Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord.
Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim.
Ezekiel 10:3-4, 18 (NIV)
For those reading the prophetic visions of the ancient prophets for the first time, they must seem like nothing more than the recollection of an LSD induced hallucination at a Grateful Dead concert. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of these visions in the vacuum of the chapter itself. There is a broader context that has to be considered in order for things to start making sense. Think about it, if someone simply read the “prophecy” about Harry Potter and Voldemort revealed at the end of The Order of the Phoenix and didn’t know anything about the rest of the story, would it make any sense by itself?
For me, there were three pieces of information outside today’s chapter that brought Ezekiel’s vision out of the haze and into focus:
- Moses experience on the mountain of God. Way back in the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain to receive the tablets with the commandments on them. He sees God “face to face” and when he returns from the mountain his face is “radiant,” so bright that he had to cover it (Exodus 34). It wasn’t sunburn, it was God’s “glory” or radiance. In fact, at the end of the Great Story when eternity is described, there is no Sun or Moon (or day and night) because God’s glory provides all the light needed. God’s glory throughout the entirety of God’s Message is a sign of God’s presence.
- The dedication of Solomon’s temple. When the temple was built by King Solomon and the ark of the covenant (think Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) was brought into the temple, God’s presence filled the temple in the form of a cloud. The cloud, like the veil over Moses’ face, was a sign of God’s presence and a protective covering for the bright radiance of God’s glory (Did you notice when Indy opened the vault that contained the ark it glowed? That was Hollywood wizardry doing their version of the glory of God) . After the dedication of the temple, God warned Solomon: “But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot Israel from my land,which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 21 This temple will become a heap of rubble.” (2 Chronicles 5,7)
- The context of the last few chapters. Today’s vision is part of a broader vision Ezekiel is recounting from chapters eight through 11. It began with God revealing to Ezekiel the idolatry (the same idolatry He warned Solomon about) in and around the Temple and it continued with God’s judgement on the idolators. Today, what Ezekiel is seeing from the spiritual realm is a further consequence of the idolatry and further fulfillment of God’s warning to Solomon. God’s glory and presence is being taken out of the temple in preparation for its destruction.
Today, I am mulling over the events Ezekiel describes in this broader context of the entirety of the Great Story being told throughout God’s Message. When God warned Solomon about idolatry, He knew very well what would eventually happen. It’s a grand word picture of my own personal experience. Despite my best intentions, I fall short of spiritual perfection. Look close enough (actually, you probably don’t even have to look that close) and you’ll find plenty of ammunition to accuse me of hypocrisy. Guilty as charged.
And, that’s really the main point I find in these Old Testament stories. Try as we may, we can’t achieve an acceptable spiritual level on our own that meets God’s standard. We keep slipping back into our own personal forms of idolatry by choosing our own way. The results, as Ezekiel is seeing in his vision, are disastrous. It seems like God was trying to let humanity fail so we’d learn the lesson the same way a wise parent sometimes let’s a child fail for the same reason. “You can’t do this on your own,” God seems to be saying. “If you are to escape the deathly consequences of your own choices, you need a savior to save you from yourselves.”
[cue: enter Jesus, stage right]