A Rider from the North
If Isaiah sees the LORD of Armies seated on a heavenly throne, Ezekiel witnesses the same LORD blazing across the skies in a chariot of fire. Chapter 1 of Ezekiel records the most elaborate theophany in the Old Testament, combining clouds, fire, flashes of lightning, and a human-like figure in the company of cherubim. In this otherworldly scene, Yahweh prepares a Judean priest for prophetic ministry and authenticates his message. Above all, this thundering charioteer displays his divine glory, while proclaiming imminent judgment and future deliverance.
Three visions form the backbone for the Book of Ezekiel. In the first vision (chapters 1-3), the LORD appears to Ezekiel and commissions him as a prophet to his fellow exiles. In the second vision (chapters 8-11), the LORDabandons Jerusalem and withdraws his protection in judgment for the people’s idolatry and wickedness. In fact, Ezekiel witnesses the glory of the LORD departing the temple. In the third vision (chapters 40-48), the glory of the LORD returns in connection with the restoration of Israel in the last days. Yahweh’s judgment falls hard, but it succeeds in curing the Israelites of idolatry.
Ezekiel is in exile as part of the second Babylonian deportation in 597 BC. Taken captive with King Jehoiachin and other citizens of Judah (2 Kings 24:10-16), he receives God’s prophetic commission four years later while living at Tel Abib in southern Mesopotamia. His ministry extends perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three years. And while he remains faithful to the LORD, Ezekiel experiences personal setbacks. He suffers a speech impediment that allows him to speak only when the LORD wishes to speak through him (3:26-27; 24:27; 33:22), and his wife dies as an omen of the impending fall of Jerusalem.
The story of Ezekiel contrasts the sovereign power of Yahweh and the frailty of human beings. Ezekiel is called “son of man” ninety-three times in the book, a term that punctuates the prophet’s humanity. In fact, the phrase may be rendered “member of humanity” or “descendant of Adam.”Continue reading
The term LORD of Armies appears two hundred eighty-five times in the Old Testament, most frequently in Isaiah and Jeremiah. While the CSB renders it “LORD of Armies,” other Bible versions translate Yahweh Sabaoth as “LORD of Hosts” or “LORD Almighty.” Host is a word used frequently in the Hebrew Bible for a military force (e.g., 2 Sam. 3:23; Ps. 108:11).
Put simply, this title for God is meant to communicate his absolute sovereignty over all agencies in heaven and on earth. He rules over the divine council in heaven, an assembly of spirit beings – such as “sons of God,” seraphim, cherubim, and holy angels – who administer the affairs of the cosmos. He rules over Satan and demonic forces, who often present themselves as pagan gods. He rules as commander in chief of Israel’s army. And he reigns supremely over the greatest military forces mankind can muster. He is the God-King, the uncontested Lord of all powers in heaven and on earth. The phrase “Yahweh, the Almighty” is a fitting translation of Yahweh Sabaoth.
LORD of Israel’s forces
The name LORD of Armies first appears in 1 Samuel 1:3. Elkanah, the future father of the prophet Samuel, travels to Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifices to the LORD of Armies. At this time, Shiloh is home to the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolizes Yahweh’s presence, among other things. The Israelites are fully aware that the LORD sits enthroned above the cherubim, whose wings stretch across the ark’s cover, the mercy seat (1 Sam. 4:4; Ps. 99:1).
There is a sense in which the name LORD of Armies is understood to mean Yahweh is the true leader of Israel’s military forces, as Joshua learns in his encounter with the “commander of the LORD’s army,” who is none other than the angel of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15; cf. Num. 22:23; 1 Chron. 21:16). Before David engages Goliath in battle, he invokes “the name of the LORD of Armies, the God of the ranks of Israel” (1 Sam. 17:45). In so doing, David declares Yahweh the universal ruler over all human affairs. Later, King David celebrates the superior kingship of the LORD of Armies:
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors!
Then the King of glory will come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD of Armies, he is the King of glory (Ps. 24:8-10).Psalm 24:8-10
This glorious King of Israel one day puts down all rebellion and establishes his throne on Mount Zion (Isa. 24:21-23; 31:4-5; 34:12). He is the once and future king of the world, who descends in glory to reign in righteousness (Zech. 14:9; cf. Isa. 37:16). “The King of glory, who commands the armies of heaven and who will eventually defeat all His enemies in this world, is none other than Jesus Christ. He is the LORD of hosts (Rev. 19:11-20).”Continue reading
Isaiah 37:36-37 (2 Kings 19:35-36)
Nearly forty years have passed since Isaiah saw the LORD of Armies on his throne in heaven. Kings Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz are gone, and Hezekiah rules a shrinking Judah from within the fortified walls of Jerusalem. King Sennacherib of Assyria has captured the other forty-six walled cities of Judah. He and his massive army now fix their eyes on Jerusalem. Sennacherib sends his royal spokesman to urge surrender. As the spokesman stands near the conduit of the upper pool – the same spot on which Isaiah earlier implored Ahaz to trust God rather than human alliances – he delivers the king’s offer of peace and, with it, a dire warning to Hezekiah’s representatives:
Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you by saying, “The LORD will rescue us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations rescued his land from the power of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sephardim: Have they rescued Samaria from my power? Who among all the gods of these lands ever rescued his land from my power? So will the LORD rescue Jerusalem from my power?Isa. 36:18-20
Sennacherib then sends Hezekiah a letter, repeating the threats and mocking God (Isa. 37:8-13). Hezekiah takes the letter to the temple and spreads it out before the LORD. He prays for deliverance so that “all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are God – you alone” (37:20). The LORD answers Hezekiah’s prayer through Isaiah, who sends a message to Hezekiah with this divine promise:
Therefore, this is what the LORD says about the king of Assyria:
He will not enter the city, shoot an arrow here, come before it with a shield, or build up a siege ramp against it.
He will go back the way he came, and he will not enter this city. This is the LORD’s declaration.
I will defend this city and rescue it for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.Isa. 37:33-35
Without delay, Isaiah records the angel of the LORD striking down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. Surveying the carnage the next morning, Sennacherib breaks camp and returns to Nineveh. Nearly twenty years later, as the king worships in the temple of his god, two of his sons assassinate him (37:36-38).Continue reading
This post picks up where Part 1 ends.
Evidence of the angel
No doubt, Isaiah has encountered Yahweh on his throne. But before moving on, let’s summarize the evidence for Isaiah seeing the angel of the LORD in this vision.
First, note how Isaiah describes the one seated on the throne. Isaiah calls him Lord (Adonai), the LORD of Armies (Yahweh Sabaoth), and the King. In our study so far, we have seen the angel of the LORD identified both as the Lord and the LORD of Armies, divine titles he shares with the unseen Yahweh. As for his role as King, the Israelites are promised a future king who comes from their stock (Deut. 17:14-15). David is promised a physical descendant who rules over an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-16). The prophet Zechariah foretells the Messiah’s revelation to his people: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; he is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).
Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises. An angel tells Mary her future son will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:30-33). Jesus presents himself to the Jews as king and they reject him (John 1:11). Jesus acknowledges his right to rule as king (John 18:36-37). He fulfills Zechariah 9:9 when he rides triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (John 12:14-15). Even Pilate acknowledges Jesus’ claim to be King of the Jews (John 19:19). Paul urges Timothy to fight the good fight of faith in light of the imminent return of “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Victors on the sea of glass in heaven sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb: “Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (Rev. 15:3). And Jesus returns to earth triumphantly one day as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16).
We could cite other passages, but these are sufficient to show how the Scriptures identify Jesus as the eternal King who humbles himself in the Incarnation and returns one day in glory – a glory that fills the whole earth (cf. Phil. 2:5-11; Rev. 21:22-25).Continue reading
With the Book of Isaiah, we enter a new phase in the angel of the LORD’s appearances. Having mostly visited covenant partners like Abraham and Jacob, national leaders like Moses and Joshua, and deliverers like Gideon, the divine messenger now reveals himself to prophets at key points in the history of Israel and Judah.
We begin in Isaiah, with a spectacular view into the throne room of heaven, where the LORD sits enthroned and the angel is implied but not identified. Later in Isaiah, the angel of the LORD is named as the warrior who sweeps through the Assyrian camp and slaughters 185,000 soldiers. As our study progresses, we watch the angel blaze across the sky in a chariot of fire (Ezekiel), approach the Ancient of Days to receive his kingdom (Daniel), and stand among the myrtle trees to counsel his spokesman (Zechariah).
These appearances are some of the many ways God expresses his presence in the books of the prophets (Isaiah to Malachi). According to Vern Poythress, theophanies recorded in the writings of the prophets most often occur in four contexts. First, the LORD comes to commission a prophet. Second, he announces divine judgment, either on Israel or its enemies. Third, he declares salvation and deliverance for his people. And fourth, he reminds the people of God’s redemptive work in the past.Continue reading