By Horatius Bonar
"This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord!" -- Ezekiel 1:28
THE Book of Ezekiel corresponds in many respects with the Apocalypse. These books begin and end much in the same way; only the Old Testament prophet takes more the earthly aspects of things, the New Testament prophet the heavenly. Ezekiel's first chapter is a description of the shekinah and cherubim, John's first chapter is a description of Christ himself. Ezekiel's last chapters relate to Israel and the earthly Jerusalem, John's to the church and the heavenly Jerusalem.
Ezekiel's is the first full description we have of the shekinah and the cherubim. They are often alluded to in Jewish history; Isaiah specially mentions them; but they are described only here. Much about them was probably known to the Jews; for the high priest once a year was permitted to look upon them, and would relate when he came out what he saw; at least we do not read that what he saw when he went in were among the unspeakable things "which it is not lawful for a man to utter." But here the prophet is inspired to write down the details of the "great sight" in the holy of holies.
God was about to remove the glory from Israel; but before doing so, he does two things. He first describes the glory, that Israel might know what they were losing; and secondly, He gives his reasons for removing it (ver. 12), the sins of Jerusalem and of Israel. This, first chapter is a description of the glory, and the following chapters contain the reasons for the withdrawal; while the concluding chapters contain a prediction of its return in greater splendour,--never again to depart; the intermediate chapters containing God's judgments on those Gentile nations which were more or less in connection with Israel. Thus the book of Ezekiel is connected in all its parts throughout; simple, yet complete in its object and execution.
Let us mark the several words of our text--each of them full of meaning.
I. The Lord. That is, Jehovah. This is sometimes the name of Godhead; but more frequently (and originally) Messiah's name. In the New Testament, "Lord" is almost always the name of Christ. Here in Ezekiel it may be either or both. That which is seen there relates to God;--to the Godhead;--but then it is in Messiah, in the Word made flesh, that God comes into sight. So that while what the prophet saw relates to Godhead,--it does so in connection with Messiah as the manifestation or revelation of Godhead.
II. The glory. Jehovah is the glorious One. To him we ascribe the GLORY,--that is, all infinite perfection and excellence. That which we call his "perfections," Scripture calls his "glory." It was this glory which Moses prayed to see; and it was this which God made known to him when He passed by and proclaimed His name (Exodus 33:22; 34:6,7). It was something infinitely admirable, perfect, loveable; solemn and awful, yet beautiful and attractive. It is the full glory of the Lord that we behold in Jesus.
III. The likeness. The word is the same as in Genesis 1:26, "After our likeness" and occurs more frequently in Ezekiel than in all Scripture beside. Man was originally God's "likeness;" but this being defaced, God makes another and more perfect likeness of Himself. The full development of this "likeness" is in Jesus Christ, "the express image of his person;" but there was an imperfect foreshadowing of this in that which was placed in the tabernacle and temple,--which "dwelt between the cherubim," or rather, which "inhabited the cherubim." Every other "likeness," or attempt to make a likeness, God has forbidden. For none can reveal God but himself.
IV. The appearatice. That is "the vision" that met the eye,-- the rays streaming from the glory; the brightness or "offshining" of the glory, as Paul expresses it (Hebrews 1:3); the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). The "vision," or "appearance," or "visible form," was meant for man's eye to look upon,--it was the visible representation of the invisible God, in such a way as should reveal the glory to creatures who otherwise cannot see God,--the "King eternal, immortal, and invisible. "
Thus God gave to Israel a glorious discovery of himself, a visible manifestation of his invisible perfections,--a perfect embodiment to man's creature-senses of God's character and excellencies; so that by looking to it man might know God, in his love, his greatness, his holiness, his majesty. All this was afterwards gathered up and embodied in the man Christ Jesus. Old Testament saints thus got glimpses of God and of his glory; enough to gladden them and produce happy confidence, but not enough fully to satisfy; for all these appearances said, There is still something behind, something still to come; and that something was nothing less than the only begotten of the Father. So is it said to us, "There is much yet to be revealed,"--"good things to come."
The residence of this glory in the temple was the special mark of God's favour to Israel,--his special honour bestowed on Jerusalem. For ages that glory dwelt in that city, among that people. Its presence proclaimed the love of God, and his desire that Israel should know him. When, therefore, Israel had sinned beyond divine forbearance, God marked his condemnation and displeasure by removing the glory. But before He did so, he warned, and threatened, and entreated; then when he could bear their sins no longer, he sent his prophets to announce the departure of the glory. But even to the last his long-suffering shews itself, just as when Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The glory first comes out from the sanctuary, and lingers at the threshold,--unwilling to leave. Then it takes its place over the city,--lingering, and unwilling to leave. Then it goes to the mount of Olives,--still fondly lingering, desirous if possible to remain in the beloved city. Then at last, when every message is vain, it takes to itself wings and vanishes away.
What a lesson is here! What love, what pity, what longsuffering, what yearning! Truly the Lord "hateth putting away." He would fain abide in the place of which He had said, "This is my rest." Slowly, slowly he turns away from it; by that lingering slowness inviting them to ask him to return,--to lift the universal cry, Stay, oh stay! And he would have stayed; even at the last; but Israel would have none of Him. Rather did they pray Him to depart out of their coasts.
Thus God lingers over his well-beloved world! Why this long delay of judgment? Why these ages of suspended wrath?
Iniquity abounds, yet God smites not. Men provoke Him to the uttermost, yet he yearns over them with his old unwearied utterance of love, "How shall I give thee up?" He has not forgotten his threatenings. He is not trifling with sin, nor indifferent to the crimes of earth. But he is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Yes; the meaning of the delay and the longsuffering is SALVATION. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would fain spare even Sodom, much more Jerusalem. For God is love, and the last days of earth's apostasy will yet bear testimony to the sincerity of his messages,--to the riches of divine grace; to the unquenched love of God.