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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 1

Verses 1-27


§ 1. Ezekiel’s Call and Consecration as a Prophet (Ezekiel 1-3)

Date, June-July, 592 b.c.

Ezekiel’s call and consecration to his prophetic work took place by means of a vision of God’s glory (Ezekiel 1), and of a divine commission, or rather series of commissions, conveyed partly in speech and partly in symbol (Ezekiel 2, 3).

Verses 1-28


The Vision of God’s Glory

This vision, unlike the inaugural visions of Isaiah and Jeremiah, came to Ezekiel not only at the beginning of his prophetic ministry, but also several times during the course of it. It was early repeated in connexion with his call and commission (Ezekiel 3:23), and it appeared on two other occasions (Ezekiel 8-11, Ezekiel 43:1-5). In Ezekiel 10 in particular the account in Ezekiel 1 is closely reproduced, with some additional details.

In a state of trance, or ecstasy, Ezekiel saw approaching from the north a glowing stormcloud, which resolved itself into a remarkable group of four living creatures, arranged symmetrically in a square. Their general appearance was human, and every one had four faces, a human face looking outwards, the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left, and the face of an eagle looking inwards to the centre of the square. Every one had also four wings, two of which were stretched out to meet those of the living creatures on either side, the points where the tips of the wings touched each other being the corners of the square. The other pairs of wings covered the bodies of the living creatures, and linder these wings were human hands. The living creatures had straight, jointless limbs, and feet like the hoofs of a calf. The whole group was pervaded with glowing lambent fire, from which lightnings shot forth. It moved to and fro with lightning speed, and did so without turning, as its four sides were exactly alike, and any one of them could be the front for the time. Beside the living creatures were four vast wheels, the rims of which were full of eyes. These wheels also were so arranged that they could move in any direction without changing front. Though apparently unconnected with the living creatures they moved in perfect harmony with them, ascending and descending, going backwards and forwards, or from side to side, exactly as they did. The motion of this living chariot was accompanied by a majestic rushing sound. Above tho heads of the living creatures there was a solid crystalline platform, supporting an enthroned human Figure, who was clothed in a fiery iridescent radiance. Overawed by the sight, Ezekiel fell upon his face, and as he lay he heard a divine voice addressing him.

The whole vision brought before Ezekiel’s consciousness the presence and glory of God, but the part of it in which God Himself was more directly manifested is described with a reverent reserve. Ezekiel is careful not to identify the divine essence with the material emblems which he beheld. What he saw was ’the likeness of a throne,’ and upon it ’a likeness as the appearance of a man.’ The whole was ’the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah.’ The details of the vision are concerned rather with the subordinate appearances by which the divine glory was accompanied and upborne.

We are not, of course, to understand that the living creatures and the wheels which Ezekiel saw were actually existing realities. They were only the forms in which certain aspects of God’s glory were bodied forth before his mind’s eye. And while the visionary combination of the symbols, and the impression which it produced, were the results of divine inspiration acting through a peculiar mental condition, it is permissible to seek the origin of the symbols themselves among objects which were familiar to Ezekiel’s ordinary sight, and conceptions which were familiar to his ordinary thought. Composite animal figures, such as winged bulls and lions with human heads, and winged and eagle-headed men, were very common objects in the temples of Babylonia. There has even been found on an ancient BabyIonian seal a representation of a god in a fourwheeled chariot drawn by a winged monster. Then Ezekiel tells us himself (Ezekiel 10:20) that the living creatures were cherubim, like those which formed part of the furniture (Exodus 25:18-20) and decoration (Exodus 26:31) of the tabernacle, and of the Temple of Jerusalem (1 Kings 6:23-29). In Hebrew poetry, too, the cherubim were personifications of the storm-cloud on which Jehovah rode (Psalms 18:10, also Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1 RV). In the winged attendants, the glowing fire, and the throne, Ezekiel’s vision has points of resemblance to that of Isaiah (Isaiah 6), but while the imagery of Isaiah’s vision was evidently that of the Temple at Jerusalem expanded and glorified, the scene of Ezekiel’s was rather the great temple of nature, where Jehovah’s throne is above the blue sky, and His chariot is the thunder-cloud, with lightnings flashing from its heart of fire.

The details of the vision are all suggestive of the attributes of God. The Figure on the throne is an emblem of His sovereign rule. The general human form and the various faces of the living creatures symbolise different aspects of divine majesty and strength. The imposing height of the wheels, and the sublime sound with which the whole living chariot moved, convey the same impression. The symmetrical arrangement of the living creatures and the wheels, and their swift movements in every direction, indicate the omnipresence of God. The eyes on the wheels denote His omnisoient intelligence. The spontaneous and united motion of wheels and cherubim suggest the pervasive presence and universal working of God’s Spirit, controlling things that seem to be independent. The fire is a symbol of divine purity and holiness. The rainbow colours add a touch of sublime beauty to the conception of the glory of God.

1. The thirtieth year] The reference of the number is uncertain. Suggested explanations are, (1) that Ezekiel’s age is meant; (2) that the reckoning is from some recent era, such as Josiah’s reformation (621 b.c.), or the independence of Babylon under Nabopolassar (625 b.c., taking thirty as a round number), or the accession of Nebuchadrezzar (604 b.c., reading ’thirteenth’ for ’thirtieth’), or some Babylonian epoch otherwise unknown to us; (3) that ’the thirtieth year’ is an insertion made with the object of harmonising the different periods assigned for the duration of the exile by Jeremiah (70 years, Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 29:10) and Ezekiel (40 years, Ezekiel 4:6) respectively. Of these explanations (1) is improbable, and if (3) be not accepted we are shut up to some of the forms of (2). Among these 625 b.c. (Nabopolassar) seems a more likely starting-point for an epoch than 621 b.c. (Josiah’s reformation), but, on the other hand, the latter date agrees more exactly with the number given. The fourth month] the month Tammuz = June-July: see on Ezekiel 8:14. The river of Chebar] the nârKabari (Great River, or ’Grand Canal’) of the inscriptions. It was a large navigable canal branching off from the Euphrates, and passing near Nippur, SE. of Babylon. It is probably represented by the modern Shatt-en-Nil, a canal 120 ft. wide, which divides the ruins of Nippur in two.

2. King Jehoiachin’s captivity] the first captivity, 597 b.c.: see Intro. The fifth year] 592 b.c.

3. The word of the Lord came] the usual formula for prophetic inspiration. Chaldeans] Babylonians. The hand of the Lord was.. upon him] producing the trance in which he saw the vision.

4. Amber] RM ’electrum,’ an alloy of gold and silver.

7. Feet] rather, ’limbs.’ Straight] kneeless, unjointed. The living creatures did not move by walking. Like.. a calf’s foot] not projecting in one direction as a human foot does.

11. Stretched upward] RV ’separate above.’

15. One wheel.. with his four faces] RV ’one wheel.. for each of the four faces thereof,’ four wheels in all.

16. A wheel in the middle of (RV ’within’) a wheel] an obscure expression. One explanation is that every wheel had another joined to it at right angles, so that the compound wheel would appear thus

from above, and could revolve backwards and forwards on one rim, and from side to side on the other. Another theory places the four wheels symmetrically thus
, in which arrangement, taking anyside as the front, the back wheel would overlap the front one and could be seen through the spokes of the latter. A third suggestion is that every wheel was made up of two concentric circles, the outer rim having a smaller wheel within it, surrounding the axle, thus
.

17. They turned not when they went] as in Ezekiel 1:9, Ezekiel 1:12. The wheels of course revolved, but, like the living creatures, they could move in different directions without changing front.

18. Rings] RM ’felloes.’

20, 21. Living creature] The group of four is spoken of as one.

24. The voice of the Almighty] the voice of Jehovah is a common OT. expression for thunder. Voice of speech] RV ’noise of tumult.’. The articulate voice, as distinguished from the sound of the wheels, is not mentioned till afterwards.

26. A sapphire stone] see the very similar vision of God’s glory in Exodus 24:10.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/ezekiel-1.html. 1909.