Ezekiel 1:4
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire enfolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the middle thereof as the color of amber, out of the middle of the fire.
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(4) A whirlwind came out of the north.—The north is seen as the quarter from which the vision proceeded, not because the Babylonians conceived that there was the seat of Divine power (Isaiah 14:13-14), but because it was common with the prophets to represent the Divine judgments upon Judæa as coming from the north (see Jeremiah 1:14-15; Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 6:1), and it was from that direction that the Assyrian and the Chaldæan conquerors were accustomed to descend upon the Holy Land. The vision is actually seen in Chaldæa, but it has reference to Jerusalem, and is described as if viewed from that standpoint.

A great cloud.—As in the Divine manifestation on Sinai (Exodus 19:9-16). The cloud serves at once as the groundwork for all the other details of the manifestation—a place in, and by means of which, all are located, and also as a hiding-place of the Divine majesty, so that all may be seen which human eye can bear, and that which it cannot bear may yet be known to be there, shrouded in the cloud. The transposition of a single letter from the end of one word in the Hebrew to the beginning of the next will change the reading to “a whirlwind out of the north brought on a great cloud.”

A fire infolding itself.—More literally translated in the margin, catching itself. The idea intended to be conveyed is that of flames round and round the cloud, the flashes succeeding one another so rapidly that each seemed to lay hold on the one that had gone before; there were tongues of flame, where each one reached to another. The same word occurs in Exodus 9:24, in connection with “fire,” and is there translated mingled. The vision thus far seems moulded on the natural appearance of a terrific thunderstorm seen at a distance, in which the great black cloud appears illuminated by the unceasing and coalescing flashes of lightning. So, with all its impressive darkness, “there was a brightness about it.”

As the colour of amber.—Colour is, literally, eye. The word rendered “amber” (chasmal) occurs only in this book (here, and Ezekiel 1:27 and Ezekiel 8:2), and is now generally recognised as meaning some form of bright metal, either glowing in its molten state, or as the “fine brass” of Ezekiel 1:7 and Revelation 1:15, burnished and glowing in the light of the “infolding flame.” There is therefore now superadded to the first appearance of the natural phenomenon, a glowing eye or centre to the cloud, shining out even from the midst of the fire.

Ezekiel 1:4. I looked — I very diligently surveyed the things which were represented to me in the vision, and behold a whirlwind — Denoting the indignation and judgments of God; a quick, impetuous, and irresistible vengeance: see the margin. It is described here as coming out of the north, because, as has been before observed, the Chaldean army, by which the judgment was to be executed, would, for convenience of forage and water, march first northward, and then turn about toward Judea, so that they did, strictly speaking, come into it from the north. A great cloud — It is usual to express any great trouble by a great, dark cloud hanging over people’s heads. And here, in particular, it seems to signify the calamity coming on Judea by the Chaldean invasion. And a fire infolding itself — A fire appearing in folds, like one wreath within another. This was indicative of God’s avenging justice, for God is described in Scripture as a consuming fire, when he comes to execute his judgments upon sinners: see Deuteronomy 4:24. And a brightness was about it — Clear discoveries of God’s holiness and justice, which, it is thus signified, would be made manifest in what was about to be done. Out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber — Rather, as the appearance of amber. “There was a bright pellucid appearance.” — Newcome. But Bochart shows that ηλεκτρον, the word used in the LXX., signifies not only amber and crystal, but a metal compounded of gold and silver, or of gold and brass; and thinks that the last, called χαλκολιβανον, Revelation 1:15, best suits this place. This seems to have been a symbolical representation of the Jewish people; for as this compound metal was not consumed in the fire, so the Jews were not to be wholly destroyed by the grievous calamities they were to be involved in, but to come out purer from the furnace of affliction, as gold and brass out of the fire.1:1-14 It is a mercy to have the word of God brought to us, and a duty to attend to it diligently, when we are in affliction. The voice of God came in the fulness of light and power, by the Holy Spirit. These visions seem to have been sent to possess the prophet's mind with great and high thoughts of God. To strike terror upon sinners. To speak comfort to those that feared God, and humbled themselves. In ver. 4-14, is the first part of the vision, which represents God as attended and served by a vast company of angels, who are all his messengers, his ministers, doing his commandments. This vision would impress the mind with solemn awe and fear of the Divine displeasure, yet raise expectations of blessings. The fire is surrounded with a glory. Though we cannot by searching find out God to perfection, yet we see the brightness round about it. The likeness of the living creatures came out of the midst of the fire; angels derive their being and power from God. They have the understanding of a man, and far more. A lion excels in strength and boldness. An ox excels in diligence and patience, and unwearied discharge of the work he has to do. An eagle excels in quickness and piercing sight, and in soaring high; and the angels, who excel man in all these respects, put on these appearances. The angels have wings; and whatever business God sends them upon, they lose no time. They stood straight, and firm, and steady. They had not only wings for motion, but hands for action. Many persons are quick, who are not active; they hurry about, but do nothing to purpose; they have wings, but no hands. But wherever the angels' wings carried them, they carried hands with them, to be doing what duty required. Whatever service they went about, they went every one straight forward. When we go straight, we go forward; when we serve God with one heart, we perform work. They turned not when they went. They made no mistakes; and their work needed not to be gone over again. They turned not from their business to trifle with any thing. They went whithersoever the Spirit of God would have them go. The prophet saw these living creatures by their own light, for their appearance was like burning coals of fire; they are seraphim, or burners; denoting the ardour of their love to God, and fervent zeal in his service. We may learn profitable lessons from subjects we cannot fully enter into or understand. But let us attend to the things which relate to our peace and duty, and leave secret things to the Lord, to whom alone they belong.Out of the north - From this quarter the Assyrian conquerors came upon the holy land. The vision, though seen in Chaldaea, had reference to Jerusalem, and the seer is to contemplate judgment as it is coming upon the holy land. Others consider the words expressive of the special seat of the power of Yahweh. The high mountain range of Lebanon that closed in the holy land on the north naturally connected to the inhabitants of that country the northern region with the idea of height reaching to heaven, from which such a vision as this might be supposed to come.

Infolding itself - Forming a circle of light - flames moving round and round and following each other in rapid succession, to be as it were the framework of the glorious scene.

Amber - The original word occurs only in Ezekiel. The Septuagint and the Vulgate have "electrum," a substance composed by a mixture of silver and gold, which corresponds very well to the Hebrew word. The brightness, therefore, is that of shining metal, not of a transparent gum. Render it: "out of the midst thereof," like Ezekiel 1:7 burnished gold out of the midst of fire.

4. whirlwind—emblematic of God's judgments (Jer 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 Ex 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 Eze 1:7; Re 1:15) [Gesenius]. The Septuagint and Vulgate translate it, "electrum"; a brilliant metal compounded of gold and silver.

I looked; I did very diligently survey the things that were represented to me in the vision. Behold: this calls us to consider what he had seen and represented to us.

A whirlwind; a mighty, stormy, and turbulent wind, a wind that bears away or bears down all before it; this denotes the indignation and judgments of God, a quick, impetuous, and irresistible vengeance. Most grievous judgments, represented as here, so 1 Kings 19:11 Job 38:1 Psalm 104:4.

Came; came as if it knew its way, and, notwithstanding its impetuousness and irregularities, yet held its direct course.

Out of the north; from Babylon, which in Scripture geography is laid northward from Judea, and the prophet, though now in Babylon, does speak of the Jews as if they were in Jerusalem; against which this cloud, on which an angry God did ride, hastening vengeance on them, which they should be as little able to divert or withstand as to stop the course of the clouds, or their breaking upon us: it was the army of the Chaldeans, made up of multitudes of people, (as the cloud is made by the concourse of multitudes of exhalations and vapours,) Jeremiah 4:13.

A fire infolding itself; burning in a dreadful manner, very fierce, fed by fuel within itself, breaking out and flashing with terror, though it had seemed to rebate, and encircling all things near it, and threatening to devour all. Such was the anger of God against this sinful nation.

And a brightness was about it; though thus terrible, yet round about it was not smoke and darkness, but a clear light or splendour. The majesty, holiness, justice of God appeared to the prophet, and might be seen by the suffering Jews, to humble them, that they might seek him.

Out of the midst thereof; either of the whirlwind or cloud, or the fire rather, as in the end of the verse.

As the colour; Heb. as the eye, the aspect, or appearance.

Amber; the Hebrew word is variously interpreted, and it is lost labour to search the rabbins here. Amber is either natural, which if in the fire loseth its brightness; or artificial, made of fine gold and fine brass mixed, which will brighten in the fire, and of equal value with gold, (as the DD. Bothart observes,) of which Josephus saith Solomon did make the sea of brass, and the sacred vessels; somewhat like the Corinthian brass, known now only by its name, exceeding splendid, and very hard, the one speaking the glorious majesty to be reverenced, the other speaking the invincible power of God to be feared; both advising this people and us to repent and amend, and return and meet him.

Out of the midst of the fire; which the prophet saw, and in which the Jews were to be melted or consumed. And I looked,.... Being under the influence of the Spirit and power of God:

and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north; which some understand of Nebuchadnezzar and his army coming from Babylon, which lay north of Judea: see Jeremiah 1:14; but it seems to me to be, with what follows, only an apparatus to the following vision: and is designed to awaken the mind of the prophet, and to fix his attention to what should proceed from hence, and be seen by him; just as the Lord speared in and answered Job out of, the whirlwind, Job 38:1;

a great cloud; as is usual when there is much thunder and lightning; though some understand this also of Nebuchadnezzar's army, which came in great human, swiftly and powerfully, as a cloud:

and a fire infolding itself: in the cloud; rolling within it, when it burst out in thunder and lightning. The Targum renders it, "fire inflamed", the same phrase is used of the storm of thunder, lightning, and hail, in Exodus 9:24. Some understand this of the wrath of the Babylonian monarch; or of the wrath of God by him; or of the sins of men, the cause thereof:

and a brightness was about it; that is, the cloud. This brightness was an emblem of the glory of the divine Being; who was now present, an enlightened the mind of the prophet to see the following things, and which all proceeded from him:

and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber out of the midst of the fire; that is, out of the midst of the fire, and out of the midst of the brightness about it, there was something which was as "the colour of amber"; or, "like the chasmal" (f); which, the Jews (g) say, is the name of an angel. It is asked (h), what is "chasmal?" R. Judah says, , "fiery animals speaking": who, when God speaks, are silent; and when he does not speak, they speak; but Christ is meant; for the appearance of the man upon the throne is said to be as the colour of "chasmal", Ezekiel 1:27. The word, read the contrary way, is the Messiah, or the anointed, or to be anointed. Jarchi thinks it is the name of a colour, nearest to the colour of fire, Junius and Tremellius render it, "a most lively colour"; and perhaps may mean the colour of a burning coal; and Buxtorf translates it, "a coal exceedingly fired"; a clear, burning, red-hot coal; which may denote the pure light of Christ, who is the brightness of his Father's glory; his flaming love for his people; his burning zeal for the glory of God, and the good of his church; and his fiery indignation against his enemies. We render the word amber, as do others; by which must be meant, not that which is the juice of certain trees, which is hardened by the air, and is of a yellowish colour; nor that liquid substance which comes from sea shores and rocks, and, being hardened in the same way, is of the colour of wax; but a sort of mixed metal, compounded of gold and silver; the fifth part of it is silver, as Pliny (i) says, and four parts gold; though Bochart is of opinion that the "qurichalcum", a metal made of gold and brass, is meant; which is the most fine brass; to which the feet of Christ are compared in Revelation 1:15; and so this "chasmal" may denote the two natures in Christ; the preciousness of his person; his brightness and glory; and his great strength and power. R. Abendana (k) conjectures, that the colour of "chasmal" means the colour of some precious stone, as the colour of "tarshish", or "beryl", Ezekiel 1:16; and so he that sat upon the throne, in Revelation 4:3; was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone.

(f) "tanquam species hasmal, vel chasmal", Calvin, Tigerius version, Starckius; "angeli", Munster; "flammae crepitantis", Montanus; "prunarum ardentissimarum", Polanus; "purissimi aeris", Piscator; Sept. "electri", V. L. Pagninus. (g) Baal Aruch, Philip. Aquinas. Vid. Jarchi & Kimchi ib loc. (h) T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 13. 1. 2. (i) Nat. Hist. l. 33. c. 4. (k) Not. in Miclol Yophi in loc.

And I looked, and, behold, a {e} whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and from the midst of it as the colour of amber, from the midst of the fire.

(e) By this diversity of words he signifies the fearful judgment of God and the great afflictions that would come on Jerusalem.

4. God appears in cloud and storm: clouds and darkness are round about him, Exodus 9:24; 1 Kings 19:11; Job 38:1; Psalm 50:3.

out of the north] In Psalms 29 the theophany also comes from the north, and passes southward to the desert. The idea of the prophet can hardly be that the “place” or abode of God, from which he now comes, is situated in the northern part of the earth, for he saw “the heavens opened” (Ezekiel 1:1). In other places he refers to Eden, the garden of God (Ezekiel 28:13, Ezekiel 31:8-9) for which he appears also to use the name “mount of God” (ch. Ezekiel 28:14; Ezekiel 28:16), though without indicating any locality for it, but it would be very precarious to bring these passages into any connexion with the present one. When Jehovah leaves the city (ch. Ezekiel 11:23) his glory passes out by the East gate and stands over the “mountain which is on the East side of the city,” the mount of Olives; and when he returns to the new temple he enters by the same east gate, which therefore is to remain for ever shut (Ezekiel 43:2, Ezekiel 44:2). In Isaiah 14:3 the king of Babylon resolves to seat himself in the mount of assembly, in the recesses of the north, above the stars of God; but whatever this passage means it has no reference to the God of Israel. On the other hand the idea that the theophany appears to come from the north because the north was the region from which the enemies of Israel, the instruments of God’s vengeance, were to advance, is altogether to be rejected. The theophany here is not a manifestation of God specially in the character of an avenger or judge; he does not appear to the prophet as inflamed with anger. The theophany no doubt expresses the prophet’s conception of God, but it is his conception of God as he is in himself and in his nature, not as he is in preparation for any signal act of judgment. This is conclusively shewn by the fact that the theophany here, and that when Jehovah appears for the destruction of Jerusalem (ch. 8–11), and when he again appears to enter the new Jerusalem and make his abode in the new temple (ch. 43) are all identical, according to the statement of the prophet: “and the appearance was like the vision which I saw when I (? he) came to destroy the city, and like the vision that I saw by the river Chebar” (Ezekiel 43:3).

a fire infolding itself] lit. taking hold of itself. The meaning appears to be that the fire incessantly gave out flames or flashes. The expression is suggested by the zigzag, chainlike flash of the thunderbolt.

brightness was about it], i.e. about the whole phenomenon of storm and cloud; though a great cloud it was illuminated all round by the continuous flashing of fire within it.

colour of amber] Perhaps look, glance (Heb. eye) of amber. The word rendered “amber” is of uncertain meaning. LXX. renders elektron, which probably was some very brilliant metal, usually supposed to be an amalgam of gold and silver.

out of the midst of the fire] The words seem an explanation of the preceding phrase “out of the midst thereof.” But this phrase more naturally refers to the whole phenomenon, as in Ezekiel 1:5. The words are wanting in LXX. and may be a gloss. If genuine they might go along with amber: like amber out of the midst of fire, as Revelation 1:15, “like fine brass burning in a furnace.” This is not quite natural, neither is it natural to take “fire” here in a general sense of the great light caused by the fire (Ezekiel 1:13, ch. Ezekiel 10:2; Ezekiel 10:6). Probably the words are a marginal gloss referring the expression “out of the midst thereof” to the fire, while in fact it refers to the whole whirlwind and cloud. The prophet immediately proceeds to describe in detail the four living creatures, the wheels the firmament and throne. No one of these can be the thing compared to electrum, because each of them is compared to something else. It seems that the combined effect produced by these, the look of the whole manifestation within the tempestuous cloud, the chariot, living creatures and the like, was a splendour like that of electrum. When the prophet looked more narrowly the general splendour resolved itself into these individual things, living creatures, wheels and so on.

4–28. The theophany, or, vision of God

This is described first generally, as a whirlwind and great cloud coming from the North, with a luminous splendour around it, due to a fire sending out continuous flashes within it (Ezekiel 1:4).

Secondly, more particularly that is described which appeared within the storm-cloud (Ezekiel 1:5-28). This was the chariot of God, in which he rode, descending to the earth and moving from one place to another (cf. ch. 10). This chariot is represented as foursided. On each of the four sides was a living creature of human shape, with outstretched wings. Also on each of the four sides, beside each of the living creatures there was a wheel. The living creatures are not represented as having any platform or basement under them on which they stand; the wheels are usually said to be “beside” them, in ch. Ezekiel 10:2 “under” them. The wheels are to be conceived as at right angles to each of the four sides of the chariot, presenting their rims to the four points of the compass.

Above the heads of the four living creatures, or over their wings when horizontally expanded, was a firmament of crystal. Above the firmament was the appearance of a throne. And upon the throne the appearance of one like fire, encircled with a glory which was like the rainbow in the day of rain.Verse 4. - A whirlwind came out of the north. What, we ask, was the meaning of this symbolism? In Jeremiah 1:13, 14 a like symbol is explained as meaning that the judgments which Judah was to suffer were to come from the north, that is, from Chaldea, upon the prophet's countrymen. Here the prophet is himself in Chaldea, and what he sees is the symbol, not or calamities, but of the Divine glory, and that explanation is, accordingly, inapplicable. Probably the leading thought here is that the Divine presence is no longer in the temple at Jerusalem, It may return for a time to execute judgment (Ezekiel 8:4; Ezekiel 10:1, 19, 20), and may again depart (Ezekiel 11:23), but the abiding glory is elsewhere, and the temple is as Shitoh had been of old (Psalm 78:60). Ezekiel was looking on the visible symbol of what had been declared in unfigurative language by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:12, 14; Jeremiah 26:6, 9). That the north should have been chosen rather than any other quarter of the heavens is perhaps connected

(1) with Job 37:22, where it appears as the region of "fair weather," the unclouded brightness of the "terrible majesty" of God;

(2) with Isaiah 14:13, where "the sides of the north" are the symbols of the dwelling place of God. For the Jews this was probably associated with the thought of the mountain heights of Lebanon as rising up to heaven (Currey, on Ezekiel 1:4, in 'Speaker's Commentary'), or with the fact that the "north side" of Zion (Psalm 48:2), as the site of the temple, was the "dwelling place of the great King." Parallels present themselves in the Assyrian hymns that speak of the "feasts of the silver mountains, the heavenly courts" (as the Greeks spoke of Olympus), "where the gods dwell eternally" ('Records of the Past,' 3:133), and this ideal mountain was for them, like the Meru of Indian legend, in the farthest north. So, in the legendary geography of Greece, the Hyperborei, or "people beyond the north," were a holy and blessed race, the chosen servants of Apollo (Herod., 4:32-36: Pindar, 'Pyth.,' 10:4; AEsch., 'Choeph.,' 373). Possibly the brilliant coruscations of an Aurora Borealis may have led men to think of it as they thought of the glory of the dawn or the brightness of the lightning, as a momentary revelation of the higher glory of the throne of God. (For the "whirlwind" as the accompaniment of a Divine revelation, see 1 Kings 19:11; Job 38:1; Acts 2:2.) A great cloud, etc. So far the signs of the approaching theophany were like those on Sinai (Exodus 19:16, 18) and Horeb (1 Kings 19:11). With a fire infolding itself; the Revised Version margin gives flashing continually. The Authorized Version suggests the thought of a globe of fire darting its rays through the surrounding darkness. The colour of amber; literally, the eye. The Hebrew word for "amber" (chashmal) occurs only here and in ver. 27 and ch. 8:2. It is almost absolutely certain that it does not mean what we know as "amber." The LXX. and Vulgate give electrum, and this, in later Greek and Latin authors, has "amber" for one of its meanings. Primarily, however, it was used for a metallic substance of some kind, specifically for a compound four parts of gold and one of silver (Pithy, 'Hist. Nat.,' 23:4, s. 23). Some such compound is probably what we have to think of here, and so the description finds a parallel in Daniel 10:6; Revelation 1:15. This, in its ineffable brightness, is seen in the centre of the globe of fire. One may compare Dante's vision of the Divine glory ('Paradise,' 33:55). The glory of Zion, the earthly habitation of the Lord, is at an end, but the throne of the Lord endures eternally. Through this thought, the lamentation rises to the prayer that the Lord may not forsake His people for ever, but re-establish His kingdom on the earth. "Thou, O Jahveh, art enthroned eternally." This thought is expressed as the ground of hope, in nearly the same words as are found in Psalm 102:13. Jahveh is the God of salvation. Since His throne endures eternally in heaven, He cannot let His kingdom perish on the earth. On this is founded the request, "Why wilt Thou forget us for ever, forsake us for a length of days (i.e., through life, always, Psalm 23:6)?" This the Lord cannot do, because of His grace. From this is developed the further request (Lamentations 5:21), "Lead us back to Thyself, that we may return." We must not restrict השׁיב and שׁוּב to conversion to the Lord (Kalkschmidt, Ewald, Vaihinger, Gerlach); they signify the re-establishment of the gracious relation, which is, of course, impossible without repentance and conversion on the part of Israel. It is wrong to refer the words to the restoration of the people to their native land, or to the re-establishment of the theocracy (Dathe, Thenius), because it is not the exiles who address this petition to the Lord. The mode in which we are to understand the "bringing back to Jahveh" is shown in the second hemistich, "renew our days, as they were in former times," i.e., vouchsafe to us again the life (or state of grace) which we enjoyed in former times. In Lamentations 5:22 this request is based on an argument introduced in a negative form. כּי אם, after a negative clause, signifies nisi, but (Ger. sondern). This meaning developed into that of a strong limitation (cf. Ewald, 356), unless equals provided that. Thus literally here: "unless Thou hast utterly rejected us, - art very wroth against us." This case, however, is merely stated as a possibility, the actual occurrence of which is out of the question. The idea is the same as that expressed by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:19) in the form of a question, in order to give greater emphasis to his intercession for his nation. The Lord cannot have utterly rejected His people Israel, because He would thereby make His name to be despised in the eyes of the nations (Jeremiah 14:21). Thus terminates this lamentation, with a request for whose fulfilment faith can hope with confidence.
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