The Old Testament lectionary reading on Monday and the one from today have been from the Book of Ezekiel. They have contained a significant amount of strange imagery. We have seen it particularly in chapter 1 and at the end of chapter 10.
Here’s a bit of background to help us understand. The main core of the imagery is that of God sitting on some type of chariot throne. The particulars of the visions, such as the descriptions of the creatures, are not overly important. What is important is the fact that God’s throne is able to move around.
One might ask why this is all that significant. Well, Ezekiel is in exile in Babylon and the people of Judah are getting ready to be in exile in Babylon. This is problematic because the Israelites lived during a time period when deities were believed to be tied to specific locations. (Incidentally, we still have a bit of this today when people believe that America is God’s nation. We’ll find that the whole point of these passages in Ezekiel is that God is not tied to a particular locale).
Thus, the people would have had the question in their minds whether their God had been conquered and his house destroyed since their region would be conquered and the temple destroyed shortly after the time when Ezekiel was having the vision. As a result, they would also ask themselves whether they should then adopt the Babylonian deities, primarily the deity Marduk who would have been thought to have conquered the God of Israel.
The vision of God’s chariot throne then assures the people that their land being conquered would not signal that their God had been defeated. Not only that, but their God is able to be with them in Babylon. He is not tied to a particular place. So, they should not adopt the Babylonian deities. They could worship their God there in Babylon.
Thus, while the imagery is strange, the core message of the image makes a great deal of sense. And, the point should make a great deal of sense to us today. God isn’t tied to America or any other nation. God isn’t tied to a church building. Though we meet him there in a special way, he is not limited to a particular place. And, that is a comforting thought indeed. He can be with his people wherever they are.