The gods and goddesses who lived therein, who had caused the flood and the downpour, whose visage had become sad, I raised up out of their miserable condition; I had their dusty trains polished; I cleaned their dirty garments; and I caused them to dwell in their holy places forever.
— from Asarhaddon, episode 32 in Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48.
When temples were restored, deities returned. That was just how it worked. I wonder if the exiles were anticipating the climax of the story as they heard Ezekiel share the dimensions of the Temple. There were other examples of this sort of story in ancient literature, and the climax happened when the deity returned. If that was the case, the exiles must have waited in agony as they listened to that long description of dimensions, knowing what would follow.
Then it happened. Yahweh returned. It’s impossible to overstress the importance of this paragraph in the book Ezekiel, and in Jewish prophetic hope as a whole. This is the hope of Israel, everything pointed towards this moment when Israel’s God would return to rescue her from exile.
Unlike other descriptions where the human restorer is credited with causing the deity to return, here it is all Yahweh. Yahweh sent the man who shone like bronze to Ezekiel with the measuring rod. Yahweh alone decided to return. All Ezekiel did was write.
. . .
Kābôd. Weight. Glory. This how God’s return is described. God, in full-fledged formal description, returned to the Temple: “the glory of the God of Israel” (v. 1, NRSV).
This event that Ezekiel witnessed was both a visual and audible experience.
Visually, the text describes God’s return as light: “the earth shone with his glory.” A few verses later, Ezekiel shares how this event reminded him of his original vision of God from chapter 1. In that chapter, God showed up like flashes of lightening in the centre of a storm cloud. I can’t help but wonder if he was now seeing the world anew in the light of God’s glory, as the storm of God’s anger was spent and the sun had returned.
God’s return also shares audible connections with the chapter 1 vision. It sounded like “mighty waters”. Ezekiel’s frame of reference would be the Mediterranean Sea during a storm as waves and breakers crashed ashore. Here he was on the banks of a river in Babylon, hearing the sounds of his homeland as he watched God return.
. . .
The return of God’s glory reminded Ezekiel of two earlier events.
The first event references chapters 8-11, where the glory of God left the city. Ironically, Ezekiel described it as the time that “he came to destroy the city” (v. 3, NRSV). The departure of God’s glory was synonymous with destruction just as his return is synonymous with restoration .
The second event is the vision from chapter 1. But this time there’s a different outcome. At the end of chapter 1, Ezekiel was overwhelmed by everything he saw and fell down on his face. In the beginning of chapter 2, God’s Spirit entered the prophet and stood him on his feet.
After this vision, Ezekiel again fell on his face. In reflecting and writing on the experience, he remembered that time some 25 years ago when he fell down before God. This time God’s Spirit didn’t just stand him to his feet, it transported him into the inner court of the Temple he had just witnessed being measured. He watched God’s glory flood the inner court.
. . .
It’s difficult to search for an application for this story. Anything I think of seems dim and glib compared to the weighty importance this event has in the collective imagination of the Jewish people.
If anything, I just want to be ready to see whatever God wants to show me.
. . .
Lord God, overwhelm my life with the flood of your Spirit like you flooded the Temple in Ezekiel’s day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.