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I.—THE DIVINE CALL OF EZEKIEL. CHAPS 1–3, 15
1. THE DESIGNATION OF THE PROPHET TO HIS WORK (Chap. Ezekiel 1:1-26.1.3)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 1:1. “Now,” the usual Hebrew connective particle, united to a tense which signifies an action associated with something which has already transpired. It seems to have place here, neither because the Book of Ezekiel is a continuation of that of Jeremiah, nor because a preceding portion of Ezekiel’s prophecies has been lost, but rather because of thoughts which were in the mind of the writer, and in succession to which his call came. “In the thirtieth year.” No note is given to define the point from which this date takes its origin. It was the thirtieth from the last jubilee year, or from the finding of the Book of the Law in the reign of King Josiah (2 Kings 22:8), or from the era fixed by the father of Nebuchadnezzar as the commencement of the Chaldean dominion, or from the birth of the prophet—such are the suggestions made by various expositors. The first and the last are the most improbable; still, it would be misapplied labour to discuss whether the third or the fourth is the more likely. There is no part of the prophecies depending for illustration upon a settlement of the point from which Ezekiel reckons. No doubt it had some bearing upon him and his contemporaries; it seems to have none upon us. “In the fourth”—month is omitted in the Hebrew, as frequently with Ezekiel. The fourth month of the ecclesiastical year corresponds to our June–July, when nature is prolific with storms. “In the fifth day of the month”—was this a Sabbath? So it has been affirmed because seven days after he received a further commission (Ezekiel 3:16). This is too precarious a footing from which to trace a parallel to the case of the banished John (Revelation 1:10). “As I was among the captives”—literally, “and I in the midst of the captivity.” He has not yet mentioned who he is, so by this silence he calls special attention to his environment. He sets forth that he was amongst, and was one of those Jews who had been carried away from their ancestral land, and subjected to the shame and pain of captivity. He was a troubled man along with other troubled men. Not that he was under enforced servile labour, as the Israelites were in Egypt, “the house of bondage;” he had a considerable amount of personal liberty; but he was far from the land of promise, and oppressed with a sense of his exile. “By the river of Chebar.” It is not at all certain to-day where this river was. It is not necessary to suppose that Ezekiel was beside it, because the murmur of the water might dispose to quietude, and prepare his mind for openness to God. Something less sentimental than that took him thither. He had been located in the district, through which the water flowed, by the paramount power as a district which could be easily superintended, and in which there was need of population. Such wars as Nebuchadnezzar carried on, like the wars which modern Turks have waged, could not but have been the occasion for large parts of his dominions to fall out of cultivation. It would be politic to settle an industrial people like the Jews in such places, and grant them full permission “to build houses and dwell in them, and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them.” Abundance of water was needed for such operations. So the captive Jews were by a river. All was not pleasant there. Just as the later Jews were confined to the slums of Rome on the right bank of the Tiber, and satirised as Transtiberini, so was scorn heaped upon the earlier captives by “the rivers of Babylon.” There they were teased and tormented. “They that carried us away captive required of us a song, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” A somewhat truculent temper was engendered; but God did not forsake them, and even there did exceeding abundantly above what they thought. “The heavens were opened.” The exile perceived the sky cleft open. Perhaps it was not materially so, but only to the eye of faith. Yet as he speaks of it as an actual fact, it is preferable to consider the appearance to have been shown to “eyes open,” as was that to John the Baptist, to Stephen, to Peter. “I saw visions of God”—phenomena produced by God and relating to His Godhead; He was at once the author and the object of them. They were somewhat differently presented from those which Ezekiel received afterwards, which were “in visions” (chaps. Ezekiel 8:3, Ezekiel 11:24, Ezekiel 40:2).
Ezekiel 1:2. “The fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity.” Jehoiachin had been placed on the throne of Judea be Nebuchadnezzar; but, following advice from the partisans of an Egyptian alliance, and in defiance of the protestations and threatenings of Jeremiah, he had pursued a procedure at variance with the interests of the Babylonian empire. Nebuchadnezzar soon trampled down the feeble revolt, and, in little more than three months of kingship, Jehoiachin was made captive and carried away to Babylon with the prophetic denunciation ringing in his ears that he would “die childless”—the last of the line of David which was traced through Solomon. His captivity was rigorous for years. He was kept in confinement and clothed in prison garments, and that, with their own troubles, must have made the thousands of Jews who had been transported with him to regard the date of their exile as deeply significant. So Ezekiel says to them—his contemporaries and hearers—that four years of their captivity had gone by, and then he was made cognisant of manifestations of God. This mode of dating he adheres to in his succeeding prophecies, never again referring to the thirtieth year of Ezekiel 1:1.
Ezekiel 1:3. “The word of the Lord.” Appearances were fortified, as so often in God’s revelations, by words heard. “Came expressly.” Ezekiel uses here a form of Hebrew emphasis, i.e., repeating the same verb. Such a repetition, in this connection, can scarcely mean that the word came directly to him, but rather that it was certainly, verily, really a divine word which in “coming came to him.” It needed a special attestation, and that was given to it. The same authenticating feature is exhibited in the frequent reiterations and assertions by Ezekiel that he was acting under divine impulse and authority. “Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi.” The order in the Hebrew, is, “Ezekiel, the son of Buzi the priest.” Of course Ezekiel was a priest by descent; but this order of the Hebrew may be intended to signify that, being in captivity, he had never fulfilled any specific priestly functions. His name, as usual among the Jews, has a meaning, and is to be translated either “God is strong,” or “God will strengthen.” Hengstenberg decides for the former, and says it is to be explained that “Ezekiel was he in relation to whom God is strong.” Baumgarten chooses the latter, and says it signifies “he whose character is a special confirmation of the strength of God.” The idea insisted on by Hengstenberg, following an older commentator, that it “is not a name he had borne from his youth, but an official name which he had assumed at the beginning of his calling,” appears to be groundless. It is true of all the prophets, both that God is strong to fulfil His purpose, and that He will give strength to His servants for that part of His work which He has assigned them. “In the land of the Chaldeans.” This topographical addition seems to be intended for a further attestation that it was the word of the Lord which really came to Ezekiel. The Chaldee version interpolates thus, “In the land [of Israel, and again a second time He spake to him in the land] of the Chaldeans.” It is believed that “the Jews had a notion that the Shechinah could not overshadow a prophet out of the Holy Land.” Perhaps a strain of this notion is to be heard in the wail of the captives “by the rivers of Babylon” when they ask, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” The notion was to be eradicated. God could endue a man with prophetic power even in Chaldea, and that is further witnessed to by the words “was there upon him.” “The hand of the Lord” is a frequent Scriptural expression, and indicates that the thing which was to be done was done in submission to the restraining or the impelling energy of the Lord.
(1.) GENERAL CONDITIONS OF THE DESIGNATION
I. The time to receive fuller knowledge of the Lord is uncertain. Who can tell why the call to Ezekiel came in the fifth year, and not in the first, second, &c.? The pain and pressure of exile galled, no doubt, as deeply in the earlier years as in the later, yet Ezekiel had not seen “the heavens opened.” What is uncertain to men is fixed with God. He is “the only wise God.” He sees the end from the beginning of all lives. He alone knows where it is best to lead “the brook” across the way of His people, by drinking of which they “will lift up their heads.” Though uncertain, men are not to be unconcerned. Having no criterion as to the appropriate time for special unfolding of the will of God, that does not sanction an utter indifference as to what they would have Him do. They must “wait on the Lord and keep His way,” ever hoping that He will “exalt” them to see what they do not yet see of the glorious majesty of His kingdom. Though uncertain, men should always be on the alert. Waiting for blessing is not real and valid waiting, except they who wait are sensitive to the approach of the Lord. His word comes to comfort, strengthen, open up a duty, and those are the good and faithful servants who honour Him by receiving it, no matter at what time, convenient or inconvenient to them, He may vouchsafe it. Though uncertain men must never lose faith. However long it be ere a word comes—one year or five years—they must believe in God. He has not forgotten His people. Let them trust that in some month He will bestow favour on them and His depressed interests.
II. The place is undistinguished. It has no memorable associations. The land of the Chaldeans was devoid of that instructive relation to the Jews which both Egypt and the mountains of Sinai had. The river of Chebar could not stir their thoughts as the Jordan could. But God can produce in an obscure or obnoxious place that which will be a hallowed memory. He can make communications in a garden as to Adam, in an outlying district of Luz as to Jacob, in a cave of the desert as to Elijah, in exile as to Ezekiel. He may manifest Himself anywhere—in ship or customhouse, by road or rail, in a family or alone. It has no recognised religious privileges. The captives could not make yearly pilgrimages to the City of the Great King; they could not approach to the place where His honour dwelt. For them there was no treading of His courts, no appearing before Him, no burnt-offerings and sacrifices to offer for His acceptance. Their hearts might thirst and faint for His altars, but they could not be relieved. As Nathanael in after times, they might have put a question expressive of contempt and unbelief, Can any good thing be obtained by the rivers of Babylon? They had not yet learned by experience that the Lord would make “a little sanctuary” for them in the place to which He had driven them, and there reveal His justice and His grace. So when Ezekiel was constituted an organ of new revelations, they were blessed where they did not look for blessing. Happy is it that the help of God is for the feeble who cannot, for the charged with duty who must not, for the wanderers who may not enter into the assemblies of worshippers, as well as for those who have all means of grace at their command. “In all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
III. The person is inconspicuous. So far as is known, there was nothing to give prominence to Ezekiel over other members of priestly families, or the general body of his fellow captives. “There is no respect of persons with God.” He does not limit His manifestations by any classifications which men may make. “Base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen.” The boy with a good education or the boy without it, children who are taught by their parents the truth in Jesus from their earliest days, or children who have learned no more than they learned in a Sunday-school, may equally obtain from God an entrance into “the secret of His covenant.”
This designation of Ezekiel furthermore suggests—God can provide fit agents in unexpected circumstances. He only knows when and where it is required that He should make special additions to men’s knowledge of Him and His ways, and He has the wisdom and the power to select the persons to whom that knowledge can be given. So He finds Enoch amid gigantic iniquities, Moses in the palace of Pharaoh, Ezekiel among the captives of Babylon, Paul (Saul) among the fiercest of persecutors, Luther in a monastery. Lowly places or prominent places cannot be obstacles in His path of goodness and mercy. He proves that “His strength is made perfect in weakness.”
God can bestow great boons on the person He may call. An exile amongst exiles, with none of the appointed external means of worship, in the face of political disabilities, pressed upon by social troubles, allied to men who had no heart to help him, yet Ezekiel not only found God near, but, moreover, saw heavenly things, and was touched by a hand which made him one of the forces of the world. It tells us that not any circumstances of life, not any conditions of body need to prevent us from being dignified by a faith in the unseen, and sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
God can increase His servant’s power by connecting him with an organisation. Robinson Crusoe, alone on Juan Fernandez, might have received large favours from God, but he could not use those favours for the welfare of neighbours. Power with men depends more or less upon the links which bind us to them. There is influence from a family. When the solitary are set in families it is that they may give and find help which could not have been otherwise secured. Each member has a power to affect the rest who are within the same circle. There is influence from a caste. Commercial, social, intellectual, religious interests bind men to one another, and that bond enables them to carry out schemes which could not have been accomplished individually, e.g., guilds, trades’ unions, companies, an aristocracy, an army, a priesthood, a denomination of Christians. There is influence from a nation. The members of a small nation are not so powerfully backed as those of a large. Civis Romanus sum was a phrase which gave, to the person who could employ it, greater consideration and security than were given to the citizens of any other state contemporary with the Roman. The phrase, “I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews,”—however the speaker of it might have been counted as “the offscouring of all things,”—was pregnant with mightier influences than have been wielded by the nationalities of those who derided him. The use of a nation’s influence cannot be indifferent to God who loveth righteousness; and in Ezekiel He designated a man who had received a certain education and status on account of his priestly origin, and who, because he was a Jew and could contribute to Hebrew literature, has obtained a position which commands the suffrages of the world. “This also is of the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” Organisations may be hurtful by checking the fair development of personal life, but they can also add to personal power.
(2.) PRELIMINARY STEPS TO THE DESIGNATION
I. “Ezekiel, the son of Buzi the priest” (Ezekiel 1:3).
It is sometimes argued that Ezekiel was trammelled by his connection with the priestly organisation, that his lineage induced him to weave a sacerdotal element into his prophecies, that he presents “a Levitical turn of mind, in virtue of which he sets a high value upon sacred customs.” Attempts to prove this do not appear eminently successful. When commentators say that his sacerdotalism is shown in the demands he makes for obedience to the requisitions of the Law, we seem to hear in that statement, not a simple reading of the prophecies, but a reading with interpolations from fancy or prepossession. Isaiah, Jeremiah make the same demands, and, taking account of the different circumstances of Ezekiel, he exhibits no more of a sacerdotal tendency than they do. It would have been an odd place in which to manifest “a genuine priestly turn of mind”—whatever that may mean—the place where he could not by any means fulfil the special functions of the priesthood; but a very suitable place in which to endeavour to impress the captives with the conviction that they were still “under the law to God,” even though far from the Temple of Jehovah. It would be as hard to signify where Ezekiel exhibits “a strong priestly feeling,” marking him off from other prophets, as it would be to exhibit a strong pastoral and fruit-gathering feeling in Amos (chap. Ezekiel 7:14). Yet Fairbairn writes, “In Ezekiel alone of the later prophets does the priestly element become so peculiarly prominent and prevailing as to give a tone and impress to the general character of his ministrations, and to render even his prophetical labours a kind of priestly service” (p. 8). We see—what we expect to see! God chooses prophets not to unfold their own ancestral or technical habits, but His true and broad righteousness and love. That Ezekiel, when acting in accordance with this, should employ imagery borrowed from the Law and worship of Israel was natural. He did it, however, not as one who would exalt whatever the priests had to carry out, but as one who had been taught that against the degrading tendencies of Israel there was no barrier, against heathenism there was no power, in Temple, offerings, or priests. He was taught that there was no preservative in the evil days of dire captivity save in the latent energy and intrinsic truth of “the lively oracles” given by Moses. So he sets himself, not to do a service for priestliness, but for the Law. As a priest he was doubtless one of that kind whose lips kept knowledge, and as an enforcer of the Law was “the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 2:7).
II. “Now I was among the captives” (Ezekiel 1:1).
Ezekiel had been, apparently, by himself. His mind had been exercised upon the sad days that were passing over him and his people. He had been laying himself open to thoughts of the Lord, and then he was called into a nearer communion than he had ever experienced. Unconsciously he was stepping forward to receive competency to do actions for God. He does not tell how he had been moving—only that, while so employed, “it came to pass” that God spoke to him. They who would learn of Christ must:
1. Go alone with Him. Things pass in secret from Him which no stranger need intermeddle with, and no personal insufficiency need intercept.
2. Go with all cares. Outer circumstances may be harassing, associates may be lukewarm or ungodly, prospects may seem utterly blank, but neither ignore them nor make light of them before Him, for “He careth for you.”
3. Go in hope that He will manifest Himself. Unlooked for light may be lifted up on you, strength may be infused, faith be increased, and new scenes in your history be entered on; for “He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond what you think.”
III. “The heavens were opened” (Ezekiel 1:1).
1. Men have faculties for realising what is beyond the earth: We dwell on the borders of the unknown, and can take interest in noticing the traces of what may be therein. God’s hands have made us and fashioned us so that this is possible. To use only animal functions, to develop only earthly aims, and to present a mutilated nature to all the influences which play upon us, is a spectacle darkened with criminality in reference to ourselves and our Maker. But to use our faculties for looking at “the things unseen and eternal,” that is the part of full and true manhood—a token that our life is a life worth living.
2. God adopts methods for acting on those faculties. As light is made to suit the organ of sight, and sound the organ of hearing, so His Spirit is able to operate upon us in order that we may discern spiritual things. The person who sees light or hears a sound cannot prove to another person that he sees of hears. He can only affirm, witness. So a person, who has “the eyes of his heart enlightened to know” what is his inheritance in the heavens, cannot give any demonstration of the change which he is conscious of, he can only affirm, witness, that he does know what he did not know. “Whereas I was blind, now I see,” is as applicable to heavenly as to earthly things. All men do not receive the benefit of God’s methods. Some deny their operation, and some their validity. Some acknowledge them only to neglect them, and some hope that they will see the heavens opened though they do not go to the only door thereinto. But whatever the reason be for their deficiency, the light has been opened up to the world, and men are judged for not believing in it. The Son of God has come from heaven and has again ascended to His Father: through Him heaven is always open, and open to every one who will. “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.”
IV. “I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).
More is meant than that Ezekiel saw grand and vast visions. His expression is not to be limited to visions given by the action of God, or to visions notifying the will of God, but embraces also the marvellousness of revelations of God. He was made a seer of God in order to be a prophet for God. Observe—
1. Thoughts of heaven must receive their character from views of God. If we could see into heaven and did not see signs of God there, we should remain in spiritual darkness. We must pass into the house to perceive the householder. We are vagrants still, as to all moral progress and undertakings, if we do not find ONE who can enlighten and guide and strengthen us. All beliefs of our interest in the heavens will be blighted unless they are steps on our way to know we have a living, almighty, perfect Friend.
2. All true views of God are given by God. “He dwelleth in light, which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see.” Human power cannot make Him manifest Himself. The highest knowledge which men of themselves can reach does not embrace one of the secrets of His being. He alone opens the inward eyes and presents the aspects He wants to reveal. He may open them through some outward impulse, or by action on the heart, but in either case the ripple of sensational life is hushed by the flow of a grander life, and the reasoning faculty stands still, waiting to know what it shall receive. Then, as the light air comes to a hanging leaf and stirs it, as a father’s love and wisdom come to an erring child and prompt to confession, so the subject of visions of God knows that God has affected him—that God alone could accomplish that which has happened to him. The visions are real. The prophet did see some appearances of God; and, whether it were by an external operation or by his own inward rapt attention, he was prepared to avouch it as confidently as he would a vision obvious merely to his physical sight. How many He gives! Is there a week, a day passing in which He does not set forth something of His glory?
3. Visions of God require a conscious apprehension by men. Men can look upwards or downwards, outward or inward; but they may shut their eyes. So they decide whether they will see the things of God or not—whether they will accept the fuller manifestations of God or not. And the bowed in heart, the seeker for the truth learns that, back of the material world and its forces, is He whom they all obey, and whom hearts should believe in. They yield themselves up, not by the push of a blind necessity, but according to the laws of their own freedom, and yet they are elevated, guarded, and assured of the reality of their visions by the supreme Spirit operating.
4. Various aspects of God are presented. No man can see God, and all that is perceived by the most favoured seer is but the back parts of His goodness and glory. Parts of His ways are recognised; “but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?” He is working in the earth which He has filled with good; in the heavens which declare His glory; in the movements of men’s spirits which accuse themselves, repent, trust, love; in the prosperous or depressed trade of nations, in their freedom from or subjection to calamities; in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Son of His love who hath declared Him. Wonderful in number and variety are the views which God has provided for willing hearts. “They are new every morning.” It is a sign of no reverence or true knowledge when some assume to tell just what God must show of Himself, just what God must do. They forget that He gives no account of His matters—that “He dwells in the thick darkness.” It is for men to be humble before Him, even though He may let them see many a token of His will. They are to look and wait. “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie” (Habakkuk 2:1-35.2.3).
V. “The word of the Lord came expressly” (Ezekiel 1:3).
This is an evidence of the fact that the vision and the word were closely allied in prophetical phenomena. Isaiah “saw the word which he received concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” Amos begins his book thus, “The words of Amos which he saw concerning Israel.” Daniel was overwhelmed by a great vision, “yet heard the voice of his words.” Paul had “visions and revelations of the Lord.” John in Patmos saw one like unto the Son of man, and then listened to what He said. So was it with Ezekiel now.
1. “God is His own interpreter.” Symbols and scenes are less capable of definite explanation than words. It is hazardous to take impressions, feelings, &c., as intimating the will of God, in the absence of His Word or of principles which His Word embraces. So He “spake in time past in the prophets,” and “in these last days in His Son.” He can make His visions, manifestations, plain, and no one who wants to know His will in sincerity can live without having some signs of what that will really is.
2. There are tests for learning “what God the Lord doth speak.” It has often perplexed men’s minds how to discern between a suggestion from God and a suggestion from some other source. There is no short and easy method applicable to all cases. Not the strength of the impression, not mere unhesitating confidence in its divineness, not its apparent conformity to what has been done, not the memory of words of Scripture which seem to sanction it, can decide the doubt. Conscience, though willing to do only the will of God, may give different promptings from those of the Spirit of God. We are left without any infallible guide; but surely no one who wants to order his conduct aright will fail to discern, sooner or later, what is of God or of man. It may be there was for His prophets a special light in which they saw that they were addressed by God, and so were both made sure and warranted to say, “Thus saith the Lord God;” but it is not likely that they could have given any explicit information on the point. They knew His voice, as the sheep of the Good Shepherd know His, yet are unable to explain how they do so. Let it be believed that God is our Father, and we shall find little difficulty in granting that He can make His children know He is speaking to them and that they are not deceived.
3. God’s servants must teach according to the Word of God. They cannot make truth; they must receive it “from above.” Their souls should be as a mirror on which He casts His rays, and which send forth a faithful reflection. They are to be as a channel through which the water of life may flow unimpeded. Each one may exhibit his own characteristic qualities of mind, as water takes the tint of the rocky bed over which it runs. No prophet is a reproduction of any other prophet. No apostle is a copy of another apostle. No believing man or woman is exactly like to any one else among “the saints of the Most High.” The Lord of all makes each seed to have its own body, and envelops therein some property which is of use to other existences, so has He constituted each soul distinct, and each is capable of acting in behalf of the King of Truth. Therefore should every one strive to grow by feeding on His Word. Only thus can they teach to profit—only thus can they expect “the demonstration of the Spirit”—when not the words of man’s wisdom but the words of the only wise God are declared.
4. We can have access to the Word of God. It is not now a gift bestowed upon a few selected individuals; it is the endowment of mankind. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God, … and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, … full of grace and truth.” We can come to the Light and Life, and hear Him at all times. All the history, all the psalms, all the prophecies of the Old Testament have some more or less portion of the testimony of Jesus. “Search the Scriptures, for they testify of” Him. Come to Him, for “whosoever will may come.” We are in a more lofty position than Ezekiel was, and can see and hear more fully from God and of God than he did. What manner of persons ought we to be! “Obeying the truth through the Spirit,” abiding in Christ, and the word of Christ abiding in us. “Take heed how ye hear.”
VI. “The hand of the Lord was there upon him” (Ezekiel 1:3).
“Hand is equivalent to sovereignty in its fullest meaning, and sovereignty in that meaning does not admit of degrees” (The Aryan Household). It is a symbol in Scripture of impulse, power, &c., and capable not only of laying the foundation of the earth and of spanning the heavens, but also of being laid gently on the heads of little children as well as on sorrowing, awestruck men. Its touch prepared for another stage in Ezekiel’s development. It infused strength for seeing and acting in his new vocation. It sanctified him, set him apart, so that he was constituted a true and capable prophet to Israel. Observe—
1. The real power in serving the Lord. It is contact with Him. Daniel could not hear the divine messages till a hand touched Him (Daniel 10:10). John could receive the revelation after the right hand of the Glorified had been laid on him (Revelation 1:17). Every disciple must be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16), in order “to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Obstacles lie in man’s heart which have to be overcome, and the hand of the Lord presses them down or sweeps them away. When it is laid on us, then we can do all things; then, whatever may be accomplished, with money, with words, with deeds for the kingdom of God in the world, owes its success to His giving His hand to it. “Severed from me, ye can do nothing.” We must have the word of Christ, and also Christ Himself to dwell in us, else we shall fail in fulfilling the word of the truth of the gospel. Prayer, reading and hearing the Word, teaching and preaching it, are “as tinkling cymbals” if the power of Christ do not rest on us.
2. Be at the disposal of the Lord.
(1.) Implicitly. Let there be no obstructions, no reserves. The creature has no claim except in correspondence to that of his Creator, the bondsman no choice but that of his lord, the ransomed no half-heartedness towards his deliverer. Whosoever is touched so that he is impelled to say “It is the Lord,” then no hesitancy, no trouble should be regarded by him in any light but that of a temptation out of which a way of escape is to be found.
(2.) On the spot. In our own houses or lodgings, in business or worship, in health or ailments, in agreeable conditions or disagreeable, begin to obey the pressure of God’s hand there. “The one secret of life and development is not to devise and plan, but to fall in with the forces at work, to do every moment’s duty aright, that being the part of the process allotted to us; and let come, not what will, for there is no such thing, but what the Eternal thought wills for each of us, has intended for each of us from the first” (G. Macdonald).
(3.) Confidingly. Darkness may fall, weakness may be experienced, opponents may bar the way, fear not. He upholds by the right hand of His righteousness. Maintain the thought of a present Lord, in contact with your spirit, putting you forth but also going before you, and you will find a force which will more than conquer all against you. It is no dream, no cunningly devised fable, that Christ Jesus is with us.
3. Trust to receive impulses from the Lord. The life of God in the soul is not a constantly equal force. It is sometimes hardly distinguishable from the life of sense, and at other times it is as if it was more than conqueror over the world and the flesh. Prayer is now easy, but then it is a drag. Here we walk in darkness, and have no light on the ways of the Lord; and there we seem enabled to “mount up on wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” The God of all grace will stablish, strengthen, perfect, settle. From ordinary earthly surroundings He can lead so that we shall, first, be made to feel that another world affects us; then, that God manifests Himself to us; and afterwards, that He imparts to us of His own strength. Thus may we be filled with the Spirit.
4. Our ordinary places of sojourn may be made memorable. Not only nations remember places where events historically important to them have occurred; not only cities and towns keep up memories of persons and actions interesting to their inhabitants; but also individual believers in God can record of one spot or another that the Lord met them there. How precious a thought it is that there is no place whatever but may become a Bethel—a house of God—to any traveller towards eternity! A private room, a church, a prison, a street, a hillside, a river-bank will be sacred, as no other place can be sacred, if they have witnessed a stimulating manifestation of what God can do. Be we where we may, we may be there with the unseen Christ, and He will be its glory.
Thus Ezekiel was designated. He was not consecrated by any enactment of the law of Moses. No oil of anointment was poured upon his head to authorise him to prophesy. No hands of predecessors were laid upon him. He is chosen and set apart by the Lord alone, and he, with all true prophets, is a type of the coming time when the children should be all taught of the Lord, for the Spirit would be poured out upon us from on high. We are under this dispensation. We must guard against supposing that human appointments to ministry for the Lord are valid if He has not called to it. There is no true ordination but that of the hand of the Lord, and there is no true service but that which opens out to more service. Vague longings for God may be turned into real manifestations; visions of God may prepare for feeling the hand of God. Such are the ways of “the God of Israel, who giveth strength and power to His people: blessed be God!” “Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”
“I saw visions of God”
THE SOURCES OF RELIGIOUS SENSIBILITY
1. Man must consider himself. Let him examine his own nature, look at the wonderful mechanism which is going on in his own breast, and he will surely awake to a sense of the high and exalted relations which his existence sustains. But he lives in the world. Material objects engross and enthral his mind. He converses not with his own spirit. He considers not what manner of being he is. Let this thoughtlessness be laid aside, and it will not be strange if he come to a living conception of that mighty Being from whom we all spring, and by whom we all subsist.
2. He must consider the wonderful works external to himself. The green earth and its diversities of scenery, the canopy above it, bright with stars and burning suns, show visions of power, wisdom, goodness transcending his utmost ability to measure and fathom. Let him think of these, and will he not feel how awful and stupendous the Author of such prodigies must be?
3. He must consider how different man is from what he might have been expected to be. With eyes to see visions of God, he bends them to the earth. He does not realise the purposes for which he is made, the character he is to acquire, the destiny placed within his reach. How much is there in the course of human affairs to trouble and perplex? Ignorance and superstition brood over a large portion of the habitable globe. In Christian countries how little is seen of that purity, faith, and piety which Christ enjoins. But all that need not destroy the conviction that we are under a wise and merciful God—that it is impossible for Him who has displayed in the frame of man, in the constitution of the outer world, in the gospel of Christ, such tokens of wisdom and love, to exercise other than a government of perfect benevolence. It is absurd to suppose that we, who are but of yesterday, should be able to interpret the many mysterious and inscrutable events in human affairs, though all will be clear when the day shall dispel the midnight vapours.
4. He must consider how God has been trusted in. We know of men who have been subjected to heavy assaults because they believed in the Word of God—of Jesus Christ, in despisal and rejection, upheld by communings with His Father; and we learn that in duties, harassments, weariness, death, our safety, strength, consolation will be obtained in those retirements of the soul where our eyes are opened to see visions of God.—MADGE (condensed).
Dates.—The Jews, if there is any truth in their history at all, were a journalising people.… The prophets keep a diary of their visions. Everywhere do they record the dates, the year, the day of the month, the attending chronological circumstances of the burdens and messages with which, as they allege, they-have been commissioned by the Lord. If these dates are put in by compilers, long after the times of the prophetic visions, then there is no reason for it, no meaning in it.… It is an easier theory that every word of the prophetic writings had been forged. There is but one other supposition: the dates and the visions are from the same persons, and these are the prophets themselves writing and speaking at the times they profess to write and speak, and in relation to actual existing events that form the subjects of their warning. The seers, the times, the nation, the national life, it is all one true picture—in its parts most truthful and natural; in its whole suggestive of an extraordinary and difficult problem. Let any man attempt to explain its natural without bringing in its supernatural, or some other supernatural—if he can.—Taylor Lewis.
Names.—What is the real historical significance of the deeply religious character of Jewish names, their strong theistic or rather monotheistic aspect, their continual expression of faith and hope, their so frequent allusions to the ideas of covenant and redemption? And why too, may we ask, do so many of these appellations end in El and Jah, ever calling up the two great divine names with their most holy ideas? Let the reader ponder well the fact, and see if he can find any other reason for this national seal, this naming after the Lord, as we may call it, than the great all-explaining fact that they were indeed “a chosen people,” “an elect people,” whom for high and world-wide reasons God had taken as His own “when he separated the sons of Adam and gave the nations their inheritance.” It is a standing memorial, handed down from generation to generation, that “this was the people whose God,” whose El or Mighty One, was Jehovah, the God of the Covenant, who had been their fathers’ God, and who had given them those glorious promises, ineffaceable by the bondage of generations, that in them and in their seed all the nations of the earth were to be blessed.”—Taylor Lewis.
Visions.—Thankfulness for being made capable of seeing this “burning west” [glorious vision of Arran], and of being so affected by its beauty, gave place to thankfulness for the spiritual eye opened in me, by which I saw the Eternal Light and the Eternal Beauty; thankfulness that was much mingled with self-condemnation, as I reflected that … that which my spiritual eye saw is an ever-present glory, to be seen wherever the eye opens on it; and yet my memories of it were of what had been seen only at long intervals … in a solemn sense of choice. I say in a sense of choice, because I do not feel in reality that the opening of the eye that sees the spiritual, so that the spirit is flooded with its proper light, is so simple a matter, or so absolutely to be determined by a mere volition, as the opening of the bodily eye. That “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” we do not see in its brightness simply by turning to it. For such vision beyond habitual faith we wait on the Holy Spirit, and have it not in our own hand. But still we know that he that soweth bountifully reaps bountifully.—Macleod Campbell.
Power.—The distinction is always assuming more and more importance to my mind, viz., that between the special acting of the Divine Spirit in the revelation of truth not previously revealed to men, and His acting in enabling us to apprehend that truth, and to advance in its light and the life which it feeds.… No explanation seems adequate which admits not—rather, assumes not—that God can, and when it seemeth good to Him does give the human spirit to know His own presence, and His own touch, otherwise than in that highest way which is communion with Himself in the light of life. This … the whole record of Revelation seems to me to teach as to those great events in the history of intercourse between God and men which we have been accustomed to receive as “Divine Revelation,” viz., a knowledge of being spoken to by the living God which was not an inference from the nature of that which God spake—a knowledge common to Balaam and Jonah with Moses and Samuel, and distinct from all communion in the word that came to them. What this was I know not, and may never know.… What we seek to know is, surely, the actual fact as to what God does in the earth, of which we may not make our own experience the measure; while we cannot be too thankful for that clear consciousness of seeing light in God’s light which may be our temptation to do so.—Macleod Campbell.
Experience of God.—Now and then a great experience comes unexpected and unsought. It touches the greater chords of the soul, and lifts it above the common level of emotion, outruns all former knowledge.… But what other experience is like that of the personal disclosure of God in the soul.… There comes an hour to some, to many, of transfiguration. It may be in grief; it may be in joy; it may be the opening of the door of sickness; it may be in active duty; it may be under the roof or under the sky, where God draws near with such reality, glory, and power that the soul is filled, amazed, transported. All before was nothing; all afterwards will be but a souvenir. That single vision, that one hour, is worth the whole of life, and throws back a light on all that went before. It … gives to the soul some such certainty of invisible, spiritual truths as one has of his own personal identity. When one has had this hour of divine disclosure, of full and entrancing vision, it never can be retracted, or effaced, or reasoned against, or forgotten.—Ward Beecher.
2. THE VIEW GIVEN TO EZEKIEL OF “THE LIKENESS OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD” (Chap. Ezekiel 1:4-26.1.28)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 1:4. The storm-cloud. “A whirlwind,” a tempest such as Job perceived (Ezekiel 38:1), or like that which Jonah encountered (Ezekiel 2:10), “came out of the north,” the region from which the Chaldean forces proceeded, and, in general, to the Jews, “the region pregnant with destiny” (Hengst.). “A great cloud, and a fire infolding itself.” Fire in volumes was mixed up with the cloud, and (Exodus 9:24) flashed hither and thither, circling round. “A brightness was about it,” the cloud, “and out of the midst thereof,” of the fire, “as the colour of amber,” or as the eye of chasmal. The appearance was such as gave tints, shone, burned like chasmal. The mild colour of amber does not seem to express the meaning of this uncertain word. There was a look like that of are glowing from “the midst of the fire.”
Ezekiel 1:5-26.1.14. The living creatures. Ezekiel 1:5. Out of this same fire came “the likeness of four living creatures,” representing all beings with life (Revelation 4:6); and, as the best representative of vital energies, each of the four had “the likeness of a man.” But not entirely so. Ezekiel 1:7. “Their feet,” including knee and thigh, were of the nature of “a straight foot;” they were upright, not bent, and that part which was next the ground was “like the sole of a calf’s foot, and they sparkled like the colour,” the eye, the gleam “of burnished,” or shining, “brass” (Revelation 1:15). Their wings proceeded from their shoulders, for (Ezekiel 1:8) “they had the hands of a man under their wings,” one hand under each of “their four sides.” Ezekiel 1:9. Two “wings” of each “were joined” to a wing of each of its nearest neighbours, and as each had four faces, one of which looked towards a distinct quarter of the sky, “they turned not when they went.” So “they went every one straight forward” in the direction in which any one of their faces looked, and as a conjunct whole. Ezekiel 1:10. Of the four faces, one was like that of “a man,” another like that of “a lion,” another of “an ox.” and the fourth of “an eagle.” Ezekiel 1:11. “Thus were their faces, and their wings were stretched upward;” rather, and their faces and their wings were separated from above, i.e., it could be seen that their heads were distinct and their wings were distinct, though two wings of one were in contact with two wings of others. Ezekiel 1:12. They were moved by an irresistible impulse, and, separated as they were from one another, yet they were animated by one life-breath. “Whither the spirit was to go, they went.” Ezekiel 1:13. “Their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of lamps,” torches; “it,” the fire, was separate from, and “went up and down among the living creatures.” Ezekiel 1:14. The creatures had a motion which made the impression as of a “flash” of a meteor, or “the zigzag course” of “lightning.”*
Ezekiel 1:15-26.1.21. The wheels. Ezekiel 1:15. “Behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.” Ezekiel saw wheels upon the ground, one in close proximity to each of the four creatures, and lower than they. Ezekiel 1:16. “They four” wheels “had one likeness;” each consisted of two wheels really, “as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel,” set in the other at right angles. Ezekiel 1:17. “They went upon their four sides;” they could go in any direction without turning round. Ezekiel 1:18. “As for their rings,” circumference or felloes, “they were so high that they were dreadful,” they had both height and terribleness, and “full of eyes round about.” Ezekiel 1:20. “The spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.” The same energy which actuated the former actuated the latter also, and they were one in standing, going, or rising upwards.
Ezekiel 1:22-26.1.28. The throned one. Ezekiel 1:22. Above “the heads of the living creatures” Ezekiel saw an expanse extended, having a colour like that “of the terrible crystal,” exciting fear by its purity and splendour. Ezekiel 1:23. “Under the firmament,” or expanse, which therefore came between the throne and the living creatures, “were their wings straight, the one toward the other,” joined to one another, as Ezekiel 1:11, “and every one had two which covered;” there was a wing for each side of “their bodies.” Ezekiel 1:24. When the living creatures were in movement “the noise of their wings was like … the voice of speech,” rather, “the noise of tumult, as the noise of an host.” The sounds were heard only when they were in motion, for “when they stood they let down their wings.” Ezekiel 1:25. Their movement or rest was not self-directed, but was instigated or checked by “a voice from the firmament that was over their heads,” from Him who was on the throne, since, Ezekiel 1:26, “above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of” the pale-blue “sapphire stone, and upon the likeness of the throne,” not the distinguishable form of a man, but “the likeness as the appearance of a man.” “No man hath seen God at anytime.” This manifestation had three aspects—Ezekiel 1:27.
(1.) Over the dim form was shed shining light like to glowing ore, and the same as in Ezekiel 1:4, which radiated “from the appearance of his loins even upward” (chap. Ezekiel 8:2).
(2.) Upon the lower part, “from the appearance of his loins even downward was as it were the appearance of fire.”
(3.) All round was a shining light (Ezekiel 1:28), “as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain.” Those three aspects were united to frame “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” The visions of God overpowered Ezekiel, “I fell upon my face” (Revelation 1:17).
The details of this wondrous vision may be summarised. A furious storm from the north is seen driving a vast cloud, pervaded and glowing with restless fires, and surrounded with radiance. From this fiery cloud four living beings appear, whose general aspect was that of man. Each had four different faces and four wings, and two of the wings were stretched out in juxtaposition to the wings of others. One spiritual energy stirred in the living creatures, and under its impulse they moved like meteors shooting across the field of vision and shining with the brightness of fire. By the side of each creature was a gigantic double wheel, not needing to turn when it changed from one direction to another. Eyes were set round the outer rims, and, possessed by the same energy as the living creatures, the wheels made all movements perfectly simultaneous with theirs. Above all was an expanse of awful pureness, and on which was the likeness of an azure throne. Some one in the figure of a man was seated on this throne—the upper half of his body shining like glowing metal, the lower half like fire, while, girdling round the throne, the hues of a bright rainbow were displayed. A voice proceeded from this throne-crowned expanse, at the sound of which the living creatures let down their wings in lowly reverence and silence. Ezekiel also heard himself addressed by an unseen speaker.
The appearances which accompanied the designation of Ezekiel, and also the repetition of their prominent aspects at other turns of his service, indicate the fact of a special meaning adhering to them in view of what was appointed him.*
1. The storm, the cloud, the fire, signify the wrath of God and the sufferings which may proceed therefrom. “The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet” (Nahum 1:3). Of Israel it is said, “The Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Ezekiel is to prepare himself to carry a message of judgment and woe to his people; he is to be invested with authority and then to inspire them with terror. But not unmitigated. “The brightness round about,” which Ezekiel 1:27-26.1.28 signify to be that of the rainbow, warrants the belief that pity and grace will surround all inflictions. The false prophets spoke of deliverance without punishment and without repentance; Ezekiel has to bear down all such fancies, and proclaim that there will be scathing trials, but afterwards a new heart and the outpoured Spirit.
2. The cherubim. In chap. Ezekiel 10:20, Ezekiel intimates that the living creature which he saw by the Chebar he was led to recognise as the cherubims. An important part is assigned to them in the Bible. They were placed at the east of the garden of Eden; they stood over the Ark of the Covenant in Tabernacle and Temple. In each case they signified the divine presence. Hence the familiar expressions, “He dwelleth between the cherubims,” “He sitteth between the cherubims.” Their outstretched wings form “the chariot of the cherubims.” While it is also said, “He rode upon a cherub,” as a token that He rules all movements among the forces of nature. It was an obvious reflection of cherubic forms which John saw, in his Revelation, “in the midst of the throne.” What did they signify? In all cases they signify that God is present, and belong to His manifestation in living, organised creatures, in all quarters of the world. It is to be noted that the faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle on each are emblematical of the fulness and power of life. The fact that they were, in Ezekiel, double in number and more complex in form than those found in Tabernacle or Temple, is a fact which goes to prove that they were not real beings, not even angelic, but symbolical, and they “at one and the same time proclaim and veil His presence. When He is honoured as He who is enthroned above the cherubim, He is acknowledged as the God who rules the world on all sides, in power, wisdom, and omniscience.” They represent not God Himself, except as He is absolute Life, working in living creatures and moving them to the ends which He prescribes. In accordance with those ends, the cherubims had the appearance which bright burning coals of fire have, yet the fire was separate from them. Thus was indicated that all living creatures could be made to carry out the righteous judgment of God with ominous rapidity. So Ezekiel was prepared to testify that all hopes of earthly help which Israel might cherish would be speedily falsified.
3. The wheels. In the Buddhist, and partially in the Hindu religion, a wheel “is the symbol of supreme power in the hands of certain monarchs, who are held to have exercised universal dominion, and who are, for this reason, termed turners of the wheel.” A similar idea is conveyed here. The wheels represent the forces of nature as distinct from, but in working harmony with, living beings. This distinction appears from chap. Ezekiel 10:13, where the right interpretation seems to be that the wheels were called Galgal, “whirlwind;” and from chap. Ezekiel 10:6, where fire was taken from between them. Those natural energies revolve, along with the cherubim, under obedience to one and the same in working impulse. They are used when the Spirit will, and go to any quarter of the heaven that He wills. One wheel is within another; changes are complicated, and not in one direction only. They are full of eyes: “the symbol of intelligent life; the living Spirit’s most peculiar organ and index.” “Space is everywhere equally present to them.” They do not move blindly; they can perceive that which is opposed to the interests of God in any quarter; they can follow up all traces of His enemies, and carry His terrors wherever they should strike. Ezekiel must expect to speak of various trials hanging over all classes in Israel, and certainty in their infliction.
4. The appearance of a throned man.
“Whose faith has centre everywhere,
Nor cares to fix itself to form.”
This portion of the vision is seen upon a firmament which presents “visible poetry, gloriously embossed, and whose psalms are writ in the rhythm of motion.” It intimates that “the heavens do rule,” that all forms of animate and inanimate existence are under the will of the God of glory.* Besides, He is in a human form, which cannot be adequately seen, while the appearance of brightness and fire, and a rainbow, indicates the holiness and righteousness and grace which make a glorious unity in Him, and are possessed in absolute perfection—a type of the glory and grace of Him who was made flesh and dwelt among us. “God is the unrepresentable One. He has no similitude; and yet, without any misgiving or sense of inconsistency, there are ascribed to Him acts and appearances which, without the conceptive or imaging faculty, can have for us neither force nor meaning” (Lewis). The mighty voice and the movements with the cherubims point to the truth that He punishes His enemies and comforts His friends. Thus, sitting above the cherubims, He does the same as in the Temple, yet with differences. He was about to work in new methods, and would make known to exiled Israel, through Ezekiel, that if their covenant was to “vanish away,” He would not go. He would rule the heathen as well as His chosen seed, and one day evoke from all quarters the glorious cry, “Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!”
“One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off Divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.”
“There was nothing accidental or capricious about this vision; all was wisely adjusted and arranged, so as to convey beforehand suitable impressions of that work of God to which Ezekiel was now called to devote himself. It was substantially an exhibition by means of emblematical appearances and actions, of the same views of the Divine character and government, which were to be unfolded in the successive communications made by Ezekiel to the covenant-people” (Fairbairn).
(1.) THE VISION IS SUGGESTIVE REGARDING THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD
I. As to its resources.
1. They are manifold. Wind and fire, thunder and lightning, the wisdom of man, brute force, patient labour, swift movements are significant portions of the materials which He can gather to execute His purposes. Men live in perpetual contact with forces which may affect their organs of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and which can be marshalled in any number, in any strength, and at any moment. We see wrongly if we do not see that the uniform of God’s servants is worn by all animate and inanimate creatures.
2. They are mutable. They are restrained and again in motion, now in the darkness and then in the light, here as a glow and there as a meteoric flash, acting inertly at one time and intensely after that. Changes continually come up. How remarkable are the vicissitudes in nations, churches, families. We are settled in nothing—in nothing but in God.
3. They are inscrutable. “We are but of yesterday and know nothing.” We see little else than an item on the outside of a few of His resources. “His judgments are a great deep.” “His providence walks and works, darkly, deeply, changeably, wheels about so that mortals cannot tell what conclusions to make” as to all the causes which bring about changes, or as to all the consequences which shall follow. “His ways are high above, out of our sight,” with nations, councils, churches, individuals—in panics, wars, demoralisations.
4. They are subordinated to one pervading impulse. Living or non-living, one and the same mighty Spirit works in all. The Spirit which brooded over a chaotic creation “renews the face of the earth” year by year. The Spirit of understanding and of love is the “Spirit of judgment and of burning.” He divides to each thing severally as He will; but there is no division in their camp. They do not fall out by the way. They work together to fulfil His word. There is no crookedness in their goings when He commands to go “straight forward.” They run very swiftly in accordance with the might by which He energises them. No bullet goes so fairly or rapidly to the target as do the manifold resources of God when stirred by the Spirit of life. Why should men resist Him? Why do they yield to a spirit of error, of lying, and of whoredoms, except on the ground that they rebel and vex the Holy Spirit? When will that kingdom which is righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost, be permanent on earth? But whatever discord may be introduced by men, the Spirit will not be baulked in His aims. “He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him,” and He will avenge the dishonour done to His righteousness and grace by means of the pliant resources at His command. They do not look back, that would have denoted unwillingness; nor turn aside, that would have intimated self-will; nor suspend their movements before their course is completed, that would have spoken of weariness. So should men follow obediently, unswervingly, persistently Him who guides wanderers into the way of life, and sustains them therein.
5. They inflict chastisement. Gales, fire, lightning, are disastrous in various ways to men. The doors of Lebanon open that the fire may devour its cedars. Snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest rain upon the wicked, and Ezekiel saw such agencies in action as ominous of calamities which he was to declare would befall his people. Thus, above Nebuchadnezzar and his desolating army; above losses, pains, bereavements; above wars, depression of trade, lowering of health, we must observe the signs of the Lord condemning untruthfulness, unrighteousness, formality, pride, selfishness. “Who can stand before Him when once He is angry?” Is there not a warning to “cease to do evil, to learn to do well”?
6. They may be brought from any quarter. Out of the north, as the Assyrians; out of the east, as the plague of locusts in Egypt; out of the north-east, as the Euroclydon in Paul’s sea passage to Rome, God’s resources can be drawn. Men may boast of their soldiery or navy, of their preparedness for any war, of their civilization or religiousness, of their worship or their benevolence; but they lay themselves open to the menacing word, “I the Lord do blow upon it.” In front, in flank, or in rear assailants may fall upon them. “Political changes and revolutions are, after all, only the moving of the shadow on the earthly dial-plate, that marks the mightier motions going forward in the heavens.”—Moore.
7. They radiate with mercy. His resources are not only for punishment. They are meant to show to men their evil and their need of repentance; to show that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Judgment is His “strange act.” He wants to purify the world, though the process be slow, just as He is separating the dross from the heart of every believer in His Son. Even if a deluge of wrath is sent forth in order to sweep off evil habits from a people, after the floods have lifted up their voice the rainbow will appear. The covenant of the Lord is sure in faithfulness and mercy. “Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.”
II. As to the representation of the divine.
1. It is supreme. All things are under His feet. He is a Prince upon His throne. Nothing stirs or rests, nothing develops or degenerates, nothing pains or soothes apart from His control. It is not a mechanical force which operates the changes of all creatures. It is ONE who possesses power, wisdom, righteousness, love—“who does His will among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of this earth.” What can stand if He will overthrow? Who hinder if He will open the gates to anxiety, sorrow, shame, death?
2. It is closely allied to man. Ezekiel saw “the likeness of the appearance of a man.” We must not say that God is corporeal and has the figure of a man, but we can say that He has some striking affinities with human nature—“For we are also His offspring”—and these foreshadow the mystery to be presented in the end of the world, and in which Paul grandly exults. God “was manifest in the flesh.” Therefore was it possible for the Son of God to pray “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us.”
3. It is beyond our knowledge. “He dwells in the light which no man hath seen or can see.” He does condescend to our faculties, and by means of the hieroglyphics of undefined forms, of clouds, fire, living beings, revolutions, He shows us what His power and resources are. Our thoughts of Him suggest more riddles than they can solve. No research can define Him. There is a glory excelling that which men have beheld. He has never appeared as He really exists; but “He has so appeared as to leave no doubt on the minds of His servants as to their knowing that they have seen God.” If in certain aspects He is “unknowable,” yet all doubts as to His character pass away when Jesus reveals Him. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”
III. As to the preparation of a human servant.
1. Reverence. A deep feeling pervades Ezekiel of the holy supremacy of God. He who is glorious produces another state of mind than that which springs from a gratified curiosity or an increased knowledge, and the man who is not “moved with fear” before the manifested will of the Almighty is a man who will never serve Him aright. The sight of Christ Jesus, the only-begotten of the Father, will lay us at His feet, utterly self-emptied by a sense of His spotless glory and our unworthiness, and will be a prelude to His touch and restoration.
2. Weakness. Ezekiel cannot act of himself in co-operation with this all-ruling God. He has no strength to carry out such arduous duties as are justly required. But this weakness is his stepping-stone to light and power. When he is weak then is he strong, for God will bestow sufficient grace. Trust in self is gone that God may work. Wisdom, energy, faithfulness not his own are open to him.
3. Called. Ezekiel is thrilled by the voice which addresses him. He could not serve at all till that call of God was heard. Men cannot act for His kingdom by their own impulses and preparations. It is not colleges or ordination by man which make fit, but, hearing the voice of the Lord within, they can take up any service pointed out, in face of their other occupations, of fears, of reluctance. Before Him all events, however solemn, all duties, however untried, become dwarfed and feasible. “In Christ strengthening me I can do all things.” Between His voice and yours let no other voice come. You will know the mark to aim at, and reach “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” If we teach or preach about His kingdom without knowing we are warranted by Him, it is rather sin than service. His must be the impulse and sustainment.
4. Susceptible. Ezekiel hears; for it is little matter to have the call of God if we have not ears to hear. We must let that mind be in us which will desire to recognise and apprehend whatever He will say to us. “If men did consult with Christ, and do all upon His warrants, they should never miscarry in their ways, but proceed farther in the paths of godliness in a few weeks than they did before in many years.”—Greenhill. “Though you have no visions of God, unwavering fealty to His law will secure that He will guide you by His counsel, and afterwards receive you to glory.”—Goulty. When the suggestions and motions of God’s Spirit come on a receptive heart, they subdue carnal reasonings, stubbornness of will, all shifts and pretences, and frame “a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use,” such as Ezekiel became.
“It is of much concernment for ministers to see that they have a good and clear call to their ministry. If they can clear it up that God hath sent them, they may expect His assistance, His blessing, His protection, and success in their labours. However things prove, this will be their comfort in the midst of opposition, reproach, persecution, hazard of liberty and lives; I was called of God, I am in His work, in His way, He brought me into His vineyard, He will stand by me, I will go on, let Him do with me what He pleaseth.”—Greenhill.
God the life of all things.—Nothing exists, subsists, is acted upon or moved by itself, but by some other being or agent; whence it follows that everything exists, subsists, is acted upon, and is moved by the First Being, who has no origin from another, but is in Himself the force which is life.—Swedenborg. God has a world of real forces in Himself. He bears within Him an inexhaustible spring, by virtue of which He is the Life eternally streaming forth, but also eternally streaming back into Himself. He neither empties nor loses Himself in His vital activity. He is a sea of self-revolving Life; an infinite fulness of forces moves, so to speak, and undulates therein.—Dorner. In this communication of life, God gives Himself so unreservedly that creation feels Him as her own, His joy as her joy, His peace as her peace, His strength as her strength, His personality and independence as her personality and independence.—W. White.
Foreknowledge.—The divine foreknowledge has put a stamp of that which was coming upon that which went before. This stamp is the basis of figurative language, of analogy, of typology, of prophecy, yea, of all knowledge. Every lower thing is a figure, a type, or prophecy of a higher thing; every present thing contains a representation of a coming thing, and every visible thing is more or less the image of things invisible. God’s foreknowledge thus becomes the great highway of knowledge to man, by which he can traverse not only the earth, but the universe so far as it is accessible to his inspection.—W. White.
Clouds.—Those war-clouds that gather on the horizon, dragon-crested, tongued with fire;—how is their barbed strength bridled? What bits are these they are champing with their vaporous lips; flinging off flakes of black foam? Leagued leviathans of the sea of heaven, out of their nostrils goeth smoke, and their eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.… Where ride the captains of their armies? Where are set the measures of their march? Fierce murmurers, answering each other from morning until evening—what rebuke is this which has awed them into peace? What hand has reined them back by the way by which they came? “The wondrous works of Him which is perfect in knowledge?” We have too great veneration for cloudlessness.—Ruskin.
Human ignorance.—There has never been a weak deity worshipped, and it is safe to say there never will be one. Man is too strong himself not to admire strength, and looks with pity or contempt upon weakness. And no deity can be pitied or despised and hold his sovereignty over men’s minds. The heavens must be braced beyond the possibility of fall, or they who live beneath the dome could never gaze with awe into the overhanging spaces.… I do not expect that any of mortal kind have a correct idea of God.… How little do we know even yet of the qualities and uses of material and finite Nature! For Nature is yet a mystery. She sits like the veiled prophet in the inner temple of her abode, whose outer walls we in our groping have at last stumbled against, and upon the panels of whose mighty gates a few of our most ambitious scientists are beginning to rap. If, then, so little is known of Nature, how little indeed must we know of the Invisible Spirit, who is so removed from our senses that no man could look upon His face and live. How flippantly men talk of God! As if they could understand the measureless reality whose reflection they only behold! The men who say God must be this or that, must do this or that, are for the most part men who have great intellectual vanity and great spiritual ignorance. The bowed head, the closed eye, the hand on the mouth and the mouth in the dust,—these are the evidences of piety, and, I may say, of spiritual knowledge also.—W. H. Murray.
An infinite unknown.—We are separated from it, not by any anger of storm, not by any vain and fading vapour, but only by the deep infinity of the thing itself.—Ruskin. Capable are we of God, both by understanding and will; by understanding, as He is that sovereign truth which comprehends the rich treasures of all wisdom; by will, as He is that sea of goodness whereof whoso tasteth shall thirst no more.—Hooker.
A Seer.—The more I think of it, the more I find this conclusion impressed upon me—that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion—all in one.—Ruskin.
Law in the spiritual.—Laws are operant in the things of the Spirit as truly as in the things of matter. The forces there are not disorderly, nor do the movements which they generate start haphazard. They are not impulsive, freakful, and fickle. They who suppose that the coming of the Spirit to human consciousness is the result of arbitrary sending and of periodical ordering, and not the result of a ceaseless and ceaselessly expressed benevolence, doubtless mistake.… The anarchy must be reduced to order; the chaos taught the use and made to feel the force of law; the imperfect organisations of society be supplanted by the perfect.… The Spirit, through change of custom, law, and habit, and by a gradual transition of the world from old to new, can, at last, after ages of revolution and growth, accomplish another structure.—W. H. Murray.
God manifested.—He the Creator, the Governor, became a presence clear and plain before men’s hearts. He, by the marvellous method of the Incarnation, showed Himself to man. He stood beside man’s work. He towered above, and folded Himself about, man’s life. And what then? God in the world must be the standard of the world. Greatness meant something different when men had seen how great He was. Just suppose that suddenly Omniscience towered up above our knowledge, and Omnipotence above our strength, and the Infinite Wisdom stood piercing out of the sight of our ignorant and baffled skill. Must it not crush the man with an utter insignificance?… He would be brought face to face with facts. He would measure himself against the eternal pillars of the universe. He would learn the blessed lesson of his own littleness in the way in which it is always learnt most blessedly—by learning the largeness of larger things.… If you could only see God for ever present in your life, and Jesus dying for your soul, and your soul worth Jesus dying for, and the souls of your brethren precious in His sight, and the whole universe teeming with work for Him, then must come the humility of the Christian.—Brooks.
In the divinity of His person there is laid an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable ground for the most unbounded confidence. If He were a being possessed of nothing higher than the highest possible endowments of humanity, we might well scruple to place in such an one a confidence stretching through eternity. But being God, in trusting in Him we rely upon a power that cannot be withstood, upon a wisdom which hath no limits, upon a truth that is infallible, upon a love that is unchangeable, upon a fidelity that cannot fail.—W. White.
The enduring Word of God.—We are not more unworldly than the patriarchs, more spiritual than the prophets, more heavenly-minded than the apostles; we are not nearer the great celestial verities than men of the olden time—at least by any philosophy, or science, or culture of our own that is independent of the study and the grace of the Scriptures; we are not beyond the Bible either in its letter or its thought. There are ideas there the world has not yet fathomed; there are words and figures there whose rich significance interpretation has not yet exhausted. The scriptural style and the scriptural language are not meant for one age, but for all ages. Its Orientalisms will grow in the West; its archaisms will be found still young in the nineteenth century. Science is ever changing, as it is ever unfinished; its language is ever becoming obsolete, as it is ever superseded; philosophy is continually presenting some new phase of its ever-revolving cycles; the political world is ever a dissolving view; literature becomes effete, and art decays; “but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Not so sure are the types of nature as even the form and feature of this written word, if it be indeed the word of God, uttered in humanity, breathed into human souls, informing human emotions, conceived in human thoughts, made outward in human images, and indissolubly bound, as the wondrous narrative of the supernatural, in the long chain of human history.—T. Lewis.
Changes.—We are apt to fret and murmur at the motions of the wheels when they cross our hopes and interests; but if the Spirit of God be in the wheels and acts them according to His own pleasure, then all our impatience is groundless and sinful. We should stay and quiet our minds under all turns and changes in a world for discipline, rebuke, threatening, lamentation, calling.—M. Meade.
Unity.—The prophet, cast into the wide world and feeling himself lost in it, was led by the Divine Teacher into a region of thought to which the Israelite had been hitherto comparatively a stranger—was led to see how each part of the universe, which must have often seemed to him a storehouse of divided material idols, was pointing when seen by the divine light to a spiritual unity, as its explanation and its centre.… It is Spirit only which distinguishes and unites, which brings each thing forth in its clearness and fulness, and brings all into harmony, … a Spirit which had come from some higher region. There is One, human and divine, from whom this Spirit has proceeded, in whom it dwells perfectly.—Maurice.
3. THE COMMISSION TO EZEKIEL (Chaps. 2–3, 1–15)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 1:1. “Son of man.” This is the customary form of address to Ezekiel, and is used only of him and Daniel among all the prophets. As both were prophesying in captivity, the title must have been conditioned by that fact, and would signify to the exiled prophets, away from the city which God had chosen to place His name there, that above them He was who was the God of the spirits of all flesh, who would communicate with the souls He owned, and supply all that would make up for absence from the land of promise and covenant. The title hardly could intimate, as is said by commentators, that Ezekiel was in need of a continual reminder of his human origin and frailty and unworthiness, or that he was to watch against being puffed up by his visions, or that he was spoken to familiarly as a special friend of God. We may listen to the phrase as expressing both a contrast and a connection between the speaker and the hearer.
Ezekiel 1:2. “The Spirit.” Not the spirit of Ezekiel, as if he had been altogether unconscious and his spirit came to him again; nor scarcely the Holy Spirit, as operative in prophetic revelation; but the Spirit which was in the living creatures, and which, no doubt, was the Spirit of God.
Ezekiel 1:3. “The children of Israel.” The most common expression used by Ezekiel for his people, perhaps significant of an amalgamation already begun of the Jews with the remnants of the ten tribes formerly gone into captivity. “To a rebellious nation,” or to the nations, the rebels. They who were children of him who wrestled with the angel are deteriorated, not to the level of a heathen nation, as in Isaiah 1:4, but to that of heathen nations.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany