by Alfred D. Byrd, author of Ezekiel's Chariot
Ezekiel's vision of God's glory, seen amid his exile among fellow Jews to Babylon, is one of Scripture's most misunderstood passages. Some have built on it extreme teachings that have led religious leaders to restrict study of it either completely or only to the most mature and learned in their community of faith and practice. Today's interpretation of the chariot as a flying saucer is hardly the most outrageous of the interpretations of Ezekiel's vision that have been made since he had it some twenty-five hundred years ago.
Lost in false interpretations is the true interpretation: that we learn what the chariot is only by carefully comparing scripture with scripture. Properly understood, the chariot is a theophany, a dramatic appearance of God to us humans with a message of consolation and warning for us. The vision of a heavenly chariot was rooted in Jewish experience of the prophet's time — an experience of despair in a present of persecution and exile, but also of hope in a future of restoration and glory. That vision was rooted in earlier visions of prophets such as Moses, David, and Isaiah as given shape in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple.
The chariot was not something new in God's dealings with humanity, but the culmination of previous visions of God's wonders: of the cherubim and the flaming sword that kept the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, of the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Midian, of the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night that guided the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, of the fire from heaven that fell onto altars dedicated to the LORD — of the six-winged seraphim who chanted "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts" in the Temple's Holy Place when God called the prophet Isaiah to deliver a message of judgment and salvation to a people that had forgotten Who God is. The chariot is the same chariot that King David saw when God delivered to him plans for a temple that his son Solomon would build as a place for God's glory to manifest itself amid God's people.
Ezekiel's chariot, combining imagery of David's chariot, Solomon's temple, cherubim, and seraphim, was a sign to a people that had lost everything and languished in exile in Babylon that God remembered them and would restore them to a life of blessings through faith in and obedience to Him. The vision of the chariot still speaks to all of us, Jews and Christians. Out of Ezekiel's vision of living creatures and of wheels within wheels comes the message that the heavens can come to the earth — that deliverance can come to each of us. The chariot is not a secret thing for mystics alone, but an open truth that all who study Ezekiel's prophecy can learn. What confuses us about the chariot when we view it as an insoluble mystery will strengthen us when we view it as a shining revelation of the God Who made us, loves us, and is ever ready to forgive us and restore us to joy when we turn from our own ways to follow His way.
You can learn more about Ezekiel's Chariot at Amazon.com.