Ezekiel 1:1-28 . EZEKIEL'S VISION BY THE CHEBAR. FOUR CHERUBIM AND WHEELS.
1. Now it came to pass--rather, "And it came," &c. As this formula in Joshua 1:1 has reference to the written history of previous times, so here (and in Ruth 1:1 , and Esther 1:1 ), it refers to the unwritten history which was before the mind of the writer. The prophet by it, as it were, continues the history of the preceding times. In the fourth year of Zedekiah's reign ( Jeremiah 51:59 ), Jeremiah sent by Seraiah a message to the captives ( Jeremiah 29:1-32 ) to submit themselves to God and lay aside their flattering hopes of a speedy restoration. This communication was in the next year, the fifth, and the fourth month of the same king (for Jehoiachin's captivity and Zedekiah's accession coincide in time), followed up by a prophet raised up among the captives themselves, the energetic Ezekiel.
thirtieth year--that is, counting from the beginning of the reign of Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar, the era. of the Babylonian empire, 625 B.C., which epoch coincides with the eighteenth year of Josiah, that in which the book of the law was found, and the consequent reformation began [SCALIGER]; or the thirtieth year of Ezekiel's life. As the Lord was about to be a "little sanctuary" ( Ezekiel 11:16 ) to the exiles on the Chebar, so Ezekiel was to be the ministering priest; therefore he marks his priestly relation to God and the people at the outset; the close, which describes the future temple, thus answering to the beginning. By designating himself expressly as "the priest" ( Ezekiel 1:3 ), and as having reached his thirtieth year (the regular year of priests commencing their office), he marks his office as the priest among the prophets. Thus the opening vision follows naturally as the formal institution of that spiritual temple in which he was to minister [FAIRBAIRN].
Chebar--the same as Chabor or Habor, whither the ten tribes had been transported by Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser ( 2 Kings 17:6 , 1 Chronicles 5:26 ). It flows into the Euphrates near Carchemish or Circesium, two hundred miles north of Babylon.
visions of God--Four expressions are used as to the revelation granted to Ezekiel, the three first having respect to what was presented from without, to assure him of its reality, the fourth to his being internally made fit to receive the revelation; "the heavens were opened" (so Matthew 3:16 , Acts 7:56 , 10:11 , Revelation 19:11 ); "he saw visions of God"; "the word of Jehovah came verily (as the meaning is rather than 'expressly, English Version, Ezekiel 1:3 ) unto him" (it was no unreal hallucination); and "the hand of Jehovah was upon him" ( Isaiah 8:11 , Daniel 10:10 Daniel 10:18 , Revelation 1:17 ; the Lord by His touch strengthening him for his high and arduous ministry, that he might be able to witness and report aright the revelations made to him).
2. Jehoiachin's captivity--In the third or fourth year of Jehoiakim, father of Jehoiachin, the first carrying away of Jewish captives to Babylon took place, and among them was Daniel. The second was under Jehoiachin, when Ezekiel was carried away. The third and final one was at the taking of Jerusalem under Zedekiah.
4. whirlwind--emblematic of God's judgments ( Jeremiah 23:19 , 25:32 ).
out of the north--that is, from Chaldea, whose hostile forces would invade Judea from a northerly direction. The prophet conceives himself in the temple.
fire infolding itself--laying hold on whatever surrounds it, drawing it to itself, and devouring it. Literally, "catching itself," that is, kindling itself [FAIRBAIRN]. The same Hebrew occurs in Exodus 9:24 , as to the "fire mingled with the hail."
brightness . . . about it--that is, about the "cloud."
out of the midst thereof--that is, out of the midst of the "fire."
colour of amber--rather, "the glancing brightness (literally, 'the eye', and so the glancing appearance) of polished brass. The Hebrew, chasmal, is from two roots, "smooth" and "brass" (compare Ezekiel 1:7 , Revelation 1:15 ) [GESENIUS]. The Septuagint and Vulgate translate it, "electrum"; a brilliant metal compounded of gold and silver.
5. Ezekiel was himself of a "gigantic nature, and thereby suited to counteract the Babylonish spirit of the times, which loved to manifest itself in gigantic, grotesque forms" [HENGSTENBERG].
living creatures--So the Greek ought to have been translated in the parallel passage, Revelation 4:6 , not as English Version, "beasts"; for one of the "four" is a man, and man cannot be termed "beast." Ezekiel 10:20 shows that it is the cherubim that are meant.
likeness of a man--Man, the noblest of the four, is the ideal model after which they are fashioned ( Ezekiel 1:10 , Ezekiel 10:14 ). The point of comparison between him and them is the erect posture of their bodies, though doubtless including also the general mien. Also the hands ( Ezekiel 10:21 ).
6. Not only were there four distinct living creatures, but each of the four had four faces, making sixteen in all. The four living creatures of the cherubim answer by contrast to the four world monarchies represented by four beasts, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome ( Daniel 7:1-28 ). The Fathers identified them with the four Gospels: Matthew the lion, Mark the ox, Luke the man, John the eagle. Two cherubim only stood over the ark in the temple; two more are now added, to imply that, while the law is retained as the basis, a new form is needed to be added to impart new life to it. The number four may have respect to the four quarters of the world, to imply that God's angels execute His commands everywhere. Each head in front had the face of a man as the primary and prominent one: on the right the face of a lion, on the left the face of an ox, above from behind the face of an eagle. The Mosaic cherubim were similar, only that the human faces were put looking towards each other, and towards the mercy seat between, being formed out of the same mass of pure gold as the latter ( Exodus 25:19 Exodus 25:20 ). In Isaiah 6:2 two wings are added to cover their countenances; because there they stand by the throne, here under the throne; there God deigns to consult them, and His condescension calls forth their humility, so that they veil their faces before Him; here they execute His commands. The face expresses their intelligence; the wings, their rapidity in fulfilling God's will. The Shekinah or flame, that signified God's presence, and the written name, JEHOVAH, occupied the intervening space between the cherubim Genesis 4:14 Genesis 4:16 , 3:24 ("placed"; properly, "to place in a tabernacle"), imply that the cherubim were appointed at the fall as symbols of God's presence in a consecrated place, and that man was to worship there. In the patriarchal dispensation when the flood had caused the removal of the cherubim from Eden, seraphim or teraphim (Chaldean dialect) were made as models of them for domestic use ( Genesis 31:19 , Margin; Genesis 31:30 ). The silence of the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth chapters of Exodus to their configuration, whereas everything else is minutely described, is because their form was so well-known already to Bezaleel and all Israel by tradition as to need no detailed description. Hence Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 10:20 ) at once knows them, for he had seen them repeatedly in the carved work of the outer sanctuary of Solomon's temple ( 1 Kings 6:23-29 ). He therefore consoles the exiles with the hope of having the same cherubim in the renovated temple which should be reared; and he assures them that the same God who dwelt between the cherubim of the temple would be still with His people by the Chebar. But they were not in Zerubbabel's temple; therefore Ezekiel's foretold temple, if literal, is yet future. The ox is selected as chief of the tame animals, the lion among the wild, the eagle among birds, and man the head of all, in his ideal, realized by the Lord Jesus, combining all the excellencies of the animal kingdom. The cherubim probably represent the ruling powers by which God acts in the natural and moral world. Hence they sometimes answer to the ministering angels; elsewhere, to the redeemed saints (the elect Church) through whom, as by the angels, God shall hereafter rule the world and proclaim the manifold wisdom of God ( Matthew 19:28 , 1 Corinthians 6:2 , Ephesians 3:10 , Revelation 3:21 , 4:6-8 ). The "lions" and "oxen," amidst "palms" and "open flowers" carved in the temple, were the four-faced cherubim which, being traced on a flat surface, presented only one aspect of the four. The human-headed winged bulls and eagle-headed gods found in Nineveh, sculptured amidst palms and tulip-shaped flowers, were borrowed by corrupted tradition from the cherubim placed in Eden near its fruits and flowers. So the Aaronic calf ( Exodus 32:4 Exodus 32:5 ) and Jeroboam's calves at Dan and Beth-el, a schismatic imitation of the sacred symbols in the temple at Jerusalem. So the ox figures of Apis on the sacred arks of Egypt.
7. straight feet--that is, straight legs. Not protruding in any part as the legs of an ox, but straight like a man's [GROTIUS]. Or, like solid pillars; not bending, as man's, at the knee. They glided along, rather than walked. Their movements were all sure, right, and without effort [KITTO, Cyclopedia].
sole . . . calf's foot--HENDERSON hence supposes that "straight feet" implies that they did not project horizontally like men's feet, but vertically as calves' feet. The solid firmness of the round foot of a calf seems to be the point of comparison.
colour--the glittering appearance, indicating God's purity.
8. The hands of each were the hands of a man. The hand is the symbol of active power, guided by skilfulness ( Psalms 78:72 ).
under their wings--signifying their operations are hidden from our too curious prying; and as the "wings" signify something more than human, namely, the secret prompting of God, it is also implied that they are moved by it and not by their own power, so that they do nothing at random, but all with divine wisdom.
they four had . . . faces and . . . wings--He returns to what he had stated already in Ezekiel 1:6 ; this gives a reason why they had hands on their four sides, namely, because they had faces and wings on the four sides. They moved whithersoever they would, not by active energy merely, but also by knowledge (expressed by their faces) and divine guidance (expressed by their "wings").
9. they--had no occasion to turn themselves round when changing their direction, for they had a face ( Ezekiel 1:6 ) looking to each of the four quarters of heaven. They made no mistakes; and their work needed not be gone over again. Their wings were joined above in pairs (see Ezekiel 1:11 ).
10. they . . . had the face of a man--namely, in front. The human face was the primary and prominent one and the fundamental part of the composite whole. On its right was the lion's face; on the left, the ox's (called "cherub," Ezekiel 10:14 ); at the back from above was the eagle's.
11. The tips of the two outstretched wings reached to one another, while the other two, in token of humble awe, formed a veil for the lower parts of the body.
stretched upward--rather, "were parted from above" (compare Margin; implies that, though the movements of Providence on earth may seem conflicting and confused, yet if one lift up his eyes to heaven, he will see that they admirably conspire towards the one end at last.
12. The same idea as in Ezekiel 1:9 . The repetition is because we men are so hard to be brought to acknowledge the wisdom of God's doings; they seem tortuous and confused to us, but they are all tending steadily to one aim.
the spirit--the secret impulse whereby God moves His angels to the end designed. They do not turn back or aside till they have fulfilled the office assigned them.
13. likeness . . . appearance--not tautology. "Likeness" expresses the general form; "appearance," the particular aspect.
coals of fire--denoting the intensely pure and burning justice wherewith God punishes by His angels those who, like Israel, have hardened themselves against His long-suffering. So in Isaiah 6:2 Isaiah 6:6 , instead of cherubim, the name "seraphim," the burning ones, is applied, indicating God's consuming righteousness; whence their cry to Him is, "Holy! holy! holy!" and the burning coal is applied to his lips, for the message through his mouth was to be one of judicial severance of the godly from the ungodly, to the ruin of the latter.
lamps--torches. The fire emitted sparks and flashes of light, as torches do.
went up and down--expressing the marvellous vigor of God's Spirit, in all His movements never resting, never wearied.
fire . . . bright--indicating the glory of God.
out of the fire . . . lightning--God's righteousness will at last cause the bolt of His wrath to fall on the guilty; as now, on Jerusalem.
14. ran and returned--Incessant, restless motion indicates the plenitude of life in these cherubim; so in Revelation 4:8 , "they rest not day or night" ( Zechariah 4:10 ).
flash of lightning--rather, as distinct from "lightning" ( Ezekiel 1:13 ), "the meteor flash," or sheet lightning [FAIRBAIRN].
15. one wheel--The "dreadful height" of the wheel ( Ezekiel 1:18 ) indicates the gigantic, terrible energy of the complicated revolutions of God's providence, bringing about His purposes with unerring certainty. One wheel appeared traversely within another, so that the movement might be without turning, whithersoever the living creatures might advance ( Ezekiel 1:17 ). Thus each wheel was composed of two circles cutting one another at right angles, "one" only of which appeared to touch the ground ("upon the earth"), according to the direction the cherubim desired to move in.
with his four faces--rather, "according to its four faces" or sides; as there.was a side or direction to each of the four creatures, so there was a wheel for each of the sides [FAIRBAIRN]. The four sides or semicircles of each composite wheel pointed, as the four faces of each of the living creatures, to the four quarters of heaven. HAVERNICK refers "his" or "its" to the wheels. The cherubim and their wings and wheels stood in contrast to the symbolical figures, somewhat similar, then existing in Chaldea, and found in the remains of Assyria. The latter, though derived from the original revelation by tradition, came by corruption to symbolize the astronomical zodiac, or the sun and celestial sphere, by a circle with wings or irradiations. But Ezekiel's cherubim rise above natural objects, the gods of the heathen, to the representation of the one true God, who made and continually upholds them.
16. appearance . . . work--their form and the material of their work.
beryl--rather, "the glancing appearance of the Tarshish stone"; the chrysolite or topaz, brought from Tarshish or Tartessus in Spain. It was one of the gems in the breastplate of the high priest ( Exodus 28:20 , Solomon 5:14 , Daniel 10:6 ).
four had one likeness--The similarity of the wheels to one another implies that there is no inequality in all God's works, that all have a beautiful analogy and proportion.
17. went upon their four sides--Those faces or sides of the four wheels moved which answered to the direction in which the cherubim desired to move; while the transverse circles in each of the four composite wheels remained suspended from the ground, so as not to impede the movements of the others.
18. rings--that is, felloes or circumferences of the wheels.
eyes--The multiplicity of eyes here in the wheels. and Ezekiel 10:12 , in the cherubim themselves, symbolizes the plenitude of intelligent life, the eye being the window through which "the spirit of the living creatures" in the wheels ( Ezekiel 1:20 ) looks forth (compare Zechariah 4:10 ). As the wheels signify the providence of God, so the eyes imply that He sees all the circumstances of each case, and does nothing by blind impulse.
19. went by them--went beside them.
20. the spirit was to go--that is, their will was for going whithersoever the Spirit was for going.
over against them--rather, beside or in conjunction with them.
spirit of the living creature--put collectively for "the living creatures"; the cherubim. Having first viewed them separately, he next views them in the aggregate as the composite living creature in which the Spirit resided. The life intended is that connected with God, holy, spiritual life, in the plenitude of its active power.
21. over against--rather, "along with" [HENDERSON]; or, "beside" [FAIRBAIRN].
22. upon the heads--rather, "above the heads" [FAIRBAIRN].
terrible crystal--dazzling the spectator by its brightness.
23. straight--erect [FAIRBAIRN], expanded upright.
two . . . two . . . covered . . . bodies--not, as it might seem, contradicting Ezekiel 1:11 . The two wings expanded upwards, though chiefly used for flying, yet up to the summit of the figure where they were parted from each other, covered the upper part of the body, while the other two wings covered the lower parts.
24. voice of . . . Almighty--the thunder ( Psalms 29:3 Psalms 29:4 ).
voice of speech--rather, "the voice" or "sound of tumult," as in Jeremiah 11:16 . From an Arabic root, meaning the "impetuous rush of heavy rain."
noise of . . . host--( Isaiah 13:4 , Daniel 10:6 ).
25. let down . . . wings--While the Almighty gave forth His voice, they reverently let their wings fall, to listen stilly to His communication.
26. The Godhead appears in the likeness of enthroned humanity, as in Exodus 24:10 . Besides the "paved work of a sapphire stone, as it were the body of heaven in clearness," there, we have here the "throne," and God "as a man," with the "appearance of fire round about." This last was a prelude of the incarnation of Messiah, but in His character as Saviour and as Judge ( Revelation 19:11-16 ). The azure sapphire answers to the color of the sky. As others are called "sons of God," but He "the Son of God," so others are called "sons of man" ( Ezekiel 2:1 Ezekiel 2:3 ), but He "the Son of man" ( Matthew 16:13 ), being the embodied representative of humanity and the whole human race; as, on the other hand, He is the representative of "the fulness of the Godhead" ( Colossians 2:9 ). While the cherubim are movable, the throne above, and Jehovah who moves them, are firmly fixed. It is good news to man, that the throne above is filled by One who even there appears as "a man."
28. the bow . . . in . . . rain--the symbol of the sure covenant of mercy to God's children remembered amidst judgments on the wicked; as in the flood in Noah's days ( Revelation 4:3 ). "Like hanging out from the throne of the Eternal a fing of peace, assuring all that the purpose of Heaven was to preserve rather than to destroy. Even if the divine work should require a deluge of wrath, still the faithfulness of God would only shine forth the more brightly at last to the children of promise, in consequence of the tribulations needed to prepare for the ultimate good" [FAIRBAIRN]. ( Isaiah 54:8-10 ).
I fell upon . . . face--the right attitude, spiritually, before we enter on any active work for God ( Ezekiel 2:2 , Ezekiel 3:23 Ezekiel 3:24 , Revelation 1:17 ). In this first chapter God gathered into one vision the substance of all that was to occupy the prophetic agency of Ezekiel; as was done afterwards in the opening vision of the Revelation of Saint John.