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The time of Ezekiel's prophesy at Chebar: his vision of four cherubims, of the four wheels, and of the glory of God.
Before Christ 595.
Ezekiel 1:1. In the thirtieth year, &c.— Archbishop Usher, Prideaux, Calmet, and others, are of opinion, 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 2Ki 23:3 which was in the 18th year of Josiah; from which time the same learned writers compute the forty years of Judah's transgression, mentioned ch. Ezekiel 4:6. This thirtieth year, according to Usher, was in the 3410th year of the world, the 5th after the captivity of Jechoniah, and the 5th of the reign of Zedekiah. Ezekiel was then in captivity by Chebar, a river of Mesopotamia, where he saw visions of God; that is to say, prophetical visions. See Ezekiel 1:3. Houbigant reads the verses thus: It came to pass in the thirtieth year, Eze 1:2 which was the fifth year after the carrying away of king Jehoiachin, in the fourth month, in the fifth day, &c.
Ezekiel 1:4. And I looked, &c.— God's anger and judgments are frequently compared to a whirlwind; and this whirlwind is represented as coming out of the north, to denote Nebuchadnezzar, who was to come from that quarter to destroy Jerusalem. Though Ezekiel was in Mesopotamia, God represented objects to him as if he had been in Judaea. As Nebuchadnezzar was only the instrument of God's vengeance upon the Jews, God himself is here described as coming to take that vengeance. It is very evident from this whole description, that the appearance of God, as emblematically represented after the fall of man at the gate of paradise, Gen 3:24 and afterwards in the holy of holies, is here described by the prophet. The second divine Person, the Jehovah of the Jews, is particularly spoken of in the 26th and following verses, as seated upon this throne of the cherubim, this seat of glory, which is spoken of as in motion and activity, from the peculiar circumstances of those providential judgments which the Almighty was now about to take upon the ungrateful people among whom he had condescended to fix this throne of his glory. The reader will find in the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation the same grand scene opened by St. John, as introductory to those prophetic denunciations which he is about to make in that book. In the interpretation of Scripture, it is always of the first importance to consider the connection and coherence of the parts: Ezekiel tells us, that he saw visions of God; plain and prophetical revelations of the divine will; and, in the introduction to these revelations, he gives us a striking description of the Divinity in glory, and as preparing to execute his judgments, taken from the temple, whence only, as a priest and a prophet, he could properly derive his ideas. And as it is on all hands allowed, that the holy of holies was a type of the true heavens, (see Hebrews 9:24.) and as from all the representations of Scripture we are assured, that the divine throne in those true heavens is surrounded by adoring angels, there seems the utmost reason to conclude that the cherubim, or living creatures, spoken of here, in the Revelation, and in other parts of Scripture, are representative of the angels; an opinion which I have mentioned before in the note on Exodus 25:18. I am very well aware with what severity this opinion will be treated by some, and at the same time I have candour enough to confess, that there are many and great difficulties in it. But I find still greater in every other; and, from the most mature and impartial consideration, do sincerely believe, that this interpretation is most agreeable to the tenor of Scripture. The cherubim represented by a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, have been thought by some to be the symbols of strength, address, prudence, and irresistible wisdom, which is excluded from no place, and is superior to all difficulties; and in this view the whole vision is considered as a strong representation of the majesty and power of God, under the appearance of a warrior in a triumphal chariot; which coincides, in a great measure, with what I have advanced above; namely, that this vision represents God in glory, attended by his great ones, those angels who excel in wisdom and strength, coming with a mighty prince from the north, to take vengeance on that people, and that temple where, under this emblematical representation, he had been pleased to make his residence in the holy of holies.
Ezekiel 1:6. Every one had four wings— In the most ancient hieroglyphic writings, a supreme governor was designed by a man with four wings, and his lieutenants or princes by a man with two: and their being out-stretched signified action or design. So the other particulars of the straightness of their feet, the brightness of their colour, their going forward, Eze 1:12 their being actuated by the Spirit, and the like, seem hieroglyphically to denote the several qualifications necessary in the divine ministers and executors of the Almighty's commands.
Ezekiel 1:9. ——Joined one to another— Of the two 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.
They turned not— This circumstance is repeated Ezekiel 1:12; Eze 1:17 ch. Ezekiel 10:11.: and is explained by its opposite, "they went every one straight forward." The wheels and horses of chariots bend, and make a circuit, in turning: but this divine machine, actuated by one spirit, moved uniformly together; the same line being always preserved between the corresponding cherubs and wheels, the sides of the rectangle limiting the whole, being always parallel, and the same faces of each cherub always looking onward in the same direction with the face of the charioteer.
This proceeding directly on, in the same undeviating inflexible position, seems to shew their steadiness in performing the divine will, which advances to its destined goal right onwards.
Ezekiel 1:10. They four—and they four— Milton had a right notion of this hieroglyphic, when he says of the cherubic shapes, "Four faces each had wondrous;" and afterwards calls them "The fourfold-visaged four." Par. Lost. vi. 753. 845.
Ezekiel 1:11. And their wings were stretched upward— And the wings of every one were parted above (in the act of flying): two wings of every one were joined, and two covered their bodies.
Ezekiel 1:12. Whither the spirit was to go, they went— Whither the wind or tempest bore them, they were borne: that great whirlwind spoken of in the fourth verse, which bore this magnificent chariot of the Lord.
Ezekiel 1:13. Like the appearance, &c.— Like the appearance of lamps which went up and down among the living creatures. That is, the fire moved itself up and down. Milton's expression is, "And careering fires between:" that is, fires which ran swiftly, and as it were tilted at each other.See Par. Lost, vi. 756. and Newton's note.
Ezekiel 1:15-21. Behold one wheel upon the earth— The prophet now proceeds to describe the wheels of this chariot borne by the living creatures. "Now, as I contemplated these living creatures (says he) there appeared upon the ground a wheel, near each of them by their four faces; each living creature had his wheel near him: that appearance and their work were as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel," Eze 1:16 like two circles in a sphere, cutting each other at right angles; to signify, says a commentator, the liability and uniformity of their motion, and the subserviency of one part of providence to another, Ezekiel 1:17. When they went, they went by the sides of those four living creatures, nor in going did they change their situation, each wheel still continuing in its proper place by the side of the living creature. Houbigant renders the 18th verse, Their spokes were at equal distances; and when I beheld them, their felloes were full of eyes round about in them four. These wheels went whither the living creatures went, carried by the same powerful wind which bore the living creatures along. See Ezekiel 1:12. In reading this passage we should remember that the prophets commonly speak in a very lofty and figurative style; and there is nothing more agreeable to sublime and poetic description, than what we here read in our prophet, concerning the chariot of the Almighty, borne on the wings of the wind, to execute his commands. See Psalms 18:8-10.
Ezekiel 1:16. Beryl—wheel in the middle of a wheel— Chrysolite—wheel put cross within another wheel.
Ezekiel 1:17. Returned not— Turned not.
Ezekiel 1:18. Rings—rings— Strakes.
Ezekiel 1:22. The likeness of the firmament, &c.— Over the heads of the living creatures was the likeness of a clear sky or firmament, where the Son of Man appears in divine glory, as upon a throne: see Ezekiel 1:26. By terrible crystal is meant such as dazzles the eyes with its lustre. It may be rendered, the brightest—the clearest. It is compared to a sapphire stone; chap. Ezekiel 10:1.
Ezekiel 1:23. Their wings straight, &c.— Their wings stretched out, &c. Houbigant.
Ezekiel 1:24. And when they went, &c.— To denote the terribleness of the judgments which they were to execute upon Jerusalem and the whole Jewish nation. See chap. Eze 43:2 where the prophet foretels the return of the God of Israel in such a manner, as strongly confirms the interpretation that we have given of this chapter. Houbigant connects the latter part of this verse with that following; When they stood they let down their wings; but then a sound arose from the firmament, &c.
Ezekiel 1:26. And upon the likeness of the throne— After having particularly described the chariot and throne of the Almighty, the prophet proceeds to speak of him who sat upon the throne, who was undoubtedly no other than the Son of God, as he was represented in the holy of holies, prefiguring his gracious incarnation. The rainbow, a grand symbol of the covenant of grace, both here and in Rev 4:3 is described as about the throne. And it plainly appears from the subsequent chapters, that this divine Person, who became man for our salvation, was the Lord God, the sovereign, the Jehovah of the Jews. See the next chapter, Ezekiel 1:3-4.
Ezekiel 1:28. This was the appearance— Houbigant observes upon this vision in general; First, That it seems most probably to adumbrate the state of the Jews, who were soon to be subdued by Nebuchadrezzar and carried into captivity; and that book mentioned in the next chapter, Eze 1:9 wherein Lamentations were written, discovers this to have been the subject of the vision. Secondly, That the vision was such as to be easily intelligible by the Jews of those times who read it with attention. Thirdly, That nearly the same things are shadowed forth, as in the vision of Isaiah, chap. 6 for this vision of Ezekiel is called The glory of the Lord, as the evangelist denominates Isaiah's vision; saying, These things, said Isaiah, when he saw his glory. Each prophet saw as the appearance of a man, or the Son of Man, sitting on a throne, which throne the angels support, who, moved by his Spirit, sometimes stand still, sometimes walk, and are borne wherever the Spirit carrieth them; whereby is signified that nothing is done without the appointment or permission of that Mediator whom the Jews expected: that though their state should be subverted by the Chaldeans, yet all the kingdoms of the earth were under the dominion of the fame Mediator, whom Ezekiel adores; that all the promises of God should and could be performed by him, since he, though appearing to forsake his people, and in reality forsaking the impenitent, yet commands both angels and men, and performs his purposes by them as his ministers. Thus far Houbigant; and we may in conclusion observe, that it would be the greater absurdity, in this view of the vision, which appears just, and perfectly consistent with the scheme of the prophet, to suppose that the cherubic figures can represent the Deity; because the prophet, proceeding regularly in his description of this chariot and throne of the divine glory, speaks with the utmost propriety having described the throne with all its appendages of the Divinity seated upon it in the 26th verse: whereas, understanding the cherubic figures of the Divinity, we should have two representations of him, and the whole would certainly be irregular and out of order.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have here,
1. The date of this prophesy. In the thirtieth year, as some suppose, of the prophet's life, when, according to custom, he entered on his priestly office; but others refer it to the aera commencing from Nabopolasser's reign, which was the twelfth of the captivity, reckoning from the third year of Jehoiakim; and the fifth of Jehoiachin's, or Coniah's, captivity, in the fourth month, the fifth day of the month, probably a sabbath-day, when the prophet was employed in the blessed work of contemplation and prayer; for seven days after we find another vision of the same nature given him, chap. Ezekiel 3:16. Note; They who seek to improve the sacred hours that God hath separated for his own service, in waiting upon him, will find him often manifesting himself to them as he doth not unto the world.
2. The place: among the captives by the river of Chebar, in the land of the Chaldeans. In their afflicted state God thus shewed that he had not forsaken them, but would still encourage their hope of mercy, and engage them to repent and turn to him. The prophet shared in the common calamity; for in national judgments good and bad fall frequently together: but God knows how to comfort the hearts of his people with inward supports which others partake not of; and usually his suffering saints have found in the day of their troubles more abundant consolations, 2 Corinthians 1:5.
3. The vision. The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God: some amazing displays of the divine glory appeared. And the word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi. The words היה היה haioh haiah, rendered came expressly are very emphatical in the original, implying the certainty, evidence, and clearness, of the prophetic word which God revealed to him. And the hand of the Lord was there upon him, supporting him, that he might not be overpowered with the dazzling lustre; and strengthening him to go forth to deliver what was communicated to him. Note; (1.) They will be enabled to deliver their message with greater boldness, who speak from the most assured conviction in their own souls. (2.) If God sends us forth in his ministry, we may expect his hand will be with us to strengthen us, and give demonstration and power to the word that he puts into our mouths.
2nd, The introduction to these visions of God is very awful, tending to affect the prophet's mind with the highest reverence of that Jehovah whose minister he was, and to encourage the poor captives, whose glory seemed now departed from them: but lo! their God is still in the midst of them.
1. Behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, the vehicle of this awful vision, and a fire infolding itself, a cheering fire to God's believing people, a consuming fire to his foes; and a brightness was about it, the cloud was illuminated by the fire, an emblem of that irradiation which darted into the prophet's mind; and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. חשׁמל Chashmal, translated amber, some render a lively colour: others, a coal exceedingly fired: others suppose that Christ is meant, who is represented something similar hereunto, Revelation 1:15; Rev 4:3 and hereunto I incline. He it was who appeared to Moses in the bush, to Isaiah on his throne, and here to Ezekiel in the midst of the fire.
2. The likeness of four living creatures came out of the midst of this vision, not real creatures, but emblematical representations, either of the angels who surround the throne of God; or of Gospel ministers,* see Rev 4:6-9 where the same emblematic figures appear. They are living creatures, themselves quickened to spiritual life, lively in their ministrations, and the means of quickening the souls of others; four, as sent forth to the four quarters of the earth, to preach the Gospel to every creature; in the likeness of a man, except in the following particulars.
* When the Critical Notes and the Reflections are duly compared, the reader will have the sentiments of the wisest and of the most spiritual divines on this subject. But I prefer the sense which I have given in the annotations.
[1.] They had four faces. (1.) The face of a man, being taken from among men to minister in the things of God, with understanding to instruct the ignorant, and with the feelings of humanity to have compassion on the afflicted. (2.) Of a lion, to denote their courage and boldness in preaching the Gospel amidst all opposition. (3.) Of an ox, to represent their indefatigable labour and patience. (4.) Of an eagle, signifying their piercing sight, and clear knowledge of the mysteries of God, and their soaring high in divine contemplation and holy affections.
[2.] Every one had also four wings. From Eze 1:11-23 they seem to have had two more, as the seraphim in Isaiah, and the beasts in the Revelations; four covered their bodies, and two were stretched upward, and these wings joined one to another, intimating, (1.) The swiftness and diligence that they use in executing God's will, and the work of their ministry. (2.) The concord and union which subsist among them, united in love and fellow-labourers in the same Gospel. (3.) The consciousness of their own infirmities, which makes them ashamed of their imperfect services, and count themselves unworthy to appear before God.
[3.] Their feet were straight feet.] They walk uprightly before God; never turn aside to the crooked paths of error and immorality; they perseveringly go forward, undismayed by opposition, persecution, or temptation, and with a single eye to God's glory; the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot, one of the clean animals which divide the hoof; and intimates the purity of their conversation, or the firmness of their hearts in their ministry; and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass, so beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of peace, and so bright the lustre of their holy examples.
[4.] They had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides, implying activity in executing what their wisdom and prudence directed; and many hands, because their work is vast and large, yet under their wings, not making ostentation of their labours, but ascribing the glory to him from whom all their strength is derived.
[5.] They were under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Whither the Spirit was to go, they went: by him alone they are called to take the ministry upon them, inwardly moved by his powerful grace; by him they are supported in their labour, led into all truth, and readily disposed for every service which he is pleased to appoint them, not staggering at the difficulties; nor can they be turned back, by any fear of man, from delivering the message with which he hath sent them: like coals of fire they burn with divine zeal, and as lamps they shine bright themselves in the exercise of every divine grace; and hold forth the word of light to others, clear, distinct, enlightening, cheering, warming their souls. It went up and down among the living creatures; the divine light and fire of zeal filled them; bright, shining on every side, and darting like lightning to the ends of the earth; so extensive, so powerful, so penetrating was the Gospel word that they preached: and, when they had executed their ministry with this fervour and activity, they returned to give an account to their Master, and to receive fresh orders from him, desiring to approve themselves to him in all things, and take no step but under his guidance and by his direction. Let Gospel ministers, looking on these cherubim, prove their own selves, and learn what they should be.
3rdly, The vision of the wheels follows that of the living creatures, which are variously interpreted. Some suppose them an emblem of the dispensations of Providence, others of the word of God and the ministrations of it, and others of the Gospel churches. But one wheel is mentioned, Eze 1:15 for the church is one body, composed of innumerable believers; though it appears that they were four, Eze 1:16 and chap. Eze 10:9 being collected from the four quarters of the world. The wheel may be considered as an emblem of perfection; or it may represent the moveable state of the churches, or the different circumstances of prosperity and adversity to which they are alternately subject; or as composing a chariot with the cherubim, 1Ch 28:18 in which the Lord Jesus rides in majesty and glory, Song of Solomon 3:9. The wheels are by the living creatures; intimating, that the several congregations of true believers follow their ministers, who preside in their worship, stir up their souls to run the way of God's commandments, and direct and lead them aright: With his four faces, each wheel having four faces, one on each of the semicircles which composed it, being a wheel in the middle of a wheel, not a smaller wheel in a larger, but two circles crossing each other at right angles, and forming one wheel or orb, as it is represented, chap. Eze 10:13 and these faces are the same with those of the cherubim, signifying that there is the most exact resemblance between faithful pastors and their people, they having the like constancy in the profession which they make, labouring in their sphere with equal diligence for God, and patiently bearing the same sufferings for the Gospel's sake; endued, as spiritual men, with an enlightened understanding and knowledge of the mysteries of godliness, and tenderly compassionate to their brethren; bold as lions in the cause of God and truth, and soaring aloft as eagles above these sublunary things, having their affections fixed, not on things on earth, but things in heaven. Their appearance and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl, so excellent and precious to the Lord are his saints, they are his jewels; and they four had one likeness, all true believers bearing the image of the same Lord; and perfectly resembling each other in their spirit and temper, they are all one in Christ Jesus; when they went, they went upon their four sides, and they returned not when they went, being from their construction ready so turn to the four points, without wheeling about. The faithful saints of God thus go still right on, advancing towards their eternal home. Their rings were high; for the church is visible, and lifted up in might and honour above all the powers of earth and hell: dreadful; the enemies of God's people shall be made to tremble before them; or they had fear, a reverential fear of God, shewn in his worship; and carefulness never to offend him; and they were full of eyes, clear-sighted in the knowledge of Gospel truth, watchful over their own hearts, and jealous over each other. When the living creatures went, the wheels went by them, true believers joining with their ministers in the same worship, and followers of their good conversation in Christ; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up; for the lively frame of the minister's own soul, breathing in his discourses, has the most immediate tendency to raise up the souls of his hearers to high and heavenly things. Whithersoever the Spirit was to go they went; under the guidance of God's Spirit they were led; and as he taught and directed, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them, close to the sides of the living creatures; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels; the same spirit actuating both ministers and people, giving them life and motion: and inseparably united, as animated by one soul, they went, or rested together. So intimate is the fellowship between a minister and his people; when he is active, they will be lively; if he be indolent, they will be ready to be infected thereby. Upon the heads of the living creature was the likeness of the firmament, as the colour of the terrible crystal, bright, dazzling, and transparent; for though the throne of Christ is above the firmament, he sees all things done on earth; his eyes took down upon his church and people, and they by faith are enabled through the Gospel glass to look up to him, and behold his glory. Under the firmament were their wings straight stretched upward, and touching each other, with two others covering each of their sides, and when they went, preaching the Gospel, I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters; so loud and extensive was the sound of their voice bearing the glad tidings of salvation to the distant Gentile lands, as the voice of the Almighty, awful, majestic, powerful: the voice of speech; for though the word is God's, the messengers are men, as the noise of an host, multitudes being employed in this ministry, and all uniting in one cry, warning every man, and teaching every man, that they may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: and when they stood, they let down their wings, having finished the work on which they were sent, and waiting for fresh instructions, which they receive from Christ their Lord and Master, who speaks from the firmament over their heads; in his word, and by the secret influences of his Spirit, directing them whither to go, and what to speak; encouraging them to persist in their work on earth, or calling their faithful souls to his rest in heaven.
4thly, The most glorious part of the vision is yet to come. The living creatures were but the servants to prepare the way; here the Lord of life appears seated on his royal throne. Above the firmament was the likeness of a throne; the symbol of that universal dominion and eternal kingdom which, as God over all, the Lord Jesus essentially possesses; or which, as Mediator, he has received: as the appearance of a sapphire-stone, very glorious; and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it; even that divine Lord, who in the fulness of time condescended to appear in fashion as a man, and in this human form, before his incarnation, manifested himself to many of his saints. He appeared as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it; a fire of love to his people, a fire of wrath to his enemies: and this fire which appeared all over him had a brightness round about like the rainbow, similar to which he is represented, Rev 10:1 an emblem of the covenant of grace, in which Christ is the great author, purchaser, and bestower of every blessing. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord; of him who was the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, and in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily: and when I saw it, I fell upon my face, in humble adoration of this divine Personage, and filled with reverence and godly fear: and I heard a voice of one that spake, with an articulate human voice, delivering to him the commission contained in the following chapter.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany