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Chapter 10. Yahweh Leaves The Temple Environs.
We have already seen that Yahweh has deserted the sanctuary for the threshold of the temple, while judgment was carried out on those within it. Now He will desert the temple completely. He will no longer have any part in it. When Nebuchadnezzar comes to capture Jerusalem it will not be Yahweh’s city or Yahweh’s temple, but an empty shell.
‘Then I looked and behold, on the flat plate that was over the head of the cherubim there appeared above them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.’
Here we are carried right back again to the first vision in chapter 1. The flat level plain of the colour of awesome ice borne by the cherubim, and the glorious, sparkling blue likeness to a throne above (Ezekiel 1:22; Ezekiel 1:26). But this time it is at Jerusalem. This is the first mention of the chariot since chapter 3, unless we take Ezekiel 8:4 as such a reference. We are probably intended to see that it has arrived to take Yahweh away. Here the living creatures are identified as cherubim for the first time. Until now Ezekiel has not wanted to suggest that Yahweh’s permanent earthly throne was no longer in the temple.
‘And he went in in my sight.’
The man clothed in linen immediately obeyed and went in between the whirling wheels below the level plain of awesome ice and the throne, in Ezekiel’s full view. The sight clearly affected him for he specifically stresses that he saw it. Perhaps it was because he was awestricken that any being other than a cherub could enter within that place of glorious majesty. In examining the detail we must not omit to notice the glory of the occasion.
‘Now the cherubim stood on the right side (thus ‘the south side’) of the house when the man went in, and the cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of Yahweh mounted up from the cherub and stood over the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud and the court was full of the brightness of the glory of Yahweh.’
The position of the cherubim, and thus of the chariot, is now described. It was to the right of the house as they awaited further instruction, and it was at this point that the man went in between the whirling wheels, at which the cloud filled the inner court before the sanctuary. This was because Yahweh was about to move in His glory. Then the glory of Yahweh again left His chariot throne and ‘stood’ over the threshold of the house, veiled by the cloud. It should be noted that this was not in the sanctuary itself. That had been deserted. It was no longer His earthly dwellingplace, it was the place from which He would pour forth His judgments. As ever the cloud spoke of the presence of Yahweh in veiled form so that the brightness of His glory could be revealed without destroying those who saw it.
‘And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of God Almighty (El Shaddai) when he speaks.’
The sound of the wings of the cherubim was clearly also awesome (compare Ezekiel 1:24). It filled the whole house even to the outer court. And it was powerful and strong like the voice of the Almighty. In both cases the mention of the sound of their wings is connected with the actual voice of Yahweh being heard.
‘And it came about that when he commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel, and the cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took of it, and put it into the hands of the one who was clothed with linen, who took it and went out.’
Here again we have typical ancient Near Eastern repetition, where a previous statement is emphasised and expanded. It occurs regularly throughout the Old Testament and has often confused modern readers into assuming twofold sources, but the purpose of it was to assist the hearer to remember the important points of the narrative or to emphasis the particular point. They could not look back to what had been previously stated and were helped by being reminded of it.
Again we are reminded that Yahweh commanded the man clothed with linen to take fire from within the whirling wheels (‘the whirlers’) between the cherubim. So the man obediently went in and stood beside one of the wheels, which was whirling round and full of eyes (Ezekiel 10:12), a symbol of divine activity and omniscience.
‘The cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim.’ This may mean the cherub connected with that wheel, or as suggested in Ezekiel 10:2 the anointed Cherub, but either way it reveals that even the angel was limited in how close he could come to the throne. The cherubim guarded the holiness of God.
And ‘the cherub’ then reached in and took fire and placed it in the hands of the man, ‘who took it and went out’. Nothing further is heard of the man clothed with linen. He disappears from the picture. The time of their scattering over the city was not yet here. We are just left to assume that he carried out his grim task for Ezekiel is wholly taken up with the glory before him. The concentration in this passage is on Yahweh deserting His temple.
‘And there appeared in the cherubim the form of a man’s hand under their wings.’
This is to explain how the cherub was able to take the fire and hand it to the angel (see also Ezekiel 1:8) by means of a man’s hands under his wings. The foreign ‘cherubim’ on which these cherubim were patterned did not have hands.
‘And I looked and behold, four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside one cherub, and another wheel beside another cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was as the colour of a stone of Tarshish. And as for their appearance, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been within a wheel.’
This verse and the verses that follow are very similar to Ezekiel 1:15-18 except that now the living creatures are called cherubim. It may well be that Ezekiel had not connected the living creatures with the cherubim until he saw them connected with the temple. Alternately he may not have wished to make the connection to his hearers lest they thought Yahweh had already deserted His house. Once again the wheels are seen as individually connected with each of the cherubim. In Ezekiel 10:13 it is emphasised that they are called ‘the whirlers’. This may well be intended to signify something like whirlwinds, like ‘a wheel within a wheel’. They were like a ‘stone of Tarshish’. These would be exceedingly brilliant and beautiful. Thus they were like whirling wheels of brilliant light and power.
Tarshish was famous for its silver (Jeremiah 10:9) and from it came valuable metals (Ezekiel 27:12; 1 Kings 10:22). Thus its inhabitants dug deep in the earth and found many wonderful things (Job 28:5-6). In view of the fact that ships sailed to and from Tarshish from and to Ezion-geber (1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chronicles 20:36), and that this is connected with Ophir (1 Kings 22:48), it might suggest a place in Africa, or even India. But Jonah set out for Tarshish from Joppa (Jonah 1:3; Jonah 4:2) which may well have been Spain. Thus Tarshish (‘refinery’?) was a name given to a number of places from which precious things came.
‘When they went they went on their four sides. They turned not as they went. But to the place where the head looked, they followed it. They turned not as they went.’
The fours sides would be north, south, east and west, and when they moved they moved directly forward without being diverted. Thus they had freedom of travel and a certain inevitability about their progress. Nothing could frustrate their purpose. This latter is emphasised by being mentioned twice.
And they went where the head (or chief) looked. This may refer to ‘the cherub’, the anointed one, as chief among them, or to the heads of each of the cherubim (compare Ezekiel 10:14 and Ezekiel 10:16), depending on whether we see the ‘they’ as being the wheels (Ezekiel 10:10) or the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:12). Or it may even refer to the head of Yahweh on His throne. He had only to look and they went where He looked.
‘And their whole body, and their backs and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, the wheels that they four had. And as for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the Whirlers”.’
In Ezekiel 1:18 it was the edges of the wheels that were full of eyes. Here Ezekiel sees them more closely and the whole of these beings are full of eyes, their bodies, their backs, their hands and their wings, including the wheels. They see all and are aware of all. They are possibly ‘the Watchers’ of Daniel (Daniel 4:17). And the whirling wheels stress the continual activity and power. They are ‘the Whirlers’.
Alternately RSV translates, ‘and their rims, and their spokes and the wheels were full of eyes round about’ but agrees in the margin that the Hebrew also reads ‘and their whole body’ (which LXX omits but reads ‘their backs and their hands and their wings’). This was to square with Ezekiel 1:18. But there is an expansion whichever way we look at it and therefore the former is preferable. In the end the wheels and the cherubim are as one (Ezekiel 10:17).
‘And every one had four faces, the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.’
Here it is the face of ‘the cherub’ that is prominent, and that looks ahead. The ox of Ezekiel 1:10 has dropped out. This was partly because in Ezekiel 1:10 the living creatures were not seen as connected with the cherubim. But at this stage in events the faces of the cherubim change for a more important reason, because they are acting against domesticised creation (the ox) in Yahweh’s departure from the temple of Yahweh. He will be going among the wild beasts of Assyria and Babylon. So now Ezekiel realises that the man’s face that looks forward is not that of a man but of ‘the cherub’ (the cherubim had faces similar to men). Yet he also recognises that mankind must continue to be included as the prime ones of creation. And all beasts are included in the lion and the eagle. We must not expect full consistency in this continuing vision, it is conveying ideas rather than physical realities.
The order of the faces is against the cherub being replaced by the ox as a scribal error. It was the movement of Yahweh from His temple and the new recognition of the living creatures as cherubim that occasioned the change, and the forward looking, controlling face had to be that of the cherub.
‘And the cherubim mounted up. This is the living creature that I saw by the River Chebar. And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them, and when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels also turned not from beside them. When they stood, these stood, and when they mounted up these mounted up with them, for the spirit of the living creature was in them.’
The description of the cherubim mounting up (see Ezekiel 10:19) immediately leads into an explanation of the fact that they are identifiable with ‘the living creature’ of chapter 1, and that their connection with the wheels is inseparable. Both always move together, acting in unison. And this was because the spirit of the living creature was in them. The use of ‘living creature’ is here specific, that is why the previous identification was made. Thus the emphasis is on the fact that the whirling wheels share the life of the cherubim.
‘And the glory of Yahweh went away from over the threshold of the house and stood over the cherubim, and the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight when they went away, and the wheels beside them, and they stood at the door of the east gate of the house of Yahweh, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.’
The glory of Yahweh now leaves the threshold of the house and takes His place on the level plate of awesome ice over the cherubim, and the cherubim then take off and bear Him to the east gate (for Yahweh as the One Who sits above the cherubim over their outstretched wings see 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1Ch 13:6 ; 1 Chronicles 28:18; Psalms 18:10; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1). This east gate was the main entrance into the temple courtyards from the outside world. It was the way in, and also the way out. The Lord in His glory and the cherubim then hovered above this gate. The movements of Yahweh are central to the passage. First from the holy of holies to the threshold, then from the threshold to the east gate, and finally in Ezekiel 11:23 to the mountain on the east side of the city. Jerusalem was no longer His holy city.
Note that Ezekiel bears witness to having seen this particular event happen, revealing that it is significant (compare Ezekiel 10:2). The glory of Yahweh is deserting His house. He had constantly warned of this possibility in one way or another (Hosea 5:6; Hosea 9:12; Deuteronomy 31:17; compare 1 Samuel 4:21; 1 Samuel 28:15) and now it was happening.
‘This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the River Chebar, and I knew that they were cherubim. Every one had four faces apiece, and every one four wings. And the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings, and as for the likeness of their faces, they were the faces which I saw by the River Chebar, their appearances and themselves. They went every one straight forward.’
Ezekiel now confirms again that the living creatures he had seen by the River Chebar and the cherubim here are one and the same. Each had four faces and four wings, with the hands of a man beneath their wings, with the same facial likenesses as at the River Chebar, a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Where then has the face of the cherub (Ezekiel 10:14) gone? We must remember that we are in vision where things can keep changing rapidly. The face of the cherub was there at the crucial time when Yahweh was departing His house. It was not as representatives of creation but as the holy cherubim that they were responsible for this move. This brings out the awesomeness, the earth shattering nature of the change which took place. It was a change determined in heaven. Once that was fulfilled the cherubim could return to their normal function as representatives of creation and normal life could go on where they were going.
‘They went every one straight forward.’ The description finishes with the indication that their forward progress continued. Nothing could stop it. It was inexorable.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 10". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27