Understanding the Old Testament: Images of God
There are strange visions in the Old Testament. What do they tell us about God?
A profile pic for God?
What is your Facebook profile picture at the moment? Mine is me with my bride. Some of my friends have pictures of celebrities they look like. Others have grainy instagram pictures of them with a guitar. Your profile picture says heaps about how you want to present yourself (‘I just got married’, ‘I look like Shrek’, ‘I’m so indie cool’...).
If you were choosing a profile picture for God, what would it be?
In Ezekiel 1:4-25, Ezekiel is shown some pictures of what God is like. He didn’t see God himself (that would have blown his brain) but the ‘appearance of the likeness’ of his glory (Ezekiel 1:28).
The visions are strange to us because they use metaphors which are a little foreign. But it doesn’t take much to understand them. Let's have a look at each one.
Understanding the pictures of God
1. The lightning
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... (Ezek. 1:4)
Getting in the way of a lightning bolt will ruin your whole day. So the first picture Ezekiel sees is of a massive lightning storm, reminding him of who he’s dealing with. This might have reminded him of Mt Sinai, where God appeared to Moses and the Israelites in lightning. In summary: God is scary and powerful!
2. The four headed animal entourage
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, 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. (Ezek. 1:10)
Inside the fire, Ezekiel saw four strange animals. They aren’t God; they’re his entourage. Hollywood celebrities have an entourage (group of people) following them around ... the more famous they are the bigger and better their entourage. So you can imagine that God’s entourage would be something amazing: four intimidating frankenstein creatures in fact! Each has four faces, and each face is a different animal as metaphor for their qualities. Can you imagine a creature:
- as agile as an eagle,
- with the stamina of an ox,
- as noble as a lion, and
- as smart as a human?
Statues of animals like these were all the rage in Babylonian temples – but unlike statues, these ones have wheels (1:15), and God’s Spirit makes them alive (1:12)!
But hold your four headed horses... if these guys are just the entourage, then what is their boss like?
3. The person
Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. (Ezek 1:26)
When this last image appears, the crazy scary animals take a bow out of respect (1:25). Who could be more impressive than a four headed animal entourage? Well, it’s God himself.
You can’t have a relationship an unknowable lightning cloud, or an impersonal monster. But God isn’t unknowable or impersonal: he is a God who speaks. He is a figure ‘like that of a man’. And he wants you to know who he is.
What does this have to do with us?
Big Tip: The God of the Old Testament is the same God we worship today
When Jesus appeared on the scene, he claimed to be God. In fact, he claimed to be the same God who Ezekiel saw pictures of. Jesus was temporarily without the entourage, but just as scary and powerful, and just as keen for you to know him.
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)
Having seen Ezekiel’s pictures of God, how much more amazing is it to meet God in the flesh, Jesus Christ? It’s one thing to learn from Ezekiel that God is a relational God; it’s another to find out that the Jesus we know is the ‘exact representation’ (Hebrews 1:3) of God the Father. That’s some profile picture.