Ezekiel was a priest that was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. along with king Jehoiachin and several thousand citizens of Judah and Jerusalem. At the age of 30, Ezekiel saw visions of God while he was in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1-3). It says in Ezekiel 1:3 that “the word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest…and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.” What that means is that Ezekiel’s message came directly from God; an intermediary angel was not used to deliver it.
Ezekiel described what he saw in graphic detail using words such as likeness and appearance to convey what he knew to be supernatural manifestations of spiritual beings. In his account of what took place, it is evident that Ezekiel was both awestruck and curious about the vision. The first image that was seen by Ezekiel was a giant cloud that was blown in by a stormy wind, and then four living creatures that looked like men came out of the cloud and stood before him, as if they were trying to get his attention (Ezekiel 1:4-5).
Ezekiel’s description of the four living creatures makes it clear that spiritual beings function differently than human beings and yet, there are similarities that make it possible for us to understand each other. The most obvious difference between angels and humans is that angels have wings and can move about in much more efficient ways than we can. Also, angels are able to operate in a unified manner. The four living creatures were separate individuals, but they moved in unison with one another, as if they were joined together like Siamese twins (Ezekiel 1:9).
Depending on which direction they wanted to go, each of the four living creatures faced forward toward the north, south, east, and west, and led the others to their desired destination without having to turn or go backwards. They each had four faces that enabled them to act according to their circumstances without changing their expressions. The angels’ faces and wings were designed to not only improve their mobility, but also to guarantee they would not be hindered in performing their assignments. It seems as though the four living creatures were tasked with guarding the entry way to God’s throne room, or acting as guides to direct the cloud in which the throne was located to its desired destination.
I think one of the most interesting and important aspects of Ezekiel’s vision was that it came to him while he was in exile in Babylon. The sight of his visitation, the Chebar river was no doubt a busy spot where both Babylonians and Israelites congregated to collect water. Although Ezekiel’s vision was communicated to him alone, the information was made public so that everyone would know God had visited him in Babylon. The remarkable thing about it being there was no place off limits to God, he could transport himself wherever needed to communicate with his people.