The vision of the chariot – Monday, 19th week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28c
We begin with the last of the three great prophets. The prophetic ministry of Ezekiel is set in a very turbulent background of the history of the people of Judah. These were the last few years of Judah’s independence and the last few years of the existence of the temple built by Solomon.
The Assyrians who had taken into exile the people of the northern kingdom in 723 BC found themselves by the year 628 BC, a weakened and tottering nation after the death of its last strong ruler, Ashurbanipal. At this time, King Josiah began the spiritual reforms in Judah but he lost his life in a battle with the Egyptians and his son was taken captive by the Egyptians. They Egyptians replaced his heir with another son and Jehoiakim becomes king in 609BC. Jehoiakim is unfaithful to Yahweh and has several run-ins with the prophet Jeremiah who accuses him of rejecting the covenant.
In 605, political events brought the Babylonians to power over the region and Judah. Judah becomes a vassal state to this new emerging superpower. At about this time, Babylon almost lost a battle to Egypt in the south in 601 BC. King Jehoiakim thought that a weakened Babylon should be challenged now or it will be too late to assert Judah’s independence. He was horribly wrong!
In 598 the Babylonian army sacked Jerusalem and exiled thousands of its leading citizens to Babylon. While Jehoiakim died, the new king, Jehoiachin was taken prisoner to Babylon along with men like Daniel and the newly ‘ordained’ priest, Ezekiel; the prophet of this book.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, appointed the uncle of King Jehoiachin as king-regent. King Zedekiah would be the last of the kings of Judah before they were taken into captivity in 586 BC. However, several years into his reign, Zedekiah revolted against Babylon much against the instructions of Jeremiah.
The Babylonians would have no more of the shenanigans of Judah. They laid siege to Jerusalem from 589-586,]’breaching its walls, burning the city, destroying the temple and taking into exile her people before killing the young princes before Zedekiah’s own eyes and then tearing those same eyes out.
The text of today tells us that Ezekiel began his ministry in 593/592 BC and was one of the Judean exiles taken into captivity in the first attack on Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. He will continue to prophecy through the fall of Jerusalem and beyond, up to 571 BC. We do not know hold old he was when God called him or if he lived and wrote after 571 BC. Legend has it that his tomb is near the town of Hilla in central Iraq.
The book can be divided into two parts; Chapters 1-24 contain oracles of judgment against Israel and chapter 25-48 proposes a variety of words of support and hope. The opening verses tell us of the vision of Ezekiel. Four remarkable beings were notable from a whirlwind of God’s presence. Ezekiel later identified these remarkable creatures as cherubim (Ezekiel 10:8-15), angels of unique power and glory surrounding God. Known from Assyrian religion as minor guardian deities of palaces and temples, the cherubim were usually portrayed in gigantic sculpture with the bodies of bulls or lions, wings like an eagle and a human head. In the Jerusalem Temple, the Lord was enthroned above in the holy of holies (Is 6:1–2).Ezekiel noted that they were not men; they were angelic beings, not human beings. Yet they had the likeness of a man – in general form and structure, they looked like men.
Christian tradition associates them with the four evangelists: the lion with Mark, the ox with Luke, the eagle with John, and the man with Matthew. The fact that they always went forward without taking anything back stood for the inerrancy of the Gospels. They went wherever the Spirit went; inspiration, said the Fathers.
Ezekiel further saw wheels besides the creatures, one for each. The wheels gleamed like chrysolite. There were wheels within wheels. It is unclear what is meant.by this Whenever the creatures went, the wheels went and could rise from the earth, for the spirit was in the wheels.
Over the heads of the creatures was a firmament, like crystal. When they went, the sound was like that of many waters. Above the firmament was a throne, like sapphire. He who sat on it seemed to have human form, but from his loins and up there was an appearance of gleaming bronze. His lower part was like fire. There was a brightness like a rainbow over Him.
Naturally, Ezekiel fell on his face. Then he heard a voice speaking.