The prophet Ezekiel said this: “In the 30th year…While I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1, NIV)
I know no way we can be sure what the prophet meant by “in the 30th year.” A number of suggestions are offered but we’ll not pursue them. I tend strongly to think that it’s his age. He is of the priestly family, would have been groomed for a number of years to serve and priestly service (it’s been said) began at thirty. I think that’s what he has in mind but we’ll move on.
With many others he was an exile, dragged from his home and now lived in the land of canals and rivers—Babylon. He would have been trained to minister as a priest and now that wouldn’t happen but something wonderful did happen and it happened away from home, it happened in the land Zechariah would regard as the unholy land (see Zechariah 5:5-11). Ezekiel said it was there, as a captive and away from home that the heavens were opened and he saw visions of God.
I have heard lovely and true stories about people having their eyes opened in the most surprising places and in distressing situations. I met a woman in South Dakota some years ago who suffered greatly with Huntington’s disease. Her arms flying and her body jerking almost ceaselessly as I spoke to the assembled people. Later I sat with her across a table and asked her if she was angry with God at all, in light of this terrible affliction, don’t you know; she wanted me to understand that the disease would soon take her life but she also assured me and I believed her that she’d been traveling a very wicked road when she was healthy and now the world was a different and glorious place. God had opened her eyes to more than her wrong path—He had given her a hunger for and a pleasure in goodness. She and Ezekiel had something in common.
Many of you would have come across those who found the heavens opening in prison. A few of them in prison through no fault of their own after a period of bitterness and great anger found grace and peace entered their lives when they found God or rather when God found them and opened heaven to them. I have heard it said that such experiences are not genuine conversions, that they were the responses of fear or loneliness and insecurity. I can understand that viewpoint and I don’t deny that that might be true in some cases but I’d not believe that unless I had the clearest reasons for doing so. I’ve met some whose vision of God remained long after they were released.
I know the Bible offers more than one story in which God made himself present in unexpected places. Jacob twice took advantage of his brother Esau and was running for his life toward Mesopotamia because Esau swore he’d see Jacob in the ground. It was at Luz in the night that God let Jacob know the heavens were still open to him even though he was a crook. Jacob is staggered and mutters, “God was here and I didn’t know it.” (The story is told in Genesis 25—28.)
Then there’s that text from Luke 3 where the good doctor lists six of the most powerful men in the land and links them to the most powerful man on the planet. Big-hitters in their own way, every one of them. Shrewd, ruthless and heartless but why does Luke list them? They were calendar markers! They were there to date the time when the heavens opened. But the heavens didn’t open in Rome or Galilee or Caesarea or Jerusalem to the political and religious lords—they opened in the desert to a wild kid called John telling him he was to announce that the world was coming under new management. (See Luke 3:1-6.)
I would have thought it was most common that a vision of God brought peace, purpose and a sense of adventure into a life but I do know that there are times when it was costly even though it was glorious. I have met more than one down the years who thought their life was easy until God came walking into it. I don’t doubt that either. I know in one case it led a baby to boyhood to vibrant young adulthood and then to a killing tree on a hill.
As you know, that wasn’t the end of the Story
(Holy Father, we know You just don’t “manufacture” our heartaches and awful pains. The entire matter soon moves beyond our grasp as to how You work with us in a world we’ve helped to make. But in light of the Baby, the Boy and the young Man we believe the heavens have been opened. Thank you. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)