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The title of our study is “The Visions of Ezekiel.” The first vision of the book was three chapters long. It is found in Ezekiel 1-3. It happened while Ezekiel was outside. He looked up in the sky and saw the heavens opened. We now come to the second vision. This one is four chapters long. It is found in Ezekiel 8-11. Four chapters make up one vision.
This vision happened while Ezekiel was inside. In fact, it happened while he had company over. Ezekiel has a reputation as a prophet. He hears voices. God speaks to him. He has not only said some crazy things, he has done some crazy things to get people’s attention. Now the leaders of Judah (the elders) pay Ezekiel a visit. They want to hear for themselves what God wants to tell them. They are exiles in Babylon, while the rest of the nation is in Jerusalem.
While they are there, Ezekiel receives a vision. This vision takes him a thousand miles to Jerusalem. It would be like if we had a vision and could see what was going on in Cuba, even behind closed doors and in secret rooms. His body stayed in Babylon but his spirit was taken to Jerusalem.
The first thing God showed Ezekiel was the sin of the nation. It was shocking. God showed Ezekiel abomination after abomination taking place right in the very temple itself and even by the leaders of the nation. God knows what is happening all over the world in the most remote corner of the planet. God is full of eyes. Even his chariot wheels have eyes all over them. God took Ezekiel on a tour.
It was the Abomination Tour. Then, He took him on the Judgment Tour. Ezekiel saw six men with weapons in their hands slaughtering people, left and right, killing men and women, young and old, starting in the Temple. It was not a pretty side. There were dead bodies stacked everywhere, desecrating the Temple.
Next, he took Ezekiel on Security Tour. Wherever we see judgment, we also see grace. Before people started dying, Ezekiel saw another man in white mark some people on their forehead. These people were protected from judgment and death. They were bulletproof. That man plays an important role in our chapter, which we are going to look at today.
Ezekiel 10 sounds very similar to Ezekiel 1. Ezekiel saw this vision before. He saw the sapphire throne. He saw coals of fire. He saw four faces. He saw four wheels. He saw four strange looking beings, although in chapter 1 he did not know exactly what they were. He called them “the four living creatures.” Now he knows what they are (cf. 10:20) and he calls them cherubim over and over again in the chapter (10:1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc).
Shekinah Glory Leaves
Why is this same vision repeated? What is going on in Ezekiel 10? Before we answer that question, we have to ask, what is the whole point of the chapter? When you see what is happening in this chapter, you will understand why Ezekiel sees this vision again. In Ezekiel 10, God leaves the Temple. His glory departs from the Temple. This chapter is extremely significant. We still have the effects today of what happened in this chapter.
And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. (10:4 ESV)
Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. (10:18 ESV)
One preacher described this chapter as God cleaning house. He missed the point of the chapter. In this chapter, God is not clean His house. He is leaving His house. He leaves the Temple in Ezekiel 10. He leaves the city in Ezekiel 11.
And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city (11:23 ESV). Now which temple are we talking about? In the Bible, there are several temples mentioned. There have been three temples in biblical history or two depending on how you count them.
There is Solomon’s Temple, Zerubbabel’s Temple (which was built after the Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity) and Herod’s Temple, which existed in the time of Jesus and is still visible today at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem).
Herod’s Temple was just a remaking and renovating of Zerubbabel’s Temple, so there were really only two Jewish temples. Which one did God’s glory leave in Ezekiel? He left Solomon’s Temple, the first Jewish temple. Solomon built the first temple in the 10th century BC. He built it around 959 BC.
When the Temple was built, it filled the Temple. Solomon built the temple, dedicated it to God. II Chronicles 7:1 says, “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.”
God’s glory stayed in the Temple until it departed before the Babylonians came and destroyed it in 587 B.C. It was in the temple for about four hundred years but it was actually around much longer than that. Before it was in the temple, it was in the tabernacle. God told Moses to build the tabernacle and gave him the blueprint to build it.
After it was built, God’s glory (Heb kah-vode) filled it. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35 ESV). It was filled with this thick cloud. Even before the tabernacle was built, the Jews in the wilderness saw physical manifestations of God (pillar of cloud and pillar of fire).
This is a strange concept for modern people in a secular society but for almost nine centuries, God manifested Himself on the earth to the Jews in a visible way. For over eight hundred years, God manifested his presence on the earth in a theocracy. It goes all the way back to the time of Moses (1450 BC).
Now the theocracy is ending. The king is leaving. God is leaving the Temple and He is leaving the city. He has never returned. Even when the Temple was rebuilt in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, God’s glory never filled it again. It lasted from 1450 BC to 587 BC. When Herod built his Temple in Jesus’ day, it looked beautiful but it did not have the glory of God in it.
Critics of the Bible ask this question. How can God leave the temple He is omnipresent? Isn’t He everywhere? God is everywhere but there is a difference between God’s presence and His manifest presence. It is important to know the difference. God is everywhere but He does not always manifest His presence in a visible way that people can see and that was what happened in the OT theocratic kingdom.
God did not want to leave his Temple. In fact, as you read the chapter, He does it gradually. He does it in stages. There are five stages of this departure. God’s glory first left the INNER COURT (10:3) and then moved to the threshold or ENTRANCE of the Temple (10:4). Then, it departed from the Temple and rested ABOVE the chariot throne (10:18).
God’s glory moved from the Most Holy Place in the Temple to the portable throne above the heavenly chariot. The cherubim moved it to the EAST GATE of the temple (10:19), which faces the Mount of Olives. Finally, it left the city of Jerusalem and rested on the MOUNT OF OLIVES (11:23).
Eventually, it left the Mount of Olives and went up into Heaven. The Mount of Olives was the same place that Jesus ascended into heaven. It was where he departed. One day He will return to that mountain, according to Zechariah 14. We talk about some places we do not like as being “God-forsaken.” Jerusalem became a literal God-forsaken city.
It was a gradual, reluctant departure. God did not want to leave but His holiness demanded it. Ezekiel has already seen the abominations in the Temple itself with big idols sitting right in front of it. God had no choice. Ezekiel 8:6 says, “And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to DRIVE ME far from my sanctuary?” (ESV)
Could God Leave Us Today?
This chapter raises a thought-provoking question. Could God do this today? Could God leave the church like He left Israel? Our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. If we sin, does the Holy Spirit leave us? Arminians teach this is possible but it is not what Ezekiel is talking about.
Ezekiel is talking about God’s manifest presence, not His indwelling presence. There is no theocracy today on earth. When God left the Temple and left the city of Jerusalem, it had nothing to do with salvation. It was NOT individual; it was national.
The doctrine of eternal security (or the perseverance of the saints) only deals with individuals, not nations. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). That promise is not conditional. If you are saved, you are sealed. Jesus made several promises to believers today.
Jesus said “Behold, I am with you ALWAYS, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b ESV). Jesus said it two different ways to make sure you got the point. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will NEVER leave you nor forsake you” (ESV). In Greek, this is a double negative for emphasis (οὐ μή).
Application for Today
What is the lesson for us today? Does this have anything to say to us today? Yes. God is not present in every place of worship. In fact, there are some places that He used to be but no longer is. Some churches have Ichabod is written on the door (I Samuel 4:22). The glory of God has departed.
God used to be working in some churches. He used to do great things in those churches. His presence was strong and powerful and now those churches are completely dead. Jesus called one church in the Book of Revelation “a dead church.” They had a name that they were alive but were dead.
What a terrible thing to be a dead church, to be a church in name only, a church that has the form of godliness but without the power (II Timothy 3:5). Most dead churches have no idea that God has even left them. They think everything is fine. They are like Samson when his power left him. He went to sleep, got his hair cut, work up and thought nothing had changed (Judges 16:20). He woke up weak and did not even know it.
Many substitute religious activities for meeting God. They do all kinds of things but God is not involved. He is nowhere to be found. The building is there. The people are still there. The religious leaders are still there (priests, pastors). Religious rituals are performed there. Worship takes place there but God is no longer present. If you do not have God with you, you don’t have anything.
I have said many times that the only thing that the Jews had going for them is that they had God. They did not have the Pyramids like the Egyptians. They did not have philosophy like the Greeks. They did not have armies like the Romans but they had God dwelling with them in their midst.
This was what made the Jews unique. They had God with them. God’s presence was with them. They had the Shekinah glory. Now that glory has left them. Without God’s glory and presence, they do not have God’s blessing and they do not have God’s protection. If God leaves, there is no hope.
The Jews in Ezekiel’s day had a false sense of security. They thought they were invincible because God was on their side. God would never allow his house to be destroyed. They were right about one thing. As long as God as there, they were safe. The problem is that God left the Temple. Every false teacher, every cultist, ever false religion contains some truth.
The most effective lie is a half-truth. They are really hard to detect because the lie is mixed in with so many true statements. Many Christians today have a false sense of security, like the Jew sin Ezekiel’s day.
Some teach that you will never struggle in the Christians life. If you are a believer, you will never get sick or have problems. You will never have financial problems, marriage problems or problems with your kids.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). People had in the Bible had problems, going all the way back to Adam. His oldest son kills off his youngest son. Ezekiel experienced tragedy.
He was deported. He lost his home. He lost his country. He lost his wife. She died young. Job experienced a lot of tragedy in his life. He lost his health. He lost his finances. He lost his house. He lost his kids. The Apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh.
The Chariot and the Shekinah Glory
The whole point of the chapter is that God left His Temple. What was the whole point of the cherubim and the wheels? Why was that vision repeated in Ezekiel 10? What Ezekiel saw in Ezekiel 1 was a vision of a heavenly throne chariot, the merkabah. The wheels he saw were chariot wheels. That is why there were four of them. When the cherubim flew in the sky, the wheels went with them (10:16).
If you missed that week, you can read the notes on the website. God’s chariot was on wheels and attended by special angels. When God’s leaves the Temple, His chariot comes to pick Him up and take Him away. God’s chariot is involved in this departure, along with His angels (the cherubim).
Something else is happening here. The same chariot that took the Shekinah Glory away from the Temple also brought the fires of judgment on the city. God’s heavenly chariot is involved in judgment. We will see this in Isaiah and we will also see it in Ezekiel.
See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the LORD. (Isaiah 66:15-16 NIV)
Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in appearance like a throne. 2 And he said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” (10:1-5 ESV)
And when he commanded the man clothed in linen, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel. 7 And a cherub stretched out his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. 8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings. (10:6-8 ESV).
This is very interesting. God gave the man clothed in linen another job to do. In the last chapter, the man in linen was given a job which involved a pen. His job was to go around the city and put an X on the forehead of each believer. He did it. In fact, the last verse of the chapter says, 11 And behold, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his waist, brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded me.” (9:11 ESV)
God’s Angels are very different from people. They serve God. God gives them a job to do; they do it. They don’t argue, complain and give ten excuses why they cannot do it. They do it immediately. It is instant obedience with a good attitude and then they go back and find out what God wants them to do next. If only we could be more like the angels.
In Ezekiel 10, God gave the man with the pen another job to do. Fill your hands with burning coals and scatter them among the city. God gave him one job to do and he did it. A man clothed in linen is told to fill his and with red hot coals under the chariot and scatter them among the city. Angels are supernatural beings. This angel was able to handle hot coals and not be burned.
It was going to be judgment by fire, as fiery coals are thrown over the city. The Babylonians later came in and burned the temple (II Kings 24:8-9). This judgment came from under God’s chariot. God was directly involved with this judgment. The Babylonians were just the ones who carried it out. Next week, we will look at the final part of this vision that God gave Ezekiel.