Do you have an Eeyore in your family? Maybe you are the Eeyore! You know the person who is sigher, moaner and groaner. Because life is sooooo hard! We say to that person, “Why are you grumpy? Cheer up!” or we try to cheer them up, giving them suggestions for how they can change. We would much rather them be smiling and laughing! But the fact of human personality is that some people are naturally more like Eeyore. More melancholic, maybe seeing the glass half-empty. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong with them. Though it seems to me that our culture tends to give the impression that cheeriness and positivity is right, and sighing and moaning and groaning is wrong. But is that always true?
Would it surprise you to hear that the people who sigh and moan and groan just might have a special place in God’s heart?
We’ve been studying the life of Ezekiel, and this week in our five-part series on Ezekiel 8, we’re going to find out if the Eeyores of the world have a special place in God’s heart. Turn to Ezekiel 8, verse 1, which begins with a date.
Scholars tell us that the likely date in chapter 8 verse 1 is September 17, 592 BCE. But it literally says that it was the sixth year, sixth month and fifth day, which is a reference to how long Ezekiel and the 10,000 Jews from Jerusalem had been living in exile in Babylon. Then we read that Ezekiel is sitting in his house, and the elders of Judah are sitting before him. That detail jumped out to me. This is the first time we’re hearing about people possibly listening to Ezekiel. All we’ve heard so far is God telling Ezekiel that the people wouldn’t listen. Yet here are the elders of the people sitting in his house. Why are they at his house?
First of all, who were the elders? Like Ezekiel, the elders were part of the 10,000 Jews who were exiled from Jerusalem. They were the ones in charge, kind of like local government leaders. The way Ezekiel writes it in verse 1, it almost sounds normal that elders were there.
But all along we have been noting how unusual and unconventional Ezekiel’s method was, and as a result, how much of an outcast he must have been. Even though the elders have come to visit him, I still think that Ezekiel’s unusual prophetic skits and doom-and-gloom messages of judgement must have been really off-putting to most people. Might it have been possible that the elders were curious that God might actually be speaking through Ezekiel. Have these elders had a change of heart? Are they here to repent and return to the Lord?
Will God give Ezekiel a message for the elders? Normally messages from God are introduced with the statement, “the word of the Lord came to me.” In chapter 8, verse 1, Ezekiel says something different, “the hand of the sovereign Lord came upon me there.” Does that sound familiar? It should. We’ve heard that phrase before. In Ezekiel chapters 1 and 3, we learned that the hand of the Lord was on Ezekiel. The hand of the Lord is very different from the word of the Lord. When the hand of the Lord comes upon Ezekiel, God’s power is going to be displayed or at work in his life. How so? Read verse 2.
A glowing figure appears! Does the description of this figure sound familiar? It’s very similar to what Ezekiel describes in chapter 1, verse 27, which was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord! Amazing! Has God’s glory shown up again? It doesn’t seem that way. Here in verse 2, it seems that this glowing figure might be an angel.
I wonder if the elders there in Ezekiel’s house could see it. I doubt it. I get the sense that the hand of the Lord was only on Ezekiel, allowing only Ezekiel the privilege of seeing the glowing figure. Think about being in that room watching Ezekiel have that experience. Did Ezekiel’s eyes glaze over, did he go into a trance? Did his body move at all, or was he totally still? Did Ezekiel lose consciousness of the room around him? So many questions! It only gets more interesting. Look at verse 3.
What???? The glowing figure grabs his hair??? The Spirit lifts him between heaven and earth, in a vision? What is going on here.
That must be one of the most interesting verses in the Bible.
I will admit that I was fascinated over the past few weeks watching the billionaire space flights. (Aside… I was also a bit sickened by the amount of money spent on those very brief flights so a handful of people could experience a few minutes of weightlessness.) But those space flights took people way up into the sky, into the space that could be described very similarly as what Ezekiel experienced.
Still, the Spirit’s transportation of Ezekiel is so much better! I love sci-fi, and what I read in that verse seems to me to describe what you might see in a sci-fi movie. Doesn’t it sound like he is being teleported like Star Trek? Except that it seems like Ezekiel is describing flying! So did Ezekiel physically leave his house? Did the elders sitting there have a shock of their life as Ezekiel suddenly disappeared in front of them? Maybe. We don’t know.
It seems more likely, given the word “vision” that this was all happening in Ezekiel’s mind, rather than in his body. Just because the glowing metal fire angel grabs his hair, it doesn’t mean that it physically happened to him. It was likely a vision, a dream, a work of God, an experience in his mind that was a purposeful gift from God to him.
Also, did you notice the work of the Spirit? The Spirit was heavily involved in Ezekiel’s life when God first gave him a prophetic vision and called him to be a prophet. The Spirit is real. The Spirit is at work. As Christians we know that the Spirit lives in us. It is so good to be reminded of that over and over again in Ezekiel, because we can forget about the Spirit in the busyness of our day to day lives. The Spirit is the gift that Jesus said he would give us. In John 16:7 and Acts 1, Jesus said that it will be for our good that Holy Spirit will be within us and with us. It is only to our benefit to remind ourselves of John 15 and the importance of our connection to the vine and to the Spirit. To discover and get to know the one who lives within us and with us.
The Spirit was clearly at work in Ezekiel’s life, transporting him, through the vision, to Jerusalem. Ezekiel can vividly see what is happening in Jerusalem. It’s like Ezekiel is wearing a virtual reality headset, and he feels like he is there at the temple in Jerusalem. Have you ever tried a VR headset? It is amazing. You feel like you are there. VR is a lot like dreaming, especially if you have vivid dreams. When you dream, what you experience is happening in your mind, and you feel like you are there, though you are asleep. It is simply amazing what our minds can do.
In this vision dream Ezekiel flies into Jerusalem, his hometown. Remember that Ezekiel hasn’t been back there in six and a half years. How amazing it must have been for him! You know that feeling when you’ve been away for awhile, and you return? It can give you the chills. You miss home. You miss the familiar. You miss family and friends. When I’ve gone on international trips, though I’ve had the privilege to travel and live in some beautiful places, I always come back to Lancaster and think, “This place is amazingly beautiful. I have missed home!” Ezekiel had to be feeling some of that excitement.
We read that he flies into the temple. It seems to me that it is not a fictional Jerusalem, or a Jerusalem of his dreams. I can’t say for sure, because this is prophecy, which tends to be highly symbolic. If Ezekiel is seeing what is happening in real life in Jerusalem, his is being given a vision that is very different from how many of us dream. I don’t know if your dreams are like this, but mine tend to be really weird. They are based in reality, but things get warped and wild. My friends from different eras in my life, friends who don’t know each other, can be part of the same dream. Locations get mixed up. Our minds create amazing stories in our dreams.
It does not seem like that is happening in Ezekiel’s vision. It seems like God’s Spirit has enabled Ezekiel to see the real Jerusalem.
While that must have been thrilling for Ezekiel, the thrill evaporates very quickly. All is not well. Notice that last phrase, “…where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood.” Yikes. There in the inner court of the temple was an idol from a pagan religion. Of course that would make God jealous. Consider how Ezekiel would have felt. It would be a major shock, if Ezekiel didn’t previously know it was there.
When I traveled with my wife to Cambodia a few years ago, we visited some Buddhist shrines and temples. Though they were active Buddhist places of worship, they allowed tourists to walk through them. They were ancient and impressive, filled with pictures and statues of Buddha and Buddhist symbols. Given my belief in Christianity, I wasn’t worshiping, but I because I was in the sacred space of a different religion, I remember walking through them feeling a discomfort, an awkwardness.
Now imagine how it would feel if you walked into your church building, and especially into your church’s worship space for Sunday worship, and someone had placed the statues and symbols of another religion there. I suspect there would be some righteous outrage. That is exactly what Ezekiel sees in the temple of God. Something is very, very wrong in Jerusalem. What does Ezekiel see next in this virtual reality dream vision?
Check back to the next post to find out!