I was fascinated by UFOs as a kid, and my favorite book on UFOs was a graphic novel, probably published in the mid-1970s, giving examples of UFOs spotted around the world. One of the examples proposed by the book was the Prophet Ezekiel’s description of a vision he had around 586 B.C.:
“I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, and the wings of one touched the wings of another. … Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.” (Ezekiel 1:4-10)
Could this have been a UFO carrying creatures from another planet, rather than a vision from God, the UFO book asked?
That is Not a Usual Fundamentalist Offering
The most recent article in my “7 Interesting Things …” series on books of the Bible is about the Book of Second Kings, which reports the Babylonian Empire’s conquest of Israel (what remained, the southern kingdom, Judah) in 597 B.C. and deporting a large number of Jews to Babylon, over 900 miles away. This was followed by the Babylonian Empire destroying Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 B.C.
Among those exiled to Babylon in 597 was the priest (or priest-trainee) Ezekiel. While he lived in Babylon, for over 20 years, Ezekiel saw visions from God and was commanded by God to speak for him.
The Book of Ezekiel represents itself as a first-person account of those visions written by Ezekiel himself.
Although the Book of Ezekiel comes later in the order of books given in the Bible, the people and stories it relays are contemporaneous with those of the latter part of Second Kings.
Here are 7 interesting things about the Book of Ezekiel:
1. Ezekiel might refer to Jesus and the cross as saving.
In one of Ezekiel’s visions, God tells “a man clothed in linen” to “go through … Jerusalem … and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” Those who have such a mark are spared from death. (Ezekiel 9:3-4)
The Hebrew term for mark is tav, which, in early Hebrew, was made by the sign of the cross.
So, some read God to tell the “man clothed in linen” to put a cross on the foreheads of people to save them.
John 20:5 tells us that Jesus, at his death and resurrection, was clothed in linen.
2. There are lots of references to sex in Ezekiel.
“But you … lavished your whorings on any passer-by. … You also took … gold and … silver … and made for yourself male images, and with them played the whore….” (16:15-17)
3. More sex.
“She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey’s ….” (23:20)
4. What is God like?
At one point, God says to Ezekiel about the people of Jerusalem who were not following God’s ways:
“So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.” (9:10)
What is the nature of God? Were Ezekiel’s visions impacted by the shock he and his fellow Jews felt at being conquered and exiled nearly a thousand miles from their home? Is Ezekiel quoting God or is Ezekiel having a vision of what he imagined God felt towards Jerusalem as a reason his home, Jerusalem, had been destroyed?
5. Evidence of editing.
The opening sentences of Ezekiel provide a good example of why scholars think part of the book has gone through editing over the years.
“In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month … the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him. I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. …”
Notice how the passage switches from first person (my, I) to third person (Ezekiel, him) to back to first person (I). Scholars think the third-person text was inserted later.
6. Ezekiel was filled with words.
Ezekiel explained that God said to him,
“’Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’”
“So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (3:3)
7. Chapters 40-43 describes a vision of how the rebuilt Temple will look, but it was not how the Second Temple looked. Is this a description of a yet-to-be-built Temple?
Ezekiel prophesied a rebuilt Temple, including these details and others: “In front of the rooms was an inner passageway ten cubits wide and a hundred cubits long. Their doors were on the north. Now the upper rooms were narrower, for the galleries took more space from them than from the rooms on the lower and middle floors of the building. The rooms on the top floor had no pillars, as the courts had; so they were smaller in floor space than those on the lower and middle floors. There was an outer wall parallel to the rooms and the outer court; it extended in front of the rooms for fifty cubits. While the row of rooms on the side next to the outer court was fifty cubits long, the row on the side nearest the sanctuary was a hundred cubits long. The lower rooms had an entrance on the east side as one enters them from the outer court.” (42:4-9)
The Temple was rebuilt, but it did not look like what Ezekiel described. The rebuilt Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Is this a prophecy yet to be fulfilled? Some believe that the Temple must again be rebuilt before Christ will return.
The Book of Ezekiel includes striking descriptions of visions and prophecies.
It tells the tale of God’s departure from Israel and God’s return. It is a lament about having been conquered. It includes violent depictions and offensive assertions. Ezekiel, a young priest in training, is ripped from what he thought was his future in Jerusalem. Now he is speaking for God to Jewish people in Babylon in shock over the slaughter of their friends and family and their own deportation by a foreign conqueror.
It is a story of despair and hope in the face of violence and trauma made through vivid and strange prophecies.
It is worth reading and considering what it means for us today.
And if you see any UFOs, please let me know ….
Sources & Notes
See generally The New Interpreters Study Bible, Nashville: New Abingdon Press (2003), pages 1153-54.
Picture at the top is a free-for-commercial-use one of Ezekiel from pixabay.
At some point, I’ll tell you about the UFO I saw between Pleasant Hill and Liberty, NC.
Scripture quoted is from the NIV and NLT.