And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire enfolding itself…
This is acknowledged even by some of the ablest expositors to be a most difficult portion of sacred Scripture. Isaac Casaubon says that "in the whole of the Old Testament there is nothing more obscure than the beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel." And Calvin "acknowledges that he does not understand this vision." Yet we would humbly and reverently endeavour to set forth what appear to us to be the principal teachings of this marvellous vision. Its chief meaning the prophet himself tells us when he says that he saw "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah" (ver. 28). But in this case that glory is his glory in the providential government of our world. In dealing with this subject we may perhaps bring out the main teachings of our text by considering -
I. THE VARIETY OF AGENCIES EMPLOYED IN THE PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
1. The entire animate creation is thus employed. Great is the diversity of opinion as to the meaning of the four living creatures, the likeness of which Ezekiel saw (vers. 4-10). We will state what we believe to be their true significance. As delineated by the prophet "it is an ideal combination," as Fairbairn says; "no such composite creature exists in the actual world." And the name by which they are called, living ones, "presents them to our view as exhibiting the property of life in its highest state of power and activity; as forms of creaturely existence altogether instinct with life." Hengstenberg says that the living creatures are "the ideal combination of all that lives on earth." We regard them as intended to symbolize the whole living creation of God. And their composition, relations, and movements teach us that every variety and order of life is employed in his providential government of our world. The endeavour has been made to assign a specific meaning to each different portion of the living creatures. The symbolism unfolds itself to us thus: "The likeness of a man" indicates mental and moral powers; e.g. reason, conscience, affections, etc. "The hands of a man" indicate dexterity, power of skilful and active service. "The face of a lion" suggests strength (cf. Proverbs 30:30), courage (cf. Proverbs 28:1), and sovereignty. "The face of an ox" leads us to think of patient, diligent, productive labour (cf. Proverbs 14:4). And "the face of an eagle" suggests the power of soaring high above the earth (cf. Job 39:27; Isaiah 40:31), the keen, searching gaze, and the far extended vision. In the evolution of his providential government God employs powers of every kind and degree. The convincing reasoner and the eloquent speaker, the man of brilliant imagination and the man of patient investigation, the skilful inventor and the diligent handicraftsman, and men and women and little children even, having only feeble and commonplace abilities, God uses in the working out of his great designs. All creatures, from the lowest insect to the highest intelligence, are subject to his control and subservient to his purposes. It is doubtful whether the symbolism of the living creatures includes the angelic creation. But apart from this vision, we know that angels are employed by God in his providential government of our world. Illustrations of such employment abound in the sacred Scriptures. Endless in variety and countless in number are the agents which he employs.
2. The great forces of nature are thus employed by God. (Vers. 15-21.) The wheels symbolize the powers of nature. Their relation to the living creatures, and the relation of both to the great God, is thus pictorially set forth by Hengstenberg: "The whole was designed to represent a kind of vehicle, in which the Lord occupied the place of the charioteer, the living creature the place of the chariot, under which are the powers of nature represented by the wheels." This interpretation of the meaning of the wheels is confirmed by Psalm 18:10: "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind;" Psalm 104:3, 4: "Who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind," etc.; Psalm 148:8: "Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word." All the forces of nature serve God, and are used by him in the execution of his purposes. In the case before us these powers are represented as about to be employed for judgment upon the unfaithful Jews. But they are also employed for purposes of mercy and grace. He can use them for the protection of his faithful people, as well as for the punishment of the rebellious.
II. THE CHIEF CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OPERATION OF THE PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
1. The immensity of its extent. It is said of the rings, or circumference, of the wheels that "they were so high that they were dreadful;" or, "they were both high and terrible." How vast are the designs and doings of the providence of God! That providence goes back into the immeasurable and awful past; it reaches onward into the endless future. It embraces an infinity of events, some of which are of stupendous importance.
2. The complexity of its movements. We read of the wheels that "their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel" (ver. 16). "The wheels are not ordinary wheels," says Hengstenberg, "but double wheels, one set into the other." Looking upon the working of an elaborate and intricate machine or engine, the uninitiated are bewildered by the movements, the relations and bearings of which they know not. Somewhat thus do we contemplate the operations of the providential government of God. "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known;" "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Unfathomably deep to us are the mysteries of the Divine providence.
3. The wisdom of its direction. The rings of the wheels were "full of eyes round about them" (ver. 15). Eyes are the symbols of intelligence. The forces of nature are not blind or aimless in their movements, but are directed by the All-wise. And however inexplicable to us the workings of the providential government of God may be, they are guided and controlled by infinite intelligence and goodness.
4. The harmoniousness of its operation. "When the living creatures went, the wheels went by them," etc. (vers. 19-21). One Spirit animated the whole. The one Power which employs and controls the whole living creation also governs the inanimate forces of nature, so that all cooperate towards one great and blessed end. Though the great powers at work in our world often seem to us to be in conflict, yet in his providence God is prompting some, and restraining others, for the accomplishment of his own gracious and glorious purposes. "All things work together for good to them that love God."
5. The progressiveness of its movements. "They turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward" (ver. 9); "They went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; they turned not when they went" (ver. 12). Real and great progress is being made in our world. The former days were not better than these. The social condition of the people improves; education advances along the whole line; science makes great and rapid strides; in the apprehension of revealed truth there is marked progress; and Christian principles and practice are ever extending their empire. Under the providential government of God, the world is moving, not to the darkness of midnight, but to the splendours of noontide.
III. THE SUPREME CONTROLLER OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD. (Vers. 22-28.) Notice:
1. The manifestation of the God-Man. We have spoken of the manifestation of the God-Man; but Ezekiel does not say that he saw either man or God. Very guarded are his words: "Upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it" (ver. 26). He tells us that he also saw "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (ver. 28). It was a vision, perhaps as clear as the prophet was capable of receiving, of the Divine-Human. We can have no doubt of the Person thus indicated. It was a foreshadowing of the incarnation of the Son of God; an anticipation of God manifest in the flesh.
2. The supremacy of the God-Man. "Upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it." The Lord is upon the throne. He is the great Head of the providential government of God. All created life, and all nature's forces, are subject to his control. "All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth." This fact is rich in consolation and in inspiration to all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The gracious fidelity of the God-Man. "As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness that was round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." The meaning of "the bow that is in the cloud" is determined by Genesis 9:12-17. It indicates that in the severe judgments which were coming upon the chosen people, God would not forget the gracious covenant which he had made with their fathers. Even the judgments would be inflicted for their well being, and after the judgments there would be a return of prosperity and of the manifest favour of God (cf. Isaiah 54:7-10). In wrath he remembers mercy. The God-Man presides over the providential government of our world in infinite fidelity and grace. He reigns to bless and to save.
1. Let us believe in this glorious government. "The Lord reigneth."
2. Let us render loyal obedience to the gracious King. - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
WEB: I looked, and behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with flashing lightning, and a brightness around it, and out of its midst as it were glowing metal, out of the midst of the fire.