He will have purity.
It is not that the fire will burn us if we do not worship thus;
but that the fire will burn us until we worship thus.
— George MacDonald (Unspoken Sermons)
When Ezekiel first saw a vision of God back in chapter one, he was at a loss for words. The vision was too brilliant and overwhelming for him to adequately describe. Here, he sees the same vision, but is able to describe it more clearly. In a moment of shocking realization, Ezekiel looks at the living creatures supporting God’s throne, and calls them cherubim.
God had determined to meet with Israel on the mercy seat. This was the area on top of the ark of the covenant overshadowed by two carved cherubim:
Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat. . . . There I will meet with you. (Exodus 25:19-22, NRSV)
These carved cherubim overstretching the ark of the covenant are not just ornamental. They are earthly representations of the real cherubs who are standing in front of him, supporting God’s throne.
. . .
Remember the man clothed in linen that went out with the executioners in chapter 9? Here he has a new role. Here God commands him to take some glowing coals from the centre of the cherubim and to scatter them over Jerusalem. He would burn the city to the ground.
People have debated what the coals symbolize. Some people think they are part of a divine storm. Remember the vision in chapter one: the storm opened up and this fiery brightness was the source of the lightning that flashed out of the clouds.
Others see the coals as symbolic of what was burned on the bronze altar—the altar that was unceremoniously shoved into the corner of the temple court to make room for a false no-god.
I think the best way to view these coals are as the holiness of God taking tangible form as judgment on sin. One of the ways the Bible describes God’s jealousy is as a devouring fire: “The Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24, NRSV). It is a frightening thing to be the recipient of God’s manifest holiness. In the face of God, judged humanity is little more than a shadow in the beam of a search-light.
. . .
Devouring Fire, thank you once more for clothing us in your own righteousness. We cannot stand except by your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.