As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. (Ezekiel 1: 15-18)
Last week I began a daunting task: I began a Bible study on the Book of Ezekiel. If you’re like me, Ezekiel brings to mind images of wheels within wheels and valleys of dry bones. You might also find it a bit confusing. I know I do. I mean, I like to think that I’m fairly well versed in Scripture. I’m no expert, but I’ve read the Bible a few times, I study it widely, and I love to discuss it. When I think of Ezekiel though, I turn and run the other way! That’s why I decided to get a commentary and actually dive into it!
I’ve been using Warren Wiersbe’s commentary called “Be Reverent.” According to Wiersbe, two of the major themes of Ezekiel are God’s Holiness and God’s Power, thus we ought to “Be Reverent.” The “Wheels within wheels” are part of the vision that Ezekiel has of God and his glory in chapter 1. These wheels are full of eyes, and the fact that they are wheels within wheels allows them to effortlessly change direction and go in another direction instantly. I had a hard time picturing this until I read Wiersbe’s take, and I liked the picture I posted above. Wiersbe interprets these wheels as being symbolic of the providence of God: “always at work, intricately designed, never wrong, and never late!” I like that. I’d all also add that the eyes covering the wheels symbolize God’s ability to see all, all of the time.
That’s pretty awesome isn’t it? Plus, that’s only part of the vision! You can read all of Ezekiel 1 to get the full affect.
In the study questions at the end of the chapter Wiersbe asks the readers to think about what things symbolize God’s holiness and power in their own minds. This was easy for me. Here’s one:
I’m a weather geek. I love observing this particular, ever-moving aspect of creation. To me lightning is a perfect symbol of God’s holiness. Lightning is white hot, and you only glimpse it for second. Should you actually have a close encounter with it, it’s going to mark you for the rest of your life, at the very least. Lightning also kills hundreds of people each year.
God’s holiness is the same: it’s absolutely white hot, and unapproachable. You only get little glimpses of it, and when you do, it can be spectacular! An encounter with the holiness of God is dangerous. Jewish high priests were only allowed to enter the Holy Of Holies, where God was present on the Mercy Seat of The Ark of the Covenant, once per year. To do so on any other day at any other time meant death. So to me, lightning always symbolizes the blistering, unapproachable holiness of God.
Here’s the thing that symbolizes His power:
The tornado above struck El Reno, Oklahoma, on May 31, 2013. An EF-5, it packed winds of more than 295 mph, some of the fastest winds ever measured. It is also the widest tornado ever recorded. It was on the ground for nearly 40 minutes and chewed up more than 16 miles worth of land. Eight people died and 151 were injured, including several storm chasers.
Tornadoes are weather pretty much at it’s most powerful. Floods can grind up streets and wash away homes. Large hurricanes can devastate huge areas and entire states, but the wind speeds, the raw power present in an EF-5 Tornado have no equal. Tornadoes are unpredictable. They are still nearly immeasurable at their cores. Despite years of study, countless dollars, and many lives lost we cannot say what for sure creates the conditions necessary to produce a tornado in a specific area well in advance. We certainly cannot control them. All we can do is stand by and watch their raw power.
God’s power is raw power. Some Jews have a custom where they don’t actually utter the Divine Name because of the power inherent in it. It is a power that is explosive, unpredictable, immeasurable, and certainly uncontrollable.
Now, I’m not trying to trivialize these powerful phenomenon as mere symbols. These things kill people, destroy property, and ruin lives every year. I’m also not implying that I believe that God causes these phenomenon, and I’m not implying that they are some symbol of divine judgment.
But when I behold a bolt of lightning from the sky, or a tornado on TV, I am reminded of the power of God. When I lived in Florida, we came under a tornado warning and I spent the longest 10 minutes of my life huddled with my wife and dog in pure fear. I was from Utah, and we don’t generally deal with them here. I honestly think that the fear would be my strongest immediate response to coming face to face with the awesome holiness or raw power of God.
My guess is that might be a little of what Ezekiel felt at first when he had the vision in Ezekiel 1. I look forward to delving into the rest of the book.