Ask Steve: Ezekiel and the Glory of God

Question: Steve, I am currently reading through the book of Ezekiel and trying to understand its central themes. What did the book of Ezekiel teach about the glory of the Lord and what did it teach about its past and future manifestations? 

Answer: The glory of the Lord is one of the major themes of the book of Ezekiel. The essence of God’s glory is revealed in the first chapter, where the prophet Ezekiel experiences a vision of Yahweh surrounded by His blazing glory. God’s glory is so radiant and the reality of His holiness so great that the author of Ezekiel uses these as a backdrop to highlight the utter grossness of Israel’s sins in the rest of the book. The glory of God is so hallowed and unique that for its presence to be among the people of Israel, they would need to be purified in holiness and obedience. Sadly, this is not what became of Israel. God not only judged the nation for its violation of His holy character, but took His glory out of the Jerusalem Temple, symbolizing the departure of God’s personal presence with the people. However, Ezekiel tells of a time when such glory will return to the house of Israel, coming at a time of an unprecedented spiritual revival that will make Israel conditioned to represent God’s glory forever. 

The concept of God’s glory is first revealed in Chapter 1. The prophet Ezekiel received the first of multiple visions in which he saw a fascinating scene of heaven. He witnessed four holy cherubs (v. 5), which a later vision identifies as the angels of God (10:15, 20). However, these supernatural living beings are not the focus of the vision. Ezekiel saw another sight above the cherub’s heads, which was a great expanse, and above that expanse was a throne with a lapis lazuli appearance (v. 26). Verse 27 goes on to describe a glorious figure in the throne room. He had the appearance of a man, and from waist up Ezekiel saw a “glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it,” and from waist down Ezekiel saw “a surrounding radiance around Him,” which verse 28 identifies as “the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” This figure is apparently God, surrounded by light that is the direct manifestation His glory. 

The vision of God’s glory is so great that Ezekiel fell prostrate to the ground, according to verse 28. This was the reaction of reverent fear toward God and an acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness and humility before a holy and transcendent God. This reaction also characterized other biblical people who encountered God’s holiness, such as with the Apostle Peter in Luke 5:8. God’s glory is meant to inspire fear, trembling, and reverence toward God. Such personal encounter with the living God followed with a divine commission given to the person, as was the case with other OT prophets such as Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) and Jeremiah (1:1-19). In Chapter 2:1-9, God commissioned Ezekiel to be His spokesman as well, in which Ezekiel was to be sent to Israel to warn them of how short they had fallen from God’s holiness and the divine judgment that was coming to the nation because of impenitence. Ezekiel’s vision ends with further confirmation that he had seen the glory of God on display. When the Spirit lifted him up, Ezekiel heard a great rumbling sound of, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord in this place” (Ezekiel 3:12). Ezekiel witnessed the essence and frightening beauty of God’s glory that he expressed great deference and obedience to God, falling on his face once again when he saw God’s glory standing at the plain (Ezekiel 3:23). 

Throughout Ezekiel’s ministry, he delivered God’s message to those who were in captivity and continued to receive divine revelation concerning God’s glory. In Chapter 8:2, Ezekiel saw the glory of God once again. He fell face down at the sight of the One who had “a likeness as the appearance of a man; from His loins and downward there was the appearance of fire, and from His loins and upward the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal.” Verse 3 goes on to explain that the Spirit lifted Ezekiel up and brought him in the visions of God to Jerusalem, “to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. And behold, the glory of the Lord of Israel was there…” Ezekiel saw that the glory of the Lord resided in the Temple, but was ignored while the people worshipped idols. In verses 5-17, God showed Ezekiel the depravity of Israel, which contrasted heavily with the holiness and purity of God shown to Ezekiel. This made the sins appear all the more inexcusable. Since the temple worship system had become so profaned and meaningless, God saw no need for its operation anymore, as He declared His plans to Ezekiel concerning the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, as well as the city of Jerusalem and the apostate people (9:1-11). 

Ezekiel learned of the disheartening news of the glory of God departing from the Temple in Chapters 9 and 10. The glory of the Lord is depicted as leaving the Temple and the city in three stages. The first stage is described in 9:3, where “the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple.” In other words, the glory of God moved away from its normal position above the Ark of the Covenant and moved to the Temple door. 10:18 describes the next step: “the glory of the Lord as departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. When the cherubim departed…they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.” The third and last step is the glory of the Lord going up from the midst of the city and standing over the mountain which is east of the city (11:23). In summation, the glory of God left the Ark, left the Temple, and moved to the Mount of Olives. 

The departing of God’s glory equates to God hiding His face away from Israel, which Moses warned would happen if Israel were to be unfaithful to the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 31). God’s presence and protection would leave them open to the effects of sin and exile from the Promised Land.Israel essentially reaped in the full curses of disobeying that Covenant and dishonoring God’s glory to the fullest. 

Despite the sad reality of Israel’s judgment from the Lord, God declared to Ezekiel that God’s glory would actually return to the people of Israel in the future, indicating God’s plans to stay true to the Abrahamic Covenant and redeem national Israel. Through the lesson of judgment upon Israel, God plans to preserve a remnant, the final generation which would find salvation in Him and have eternal security in the Promised Land with all of God’s blessings. Therefore, Ezekiel’s message to the exiles was not one of mere pessimism, but an optimistic assurance of reconciliation between God and His covenant people Israel. Chapter 11:14-25 describes the promise of restoration to the final remnant of Israel, in which those who have been scattered to pagan nations because of the curses of the Old Covenant will be restored to the Promised Land (v. 17). Verse 18-20 describes God’s plan to forgive Israelites of their sins and regenerate their lives through the institution of the New Covenant. 

Ezekiel 40-48 describes the New Jerusalem Temple that will be part of the messianic kingdom in the final days. By that time, the nation would have been restored, along with the remnant of Israel who would have been transformed through the New Covenant. In this glorious prophecy, the glory of the Lord is depicted as returning back to the Temple(43:2). The glory of God moved eastward out of the Temple and toward the Mount of Olives, and in the future it will return from the east. The glory of God will appear and never leave the Temple again (43:7). This is essentially saying that God will personally dwell with His people forever afterwards, never to turn away from face from them again. The Lord will live among His people, and they will never blaspheme His name or His glory ever again (39:7). 

In conclusion, the glory of God is an important theme that has significant meaning for past Israel and the Israel of the future. God’s glory is the manifestation of His great and holy character, which is why no one should ever treat it lightly. Ezekiel documents the tragic reality of God’s glory departing from the people, but because of God’s faithfulness to the nation, He will bring His glory back to the people in the future. Such must be the focus and prayer of Israel for the future.

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