1-3. (a) Describe what Ezekiel sees and hears. (See opening picture.) (b) What was the power behind Ezekiel’s experience, and how was he affected?
EZEKIEL stares into the distance, peering out across the broad, sandy plain. His eyes narrow, then open wide. He can scarcely believe what he is seeing. There, near the horizon, a tempest is brewing. But it is no ordinary storm. As a fierce wind from the north whips his hair and clothing about, he sees an immense, towering cloud. It is lit up from within by flashing fire, and its glow reminds him of molten precious metal. * As the cloud rushes toward Ezekiel, a sound grows louder and louder—a roaring like a great army on the move.—Ezek. 1:4, 24.
2 At about 30 years of age, this young man is having the first of a series of unforgettable experiences. He feels “the hand of Jehovah” upon him, the irresistible power of Jehovah’s holy spirit. What that spirit will cause him to see and hear will be spectacular, far more amazing than any special-effects movie created by today’s filmmakers. Ezekiel’s vision will leave him facedown on the ground, completely overwhelmed.—Ezek. 1:3, 28.
3 However, Jehovah has more in mind than simply filling this man with awe. Ezekiel’s first vision—like the rest of those recorded in that thrilling prophetic book—is rich with meaning, both for him and for faithful servants of Jehovah today. So let us take a closer look at what Ezekiel sees and hears.
4, 5. What was the setting of Ezekiel’s vision?
4 Read Ezekiel 1:1-3. Let us first recall the setting. The year was 613 B.C.E. As we learned in the preceding chapter, Ezekiel was in Babylon, living among his fellow exiles in a community by the river Chebar—evidently a navigable, man-made canal that branched off from the river Euphrates and later rejoined it.
5 The exiles’ home, Jerusalem, was some 500 miles (800 km) away. * The temple, where Ezekiel’s father had served as a priest, had fallen into corruption and idolatry. The throne in Jerusalem, where David and Solomon had once reigned in glory, was now a source of shame. Faithless King Jehoiachin was here in Babylon with the exiles. His replacement on the throne, Zedekiah, was a mere puppet and a wicked man.—2 Ki. 24:8-12, 17, 19.
6, 7. Why might Ezekiel have felt that he lived in dark times?
6 For a man of faith like Ezekiel, these must have seemed the darkest of times. Some of his fellow exiles may have wondered: ‘Has Jehovah left us forever? Will this evil power Babylon with her countless false gods really banish the pure worship of Jehovah and eliminate his rulership from the earth?’
7 With that background in mind, why not begin your personal study of this subject by reading Ezekiel’s vivid description of his first vision? (Ezek. 1:4-28) As you do, try to imagine yourself in Ezekiel’s place, seeing what he saw and hearing what he heard.
A Vehicle Like No Other
8. What did Ezekiel see in vision, and what did it represent?
8 Taken as a whole, what did Ezekiel witness? It looked like an immense, awe-inspiring vehicle, which has been described as a chariot. It included four tremendous wheels accompanied by four unusual spirit creatures, later identified as cherubs. (Ezek. 10:1) Above them stretched a vast platform, or expanse, like ice, above which sat the glorious throne of God, occupied by Jehovah himself! What, though, was the meaning of that chariot? Ezekiel’s vision could fittingly represent only one thing: the heavenly part of Jehovah’s glorious universal organization. Why do we say that? Consider three factors that lead to such a conclusion.
9. How does Jehovah’s relationship with his heavenly creatures match the description of a vehicle?
9 Jehovah’s relationship with his heavenly creatures. Note that in this vision, Jehovah’s throne is situated above the cherubs. In other parts of God’s Word, Jehovah is similarly described or represented as sitting enthroned above or between his cherubs. (Read 2 Kings 19:15; Ex. 25:22; Ps. 80:1) Of course, he does not literally sit above his cherubs—as if he needs to be carried by those mighty spirit creatures—any more than he needs to ride on a literal chariot. But the cherubs support his sovereignty, and he can send them to any spot in the universe to carry out his sovereign will. They, like all of God’s holy angels, carry out Jehovah’s decisions as his ministers, or agents. (Ps. 104:4) In that sense, Jehovah “rides” upon them all, directing them with his sovereign rule, as if they comprise one huge, unified vehicle.
10. What suggests that more than four cherubs are involved with the heavenly chariot?
10 The vehicle represents more than the cherubs. The cherubs that Ezekiel saw numbered four. That number is often used in the Bible to suggest symmetry or completeness—an all-embracing universality. Fittingly, then, the presence of four cherubs suggests that all of Jehovah’s loyal spirit sons are represented. Note, too, that the wheels and even the cherubs themselves are full of eyes, suggesting the watchful alertness of many more than just the four spirit creatures shown. And Ezekiel’s description of the vehicle implies that it is immense, making even those impressive cherubs look small. (Ezek. 1:18, 22; 10:12) Likewise, the heavenly part of Jehovah’s organization is vast, encompassing far more than four cherubs.
11. What similar vision did Daniel have, and what are we led to conclude?
11 Daniel’s similar vision of heaven. The prophet Daniel lived out the long years of exile in the city of Babylon, and he too was given a vision of heaven. Interestingly, in that vision as well, Jehovah’s throne had wheels. Daniel’s vision focused on the immensity of Jehovah’s spirit family in heaven. Daniel saw “a thousand thousands . . . and ten thousand times ten thousand” of God’s spirit sons standing before Jehovah. They sat as a celestial Court, each individual evidently in his own assigned place. (Dan. 7:9, 10, 13-18) Does it not seem reasonable to conclude that Ezekiel’s vision represented this same glorious spirit assemblage?
12. Why is it a protection for us to study such passages as Ezekiel’s vision of the celestial chariot?
12 Jehovah knows that it is a protection for us humans to focus our minds on spiritual realities—“the things unseen,” as the apostle Paul called them. Why? Being flesh-and-blood creatures, we tend to dwell too much on “the things seen,” our physical concerns, which are only temporary. (Read 2 Corinthians 4:18.) Satan often plays on that tendency and pushes us toward becoming fleshly-minded people. To help us resist that pressure, Jehovah lovingly provides us with such passages as this one in Ezekiel’s prophecy, giving us thrilling reminders of the awesome majesty of Jehovah’s celestial family!
13, 14. (a) How did Ezekiel describe the wheels that he saw? (b) Why is it fitting that Jehovah’s chariot has wheels?
13 At first, Ezekiel focused his attention on the four cherubs, and in Chapter 4 of this publication, we will see what those creatures and their remarkable form teach us about Jehovah. However, Ezekiel saw the four wheels right alongside those cherubs, evidently at four points, forming a huge square. (Read Ezekiel 1:16-18.) They seemed to be composed of chrysolite, a precious stone that may be transparent or translucent and yellow or yellowish-green in color. This beautiful material glowed.
14 Ezekiel’s vision placed great emphasis on the chariot’s wheels. It is an unusual combination, is it not? A throne with wheels! We might tend to think of a throne as being fixed to one spot and naturally so, for earthly monarchs can extend their influence only so far. But Jehovah’s sovereignty is quite unlike any human rulership. As Ezekiel was about to learn, there are no limits to Jehovah’s sovereign power. (Neh. 9:6) In a very real sense, this Sovereign can exert his authority anywhere!
15. What did Ezekiel notice regarding the composition and size of the wheels?
15 Ezekiel was awestruck by the size of the wheels. He wrote: “Their rims were so high that they inspired awe.” We may imagine Ezekiel tilting his head back to gaze at the colossal, glowing rims stretching up toward the sky. And he added this intriguing detail: “The rims of all four [wheels] were full of eyes all around.” Perhaps most fascinating of all, though, was the unusual structure of the wheels. He explained: “Their appearance and structure looked as though a wheel were within a wheel.” What did that mean?
16, 17. (a) In what sense did the chariot have wheels within wheels? (b) What do the wheels reveal about the maneuverability of Jehovah’s vehicle?
16 Evidently, each wheel that Ezekiel saw was, in effect, two wheels combined, with one wheel set at right angles to the other and sharing the same vertical axis. That would explain why these wheels performed as Ezekiel described: “When they moved, they could go in any of the four directions without turning as they went.” What do these wheels suggest about the heavenly vehicle Ezekiel saw?
17 Wheels of such tremendous height would cover a lot of ground with even a single revolution. In fact, the vision suggests that the vehicle moved with the speed of lightning! (Ezek. 1:14) Furthermore, the unusual four-way wheels suggest a kind of maneuverability that human engineers can only dream of. This vehicle can shift directions without slowing down or even turning! But it does not make such moves blindly. The eyes covering the rims vividly convey the idea that this vehicle is completely aware of everything around it, in every direction.
18. What do we learn from the awesome size of the wheels and the abundance of eyes?
18 What, then, was Jehovah teaching Ezekiel—and all faithful people—about the heavenly part of His organization? Consider what we have seen so far. It is glorious and awe-inspiring, as suggested by the glowing material of the wheels and their size. It is aware of everything, as suggested by the abundance of eyes on the wheels. Jehovah’s own eyes see all things. (Prov. 15:3; Jer. 23:24) Furthermore, he has many millions of angelic servants whom he may send to any part of the universe, and these can observe matters keenly and report back to their Sovereign.—Read Hebrews 1:13, 14.
19. What does the speed and maneuverability of Jehovah’s chariot teach us about Jehovah and the heavenly part of his organization?
19 Further, we see that the chariot is supremely fast and maneuverable. Just think of the contrast between the heavenly part of Jehovah’s organization and human governments, institutions, and organizations! Those tend to blunder along blindly, failing to adapt to changing circumstances until they plunge into catastrophe or become outdated. But Jehovah’s chariot perfectly reflects the reasonable, adaptable God who is in control of it. As his very name suggests, he can become anything that is needed in order to accomplish his purpose. (Ex. 3:13, 14) For example, he can swiftly become a mighty Warrior who fights for his people, but he can instantly shift to being the merciful Forgiver of sins who nurtures and restores even the most brokenhearted of repentant sinners.—Ps. 30:5; Isa. 66:13.
20. Why should we be in awe of Jehovah’s chariot?
20 Ezekiel’s vision, at this point, may move us to ask ourselves, ‘Am I really in awe of Jehovah’s chariot?’ We need to remember that the chariot represents a reality that exists right now. Never should we imagine that Jehovah, his Son, and all the angels might be blind to some problem that discourages us. Nor should we worry that our God will be late in responding to our needs or that his organization will fail to adapt to some new challenge arising in the volatile world around us. We do well to remember that Jehovah’s organization is active, ever on the move. In fact, Ezekiel heard a heavenly voice crying out: “Wheelwork!”—evidently a command for the wheels to set themselves in motion. (Ezek. 10:13) Is it not awesome to contemplate the way Jehovah moves his organization? Our greatest awe, though, we reserve for Jehovah himself.
The One in Control
21, 22. How might we explain what holds the chariot’s parts in place?
21 Ezekiel’s attention was drawn from those wheels upward, where he saw “the likeness of an expanse that sparkled like awesome ice.” (Ezek. 1:22) Far above the heads of the cherubs, the expanse stretched out, glistening in translucent glory. At this point, though, the mechanically inclined reader might be full of questions about the vehicle. For example, some might wonder: ‘What holds that platform up above the wheels? And how can the wheels function without axles to join them together?’ Keep in mind that this vehicle is not bound by physical laws, for it is symbolic, a depiction of a reality in the spirit realm. Note, too, these key words: “The spirit operating on the living creatures was also in the wheels.” (Ezek. 1:20, 21) What spirit was operative on those cherubs and on the wheels?
22 Without question, it was Jehovah’s holy spirit, the most powerful force in the universe. That active force holds this vehicle together, empowers it, and governs its perfectly synchronized movements. With that in mind, let us follow Ezekiel’s gaze as it turns to the One in control of the chariot.
Ezekiel had to find words for sights that were almost beyond description
23. What type of expressions does Ezekiel use to try to describe Jehovah, and why?
23 Read Ezekiel 1:26-28. Throughout his description of this vision, Ezekiel often uses such expressions as “appearance,” “appeared to be,” “resembled,” and “something like.” But in these verses, that tendency intensifies. He seems to be trying to find words for sights that were almost beyond description. He saw “what looked like a sapphire stone, and it resembled a throne.” Can you imagine a throne carved from one huge, deep-blue sapphire? And there, seated on it, was a Personage. His “appearance resembled that of a human.”
24, 25. (a) Of what does the rainbow surrounding Jehovah’s throne remind us? (b) How have such visions sometimes affected men of faith?
24 The majestic figure was discernible only in a general way, for Jehovah radiated flames of glory from the waist down and from the waist up. We may well imagine the prophet’s needing to squint and to shade his eyes as he gazed at the glorious form. Finally, Ezekiel noted this crowning touch to the vision: “There was a brilliance all around him like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day.” Have you ever felt your spirits lift when you caught sight of a rainbow? What a vivid reminder of the glory of our Creator! That colorful, serene arch in the sky may also remind us of Jehovah’s covenant of peace after the Deluge. (Gen. 9:11-16) Powerful though he is, the Almighty is a God of peace. (Heb. 13:20) Peace reigns in his heart and spreads to all those who worship him faithfully.
25 What was the effect of seeing a depiction of the glory of Jehovah God? Ezekiel recorded what happened: “When I saw it, I fell facedown.” Overcome with awe and godly fear, Ezekiel dropped to the ground. Other prophets had similar reactions on receiving visions from Jehovah; the experience must be deeply humbling, even overwhelming. (Isa. 6:1-5; Dan. 10:8, 9; Rev. 1:12-17) In time, though, such men were greatly strengthened by what Jehovah revealed to them. Ezekiel surely was. How, then, should we be affected when reading Scriptural accounts such as these?
26. How must Ezekiel’s vision have strengthened him?
26 If Ezekiel was troubled by any doubts or misgivings about the situation of God’s people there in Babylon, that vision must have strengthened him. Clearly, it did not matter whether God’s faithful people were in Jerusalem or in Babylon or anywhere else. They would never be outside the reach of Jehovah’s magnificent chariot! What satanic power could ever stand up against the God who is in control of such a glorious celestial organization? (Read Psalm 118:6.) Ezekiel saw, too, that the heavenly vehicle was not far removed from mankind. Why, its wheels touched the very earth! (Ezek. 1:19) So Jehovah was keenly interested in his faithful people there in exile. They would always be within the reach of their Father’s loving care!
The Chariot and You
27. What meaning does Ezekiel’s vision have for us today?
27 Does Ezekiel’s vision have meaning for us today? Without question! Remember, Satan is mounting ever greater attacks on the pure worship of Jehovah. He would love to convince us that we are alone, isolated, beyond the reach of our heavenly Father and his organization. Never give such lies a foothold in your mind or heart! (Ps. 139:7-12) Like Ezekiel, we have every reason to be filled with awe. We may not fall facedown as he did. However, should we not marvel and feel awestruck by the power, the speed, the maneuverability, the adaptability, and the sheer glory of the heavenly part of Jehovah’s universal organization?
28, 29. What shows that Jehovah’s chariot has been on the move during the past century?
28 Remember, too, that Jehovah’s organization has an earthly component. Granted, the earthly part is composed of imperfect humans. But think of what Jehovah has accomplished here on earth! All over the world, Jehovah has moved mere humans to do what they could never have done on their own. (John 14:12) Just leafing through the pages of the book God’s Kingdom Rules! may remind us of the amazing scope of the preaching work over the course of the past century. We may also call to mind the strides that Jehovah’s organization has made in educating true Christians, in securing legal victories, and even in using the latest technology to carry out God’s will!
29 When we consider all that has been done regarding the restoration of pure worship during the last days of this corrupt system of things, it becomes ever clearer that Jehovah’s chariot has been on the move. What an awesome privilege we have to be associated with this organization and to serve such a Sovereign!—Ps. 84:10.
30. What will we consider in the next chapter?
30 Ezekiel’s vision has more to teach us, though. In the following chapter, we will take a closer look at those four remarkable “living creatures,” or cherubs. What can they teach us about our glorious Sovereign, Jehovah God?