Christ in All the Scriptures
by A.M. Hodgkin
- V. Christ in the Prophets
5. Ezekiel --
- The Lord set Jeremiah to be an iron pillar in the land of Judah. In the same way, He set Ezekiel for a pillar among his own captive people by the river Chebar, in the land of the Chaldeans, and told him that as an adamant, harder than flint, had He made his forehead (Eze 3:9). Strength characterized the ministry of the prophet whose name means ''God will strengthen.''
For a time, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were contemporary; for the latter began his prophecy in the fifth year of [Jehoiachin's] captivity and prosecuted it for twenty-two years at least [Jer 1:1-3] (Eze 1:1,2; 29:17). He took up the theme of Jeremiah, concerning the future of his people, and developed it.
- ''A Sanctuary.''
- Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel was a priest as well as a prophet, and in all probability the ''thirtieth year,'' of which he speaks in the first verse, was the thirtieth year of his own age-- the age when the priests entered upon their sacred duties. God withdrew His presence from His sanctuary at Jerusalem, and His chosen people were henceforth represented by the captives in Babylon. To these He promised to be ''as a little sanctuary'' in the land of their captivity, indicating that He would not confine His glory to any particular spot. Ezekiel was called to be a sort of ministering priest to his people in this spiritual sanctuary.
This book may be divided into three parts--
- Chapters 1 - 24. Testimonies from God against Israel in general and against Jerusalem in particular.
- Chapters 25 - 32. Judgments denounced against surrounding nations.
- Chapters 33 - 48. The subject of Israel is resumed, and their restoration and blessing foretold.
Ezekiel himself divides his prophecies into fourteen parts, which may be traced by his prefixing the date to each. The main object of his message seems to be to comfort the exiles in their desolation, to fortify them against the idolatry by which they were surrounded, and to inspire them with the glorious prospect the future held in store for them if, with true hearts, they would turn to their God.
[Ezekiel's] wealth of imagery imparts a singular beauty to his prophecies. They glow with life and action and brilliant coloring, and for this very reason are more difficult to understand. But with the assurance that ''whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning'' [Rom 15:4], we may count on the Holy Spirit to unfold their teaching to our understanding.
- Vision of the Cherubim.
- Ezekiel stands out as a man entirely abandoned to God's use. To prepare him for service, the Lord granted him a double vision. In the vision of the cherubim, Ezekiel saw four living creatures which were absolutely at God's disposal. ''They went every one straight forward: whither the Spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went'' (Eze 1:12). Such unswerving following, the Lord expected from His prophet, and such He expects from us. The lion, the strongest animal; the ox, the most enduring; the eagle, the highest soaring; man, made in the image of God -- these four bring before us the highest forms of natural life. These four living ones, with their wings and their wheels full of eyes, moving with the symmetry of one organism, and the rapidity of lightning in the midst of ''the enfolding fire,'' give us a picture of God's will perfectly executed, as His redeemed saints will be enabled to fulfill it when they see Him as He is, and as they should aim at fulfilling it here below.
- Vision of the Lord.
- We have not far to seek to find ''Christ in Ezekiel.'' The prophet beholds him, in vision, in the very first chapter. For surely the ''Man'' upon the throne [Eze 1:26] can be none other than the only-begotten Son, the representative of the invisible God. We recognize, in this vision, the prophetic announcement of the Holy Incarnation. The details of the vision seen by the captive on the banks of the Chebar correspond minutely with the details of the vision of the captive in the isle called Patmos [Rev 1:9]. Over eighty points of contact may be found between the two books. As there is no doubt who is designated by John, we cannot but recognize, in the vision of Ezekiel, the Glory of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Ezekiel saw ''a throne as an appearance of a sapphire stone, and the likeness as the appearance of a Man above upon it.'' John saw ''a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne'' [Rev 4:2-4].
- They both saw the rainbow, the token of the covenant;
- They both saw ''the terrible crystal'' of the purity of God's presence, which nothing can evade. To Ezekiel, it appeared as a firmament; to John as a sea of glass.
- They both had a vision of burning lamps of the fire of God's Spirit, and of the four living creatures, whose sound was as the sound of many waters (Eze 1:24; Rev 19:4-6).
- To both was given, by the One encircled by the rainbow, the roll of a book, which he was commanded to eat, and then go and prophesy (Eze 1:28; 2:1,8-10; 3:1-4; Rev 10:1,2,8-11).
- ''This,'' said Ezekiel, ''was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord'' (Eze 1:28). When we read of the ''glory of the Lord'' in this book, we see in it the manifested presence of God as revealed in the Eternal Son, who, in the fullness of time, ''became flesh, and dwelt amongst us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father'' [John 1:14].
The sight of Christ upon the Cross-- bearing our sin-- brings us salvation. The sight of Christ upon the Throne-- baptizing with the Holy Ghost-- sets us free for service. Ezekiel says that the Spirit entered into him, and that then he heard Him that spake unto him [Eze 2:1,2]. The personality of the Holy Spirit finds frequent expression in this book.
- A Man at God's Disposal.
- The Lord sent Ezekiel to be a prophet. Whether they accepted or rejected him, they could not but ''know that there had been a prophet among them'' [Eze 2:5]. Often, we read ''the hand of the Lord was upon me,'' and often such words as ''the Spirit took me up.'' Do we, as workers, know what it is to have the Lord's hand so strong upon us that His Spirit can take us up and wield us as He wills? Ezekiel was a faithful and obedient prophet; he spoke when the Lord opened his mouth, and was willing to be dumb when the Lord closed it, and therefore ''they knew that it was the Word of the Lord.''
Ezekiel was sent to his own people. It may be easier to some to go as a missionary to India or China than to speak the Lord's message to their own relations, or the members of their own church; but perhaps He is saying to them as He said to Ezekiel: ''Thou art not sent to many people of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. . . go, get thee unto the children of thy people, and speak to them'' (Eze 3:5,11). Ezekiel had to give the Lord's message to very difficult people: to the prophets, the elders, the shepherds, the princes; to Jerusalem and the land of Israel; to the leading heathen nations; to inanimate objects-- dry bones, fowls, beasts, forests.
- A Watchman.
- The Lord sent Ezekiel to be a watchman. He told him not to be afraid of the people, but to give them warning, and that if he did not do so, He would require their blood at his hands (chapters 3 and 33). These chapters set before us very plainly our personal responsibility in giving the Lord's message and warning men of sin. Paul was so faithful in doing this that he was able to say, ''I am pure from the blood of all men'' (Acts 20:26).
- A Sign.
- The Lord sent Ezekiel to be a sign. ''Ezekiel is unto you a sign'' (Eze 24:24; 4:3; 12:11). The portrayal of the imaginary siege of Jerusalem [ch.4] was no doubt exactly calculated to make the men of those times think; for God fits His signs to the times. In the British Museum, part of a similar tile of the same date may be seen, with a plan of Babylon drawn upon it. To be God's sign to the people, Ezekiel willingly sacrificed all his private interests. He was willing to lie in any position God told him; to smite with his hand or strike with his foot; to go forth into the plain, or shut himself up within his house; to sacrifice his personal appearance (5:1); to eat his food by weight, or move house at a day's notice. The severest test of all was when God took away the desire of his eyes [ie., his wife] and commanded him not to weep. He who wept by the grave of Lazarus understands the sorrow of our human hearts, and does not rebuke us for it. But He needed Ezekiel as a sign, and so He commanded him not to weep for his own private grief, but to weep bitterly for the sins of his people (Eze 24:15-18; 21:6,7).
The Lord will not ask the same extraordinary things of us that He asked of Ezekiel, but the line [ie., the path] of following Him, who was despised and rejected of men, is certain to lie across the will of nature, right athwart the course of this world. Does the Lord find in us those who are absolutely pliant in His hands, as Ezekiel was? He is seeking such. ''I sought for a man to stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none'' (Eze 22:30; 13:5).
- The Glory of the Lord.
- The Key-note of the book of Ezekiel is The Glory of the Lord, that is, His manifested presence. It occurs twelve times in the first eleven chapters. Then, there is a great gap, and we do not meet with it again till the forty-third chapter. The glory of the Lord was grieved away from the Temple at Jerusalem by the idolatry of the people, and not till the city had been overturned to the uttermost could the glory come back and take up its abode in the new Temple. The message was, ''Ye have defiled My sanctuary''; therefore ''I will make thee waste'' [Eze 5:11-14]. Through several chapters, the prophet is commanded to declare the judgments that were coming on the land on account of the ''detestable things'' and ''the abominations'' which the people had introduced into the sanctuary. In the eighth chapter, Ezekiel is spiritually transported from the land of the Chaldeans to Jerusalem, and in a vision sees the four kinds of grievous idolatries which were practiced in the courts of the Lord's house, even to the worshipping of the sun with their faces to the east and their backs to the sanctuary.
We see the glory of the Lord gradually removing. Grieved away from the inner sanctuary by the sin of idolatry, the brightness fills the court. Then it departed from the threshold and rested over the cherubim, those beings who perfectly fulfilled God's will and responded to His power. As the cherubim mounted [up] from the earth, the glory of the Lord abode above their free pinions [ie., wings] and mounted [up] with them, forsaking the city and removing to the mountains [chapters 8 - 10]. In the same way, it is possible for a Christian so to provoke, resist, grieve, straiten, limit, vex, quench the Holy Spirit, that the heart may become like a ruined temple bereft of the glory.
There is many a blighted life from which the early glow has departed through simple disobedience-- refusing to give the Lord's message, it may be. ''God can do so much with a spark, and it is dreadful when He cannot get a conductor of it'' (Bramwell Booth). We grieve the Holy Spirit when we do not allow ourselves time for communion with God; we limit Him by doubting His power to cleanse and keep and fill. We vex the Holy Spirit by our rebellion, by not really saying in very truth ''Thy will be done.'' And if rebellion is persisted in, the Holy Spirit may be quenched. [cp. Eph 4:30; Isa 50:2; 63:10; 1The 5:19]
The spirit of worldliness is one of the chief idols that is grieving the Holy Spirit away from His temple. It is sapping the very life of the Church today. How much of the worldly spirit of utter selfishness there is in the business life, in the undue estimation of wealth and position, in love of display, and in friendships made with people of the world, forgetting that ''whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God'' [James 4:4]. Christians conform to the world's ways, and read the world's books, and dress in the world's fashions, instead of being a people separated unto the Lord. The real cure for this worldliness is such a vision of Christ Jesus as shall make the earthly lights pale before the splendor of it. If our hearts are satisfied with Him, the world will have no hold upon us. He said: ''The Prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me'' [John 14:30]. Are we able to say: ''The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not''? [1Joh 3:1].
- Chapter 34 contains a warning to the false shepherds who feed themselves and feed not the flock. It closes with a most beautiful prophecy of Christ as the Good Shepherd, which our Lord evidently applies to Himself in the tenth chapter of John. His promise of searching out His sheep, and bringing them back to their own land, is primarily for the Jews; but Jesus Himself spoke of His ''other sheep,'' which are not of the Jewish fold, which should also hear His voice, and that all should ultimately be gathered in one fold with one Shepherd [John 10:16].
- A Clean Heart.
- Chapter 36 is also first for Israel, and points forward to the time of the restoration of God's chosen people, when they shall be gathered out of all the countries and brought into their own land, and there cleansed from all their iniquities, and become God's witnesses among the nations.
But it contains also a glorious picture of the Gospel and of Christ's power to cleanse and save to the uttermost. Verses 16-28 show the deep and universal defilement of sin and God's judgment of it. They show that there is nothing in us, as sinners, to commend us to God; that the salvation which is in Christ Jesus is all of His free grace and for the honor of His Holy Name, which we have profaned by our iniquities. The cleansing from all sin is promised, and with it, the corresponding promise of the new heart; that He will take away our stony heart, and give us a heart of flesh, and put His Spirit within us to enable us to walk so as to please Him.
- Dry Bones.
- Chapter 37 again refers primarily to the Jews. ''Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.'' It is again a promise of salvation and restoration to God's chosen people. But it contains a beautiful Gospel picture of God's power to raise those who are dead in trespasses and sins. It corresponds with His words to Nicodemus about the necessity of the new birth, and the mighty action of the Holy Spirit, coming unseen as the wind, to quicken the dead [Eph 2:1,2; John 3:3-8]. The chapter closes with the renewed promise of the future David to be the Shepherd-King of God's people.
- Chapters 38 and 39 contain an account of the judgment that the Lord will bring upon His people through the instrumentality of Gog and his northern army. This is thought to be the final terrible trial of the chosen people, known as the time of Jacob's trouble. In chapter 21, the Lord says He will send a sword against Jerusalem, and ''I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until He comes whose right it is; and I will give it Him'' [Eze 21:27]. In chapter 22, after speaking of Israel's dispersion, He says He will gather them together into the midst of Jerusalem as they gather metal into the midst of a furnace to melt it, so will He gather His people and melt them in the fire of His wrath [Eze 22:15-22]. These terrible final judgments will be blessed to the conversion of the Jewish people and their restoration to the Divine favor.
- The Temple.
- The last nine chapters contain Ezekiel's vision of the New Temple. This vision has never yet been fulfilled. The Temple built by Zerubbabel, and that by Herod, fell far short of the size of the New Temple of which Ezekiel was given the plan by the angel. ''Just what the meaning of this vision is, it is by no means easy to determine... The new distribution of the land according to the twelve tribes and the prince and his portion, and the suburbs; the new city and the immense Temple area, -- all combine to point to a future re-establishment of Israel and to the millennial glory. It has never yet had its appropriate fulfillment. To spiritualize it, as some do, exhausting all its splendors and hopes in the Christian dispensation, is to mistake its meaning and [to] dwarf its magnificent proportions. For unmistakably, the vision has to do with Israel in the last and glorious days when all God hath promised for that people shall have its accomplishment.'' [Outline Studies in the Books of the Old Testament, p.274, Moorehead.]
- When the Temple was complete [in his vision], Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord returning by the way of the east gate-- the direction in which it had left the city-- and filling the house of the Lord (Eze ch. 43).
- - [The primary picture, here, is of the Lord Jesus Christ, who likewise departed in rejection via the Mount of Olives, but who will someday return, from the same direction, to His temple and to reign in His millennial Kingdom. See the references below--
- - [However, there are also lessons, here, which we may apply to the Christian life.] If we have grieved the Spirit of the Lord away from our hearts, we must expect His return by the way that He went. That is to say, we must come back to the very point where we failed, and confess that particular sin to the Lord, and obey Him on that point, before we can expect Him to return. ''The Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him'' [Acts 5:32]. In this chapter, we read of the glory definitely coming back, and taking up its abode in the Temple, and continuing to fill it. This is what God expects shall be the normal condition of every Christian. ''Be filled with the Spirit'' (Eph 5:18).
- The River.
- If we are filled with the Spirit, there must be an overflow to others; and this brings us to the vision of the river (chapter 47). Whatever is the future application of this chapter to Israel [see Zech 14:8,9; Rev 22:1,2], its spiritual application to us today is clear. The Lord wants to make His rivers of blessing flow out though every saved soul (Joh 7:37-39). Are we, as workers for Christ, ''ministering the Spirit'' to others?
- The rivers issued out from the sanctuary. It is only from the presence of the Lord that we can go forth to bless others.
- It was from the south side of the altar-- pointing again to the place of sacrifice as the source of blessing. ''A pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb''; ''A Lamb as it had been slain'' [Rev 22:1; 5:6].
- The river rose to the ankles, to the knees, to the loins, for the Lord means His power in us to increase till it becomes ''waters to swim in, a river that I could not pass over'' --self lost in the fulness of the Spirit.
- Wherever the river came the fish lived, the banks grew green, clothed with trees, bearing fruit for meat and leaves for medicine. God wants to use us wherever we go to bring life to dead souls, and blessing and healing to all around us.
- - The only places that were not healed were the marshes. They were given up to salt. A marsh is something that is always taking in and never giving out. Unless we are giving out, in some way, to others, we shall become stagnant and useless.
''Rivers of living water.'' This is God's purpose for us. Do not let us reason from our old past experience of failure, nor from the parched condition of the Church around us. God says He will do a new thing: ''Behold, I will do a new thing: now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert -- viz. in the most unlikely places -- to give drink to My people, My chosen'' [Isa 43:19,20].
- Throughout the Book of Ezekiel, we see Christ as the Giver of Life.
- The cherubim, in the vision of the first chapter, were illustrations of the abundant life of His redeemed.
- The Man clothed in linen, who is thought by many to be the Angel of the Covenant, our Great High Priest, set the mark of life upon God's faithful ones, that their lives should be spared in the destruction of the city (Eze 9:2-6).
- His first word to the out-cast babe-- which represented Israel, and became ''perfect through His comeliness,'' which He had put upon it-- was Live (Eze 16:6).
- His word through the watchman was: ''I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. . . turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die, O house of Israel? (33:11).
- His care as a Shepherd is over the life of His sheep (ch. 34).
- He answered His own question, ''Can these dry bones live?'' with the words, ''Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live'' (37:3,5).
- Finally, as we have seen, His promise was,
''Everything shall live whither the river cometh.'' [47:9].
- ''Son of Man.''
- Throughout the book, God addresses Ezekiel as the ''Son of man.'' [eg., Eze 2:1,3,6,8; etc.]
It is part of His wondrous grace that He has chosen man to be His messenger to his fellow-men, instead of choosing angels. The greatest exhibition of this grace is the fact that the Son of God became the Son of Man to fit Him to be God's messenger to us. ''For verily, He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham''; in all things made like unto His brethren, that He might be able to succour [ie., to come to the aid of, to help] and to save us [Heb 2:16-18].
The book closes with the promise of God's continued presence. ''The name of the city from that day shall be Jehovah-shammah, The Lord is there.'' [Eze 48:35; cp. Jer 3:17; Zech 2:10; Rev 21:3; 22:3]