned by God, wondering how to be a priest to a seemingly forsaken people entrenched in idolatry? Israel had been swept away from the land they ought to have been enjoying as God’s chosen people in covenant blessing. Was God faithful to His people, to His promises? Where was God now in the midst of exile, uncertainty, and Israel’s faithlessness? What was Ezekiel supposed to do now?
Surrounded by this darkness, Ezekiel is called to pull an about-face in vocation. All his life, he had trained to be a priest. His entire career was to represent the people to God and bring their repentance to the Lord. Suddenly, God called him to the role of prophet where he would represent God to the people, bringing His judgment to a displaced Israel for their lack of repentance. His former life was gone and the future was even more unknown than before.
Seasons of our lives can lead to once solid edifices crumbling around us, leaving us with more questions than answers. Who am I? Do I even know who God is anymore? All that I thought I knew seems to turn to ash. This new perspective of God weighs heavily on my soul and seems incongruent to everything I thought I knew. What will happen to me now?
I have often been overwhelmed when confronted with my mistaken perceptions of God. I have gone through periods of my life thinking or hoping God was one way, only to have the Holy Spirit shatter that illusion. I tend to build the foundations of my life on my perceptions of God rather than God Himself. It shouldn’t be a surprise when that foundation crumbles and I painfully fall onto the true bedrock of God’s glorious personhood; a personhood more majestic than I could ever envision.
In the midst of the tumultuous darkness of Ezekiel’s circumstances and perceptions, the radiance of God was enthroned. It was the rainbow parting the clouds after the storm. Israel’s political and spiritual crisis was put into its proper perspective when Ezekiel saw God for who He truly was. Israel was not forsaken in Babylon but was deeply loved by God. Ezekiel was no longer exiled but at the center of the Lord’s plan to bring Israel back into the covenant. God lifted Ezekiel’s eyes beyond his present situation and former identity to the throne of God’s glory; a glory more dazzling than anything imaginable. And on that throne was man–a man that would shatter everyone’s perceptions of God.
How do we perceive God? How do we perceive our circumstances in light of our knowledge of God’s character? Are we overwhelmed by our earthly troubles or the magnificence of the Almighty God? Where are our eyes as we sojourn through this exiled land? Look to the Son of Man enthroned. He will shatter your perceptions and give you a new vision of God.