Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 1

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3409. B.C. 595.

We have here,

(1,) An account of Ezekiel, and of the date and place of his call to the prophetic office, 1-3.

(2,) A vision granted him of a whirlwind, great cloud, fire, and four living creatures coming out of the midst of it, 4, 5.

(3,) A description of them, and of their motions, 6-14.

(4,) Of wheels moved by them, and of the whole being directed by God, 15-25.

(5,) Of the glory of God, as in our nature, enthroned above them, 26-28.

Verse 1

Ezekiel 1:1. Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year It is very uncertain from whence this computation of time commences. But the most probable opinion seems to be that which the Chaldee paraphrast, Archbishop Usher, Dr. Prideaux, and other learned men adopt: namely, that these thirty years are to be reckoned from the time when Josiah and all the people of Judah entered into that solemn covenant mentioned 2 Kings 22:3; and when the book of the law was found by Hilkiah the priest, which was in the eighteenth year of Josiah, from which date, it appears, to the fifth year of the captivity, were thirty years. This being an event which put the Jewish state upon a new trial, was certainly sufficiently remarkable to render the time when it took place an era proper to be dated from. Accordingly, from the same period learned men compute the forty years of Judah’s transgression, mentioned Ezekiel 4:6. In the fourth month Thammuz, which nearly corresponds to our July; as I was among the captives Carried away by Nebuchadnezzar, with King Jehoiachin, 2 Kings 24:14. Thus the godly are sometimes involved in the same outward calamities which befall the wicked. By the river Chebar Which river Ammianus calls Aboras, and Ptolemy, Chaboras. It flows into the east side of the Euphrates at Circesium, or Carchemish, nearly two hundred miles northward of Babylon. On this river, at Tel-abib and other places, Nebuchadnezzar planted his Jewish captives, probably to cultivate waste lands, or to carry on some manufacture for the benefit of their victors. This was the scene of Ezekiel’s prophecies, which were continued through the course of twenty-two years. Here he was present in body, though in visionary representation he was sometimes taken to Jerusalem: see Bishop Newcome.

The heavens were opened As a prelude to a heavenly vision. The appearance of the heavens, as it were, opening, seems, in this and such like cases, to have been represented first to excite attention to the vision that was to follow: see Matthew 3:16. And I saw visions of God It is probable that the captive Jews had been left some time without prophets or visions from God, which might supply the want of the more ordinary means of instruction; at length, however, God raised them up a prophet in their captivity, to whom he first revealed himself by an extraordinary vision, as he had done to Isaiah, chap. 6., to Jeremiah, chap. 1., to Abraham, Acts 7:2, and to many others of his servants, in order, as it were, to open and settle a correspondence, and a satisfactory way of intercourse, so that there needed not afterward a vision upon every fresh revelation made to them.

Verses 2-3

Ezekiel 1:2-3. In the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity This was of course the fifth year of Zedekiah, who succeeded Jehoiachin. And as the city and temple were destroyed in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, (2 Kings 25:2,) it follows that this vision appeared to Ezekiel six years before that event. The Hebrew writers, it must be observed, use several computations of the beginning of the Babylonish captivity: see the note on Jeremiah 25:11. That under Jehoiachin, wherein Ezekiel was made a captive, is the computation he always follows in the succeeding parts of his prophecy. The word of the Lord This expression signifies any sort of revelation, whether by a vision, such as is related in the following verses, or by a voice, as Ezekiel 2:3; came expressly Hebrew, היה היה , being was, or, in coming came, that is, came assuredly; unto Ezekiel It came with such clearness and conviction that he could neither doubt of its divine authority, mistake its import, nor question his being appointed to the prophetical office; the priest Being of the family of Aaron, he was a priest by birth, and was now made a prophet by an extraordinary call. In the land of the Chaldeans In the worst places God can raise up instruments for the service of his church. And the hand of the Lord was there upon him He felt sensible impressions of a divine power closing his senses to external objects, opening his eyes to see the visions, opening his ears to hear the voice, and his heart to receive both. When the hand of the Lord goes along with his word, then it becomes effectual.

Verse 4

Ezekiel 1:4 . I looked I very diligently surveyed the things which were represented to me in the vision, and behold a whirlwind Denoting the indignation and judgments of God; a quick, impetuous, and irresistible vengeance: see the margin. It is described here as coming out of the north, because, as has been before observed, the Chaldean army, by which the judgment was to be executed, would, for convenience of forage and water, march first northward, and then turn about toward Judea, so that they did, strictly speaking, come into it from the north. A great cloud It is usual to express any great trouble by a great, dark cloud hanging over people’s heads. And here, in particular, it seems to signify the calamity coming on Judea by the Chaldean invasion. And a fire infolding itself A fire appearing in folds, like one wreath within another. This was indicative of God’s avenging justice, for God is described in Scripture as a consuming fire, when he comes to execute his judgments upon sinners: see Deuteronomy 4:24. And a brightness was about it Clear discoveries of God’s holiness and justice, which, it is thus signified, would be made manifest in what was about to be done. Out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber Rather, as the appearance of amber. “There was a bright pellucid appearance.” Newcome. But Bochart shows that ηλεκτρον , the word used in the LXX., signifies not only amber and crystal, but a metal compounded of gold and silver, or of gold and brass; and thinks that the last, called χαλκολιβανον , Revelation 1:15, best suits this place. This seems to have been a symbolical representation of the Jewish people; for as this compound metal was not consumed in the fire, so the Jews were not to be wholly destroyed by the grievous calamities they were to be involved in, but to come out purer from the furnace of affliction, as gold and brass out of the fire.

Verses 5-6

Ezekiel 1:5-6. Out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures Termed cherubim, Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 9:10. throughout. These seem to have been a hieroglyphical representation of the holy angels, attendants on the king of glory, and the ministers of his providence, as well when he executes judgments on sinners, as when he confers benefits on his people. They were four, probably to denote that they were employed in all the four quarters of the world. They had the likeness of a man “They had the human stature.” So Houbigant. Or, as others interpret the phrase, “for the greatest part they appeared in the human shape.” This was to signify that they were intelligent and rational creatures, of which that form is to us the token. But each of them had four faces, which were probably emblems of their endowments and characters. “The face of a man implied that they possessed knowledge, foresight, prudence, compassion, and philanthropy; that of a lion intimated their boldness and force in executing the will of God; that of an ox denoted strength, unwearied diligence, and perseverance; and that of an eagle, spiritual sagacity and heavenly affections, by which they soared aloft above all created objects, to the uncreated source of holiness and felicity.” Scott. And every one had four wings By which seems to be signified the activity and speed with which they executed God’s commands in all parts of the world.

Verses 7-10

Ezekiel 1:7-10. And their feet were straight feet Emblematical probably of simplicity and uprightness, or of the steadiness of their obedience. And the sole of their feet like the sole of a calf’s foot To signify their firmness and constancy in performing the divine will. Or, as some think, the soles of their feet, being divided, like those of calves and other clean animals, might be emblematical of their perfect purity and holiness. And they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass To signify their zeal in God’s service, or that the glory of God should shine forth, or be made manifest in their actions. And they had the hands of a man To show their power and ability to perform with speed what was enjoined them; or, that they did all things orderly, distinctly, and quickly; the hands of a man being most aptly made, of any thing we know, for performing any artificial operations. And by these hands being under their wings might be signified that their works were invisible and unknown to man, and done without any ostentation. They four had their faces and their wings This is a repetition of what had been said before, in order that it might be more noticed. Their wings were joined one to another To signify their perfect agreement in the speedy execution of God’s will; and that all the acts which God performs by the ministry of his angels are admirably consistent, and agreeing with each other, and adapted to the purpose intended to be brought to pass. They turned not when they went They were immediately ready to do the work assigned them without any delay or hinderance, and they proceeded directly on in one and the same undeviating course; were constant and persevering in performing the divine will, without being turned aside therefrom by any obstacle whatever. They four had the face of a man, &c. See note on Ezekiel 1:6.

Verses 11-12

Ezekiel 1:11-12. Their wings were stretched upward That is, two wings of each, namely, in a posture of flying, to show that they were always actively employed in executing God’s commands. Some unite this clause with the preceding, and render the whole, Their faces and their wings were stretched upward, namely, denoting a posture of attention, as if they were hearkening to the voice of God’s words, as angels are represented Psalms 103:20. Two wings of every one were joined one to another, &c. Of the two living creatures in front, and of the two behind, the right wing of one reached to the left wing of the other, the extremities of the expanded inner wings forming an arch. In Isaiah 6:2, and Revelation 4:6, each of the seraphim has six wings assigned him, whereas the living creatures here have each but four; the reason of which is, that in those places these appearances are described as making use of two of their wings to cover their faces, out of reverence to the divine presence, before which they stand and worship; whereas, here they are supposed to be actively employed as ministers of the Divine Providence, in executing his counsels in all parts of the world. And two covered their bodies To signify, perhaps, that we men are not able to understand the nature of angels. Whither the spirit was to go, they went Without any dispute or delay: the Spirit of God directed all their motions: and all their ministrations were as truly unconstrained and free, as they were subservient to God’s designs in his providential government of the church and the world. They turned not when they went They looked not back; they turned not out of the way; they ceased not till they had completed their course.

Verses 13-14

Ezekiel 1:13-14. As for the likeness of the living creatures Their colour, or aspect; their appearance was like burning coals They were inflamed by the Spirit of God with a holy zeal for his glory, and with indignation against impenitent sinners. This might also be intended as a symbolical declaration, that after the long patience of God, all things now tended to vengeance, and the executing of his judgments upon the Jews; for executing which he would use these angels as ministers. And like the appearance of lamps This probably signified, that the uprightness of the divine justice should shine forth, or be made manifest in these judgments. It went up and down among the living creatures That is, the fire moved itself up and down. Milton’s expression, ( Paradise Lost, 6:756,) is, “And careening fires between.” That is, fires which ran swiftly, and, as it were, tilted at each other: emblematical of the terrible effects of the ministry of these living creatures on the objects of divine vengeance. Out of the fire went forth lightning Significative of the irresistible force of the divine judgments, and the terrible and sudden destruction to be produced by them. And the living creatures ran and returned as a flash of lightning With inexpressible velocity: the swiftness of their motions every way resembled flashes of lightning. “They ran to do their work, and execute their orders,” says Henry, “and then returned to give an account of what they had done, and receive new instructions. They ran into the lower world, to do what was to be done there: and when they had done, returned as a flash of lightning, to the upper world, to the vision of God. Thus we should be in the affairs of this world: though we run into them, we must not repose in them, but our souls must presently return like lightning to God, their rest and centre.”

Verses 15-16

Ezekiel 1:15-16. Now as I beheld, &c. The prophet here proceeds to relate what he saw besides the living creatures, which he had described in the foregoing verses. Behold one wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures By each of the living creatures stood one wheel, so that they were four in number, according to the number of the living creatures. While he was contemplating the glory of the former vision, this other was presented to him: wherein the dispensations of providence are compared to the wheels of a machine, which all contribute to the regular motion of it. The shape of wheels, and their fitness for continual motion, aptly represent the constant revolution of human affairs under the conduct of providence, which orders, governs, and changes. Sometimes one spoke of the wheel is uppermost, sometimes another. “Those persons or communities which to- day are at the top of the wheel, may to-morrow be at the bottom, beyond all human expectation or prevention; yet in the midst of apparent confusion, and while every thing seems hurried on by blind chance, or fatal necessity, the most perfect regularity is observed, and the changes are directed by as fixed laws as those which regulate the motions of the wheels.” Scott. The prophet’s seeing the wheels upon the earth was intruded to denote, that the vision related to the affairs of this world; and the wheels being said to be beside the living creatures, which attended to direct their motions, manifests, that all inferior creatures are, and move, and act, as the Creator, by the ministration of angels, directs and influences them: visible effects are managed and governed by invisible causes. The appearance of the wheels That is, their colour, for it is plain that is here intended; and their work Their workmanship, form, or figure, as the word מעשׂה is repeatedly used, 1 Kings 7:17, &c., all that was wrought, whether engraved or otherwise, was of one colour; was like unto the colour of a beryl A gem of a bluish green; and called in the text here Tarshish, probably from the place whence it came. The colour intended is azure, or that of the blue sky mixed with a bright green: see Daniel 10:6. Probably the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God’s providential government may be here signified by this beautiful colour of the wheels. They four had one likeness They were the same for dimensions, colour, frame, and motion, to indicate that there is a consistency and uniformity in all the dispensations of Divine Providence. Their appearance, &c., was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel This may be explained two ways; either, 1st, That there were smaller wheels connected with, and put in motion by the larger, an emblematical representation of the connection of causes and effects; or, 2d, That they crossed one another in the middle, to signify the unsearchableness of the divine dispensations, and the intricacy of the affairs of this world, which seem to cross and thwart each other; but yet all move under the superintendence of infinite wisdom, justice, and goodness.

Verses 17-18

Ezekiel 1:17-18. When they went Namely, the wheels; they went upon their four sides The wheels being supposed spherical as a globe, by an exact framing of two wheels one in the other, the four semicircles, which were in two whole wheels, may well be taken for these four sides on which these wheels moved, and such a wheel will readily be turned to all points of the compass. An expressive emblem this of that divine providence which extends alike easily to every part and thing; and, like a wheel or globe, has no beginning, ending, or separation, but is a circumference including the whole of things, and equally acts more or less in every place and part. And they turned, or returned, not when they went That is, they never returned, or went backward, till they came to the end of their course; but proceeded on in one straight course and unbent line of direction. So firm and sure are the methods, so unalterable and constant the purposes of God, and so invariable the obedience and observance of holy angels. So subject to the will of God are all second causes, and so surely does the Divine Providence always accomplish its ends. Thus God speaks of his word and decree, Isaiah 55:11: It shall not return unto me void, but shall accomplish that which I please. To return by the way that he went, is a proverbial speech, signifying a man’s missing his aim, or not accomplishing his designs: see 1 Kings 13:9; 2 Kings 19:33. As for their rings, or felloes Namely, the circumference of the wheels; they were so high that they were dreadful Their circuit was so vast as to impress a fear on the beholder. This implied the vast compass of providence, which, as we read, Wis 8:1, reacheth from one end to another mightily, or, as St. Paul expresses it, the height and depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable his judgments are, and his ways past finding out, Romans 11:33. And their wings were full of eyes round about them four That is, every one of the four wheels; and so were also the living creatures themselves: see Ezekiel 10:12, to signify the great wisdom and foresight which direct all the dispensations of Divine Providence. How fitly do the wheels, their motion, their height, their eyes, and the form, appearance, motions, wings, and eyes of the living creatures express the height and depth, the unsearchableness, wisdom, and vigilance of the Divine Providence!

Verses 19-21

Ezekiel 1:19-21. When the living creatures went, the wheels went by them The living creatures and the wheels moved in concert, to show with what readiness and alacrity all the instruments of providence concur in carrying on its great designs and purposes; and that second causes here below act under the superintendence and conduct of God and his holy angels. When the living creatures were lifted up, &c., the wheels were lifted up By the wheels being lifted up with the living creatures, may be signified, that the dispensations of God on earth, where the wheels were first seen, are connected with the things of heaven, and are all appointed and directed with a reference to the concerns of God’s church, and of the spiritual and heavenly world. Whithersoever the Spirit was to go Namely, the Spirit of God; they went They punctually observed his conduct, and obeyed his influence. Their wills were directed by his will. And the wheels were lifted up over against them Proportionably to the lifting up of the living creatures. The wheels, inferior agents, and second causes, act in unison with, and under the influence of, these angelic ministers of the divine will. For the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels Both the wheels and the living creatures were actuated by one and the same spirit. An undiscerned, yet divine, mighty, wise, and ever-living power and energy, influenced all, and governed all. When those went, these went This is only a repetition of what is contained in the foregoing verse.

Verses 22-25

Ezekiel 1:22-25. And the likeness The appearance or resemblance; of the firmament The expanse, as the word signifies. Upon the heads of the living creatures And, of course, of the wheels connected with them; was as the colour of the terrible crystal For splendour, purity, and solidity. All that was above these creatures and wheels was beautiful, majestic, and glorious, insomuch that none could behold it without being dazzled and astonished at it: it could not but impress the mind of every beholder with veneration, solemnity, and awe, and therefore it is said to be terrible. And under the firmament Below, at a great distance; were their wings straight That is, the living creatures stood with their wings stretched out, ready for motion. The one toward the other Prepared to concur in all their motions and actings. Every one had two, which covered on this side and on that side On the right hand and on the left. The sense seems to be the same with that of Ezekiel 1:11, denoting that two of the wings of each living creature were stretched upward, to express their readiness to obey the divine commands; and with the other two they covered their bodies: see note on Ezekiel 1:11. And when they went Were executing the commands of God; I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters Denoting “the terribleness of the judgments which they were to execute upon Jerusalem and the whole Jewish nation.” As the voice of the Almighty It resembled great and dreadful thunder. The voice of speech like the noise of a host Like the confused murmur of an army, intending the army of the Babylonians. All these noises signified that the commands which God had given, or was now giving, to these ministering spirits, were of a dreadful nature. When they stood When they presented themselves before God, having performed their office; they let down their wings Put themselves in a posture of hearkening to God’s voice, and as it were quietly waited to receive his commands. And there was a voice, &c., when they stood The Vulgate seems to give the sense of this verse more exactly, thus: Cum fieret vox-super caput eorum, stabant et submittebant alas suas: when there was a voice over their heads they stood, &c, namely, in an attentive posture.

Verses 26-27

Ezekiel 1:26-27. Above the firmament was the likeness of a throne Namely, the throne of God. God having given his prophet emblems of his attendants and ministers, while he was coming forth in the chariot of his power and justice, to execute judgment, and of the mysterious dispensations of his providence toward his church and the world, he now proceeds to discover to him some glimpses of his divine glory. The prophet does not say that he saw a real throne, but only the likeness of a throne, emblematical, doubtless, of God’s sovereign power and dominion over all creatures, whether in heaven or on earth. God is described in Scripture as dwelling in light, and clothing himself with it. So the throne of God is here described as made up of light resembling the colours and brightness of a sapphire-stone. And upon the likeness of the throne, as the appearance of a man “When Moses and the elders saw the God of Israel, Exodus 24:8, or the glory of God, as the Targum explains it, they saw no determinate figure, but an inconceivably resplendent brightness, that they might not think God could be represented by any image. But in this vision the form and shape of a man are directly represented to Ezekiel, as a prelude or figure of the incarnation.” This, indeed, was doubtless the ever- blessed and only-begotten Son of God, who was in due time to assume human nature, and in that nature to be the visible image and representative of his invisible Father, whom no man hath seen, or can see, 1 Timothy 6:16; John 1:18. He had appeared to Isaiah in glory, to constitute him a prophet, and he now appears to Ezekiel for the same purpose: see note on Isaiah 6:1, and compare John 12:37-41. He appears also as the Lawgiver and King of Israel, to vindicate his own honour, punish his rebellious subjects, and give warning by his prophet, ere he executed his just but severe indignation. And I saw as the colour of amber See note on Ezekiel 1:4. As the appearance of fire Said to be a fire infolding itself, Ezekiel 1:4. Round about within it Namely, within the amber, to signify that Christ’s executing of judgment outwardly proceeded from his zeal for the glory of God and his indignation against sin. From the appearance of his loins even upward Denoting, as some interpret it, his divine nature: and from the appearance of his loins even downward Signifying his human nature. I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire The general sense seems to be, that Christ, considered in his whole person, as God and man, is full of indignation against sin, and sinners continuing in sin, and is glorious in both his natures, and in all his proceedings: see 2 Thessalonians 1:8. And it had brightness round about Majesty, justice, and unstained holiness shine round about him. In this colour does Christ appear to the Jews; he that would have visited them, clothed with the garments of salvation, now put on the garments of vengeance, expressed by such metaphors.

Verse 28

Ezekiel 1:28. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud The Hebrew future, יהיה , is here frequentative, and should be rendered, Is wont to be in the cloud, in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness The meaning is, In the brightness, or light, that was about what I saw, was the appearance of the rainbow. The rainbow, as we learn from Genesis 9:12, &c., was appointed as a sign or symbol of God’s covenant of mercy with men: therefore an appearance of a rainbow in this vision signified that amidst his severe judgments God would remember mercy, and not forget his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; one part of which was, that their posterity should not become extinct, but should always remain; so that this appearance gave an assurance that the Jewish nation should not be wholly destroyed, though it should suffer very grievous judgments. And inasmuch as this vision was an evident representation of the WORD that was to be made flesh, whose incarnation was to be the foundation of God’s covenant of mercy with mankind, a rainbow, the symbol and token of mercy, was a very fit attendant on such a glorious vision. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord This is a description of that glorious vision wherein Jehovah appeared to me, and whereby he made manifest his attributes and perfections. The prophet terms it, not the appearance of the glory, but of the likeness of the glory. &c., because the full discovery of the glory of God to any human creature is not consistent with the state of mortality. Exodus 33:20-23, but as reserved for the life to come, 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2. And when I saw it I fell upon my face Through a reverential sense of God’s majesty, and his own frailty and meanness; or struck down with fear and astonishment before such glory. And I heard a voice of one that spake They that are first humbled are most prepared to hear the voice of God, whether of instruction or consolation, Matthew 5:4; Matthew 11:28.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/ezekiel-1.html. 1857.
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