Ezekiel 1:5
Also out of the middle thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
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(5) The likeness of four living creatures next appeared from this centre of the fiery cloud. The word “likeness” is not without significance. The prophet would make it plain that this was a vision, that these were symbolic, not actually existing creatures. Their prominent characteristic is that they were “living.” This word is used over and over again in connection with them (see Ezekiel 1:13-15; Ezekiel 1:19; Ezekiel 1:21, &c.); and in fact, in Ezekiel and Revelation (Ezekiel 4:6, &c., where it is mis-translated beasts) it occurs nearly thirty times. The same characteristic is further emphasized in Ezekiel 1:14 by the speed, “as of a flash of lightning,” with which they “ran and returned,” by the multiplicity of eyes in the wheels connected with them (Ezekiel 1:18), and by their going instantly “whithersoever the spirit was to go” (Ezekiel 1:20); while in Revelation 4:8 it is said that “they rest not day and night.” Their life is represented as most closely connected with the source of all life, the “living God,” whose throne is seen in the vision (Ezekiel 1:26) as above the heads of these “living creatures,”

Ezekiel does not here say what these living creatures were, but in a subsequent vision, when he saw them again in connection with the Temple, he recognised them as the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:15; Ezekiel 10:20). Cherubim, whether here, or in the Temple overshadowing the mercy-seat, or in the garden of Eden keeping the way of the tree of life, always indicate the immediate presence of the God of holiness. The prophet again mentions these composite symbolic figures in connection with the vision of the Temple in Ezekiel 41:18-20. The origin of such ideal figures has been variously ascribed to the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Phœnicians, and the Arabs; but this symbolism was, in fact, almost universal throughout the East. Dr. Currey (Speaker’s Com., note on Ezekiel 1) points out the striking difference between this symbolism and that of the Greeks. They tried to delineate the Divine attributes with the utmost beauty of form and harmony of detail under some human figure in which those attributes were conspicuous. In consequence, the mind of the worshipper lost sight of the ideal, and became absorbed in the sensuous imagery by which it was represented; while here, by the very strangeness, and sometimes grotesqueness, of the imagery, its purely symbolic character was kept constantly in view. Cherubim are associated in the Old Testament with that tree of life of which man might not partake save through Him who is “the life,” and with that typical holy of holies which man might not enter until the true Holy of Holies was entered once for all by Christ through His own blood (Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:12).

They had the likeness of a man.—With all the strange variety of details to be described immediately, they had yet a general human form, and are to be understood as like man in whatever is not specified.

Ezekiel 1:5-6. Out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures — Termed cherubim, Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 9:10. throughout. These seem to have been a hieroglyphical representation of the holy angels, attendants on the king of glory, and the ministers of his providence, as well when he executes judgments on sinners, as when he confers benefits on his people. They were four, probably to denote that they were employed in all the four quarters of the world. They had the likeness of a man — “They had the human stature.” So Houbigant. Or, as others interpret the phrase, “for the greatest part they appeared in the human shape.” This was to signify that they were intelligent and rational creatures, of which that form is to us the token. But each of them had four faces, which were probably emblems of their endowments and characters. “The face of a man implied that they possessed knowledge, foresight, prudence, compassion, and philanthropy; that of a lion intimated their boldness and force in executing the will of God; that of an ox denoted strength, unwearied diligence, and perseverance; and that of an eagle, spiritual sagacity and heavenly affections, by which they soared aloft above all created objects, to the uncreated source of holiness and felicity.” — Scott. And every one had four wings — By which seems to be signified the activity and speed with which they executed God’s commands in all parts of the world.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.Living creatures - The Hebrew word answers very nearly to the English "beings," and denotes those who live, whether angels, men (in whom is the breath of life), or inferior creatures. 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, Re 4:6, not as English Version, "beasts"; for one of the "four" is a man, and man cannot be termed "beast." Eze 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 (Eze 1:10; Eze 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 (Eze 10:21).

Also out of the midst thereof; of the fire, or that amber which appeared, as having four wheels.

The likeness of four living creatures; these were not indeed living creatures. but the appearance of them, and signify with some the four monarchies; with others, the four chief leaders in the four quarters of the camp of Israel; with others, the four evangelists; with others, more likely, the holy angels, whose attendance bespeaks the majesty of God, and the terribleness of judgments to be executed on the Jews: and they are four, either to denote the sufficient number of them, or to show God would use the four chief of his angels, or perhaps to let the Jews know he had as many ways to punish, and as many officers of his wrath, as they could find corners of the world to flee unto. Or, since the appearance of a chariot in the midst of this vision is supposed, it was fittest that four living creatures should answer to the wheels thereof.

And this was their appearance; the form in which these four each appeared to the first view, or at some distance.

They had the likeness of a man; the stature, the greater part of them appeared of human shape, for they had face, hands, and thighs, and the posture was erect in standing or motion, as man’s is. Also out of the midst thereof,.... The fire; or out of the whole that was seen; the whirlwind, cloud, fire, and the brightness about it:

came the likeness of four living creatures; not really four living creatures; they appeared like to such they were in the form of such; by which we are to understand, not the four monarchies; nor the four Gospels; nor the angels; but ministers of the Gospel; the true key for the opening of this vision is that which John saw, Revelation 4:6; the four beasts there, or living creatures, as it should be rendered, are the same with these here, and these the same with them; and who manifestly appear to be not only worshippers of the true God, but to be men redeemed by the blood of Christ; and are distinguished from angels, and also from the four and twenty elders, the representatives of the Gospel churches; and so can design no other than the ministers of the word, with whom all the characters of them agree, as in that vision, so in this; see Revelation 4:8. "Creatures" they are; not gods, but men; they are indeed in God's stead, and represent him, being ambassadors of his; but they are frail, mortal, sinful men, of like passions with others; and therefore great allowances must be made for their infirmities and weaknesses: yea, as ministers, they are the creatures of God; he, and not men, has made them able ministers of the New Testament: and they are "living" creatures; they have spiritual life in themselves, and are the means of quickening others; and have need to be, and should be, lively and fervent in their ministrations. Their number, "four", respects the four parts of the, world, to which their commission to preach the Gospel reaches; and whither they are sent, whensoever it is the will and pleasure of God they should got and he has work for them to do;

and this was their appearance, they had the likeness of a man; their general likeness was the human form, except in some particulars after mentioned, because they represented men; men humane, tender, kind and pitiful; knowing, and understanding, and acting like men.

Also from the midst of it came the likeness of {f} four living beings. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.

(f) Which were the four Cherubims that represented the glory of God, as in Eze 11:22.

5. out of the midst thereof] Most naturally, out of the midst of the whole phenomenon of the tempestuous fiery cloud, though it might be out of that splendour which was like electrum. Four “living creatures,” as Revelation 4, there unfortunately rendered “beasts.”

5–14. The four living creatures

These are described as having in general the human form; they were erect and had apparently two feet (Ezekiel 1:5; Ezekiel 1:7); they had four faces, one looking each way: the face of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle (Ezekiel 1:10). The man’s face was the front face of each, and met the eye of the beholder who looked at the chariot on any of its four sides, and thus when the chariot moved in any direction the creature on that side had the appearance of an advancing man. The living creatures had each four wings, one pair being used in flight, and the other pair covering the body (Ezekiel 1:6; Ezekiel 1:11). The two pairs of wings were probably at right angles to one another, one pair belonging to the front and back sides and the other pair to the two lateral sides, for it is said that they had human hands under their wings on their four sides (Ezekiel 1:8). They had thus four hands or arms like those of men. Their feet, that is, their limbs were straight like those of men, but their feet proper were round like those of a calf (Ezekiel 1:7). When in motion each creature expanded one pair of wings, that is the wings on the right and left of the front face; the expanded wings of the four thus formed a square, the tips of the wings of each creature touching those of two of its fellows on the right and on the left (Ezekiel 1:11). When the living creatures stood still their wings dropped (Ezekiel 1:24).Verse 5. - The likeness of four living creatures. The Authorized Version is happier here in its rendering than in Revelation 4:6, where we find "beasts" applied to the analogues of the forms of Ezekiel's vision. There the Greek gives ζῶα, as the LXX. does here, while in Daniel 7:3-7 we have θήρια In Ezekiel 10:15 they are identified with the "cherubim" of the mercy seat; but the fact that they are not so named here is presumptive evidence that Ezekiel did not at first recognize them as identical with what he had heard of those cherubim, or with the other like forms that were seen, as they were not seen, in the temple (1 Kings 6:29; 1 Kings 7:29), on its walls (2 Chronicles 3:7), and on its veil or curtain (Exodus 36:35). What he sees is, in fact, a highly complicated development of the cherubic symbols, which might well appear strange to him. It is possible (as Dean Stanley and others have suggested) that the Assyrian and Babylonian sculptures, the winged bulls and lions with human heads, which Ezekiel may have seen in his exile, were elements in that development. The likeness of a man. This apparently was the first impression. The "living creatures" were not, like the Assyrian forms just referred to, quadrupeds. They stood erect, and had feet and hands as men have. In many Hebrew MSS Lam 5:21 is found repeated after Lamentations 5:22, to make the whole more suitable for public reading in the synagogue, that the poem may not end with the mention of the wrath of God, as is the case also at the close of Isaiah, Malachi, and Ecclesiastes: the intention is, to conclude with words of comfort. But v. 22, rightly understood, did not require this repetition: for, as Rhabanas has already remarked in Ghisleri commentar. on v. 22: non haec quasi desperando de salute populi sui locutus est, sed ut dolorem suum nimium de contritione et objectione diutina gentis suae manifestaret. This conclusion entirely agrees with the character of the Lamentations, in which complaint and supplication should continue to the end, - not, however, without an element of hope, although the latter may not rise to the heights of joyful victory, but, as Gerlach expresses himself, "merely glimmers from afar, like the morning star through the clouds, which does not indeed itself dispel the shadows of the night, though it announces that the rising of the sun is near, and that it shall obtain the victory."
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