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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 10

The Second Cycle—Chapters 8-19

THE second cycle (ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 19:14) is separated from the first by an interval of a year and two months. The date is here the sixth year after the captivity of Jehoiachin, the sixth month, the fifth day, about five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. A vision here also forms the introduction, a song the close in ch. Ezekiel 19, in the midst of prophetic discourses that elucidate the vision, obviate objections, and form a bridge between it and the mind. The historical starting-point and the tendency also are similar. The prophet here also strives against the political dreams, represents the destruction as inevitable, and points to repentance as the only way of safety.

The vision is here far more comprehensive than in the first cycle. It occupies four whole chapters. It gives a complete representation of the sins of the people; and here accordingly is unfolded what in the first vision is only indicated concerning the punishment. Common to both visions is the delineation of the theophany itself, and in particular the description of the cherubim. The former delineation is supplemented by that here given only in details.

Ch. Ezekiel 8 contains the exposition of the guilt—the delineation of the four abominations of Jerusalem; ch. Ezekiel 9, the first punishment—Jerusalem filled with dead bodies; ch. Ezekiel 10, the second punishment—Jerusalem burnt; ch. Ezekiel 11:1-12, the third—God’s vengeance follows the survivors of the catastrophe. The close consists of comfort for the captives, who are already in exile with Ezekiel, and on whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem proudly look down; of these will God Himself take care, after the total disappointment of all human hopes (vers. Ezekiel 11:13-21). The prophet then sees still (vers. Ezekiel 11:22-23) how the glory of the Lord leaves the temple; and then the ecstasy comes to an end (vers. Ezekiel 11:21, Ezekiel 11:25).

Verses 1-2

Ezekiel 10. The following is the arrangement of this chapter, which exhibits the second act of the divine righteousness. He that sits on the throne commands the man clothed in linen to take fire out of the midst of the wheels of the cherubim, and scatter it over the city ( Ezekiel 10:1-2). In Ezekiel 10:3-5 it is parenthetically related concerning the position which the cherubim and the glory of the Lord then took, that the latter then prefigured the approaching departure from the temple, and the cherubim already prepared themselves for this. In Ezekiel 10:6-7 is the partial execution of the command: the man in linen places himself by the wheels, and a cherub takes fire from the midst, and hands it to him: he takes it, and goes out. In Ezekiel 10:8-14, the observations which the prophet made on this occasion in regard to the cherubim and the wheels. In Ezekiel 10:15-19, the advance of the glory of the Lord with the cherubim and the wheels, the removal of which is the preliminary condition of the scattering of the fire over the city, to the passage out of the temple. In Ezekiel 10:20-22, the remark that the cherubim which the prophet here saw in the temple, present themselves as identical in every respect with “the living creature” which he had seen before at the river Chebar.

Ezekiel 10:1. And I looked, and, behold, in the vault which was above the head of the cherubim appeared something like a sapphire-stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne above them. 2. And he said unto the man clothed in linen as follows, Go in between the whirl under the cherub, and fill thy hollow hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city. And he went in before my eyes.

The glory of the Lord is in Ezekiel 10:1 again over the cherubim, from which it had separated itself. As this separation served only a quite definite purpose, it was unnecessary to remark that it ceased as soon as this purpose was effected. That it retired to its original place is even here indirectly affirmed. First, in Ezekiel 10:4, the glory of the Lord raises itself anew from the cherubim (comp. Ezekiel 10:18). Concerning the vault, see on Ezekiel 1:22, Ezekiel 1:25; the throne, Ezekiel 1:26. [55] “He said” ( Ezekiel 10:2),— namely. He that sitteth on the throne (comp. Ezekiel 1:26). Mains observes: “God the Father sitting on the throne to the Son, to whom He has given full power to execute judgment” ( John 5:27). The repeated “And he said,” which we have given by “as follows,” is designed to turn the attention to the important statement. The fire is here not a symbolic designation of the anger of God, but elementary fire, for the firing and burning of the city are to be represented. The wheels are a symbol of the powers of nature, among which fire holds a prominent place. The ultimate cause of the burning of the city (this is the fundamental idea) is not earthly, but heavenly, and hence the folly of hoping and working for its preservation. The command proceeds from Him who sits on the throne to His angel: the fire is only the instrumental means in the hand of the latter, who takes it, and scatters it over the city. Four potencies are engaged in the destruction of the city,—He who sits on the throne, the man clothed in linen, the fire, and the cherub who hands it to the angel. The former two are absolutely ruling, the latter two absolutely ministering. It might at first sight appear that the man clothed in linen does not here come into account in the aspect which is figured by his raiment. He wears this as the heavenly high priest, the representative of the church with God. Thus it appears that the designation is only suitable in such acts as are for the safety of the church; whereas the present act is an annihilating judgment. But on a profounder view the destruction serves for safety, as it is the necessary prerequisite of it. The Lord must first in judgment wash away the defilement of the daughter of Zion ( Isaiah 4:4), before He can draw nigh to her in salvation. The removal of the dross is also placed in the light of grace in Isaiah 1:25-26; also in Malachi 3:2-3. By the whirl are the wheels designated on account of the weight of their movement, according to Ezekiel 10:13. The words “from between the cherubim” imply that the cherubim also have their part in the wheels. The city was indeed to be burned by men, who are included under the cherubim. According to Ezekiel 10:7, the cherub presents the fire to the man clothed in linen. [56]

[55] אל for על , as not unfrequently in Ezekiel (2:10, 11:11).

[56] בוא is here and in Ezekiel 10:3 not “come,” but “go.” We have here a very striking parallel to Daniel 1:1, where the expedition of Nebuchadnezzar begins in the third year of Jehoiakim, on which in the fourth year the taking of Jerusalem follows, with which the seven years of the Babylonish servitude begin in Jeremiah.

Verses 3-5

Ezekiel 10:3-5 interrupt the connection, as they refer to the position which the glory of the Lord with the cherubim at that time took, and to the remarkable phenomena which accompanied both. Ezekiel 10:3. And the cherubim stood on the right side of the house when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. 4. And the glory of the Lord was lifted from the cherub upon the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory. 5. And the sound of the cherubim’s wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh.

“Right side of the house” ( Ezekiel 10:3): on the south side of it. The cloud belongs to the divine glory throned above the cherubim. It is the companion of the fire. Its coming out so strongly, pressing forth from the temple in the inner court, and filling it, indicate that God will soon manifest Himself in His character of a consuming fire, a jealous God ( Deuteronomy 4:24). The heavenly fire manifests itself in face of the preparation for kindling the material fire, which is only a reflection of the heavenly. The movement of the glory of the Lord from the cherub to the threshold of the house ( Ezekiel 10:4) indicates that He will soon leave the house altogether, and corresponds with the preparations for kindling the material fire, which may then first break forth when the glory of the Lord has wholly left the house. The glory of the Lord in Ezekiel 10:18 again unites itself with the cherub, but only to carry out the purpose here already figuratively indicated. Cloud and brightness are inseparably connected. The brightness is that of the fire, which signifies the absolute energy of God, here especially the energy of His punitive justice; and the cloud is either the thundercloud, from which the brightness or the fire proceeds, or is formed by the smoke of the fire (comp. Isaiah 4:5). We need not therefore assign the cloud specially to the temple, and the brightness to the court: but both cloud and brightness belong first to the temple, and pass over thence into the court. The very decided manifestation of the fire-nature of God is a presage with respect to the material fire which will consume the rebellious city. Already in Isaiah 6:4 the filling of the house with smoke prefigures the destructive judgment breaking in upon the backsliding covenant people; see farther on Revelation 15:8. The cherubim also make ready ( Ezekiel 10:5) for departure, the near approach of which they know from this, that the glory of the Lord, of which they are the inseparable companions, moves in preparation to the threshold of the house, and then from this, that the fiery nature of God makes itself so decidedly manifest. “The voice of the Almighty God when He speaks” is the thunder. That the sound of the wing-stroke of the cherubim may be compared with this on account of its violence, is evidence of itself; if the cherub is the concentration of all created life on earth, then its sound is the concentration of all sound on earth.

Verses 6-7

Ezekiel 10:6. And it came to pass, when he commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, Take fire from between the whirl, from between the cherubim, then he went in, and stood beside the wheel. 7. And the cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim unto the fire that was between the cherubim, and took and gave it into the hands of him who was clothed in linen; and he took it, and went out.

The prophet here returns to the narrative begun in Ezekiel 10:1-2, which was interrupted by the account of an appearance running parallel with that described there. “Beside the wheel” ( Ezekiel 10:6): the wheel is the ideal combination of the wheels, as the cherub stands collectively for the cherubim. The cherub hands the fire ( Ezekiel 10:6); the earth serves as an instrument for heaven. Those who burned the city were immediately the Chaldeans, who are included under the cherubim; but behind them stood another. The burning is no further delineated: it lies beyond Ezekiel 11:23, where first the glory of the Lord wholly departs from the city: and the prophet could not describe it, as he was, according to Ezekiel 11:24, at this time removed from Jerusalem.

Verses 9-14

Ezekiel 10:9-14. The action proceeding from the cherubim along with the wheels leads the prophet to enter more fully into the description of them. Ezekiel 10:8. And there appeared in the cherubim the form of a man’s hand under their wings. 9. And I looked, and, behold, four wheels by the cherubim, one wheel by the one cherub, and one wheel by the one cherub; and the appearance of the wheels was like a chrysolite. 10. And their appearance, all four were of one likeness, as if the wheel were in the midst of the wheel. 11. When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went, for whither the head turned they went after it; they turned not as they went. 12. And their whole flesh, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about; all four had their wheels. 13. The wheels were called the whirl in my ears. 14. And every one had four faces: the face of the one the face of a cherub, and the face of the second the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

First in Ezekiel 10:8 it is said of the cherubim that they had hands, because the hand was brought into action in Ezekiel 10:7. Then follows in Ezekiel 10:9-13 the description of the wheels, because the fire is taken from them. The description of the wheel agrees in the main with ch. Ezekiel 1. The most essential additions are presented in Ezekiel 10:12, where, to the former statement that the wheels were full of eyes, it is added that the cherubim also were covered with eyes; and in Ezekiel 10:13, which gives the interpretation of the symbol of the wheels. The head in Ezekiel 10:11 can only be the head among the wheels. A reference to the cherubim must have been more distinctly marked. Head stands also frequently in impersonal things for the upmost, highest, or most excellent; and thus here it can only be the wheel which had the direction for the time, and which the others should follow. If, for ex., the mission goes to the south, the wheel facing that way carries the others with it, without requiring to make any turn. The wheels were so arranged that they could follow in all directions, without turning, the primus motor, the directing wheel. Ezekiel 10:12 also refers to the wheels; only here, to the statement that the wheels were full of eyes ( Ezekiel 1:18), it is premised, that the signature of the divine providence was impressed on the cherubim also. It did not need to be more particularly mentioned that at the beginning the cherubim, and not the wheels, were spoken of, as the expression “their flesh “applies only to the cherubim, and not to the wheels. “The whirl:” so are the wheels, and the powers of nature expressed by them, designated in Ezekiel 10:13, on account of the great momentum residing in them. As the cherubs, the representatives of living beings, come here into view chiefly on the human side, so the wheels, the symbols of the powers of nature, in the fire. After the description of that which came specially into view in the cherubim with its appendage for the present occasion, follow now in Ezekiel 10:14 the faces of the cherubim, because these served to disclose their nature, as in the wheels the name whirl applied to them in Ezekiel 10:13. Of the four faces of each, only that is precisely described which formed the front and presented itself first to the beholder. As in the cherubim a predominating significance of the ox nowhere appears, neither in reference to the form nor the idea, the ground of the face of the ox (ch. Ezekiel 1:10), being here designated as the face of the cherub, can only lie in this, that this face was presented to the prophet’s eye in the position in which he stood. The ground will lie in ch. Ezekiel 10:8, compared with ch. Ezekiel 8:3 and Ezekiel 1:10.

Verses 15-19

Ezekiel 10:15-19. The cherubim move, and this gives occasion to the prophet to describe in general the way and manner of their movement. Ezekiel 10:15. And the cherubim were lifted up. This is the living creature that I saw at the river Chebar. 16. And when the cherubim went, the wheels went by them; and when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels also turned not away from them. 17. When they stand, these stand; and when they lift themselves up, these lift themselves up with them, for the spirit of the living creature is in them. 18. And the glory of the Lord went away from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19. And the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth before my eyes; when they went, out, and the wheels beside them, and stood [57] at the door of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.

[57] The subject of ויעמד is the whole of the appearance, cherub and wheels with the Lord enthroned above them. The singular points to the unity in the multiplicity.

The statement, “The cherubim lifted themselves up,” in Ezekiel 10:15—comp. the preparation for this in Ezekiel 10:5—is again taken up in Ezekiel 10:19, after it has been described in the interval how the cherubim usually moved. “This is the living creature that I saw at the river Chebar:” there it was also the instrument by which he was lifted up. On Ezekiel 10:17, “for the spirit of the living creature was in them,” comp. Ezekiel 1:20. The prerequisite of the departure of the cherubim is the return of the glory of the Lord ( Ezekiel 10:18), which had betaken itself, according to Ezekiel 10:4, to the threshold of the house, as it were pointing out the way in which it was presently to go. That the glory of the Lord retires from the temple in several stages ( Ezekiel 11:23, the glory of the Lord with the cherubim wholly leaves the temple and city), should teach us, according to Grotius, “that the temple will be wholly deprived of the divine protection.” Parallel in sentiment is Hosea 5:15, “I will go and return to my place, till they become guilty and seek my face: in their need they will seek me early.”

Verses 20-22

Ezekiel 10:20-22. At the close is now again expressed the relation of the cherubim to “the living creature” in ch. Ezekiel 1. Ezekiel 10:20. This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel at the river Chebar, and I knew that they were cherubim. 21. Every one had four faces, and every one four wings, and the similitude of a man’s hands under their wings. 22. And the likeness of their faces, these are the faces which I saw at the river Chebar, their appearance and themselves: they went every one according to his face.

“The living creature under the God of Israel” ( Ezekiel 10:20): this designation of the cherubim leaves no doubt that they are a representation of living creatures on the earth. “And I knew that they were cherubim.” Mich. says: “Those living creatures signify the same as the cherubim in the temple and over the ark.” The name of the cherubim was not employed in the first description. Only in the second is prominence given to the identity of the living creatures, making at first an independent appearance with the well-known cherubim. Ezekiel 10:21 is not an idle repetition, but gives prominence to the fact that, in proof of the identity of the cherubim here with the living creatures in ch. Ezekiel 1, the number four was common to the faces, etc., of both; comp. Ezekiel 10:22, where the comparison is carried out. The words “their appearance and themselves” in Ezekiel 10:22 are dependent on “I saw,” to wit, at that time I saw their appearance and themselves: they were wholly the same, not merely in their external appearance, but also in their essence.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 10". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-10.html.