Immediately after describing the historical circumstances of his prophetic call, Ezekiel describes his first vision of the Lord. This incredible vision has perplexed many people in the modern world, for the imagery is indeed strange to us. More sensational readings of Ezekiel 1:4–28 have even suggested that the passage describes an encounter that the prophet had with extraterrestrials. Such theories impress upon us the importance of paying attention to the historical and literary context of the Bible so that we might escape ludicrous speculation, for Ezekiel's vision makes perfect sense in his own setting.
The prophet's vision concerns "four living creatures" that served as a type of chariot for the divine throne, the place from which "the likeness of the glory of the Lord" spoke to Ezekiel (vv. 4, 26, 28). Each of these beings had four different faces—human, eagle, lion, and ox (v. 10). In Scripture, each of these creatures is significant. Human beings, of course, are made in the image and likeness of God, reflecting His capacity for wisdom, dignity, and so forth (Gen. 1:26–28). Eagles are prized in God's Word for their speed and stateliness (Ps. 103:5; Jer. 48:40). The lion is known for its strength and courage (Judg. 14:5; Isa. 31:4), and oxen were found throughout the temple and the sacrificial system in which the presence of God was experienced (Num. 7; 1 Kings 7:23–37). Indeed, there were several elements in the temple that looked very similar to the creatures Ezekiel described, which indicates that these creatures carried the Lord Himself on His throne. Taken with the qualities mentioned above, they symbolize God's omnipotence, wisdom, swiftness, and life-giving nature. Although archaeology has discovered figures and art of creatures that combine lions with eagles and so forth in the palaces and temples of other ancient Near Eastern peoples, other nations did not combine all four of the aforementioned creatures like we see in Ezekiel's vision. This again points to the uniqueness of the Lord of Israel. He is the perfect embodiment of all of the attributes of deity, lacking nothing in Himself.
The throne above the expanse above the winged creatures (and their wheels; see Ezek. 1:15–20) recalls the pavement of God's throne room, where the elders ate and drank before the Lord when the old covenant was inaugurated (Ex. 24:1–11; Ezek. 1:21–28). Thus, Ezekiel saw a vision of God about to go forth on His chariot. He was getting ready to move from His traditional dwelling place in Canaan.
Although the term holy is not used in Ezekiel 1, the entire vision conveys the reality of the Lord's transcendence, His "set-apartness" as the Creator and ruler of all. This is no God with whom we can trifle but the supreme Sovereign who is to be adored for His glory and truth. May we recall this great vision of the Lord that we might worship His majesty, rejoice in His love, and glory in His holy will as the Most High God.