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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



Four elements that mark the commission narratives in the prophets are all present in this account of Ezekiel’s calling. These include a divine confrontation, an explanation of the prophet’s task and its importance, objections that the prophet might offer, and divine reassurance answering these objections and assuring the prophet of the Lord’s enabling presence. [Note: See N. Habel, "The Form and Significance of the Call Narrative," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 77 (1965):297-323.] The record of God’s commissioning of Ezekiel constitutes the longest prophetic call in the Bible (cf. Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1).

The passage has a chiastic structure that focuses attention on the importance of Ezekiel receiving revelations from the Lord (Eze_2:8 to Eze_3:3). [Note: Henry van Dyke Parunak, "The Literary Architecture of Ezekiel’s mar’ot ’elohim," Journal of Biblical Literature 99 (1980):61-74.]

A Circumstances of the vision (Ezekiel 1:1-3)

B Divine confrontation: the chariot’s approach (Ezekiel 1:4-28)

C Introductory word (Ezekiel 2:1-2)

D First commission and reassurance (Ezekiel 2:3-8 a)

E Confirmatory sign (Eze_2:8 to Eze_3:3)

D’ Second commission (Ezekiel 3:4-11)

C’ Introductory word (Ezekiel 3:12)

B’ Divine confrontation: the chariot’s departure (Ezekiel 3:13)

A’ Circumstances of the vision (Ezekiel 3:14-15)

A. The vision of God’s glory ch. 1

"In chapter 1 God has brought together in one vision the essence of all that was to occupy Ezekiel, just as is found in the initial vision of the Apostle John in Revelation." [Note: Feinberg, p. 20.]

It is important to bear four principles of normal historical-grammatical hermeneutics in mind when interpreting visionary literature such as what we have in this chapter.

"1. Seek to understand the major idea presented through the vision and do not dwell on minutiae. This guideline is underscored in the second principle.

"2. Follow the divine interpretations normally accompanying the visions. These divine interpretations concentrate on the overall concept rather than on details. [Note: The commentators often speculate on the meaning of various details of a vision, but sometimes these are no more than guesses. I have given my own interpretations of some of these details, sometimes following other expositors. But where I am doubtful I have either expressed my uncertainty or not speculated.]

"3. Be keenly aware of parallel passages and the harmony of Scripture, since the prophets normally sought to apply past revelations of God to their contemporary situations. The general prophetic message among the prophets is essentially the same.

"4. Use the same approach with the symbols and imagery of visionary literature as used with figurative language. Thus symbols and imagery are properly understood as figures and are not to be taken literally." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 756.]

Verse 1

The book begins with an introductory formula that is typical of narrative literature: "Now it came about" (Heb. wayhi; cf. Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1; Ruth 1:1; 1 Samuel 1:1; Esther 1:1; Jonah 1:1). Ezekiel is essentially a narrative that contains other types of literature.

Ezekiel dated his vision of God that follows as coming to him on the fifth day of the fourth month (the equivalent of July 31) and in the thirtieth year. The thirtieth year evidently refers to the prophet’s thirtieth year, when he was 30 years old. [Note: Allen, pp. 20-21.] Other views are that this was the thirtieth year following the discovery of the Law and Josiah’s reforms, the thirtieth year since the Exile began in 605 B.C., the thirtieth year of Nabopolassar’s reign, the thirtieth year of Jehoiachin (the date of compilation of the book), or the thirtieth year after the last observed year of jubilee. [Note: See Anthony D. York, "Ezekiel I: Inaugural and Restoration Visions?" Vetus Testamentum 27 (1977):82-98.] Frequently when someone recorded personal reminiscences he gave the person’s age (cf. Genesis 8:13). Thirty was the age at which priests entered into their ministry in Israel (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30; Numbers 4:39; Numbers 4:43; 1 Chronicles 23:3), and Ezekiel was a priest (Ezekiel 1:3).

These visions came to Ezekiel while he was among the Jewish exiles who settled by the Chebar River in Babylonia. The Chebar River was a large, navigable canal that tied into the Euphrates River north and south of Babylon. It made a semicircular loop around the city.

"It was part of a complex network of canals that came into being in the Mesopotamian heartland to provide artificial irrigation from the Euphrates and, to a lesser extent, the Tigris for the grain crops and date orchards, and also, in the case of larger watercourses, transportation of these and other goods." [Note: Allen, p. 22.]

Ezekiel saw the heavens opened, and he beheld the heavenly throne room of God (cf. Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:21; John 1:32; John 1:51; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 19:11). [Note: See Allan J. McNicol, "The Heavenly Sanctuary in Judaism: A Model for Tracing the Origin of an Apocalypse," Journal of Religious Studies 13:2 (1987):66-94.]

Verses 1-3

1. The setting of the vision 1:1-3

"The setting of the Mesopotamian dream-visions-which occurred in both the Assyrian period and the Babylonian period . . . -consisted of four elements: (1) the date, (2) the place of reception, (3) the recipient, and (4) the circumstances. Ezekiel included all four aspects in his vision." [Note: Ibid., p. 754. See Oppenheim, pp. 186-87.]

Verses 2-3

Perhaps a later inspired scribe added the information in these verses to clarify exactly who Ezekiel was and when he saw this vision. King Jehoiachin’s fifth year of exile was 593 B.C. Both Ezekiel and Jehoiachin went into captivity at the same time, in the second deportation of Judean prisoners in 597 B.C. This is the reference year from which all the prophecies in Ezekiel date.

Ezekiel was a priest as well as a prophet. His father was Buzi, evidently of Zadok’s branch of Aaron’s family (cf. 1 Kings 1:32-35). As a priest, Ezekiel was familiar with the Mosaic Covenant and the priestly functions and paraphernalia of the temple, which becomes clear in this book. The Chaldeans were the rulers of the Babylonian Empire at the time of Israel’s captivity.

The hand of the Lord that came upon Ezekiel is an anthropomorphism expressing the direct control and divine empowerment that Yahweh exercised over Ezekiel ("God strengthens") as He gave him these visions (Ezekiel 3:14; cf. Isaiah 25:10; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:20).

"The ’hand of the Lord’ is always a metaphor for His power." [Note: Merrill, p. 368.]

"The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel" and "The hand of the Lord was upon him" are phrases that typically introduce revelations from God in this book (Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 40:1; cf. 2 Kings 3:15). The hand reference especially distinguishes Ezekiel as being under the controlling influence of God’s Spirit, compared to other prophets. [Note: See Daniel I. Block, "The Prophet of the Spirit: The Use of rwh in Ezekiel," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32 (1989):33.] Perhaps this was important in this book since Ezekiel’s visions and actions have called his sanity into question. Several psychoanalytical studies have been done on Ezekiel. [Note: See idem, The Book . . ., pp. 10-12.]

"These three elements-vision [Ezekiel 1:1], word [Ezekiel 1:3}, and power (or hand) [Ezekiel 1:3]-appear pervasively in Ezekiel’s descriptions of his call and of Yahweh’s self-revelation. The vision is the abstract message itself, the word is its interpretation, and the power is the means by which the message is effectually communicated. For the hand of the Lord to come on the prophet is to assure him of the Lord’s affirmation and enablement." [Note: Merrill, p. 367.]

The "visions of God" referred to in Ezekiel 1:1 receive fuller exposition in Ezekiel 1:4 to Ezekiel 2:7. Likewise the "word of the LORD" in Ezekiel 1:3 gets more attention in Ezekiel 2:8 to Ezekiel 3:11 as does the "hand of the LORD," also in Ezekiel 1:3, in Ezekiel 3:12-27. [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 660.]

Verse 4

Ezekiel saw within the opened heavens a great cloud blown toward him by the north wind with lightning flashing from it almost constantly (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13; Job 38:1; Job 40:6; Psalms 29:3-5). Israel’s enemies had invaded from the north, so the implication was that an invasion was coming. He also saw a bright light around this cloud and something like hot glowing metal shining in its midst, evidently God Himself (cf. Exodus 13:17-22; Exodus 19:16-18; Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:28-29). The biblical writers sometimes described God’s abode as in the north (e.g., Psalms 48:2; Isaiah 14:13; cf. Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:32; 1 Thessalonians 4:17), and they often associated storms and clouds with theophanies (e.g., Job 38:1; Psalms 29:3-9; Psalms 104:3; Isaiah 29:6; cf. Exodus 13:21; Leviticus 16:2).

As God had riveted the attention of Moses by showing him a bush that was burning but not burning up (Exodus 3:1-15), so God captured Ezekiel’s attention with this vision of a burning cloud.

Verses 4-14

The living beings 1:4-14

Verses 4-28

2. The vision proper 1:4-28

Ezekiel saw three things in this vision: living beings (Ezekiel 1:4-14), wheels in motion (Ezekiel 1:15-21), and a great expanse (Ezekiel 1:22-28).

Verses 5-7

Within the cloud the prophet saw four figures that resembled living beings (cf. Revelation 4). They had human form, but each of them had four faces and four wings. [Note: See Allen, pp. 27-30, for some illustrations reproduced from a German work by O. Keel, which is "a lavishly illustrated study of ancient Near Eastern and Anatolian royal and religious iconography that sheds light on the particular throne imagery reflected here." (Ibid., p. 27.)] Each face represents the highest form of animal life in a general category, probably showing that God is lord of all creation. [Note: Cooper, p. 65; Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1228; Taylor, p. 55.] Their legs did not have knee joints, which made them very stable. Their feet looked like the hoofs of calves, but they shone like they were polished bronze. Calves’ feet suggest nimbleness (cf. Psalms 29:6; Malachi 4:2), and their sheen may represent their strength.

These living creatures were cherubim (cf. Ezekiel 10:15; Ezekiel 10:20; Genesis 3:22-24). Appearances of cherubim sometime accompany references to God’s glory and holiness in the Old Testament, but their specific function remains a mystery. Ezekiel would have been familiar with cherubim because they were represented on the ark and in the curtains of the temple (Exodus 25:17-22; Exodus 26:31; Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 1 Chronicles 28:18; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1; Isaiah 37:16). The Mesopotamians also pictured spirit beings guarding their temples in their artwork. [Note: Greenberg, p. 55.]

Verses 8-9

There were four wings on each of the cherubim, one on each of their four sides, and under each wing Ezekiel could see a human hand. The wings of each creature touched each other, and these creatures also had a face on each of their four sides. This enabled them to move in any direction without having to turn their faces. They enjoyed maximum mobility and awareness.

Verses 10-11

The forward face on each creature looked like a man, another like a lion, another like a bull, and the fourth like an eagle (cf. Revelation 4:7). These were traditionally the four most impressive animals, man being the chief over all, the lion chief of the wild animals, the ox chief of the domesticated animals, and the eagle chief of the birds. [Note: Stuart, p. 32.] Their faces may represent the intelligence, majesty (or strength), strength (or ferocity), and speed (or freedom) of these creatures. Their wings spread out above them, evidently to support the platform above (Ezekiel 1:22-23). Another view is that the cherubim were the wheels in the sense that the life spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. [Note: Merrill, p. 368.] Two wings of each creature touched the wings of another of the creatures uniting them in action, and two of them covered the bodies of each creature, probably demonstrating humility.

The church fathers connected the lion with Matthew, the ox with Mark, the man with Luke, and the eagle with John. They believed that these writers stressed a prominent characteristic of Jesus Christ represented by each of these creatures in their Gospels, namely, royalty, service, humanity, and godlikeness.

Verse 12

Each creature moved straight forward without deviating, in the direction of the front of each body. Each one followed the lead of the Spirit without twisting as it went. In this context, the Spirit in view is probably the Holy Spirit of God. Other possibilities are the wind that brought the cloud, the spirit of the creatures themselves, or the "vital energy or impulse by which God from His throne acted upon them" [Note: G. A. Cooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel, p. 15.]

Verse 13

In the center of this group of four living beings was something that looked to Ezekiel like a fire of burning coals that sent out sparks toward the creatures (cf. 2 Samuel 22:9; 2 Samuel 22:13; Psalms 18:8). This fire was very bright, and what appeared to be lightning as well as sparks flashed forth from it (cf. Psalms 18:12; Psalms 77:17-18; Psalms 97:4).

Verse 14

The four living beings themselves darted about in Ezekiel’s vision like bolts of lightning. Perhaps this presages the prophet’s message of God’s burning judgment on Judah. [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1228.]

"These spiritual beings who were part angel, part human, and part animal were fitting representatives of the whole created order. Their activity affirmed the relationship of God to his creation as Lord of all things. This idea was vital in helping Ezekiel and the captives in exile and the people in Judah understand that in the midst of the storms of life, God was still on his throne. He was not oblivious to their circumstances." [Note: Cooper, p. 67.]

Verse 15

Ezekiel also saw a prominent wheel standing upright on the ground beside each of the four living creatures.

Verses 15-21

The wheels and their movement 1:15-21

Verse 16

These wheels appeared to have been skillfully made of some valuable material, the exact identity of which is unknown today. They all looked alike, and each wheel appeared to have another wheel, which seems to have been the same size, within it (attached to it). Another interpretation is that the wheels’ rims were concentric, a smaller one within a larger one. Evidently the axis of these wheels was the same and was vertical, forming a somewhat globe-like structure. [Note: Allen, pp. 33-34.] Chariot wheels seem to be what Ezekiel saw with other equally large chariot wheels intersecting the main wheels. These second wheels would have enabled the previously mentioned wheels to rotate left and right as well as forward and backward, as modern spherical casters do.

Verse 17

These wheels moved in every direction, but they did not appear to rotate when they moved. Ease of movement seems to be the point. They did, however, make rumbling sounds when they moved, as large wheels would do (cf. Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 3:12-13; Ezekiel 10:5; Ezekiel 10:13).

Verse 18

The rims around these wheels had eyes all around them (cf. Revelation 4:6). This gave the wheels an even more awesome appearance. Many eyes elsewhere in figurative language represent great intelligence and perception (cf. 2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 15:3; Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:10; Revelation 4:6).

Verse 19

There was some coordination between the living beings and these wheels because whenever one of the living creatures moved, its corresponding wheel moved with it. The creatures and wheels could move vertically above the ground as well as horizontally along the ground.

Verses 20-21

Just as the creatures moved at the impulse of the Spirit (Ezekiel 1:12), so their corresponding wheels also moved at its impulse. The creatures and the wheels always moved or rested together regardless of the direction in which they moved because the Spirit controlled them.

Most expositors view these cherubim as forming, supporting, or pulling a throne-chariot on which Ezekiel saw God riding (cf. Exodus 25:10-22; 2 Samuel 22:11; 1 Chronicles 28:18; Psalms 18:11; Daniel 7:9; Hebrews 8:5; Revelation 4). I think this makes sense. Perhaps the mobility of the wheels suggests God’s omnipresence, the eyes His omniscience, and the elevated position His omnipotence. [Note: Greenberg, pp. 46-47; J. W. Wevers, Ezekiel, p. 48; Cooper, p. 69.]

"God had wheels! He was not limited. He could go anywhere anytime. . . .

"Thus ultimately the chariot vision is a vision of hope for a people who needed encouragement to hope once again. A vision of God’s mobility was for them a message not to despair but to anticipate: in what way was God on the move and how did it concern them? The following passages provided the answer." [Note: Stuart, pp. 34-35.]

Verse 22

Ezekiel also saw something like a clear expanse (Heb. raqia’, firmament, Genesis 1:6; Psalms 19:1; Psalms 150:1; Daniel 12:3) of ice (Heb. qerah, crystal) over the heads of these four living creatures. Rather than being empty space this expanse appeared to be a firm, level surface or platform.

Verses 22-28

The expanse 1:22-28

Verse 23

As the creatures stood under this transparent expanse, Ezekiel saw two of the wings of each creature stretched out straight from their bodies and the other two wings of each one covering either side of their bodies.

Verse 24

The prophet also heard a sound that the movement of the creatures’ wings produced, a sound like a white-water torrent, or like the voice of Almighty God, or like an army on the move. When the creatures did not move, they dropped their wings.

Verse 25

Ezekiel also heard a voice coming from above the expanse over the creatures. It was evidently the voice of God (cf. Job 37:4-5; Job 40:9; Psalms 18:13; Psalms 104:7).

Verse 26

Over the heads of the creatures was also something like a throne that was dark blue and very beautiful, like lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli is a dark blue semiprecious stone that the ancients valued greatly. Sitting on the throne high above the expanse was a figure that looked like a man (cf. Exodus 24:10; Revelation 4:2).

Verse 27

Above his waist he seemed similar to hot metal glowing with heat (cf. Ezekiel 1:4), and below his waist he seemed to resemble fire (cf. Ezekiel 8:2; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 4:3; Revelation 4:5). All around him there appeared to be a radiance, like the glow that surrounds red-hot metal and fire.

Verse 28

This radiance resembled a rainbow; it encircled the person on the throne. This radiance represents the glory that surrounds Yahweh as He sits on this heavenly throne (cf. Exodus 19; 1 Kings 8; Isaiah 6; Daniel 10; Revelation 4).

"Noah saw the rainbow after the storm (Genesis 9:13-16), the Apostle John saw it before the storm (Revelation 4:3), but Ezekiel saw it over the storm and in control of the storm." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Ezekiel," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 166.]

Ezekiel realized that what he was seeing was a representation of Yahweh, perhaps the preincarnate Christ, and he fell prostrate on the ground (cf. Ezekiel 3:23; Isaiah 6:5; Daniel 8:17; Daniel 10:8-9; Revelation 1:17). Then he heard a voice speaking.

"It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God (28)." [Note: Taylor, p. 59.]

Ezekiel realized that he was in the presence of the glorious, holy God who could judge sin and uncleanness instantaneously and finally. His only appropriate response was humble prostration, throwing himself on God’s mercy (cf. Isaiah 6:5).

"The opening vision of Ezekiel’s ministry affirmed three significant truths about God that are summarized in Ezekiel 1:28. First, the vision was a reaffirmation of the nature of God as holy, powerful, and majestic. Second, the rainbow was a reminder of God’s promise-making and promise-keeping character (Genesis 9:16). It was a rekindler of hope that God could and would help. Third, it was an assurance that nothing, including geographic location, separated one from God (cf. Romans 8:38-39)." [Note: Cooper, p. 72. See also Peter C. Craigie, Ezekiel, pp. 12-14.]

The awesome holiness (otherness, difference, purity, perfection) of God overwhelmed Ezekiel. He undoubtedly associated the revelation in this vision with other similar manifestations that God had given of Himself in Israel’s past: at Mount Sinai, in the wilderness wanderings, at the dedications of the tabernacle and temple, and in Isaiah’s commission. As a priest Ezekiel would have been familiar with these former revelations, as the modern reader of the Old Testament is. Consequently he would have understood much that he saw. It provided a backdrop against which he understood Israel’s sinfulness and God’s judgment of sinful nations. [Note: On the problem of textual corruptions in Ezekiel 1:4-28, see Daniel C. Fredericks, "Diglossia, Revelation, and Ezekiel’s Inaugural Rite," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:2 (June 1998):189-99.]

"Jacob saw God at Peniel and his life was transformed from that hour. Moses went up to Mount Sinai and communed with God face to face and thereafter was marked for the rest of his life. Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord in the sanctuary and his entire ministry was suffused with the beauty of the holiness of the Lord. Paul saw the risen and glorified Redeemer on the Damascus road and was blinded from that day on to all the allurements of the world. John saw visions of the glorious unfolding of God’s program for Christ, the church and all the redeemed, and as a result was unmoved by the adverse circumstances that surrounded him. Ezekiel saw visions of the glory of the Lord God of Israel and his ministry never lost the impress of it." [Note: Feinberg, p. 17.]

Every servant of the Lord must appreciate the glory of God to serve Him effectively. One may not see a vision of God’s glory or have a strongly emotional experience that devastates him or her, as Ezekiel did. Nevertheless the Holy Spirit will impress the glory of God on the servant’s heart as that person views God in His Word. Appreciating the glory of God humbles a person and affects how one views other people and all of life.

"Let us hope that the majesty of God would always cause us, similarly, to respect and honor Him." [Note: Stuart, p. 36.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ezekiel-1.html. 2012.
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