Ezekiel 1:1–12 (NKJV)
1:1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. 2 On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, 3 the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
Here in the beginning of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet sets the time frame for this vision. It is understood by some that the 30 year reference may have alluded to Ezekiel’s age, and that the fifth year of King Jehoiachin was definitely the years of his captivity. The reference to the hand of the Lord signifies that this was a direct, divine action, an extraordinary event. The reference to the River Chebar shows that this vision happened at a place of cleansing or a place separate from the dwellings of the foreign people–a place more holy.
4 Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. 5 Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. 6 Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze. 8 The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. 9 Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
In this account, it appears that an awesome sight, almost suddenly, shows up as the heavens open to reveal it. The storm, cloud, and fire references signify a theophany, or appearance of God or some divine character. The throne aspect is seen in the amber color, which can be translated as brass, or a gold-toned throne reference. The creatures could be seen as throne-bearers. They are living creatures, and seem to bear the throne of God as they move under the direction of the Spirit. They looked like men, with arms and legs, but also had wings and four faces each.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies. 12 And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.
The four faces connote a sense of the highest of all creatures: human above all others, eagle among birds, ox among cattle, and lion among the wild beasts. This shows that the best of earth serves God in His travel to speak to man. Two of their wings cover their bodies, a sign of humility in the presence of the Lord. The other two wings stretch out to touch the wings of the creatures next to them, perhaps creating a covering for the presence of God, protecting man and protecting the reverence of God Himself. They are, again however, controlled the the Spirit, and the throne goes where the Lord Spirit wills.
This picture, while surreal and almost as if from a science fiction movie, shows us the powerful image of God’s presence revealed to Ezekiel and sets the stage for the prophecies that will ensue. Ezekiel is hearing from God Almighty, Lord of Heaven and Earth. He is not imagining things or speaking from His own mind, but is rather having a divine encounter with an awesome, holy God. It lends credence to his words and the prophetic nature of his writing. When you are speaking on behalf of the Lord, whether in preaching, teaching, witnessing, or writing, be certain that you speak for God and not for yourself. Your words must be based upon His words. Your truth must submit to and reflect God’s truth. If not, you speak opinion, which is not authroritative. Speak on the authority of God and not yourself, share from your experience with the image of God, and what you say will mean something!