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.
Verse 1. - Now; literally, and. The use of the conjunction indicates here, as in Jonah 1:1, that the narrative that follows links itself on to something that has gone before. In Exodus 1:1 and 1 Samuel 1:1 it may point to a connection with the book that precedes it. Here the sequence is subjective. We may think of Ezekiel as retracing the years of his life till he comes to the thirtieth. Then, as it were, he pulls himself up. That must be the starting point of what he has to say. Our English use of "now" is nearly equivalent to this. In the thirtieth year. I incline, following Origen, Hengstenberg, Smend, and others, to refer the date to the prophet's own life. That year in Jewish reckoning was the age of full maturity. At that age the earlier Levites (Numbers 4:23, 20, 39, 43, 47) had entered on their duties. It is probable, though no written rule is found, that it was the normal age for the functions of the priesthood. In the case of our Lord (Luke 3:23) and of the Baptist it appears to have been recognized as the starting point of a prophet's work. Jeremiah's call as a "child" (Jeremiah 1:6; the word may, however, include adult manhood, as in 1 Samuel 30:17; 1 Kings 3:7) was obviously exceptional. Other theories are:
(1) That the years are reckoned from the era of Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar ( B.C. 625), dating from his throwing off the sovereignty of Assyria, and giving here the date B.C. 595 (Michaelis, Rosenmuller, Ewald, and others); but against this it may be urged
(a) that there is no evidence that that era was in use in Ezekiel's time, and
(b) that he nowhere else uses a double historical chronology.
(2) That the years are reckoned from the discovery of the book of the Law in the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chronicles 34:14), as a turning point or era in the history of Judah (Targum, Theodoret, Jerome, Havernick), which would again bring us to B.C. 595. This view is, however, open to the same objections as (1). We have no proof that the Jews ever reckoned from that event, and Ezekiel did not want, here or elsewhere, another point to reckon from, as far as his people's history was concerned, than the captivity of Jehoiachin. In the fourth month. Both here and in ver. 2 the months are probably reckoned from Abib, or Nisan, the month of the Passover, with which the Jewish year began (Exodus 12:2; Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7), so that the fourth month, known by later Jews as Tammuz, would bring us to June or July. Among the captives (literally, the captivity) by the river of Chebar. By most earlier commentators the Chebar has been identified with the Chaboras of the Greeks (now the Khabour), which rises in Upper Mesopotamia, at Ras-el-Ain, and falls into the Euphrates at Carcesium, a city which modern geographers distinguish from the Carchemish of the Old Testament. Recent critics, however (Rawlinson, Smend, and others), have urged that this was too far north to be in the "land of the Chaldeans" (ver. 3), or Babylon (2 Kings 24:16), and have suggested that the Chebar of Ezekiel is the Nahr-Malcha, or Royal Canal of Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of that king's irrigation works, to which, therefore, the name Chebar (i.e. uniting) would be appropriate. The identification of Chebar with the labor of 2 Kings 17:6, to which the ten tribes had been deported (whether, with Rawlinson, we think of that river as identical with the Chaboras, or still further north, near an affluent of the Tigris of the same name), must, for like reasons, be rejected. The two names are, indeed, spelt differently, with initial letters that do not interchange. The heavens were opened. The phrase, not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, appears in Matthew 3:16; John 1:51; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11; Revelation 4:1. Visions of God. The words admit of three interpretations:
(1) Great, or wonderful, visions; as in the "mountains of God" (Psalm 36:6), the "cedars of God" (Psalm 80:10), the "river of God" (Psalm 65:9);
(2) visions sent from God; or
(3) actual theophanies or manifestations of the Divine glory, of these
(3) is most in harmony with what follows, here and elsewhere, on the phrase (comp. Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 40:2; Ezekiel 43:3). Such a theophany constituted in his ease, as in that of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:9), Zechariah (Zechariah 1:8-14), his call to the office of a prophet. The visions may be thought of as manifested to his waking consciousness in an ecstatic state, and are thus distinguished from the dreams of sleep (comp. Joel 2:28 for the distinction between the two - "visions" belonging to the young, and "dreams" to the old). The visions of Balaam, seen in a "trance," but with his "eyes open" (Numbers 24:3, 4), and of St. Paul, "whether in the body or out of the body" he could not tell (2 Corinthians 12:2, 3), present suggestive parallels.
In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity,
Verse 2. - The fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity. The date of this deportation stands as B.C. 599 (2 Kings 24:8-16; 2 Chronicles 36:9, 10), and thus brings us to B.C. 595/4 as the time of Ezekiel's first vision. It was for him and for his fellow exiles a natural starting point to reckon from. It would have been, in one sense, as natural to reckon from the beginning of Zedekiah's reign, as Jeremiah does (Jeremiah 39:1, 2), but Ezekiel does not recognize that prince - who was, as it were, a mere satrap under Nebuchadnezzar - as a true king, and throughout his book systematically adheres to this era (Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 20:1; Ezekiel 24:1, et al.). About this time, but a year before, the false prophets of Judah were prophesying the overthrow of Babylon and the return of Jeconiah within two years (Jeremiah 28:3), and the expectations thus raised were probably shared by many of Ezekiel's companions in exile, while he himself adhered to the counsels of the leter which Jeremiah had sent (Jeremiah 29:1-23) to the Jews of the Captivity. To one who felt himself thus apart from his brethren, musing over many things, and perhaps perplexed with the conflict of prophetic voices, there was given, in the "visions of God" which he relates, the guidance that he needed. They did not break in, we may well believe, suddenly and without preparation on the normal order of his life. Like other prophets, he felt, even before his call, the burdens of his time. and vexed his soul with the ungodly deeds of these among whom he lived.
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.
Verse 3. - The word of the Lord came expressly, etc.; literally, coming, there come the word of the Lord; the iteration having (as commonly in this combination in Hebrew) the force of emphasis. The phrase stands, as elsewhere, for the conscious inspiration which made men feel that Jehovah had indeed spoken unto them, and that they had a message from him to deliver. To give parallel passages would be to copy several pages from a concordance, but it may not be without interest to note its first (Genesis 15:1) and last (Malachi 1:1) occurrences in the Old Testament, and its reappearance in the New Testament (Luke 3:2). Unto Ezekiel. We note the transition from the first person to the third; but it does not give sufficient ground for rejecting either ver. 1 or ver. 2, 3 as an interpolation. (For the prophet's name, which appears only here and in Ezekiel 24:24, see Introduction; and for "land of Chaldeans," note on ver. 1.) The hand of the Lord. Here again we haw a phrase of frequent occurrence, used of Elijah (1 Kings 18:46), of Elisha (2 Kings 3:15), of Daniel (Daniel 8:18; Daniel 10:10), of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:11), of St. John (Revelation 1:17). The "hand" of the Lord is the natural symbol of his power, and the phrase seems to be used to add to the consciousness of inspiration, that of a constraining, irresistible power. Ezekiel continually uses it (Ezekiel 3:14, 22; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 40:1).
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.
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).
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.
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.
And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
Verse 6. - We note the points of contrast with other like visions.
(1) In Isaiah 6:2 each seraph has six wings, as each "living creature" has in Revelation 4:8.
(2) In Revelation 4:7 the four heads are distributed, one to each of the "living creatures," while here each has four faces, and forms, as it were, a Janus quadrifrons. The wings are described more minutely in ver. 11.
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.
Verse 7. - Their feet were straight feet, etc. The noun is probably used as including the lower part of the leg, and what is meant is that the legs were not bent, or kneeling. What we may call the bovine symbolism appears at the extremity, and the actual foot is round like a calf's. The LXX. curiously enough gives "their feet were winged (πτερωτοὶ)." Burnished brass. Probably a shade less brilliant, or more ruddy, than the electrum of ver. 4 (see note there).
And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
Verse 8. - They had the hands of a man, etc. The prophet seems to describe each detail in the order in which it presented itself to him. What he next sees is that each of the four forms has two hands on each of its four sides. Nothing could supersede that symbol of activity and strength.
Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
Verse 9. - Their wings were joined, etc. As interpreted by vers. 11 and 24, two of the wings were always down, and when the living creatures moved, two were extended upwards, so that their tips touched, and were in this sense "joined." When at rest, these were let down again (ver. 24). They turned not, etc. We note the emphasis of the threefold iteration of the fact (vers. 12, 17). None of the four forms revolved on its axis. The motion of what we may call the composite quadrilateral was simply rectilinear. Did the symbolism represent the directness, the straightforwardness, of the Divine energy manifested in the universe?
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.
Verse 10. - As for the likeness, etc. The Revised Version rightly strikes out the comma after "lion." The human face meets the prophet's gaze. On the right he sees the lion, on the left the ox, while the face of the eagle is behind. What did the symbols mean?
(1) The human face represents the thought that man, as made "after the image of God" (Genesis 1:27), is the highest symbol of the Eternal. So long as we remember that it is but a symbol, anthropomorphism is legitimate in thought, and appropriate in visions; though, like theriomorphism, it becomes perilous, and is therefore forbidden (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 4:17) when it takes concrete form in metal or in stone. So Daniel (Daniel 7:9, 13) sees the "Ancient of Days" and "one like unto a son of man;" and St. John's vision (Revelation 1:13) represents the same symbolism.
(2) The lion had been the familiar emblem of sovereignty, both in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:29) and in his palace (1 Kings 10:20; 2 Chronicles 9:18, 19). So, in Genesis 49:9, it is the symbol of the kingly power of Judah, and appears with a yet higher application in Revelation 5:5; while, on the other hand, it represents one of the great monarchies of the world in Daniel 7:4. Its modern heraldic use in the arms of England and elsewhere presents yet another analogue.
(3) The ox had appeared, as here, so also in 1 Kings 7:25, 44, in company with the lion, notably in the twelve oxen that supported the "sea" or "laver" in the temple. Here also we have a kind of sovereignty - the natural symbol of a strength made subservient to human uses. Both the lion and the ox, as we have seen, may have become familiar to Ezekiel as a priest ministering in the temple or as an exile.
(4) The eagle was, in like manner, though not taking its place in the symbolism of the temple, the emblem of kingly power, and is so employed by Ezekiel himself in Ezekiel 17:3, 7; while in Daniel 7:4 the lion has eagle's wings (comp. Hosea 8:1; Isaiah 46:11; Obadiah 1:4; Habakkuk 1:8). In Assyrian sculpture Nisroch (the name is cognate with the Hebrew for "eagle," nesher) appears as an eagle-headed human figure, and is always represented as contending with or conquering the lion and the bull (Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:458, 459). The facts suggest the inference
(1) that Ezekiel may have seen this symbol;
(2) that over and above the general thought that all the powers of nature are subject to the government of God, there was also the more specific thought that the great kingdoms of the earth were but servants of his, to do his pleasure? The reproduction of the fourfold form, with the variation already noticed, in Revelation 4:7, is every way suggestive, and it is, at least, a natural inference that the symbols had acquired a new significance through the new truths that had been revealed to the seer of Patrons; that the human face may have connected itself with the thought of the Son of man who shared in the glory of the Father; the ox with that of his sacrifice; the lion with that of his sovereignty over Israel, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5); the eagle with that of his bearing his people as on eagles' wings, into the highest heavens (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11) The patristic interpretation, which finds in the four living creatures the symbols of the four evangelists (an interpretation by no means constant or unvarying - the lion being sometimes identified with St Matthew, and the man with St. Mark, and conversely, while the ox and the eagle are uniformly assigned to St. Luke and St. John respectively), must be considered as the play of a devout imagination, but not as unfolding the meaning of either Ezekiel or St. John. In the later Jewish tradition the four forms are assigned, taking Ezekiel's order, to the tribes of Reuben, Judah, Ephraim, and Dan, as the "standards" (Numbers 2:2) which they generally bore when encamped in the wilderness; but this is obviously outside the range of the prophet's thoughts.
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.
Verse 11. - Thus were their faces: and, etc.; better, with Revised Version, and their faces and their wings were separate above; i.e. were stretched upward, touching the neighbouring wings at the tip, and so "joined," while the other two covered the bodies and were never stretched (comp. Isaiah 6:2).
And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
Verse 12. - Whither the spirit was to go, etc. The description passes on to the originating force of the movement of the mysterious forms. The Hebrew noun may mean "breath," "wind," or "spirit," the meanings often overlapping one another. Here the higher meaning is probably the true one. The "Spirit" (as in Genesis 1:1; Genesis 6:3; Psalm 104:30; Psalm 139:7; Isaiah 40:7, 13; and in Ezekiel himself, passim) is the Divine Source of life in all its forms, especially in its highest form, moral, intellectual, spiritual. It is this which gave unity and harmony to the movements of the "living creatures," as it gives a life, harmony, and unity to all the manifold manifestations of the might of God of which they were the symbols. (On "they turned not," see note on ver. 9.)
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.
Verse 13. - Like burning coals of fire, etc. It may not be amiss to note the fact that the phrase throughout the Bible denotes incandescent wood. The nearest approach to its use by Ezekiel is in 2 Samuel 22:9, 13. For "lamps," read, with the Revised Version, "torches." Here the vision of Ezekiel, in which the living creatures were thus incandescent, bathed, as it were, in the fire that played around them, yet not consumed, followed in the path of previous symbols - of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), of the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:22), of the fire on Sinai (Exodus 19:18), of the "fire of the Lord" (Numbers 11:1-3), and the "fire of God" (2 Kings 1:12). Speaking generally, "fire," as distinct from "light," seems to be the symbol of the power of God as manifested against evil. "Our God is a consuming Fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). The red light of fire has in it an element of terror which is absent from the stainless white of the eternal glory, or from the sapphire of the visible firmament. Lightning (comp. Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18).
And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
Verse 14. - Ran and returned. Compare the "to and fro" of Zechariah 4:10. The comparison implies at once suddenness (as in Matthew 24:27) and overwhelming brightness.
Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
Verse 15. - Behold one wheel, etc. As the prophet gazed, yet another marvel presented itself - a "wheel" was seen. It is "by" or "beside" (Revised Version) the living creatures, and "for each of the four faces thereof" (Revised Version); i.e. as the next verse states definitely, there were four wheels. We may compare the analogues of the "wheels" of fire in the theophany of Daniel 7:9, and the chariot of the cherubim in 1 Chronicles 28:18.
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.
Verse 16. - Like unto the colour of a beryl. The Hebrew for "beryl" (tarshish) suggests that the stone was called, like the turquoise, from the region which produced it. Here and in Daniel 10:6 the LXX. leaves it untranslated. In Exodus 28:20 we find χρυσόλιθος; in Ezekiel 10:9 and Ezekiel 28:13 ἄνθραξ, i.e. carbuncle. It is obvious, from this variety of renderings, that the stone was not easily identified. Probably it was of a red or golden color, suggesting the thought of fire rather than the pale green of the aquamarine or beryl (see especially Daniel 10:6). They four had one likeness, etc. A closer gaze led the prophet to see that there was a plurality in the unity. For the one "wheel" we have four; perhaps, as some have thought, two wheels intersecting at right angles, perhaps, one, probably seen behind, perhaps also below, each of the living creatures. They are not said actually to rest upon it, and the word "chariot" is not used as it is in 1 Chronicles 28:18. They would seem rather to have hovered over the wheels, moving simultaneously and in full accord with them. The "wheels" obviously represent the forces and laws that sustain the manifold forms of life represented by the "living creatures" and the "Spirit." In each case the number four is, as elsewhere, the symbol of completeness. A wheel in the midst of (within, Revised Version) a wheel; i.e. with an inner and outer circumference, the space between the two forming the "ring" or felloe of ver. 18.
When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went.
Verse 17. - When they went, etc. The meaning seems to be that the relative position of the wheels and the living creatures was not altered by motion. On "they turned not," see note on ver. 9. All suggests the idea of orderly and harmonious working.
As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.
Verse 18. - As for their rings, etc. The "rings" or "felloes" of the wheels impressed the prophet's mind with a sense of awe, partly from their size, partly from their being "full of eyes." These were obviously, as again in Ezekiel 10:12, and in the analogues of the "stone with seven eyes" in Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:10, and the "four beasts [i.e. 'living creatures'] full of eyes," in Revelation 4:6, symbols of the omniscience of God working through the forces of nature and of history. These were not, as men have sometimes thought, blind forces, but were guided as by a supreme insight (comp. 2 Chronicles 16:9).
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.
Verse 19. - The wheels went by them; better, with Revised Version, beside them; i.e. moving in parallel lines with them. And when the living creatures went, etc. The truth embodied in the coincident movements of the "living creatures" and the "wheels," is the harmony of the forces and laws of nature with its outward manifestations of might. In the two directions of the movement, onward and upward - when the living creatures were lifted up - we may see
(1) the operations of the two when they are within the range of man's knowledge, and, as it were, on the same plane with it; and
(2) those which are as in a higher region beyond his ken.
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.
Verse 20. - Whithersoever the spirit was to go, etc. The secret of the coincidence of the movements of the "living creatures" and of the "wheels" was found in the fact, which the prophet's intuition grasped, that the phenomena of life and law had one and the same originating source. For "the spirit of the living creature" (singular, because the four are regarded as one complex whole), the LXX., Vulgate, and Revised Version margin, give "the spirit of life," a rendering tenable in itself, but the contextual meaning of the word is in favour of the Authorized Version and the Revised Version text.
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.
Verse 21. - When those went, these went. The words, strictly speaking, add nothing to the previous description; but the prophet appears to have wished to combine what he had before said separately, so as to make the picture complete, before passing on to the yet more glorious vision that next met his gaze.
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.
Verse 22. - And the likeness of the firmament, etc. The word is the same as that in Genesis 1, passim; Psalm 19:1; cf. 1; Daniel 12:3. It meets us again in vers. 23, 25, 26, and in 10:1, but does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament. What met the prophet's eye was the expanse, the "body of heaven in its clearness" (Exodus 24:10), the deep intense blue of an Eastern sky. Like the colour of the terrible crystal, etc. The Hebrew noun is not found elsewhere. Its primary meaning, like that of the Greek κρύσταλλος, is that of "cold," and I incline therefore to the margin of the Revised Version, "ice." Rock crystal, seen, as it is, in small masses, and in its pure colourless transparency, hardly suggests the idea of terror; but the intense brightness of masses of ice, as shining in the morning sun, might well make that impression. Had Ezekiel seen the glories of a mountain throne of ice as he looked up, on his nay from Palestine to Chaldea, at the heights of Lebanon, or Hermon, and thought of them as the fitting symbol of the throne of God? We note, in this connection, the use of "terrible" in Job 37:22 (see note on ver. 4).
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.
Verse 23. - Under the firmament, etc. The description must be read as completing that of ver. 11. The two upper wings of the "living creatures" were not only stretched out, but they pointed to the azure canopy above them, not as sustaining it, but in the attitude of adoration. Nature, in all her life phenomena, adores the majesty of the Eternal.
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.
Verse 24. - The noise of their wings, etc. The wings representing the soaring, ascending elements in nature, their motion answers to its aspirations, their sounds to its inarticulate groanings (Romans 8:26) or its chorus of praise. The noise of great waters may be that of the sea, or river, or torrents. Ezekiel's use of the term in Ezekiel 31:7, in connection with the cedars of Lebanon, seems in favour of the last. On the other hand, in Ezekiel 27:26; Psalm 29:3; Psalm 107:23, the term is manifestly used for the seas. The thought appears again in Revelation 1:15; Revelation 19:6. In Psalm 29:3, et al., the "voice of the Lord" is identified with thunder. For the voice of speech, which wrongly suggests articulate utterance, read, with the Revised Version, a noise of tumult.
And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.
Verse 25. - And there was a voice from the firmament. Revised Version gives above. The prophet's silence suggests that what he heard was at first ineffable (comp. 2 Corinthians 12:4), perhaps unintelligible. All that he knew was that an awful voice, like thunder (comp. John 12:29), came from above the expanse of azure, and that it stilled the motion of the wings, working peace, as in the midst of the endless agitations of the universe. The wings that had been stretched upward are now folded, like the others.
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.
Verse 26. - The likeness of a throne. The greatest glory was kept to the last. High above the azure expanse was the likeness of a throne (we note the constant recurrence of the word "likeness," nine times in this one chapter, as indicating Ezekiel's consciousness of the vision character of what he saw). The idea of the throne of the great King first appears in 1 Kings 22:19, is frequent in the Psalms (Psalm 9:4, 7; Psalm 11:4; Psalm 45:6), notably in Isaiah 6:1. In the visions of St John (Revelation 1:4, and passim) it is the dominant, central object throughout. As the appearance of a sapphire stone. The intense blue of the sapphire has made it in all ages the natural symbol of a heavenly purity. Ezekiel's vision reproduces that of Exodus 24:10. It appears among the gems of the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:18; Exodus 39:11) and in the "foundations" of Revelation 21:19. The description of the sapphire given by Pliny ('Hist. Nat.,' 37:9), as "never transparent, and refulgent with spots of gold," suggests lapis lazuli. As used in the Old Testament, however, the word probably means the sapphire of modern jewellery (Braun, 'De Vest. Sacerd.,' p. 630, edit. 1680). A likeness as of the appearance of a man. The throne, the symbol of the sovereignty of God over the "living creatures" and the "wheels," over the forces and the laws which they represented, is not empty. There was "a likeness as of the appearance" (we note again the accumulation of words intended to guard against the thought that what was seen was more than an approximate symbolism) "of a man." In that likeness there was the witness that we can only think of God by reasoning upward from all that is highest in our conceptions of human greatness and goodness, and thinking of them as free from their present limitations. Man's highest thought of God is that it is "a face like his face that receives him." He finds a humanity in the Godhead. It is noticeable that this preluding anticipation of the thought of the Incarnation, not recognized in the vision of Moses (Exodus 24:10) or Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1), appears prominently in the two prophets of the exile - here and in the memorable Messianic vision of "One like unto the ['a,' Revised Version] Son of man" in Daniel 7:13. What might have been perilously anthropomorphic in the early stages of the growth of Israel, when men tended to identify the symbol with the thing symbolized, was now made subservient to the truth which underlies even anthropomorphic thought (comp. Revelation 1:13). Irenaeus ('Adv. Haer.,' 4:20. 10), it may be noted, dwells on the fact that Ezekiel uses the words, "'haec visio similitudmis gloriae Domini,' ne quis putaret forte eum in his proprie vidisse Deum."
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.
Verse 27. - As the colour of amber. The "amber" (see note on ver. 4) represents the purity and glory of the Divine nature - the truth that "God is light" in his eternal essence. The "fire" which, here as ever, represents the wrath of God against evil, is round about within it, i.e. is less absolutely identified with the Divine will, of which it is yet an almost constant manifestation. It is, in the language of the older logicians, an inseparable accident rather than part of its essential nature.
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.
Verse 28. - As the appearance of the bow. The glorious epiphany was completed, as in Revelation 4:3 and Revelation 10:1, by the appearance of the rainbow. The symbol of God's faithfulness, and of the hope that rested on it (Genesis 9:13). was seen in the glory of the Divine perfection, even in the midst of the fire of the Divine wrath. Mercy and love are thought of as over arching all the phenomena of the world and its history, attempering the chastisements which are needed for those with whom that love is dealing. The whole complex appearances of Ezekiel's descriptions, including the arch of prismatic colours, finds its nearest natural analogue, as has been before suggested (note on ver. 4), in the phenomena of the Northern Lights. I fell upon my face. As in Ezekiel 3:23; Daniel 8:17; Revelation 1:17, the prostrate attitude of lowliest adoration, the dread and awe of one who has seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and vet survives, was a preparation for the more direct revelation to his consciousness of the Word and will of Jehovah (comp. Dante 'Inferno,' 3:136; 5:142).
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission