Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.Ezekiel 1:1
He was instructed, at the very beginning of his work as a Prophet, that the glory of Him who filled the temple was surrounding him in Mesopotamia as it surrounded him when he went up to present the morning or the evening sacrifice at Jerusalem. Such a vision was given him of that glory as he had never beheld in the holy place. He found that the earth—that common, profane, Babylonian earth upon which he dwelt—was filled with it.
—F. D. Maurice.
One would not object to be an exile among exiles for some years if thereby he could be prepared for such scenes as Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John, and others saw. In reading the testimony of these men concerning the opening of their spirits to the spirit-world, we wonder almost as much at the nature of man, which can be brought face to face with such scenes, as at the revelations themselves.
—Dr. Pulsford in The Supremacy of Man, pp. 69 f.
'Many times,' says Carlyle in his essay on Richter, 'he exhibits an imagination of a singularity, nay on the whole, of a truth and grandeur, unexampled elsewhere. In his Dreams there is a mystic complexity, a gloom, and amid the dim-gigantic half-ghastly shadows, gleamings of a wizard splendour, which almost recall to us the visions of Ezekiel. By readers who have studied the Dream in the New Year's Eve we shall not be mistaken.'
References.—I. 1.—J. E. Roberts, Studies in the Lord's Prayer, p. 47. R. G. Colquhoun, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 292.
We often wonder how such a creation as that of which we form a part, with so much in it that is dark, contradictory, perplexing, striving, suffering, etc., etc., should have come from God at all. 'I looked, and behold a whirlwind,' Ezekiel says.
The descent of the yellow, flat-nosed Mongols upon Europe is a historical cyclone which devastated and purified our thirteenth century, and broke, at the two ends of the known world, through two great Chinese walls—that which protected the ancient empire of the Centre, and that which made a barrier of ignorance and superstition round the little world of Christendom. Attila, Genghis, Tamerlane, ought to range in the memory of men with Cæsar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon. They roused whole peoples into action, and stirred the depths of human lift;, they powerfully affected ethnography, they let loose rivers of blood, and renewed the face of things. The Quakers will not see that there is a law of tempests in history as in nature. The revilers of war are like the revilers of thunder, storms, and volcanoes; they know not what they do.
It hath seldome or never been seene that the farre Southern People have invaded the Northern, but contrariwise. Whereby it is manifest that the Northern Tract of the World is in nature the more Martiall Region; Be it, in respect of the Stars of that Hemisphere; or of the great continents that are upon the North, whereas the South Part, for ought that is knowne, is almost all Sea; or (which is most apparent) of the cold of the Northern Parts, which is that which, without aid of Discipline, doth make the Bodies hardest and the Courages warmest.
—Bacon, Of the Vicissitude of Things.
Reference.—I. 4.—J. B. Lightfoot, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 260.
'In such writers,' says Miss Dora Greenwell, speaking of many devotional authors, 'we trace but little communion with the joy and sorrow and beauty of this earth "glad, sad, and sweet," so that we sometimes wonder if they have known any enjoyments, pangs, or conflicts, but such as belong to the life that is in God. To be assured that they had joyed and sorrowed, and loved as men and women, and as such had felt Christ's unspeakable consolations, would be a touch of nature making them our kin. But it seldom comes. St. Thomas à Kempis, for instance, dismisses a whole world of feeling in two lines, "Love no woman in particular, but commend all good women in general to God ". In Madame Guyon and Edwards we long, and long in vain, to see the hand of a man under the wings of the cherubim, and to feel its pressure.'
All that most truly lives is here by representation. The ox is the emblem of toil and of sacrifice; of patient, suffering, bleeding life. The lion is strong, royal, victorious. The eagle soars upward in spires, rising and falling with no apparent effort; gliding over the highest mountains and lost in the azure distances, apparently in the heaven itself. And above these three highest specimens of forms of animal life man comes, who blends in one, and carries into a higher sphere all those endowments which they possess in some measure in fact, perfectly in the conception of gifted souls. Man alone is capable of sacrifice in its one true form—self-sacrifice; man alone is capable of the only conquests that are noble, of the only ideas which elevate to heaven. The great conceptions of three of the cherubic symbols—the ox, the lion, the eagle—suffering, action, thought, find their perfection in the truly human life and nature which is symbolized by the Man.
'The oracles of God,' says Miss Greenwell in A Covenant of Life, 'when they speak to us of our deliverance from the power of darkness and our translation into the kingdom of God's dear Son, set before us a state of being in which... the human will, like the angelic, attains to such a measure of conformity with the Divine Law, that it follows as the direction of God's spirit in the unforced obedience which, as the Prophet Ezekiel witnesses, runs and returns as the appearance of a flash of lightning. Whatever God tells us to do, He also helps us to do. Our Saviour, who knows whereof we are made, sends us on no vain errands, sets us on no unprofitable tasks.'
The Rev. H. Davidson, in a letter of sympathy to Thomas Boston, writes: 'Now that His way is in the sea, and His path in the deep waters, and His footsteps are not known, we must believe loving-kindness in all the mysterious passages of Providence; we shall in due time see a wheel in the wheel, and be taught how to decipher the dark characters; we shall, with an agreeable surprise, perceive an all-wise Providence in all its intricate, oblique, and seemingly-contrary motions, to have been a faithful servant to the Divine promise'.
References.—I. 16.—J. W. Mills, After-Glow, p. 93. I. 18.—S. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 204.
After describing the unfortunate marriage of Hooker, Walton moralizes: 'This choice of Mr. Hooker's—if it were his choice—may be wondered at; but let us consider that the Prophet Ezekiel says, "There is a wheel within a wheel"; a secret, sacred wheel of Providence—most visible in marriages—guided by His hand, that allows not the race to the swift, nor the bread to the wise, nor good wives to good men'.
How beautiful are beautiful eyes! Not from one aspect only, as a picture is; where the light falls rightly on it—the painter's point of view—they vary to every and any aspect The orb rolls to meet the changing circumstance, and is adjusted to all. But a little inquiry into the mechanism of the eyes will indicate how wondrously they are formed. Science has dispelled many illusions, broken many dreams; but here, in the investigation of the eye, it has added to our marvelling interest. The eye is still like the work of a magician: it is physically Divine. Perhaps of all physical things, the eye is most beautiful, most Divine.
—Richard Jefferies, The Field Play.
Compare, besides Ruskin's famous use of this verse in Modern Painters (vol. III. chap. viii.), the remark of Coleridge upon words, in the preface to his Aids to Reflection. 'Wheels of the intellect I admit them to be; but such as Ezekiel beheld in the vision of God, as he sate among the captives by the river of Chebar. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, the wheels went, and thither was their spirit to go; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels also.'
Reference.—I. 26.—F. D. Maurice, The Prayer Book and the Lord's Prayer, p. 161.
We may gather up the significance of the rainbow for Israel, together with the deepest meaning of all its history, if we remember the striking fact that the only two Prophets who allude to it are the two who were least likely to be familiar with it—the two who spent their lives in the sultry plains of Babylonia—Ezekiel and his greater brother, the anonymous Prophet whom we have confused with Isaiah. It is a wonderfully instructive thought that it was in the darkest hour of Hebrew history, when the promise of God seemed to have been tried and found wanting, that this bright pledge of His promise was remembered. We cannot imagine anything happening to an Englishman which could have the utterly desolating influence of the deportation to Babylon. If we suppose that England had been conquered by Russia and that Tennyson had written his poems in Siberia, we shall have a very faint picture of what it was to the Prophets of the captivity to look back to their home on the Hill of Zion. The sense of a triumph in a power opposed to what we should call civilization was far greater with them than it would be with the English exile in Siberia; they were tempted to feel that the hope for the world was gone, as much as it was when the waters of the Deluge closed over the inhabitants of all the world. And see how out of that despair the bow in the cloud seems to gleam on the eyes of both; 'as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain,' so was the appearance of the glory that dawned on Ezekiel when he was 'among the captives by the river Chebar,' and 'the heavens were opened and he saw visions of God'. The evanescent gleam symbolized the Divine nearness; what was most transient spoke to him of what was eternal.
—Miss Wedgwood, Message of Israel, pp. 275, 276.
'Martineau,' said Dr. John Duncan once, 'is a deeply religious man. Once at a meeting of ministers, they were discussing the Ulster Revivals, and the "strik-ings-down," which most of them derided. Martineau said, "I wonder not, when the reality of Divine things first bursts upon a man, that he should be laid prostrate; the wonder rather is that there should be so little of it".'
Reference.—I. 28.—R. G. Colquhoun, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 292.
In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity,
The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.
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.
Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.
When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went.
As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.
And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.
And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies.
And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings.
And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.
And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.
And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.