Ezekiel 1:20:  “Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”


Maybe you’ve sung the old spiritual “Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air.”  (Click on the link to see and hear the Henry M. Gunn High School Choir in Palo Alto, California sing this classic http://youtube.com/watch?v=NpEJPNFQSoY).  It’s odd when you come to think about it.  Out of all the things in the Bible, why make a song about this strange vision of Ezekiel?  And yet it has captured the imagination of many.  Some claim it is proof of UFOs.  It finds its way into some of the oldest traditions of the church as the four faces of the living creatures—the human, the lion, the ox, and the eagle—became the symbols for the four Gospel writers even to this day.  Matthew is the human being, Mark the lion, Luke the ox, and John the eagle.


What Ezekiel is seeing is a glimpse into heaven.  Just as with John’s vision in the book of Revelation, it doesn’t sound anything like the fluffy clouds and harps with which we’ve come to characterize heaven.  Instead, it is wild with color and strange creatures and fire and brilliant light.  There are windstorms and lightning and, well, lots of wheels.  The thing that fascinated the writer of the spiritual was not just the wheel, but the way it moved.  While the lyrics for the song vary from version to version, most include some version of the lines, “The big wheel moved by faith; the little wheel moved by the grace of God.”  Heaven may turn out to be much more wild and wooly than we imagined, but there is a constant that we can depend on—all that happens, happens by the grace and will of God.


I can’t say for sure, but when I think about why African slaves might have reached for this vision for comfort, I think those lines hold at least part of the answer.  Things on earth may be hard and difficult.  They certainly were for Ezekiel, who is a prophet for Israel during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon.  (You know where Babylon is, don’t you.  It’s in Iraq.  So is Nineveh from the Jonah story.  So is the supposed location of the Garden of Eden.)  The people Ezekiel is talking to have experienced unimaginable horrors, much as the slaves in America had.  It was hard to look at the situation on earth.  But God gives Ezekiel a vision of heaven.  And it turns out that in heaven, the wheels turn at the direction of the Spirit, not at the will of human beings.  Whatever injustice may exist on the earth, in heaven it is different.  There, wheels turn by faith and by the grace of God, not by the forced sweat of a black man’s brow.


And there God turns out to be not some doddering, if kindly, old man.  Ezekiel describes God this way:  “I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.”  John’s description in Revelation is similar.  Ezekiel says that when he saw it he fell face down.   There is no question that this God can deliver on a promise and that not even the cruelest task master can do anything but fall face down in God’s presence.  I’m inclined to sing about that, too.


God of the living creatures and all the host of heaven, help us…like the wheels…to turn by your grace.  Amen.


SpiritWalkers is available in audio as a podcast.  Visit www.annerobertson.com/poddevotions.html to subscribe or to listen online.


My new book, God’s Top 10: Blowing the Lid Off the Commandments, has shipped.  Order now on Amazon.com or check local bookstores.