In the last article the revelation of God’s glory to Moses was in view. Moses was hidden in the cleft of the rock and he saw a display, and heard a declaration. There was the visual and the verbal expression of God’s appearance and attributes. The result of this vision affected Moses and his worship of God as well as his witness to the world. He ‘bowed his head to the earth, and worshipped’, Exod. 34. 8. Later, when he stood before the nation, his face shone as a result of his time in God’s presence.
In this article, the scenes in view are in Isaiah chapter 6 and Ezekiel chapter 1. Both of these noteworthy prophets started their particular ministries with a vision of God’s glory. They both had difficult, if not impossible, tasks yet were undoubtedly sustained by the reality of God’s glory.
Though Isaiah’s vision is six chapters into the book, this is a recounting of the event. The record is given here because it explains Isaiah’s call and commission to the work. This vision is also notable in that the Lord Jesus refers to this occasion, ‘These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him’, John 12. 41. This is a glimpse of the Lord Jesus and His pre-incarnate glory, the same glory of which He spoke in His prayer, ‘the glory I had with you before the world was’, John 17. 5.
God’s glory is displayed in this scene by sights and sounds. The preeminent sight is ‘the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up’, Isa. 6. 1. The earthly throne has been vacated with the death of Uzziah, but the throne in heaven is occupied by the sovereign Lord. His train, or His robe, fills the temple.
Seraphs hovered above the throne. The more familiar Hebrew word seraphim indicated there were at least two of them. The word ‘seraphs’ means ‘burning ones’, and is the same word used for the fire in the sin and the trespass offerings. It is also found in Numbers chapter 21 verse 8 for the serpent on the pole, i.e., ‘fiery’ as in fiery serpent. F. C. Jennings, in his Studies in Isaiah, points out that it is literally ‘make thee a seraph – a burning one’.
The seraphs’ function was to proclaim and protect the holiness of God. The covering of the face and the feet with their wings is not explained, but suggests reverence and humility. Using the other two to fly may speak of their readiness and willingness to respond.
Equally noticeable was their proclamation which was so loud and forceful that it shook the foundations of the heavenly temple. The threefold awe-inspiring words, ‘holy, holy, holy’, are ascribed to ‘the Lord of hosts’, and declare that ‘the whole earth is full of His glory’. It seems that these two statements were given in the form of a pronouncement and a refrain. One seraph cried out ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts’, and then the other responded, ‘the whole earth is full of His glory’.
The Psalmist reminds us that ‘in His temple everyone says, “Glory"’, or, the KJV renders ‘doth everyone speak of his glory’, Ps. 29. 9. God’s glory is not only the conversation of heaven but is also clearly seen here as the whole earth is full of His glory. How true are the words of Isaac Watts:
‘Lord how Thy wonders are displayed, where'er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread or gaze upon the sky.’
Another line of the same hymn says:
‘There’s not a plant or flower below but makes Thy glories known’.
After looking up to this magnificent revelation Isaiah looks within himself. He sees his own lack of holiness and recognizes he has unclean lips. He knew that he had seen the King, the Lord in all His glory, and was humbled, and in awe at the thought of what had just transpired.
The Lord’s response was to cleanse Isaiah with a coal from off the altar, likely it is the brazen altar that answers to the cleansing in view. After this there was a call, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’ Isaiah indicates his willingness to go and is given his commission.
His commission was to ‘go and tell this people’. It seemed straight forward – but the Lord added that the people would not listen. What a difficult task, to be sent but also to be told that the people would not be responsive! The Lord looked down the years and indicated that ultimately a tenth of the people, (the same amount as a tithe) would be for Him from out of the nation.
The glimpse of glory brought Isaiah to a place of confession, cleansing, calling, and commission. It touched his will, as he bowed in humility and submitted to God’s will for his life. It affected his work as he performed what, at times, must have been a very discouraging ministry. Isaiah first looked upward, then he looked inward, and finally his attention was outward to a needy world. Certainly this is a good progression for us to follow today.
Ezekiel’s vision and commission are found in the first two chapters of his book. In summarizing all he had seen, Ezekiel said, ‘this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord’, Ezek. 1. 28. He uses a series of similes to describe what otherwise would be unrecognizable to us.
This vision begins in verse 4 with a whirlwind coming out of the north. The storm was an ominous sign that judgement was coming on Israel out of the north. But, within this raging storm, Ezekiel sees the evidence of God’s sovereign control and intervention in the affairs of men. This scene reveals the omnipresence and the omniscience of God. He is fully aware and orchestrating this judgement. History truly is His story.
Though there was turbulence coming in Ezekiel’s world, he looked up, and everything above the storm spoke of stability. Above the living creatures, the firmament, or canopy, was described as ‘the colour of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads’, v. 22. Finally, above the canopy was the ‘likeness of a throne’, which was occupied by ‘a likeness of the appearance of a man high above it’, v. 26.
The impression that Ezekiel receives is that the scene is one of brightness, of brilliance. This display of the Lord’s glory was spectacular in colour and appearance. Ezekiel’s attention is drawn toward something that appeared to him to be fire and what was like ‘the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day’, v. 28.
Typically, throughout scripture fire speaks of God’s justice and holiness. Ezekiel sees the One of whom it could be said, ‘thy God is a consuming fire’. This reminds us of the burning holiness of God. However, along with this, the rainbow is a sign of God’s grace. God’s throne is a throne of government, but it is also a throne of grace.
Ezekiel had several other glimpses of God’s glory. One took place on a wide level plain, ‘the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory I saw by the river Chebar’, Ezek. 3. 23. Another happened when he was in his own house; he saw a variation of what took place in chapter 1. This time there was no reference to the rainbow and the accompanying suggestion of grace. He could report, ‘behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there like the vision I saw in the plain’, 8. 4.
In chapters 10 and 11, Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord in association with the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The glory is seen leaving the temple, and, then, at the east gate of the temple. Finally, it is seen on the mountain on the east side of the city, the Mount of Olives. This is a journey reminiscent of the Lord Jesus as He left the temple, the city, and finally ascended from the same place on the Mount of Olives.
Ezekiel does not see that glory again until later in the book, when he says, ‘the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east’, Ezek. 43. 2. He goes on to say, ‘the glory of the Lord came into the temple by way of the gate that faces toward the east. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple’, 43. 4, 5. This anticipates the return of the Lord Jesus to the Mount of Olives and His entrance into the city and finally the temple.
The theme of God’s glory permeates the book and stands as bookends for all that transpires in between. It is this display of God’s glory that allows Ezekiel, and us who read this text, to make sense of all the judgements that are uttered in this book. The events are not arbitrary, but under God’s control, and with the goal of His glory.
Ezekiel’s response to the vision in chapter 1 verse 28 and in chapter 3 verse 23 was to fall on his face. His posture spoke of humility, and of worship. As a precursor to his commission, he gets a glimpse of the government and glory of God. His response is to worship! From that posture, the Spirit of God picks him up and gives him a mission. Worship, once again, precedes work and witness for the Lord. This vision of glory would strengthen and sustain Ezekiel in a very difficult ministry.
What do these servants of God teach us today?
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