Chapter 20 – The Holy Spirit in Ezekiel

“The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him.” Ezekiel 1:3.

The ministry of Ezekiel was dramatic and pathetic. Like Jeremiah’s, it was connected with the fall of Judah, but it differed in this, that while Jeremiah was present amid the scenes of sorrow connected with that awful tragedy. Ezekiel was far removed and saw it in vision only, from the distant banks of the river Chebar. God showed it all to him, and day by day the painful panorama passed before his eyes and was reproduced to his countrymen around him in his inspired visions; so that, the very day the city fell, he knew it in his spirit, although the tidings did not reach him until years afterward.

Indeed, in his own personal life he became a sort of object lesson of the events which he described, and in which he was so deeply interested as a prophet and a patriot. In his own person he suffered in type and figure what his country and people were enduring. He went through the days of famine, eating unclean food, and setting forth in his own sufferings the horrors of the approaching calamities.

The day that Jerusalem fell, his own wife died, and he knew that she was made in God’s mysterious providence an awful picture of the blow that had fallen upon Jerusalem. Thus he both lived and taught the lessons of his time, and left the wondrous record for the instruction of later ages.

The events that were transpiring around him formed a fitting framework for the message of faith and hope which he was sent to unveil for the future. Through the wreck of Israel’s national history, he was able to see, as through the broken walls of a ruined building, the light of the coming dispensation and the promise of a better hope.

His pages shine with the light of the Gospel, unfolding with a clearness, that even Isaiah does not surpass, the times of the Messiah, and especially the person and work of the blessed Holy Spirit. Nowhere are there more sublime heights of holy vision, and nowhere more clear, spiritual and practical unfoldings of truth revealing the spiritual life and the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. Let us look at three remarkable visions of his prophecy.

1. THE VISION OF THE GLORY. The prophecy opened with an extraordinary vision of peculiar sublimity and majesty, revealing the glory of the Lord in the mighty working of His Spirit and providence.

First, he saw a whirlwind coming from the north, the direction from which the enemies of Israel came, and where the great world empires had their seat. In the midst of this whirlwind there was a fire enfolding itself; a sort of whirlwind fire, turning upon its own axis, and sweeping on in majesty and glory. The whirlwind and the fire have already been made familiar as the symbols of God and His manifested presence and glory.

Next, he beheld in the midst of the fiery whirlwind four living creatures. These were the cherubim. We have already seen them at the gate of Eden and in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and they reappear in the vision of the Apocalypse.

They are special symbols of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God’s infinite attributes and mighty workings through Him. The faces of the lion, the ox, the eagle, and the man represent the sovereignty, the power, the intelligence, and the love which guide all the government of God and the whole plan of redemption which He is working out through the Lord Jesus Christ.

These cherub forms were robed in fire, and they moved like the lightning and the living flame. As in the other representations of the cherubic figures, they had six wings, denoting the swiftness and celerity of their movements. To still heighten the figure, there were, next, four mighty wheels, so vast in the sweep of their circumference that, to the prophet’s eye, they seemed terrible in their majesty. Their tires were full of eyes, all around their vast circumference.

These wheels kept time to the movement of the wings of the cherubim, and bore the cherubic forms wherever the Spirit directed: for “the Spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

This wonderful vision represented the majesty, the grandeur, the power, and the celerity of the operations of God’s mighty Spirit and universal providence. It was the sublime figure of the omnipresence and infinite activity of the living God and the Holy Spirit, who, as the divine Executive, is ever carrying out His purposes and plans.

All this sublime imagery was but the foundation for something still grander. For the prophet next beheld, above the cherubim, the wings, and the wheels, a mighty firmament, shining in its transparent brightness like the terrible crystal; and on this firmament a glorious throne like a flaming jasper; on this throne, as the centre of the whole vision and the sublime climax of the whole picture, was “the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.”

This was the glorious mediatorial throne of the Lord Jesus Christ, and around about it was the rainbow of covenant promise, softening all the awful brightness,and proclaiming to His people that He was their covenant King.

What a majestic vision of the glory of God, of the Son of Man, and of the Holy Spirit, through whom He works out His mighty plans, and whose swiftness, strength, omnipresence and omniscience are so majestically represented in the consuming fire, the gleaming lightning, the awful whirlwind, the cherub forms, the manifold wings, the living wheels full of eyes around their whole circumference, the crystal firmament, the sapphire throne, the Son of man; above it all, the rainbow of covenant promise, and the Holy Spirit working out all the purposes of God’s infinite love and grace!

Such was the vision with which Ezekiel’s ministry began. Such was the mighty One whose messenger he was called to be. Soon after, the personal call came, God commanded him to take the roll containing his message and eat it; and, as he did so, it became as honey in his mouth and in his bowels. Then the vision returned once more, and the glory again appeared before his sight, and God sent him forth to repeat the message, and to be a watchman unto His people, and to warn them from Him; and he went forth to his lifework, armed with the consciousness of that glorious presence, in view of which the power and the persecutions of his enemies were as naught.

To us, beloved, may not come the majestic vision which Ezekiel saw; but faith can clothe the gentle Presence that whispers to our hearts with all the majesty of those ancient garments. We can know that He who speaks to us so gently and works so patiently in our lives is the same majestic Presence that filled the heavens with His glory, whose mighty wheels of providence sweep with the celerity of the lightning around the vast circumference of the universe.

The vision has passed away, but the glory still remains.Though that glory is veiled today, yet it is nonetheless real; and some day we shall behold it, too, as Ezekiel saw it of old by the river Chebar.

2. THE DEPARTING VISION. This glorious vision which Ezekiel saw was yet in the midst of Israel. It was the Presence which had led them through all their history. It was the same God who had marched before them and hovered above them in the pillar of cloud and flame, dividing the Red Sea and the Jordan, conquering the Canaanites, establishing the throne of David, exalting Solomon to all his glory, and manifesting Himself in the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, and in the wonders of divine love and power through all the centuries of Israel’s history. Now, however, the incorrigible sins of the nation had worn out His patience and almost grieved Him away.

That glorious Presence was about to leave the temple that He had loved. Judah was ready to fall, desolate and forsaken, into the hands of her cruel foe.

There is nothing more tender and sublime than the vision of this departing glory. Like a mother bird, it seems to hover, unwilling to depart, lingering with fluttering wings above the cherubim and above the threshold of the house, and last upon the brow of Olivet, before it can bear to take its long, sad flight, and leave their house unto them desolate.

In the third verse of the ninth chapter, we see it beginning to depart, “The glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house.”Again, in the fourth verse of the tenth chapter it would seem that He had gone back and once more poised His wings and attempted the same flight. “The glory of the Lord went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory. And the sound of the cherubim’s wings was heard, as the voice of the Almighty God when He speaketh.”

Then again, in the eighteenth verse of the tenth chapter we see His flight begun. “Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim, and the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight; when they went out, the wheels also were beside them; and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house.”

But not yet did the vision take its final flight, for, in the twenty-second verse of the eleventh chapter, we see the glory lingering yet on Mount Olivet. “Then did the cherubim lift up their wings, and the wheels beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city.”

Still God’s patience waited and pleaded, and His judgment sought to awaken and change their stubborn hearts of sin; but all in vain. At length we hear the mournful conclusion, “Son of man, say unto her, Thou art the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation. . . . Her priests have violated my law, and profaned mine holy things. Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, and to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity, and divining
unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord, when the Lord hath not spoken. The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy. . . . And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore, have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads.”

It was like that later vision, when the same Son of man stood upon the same Olivet, looking down upon the city that had refused His warnings and miracle of love, and said: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: . . . ye shall not see me, until the time cometh when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

So the Spirit left them, and the next chapter begins the vision of judgment and destruction. Beloved, the same story has often been reenacted. It was reenacted when Jesus left the temple. The Roman legions followed, and Jerusalem fell again. It was reenacted when the Church of the Holy Apostles became corrupt and sank to medieval darkness because the Holy Spirit was grieved away.

The same calamity is threatening the Church again. The blessed Spirit is being grieved from her sanctuary and from her altars by compromises with worldliness and sin, and He is seeking a home in humble hearts and lowly missions and little companies of those who will obey Him and fully trust Him. It may be enacted in your life; for you, too, can vex the Holy Ghost and grieve Him away. The temple of your heart may be left desolate and forsaken, and your life become exposed to the judgments of God and the calamities of sorrow.

Many a sad life and many a sad death is but the story of Israel repeated once more. Oh, let us not grieve Him! Oh, let us not permit Him to pass away! Oh, let us cherish Him, honor Him, obey Him, make our heart His home, and Him our Holy Guest!

3. THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT’S RETURN. “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I also will save you from all your uncleannesses; and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities, and for your abominations. Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel. Thus saith the Lord God, In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the Garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. Then the heathen, that are left round about you, shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it.” (Ezek. 36:25-36).

Of course this promise has a primary reference to Israel as a nation, and will yet be graciously fulfilled in their restoration from the captivity of ages and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the nation; but it has also a distinct reference to the New Testament times, and shines with the light of the Gospel of full and free salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are three very distinct stages in the promised blessing. The first includes forgiveness and conversion; that is the sprinkling of the clean water upon them, the forgiveness of their sins, and the taking away of the hard and stony heart, and the giving of the heart of flesh, the work of justification and regeneration.

There is no need to say more respecting these earlier verses. The teaching is as simple and clear as the third chapter of the Gospel of John or the epistles of St. Paul. But there is a second stage of blessing which is distinct and important. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the incoming of His cleansing and sanctifying power in the heart of the believer.

“I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” This is something different from the new spirit and the new heart. It is God Himself coming to dwell in the new spirit by His Holy Spirit, and bringing a constraining and efficient power that causes the soul to walk in holiness and enables him to keep His commandments.

Could we put on canvas the picture it would be something like this; first, we would paint the natural heart black and sinful; then, second, in the centre of this black heart we would place a little white heart, denoting the regenerated spirit, the new heart that comes at conversion, but which is still in the midst of darkness and sin, and has to maintain a painful and often unequal struggle with the surrounding and encompassing evil.

In the third place, we would paint a ray of heavenly light, or a living coal of celestial fire, which we would put in the center of this new heart; and from it the effulgent rays of life and light would reach out into all the darkness round about, filling the new heart and the old, until the darkness and sin are crowded out, and God Himself possesses the whole being, enabled it to think and feel, to trust and love, to obey and persevere, even as Christ Himself would walk.

This is the Spirit that sanctifies; this is the cleansing power that our poor weak heart needs. This Is the efficient strength which the Holy Ghost wants to give to every heart that will surrender fully to His prower and receive Him in His all-sufficiency. Beloved, have we done so? Have we received not only the new Spirit but the divine Spirit, and learned to know the mystery which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”?

There is still another stage in the promised blessing to be found in the outworking of this indwelling Spirit and the influence of the sanctified and victorious life upon our circumstances and external life. “Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers.” We become established, and get settled in God’s will and blessing. “I will call for the corn, and will increase it and lay no famine upon you.” We become nourished, joyful, happy Christians, and every one beholds in us the satisfied and benignant rest and glory of a victorious life.

“I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field.” Our work is blessed, our fruit abundant, and our blessing extends even to “the heathen.” This is contemporaneous with our spiritual blessing. “In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded.” The barren wastes of life shall blossom as the rose. The things that have been sad and fruitless will become blessed and beautiful. The years that have been lost will be restored, and all we do shall prosper.

Nay, He says, “The desolate land shall be tilled, . . . and they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the Garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced and are inhabited. Then the heathen that are left round about” it shall know that God has done it.

Of course, this is yet to be fulfilled to Israel as a people. Already we begin to see the foretokening of that Millennial spring that is opening for the long downtrodden land and people. But it has a beautiful meaning to each individual Christian life. For God is “able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.”

The soul that receives the Holy Spirit in all His fullness will find the providence of God keeping pace with His inward blessing, and the grace that we have experienced in our heart will reflect itself in all our outward life. The King that reigns supreme upon the throne of the heart will sway His scepter around the whole circle of our life, and bring into subjection everything that hurts or hinders us.

He will heal our bodies; He will answer our prayers; He will bless our homes; He will prosper our business; He will remove our difficulties; He will open our way; He will “cause the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose,” and “instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier, shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

The blessings of God’s providence are inseparably connected with the indwelling of His Spirit and the experience of His sanctifying grace. It is only to those “who love God and are the called according to His purpose” that “all things work together for good.”

They know that they work together for good. It is not a struggle to believe it. It is not a desperate effort to count it. When we walk with Him in holy trust and obedience, the inmost consciousness of our spiritual being bears witness to the promise, and we know without doubt or fear that all things are ours, for we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.