The Departure of God's Glory
The vision of chapters 8 and 9 continues in chapter 10. Here we have a lesson from God of considerable importance to us. For us to continue as God's chosen people, He must actually dwell or live among us. The people of Israel came to understand this following their Exodus from Egypt. In Exodus 25:8 God instructed Moses, "Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." It was God's intent at that time that He would dwell in the midst of the 12 tribes of Israel in the tabernacle made of goatskins. And His presence was evident in the pillar of cloud illuminated by the divine glory filling the tabernacle (see Exodus 40:34-35). As explained in previous comments, rabbis later designated this glory by the term shekinah, meaning "indwelling."
God's glory later came to dwell in the temple built by Solomon after his fervent and humble prayer (2 Chronicles 6-7). God chose to allow His presence—again evident through the radiance and splendor of His glory—to remain in the temple for centuries. Yet after the Jews had proven their determination to continue in false, idolatrous worship, the presence of God did eventually leave the Jerusalem temple prior to its looting and destruction by the Babylonians. Even when the second temple was rebuilt in its place after the return from Jewish exile, God's glory did not occupy it. Moreover, there is no record of the shimmering, luminous glory ever again occupying an earthly building. However, centuries later the shepherds saw the glory appear in the sky as angels announced the birth of the Savior (Luke 2:9). Indeed, the coming of Christ in the flesh was, in essence, God coming to dwell with human beings (John 1:1, John 1:14; Matthew 1:23). And after His death and resurrection, He would again do so through the Holy Spirit.
Later, Stephen proclaimed the truth that God no longer dwells in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48). As the apostle Paul explained, God's temple is now His Church, the people whom He dwells in through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). And the initial giving of the Spirit to the Church was accompanied by the miraculous signs of wind and fire, reminiscent of the glory of Ezekiel's vision (see Acts 2).
On the night before His death, Jesus relayed some very important guidelines for God dwelling in His people through the Holy Spirit: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to Him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23). Notice: in order for the Father and Jesus Christ to dwell with a person, that person must be obeying Christ's words. The apostle Paul repeats essentially the same principle in 2 Corinthians 6:16: "And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you [Christians] are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.'"
But Paul goes on to follow this with a warning from God: "Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you" (verse 17). God dwelling among a people or in the heart and mind of a person is conditional upon that people or person being submissive and obedient to God. The presence of any idol or unclean worship will cause God to withdraw His presence. This is one of the most important lessons God is using Ezekiel to teach us in this chapter.
Ezekiel 10 begins with the image of the living cherubim carrying God's throne. God gives the order to the man in linen to gather coals of fire from between the cherubim and scatter them over the city of Jerusalem (verses 1-3). This symbolizes that God has now judged the city and it is to be punished and burned, as when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire and brimstone (see Genesis 19:24-25). Yet as we've seen, the punishment on Jerusalem is representative of punishment to befall all of Israel (Ezekiel 9:9-10).
The glory or presence of God then begins to move. The step-by-step exit from Jerusalem is recorded for us. As the glory of God moved from the Holy of Holies to the threshold or entryway of the temple (Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:4), we see that the living cherubim carrying the mobile throne were waiting outside the temple on the south side (verse 3). The entire house and courtyard were filled with the surrounding cloud and brightness (verse 4). Then, apparently after God assigned the man in linen and the executioners their jobs, He left the temple threshold and ascended His mobile throne above the living cherubim, not returning to the physical Holy of Holies within the temple (verse 18). The cherubim may have moved to meet Him as we see them hovering, with Him above them, at the east gate of the temple (verse 19).
The east gate is probably the one referred to as "the gates of righteousness" and "the gate of the LORD" in Psalm 118:19-20 and the "everlasting doors" in Psalm 24:7, 9. It is called the "Sun gate" in a Talmudic passage (Erubin 5:22c) because the sun would shine through it in the morning. Also through this gate traditionally entered the king and the ark in the sacred processions.
In the next chapter, we will see that when the glory of God leaves the temple through the east gate, it proceeds to the mountain on the east side of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23)—after which it presumably ascends to heaven. This path is opposite to the one Jesus Christ will take when He returns to the earth in power and glory in the future. For at that time He will first descend to the Mount of Olives and then, sometime later following the construction of the millennial temple, enter Jerusalem through the east gate, accompanied by the glory of God (Ezekiel 43:1-5; Zechariah 14:4; Acts 1:9-12; Matthew 24:27). Indeed, a principal theme in this vision and the whole of the book of Ezekiel is the departure and eventual return of God's glory to Jerusalem.
The description of the cherubim takes up a lot of Ezekiel 10, paralleling material from chapter 1. Ezekiel describes the transportation system of God's throne almost exactly as he saw it earlier. His word picture of the cherubim, wheels rotating within each other with eyes apparently on the rims, the shimmering light in various colors, and the four faces of a cherub, man, lion, and eagle are almost identical to the previous account. This reveals that he was seeing the same God and the same throne. Since all of the faces are the same as those in chapter 1 with the exception of the "face of a cherub," it is obvious that this face is the same as the face of the ox (Ezekiel 1:10).
Another detail to note is that where the wheels are called "Wheel" in the New King James Version of verse 13, others translate the word here as "whirling" or "spinning." The sound of the cherubim wings became very loud as the throne of God moved out of the temple. It could be heard even in the "outer court" (verse 5). This may symbolize God leaving Jerusalem in a public way, having the fact perceived or loudly proclaimed.
God had in fact prophesied the departure of His glory well in advance. Back in Deuteronomy 31:17-18, He had warned: "Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, 'Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?'" In Hosea 9:12, God proclaimed, "Woe to them when I depart from them!"
In all these warnings, Ezekiel included, we should recognize that God was not only talking about the ancient destruction He brought on His people. He is also talking about the future—of nations today and of us individually. All of us have a choice before us of whether to be faithful to God or to reject Him. The apostle Paul taught that the greatest mystery of all time is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). Jesus Christ living in us through His Spirit is the most wonderful thing a human being can experience in this life. Yet one of the main lessons from Ezekiel is that God stays only where He is wanted and obeyed. This is true of nations, this is true of church fellowships, and this is true of every individual.
God withdrawing is never what He wants—it is people who force it on Him. Whenever His place of dwelling—whether a person, a church or religious organization or an entire nation—is filled with objects of false worship or idols, there is no more room for Him. After all, His name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14) and He will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). Satan has organized society so that God is squeezed out—we now have no time for Him. Christ illustrated this in the parable of the sower with the new plants being choked by the thorns (see Matthew 13:7, Matthew 13:22). As individuals we often fill our lives with economic pressure, constant entertainment and various pursuits—and then we wonder why God is not truly manifested and working in our lives. The book of Hebrews warns us not to neglect so great a salvation as that which has been offered to us (Hebrews 2:1-3)—yet we at times come to the realization that we are doing just that. As Paul said to all of us, "It is high time to awake out of sleep" (Romans 13:11). May studying God's message through Ezekiel aid us in doing just that.