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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 1

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


The First Cycle—Chapters 1-7

THE first cycle of the predictions of the prophet embraces ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 7:27. A sublime vision forms the introduction. To this prophetic discourses are appended which serve to explain the vision. At the close in ch. Ezekiel 7 a song.

Verses 1-3

In ch. Ezekiel 1:1-3 the introduction. Ezekiel 1:1. And it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 2. On the fifth day of the month (in the said year), which was the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, 3. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, the priest, in the land of the Chaldeans, by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him.

The book begins with an and. This must necessarily connect it with an earlier book, as the book of Joshua, by a like beginning, is connected with the Pentateuch, the book of Judges with Joshua, the books of Samuel, as also the book of Ruth, with that of Judges. In general, Ezekiel, by beginning with an and, presents itself as one link of a chain of sacred books, as the book of Esther, beginning in the same way, is joined only in general to the preceding sacred literature; but in particular it is connected with Jeremiah, as appears from the fact that throughout it is fastened par excellence to this link of the prophetic chain. Shortly before the appearance of Ezekiel, Jeremiah had addressed a missive to the exiles. This formed, as it were, the programme of the agency which Ezekiel developed under him.

The “thirtieth year,” in which the first appearance of the prophet took place, can only be the year of the prophet’s life. This was just the year which was of peculiar significance to the man of priestly family—the man who in every reference presents himself as the priest among the prophets. The Levites’ time of service generally began, according to Numbers 8:24, with the twenty-fifth year. According to Numbers 4:29-30, however, it was not till thirty that they entered on the performance of those services which required the full vigour of manhood (the carrying of the sanctuary in the passage through the wilderness); compare Beiträge, iii. p. 392 f. According to the theological exposition of this passage, to which also the entrance of the Baptist and of Christ upon office after the completion of the thirtieth year points back, Ezekiel recognises it as significant that he was called to the prophetical office just in the thirtieth year (probably near the completion of it), which made amends, as it were, for the service in the temple of which he was deprived. As Ezekiel here at thirty sees heaven opened by a river, so Jesus in Matthew 3:16, compared with Luke 3:21. The general era is indicated in Ezekiel 1:2, and for this very reason the reference here can only be to the year of the prophet’s life. The fifth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin was the most important objective mark of time for those who were then led into captivity, among whom Ezekiel had to labour. Another era running parallel to it must have been indicated more exactly; the prophet would not have left his reader to conjecture here. There is no general era of which every one must at once have thought. Of an era of Nabopolassar there is otherwise no trace in Scripture. That the month and day belong not to the year of the prophet’s life, but to that of the objective era, the captivity of Jehoiachin, is shown by the repetition of the phrase “in the fifth month” in Ezekiel 1:2, which was necessary to remove any uncertainty in the reference.

The appearance of Ezekiel is fixed by definite relations of time, and the knowledge of these relations forms the key to the understanding of his prophecies. Ch. Jeremiah 27:1 to Jeremiah 29:32 of Jeremiah especially afford us insight into them. These chapters belong to one another. They describe the reaction of Jeremiah against the political agitation that was leading the people away from their true objects, and which was called forth by the formation of a great anti-Chaldaic coalition. In the conflict with this enemy Ezekiel stepped to the side of Jeremiah: not policy, but penitence, is the common watchword.

According to Jeremiah 27, ambassadors from the kings of Edom, Moab, Amnion, Tyre, and Sidon had come to Jerusalem in the reign of Zedekiah to draw the king into a confederacy against the Chaldeans. We have here five of the seven nations whom Ezekiel in ch. Ezekiel 25 f. threatens with destruction by the Chaldeans, in opposition to the foolish hopes which had just been reposed in them. The Egyptians also are there named, who were evidently the mainstay of the whole coalition; and the Philistines, who were connected with the Egyptian race. That the hopes and intrigues extended themselves still further, that the eye was fixed even upon the distant Sheba or Meroe, which stood in close relation to Egypt, and not less on the distant Asiatic Elam, from which, after the lapse of the seventy years’ Chaldean servitude fore-ordained by God, the overthrow of Babylon undoubtedly proceeded, we learn from Ezekiel 8 and Ezekiel 23,—passages which place before our eyes the whole magnitude of the political infatuation by which Judah was seized, the whole fearfulness of her apostasy from God, who had so clearly marked out other ways for her, so that the coalition was directed no less against her than against the king of Babylon. They wished to attain deliverance without God, yea, against God.

Jeremiah 27 begins with the words: “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah.” Ezekiel 1:3 shows that it is not the elder Jehoiakim who is meant, but he who revives again in Zedekiah, who, according to 2 Kings 24:9, “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.” This typical usage of speech, which is largely diffused through the Scripture, the expositors could not comprehend. We have the key to it in that very passage of the book of Kings.

In view of the political agitation called forth by the embassy, Jeremiah exhorts to humiliation under the mighty hand of God: “Hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreams, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, who speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon. . . . Hearken not unto them: serve the king of Babylon, and live; wherefore should this city be laid waste?”

According to Jeremiah 28, in the fourth year of Zedekiah, in the fifth month—eleven months, therefore, before the appearance of Ezekiel—the “prophet” Hananiah announces to the prophet Jeremiah, in the name of the Lord, that the yoke of the king of Babylon shall be broken. After the lapse of two years the Lord will bring back to Jerusalem all the vessels of the temple that Nebuchadnezzar took away, and also King Jehoiachin, and all the captives. Jeremiah answers in the name of the Lord: “The wooden yoke I break, and make instead thereof an iron yoke.” By the popular intrigues their position will only be rendered more difficult. Jeremiah announces death to the false prophet; and this follows in the same year, in the seventh month, nine months before the appearance of Ezekiel.

The twenty-ninth chapter (Jeremiah 28) enters still more closely into the relations of Ezekiel. It contains a letter of Jeremiah to the captives. He warns them in ver. Jeremiah 29:8: “Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you; neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the Lord.” “which ye cause to be dreamed:” the false prophets prophesied to order; they flattered the then ruling humour of the people. Jeremiah shows the captives that the unalterably fixed seventy years of the Babylonian servitude, of which only eleven had then elapsed, must first run their full course. He seeks to lead them to repentance and to faith; as this was the legitimate course to pursue, in order to return home after patiently awaiting the period of their punishment. So far from thinking already of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, the heaviest judgments still stand over Jerusalem, and those who remain there.

We learn from this chapter that the false prophets and the true prophets in Jerusalem were in correspondence with the exiles: bane and antidote proceeded from thence. It is no less evident also from this, that those in exile sought to exercise an influence upon the state of things in the fatherland. The false prophet Shemaiah sends an accusation against Jeremiah to the priest, who had the superintendence in the temple.

In ver. Jeremiah 29:21 Jeremiah announces that the false prophets of the captivity, Ahab and Zedekiah, shall be given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and be slain by him. From this we learn that the commotions among the exiles were of a serious character. In vers. Jeremiah 29:24-32 he foretells destruction to another false prophet, Shemaiah already mentioned, to whom he gives the derisive surname of “Dreamer.” [1]

[1] The name is formed from the 1st plur. fut., like the name Nimrod, which the tyrant of the olden time received from the watchword Rebellemus, which he with his comrades employed. Nechalami means, a native of the place where dreaming has become a watchword.

In ch. Jeremiah 29:23 the prophet compares the behaviour of the false prophets among the exiles to adultery. “They commit adultery,” he says, “with their neighbours’ wives.” Graf says, “They appear to have been guilty also of immoral conduct in private life.” But this is quite foreign to the present connection. An abridged comparison is made. Spiritual adultery appears under the phrases of corporeal.

It was high time for the Lord to raise up among the exiles themselves a counterforce against such adulterous behaviour. This was accomplished by the calling of Ezekiel.

Like all the names of the canonical prophets, that of Ezekiel is not that which he had borne from his youth, but an official title which he had received at the beginning of his calling. It means not, “whom God strengthens,” which according to the form it cannot signify, but, “God is, or becomes strong; he in relation to whom God is strong.” We have the root of the name in Jeremiah 20:7: “Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed.” The explanation is here given in ch. Ezekiel 1:3, “And the hand of the Lord was upon him;” but especially in Ezekiel 3:14, “And the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.” It was God’s becoming strong upon the prophet that made him strong in the sight of an apostate and disobedient people, made his face hard against their face, and his forehead against their forehead ( Ezekiel 3:8),—made his forehead harder than flint, so that he had no fear of them.

The heavens are opened to the prophet, and he sees visions of God. [2] Visions of God are, in the first place, visions which proceed from God, as in the prophecy of Balaam ( Numbers 24:4) the vision of the Almighty is the vision which goes forth from the Almighty. Divine visions stand opposed to the visions of one’s own heart, the vain fancies of false prophets, who say, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed; and it is only the deceit of their own heart” ( Jeremiah 23:25-26). Visions which proceed from God are, however, as such, at the same time visions which have God for their object; there can only be seen in them that which has been taken into connection with God, which belongs to the sphere of Elohim, which embraces all that is divine ( 1 Samuel 28:13). In this respect, so far as the language refers to heavenly images, the sight of which is the result of the opening of heaven, we may compare 2 Kings 6:17: “And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha;” and Matthew 3:16: “And, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove.” The Spirit of God in the form of a dove is in this respect an illustrative example of the visions of God.

[2] מראה , what is seen, ὁ?́?ραμα , is not essentially distinguished from חזון , view—what one views.

Verse 4

Ezekiel 1:4. And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness [3] was about it, and out of the midst of it was as the colour of shining brass, out of the midst of the fire.

[3] Text: Luther’s translation, “which shone everywhere around,” assigns the brightness to the fire, instead of the whole appearance.

This verse points, in the first place, to that which forms the principal feature in the visions of God—the appearance of God in His angry majesty. This is followed by the description of the cherubim and the wheels, which are also comprehended among the visions of God. Ezekiel 1:27-28 return to the appearance of God, and carry out in reference to it what is here only alluded to.

The storm represents a severe visitation of the people, to whom the mission of all the prophets is directed, and of whom we must therefore also here think, as we have before us the consecration of a prophet to his office. The winds are in Scripture the customary symbols of the judgments, the storms of sufferings and trials decreed by God. Job, the type of the Israelitish people, says of God in ch. Job 9:17, “He breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause.” In the often falsely interpreted passage, 1 Kings 19:11, “The great and strong wind rending the mountains, and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord,” signifies the storm of trials and calamities which went over the church and her representative the prophet. Jeremiah announces in ch. Jeremiah 4:11 that a strong wind shall come upon the people of God, and explains it thus: “I will give sentence against them.”

Storm! With this one word the prophet places himself in rugged opposition to the false prophets who proclaimed with one mouth serene tranquillity γαλήνη μεγάλη , Matthew 8:20—and deals a great blow to the joyous hopes they had excited.

The storm comes out of the north. This is among the prophets the region pregnant with fate, the quarter from which the Asiatic world-powers—namely, the Chaldeans—were wont to break into the holy land. “I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction,” God says by Jeremiah (ch. Jeremiah 4:6). Exactly parallel to the storm out of the north here is the seething-pot coming from the north, which the prophet (ch. Jeremiah 1:13) sees likewise on his first calling. The seething-pot there signifies the war-fire coming from the north. In the exposition of the symbol given by the Lord, it is said (vers. Jeremiah 1:14-15), “Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem.” According to the intimate relation between Jeremiah and Ezekiel, this interpretation serves likewise for the latter.

Hitzig objects: “It is clear that passages like Jeremiah 1:14 do not apply here; for it is Jehovah, not Nebuchadnezzar, that appears, and the latter would have come from the south to the scene of action.” But Nebuchadnezzar, the servant of the Lord, and Jehovah form no opposition; much rather the word holds here, “They come out of distant lands, the Lord and the instruments of His wrath, to lay waste the whole earth;” and with the Asiatic world-kingdoms, when the inundation of the holy land is in hand, it is not the site of the capital city that is regarded, but the quarter out of which the invasion took place. This proceeded from the north, from Syria, because the eastern side of the holy land was covered by the vast, trackless wilderness of Arabia Deserta.

The coalition which gave occasion to the appearance of Ezekiel was directed against the north. The storm out of the north drives all the sanguine hopes which were founded on this coalition like withered leaves before it.

Next to the storm comes a “great cloud.” The clouds with which, or in the company of which, the Lord comes, are in Scripture the adumbration of judgment; comp. my comm. on Revelation 1:7. Storm and cloud appear conjoined as here in Nahum 1:3: “The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.”

All was in expectation of the sun soon about to break forth clearly in the political heavens, and of the healing under His wings ( Malachi 4:2). The prophet cannot chime in with this jubilee. He sees the heavens covered with black clouds as with a pall.

The third symbol of wrath, the close infolding fire, is from Exodus 9:24. There it falls upon the Egyptians; here it is directed against the degenerate people of God. As they have become conformed to the Egyptians in their practices, they need not wonder if also the fate of the Egyptians befalls them. They have not, in fact, desired otherwise. Or should their God, like the false gods of the heathen, have a blind love for His people? In that case He could not be righteous ( Deuteronomy 32:4) (Luther, pious), i.e. so constituted as He should be, as corresponds with the nature of the true God, who as such recompenses to every one according to his works, without regarding such wretched things as circumcision and ceremonies. Deuteronomy 4:24 gives the interpretation of the symbol. There “God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” The fire signifies the energy of His punitive justice. Of this, in its relation to the degenerate covenant people, it is already said in Deuteronomy 32:22: “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.”

The future appeared to the people to be full of light; the prophet bears down without remorse on these foolish hopes, and sets before the view scorching flames which leave nothing but a heap of ashes behind.

The prophet views first the storm, the cloud, the fire, then the symbol of the glory of God. In existing circumstances, it was not of so much import that God appeared in general, as in what character He appeared; and this character is represented by storm, cloud, and fire. This was a powerful stroke against the illusions, the dreams of a gracious God, and of an immediately impending future of prosperity.

These illusions, however, are only the perversions of a deep truth; and to this truth the prophet assigns rightful place in the words, “and a brightness was about it.” These words occur again in Ezekiel 1:27. After this is the clear brightness which surrounds the at first threatening appearance of God, the emblem of that grace of God which stands in the background of judgment, pointing to the times of refreshing that shall come to the people of God, when judgment has first done its work upon them. The contrast of the false prophets and of the true is not that of deliverance and judgment, but that of deliverance without punishment and without repentance, and of the deliverance which after judgment falls to the lot of the penitent people—of a bare gospel, crying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace, and of the law and the gospel, each in its own time. A prophet who proclaimed only punishment, would be no less false than one who presents to view nothing but peace. Law and gospel, each in its entire fulness—this is, even to this very day, the token of the true servant of God.

The it refers to the whole of the appearance—storm, cloud, fire. [4] The brightness has first of all only a subordinate import. To this points the pronoun in the phrase, “out of the midst of it,” going back at once to the more remote fire, which, as it were, ignores the preceding clause, “and brightness was about it.” To remove every uncertainty and ambiguity, it is further added at the close, “out of the midst of the fire.” At first nothing stands in view but storm, cloud, fire. The brightness gleams only out of the far distance. But here already reference must be made to it. For it is necessary that it should be known, if storm, cloud, fire, are to exercise their proper effect. “Merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth “( Exodus 34:6): this must stand before our eyes, if the sorrow called forth by sin is to bring with it the healthful fruit of righteousness.

[4] The masc. suff. is intentionally put (the masc. pron. in Ezekiel 1:28 also refers to the whole of the appearance); for if the femin. suff. had been put, we should have held by the reference to the next preceding noun. It would have been natural also to think of the brightness issuing from the fire itself (comp. 5:13), whereas in fact the brightness is different from the fire, and presents a contrast to it.

Out of the midst of the fire an appearance went forth, “to look upon like chasmal” shining brass. “To look upon:” this indicates that it is not realities that are here spoken of, but only the imperfect forms of realities. That he indicates this so pointedly and continually, that he opposes so resolutely the bare realism which refuses to know anything of the distinction between thought and its dress, is one of the peculiarities of Ezekiel. Expressions like these—the appearance, the likeness, even the appearance of the likeness ( Ezekiel 1:28)—continually recur, for the purpose of guarding against that bare realism which, while it assumes the air of vindicating the interests of faith against a “false spiritualism,” is at the same time nothing else than weakness in the exposition of Scripture. Chasmal, with which in ch. Ezekiel 8:2 זהר , brightness, is joined by way of explanation, which is used in Daniel 12:3 of the brightness of heaven, the LXX. render by electrum, a metal distinguished for its brightness, consisting of gold mixed with a fifth part of silver. It here portrays the kernel of the personality of God—His holiness, that is. His absoluteness. His unconditioned seclusion from all earthly, and in general creaturely nature—His incomparable glory. [5]

[5] Compare my comm. on Psalms 22:4, Revelation 4:8.

After, therefore, the leading point in the appearance has been brought forward first in outline, the prophet proceeds to the description of that which still remained to be seen, to return afterwards to the main subject. The impression which Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 8:2 is fitted to make is indicated in the words of James, “Behold, the Judge standeth before the door.” From this the exhortation naturally flows, “Repent, that the Judge may be gracious to you, and that the sun may appear after the cloud.”

Verses 5-14

Ezekiel 1:5-14. The Cherubim.—God in His wrath—this was the real import of Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 8:2. To increase the feeling of terror, it is here made prominent that this God who appears for judgment is the Almighty, the God of the spirits of all flesh, whom all that lives on earth serves, and who can bring it into the field against His people, against whom all coalitions are impotent, who alone says with entire right, “There is none that can deliver out of my hand.”

The name of the cherubim appears later in Ezekiel for the first time in ch. Ezekiel 9:3. On independent grounds the description should go side by side with that of the cherubim in the tabernacle of testimony. It is only by degrees that we perceive that the beings here described are identical with the cherubim there spoken of.

What the beings which the prophet here portrays had to signify, could not be doubtful to the intelligent mind. The four living creatures with the faces, which denote the leading classes of animals on earth, can only be the ideal combination of all that lives on earth—“the living (creature) under the God of Israel,” as is said in ch. Ezekiel 10:20.

The appearance of the cherubim is not in itself terrible. The thought that all that lives on the earth serves God, may, in some circumstances, be very comforting. To Him who sits upon the cherubim, who alone is God over all the kingdoms of the earth, Hezekiah lifted up his eyes, according to Isaiah 37:16, when he was oppressed by the power of Assyria. The appearance here assumes the threatening aspect from its connection with that which precedes in Ezekiel 1:4, and from the fact that the living creatures go forth out of the fire, and are thus destined for a mission of wrath. The reality corresponding to the figure of the living creatures issuing out of the fire is the invasion of the Chaldeans, connected with the dispersion of all hopes founded on the anti-Chaldaic coalition.

Of the living creatures there are four, and they have each four faces and four wings, because four is the signature of the earth. The human form prevails among them, because man takes absolutely the first place among the living. From man they derive the face on the principal side—that turned towards the east—the upright gait, and the hands. The three other classes are represented each by one of the four faces. Then from the cattle they have the likeness of the soles of their feet, and from the birds their wings.

Ezekiel 1:5. “And I saw out of the midst thereof (of the fire) the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of men. 6. And every one had four faces, and every one of them had four wings. 7. 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 glowing brass. 8. And a man’s hand was under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. 9. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. 10. 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 a bull on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. [6] 11. And (such are) their faces: and their wings were divided above; [7] each had two joined with one another, and two covered their bodies. 12. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go they went; they turned not when they went. 13. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches: the fire went along among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of flashing fire.”

[6] Luther’s translation, “Their faces on the right side of the four were like a man and a lion, but on the left side of the four their faces were like an ox and an eagle,” changes the four-sidedness of the appearance into a two-sidedness, removes the front and back, and leaves only the right and left.

[7] Luther’s translation, “And their faces and wings were divided above,” refers to the faces what only suits the wings.

The first part of the delineation, Ezekiel 1:5-8, takes a general survey of the appearance of the cherubim; the second part, Ezekiel 1:9-11, describes more particularly the wings and faces already brought forward in the survey. Ezekiel 1:8 b turns from the hands, which were last mentioned in the survey—where after the upper parts, the faces and the wings, followed the lowest part, the feet—back to the wings and faces. After the words, “And they four had their faces and their wings,” it might have been expected that the closer description would have begun with the faces. It begins, however, with the wings, because in flying these rose above the faces. Still they are only so far described in Ezekiel 1:9 a as this holds good: and the description then passes over at once to the faces, the proper description of the wings following only in Ezekiel 1:11. In Ezekiel 1:12 the kind and manner of their movement are next described. In Ezekiel 1:13-14 so much is brought forward as belonged to the cherubim, not generally, but only in relation to the matter in hand, in harmony with the threatening character of the whole appearance.

Straight feet, without bending of the knee, are in Ezekiel 1:7 attributed to the cherubim, as distinguished from the animal foot. [8] The sole of the foot like that of a calf, “round and like itself all over, while the human foot is drawn out in length,” is explained by the design of giving a part in the group to the cattle represented in it through the cherubim. The placing of the calf here shows that the ox in Ezekiel 1:10 comes into consideration only as the representative of the cattle, and was all the more necessary as the ox in the olden time was so often regarded in other points of view; for example, as the symbol of the power of nature, which did not here come into consideration. The placing of the calf, with which these views were not connected, is designed to remove all extraneous notions. The case is similar where, in Revelation 4:7, the eagle is described as a flying one, to indicate that it is brought into view simply and solely as the representative of the birds. The shining or scintillating is literally affirmed of the cherubim in general, not of their feet in particular. [9] Still, what is here affirmed of the cherubim refers, in point of fact, to the feet in particular: “And they were (there, on the soles of the feet) sparkling.” A general affirmative would not suit here. John thus conceived the words in the Apocalypse, ch. Revelation 1:15, where it is said of Christ appearing for judgment, “And His feet like unto shining brass (Germ, light-brass), as if they burned in a furnace.” In Daniel 10:6 it is said of Michael, “And his arms and his feet like in colour to shining brass.” Shining brass is the same as glowing brass. [10] The sparkling or scintillating of the feet like glowing brass has nothing whatever to do with the nature of the cherubim, as little as the flaming sword in Genesis 3. It refers to the special mission in hand, which is one of wrath. It stands in like connection with the fire and lightning, which in Ezekiel 1:13 are attributed to the entire appearance of the cherubim, with the element of fire in the appearance of the Lord Himself in Ezekiel 1:4 and Ezekiel 1:27.

[8] The living creatures are through the whole verse treated as masculine, as also already in לחם at the close of Ezekiel 1:6. This is explained by the fact that the proper name Cherubim, standing in the background, is masculine, and the whole appearance of the cherubim here is human. It is properly said, “straight foot.” The numerical plurality is contracted into the ideal unity of the foot.

[9] The mascul. נצצים can refer only to the cherubim, not to the feet.

[10] It is properly called light (adj.) brass. But this is the same as glowing brass, because the light is represented as lighter than the dark, as the sharp is lighter than the blunt. Comp. my comm. on Revelation 1:15. נצצים does not mean shining, but sparkling—scintillantes.

In Ezekiel 1:8 it is said literally, “its human hand,” or, “its hand of a man.” [11] The discourse is of its hand, not of their hands, in consequence of the ideal comprehension of the quaternity of the cherubim in the unity of the cherub—the living creature, which elsewhere also occurs along with the cherubim ( Psalms 18:11; Ezekiel 9:3, Ezekiel 10:4).

[11] According to ch. 10:8, the singular ידו is to be read. The Masoretic alteration, the plural, arises, as usual, from misunderstanding.

The words, “And they four had their faces and their wings,” only repeat, as has been remarked, what was already said in Ezekiel 1:6, to indicate the return from the feet and hands to the upper parts, which are to be more exactly described.

As the wings in Ezekiel 1:9 only come into consideration beforehand in so far as they rise above the face, so of the four wings which each cherub possessed according to Ezekiel 1:6, only the one pair is regarded which was employed in flying; from which it is to be noted that the prophet, who describes only what is seen, sees the living creatures in motion, according to Ezekiel 1:14. This pair of wings is stretched upwards, so that the one wing stands over against the other, and is in so far “joined” to it. This one pair of wings is immediately under the “vault” by which heaven is imaged, in harmony with Genesis 1:20, according to which the birds fly above the earth to the vault of heaven.

The second part turns from the wings to the faces. In relation to these it is first noted, that as, according to Ezekiel 1:6, there were four of them, they did not need to turn in their movement, inasmuch as, in whatever direction they went, one face was always directed forwards. By this the thought is expressed that the creature is in all directions ready for the service of God; that He can very easily summon it to that place where He wishes to employ it for blessing or for punishment.

In Ezekiel 1:10 the faces are then individually named. That the cherub is the representation of the living creation, appears very clearly from this designation of the faces. The combination of man, lion, ox, and eagle can only be explained in this way; as also the order of succession and the bearing towards the east. At the head the man’s face stands; and this must be on the east side, which as the principal side, and as we always turn to the east when it is intended to mark the quarters of the heavens, needed no closer designation. The eagle, as the representative of the birds, takes the hindmost place. To the right, or southwards, Psalms 89:13 (Eng. Psalms 89:12), is the lion, the representative of all wild animals, to which the pre-eminence among the brute creation had been already accorded, from the fact that the name of “living creature,” by which the animate was distinguished from the inanimate creation, is in Genesis 1 appropriated specially to them, in contrast with those other classes in which the power of life was less energetic. Not without reason is the lion held among all nations as the king of beasts in general, not merely of wild beasts. In Job 28:8 the wild beasts are called sons of haughtiness or of pride. To the left, or northwards, is the ox, the representative of the cattle.

We have here the most exact correspondence with Genesis 1, except that here, where the object was to bring forward the living creation in great outlines, the fishes and the small land animals are disregarded. The order is quite the same, except that in the creation the progress is from the lower to the higher, whereas here the reverse order holds. First, after the swarm of the sea, the fowls come into existence. (That this is omitted in the cherubim, goes hand in hand with the fact that it was the lowest part of creation in Genesis 1.) The wild beast holds in Genesis 1 also the pre-eminence above the cattle. In the decree of God in Genesis 1:24, the cattle stand foremost because of their special usefulness to men, but in the execution of it the wild beast is placed at the head. Man forms the crown of the whole.

The phrase “and (such are) their faces” serves as the conclusion to the subject of the faces, and forms the transition to that which still remained after Ezekiel 1:9 to be said of the wings. Two wings, the same which were already named there, are represented as divided, in contrast with the other two, which were closed upon the body. The same two wings are also represented as joined together, because they stand freely over against one another, in contrast with the other two, which are separated from one another by the body.

Wings are allotted to the cherubim in general, to suit the class of birds represented in the group. But besides this, two of these wings serve to exhibit the connection between the earth and the heaven represented by the vault,—a connection which is necessary, that heaven and earth may be presented as parts of one whole, the creation of God, over which He is enthroned, and whose powers are all at His bidding, for blessing or for punishment ( Job 37:13). The wings are all the better fitted to exhibit this connection, as the fowls represented by them come into closest proximity with heaven, on which account they are also called “the fowls of heaven” ( Psalms 8:9). The idea of a carrying of the vault upon the wings of the cherubim must be entirely abandoned. Wings are not of themselves fitted for this, and here all the less so, as they serve for flying, and are occasionally lowered ( Ezekiel 1:24). The object is only to give the medium of the connection, or a figuration of it.

“Divided”—namely, from the body. “Above,” in contrast with the wings that covered the body. “Each had two which were joined with one (cherub),” two standing upright, which reached forth to those of another cherub, whilst also the wings of this one stretched upward. [12] We must distinguish what is here said from what is said in Ezekiel 1:9. It was there said that the upper wings were joined with one another.

[12] The second איש as well as the first, and also the איש in Ezekiel 1:12, can only refer to the cherub.

What has been already said in the particular description of Ezekiel 1:9 is made prominent once more in Ezekiel 1:12, with an important additional statement, which assigns the cause of the movement: “Whither the spirit was to go, they went.” Whither the impulse standing under God’s direction was to go, they went without any difficulty: no behind and no before; every way stands open to them. Woe to him, therefore, against whom God in His wrath directs them; and this is, alas, the first thought, as the mission here is one of wrath, but also weal to him who is in favour with God.

The moving cause is the Spirit, the life-breath of God, who dwells within the creature, and leads it, according to the laws which He prescribes for it, to the ends which He places before it. God is the “God of the spirits of all flesh” ( Numbers 16:22). It is implied in this, that the creature in itself cannot and need not be the object of love, of trust, and of fear. The Spirit of God appears already in the history of the creation as the animating power in the universe. The spirit here is the spirit dwelling within the creatures. That the spirit is first of all the spirit of the living, is shown in Ezekiel 1:21. That this spirit immanent in the creatures is, however, only an effluence of the Spirit of God, and stands therefore under the unconditional direction of Him who bends the hearts of kings like the water-brooks, appears from Ezekiel 1:20-21, according to which the same spirit is in the beasts and in the wheels, in the living creatures and in the powers of nature.

Ezekiel 1:13-14 do not refer to the nature of the living creature in itself, but to its present mission, which is one of wrath. The fire, representing wrath and vengeance, appears separated from the cherubim themselves; it runs among the cherubim; they are, as it were, dipt in fire. “All things,” remarks Grotius, “pointed to vengeance after the long patience of God”— omnia post longam patientiam Dei ad ultionem spectabant. The fire here must be regarded in the same light as the fire in Ezekiel 1:4 and in Ezekiel 1:7. In Ezekiel 1:4 the fire goes hand in hand with the other symbols of the wrath of God, the storm and the cloud. In other circumstances, if the mission were friendly, the cherubim would appear wholly enveloped in light; they would shine forth with the God enthroned above them ( Psalms 94:1). In itself the fire might also be directed against the enemies of the people of God, as formerly the fire in the pillar of cloud ( Exodus 14:24); it might indicate the vengeance impending over them. But that it is here directed against the covenant people, that God has turned Himself into a fierce enemy against them ( Job 30:21), appears from Ezekiel 1:4, where the fire comes out of the north, the home of the world-power, not goes to the north. For now the watchword is: “Upon those who are near me will I sanctify myself;” “You only do I know of all nations of the earth, therefore will I visit upon you all your sins;” “Judgment must begin at the house of God.”

The living creature runs to and fro, showing the energy of the impulse of wrath proceeding from God and filling them, which cannot rest a moment, nor abide the time when they shall be let loose. Woe to him on whom they then come! Something of this “flashing of lightning” Ezekiel might have already perceived with the natural eye among the Chaldeans.

Verses 15-21

Ezekiel 1:15-21. The Wheels.—These wheels represent the powers of nature. They do not bear the cherubim, but they stand independently beside them, although they occupy the lower place, the cherubim the upper. Not only do the wheels move as in a chariot, but also the cherubim move, and in such a way indeed that their movement is the primary and original one, while that of the wheels only goes along with it vers. ( Ezekiel 1:14, Ezekiel 1:19). That they move simultaneously with the cherubim, arises, according to Ezekiel 1:21, from this, that the spirit of the living creature is in the wheels. Externally, therefore, they are not inseparably joined with the living creature, but both obey one and the same impelling power. The local subordination to the cherubim finds its explanation only in the fact that wheels usually occupy the lowest place in a vehicle. If the powers of nature, on account of their weight, were thus viewed under the figure of a wheel in motion, this place must here have been allotted to the wheel. The whole was designed to make a single impression, to represent a kind of vehicle, in which the Lord occupied the place of the charioteer, the living creature the place of the chariot, under which are the powers of nature represented by the wheels, which are really co-ordinate with the living creature. The thought is this, that all powers as well as beings of nature serve God when He appears for judgment. This must fill men’s hearts with fear and trembling before Him. Among the powers of nature, fire comes here particularly into consideration, just as man does among the living creatures. “He burnt up their city” ( Matthew 22:7). These words bring out the idea. It is out of the wheels that the fire is taken in Ezekiel 10:2 for the destruction of Jerusalem. That the powers of nature, however, serve God’s purposes also in a wider extent, appears, for example, from the hail with which the Egyptians, and also the Canaanites, are visited, and from the lightning and storm in the history of Job.

Ezekiel 1:15. And I saw the living creatures, and, behold, a wheel upon the earth by the living creatures with their four faces. [13] 16. The appearance of the wheels and their work were like unto the colour of the chrysolite: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work were as it were a wheel in the midst of a wheel. 17. When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not when they went. 18. And their felloes, they were high and terrible; and their felloes were full of eyes round about them four. 19. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. 20. Whither the spirit willed to go, they went; if the spirit willed to go thither, then the wheels were lifted up beside them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. 21. When those went, they went; and when they stood, they stood; and when they were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up by the side of them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

[13] Luther, “And it was to look upon as four wheels.” He has been led astray by the sing. suff. in פניו . This belongs to the cherub as collective, so that there were thus of course four wheels. Comp. 10:9, where this is expressly affirmed ( 1 Kings 7:30).

The appearance of the wheels is, according to Ezekiel 1:16, like that of jasper or chrysolite. By this the glory of the powers of nature is indicated, as it is exhibited, for example, in a conflagration. In Exodus 28:20 the jasper occurs among the precious stones in the breastplate of the high priest. In Daniel 10:6 the body of Michael is like jasper, his face like lightning, his eyes like torches of fire. There also glory and grandeur are signified by the jasper.

The wheels are not ordinary wheels, according to the second half of Ezekiel 1:16, but double wheels, one set into the other. On what account it is so we learn from Ezekiel 1:17, “that they might go on all sides without turning round.” It is not hereby intended to take into consideration the physical possibility, but only to fix the eye upon the thought that the powers of nature, no less than the living creatures, promptly obey God whithersoever He sends them.

In Ezekiel 1:18 the wheels are alternately treated as masculine and feminine. The height and dreadfulness ascribed to the felloes of the wheels correspond to their comparison with the chrysolite. The fact that the felloes are full of eyes points to this, that the power of nature is no blind force, that it is employed in the service of God’s providence, that all over it the stamp of reason is impressed. It is this very thing which makes the power of nature terrible to him whose enemy is God. The eyes on the felloes of the wheels give them direction, lead them onwards into the most secret lurking-places of the enemies of God. The words in Ezekiel 1:20, “For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels,” account for the simultaneous movement of the wheels and cherubim. Then only, however, are they appropriate if the meaning be this: “One and the same spirit worked in the living creatures and in the wheels.” The unity of the spiritus rector effected the harmony. [14]

[14] The explanation “breath of life,” or “living soul,” gives an improper sense here and in Ezekiel 1:21, as the writer treats of the ground of the simultaneousness of the movement. Also חיה cannot otherwise stand here than in Ezekiel 1:22, where it signifies the living—the living creatures.

The description begins neither from above, from him that sits upon the vehicle, nor from below, from the wheels, but in the middle, with the living creatures, corresponding to the chariot. This is explained by the fact that the living creatures are peculiarly concerned in the present case. The writer is treating of the Chaldean catastrophe, the inevitable approach of which, to those who were seized with a political bewilderment, must be borne in mind. But the reference to Him who guides the whole goes before (in Ezekiel 1:4) the description of details. That He is the Alpha and the Omega is brought to view in this, that He forms the opening and the close.

Verses 22-25

Ezekiel 1:22-25. The vault.—In the representation of Jehovah, who draws near for judgment to His unfaithful people as the God of the universe, whose hand no one can escape, heaven must not be left out of account. It is this that appears all through the Old Testament as the most illustrious proof of the greatness of God; it is presented in the language as the plural, the heavens, in contrast with the poor earth standing in the singular; it is the heavens pre-eminently which, according to Psalms 19, “declare the glory of God.” God is frequently called the God of heaven, to indicate His omnipotence. The Almighty is still more frequently called the God of hosts, i.e. the God whom the powers of heaven serve, than He who sits enthroned upon the cherubim, which designates Him by the proofs of His omnipotence in the earthly creatures. Heaven, then, is here presented in the great panorama of the universe—which, next to the vision of the new temple, is the noblest ornament of the prophecies of Ezekiel—as a vault, the word which in Genesis 1 is consecrated to the description of heaven, and is never otherwise used except for this (comp. Psalms 19:1 and Daniel 12:3). To the words, “as the colour of the terrible crystal,” correspond here the words in Daniel, “They shall shine as the brightness of the vault,” and in Psalms 150:1 the designation of the vault as the mighty. Beneath the vault are the cherubim, the representatives of the earthly creation; yet not that which is beneath alone, but that which is above, is in the vault here the same that is elsewhere in the heaven. The latter appears always as the place of God’s throne, as here the throne of God stands upon the vault.

Ezekiel 1:22. And over the heads of the living creature was the likeness of a vault, as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. 23. And under the vault, their wings standing upright, the one toward the other: every one of them had, besides, two which covered their bodies. 24. And when they went I heard the voice of their wings, like the voice of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a voice of roaring like the voice of a host: when they stood, they let down their wings. 25. And there was a voice over the vault which was above their head: when they stood, they let down their wings.

Exodus 24:10 forms the foundation of Ezekiel 1:22: “And they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet was there like a work of shining sapphire, and like heaven itself in clearness.” There already we have in an appearance of God the same image of heaven. The crystal is noted as terrible, because it excites awe by its splendour, in which that of the Creator is reflected. Dreadfulness had been already, in Ezekiel 1:18, attributed to the wheels, the powers of nature. To the comparison of the latter with the chrysolite the comparison of heaven here with crystal corresponds. Everywhere in the creation the glory of the Creator shines forth upon us. Heaven is represented as “stretched out” [15] over above the heads of the living creatures. We have here merely an “over,” not that the heads carried it. The heads are at no time immediately under the firmament; for the wings rose over the heads, according to Ezekiel 1:19, Ezekiel 1:23.

[15] Stretched out; this is the standing expression in reference to the relation of heaven to earth. Isaiah 40:22, “That stretcheth out the heaven as a curtain;” 42:5, 44:24; Jeremiah 10:12.

Under the vault, according to Ezekiel 1:23, is the one pair of wings standing upright. It is this which serves for flying, in contrast with the other, which covers the body, because the creaturely is not worthy to appear unveiled before the eyes of the Thrice Holy. The tips of the wings reach upwards to the vault. Carrying is not to be thought of. Wings are not suited for this; and here particularly carrying would be out of place, because the wings, according to Ezekiel 1:24, make a loud noise, and are therefore in free motion; further, because, according to what follows, the wings are let down upon occasion. They carry the heaven just as little as the wheels the chariot. The local proximity serves here, as there, only to indicate the connection between the several provinces of creation—is meant to present the creation as a uniform whole. [16]

[16] The repetition of the words, “one had two which covered it,” is meant to indicate that, besides the outstretched wings, each single cherub had two which covered the body. Without the repetition the sense might be that each had only one. The word every one is therefore expressed.

The wings, the noise of which, according to Ezekiel 1:24, Ezekiel hears, can naturally only be those standing upright, for it is for the very purpose of flying that they stand upright. The flapping of the wings shows, in harmony with Ezekiel 1:14, that the living creatures long to fulfil their mission, that the time of this fulfilment is thus drawing near. Light is thrown upon the similes which are used to represent the loudness of the sounding of their wings, if the cherubim be recognised as the representation of the whole living creation upon earth. All the sounding of the creatures upon earth appears here gathered into one vast tone. The sounding was terrible to those who recognised the import of the present mission of the cherubim. The noise is first compared to the noise of many waters, to which Isaiah in ch. Isaiah 17:12-13 compares the tumult of the heathen world-power, Assyria, as it presses against Israel; then to the voice of the Almighty, the thunder. Comp. Revelation 19:6, where the voice of the church, included with the cherubim, is likened to the voice of “mighty thunderings:” “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying. Alleluia! for the Lord God, the Omnipotent, reigneth.” In Revelation 14:2, also, the voice of the church is likened to the voice of many waters, and to the voice of thunder. To the voice of roaring, like the voice of a host, [17] here, corresponds the “voice of a great multitude “in Revelation 19:6. The distinction therefore is only this, that what forms the end here is there removed to the beginning.

[17] המולה elsewhere only in Jeremiah 11:16. There the “great tumult” represents the tumultus bellicus Chaldaeorum, which even here also is mainly signified by the appearance of the cherubim.

Ezekiel 1:25 passes over to Him who is enthroned above the whole appearance, to whom everything in it is subjected, and serves His purposes. A voice issues from the vault, which still for a time checks the impetuosity of the instruments of the divine vengeance. He from whom the voice proceeds is then further described in Ezekiel 1:26-27. As to the connection with the previous verse, the standing still of the cherubim, and the letting down of their wings, which had been spoken of there, is here carried back to its ground. In form the prophet speaks in general: “When they stand, they let them down;” but he draws the general out of the particular, which he just now perceives; so that these words stand in the background: “Whilst they stood, they let them down.” “The vault which was over their head” leaves no doubt as to the signification of the cherubim: the heaven arches itself over the head of the earthly creatures. Cocceius has already correctly given the essential burden of the voice: “The sovereignty of God, by which He restrains the nations and bids them be at peace.”

Verses 26-28

Ezekiel 1:26-28. The highest Object in the Appearance.—The end here falls back upon the beginning in Ezekiel 1:4; what is there indicated is here developed.

Ezekiel 1:26. And above the vault that was over their head 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. 27. And I saw as the colour of shining brass, as the appearance of fire which was enfolded round about: from the appearance of his loins and upward, and from the appearance of his loins and downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire; and it had brightness round about. [18] 28. 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 I saw, and fell upon my face, and heard the voice of one that spake.

[18] Luther, “From his loins, above them and below them, I saw as it were fire shining round and round.” Thereby chasmal, fire, and brightness, which are entirely distinct from one another, are completely confounded.

Here, at the very height of the appearance, are accumulated indications of the fact that the forms which the prophet beholds are not adequate for their object, but are only meant to bring it, as far as may be, home to the human understanding. Had the prophet made this mistake, he would have come in conflict with the Mosaic commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any image, nor any likeness,” which is directed against those representations of the Divine Being that lay claim to be adequate to exhaust the fulness of their object, and represent it, of which adoration is then the immediate sequel.

That God should present Himself in human form ( Ezekiel 1:26) is explained by Genesis 1, according to which, among all created things which might supply the substratum for the vision of the Eternal, if He is to be seen at all, man alone bears the image of God, and is a type of the appearance of God in the flesh. Daniel 7:13 is parallel, where one “like a son of man” appears in the clouds of heaven.

That the sapphire is brought forward on account of its heaven-like colour is shown by Exodus 24:10, where the whiteness, or the clear shining of the sapphire, stands in connection with the purity of heaven. The heaven-like colour of the throne indicates the infinite eminence of God’s dominion over the earth, with its impotence, sin, and unrighteousness.

On chasmal, shining brass, in Ezekiel 1:27, see Ezekiel 1:4; according to ch. Ezekiel 8:2, it is to be explained thus: “From the appearance of the loins upward” it looked like shining brass. This supplementary statement follows quite of itself, as in the sequel the region from the loins downward is expressly connected with the fire. At first it is said that He who sat upon the throne presented a double appearance; then the regions of each of these appearances are more exactly indicated.

The shining brass indicates the invariable character of God’s personality—His holiness in the scriptural sense, i.e. His nature separated from everything creaturely—His absoluteness, through which He has His measure in Himself alone, and never can be meted by a human standard: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” etc. ( Isaiah 55:8-9.) The lower parts are allotted to the fire, the avenging wrath of God, because this bears only an accidental character—is only made prominent in present circumstances; in other circumstances, other sides of the divine nature will appear. The attribute of God indicated by the fire is derived from that indicated by the shining brass: God’s absoluteness must, when it meets with daring opposition, go forth against it raging and destroying. The attribute indicated by the fire receives also from that indicated by the shining brass its exact determination: the Holy, the Absolute One can never be angry like man, who is determined by his lower passionate impulses. As soon as repentance shows itself, compassion steps into the place of wrath: “I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not utterly destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst of thee, and I will not enter into the city;” I am not like the children of men, as they wander up and down in the cities, who can be sorely offended once, but can never be softened to reconciliation ( Hosea 11:9). It certainly appears, on the other side, in the determination which the wrath of God receives from His holiness, that He bears the character of the most absolute energy, has in Him nothing of human slackness, does not stop short even of the destruction of that which opposes itself, when He meets with headstrong obduracy, so that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The fire is more closely described as “a house round about it,” as encompassed about, in order to indicate the extent of its burning; comp. Genesis 15:17, where God appears to Abram, in the form of a fiery furnace: correspondent is the enfolded fire of Ezekiel 1:4. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 is a New Testament parallel passage: there Christ is revealed from heaven in flaming fire, to take vengeance upon those who know not God, and obey not the gospel. As the fire is there directed against those who despise the gospel, so here against those who despise the law.

The “brightness round about “the appearance of God, of which the close of Ezekiel 1:27 speaks, is more exactly described in Ezekiel 1:28. Accordingly it signifies here, as in the outline of Ezekiel 1:4, out of which the words are first transferred, to connect it with the detailed statement of the following verse, the grace that will follow the wrath, as formerly in the flood, where it was represented by the shining of the rainbow.

The words, “as the appearance ... of the brightness round about” ( Ezekiel 1:28), give the exacter description of the brightness with allusion to Genesis 9:13. The rainbow, according to its proper institution, is not the symbol of grace in general, but of grace returning after wrath. The wrath is here indicated by נשם , violent rain. In the fire and the rainbow we have the two fundamental elements of the prophecy of Ezekiel, first judgment, and then grace. Grotius has given the idea here quite correctly: “The divine judgments, however severe they may be, shall not, however, obliterate the memory of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Fire and the rainbow are here equally applied to the church. It is otherwise in Revelation 4:3, Revelation 10:1. There the fire of the divine wrath is directed against the enemies of the church; the rainbow round about the throne (in ch. Revelation 10:1 about the head of Christ) points to this, that judgment is to the church an act of grace. But here also grace is hidden behind judgment. The fire has to convey its precise import to the rainbow. The latter points not merely to that which is to follow after judgment: it teaches us to recognise even in relentless judgment an act of grace to the church.

The words, “This is the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” apply to the whole of the appearance of God, as it was described in Ezekiel 1:27-28, and conclude this description. The words, “And I saw, and fell on my face,” depict next the impression which this appearance made upon the prophet: he falls down before the majesty of an angry God. The address of God which follows gives the explanation of His appearance, and the commentary upon it.

The vision places before the eyes of the prophet the character of the proximate future of the people of God. It indicates that this people, who yielded themselves up to fond dreams—who, like the ten tribes of old, in foolish blindness, and in complete misapprehension of the signs of the times, said, “The bricks are fallen down, and we will build with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, and we will change them into cedars” ( Isaiah 9:10)—are on the eve of a grievous judgment. Hereby the general character of his mission was already indicated to the prophet. He was to dissipate illusions, to proclaim judgment, to appear as a stern preacher of repentance. The great hardships, also, which he had to endure lay already bound up in the vision. The people who have incurred severe divine judgment cannot be willing to receive the servant of God; the preaching of repentance must create exasperation among the impenitent. What might have been already inferred from the vision, will be now brought forward expressly in words.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-1.html.
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