I grew up on the shores of a lake. The weather fronts were normally on-shore systems. I could see dark clouds massing and approaching from the other side of the lake. Weather systems came from the coast. From the ocean beyond.
I later moved to a state on the Eastern seaboard with a subtropical climate. This produced spectacular thunderstorms.
In addition, the weather fronts were normally off-shore systems. I could see them rolling down from inland.
Sometimes, when I was heading home, I could see the storm ahead of me. Thunderbolts striking the road. I was driving right into an electrical storm. It was exhilarating!
The only question is whether I'd get back before I was overtaken by the storm.
When I read Ezekiel's description of the theophany, that's what it reminds me of. At a distance, the theophany resembled a desert storm. At least it looked more like that than anything else which Ezekiel had ever seen. That was his only frame of reference.
But as it drew closer, like entering a storm, it became apparent that this was no ordinary storm.
In his commentary, Horace Hummel compares Ezekiel's description of his first encounter with his second encounter. The description of the theophany in his second encounter is more lucid. Hummel thinks Ezekiel was too stupefied the first time around to clearly express himself.
He had never seen anything like that before. It was hard for him to distinguish details or find the words to say what he saw.
That's very realistic. If the accounts of the theophany were just hallucinatory or literary constructs, we'd expect them to be consistent. But Ezekiel had to become accustomed to the strange sight.
In Out of the Silent Planet, the Malacandran landscape is so alien to Ransom that he's initially disoriented. Like a blind man who just received his sight. It takes him a while to adjust. To make out shapes. To restore his sense of perspective. What is he seeing? Is it near or far?
That was Ezekiel's experience. Confronted by something so unfamiliar, otherworldly, he was almost speechless. It took him a while to process what he saw.