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Bible Commentaries

Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Ezekiel 1

Verse 5


‘The likeness of four living creatures.’

Ezekiel 1:5

I. Ezekiel’s name means ‘God will Strengthen,’ or prevail.—Like Jeremiah, he was a priest as well as a prophet. He lived among those Jews who were carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar, and settled on the River Chebar, the northern part of Mesopotamia. He began to prophesy about six years before Jerusalem was destroyed; he was therefore contemporary with Jeremiah, and prophesied partly before and partly after the destruction of Jerusalem.

It would seem as though a dark storm-cloud approached him, from which an incessant blaze of lightning revealed itself. As it drew nearer, the prophet beheld the form of the four living creatures, each having a wheel beside him, symbolic of the round of Divine providence, ever revolving in perfect circles. The living creatures or cherubim supported a blue expanse on which God was enthroned in human form. The whole conception impresses the mind with a sense of the reality, greatness, and power of the Divine providence and majesty.

II. The description of the cherubim may arrest us for a little.—They combine, under various figures, intelligence, strength, patience, and soaring aspiration. Their bodies veiled with their wings in token of humility; their method of advance straight forward, because they knew no vacillation or hesitation in doing God’s will; their obedience prompt and immediate, whithersoever the Divine impulse moved them. What glorious beings were these? How marvellous the perfect sympathy between themselves and the wheels of Providence! It seems as though they represent the sentient creation, while the wheels stand for the material, both in perfect correspondence with the will of God. Angels and nature will serve us, if we too are in union with God.


‘All symbols are likely to be differently understood or misunderstood. Therefore it is that the symbolic figures in Ezekiel and in Revelations have never been understood alike by Jews or Christians generally. It does not, however, follow from this that these symbols are unworthy of study by mature-minded searchers in God’s Word. For more than fifteen centuries there have been discussions over the special assignment of the four figures in Ezekiel’s vision as symbols of the four evangelists. Jerome thought that the man referred to St. Matthew, the lion to St. Mark, the ox to St. Luke, and the eagle to St. John. Other Christian writers have proposed other arrangements.’

Verses 20-21


‘For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood.’

Ezekiel 1:20-Ecclesiastes :

I. Though the movement referred to by the prophet is the movement of the life of the universe, yet it applies also to the lives of the world and our own lives.—Remember the picture by Burne-Jones of the wheel of fortune, to which two men are lashed—the one going up and the other going down. You see the living creature bound to the wheel. That is fate. Ezekiel’s picture is the reverse of that. The wheel must carry on the living creature, round and up. There is a necessary routine in life. Is not every year a great wheel, and every day a little wheel within it? Making a living is routine. Is there no escape from its dull circle? Some never try to escape, but allow themselves to be bound upon the wheel of life, and round and round they go. Look at Ezekiel’s vision. The wheels don’t carry the spirit round, but the spirit carries them on, and lifts them up. Let us have the right spirit in our routine work.

II. Two things seem of special importance in regard to the spirit of life.—(1) Conscience must be clear. The spirit of life is first a spirit of righteousness. Be ye of the incorruptible sort, young men! whom money cannot buy, whom flattery cannot seduce, who would rather die than lie. Here is the well-spring of life. Better lose all than tamper with conscience. Keep thyself pure, and you will not merely hold your own. Temptations in the spiritual are like difficulties in the natural sphere. They are made that we may overcome them. (2) The heart must be free. At first it looks as if making a living must be a selfish business, and very often it is.

If the heart is free and consecrated to the service of God and our fellow-men, life becomes an onward march, not a routine. I hope that as we turn the wheel of life day by day we shall move upward, ‘Nearer our God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.’ Let us have onward progress; not the making of ruts, but the laying of rails. See that the spirit of life be in all the wheels thereof.


‘What a blessing it would be if our life were as obedient to the Divine impulse as these wheels to the spirit of the living creature. Too often when the Spirit moves we lag behind; and when He would lift us up to heaven, we cling to the earth. We need that the Spirit of Life, which is in Christ Jesus, should enter into us, and inspire us with His own purpose. Oh that there might be between Jesus and us something of that immediate and almost automatic response which subsists between the will and the members of our body!’

Verses 24-25


‘They let down their wings. And there was a voice from the firmament.’

Ezekiel 1:24-Lamentations :

I. Even the rustle of the wings of the cherubim must be silent when God speaks to us.—To listen to Him the sounds of heaven as well as those of earth need to be hushed. We fail to hear His message because of our multifarious attention to other things. The movements of the ministering angels may be sweetest music, but infinitely more glorious is the speech of our Father, their King. To the enlightened soul the sound of their wings is everywhere round about. Science is watching the angels of nature directing the winds and painting the flowers. Worship is joining with angels in their eternal song of praise of the thrice holy One. Duty is following the angels who obey the Divine will. The noise of their flight is as that of a host. But there are times when we turn aside from all these and would be face to face with God and hear Him speak, whilst for us the angels stand and let down their wings, and we must do the same. The pinions of active movement, of thought, and of service must cease their flight as we wait calmly before the throne of our God.

II. There never was a time when it was more important to state this truth.—We live amidst a flutter of feathers. Rapid movements are on every side. We retire not except for rest from fatigue. Our recreation is a change of work, our holiday becomes a tour, our religion is service. All this calls for gratitude. The Church is alive and full of the sound of angels’ pinions. It is a grand day in which to live. Hence a strong reason for seeking at times that silence in which alone God’s voice can be heard. If in times past the great need has been zealous work, the other extreme may have been reached; and the call to-day is for more silent worship. For after all we only truly serve God as we know Him. We are told that the service of man is the service of God, but the converse is true, the service of God is the service of man. And if we would be with those spirits that do His commandments, we must be amongst those who hearken to His voice. Our Lord found His strength for His work by often going to be alone with His Father in prayer. Abraham in the solitude of the desert watched silently hour after hour till the glorious promise came making him the Father of the Faithful. David in still mountain fastnesses gained the power to lead the song worship of the world. Elijah went from the wilderness to Mount Carmel, in quiet retirement, having gained the force to call men to decision. John in Patmos heard that music which has directed the onward march of the Church of God ever since. The Lord Christ retired to the quiet garden of Gethsemane, ere He ascended Calvary to offer up His sacrifice for the eternal service of man.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.