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First Half - The Prophecies of Judgment - Ezekiel 1-32
The Consecration and Calling of Ezekiel to the Office of Prophet - Ezekiel 1-3:21
In a vision of God, Ezekiel beholds in a great cloud, through which shone the splendour of fire, and which a tempestuous wind drives from the north, the glory of the Lord above the cherubim upon a majestic throne in human form (Ezekiel 1), and hears a voice, which sends him as a prophet to Israel, and inspires him with the subject-matter of his announcements (Ezekiel 2:1-3:3). He is thereafter transported in spirit to Tel-abib on the Chebar, into the midst of the exiles, and the duties and responsibilities of his calling laid before him (3:4-21). By this divine appearance and the commission therewith connected is he consecrated, called, and ordained to the prophetic office. The whole occurrences in the vision are subdivided into the copious description of the theophany, Ezekiel 1, by which he is consecrated for his calling; and into the revelation of the word, Ezekiel 2:1-3:21, which prepares him for the discharge of the same. From these contents it clearly appears that these chapters do not constitute the first section of the book, but the introduction to the whole, to which the circumstantial notices of the time and place of this revelation of God at the commencement, Ezekiel 1:1-3, also point.
The Appearance of the Glory of the Lord. - Ezekiel 1:1-3. Time and place of the same. - Ezekiel 1:1. Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth (month), on the fifth (day) of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. Ezekiel 1:2 . On the fifth day of the month, it was the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity, Ezekiel 1:3 . The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Busi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him.
Regarding ויהי at the beginning of a book, as e.g., in Jonah 1:1, cf. the note on Joshua 1:1. The two notices of the year in Ezekiel 1:1 and Ezekiel 1:2 are closely connected with the twofold introduction of the theophany. This is described in verse first, according to its form or phenomenal nature, and then in verses second and third, according to its intended purpose, and its effect upon the prophet. The phenomenon consisted in this, that the heavens were opened, and Ezekiel saw visions of God. The heaven opens not merely when to our eye a glimpse is disclosed of the heavenly glory of God (Calvin), but also when God manifests His glory in a manner perceptible to human sight. The latter was the case here. מראות אלהים , “visions of God,” are not “ visiones praestantissimae ,” but visions which have divine or heavenly things for their object; cf. Isaiah 6:1; 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Kings 6:17. Here it is the manifestation of Jehovah's glory described in the following verses. This was beheld by Ezekiel in the thirtieth year, which, according to verse second, was in the fifth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin. The real identity of these two dates is placed beyond doubt by the mention of the same day of the month, “on the fifth day of the month” (Ezekiel 1:2 compared with Ezekiel 1:1). The fifth year from the commencement of Jehoiachin's captivity is the year 595 b.c.; the thirtieth year, consequently, is the year 625 b.c. But the era, in accordance with which this date is reckoned, is matter of dispute, and can no longer be ascertained with certainty. To suppose, with Hengstenberg, that the reference is to the year of the prophet's own life, is forbidden by the addition “in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month,” which points to an era generally recognised. In the year 625 b.c., Nabopolassar became king of Babylon, and therefore many of the older expositors have supposed that Ezekiel means the thirtieth year of the era of Nabopolassar. Nothing, however, is know of any such era. Others, as the Chaldee paraphrast and Jerome, and in modern times also Ideler, are of opinion that the thirtieth year is reckoned from the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah, because in that year the book of the law was discovered, and the regeneration of public worship completed by a solemn celebration of the Passover. No trace, however, can elsewhere be pointed out of the existence of a chronology dating from these events. The Rabbins in Seder Olam assume a chronology according to the periods of the years of jubilee, and so also Hitzig; but for this supposition too all reliable proofs are wanting. At the time mentioned, Ezekiel found himself בּתוך הגּולה , “in the midst of the exiles,” i.e., within the circuit of their settlements, not, in their society; for it is evident from Ezekiel 3:15 that he was alone when the theophany was imparted to him, and did not repair till afterwards to the residences of the settlers. Ezekiel 1:3. By the river Chebar, in the land of the Chaldees, i.e., in Babylon or Mesopotamia. The river כּבר , to be distinguished from חבור , the river of Gosan, which flows into the Tigris, see on 2 Kings 17:6, is the Mesopotamian Chabioras, ̓Αβορρας (Strabo, xvi. 748), or Χαβώρας (Ptolem. v. 18, 3), Arab. cha=bu=r (Edrisi Clim. iv. p. 6, ii. p. 150, ed. Jaubert and Abulf. Mesopot. in the N. Repertor. III. p. xxiv.), which according to Edrisi takes its rise from “nearly three hundred springs,” near the city Ras-el-'Ain, at the foot of the mountain range of Masius, flows through Upper Mesopotamia in a direction parallel with its two principal streams, and then, turning westward, discharges itself into the Euphrates near Kirkesion. There the hand of Jehovah came upon Ezekiel. The expression יד יי היתה על אל ( always signifies a miraculous working of the power or omnipotence of God upon a man-the hand being the organ of power in action-by which he is placed in a condition to exert superhuman power, 1 Kings 18:46, and is the regular expression for the supernatural transportation into the state of ecstasy for the purpose of beholding and announcing (cf. 2 Kings 3:15), or undertaking, heavenly things; and so throughout Ezekiel, cf. Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 40:1.
Description of the theophany seen by the spirit of the prophet. - Ezekiel 1:4. And I saw, and, lo, a tempestuous wind came from the north, a great cloud, and a fire rolled together like a ball, and the brightness of light round about it, and out of its midst, as the appearance of glowing metal from the midst of the fire. - The description begins with a general outline of the phenomenon, as the same presented itself to the spiritual eye of the prophet on its approach from the north. A tempestuous wind brings hither from the north a great cloud, the centre of which appears as a lump of fire, which throws around the cloud the brightness of light, and presents in its midst the appearance of glowing metal. The coming of the phenomenon from the north is, as a matter of course, not connected with the Babylonian representation of the mountain of the gods situated in the extreme north, Isaiah 14:13. According to the invariable usage of speech followed by the prophets, especially by Jeremiah (cf. e.g., Ezekiel 1:14; Ezekiel 4:6; Ezekiel 6:1, etc.), the north is the quarter from which the enemies who were to execute judgment upon Jerusalem and Judah break in. According to this usage, the coming of this divine appearance from the north signifies that it is from the north that God will bring to pass the judgment upon Judah. אשׁ מתלקּחת , “fire rolled together like a ball,” is an expression borrowed from Exodus 9:10. לו refers to ענן , and מתּוכהּ to אשׁ , as we see from the words in apposition, מתּוך האשׁ . The fire, which formed the centre of the cloud, had the appearance of השׁמל . The meaning of this word, which occurs again in Ezekiel 1:27 and Ezekiel 8:2, is disputed. The Septuagint and Vulgate translate it by ἤλεκτρον , electrum , i.e., a metal having a bright lustre, and consisting of a mixture of gold and silver. Cf. Strabo, III. 146; Plin. Hist. Nat. xxxiii. 4. To the explanation of Bochart, that it is a compound of נחשׁת , “brass,” and the Talmudic word מלל or מללא , “ aurum rude ,” and signifies “rough gold ore,” is opposed the fact that the reading מללא in the Talmud is not certain, but purports to be ממלא (cf. Gesen. Thesaur. p. 535, and Buxtorf, Lexic. Talmud, p. 1214), as well as the circumstance that raw gold ore has not a lustre which could shine forth out of the fire. Still less probability has the supposition that it is a compound of l#$x , in Syriac “ conflavit, fabricavit ,” and חשׁם , “fricuit,” on which Hävernick and Maurer base the meaning of “a piece of metal wrought in the fire.” The word appears simply to be formed from חשׁם , probably “to glow,” with ל appended, as כּרמל from כרם m orf , and to denote “glowing ore.” This meaning is appropriate both in v. 27, where עין השׁמל is explained by מראה־אשׁ , as well as in Ezekiel 8:2, where זהר , “brilliancy,” stands as parallel to it. השׁמל , however, is different from נחשׁת קלל in Ezekiel 1:7 and in Daniel 10:6, for חשׁמל refers in all the three places to the person of Him who is enthroned above the cherubim; while נחשׁת קלל in Ezekiel 1:7 is spoken of the feet of the cherubim, and in Daniel 10:6 of the arms and feet of the personage who there manifests Himself. In verse fifth the appearance is described more minutely. There first present themselves to the eye of the seer four beings, whom he describes according to their figure and style.
The four cherubim. - Ezekiel 1:5. And out of its midst there prominently appeared a figure, consisting of four creatures, and this was their appearance: they had the figure of a man. Ezekiel 1:6 . And each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Ezekiel 1:7 . And their feet were upright-standing feet; and the soles of their feet like the soles of a calf, and sparkling like the appearance of shining brass. Ezekiel 1:8 . And the hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and all four had faces and wings. Ezekiel 1:9 . Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not as they went; they went each one in the direction of his face. Ezekiel 1:10 . And the form of their faces was that of a man; and on the right all four had a lion's face; and on the left all four had the face of an ox; and all four had an eagle's face. Ezekiel 1:11 . And their faces and their wings were divided above, two of each uniting with one another, and two covering their bodies. Ezekiel 1:12 . And they went each in the direction of his face; whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went; they turned not as they went. Ezekiel 1:13 . And the likeness of the creatures resembled burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches: it (the fire) went hither and thither amongst the beings; and the fire was brilliant, and from the fire came forth lightning. Ezekiel 1:14 . And the beings ran hither and thither in a zig-zag manner.
From out of the fiery centre of the cloud there shows itself the form ( tw%md@; , properly “resemblance,” “picture”) of four חיּות , animantia, “living creatures;” ζῶα , Revelation 4:6; not θηρία , “wild beasts,” as Luther has incorrectly rendered it, after the animalia of the Vulgate. These four creatures had דּמוּת אדם , “the figure of a man.” Agreeably to this notice, placed at the head of the description, these creatures are to be conceived as presenting the appearance of a human body in all points not otherwise specified in the following narrative. Each of them had four faces and four wings ( אחת without the article stands as a distributive, and כּנפים are “pinions,” as in Isaiah 6:2, not “pairs of wings”). Their feet were רגל ישׁרה , “a straight foot;” the singular stands generically, stating only the nature of the feet, without reference to their number. We have accordingly to assume in each of the four creatures two legs, as in a man. ישׁר .nam a , “straight,” i.e., standing upright, not bent, as when sitting or kneeling. רגל is the whole leg, including the knee and thigh, and כּף רגל , “sole of the foot,” or the under part of the leg, with which we tread on the ground. This part, not the whole leg, resembled the calf's foot, which is firmly planted on the ground. The legs sparkled like the appearance of נחשׁה קלל . The subject of נצצים is not “the כּרוּבים , which are understood to be intended under the חיּות in verse fifth” (Hitzig), for this subject is too far distant, but רגליהם , which is here construed as masculine, as in Jeremiah 13:16. In this sense are these words apprehended in Revelation 1:15, and נחשׁת there translated by χαλκολίβανος . On this word see Hengstenberg and Düsterdieck on Revelation 1:15. נח קלל probably signifies “light,” i.e., “bright, shining brass,” as the old translators have rendered it. The Septuagint has ἐξαστράπτων ; the Vulgate, aes candens ; and the Chaldee paraphrase, aes flammans . The signification “smoothed, polished brass” (Bochart), rests upon uncertain combinations; cf. Gesen. Thes. p. 1217, and is appropriate neither here nor in Daniel 10:6, where these words precede, “His face had the appearance of lightning, and his eyes were as a flame of fire.” Under the four wings were four hands on the four sides of each cherub, formed like the hands of a man. The wings accordingly rested upon the shoulders, from which the hands came forth. The Chetib וידו may certainly be defended if with Kimchi and others we punctuate וידו , and take the suffix distributively and אדם elliptically, “his (i.e., each of the four creatures) hands were (the hands of) a man;” cf. for such an ellipsis as this, passages like that in Psalms 18:34, רגלי כּאיּלות , “my feet as the (feet) of hinds;” Job 35:2, מאל , “before the righteousness of God.” It is extremely probable, however, that ו is only the error of an old copyist for י , and that the Keri וידי is the correct reading, as the taking of אדם elliptically is not in keeping with the broad style of Ezekiel, which in its verbosity verges on tautology. The second half of Ezekiel 1:8 is neither, with Hävernick, to be referred to the following ninth verse, where the faces are no more spoken of, nor, with Hitzig, to be arbitrarily mutilated; but is to be taken as it stands, comprising all that has hitherto been said regarding the faces and wings, in order to append thereto in Ezekiel 1:9. the description of the use and nature of these members. The definite statement, that “the wings were joined one to another,” is in Ezekiel 1:11 limited to the two upper wings, according to which we have so to conceive the matter, that the top or the upper right wing of each cherub came in contact with the top of the left wing of the neighbouring cherub. This junction presented to the eye of the seer the unity and coherence of all the four creatures as a complete whole - a חיּה , and implied, as a consequence, the harmonious action in common of the four creatures. They did not turn as they went along, but proceeded each in the direction of his face. אל , “over against his face.” The meaning is thus rightly given by Kliefoth: “As they had four faces, they needed not to turn as they went, but went on as (i.e., in the direction in which) they were going, always after the face.”
In the closer description of the faces in Ezekiel 1:10, the face of the man is first mentioned as that which was turned towards the seer, that of the lion to the right side, the ox to the left, and that of the eagle (behind). In naming these three, it is remarked that all the four creatures had these faces: in naming the man's face, this remark is omitted, because the word פּניהם (referring to all the four) immediately precedes. In Ezekiel 1:11, it is next remarked of the faces and wings, that they were divided above ( מלמעלה , “from above,” “upward”); then the direction of the wings is more precisely stated. The word וּפניהם is neither to be referred to the preceding, “and it was their faces,” nor, with Hitzig, to be expunged as a gloss; but is quite in order as a statement that not only the wings but also the faces were divided above, consequently were not like Janus' faces upon one head, but the four faces were planted upon four heads and necks. In the description that follows, חוברות אישׁ is not quite distinct, and #$y)i is manifestly to be taken as an abbreviation of אשּׁה אל־אחותהּ in Ezekiel 1:9: on each were two wings joining one another, i.e., touching with their tops the tips of the wings of the cherub beside them, in accordance with which we have to conceive the wings as expanded. Two were covering their bodies, i.e., each cherub covered his body with the pair of wings that folded downwards; not, as Kliefoth supposes, that the lower wings of the one cherub covered the body of the other cherub beside him, which also is not the meaning in Ezekiel 1:23; see note on that verse. In Ezekiel 1:12, what is to be said about their movements is brought to a conclusion, while both statements are repeated in Ezekiel 1:9, and completed by the addition of the principium movens . In whatever direction the רוּח “was to go, in that direction they went;” i.e., not according to the action of their own will, but wherever the רוּח impelled them. רוּח , however, signifies not “impulse,” nor, in this place, even “the wind,” as the vehicle of the power of the spiritual life palpable to the senses, which produced and guided their movements, (Kliefoth), but spirit. For, according to Ezekiel 1:20, the movement of the wheels, which was in harmony with the movements of the cherubim, was not caused by the wind, but proceeded from the רוּח החיּה , i.e., from the spirit dwelling in the creature. On the contrary, there is not in the whole description, with the exception of the general statement that a tempestuous wind drove from the north the great cloud in which the theophany was enwrapped, any allusion to a means of motion palpable to the senses. In the 13th and 14th verses is described the entire impression produced by the movement of the whole appearance. וּדמוּת החיּות precedes, and is taken absolutely “as regards the form of the creatures,” and corresponds to the דּמוּת ארבּע חיּות in Ezekiel 1:5, with which the description of the individual figures which appeared in the brightness of the fire was introduced. Their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches. היא refers to אשׁ as the principal conception. Fire, like the fire of burning coals and torches, went, moved hither and thither amongst the four creatures. This fire presented a bright appearance, and out of it came forth lightnings. The creatures, moreover, were in constant motion. רצוא , from רצא , an Aramaising form for the Hebrew רוּץ , to run. The infin. absol. stands instead of the finite verb. The conjecture of יצוא , after Genesis 8:7 (Hitzig), is inappropriate, because here we have not to think of “coming out,” and no reason exists for the striking out of the words, as Hitzig proposes. The continued motion of the creatures is not in contradiction with their perpetually moving on straight before them. “They went hither and thither, and yet always in the direction of their countenances; because they had a countenance looking in the direction of every side” (Kliefoth). בּזק signifies not “lightning” (= בּרק ), but comes from בּזק ; in Syriac, “to be split,” and denotes “the splitting,” i.e., the zigzag course of the lightning (Kliefoth).
The four wheels beside the cherubim. - Ezekiel 1:15. And I saw the creatures, and, lo, there was a wheel upon the earth beside the creatures, towards their four fronts. Ezekiel 1:16 . The appearance of the wheels and their work was like the appearance of the chrysolite; and all four had one kind of figure: and their appearance and their work was as if one wheel were within the other. Ezekiel 1:17 . Towards their four sides they went when they moved: they turned not as they went. Ezekiel 1:18 . And their felloes, they were high and terrible; and their felloes were full of eyes round about in all the four. Ezekiel 1:19 . And when the creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the creatures raised themselves up from the earth, the wheels also raised themselves. Ezekiel 1:20 . Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went in the direction in which the spirit was to go; and the wheels raised themselves beside them: for the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. Ezekiel 1:21 . When the former moved, the latter moved also; when the former stood, the latter stood; and when the former raised themselves from the ground, the wheels raised themselves beside them: for the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. - The words, “and I saw the creatures,” prepare the way for the transition to the new object which presented itself in these creatures to the eye of the seer. By the side of these creatures upon the ground he sees a wheel, and that at the four fronts, or front faces of the creatures. The singular suffix in לארבּעת פּניו can neither be referred, with Rosenmüller, to the chariot, which is not mentioned at all, nor, with Hitzig, to the preposition אצל , nor, with Hävernick, Maurer, and Kliefoth, to אופן , and so be understood as if every wheel looked towards four sides, because a second wheel was inserted in it at right angles. This meaning is not to be found in the words. The suffix refers ad sensum to חיּות (Ewald), or, to express it more correctly, to the figure of the cherubim with its four faces turned to the front, conceived as a unity - as one creature ( החיּה , Ezekiel 1:22). Accordingly, we have so to represent the matter, that by the side of the four cherubim, namely, beside his front face, a wheel was to be seen upon the earth. Ezekiel then saw four wheels, one on each front of a cherub, and therefore immediately speaks in Ezekiel 1:16 of wheels (in the plural). In this verse מראה is adspectus , and מעשׂה “work;” i.e., both statements employing the term “construction,” although in the first hemistich only the appearance, in the second only the construction, of the wheels is described. תּרשׁישׁ is a chrysolite of the ancients, the topaz of the moderns, - a stone having the lustre of gold. The construction of the wheels was as if one wheel were within a wheel, i.e., as if in the wheel a second were inserted at right angles, so that without being turned it could go towards all the four sides. גּבּיהן , in Ezekiel 1:18, stands absolutely. “As regards their felloes,” they possessed height and terribleness-the latter because they were full of eyes all round. Hitzig arbitrarily understands גּבהּ of the upper sides; and יראה , after the Arabic, of the under side, or that which lies towards the back. The movement of the wheels completely followed the movement of the creatures (Ezekiel 1:19-21), because the spirit of the creature was in the wheels. החיּה , in Ezekiel 1:20 and Ezekiel 1:21, is not the “principle of life” (Hävernick), but the cherubic creatures conceived as a unity, as in Ezekiel 1:22, where the meaning is undoubted. The sense is: the wheels were, in their motion and rest, completely bound by the movements and rest of the creatures, because the spirit which ruled in them was also in the wheels, and regulated their going, standing, and rising upwards. By the רוּח the wheels are bound in one with the cherub-figures, but not by means of a chariot, to or upon which the cherubim were attached.
The throne of Jehovah. - Ezekiel 1:22. And over the heads of the creature there appeared an expanse like the appearance of the terrible crystal, stretched out over their heads above. Ezekiel 1:23 . And under the expanse were their wings, extended straight one towards another: each had two wings, covering to these, and each two (wings), covering to those, their bodies. Ezekiel 1:24 . And I heard the sound of their wings, as the sound of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, as they went: a loud rushing like the clamour of a camp: when they stood, they let down their wings. Ezekiel 1:25 . And there came a voice from above the expanse which was above their heads; when they stood, they let their wings sink down. Ezekiel 1:26 . Over the expanse above their heads was to be seen, like a sapphire stone, the figure of a throne: and over the figure of the throne was a figure resembling a man above it. Ezekiel 1:27 . And I saw like the appearance of glowing brass, like the appearance of fire within the same round about; from the appearance of his loins upwards, and from the appearance of his loins downwards, I saw as of the appearance of fire, and a shining light was round about it. Ezekiel 1:28 . Like the appearance of the bow, which is in the clouds in the day of rain, was the appearance of the shining light round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah. And I saw it, and fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one that spake. - Above, over the heads of the figures of the cherubim, Ezekiel sees something like the firmament of heaven (Ezekiel 1:22.), and hears from above this canopy a voice, which re-echoes in the rushing of the wings of the cherubim, and determines the movement as well as the standing still of these creatures. The first sentence of Ezekiel 1:22 literally signifies: “And a likeness was over the heads of the creature - a canopy, as it were, stretched out.” רקיע is not the genitive after דּמוּת , but an explanatory apposition to it, and before רקיע ; neither has כּ fallen out (as Hitzig supposes), nor is it to be supplied. For דּמוּת denotes not any definite likeness, with which another could be compared, but, properly, similitudo , and is employed by Ezekiel in the sense of “something like.” רקיע , without the article, does not mean the firmament of heaven, but any expanse, the appearance of which is first described as resembling the firmament by the words כּעין הקּרח . It is not the firmament of heaven which Ezekiel sees above the heads of the cherubim, but an expanse resembling it, which has the shining appearance of a fear-inspiring crystal. נורא , used of crystal, in so far as the appearance of this glittering mass dazzles the eyes, and assures terror, as in Judges 13:6, of the look of the angel; and in Job 37:22, of the divine majesty. The description is based upon Exodus 24:10, and the similitude of the crystal has passed over to the Apocalypse, Revelation 4:6. Under the canopy were the wings of the cherubim, ישׁרות , standing straight, i.e., spread out in a horizontal direction, so that they appeared to support the canopy. אשּׁה אל־אחותה is not, with Jerome and others, to be referred to the cherubim ( החיּה ), but to כּנפיהם , as in Ezekiel 1:9. The לאישׁ which follows does refer, on the contrary, to the cherub, and literally signifies, “To each were two wings, covering, namely, to these and those, their bodies.” להנּה corresponds to לאישׁ , in a manner analogous to לאחת להם in Ezekiel 1:6. By the repetition of the להנּה , “to these and those,” the four cherubim are divided into two pairs, standing opposite to one another. That this statement contradicts, as Hitzig asserts, the first half of the verse, is by no means evident. If the two creatures on each side covered their bodies with the two wings, then two other wings could very easily be so extended under the canopy that the tops of the one should touch those of the other. As the creatures moved, Ezekiel hears the sound, i.e., the rustling of their wings, like the roaring of mighty billows. This is strengthened by the second comparison, “like the voice of the Almighty,” i.e., resembling thunder, cf. Ezekiel 10:5. The קול המלּה that follows still depends on אשׁמע המלּה , which occurs only here and in Jeremiah 11:6, is probably synonymous with המון “roaring,” “noise,” “tumult.” This rushing sound, however, was heard only when the creatures were in motion; for when they stood, they allowed their wings to fall down. This, of course, applies only to the upper wings, as the under ones, which covered the body, hung downwards, or were let down. From this it clearly appears that the upper wings neither supported nor bore up the canopy over their heads, but only were so extended, when the cherubim were in motion, that they touched the canopy. In Ezekiel 1:25 is also mentioned whence the loud sound came, which was heard, during the moving of the wings, from above the canopy, consequently from him who was placed above it, so that the creatures, always after this voice resounded, went on or stood still, i.e., put themselves in motion, or remained without moving, according to its command.
With the repetition of the last clause of Ezekiel 1:24 this subject is concluded in Ezekiel 1:25. Over or above upon the firmament was to be seen, like a sapphire stone, the likeness of a throne, on which sat one in the form of a man - i.e., Jehovah appeared in human form, as in Daniel 7:9. Upon this was poured out a fiery, shining light, like glowing brass ( עין חשׁמל , as in Ezekiel 1:4) and like fire, בּית־להּ סביב , “within it round about” ( מבּית בּית , “within,” and להּ , pointing back to דּמוּת כּסּא ). This appears to be the simplest explanation of these obscure words. They are rendered differently by Hitzig, who translates them: “like fire which has a covering round about it, i.e., like fire which is enclosed, whose shining contrasts so much the more brightly on account of the dark surrounding.” But, to say nothing of the change which would then be necessary of בּית into בּית , this meaning seems very far-fetched, and cannot be accepted for this reason alone, that מראה אשׁ , neither in the following hemistich ( Ezekiel 1:27) nor in Ezekiel 8:2, has any such or similar strengthening addition. The appearance above shows, as the centre of the cloud (Ezekiel 1:4), a fiery gleam of light, only there is to be perceived upon the throne a figure resembling a man, fiery-looking from the loins upwards and downwards, and round about the figure, or rather round the throne, a shining light ( נגהּ , cf. Ezekiel 1:4), like the rainbow in the clouds, cf. Revelation 4:3. This הוּא , Ezekiel 1:28, does not refer to הנּגהּ , but to the whole appearance of him who was enthroned - the covering of light included, but throne and cherubim (Ezekiel 10:4, Ezekiel 10:19) excluded (Hitzig)] was the appearance of the likeness of Jehovah's glory. With these words closes the description of the vision. The following clause, “And I saw, etc.,” forms the transition to the word of Jehovah, which follows on the second chapter, and which summoned Ezekiel to become a prophet to Israel. Before we pass, however, to an explanation of this word, we must endeavour to form to ourselves a clear conception of the significance of this theophany.
For its full understanding we have first of all to keep in view that it was imparted to Ezekiel not merely on his being called to the office of prophet, but was again repeated three times - namely, in Ezekiel 3:22., where he was commissioned to predict symbolically the impending siege of Jerusalem; Ezekiel 8:4., when he is transported in spirit to the temple-court at Jerusalem for the purpose of beholding the abominations of the idol-worship practised by the people, and to announce the judgment which, in consequence of these abominations, was to burst upon the city and the temple, in which it is shown to him how the glory of the Lord abandons, first the temple and thereafter the city also; and in Ezekiel 43:1., in which is shown to him the filling of the new temple with the glory of the Lord, to swell for ever among the children of Israel. In all three passages it is expressly testified that the divine appearance was like the first which he witnessed on the occasion of his call. From this Kliefoth has drawn the right conclusion, that the theophany in Ezekiel 1:4. bears a relation not to the call only, but to the whole prophetic work of Ezekiel: “We may not say that God so appears to Ezekiel at a later time, because He so appeared to him at his call; but we must say, conversely, that because God wills and must so appear to Ezekiel at a later time while engaged in his prophetic vocation, therefore He also appears to him in this form already at his call.” The intention, however, with which God so appears to him is distinctly contained in the two last passages, Ezekiel 8-11 and Ezekiel 43: “God withdraws in a visible manner from the temple and Jerusalem, which are devoted to destruction on account of the sin of the people: in a visible manner God enters into the new temple of the future; and because the whole of what Ezekiel was inspired to foretell was comprehended in these two things - the destruction of the existing temple and city, and the raising up of a new and a better; - because the whole of his prophetic vocation had its fulfilment in these, therefore God appears to Ezekiel on his call to be a prophet in the same form as that in which He departs from the ancient temple and Jerusalem, in order to their destruction, and in which He enters into the new edifice in order to make it a temple. The form of the theophany, therefore, is what it is in Ezekiel 1:4., because its purpose was to show and announce to the prophet, on the one side the destruction of the temple, and on the other its restoration and glorification.” These remarks are quite correct, only the significance of the theophany itself is not thereby made clear. If it is clear from the purpose indicated why God here has the cherubim with Him, while on the occasion of other appearances (e.g., Daniel 7:9; Isaiah 6:1) He is without cherubim; as the cherubim here have no other significance than what their figures have in the tabernacle, viz., that God has there His dwelling-place, the seat of His gracious presence; yet this does not satisfactorily explain either the special marks by which the cherubim of Ezekiel are distinguished from those in the tabernacle and in Solomon's temple, or the other attributes of the theophany. Kliefoth, moreover, does not misapprehend those diversities in the figures of the cherubim, and finds indicated therein the intention of causing it distinctly to appear that it is the one and same Jehovah, enthroned amid the cherubim, who destroys the temple, and who again uprears it. Because Ezekiel was called to predict both events, he therefore thinks there must be excluded, on the one hand, such attributes in the form of the manifestation as would be out of harmony with the different aims of the theophany; while, on the other, those which are important for the different aims must be combined and comprehended in one form, that this one form may be appropriate to all the manifestations of the theophany. It could not therefore have in it the ark of the covenant and the mercy-seat; because, although these would probably have been appropriate to the manifestation for the destruction of the old temple (Ezekiel 8:1.), they would not have been in keeping with that for entering into the new temple. Instead of this, it must show the living God Himself upon the throne among “the living creatures;” because it belongs to the new and glorious existence of the temple of the future, that it should have Jehovah Himself dwelling within it in a visible form.
From this, too, may be explained the great fulness of the attributes, which are divisible into three classes: 1. Those which relate to the manifestation of God for the destruction of Jerusalem; 2. Those which relate to the manifestation of God for entering into the new temple; and, 3. Those which serve both objects in common. To the last class belongs everything which is essential to the manifestation of God in itself, e.g., the visibility of God in general, the presence of the cherubim in itself, and so on: to the first class all the signs that indicate wrath and judgment, consequently, first, the coming from the north, especially the fire, the lightnings, in which God appears as He who is coming to judgment; but to the second, besides the rainbow and the appearance of God in human form, especially the wheels and the fourfold manifestation in the cherubim and wheels. For the new temple does not represent the rebuilding of the temple by Zerubbabel, but the economy of salvation founded by Christ at His appearing, to which they belong as essential tokens; to be founded, on the one hand, by God's own coming and dwelling upon the earth; on the other, to be of an oecumenic character, in opposition to the particularities and local nature of the previous ancient dispensation of salvation. God appears bodily, in human form; lowers down to earth the canopy on which His throne is seated; the cherubim, which indicate God's gracious presence with His people, appear not merely in symbol, but in living reality, plant their feet upon the ground, while each cherub has at his side a wheel, which moves, not in the air, but only upon the earth. By this it is shown that God Himself is to descend to the earth, to walk and to dwell visibly among His people; while the oecumenic character of the new economy of salvation, for the establishment of which God is to visit the earth, is represented in the fourfold form of the cherubim and wheels. The number four - the sign of the oecumenicity which is to come, and the symbol of its being spread abroad into all the world - is assigned to the cherubim and wheels, to portray the spreading abroad of the new kingdom of God over the whole earth. But how much soever that is true and striking this attempt at explanation may contain in details, it does not touch the heart of the subject, and is not free from bold combinations. The correctness of the assumption, that in the theophany attributes of an opposite kind are united, namely, such as should refer only to the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, and such as relate only to the foundation and nature of the new economy of salvation, is beset with well-founded doubts. Why, on such a hypothesis, should the form of the theophany remain the same throughout in all three or four cases? This question, which lies on the surface, is not satisfactorily answered by the remark that Ezekiel had to predict not only the destruction of the old, but also the foundation of a new and much more glorious kingdom of God. For not only would this end, but also the object of showing that it is the same God who is to accomplish both, have been fully attained if the theophany had remained the same only in those attributes which emblemize in a general way God's gracious presence in His temple; while the special attributes, which typify only the one and the other purpose of the divine appearance, would only they have been added, or brought prominently out, where this or that element of the theophany had to be announced. Moreover, the necessity in general of a theophany for the purpose alleged is not evident, much less the necessity of a theophany so peculiar in form. Other prophets also, e.g., Micah, without having seen a theophany, have predicted in the clearest and distinctest manner both the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the raising up of a new and more glorious kingdom of God. The reason, then, why Ezekiel witnessed such a theophany, not only at his call, but had it repeated to him at every new turn in his prophetic ministry, must be deeper than that assigned; and the theophany must have another meaning than that of merely consecrating the prophet for the purpose of announcing both the judgment upon Jerusalem and the temple, and the raising up of a new and more glorious economy of salvation, and strengthening the word of the prophet by a symbolical representation of its contents.
To recognise this meaning, we must endeavour to form a distinct conception, not merely of the principal elements of our theophany, but to take into consideration at the same time their relation to other theophanies. In our theophany three elements are unmistakeably prominent - 1st, The peculiarly formed cherubim; 2nd, The wheels are seen beside the cherubim; and, 3rd, The firmament above, both with the throne and the form of God in human shape seated upon the throne. The order of these three elements in the description is perhaps hardly of any importance, but is simply explicable from this, that to the seer who is on earth it is the under part of the figure which, appearing visibly in the clouds, first presents itself, and that his look next turns to the upper part of the theophany. Especially significant above all, however, is the appearance of the cherubim under or at the throne of God; and by this it is indisputably pointed out that He who appears upon the throne is the same God that is enthroned in the temple between the cherubim of the mercy-seat upon their outspread wings. Whatever opinion may be formed regarding the nature and significance of the cherubim, this much is undoubtedly established, that they belong essentially to the symbolical representation of Jehovah's gracious presence in Israel, and that this portion of our vision has its real foundation in the plastic representation of this gracious relation in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle or temple. As, however, opinions are divided on the subject of the meaning of these symbols, and the cherubim of Ezekiel, moreover, present no inconsiderable differences in their four faces and four wings from the figures of the cherubim upon the mercy-seat and in the temple, which had only one face and two wings, we must, for the full understanding of our vision, look a little more closely to the nature and significance of the cherubim.
While, according to the older view, the cherubim are angelic beings of a higher order, the opinion at the present day is widely prevalent, that they are only symbolical figures, to which nothing real corresponds - merely ideal representations of creature life in its highest fulness.
(Note: Compare the investigation of the cherubim in my Handbuch der Biblischen Archaeologie , I. pp. 86ff. and 113ff.; also Kliefoth's Abhandlung über die Zahlensymbolik der heiligen Schrift in der Theolog. Zeitschrift von Dieckhoff und Kliefoth , III. p. 381ff., where especially the older view - that the cherubim are angelic beings of a higher rank - is defended in a thorough manner, and the daring hypothesis of Hofmann signally refuted; lastly, Ed. C. Aug. Riehm, De naturâ et notione symbolicâ Cheruborum, Commentat. Basil. 1864, who, proceeding from the view - adopted by Bähr, Hengstenberg, and others - that the cherubim were only symbolical figures, has sought to determine more minutely the meaning of these symbols.)
This modern view, however, finds in the circumstance that the cherubim in the Israelitish sanctuary, as well as in Ezekiel and in the Apocalypse, are symbolical figures of varying shape, only an apparent but no real support. The cherubim occur for the firs time in the history of Paradise, where, in Genesis 3:22-24, it is related that God, after expelling the first human pair from Paradise, placed at the east side of the garden the cherubim and the flame of a sword, which turned hither and thither, to guard the way to the tree of life. If this narrative contains historical truth, and is not merely a myth or philosopheme; if Paradise and the Fall, with their consequences, extending over all humanity, are to remain real things and occurrences - then must the cherubim also be taken as real beings. “For God will not have placed symbols - pure creations of Hebrew fancy - at the gate of Paradise,” Kliefoth. Upon the basis of this narrative, Ezekiel also held the cherubim to be spiritual beings of a higher rank. This appears from Ezekiel 28:14-16, where he compares the prince of Tyre, in reference to the high and glorious position which God had assigned him, to a cherub, and to Elohim. It does not at all conflict with the recognition of the cherubim as real beings, and, indeed, as spiritual or angelic beings, that they are employed in visions to represent super-sensible relations, or are represented in a plastic form in the sanctuary of Israel. “When angels,” as Kliefoth correctly remarks in reference to this, “sing the song of praise in the holy night, this is an historical occurrence, and these angels are real angels, who testify by their appearance that there are such beings as angels; but when, in the Apocalypse, angels pour forth sounds of wrath, these angels are figures in vision, as elsewhere, also, men and objects are seen in vision.” But even this employment of the angels as “figures” in vision, rests upon the belief that there are actually beings of this kind. Biblical symbolism furnishes not a single undoubted instance of abstract ideas, or ideal creations of the imagination, being represented by the prophets as living beings. Under the plastic representation of the cherubim upon the mercy-seat, and in the most holy and holy place of the tabernacle and the temple, lies the idea, that these are heavenly, spiritual beings; for in the tabernacle and temple (which was built after its pattern) essential relations of the kingdom of God are embodied, and all the symbols derived from things having a real existence. When, however, on the other hand, Hengstenberg objects, on Revelation 4:6, “that what Vitringa remarks is sufficient to refute those who, under the cherubim, would understand angels of rank - viz. that these four creatures are throughout the whole of this vision connected with the assembly of the elders, and are distinguished not only from the angels, but from all the angels, as is done in Ezekiel 7:11,” - we must regard this refutation as altogether futile. From the division of the heavenly assembly before the throne into two choirs or classes (Revelation 5:1-14 and 7) - in which the ζῶα (cherubim) and the elders form the one (Revelation 5:8), the ἄγγελοι the other choir (Revelation 5:11) - an argument can be as little derived against the angelic nature of the cherubim, as it could be shown, from the distinction between the στρατιὰ οὐράνιος and ἀγγελος , in Luke 2:13, that the “multitude of the heavenly host” were no angels at all. And the passage in Revelation 7:11 would only then furnish the supposed proof against the relationship of the cherubim to the angels, if πάντες ἄγγελοι (in general - all angels, how numerous soever they may be - were spoken of. But the very tenor of the words, πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι “all the angels,” points back to the choir of angels already mentioned in Ezekiel 5:11, which was formed by πολλοὶ ἄγγελοι , whose number was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.
(Note: See on this distinction Winer's Grammar of New Testament Greek (Moulton's translation), p. 137, where, among other remarks, it is observed that “ πᾶσαι γενεαί are all generations, whatever their number; πᾶσαι αί γενεαί (Matthew 1:17), all the generations - those which, either from the context or in some other way, are familiar as a definite number.”)
From the distinction between the ζῶα and the ἄγγελοι in the Apocalypse, no further inference can be deduced than that the cherubim are not common angels, “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister” (Hebrews 1:14), but constitute a special class of angels of higher rank.
More exact information regarding the relationship of the cherubim to the other angels, or their nature, cannot indeed be obtained, either from the name cherubim or from the circumstance that, with the exception of Gen 3, they occur always only in connection with the throne of God. The etymology of the word כּרוּב is obscure: all the derivations that have been proposed from the Hebrew or any other Semitic dialect cannot make the slightest pretensions to probability. The word appears to have come down from antiquity along with the tradition of Paradise. See my Biblical Archaeology, p. 88ff. If we take into consideration, however, that Ezekiel calls them חיּות , and first in Ezekiel 10 employs the name כּרוּבים , known from the tabernacle, or rather from the history of Paradise; since, as may be inferred from Ezekiel 10:20, he first recognised, from the repetition of the theophany related in Ezekiel 10, that the living creatures seen in the vision were cherubim - we may, from the designation חיּות , form a supposition, if not as to their nature, at least as to the significance of their position towards the throne of God. They are termed חיּות , “living,” not as being “ideal representatives of all living things upon the earth” (Hengstenberg), but as beings which, among all the creatures in heaven and earth, possess and manifest life in the fullest sense of the word, and on that very account, of all spiritual beings, stand nearest to the God of the spirits of all flesh (who lives from eternity to eternity), and encircle His throne. With this representation harmonises not only the fact, that after the expulsion of the first human beings from Paradise, God commanded them to guard the way to the tree of life, but also the form in which they were represented in the sanctuary and in the visions. The cherubim in the sanctuary had the form of a man, and were only marked out by their wings as super-terrestrial beings, not bound by the earthly limits of space. The cherubim in Ezekiel and the Apocalypse also preserve the appearance of a man. Angels also assume the human form when they appear visibly to men on earth, because of all earthly creatures man, created in the image of God, takes the first and highest place. For although the divine image principally consists in the spiritual nature of man, - in the soul breathed into him by the Spirit of God, - yet his bodily form, as the vessel of this soul, is the most perfect corporeity of which we have any knowledge, and as such forms the most appropriate garment for the rendering visible the heavenly spiritual being within. But the cherubim in our vision exhibit, besides the figure of the human body with the face of a man, also the face of the lion, of the ox, and of the eagle, and four wings, and appear as four-sided, square-formed beings, with a face on each of their four sides, so that they go in any direction without turning, and yet, while so doing, they can always proceed in the direction of one face; while in the vision in the Apocalypse, the four faces of the creatures named are divided among the four cherubim, so that each has only one of them. In the countenance of man is portrayed his soul and spirit, and in each one also of the higher order of animals, its nature. The union of the lion, ox, and eagle-faces with that of man in the cherubim, is intended, doubtless, to represent them as beings which possess the fulness and the power of life, which in the earthly creation is divided among the four creatures named. The Rabbinical dictum ( Schemoth Rabba, Schöttgen, Horae Hebraicae , p. 1168): Quatuor sunt qui principatum in hoc mundo tenent. Inter creaturas homo, inter aves aquila, inter pecora bos, inter bestias leo , contains a truth, even if there lies at the foundation of it the idea that these four creatures represent the entire earthly creation. For in the cherub, the living powers of these four creatures are actually united. That the eagle, namely, comes into consideration only in reference to his power of flight, in which he excels all other birds, may be concluded from the circumstance that in Revelation 4:7 the fourth ζῷον is described as resembling an eagle flying. According to this principle, the ox and the lion are only to be considered in reference to their physical strength, in virtue of which the ox amongst tame animals, the lion amongst wild beasts, take the first place, while man, through the power of his mind, asserts his supremacy over all earthly creatures.
(Note: This has been already rightly recognised by Riehm, l.c. p. 21ff., who has drawn from it the inference: quaternis igitur faciebus eximiae vires atque facultates significantur cherubis a deo ad munus suum sustinendum impertitae , which is connected with the erroneous representation that the cherubim are intended to bear the throne of God, and to carry the Lord of the world.)
The number four, lastly, both of the cherubim and of the four faces of each cherub, in our vision, is connected with their capacity to go in all directions without turning, and can contribute nothing in favour of the assumption that these four indicate the whole living creation, upon the simple ground that the number four is not essential to them, for on the mercy-seat only two cherubim are found. That they are also represented in the vision as higher spiritual beings, appears not only from Ezekiel 10:7, where a cherub stretches forth his hand and fetches out fire from between the cherubim, and places it in the hands of the angel clothed in white linen, who was to accomplish the burning of Jerusalem; but, still more distinctly, from what is said in the Apocalypse regarding their working. Here we observe them, as Kliefoth has already pointed out, “in manifold activity: they utter day and night the Tersanctus; they offer worship, Revelation 4:8-9; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 19:4; they repeat the Amen to the song of praise from all creation, Revelation 5:14; they invite John to see what the four first seals are accomplishing, Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3, Revelation 6:5, Revelation 6:7; one of them gives to the seven angels the seven phials of wrath, Revelation 15:7.”
Besides this activity of theirs in the carrying out of the divine counsel of salvation, we must, in order to gain as clear a view as possible of the significance of the cherubim in our vision, as well as in Biblical symbolism generally, keep also in view the position which, in the Apocalypse, they occupy around the throne of God. Those who are assembled about the throne form these three concentric circles: the four ζῶα (cherubim) form the innermost circle; the twenty-four elders, seated upon thrones, clothed in white garments, and wearing golden crowns upon their heads, compose the wider circle that follows; while the third, and widest of all, is formed by the many angels, whose number was many thousands of thousands (Revelation 4:4, Revelation 4:6; Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:8; Revelation 7:11). To these are added the great, innumerable host, standing before the throne, of the just made perfect from among all heathens, peoples, and languages, in white raiment, and with palms in their hands, who have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and now, before the throne of God, serve Him day and night in His temple (Ezekiel 7:9, Ezekiel 7:14-15). Accordingly the twenty-four elders, as the patriarchs of the Old and New Testament congregation of God, have their place beside God's throne, between the cherubim and the myriads of the other angels; and in the same manner as they are exalted above the angels, are the cherubim exalted even above them. This position of the cherubim justifies the conclusion that they have the name of ζῶα from the indwelling fulness of the everlasting blessed life which is within them, and which streams out from the Creator of spirits - the King of all kings, and Lord of all lords - upon the spiritual beings of heaven, and that the cherubim immediately surround the throne of God, as being representatives and bearers of the everlasting life of blessedness, which men, created in the image of God, have forfeited by the Fall, but which they are again, from the infinitude of the divine compassion, to recover in the divine kingdom founded for the redemption of fallen humanity.
It is easier to recognise the meaning of the wheels which in our vision appear beside the cherubim. The wheel serves to put the chariot in motion. Although the throne of God is not now expressly represented and designated as a chariot-throne, yet there can be no doubt that the wheels which Ezekiel sees under the throne beside the cherubim are intended to indicate the possibility and ease with which the throne can be moved in the direction of the four quarters of the heavens. The meaning of the eyes, however, is matter of controversy, with which, according to Ezekiel 1:18, the felloes of the wheels, and, as is expressly mentioned in Ezekiel 10:12, and also noted in Revelation 4:6, the cherubim themselves are furnished all round. According to Kliefoth, the eyes serve the purpose of motion; and as the movement of the cherubim and wheels indicates the spreading abroad over the whole earth of the new economy of salvation, this mass of eyes in the cherubim and wheels must indicate that this spreading abroad is to take place, not through blind accident, but with conscious clearness. The meaning is not appropriate to Revelation 4:6, where the cherubim have no wheels beside them, and where a going forth into all countries is not to be thought of. Here therefore, according to Kliefoth, the eyes only serve to bring into view the moral and physical powers which have created and supported the kingdom of God upon earth, and which are also to bring it now to its consummation. This is manifestly arbitrary, as any support from passages of the Bible in favour of the one view or the other is entirely wanting. The remark of Rosenmüller is nearer the truth, that by the multitude of the eyes is denoted Coelestium naturarum perspicacia et ὀξυωπία , and leads to the correct explanation of Revelation 5:6, where the seven eyes of the Lamb are declared to be τὰ ἐπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ Θεου,͂ τὰ ἀπεσταλμένα εἰς πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ; the eyes consequently indicate the spiritual effects which proceed from the Lamb over the entire earth in a manner analogous to His seven horns, which are the symbols of the completeness of His power. The eye, then, is the picture and mirror of the Spirit; and the ornamentation of the cherubim and wheels with eyes, shows that the power of the divine Spirit dwells within them, and determines and guides their movements.
The remaining objects of the vision are not difficult to explain. The appearance of the expanse over above the cherubim and wheels, upon which a throne is to be seen, represents the firmament of heaven as the place of God's throne. God appears upon the throne in human form, in the terrible glory of His holy majesty. The whole appearance draws nigh to the prophet in the covering of a great fiery cloud (Ezekiel 1:4). This cloud points back to the “thick cloud” in which Jehovah, in the ancient time, descended upon Mount Sinai amid thunders and lightnings (Exodus 19:16) to establish His covenant of grace, promised to the patriarchs with their seed - the people of Israel brought forth from Egypt - and to found His kingdom of grace upon the earth. If we observe the connection of our theophany with that manifestation of God on Sinai for the founding of the Old Testament dispensation of salvation, we shall neither confine the fire and the lightnings in our vision to the manifestation of God for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, nor refer the splendour which appears above the throne in the form of a rainbow to the grace which returns after the execution of judgment, or to the new dispensation of salvation which is to be established. Nor may we regard these differing attributes, by referring them specially to individual historical elements of the revelation of God in His kingdom, as in opposition; but must conceive of them, more generally and from the point of view of unity, as symbols of the righteousness, holiness, and grace which God reveals in the preservation, government, and consummation of His kingdom. It holds true also of our theophany what Düsterdieck remarks on Revelation 4:3 (cf. p. 219 of the second edition of his Commentary) regarding the importance of the divine appearance described in that passage: “We may not hastily apply in a general way the description before us by special reference to the judgments of God (which are seen at a later time) in their relation to the divine grace; it is enough that here, where the everlasting and personal ground of all that follows is described, the sacred glory and righteousness of God appear in the closest connection with His unchanging, friendly grace, so that the entire future development of the kingdom of God, and of the world down to the final termination, as that is determined by the marvellous unity of being which is in the holy, righteous, and gracious God, must not only according to its course, but also according to its object, correspond to this threefold glory of the living God.” As this fundamental vision (of the Apocalypse) contains all that serves to alarm the enemies and to comfort the friends of Him who sits on the throne, so the vision of Ezekiel also has its fundamental significance not only for the whole of the prophet's ministry, but, generally, for the continuation and development of the kingdom of God in Israel, until its aim has been reached in its consummation in glory. This, its fundamental significance, unmistakeably appears from the twofold circumstance - firstly, that the theophany was imparted to the prophet at his call, and was then repeated at the principal points in his prophetic ministry, at the announcement both of the dissolution of the old kingdom of God by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Ezekiel 9-11, and also at the erection of the new temple and a new arrangement of the kingdom (Ezekiel 40-48). Since, as was formerly already remarked, a theophany was not required either for the calling of Ezekiel to the office of a prophet, or for the announcement which was entrusted to him of the annihilation of the old and the foundation of the new kingdom of God, so the revelation of God, which pointed in its phenomenal shape to the dwelling of the Lord among His people in the Holy of Holies in the temple (and which was imparted in this place to Ezekiel, living among the exiles in the land of Chaldea by the banks of the Chebar), could only be intended, in view of the dissolution of the theocracy, which had already begun, and was shortly to be completed, to give to the prophet and those of his contemporaries who were living with him in exile, a real pledge that the essential element of the theocracy was not to be removed by the penal judgment which was passing over the sinful people and kingdom; but that God the Lord would still continue to attest Himself to His people as the living God, and preserve His kingdom, and one day bring it again to a glorious consummation. - In correspondence with this aim, God appears in the temple in the symbolical forms of His gracious presence as He who is throned above the cherubim; but cherubim and throne are furnished with attributes, which represent the movement of the throne in all directions, not merely to indicate the spreading of the kingdom of God over all the earth, but to reveal Himself as Lord and King, whose might extends over the whole world, and who possesses the power to judge all the heathen, and to liberate from their bondage His people, who have been given into their hands, if they repent and turn unto Him; and who will again gather them together, and raise them in the place of their inheritance to the glory which had been promised.
Such is the significance of the theophany at the inauguration of Ezekiel to the prophetic office. The significance, however, which its repetition possesses is clearly contained in the facts which the prophet was herewith permitted by God to behold. From the temple and city, polluted by sinful abominations, the gracious presence of God departs, in order that temple and city may be given over to the judgment of destruction; into the new and glorious temple there enters again the glory of God, to dwell for ever among the children of Israel.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany