This is my final blog on the meaning of Ezekiel chapter 1.
Now I want to return to the vision of the divine chariot. The war chariot had been developed from around 2000BCE and was a standard weapon in battles where the terrain suited it, especially in steppe and desert. Israel/ Judah was not especially suitable, but they were used on the plains. Zechariah 9ff speaks of the promised king removing the war chariots from Jerusalem. 2 Kings 2:11, part of the story of Elijah being taken up by God, describes the latter as revealing himself in a chariot of fire. Certainly this is an image of the warlike Yahweh making use of an advanced version of current military technology. The more complex imagery of Ezekiel has a different meaning.
Firstly, the author wants to assert that not all power belongs to Babylon: God is swift, mobile, and terrifying beyond any human weapon. But I have already noted the dividing vault between God above and the creatures and the wheels which do his bidding. I suggested that these are an image of creation as perfectly obedient to God, and therefore of the prophet himself, and at least in hope, of Israel/Judah, the holy people. In imagination, Ezekiel sees the holy God, exercising his will for the world, through his faithful human beings, who share the perfect obedience to God of all his other living creatures.
There is no sense in which the charioted God is going to engage in physical war with violent empires. Rather, he and his people will win this battle through holiness, that is through the kind of living commanded in Leviticus 19, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy.” The human goodness which honours God’s goodness, in a common life focused on justice and peace, is the chariot on which God rides. The active cooperation which God desires is enacted in the moment when God commands the prostrate Ezekiel, “Son of man,” ( meaning not God, mortal) “stand on your feet and I will speak with you.” God insists on an upright rather than supine obedience.