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Ezekiel 10:1, Ezekiel 10:2
Then I looked, etc. There follows on the work of judgment another theophany, like that of Ezekiel 1:15-28. In the "expanse," or firmament, like the "terrible crystal," there is seen as before the likeness of a sapphire throne (see Ezekiel 1:26, note). The form of the man who is the manifestation of Jehovah is implied, though not named. It is he who speaks to the captain of the six ministers of vengeance, himself the seventh, and bids him go in beneath the "whirling wheels" that are beneath the cherub (collective singular, as in Ezekiel 9:9), and fill his hands with coals of fire (Ezekiel 1:13), and scatter them over the city, as the symbol of its doom. We are reminded of Isaiah's vision (Isaiah 6:6); but there the work of the fire was to purify, here simply to destroy.
Ezekiel 10:3, Ezekiel 10:4
Now the cherubim stood, etc. The position of the cherubim is defined, with a vivid distinctness of detail, which once more reminds us of Dante. They had been standing on the right, i.e. the southern side of the sanctuary. What follows is probably a reproduction of the change of positions described in Ezekiel 9:3, and the verbs should be taken, therefore, as pluperfects. The cloud of glory, as in 1 Kings 8:10, 1 Kings 8:11 and Isaiah 6:1, Isaiah 6:2, the Shechinah, that was the taken of the Divine presence, filled the court, but the glory itself had moved to the threshold at the first stage of its departure.
Ezekiel 10:5, Ezekiel 10:6
And the sound of the cherubim. The use of God Almighty (El Shaddai; comp. Exodus 6:3), the name of God as ruling over nature, while Jehovah expressed his covenant relationship to Israel, is, it may be noted, characteristic of the early stage of the religion of Israel (Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 43:14; Genesis 48:3). Shaddai alone appears eighty-one times in the Book of Job. Psalms 29:1-11. explains the voice of El Shaddai (though there it is "the voice of Jehovah") as meaning the roar of the thunder. The hands of the "living creatures," now recognized as cherubim, had been mentioned in Ezekiel 1:8, and it is one of those hands that gives the fire into the hands of the linen vested minister of wrath. The elemental forces of nature, of which the cherubim are, partly at least, the symbols, are working out the purposes of Jehovah. The two words translated wheels are different in the Hebrew. The first is singular and collective (galgal, the "whirling thing," used of the wheel of a war chariot, Ezekiel 23:24; Isaiah 5:28), and might well be translated "chariot" here. The second, that used in Ezekiel 1:15, Ezekiel 1:16, also in the singular, is applied to the single wheel of the four by which the angel, ministers stood.
Ezekiel 10:8, Ezekiel 10:9
The description of the theophany that follows, though essentially identical with that in Ezekiel 1:1-28 is not a literal transcript of it. The prophet struggles, as before, to relate what he has actually seen in the visions of God. The fact is stated as explaining the mention of the "hand" in Ezekiel 1:7. That, as in Ezekiel 1:8, was one of their members (see notes on Ezekiel 1:15-17). All that had seemed most startling and awful to him on the banks of Chebar is now seen again—the four living creatures, now named cherubim.the wheel by each, the unswerving motion of the wheels in their onward course.
Whither the head, etc. The word has been taken, as in Job 29:25, for the "chief" or "principal" wheel, that which for the time determined the course of the others. With all the complex structure of the cherubic chariot, all was simple in its action. The spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels, and that gave unity (Ezekiel 1:20).
And their whole body. Here there is distinctly a new feature. In Ezekiel 1:18 the "rings" of the wheels were "full of eyes." Here the eyes are everywhere. It is not hard to interpret this part of the vision. The prophet receives a new impression of the all-seeing eye of Jehovah. Everywhere, as he stands face to face with the forces of nature, he can say, must say, within himself, "Thou God seest me" (Genesis 16:13). There is an eye that looks upon him where he least expects it. The same thought appears in the stone with seven eyes in Zechariah 3:9. St. John reproduces it in the same form as Ezekiel, with the exception of the wheels, which form no part of his vision, in Revelation 4:6.
As for the wheels, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, they were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels; or better still, to keep the collective force of the singular galgal, the chariot. He recognized that as the right name of the whole mysterious and complex form. It, was nothing less than the chariot throne of the King of the universe. There is no sufficient reason for taking the noun, with the Authorized Version, as a vocative.
The first face was the face of a cherub, etc.; better, with the Revised Version, of the cherub. This takes the place of "the face of an ox" in Ezekiel 1:10, and it is first in order instead of being, as there, the third. It is as though, in this second vision, he recognizes that this was emphatically the cherubic form. Possibly the article indicates that this was the form that had given the "coals of fire" in Ezekiel 1:7. Each form, we must remember, had the four faces, but the prophet names the face which each presented to him as he gazed.
As he gazes, the recognition is complete. What he sees in the courts of the temple is identical with the living creature by the river of Chebar. It moves as that moved, wheels and wings and cherubim, all as by one harmonious impulse.
Then the glory of the Lord, etc. The chariot throne was, as it were, ready for its kingly Rider. The "glory"-cloud, or Shechinah. takes its place over them, and the departure begins. From that hour the temple was, in Ezekiel's thoughts, to be, till the time of restoration contemplated in ch. 40-48; what Shiloh had been, a God-deserted place. We arc reminded of the voice which Josephus tells us was heard before the final destruction of the second temple, exclaiming, "Let us depart hence," as the priests were making ready for the Pentecostal feast ('Bell. Jud.,' 6.5. 3).
The departure has the east gate of the Lord's house for its starting point. By that gate, in the later vision of the restored temple, the glory of the Lord was to return (Ezekiel 43:4). For "every one" read "it," sc. the galgal, or complex structure of the chariot. The Hebrew verb is in the singular, but, as the italics show, there is no word answering to "every one."
Once more the prophet asserts, with fresh emphasis, the identity of the two visions which it had been given him to see. Now, as it were, he understands why the first vision was seen as coming from the north. He does not tell us whether the journey of which he saw the beginning was to end. For the present there was a halt, as we learn from Ezekiel 11:23, "over the midst of the city." Even when the vision ended, it had not gone further than the Mount of Olives. We may conjecture, however, that he thought of its goal as that more sacred region of the heavens in which it had at first manifested itself (see note on Ezekiel 1:4). It was, at any rate, no longer in the temple. The banks of Chebar or any other place might become, as Bethel had been to Jacob (Genesis 28:17), as "the house of God" and "the gate of heaven."
The throne of God.
The Greek conception of God was intellectual; the Hebrew, moral To the Hellenic thought he was the Supreme Mind; to the Jewish he was the Supreme Will and Authority. The one conceived him as the Architect of the universe, displaying his intelligence in a vast design; the other, as the Sovereign Ruler of all things. Thus the Hebrew symbol of the Divine is a glory above a heavenly throne, and with the Jew the most significant Divine thing is the throne. Each thought is true, and our later Christian theology combines them both. But there is an awful sublimity in the Old Testament religion springing from the moral and governmental view of God, and to miss this is to sink into naturalism. The modern tendency is in some respects diverting attention from the Hebrew Throne to the Greek Mind. We need to revive the Old Testament element of the thought of God. Perhaps greater regard to this will help us to face some of the peculiar difficulties of our own day.
I. THE THRONE OF GOD IS SUPREME. The throne seen in Ezekiel's vision was "in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim." The most exalted and glorious beings lie at the foot of that awful throne.
1. God rules. He is will as well as thought. He does not merely know; he acts.
2. God rules in the present. Men rebel against the authority of God. Nevertheless, it still exists. It is not only that we shall appear before a future judgment bar of God. Already we live under his constant reign.
3. God's rule is supreme. Death, sin, Satan, are all beneath God, and ultimately they will be conquered and crushed, that he may be all in all Even Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, is "subject to him" (1 Corinthians 15:27, 1 Corinthians 15:28).
II. THE THRONE OF GOD IS RIGHTEOUS AND THEREFORE GLORIOUS.
1. It is righteous. The justice of God's rule is not treated in the Old Testament as a source of terror, but, on the contrary, it is always praised and rejoiced in. The old cruel earthly tyrannies were felt to be so horribly unjust, that men turned with a sense of relief to the justice of the Supreme King. God is the Personal "Power that makes for righteousness." The end of his government is the highest goodness.
2. It is therefore glorious. The old glory of mere brute force with the triumph of cruelty is a low and vulgar folly by the side of this Divine glory of righteousness. Here is the greatest glory of God—not his omniscience nor his omnipotence, not the irresistible might and overwhelming majesty of his throne, but its righteousness. It is not a blood stained glory of the earthly conqueror, but the sapphire beauty of perfect purity, truth, justice, and benevolence.
III. THE THRONE OF GOD IS A CENTRE OF DIVINE REVELATION. The Greek method of seeking for God is by the way of intellect. The Great Mind is looked for in his plans. The Architect cf the universe is to be found by using the "argument from design." But latterly this Aristotelian method has been confused in the minds of some—though, doubtless, only temporarily and by misunderstanding—through the spread of the doctrine of evolution. Meanwhile our own age seems to need to return to the Hebrew method. Our best teachers point us in this direction. God is not chiefly the Infinite Intellect. He is the Will and the Power of right. We feel him in all force. But we discern him best in our own consciences. The unanswerable voice within that whispers, "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not," is an utterance from the throne of God, and it bears witness to the existence, and more than the existence, the authority, of our supreme Lord and King.
Coals of fire.
The coals of fire which Ezekiel saw between the cherubim were to be poured forth in destruction upon the doomed city of Jerusalem. But there are various uses of Divine fire. Let us notice some of them.
I. COALS OF FIRE FOR DESTRUCTION'. This dreadful destiny of Divine fire must he considered first, as it was the one intended by the prophet. "Our God is a consuming Fire." There is not only punishment, there is destruction in the operation of fire. It hurts, but it also consumes; and its primary work is destruction. "The wages of sin is death." God does not only chastise with the rod; he destroys with his fire. The earlier chastisement is to save from the later destruction. We may be thankful for the sharp lash if it drives us from the burning fire.
II. COALS OF FIRE FOR PURIFICATION. Fire does not only destroy; it refines. Refuse is burnt by it; silver is purified. God sends fiery trials to cleanse our souls by burning out the evil, and leaving the better nature freer and purged. Perhaps the fire which would be for destruction if we remained impenitent may be converted into a refiner's furnace when we learn its burning lesson, and humble ourselves in the very flames of wrath. So let us use the fiery trials of life.
III. COALS OF FIRE FOR CONSECRATION. The whole offering of Jewish sacrifice was burnt upon the altar. There is a consuming zeal of God which wholly takes possession of his consecrated servant, and burns through him, so that he is no longer a slave of the earth, but is lifted up as on Elijah's chariot. Still living in this world, indeed, for the service of God, he feels that the old Adam has been killed, the evil of his nature has been burnt out of him, self has been slain, and now he belongs wholly to God. Alas! so perfect a consecration is not attained by any of us. But Christ's baptism in fire leads us up to it. It is a supreme mistake to suppose that our Lord calls us only to ease and rest. He calls to the pilgrimage, the battle, the cross, perhaps to the furnace. Even when life outside is smooth, the consecration of will and passion means a fiery ordeal.
IV. COALS OF FIRE FOR INSPIRATION. The engine is driven by coals of fire. Our physical energy is dependent on the burning up of the tissue of our bodies. The heat of enthusiasm is the inspiration and source of energy for mental and moral enterprises. Love is a great fire of burning coals, and when it becomes bright and warm, the soul grows strong for sacrifice and service. We may have false fires, indeed, fires of earthly passion that scorch and wither our better nature. No earth-born fire will kindle the devotion of the soul. For this live coals from off God's altar are needed. The fire from between the cherubim kindles our fire. The great love of Christ coming like coals of fire can give us warmth of love and devotion, and inspire us fur the Christian life.
The moving glory.
It is difficult to follow the enraptured prophet through all the mystic mazes of his vision, and catch the meaning of the many gorgeous symbols that he discovers on every hand. But now and again certain points stand out with an individual significance even when their relation to the whole shifting panorama may strike us as somewhat obscure. Here we may take some hints from the moving of the Divine glory. This radiance moved from over the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house.
I. GOD'S GLORY HAS COME FROM HEAVEN TO EARTH. Ezekiel saw the radiance pass from the cherub to the threshold of the house.
1. The glory has visited earth. It is not confined to celestial altitudes. Earth is not yet a godless hell. God, who talked with Adam before the Fall, also talked with Moses after the Fall. There is a Divine halo about every good life. Little children come "trailing clouds of glory," and "of such is the kingdom of heaven." But this glory is most present in Christ. Thus the beloved disciple said, "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father" (John 1:14).
2. The glory has reached common life. There were cherubim in the holy of holies at the temple, and there the Shechinah was said to dwell. But now Ezekiel sees the glory pass to the threshold of the house. It moves from the high priest's sanctuary to the way of the common people, and seems to look forth from the doorway with cheering radiance and a benediction towards the great world outside. This has certainly happened in the free preaching of the gospel of Christ, and the equal privileges of all Christians. The Shechinah passed from the temple at Jerusalem to the Carpenter's workshop at Nazareth; and ever since it has dwelt among the familiar haunts of men, consecrating daily toil, making simple lives beautiful with the light of God.
II. GOD'S GLORY IS IN MOVEMENT. The fiery pillar of the wilderness moved from place to place. When by the Red Sea, it stood behind the camp and between this and the pursuing army of Egypt. In travel, it went on before the host. The presence of God is not always equally manifest at the same place. There are God-haunted realms, and there are apparently God-deserted regions. Physically, God is equally present everywhere. But morally, the conduct of men does not admit of an equal revelation of the Divine.
1. The glory may depart from its old seat. It left the temple, and it deserted the Jews. Poor down-trodden Palestine is now only to be called a "Holy Land" for the sake of its memories and associations. North Africa and Asia Minor, once the brightest centres of the Christian Church, have been left dark and deserted. This is not owing to God's changing. His glory is not like the waning moon, or the setting sun, or the flickering lamp. But as men forsake him, "Ichabod!" must be uttered over their most sacred spots.
2. The glory may visit new scenes. It has shone over the martyrs of Madagascar and Uganda, and the native missionaries of the South Seas; it is beginning to dawn in the great dark continent, and among the teeming millions of India and China. There is no dark soul over which it will not shine, if only pardon is penitently sought.
The form of a man's hand.
Those strange composite creatures, the cherubim of Ezekiel's vision, have been described earlier as of human aspect (Ezekiel 1:5), and in particular as having "the hands of a man" (Ezekiel 1:8). This appearance of the hand is again referred to in the verse before us, so that we are led to think not merely of a general resemblance to human features, but of some special importance in the particular member thus emphatically and repeatedly named.
I. THE HAND IS MADE FOR WORK. So wonderful a mechanism is there in it, that a whole Bridgewater Treatise was devoted to an examination of its teleological significance. No machine of most delicate workmanship approaches the construction of the human hand. In familiar transactions of business "hand-made" goods are preferred to the "machine-made." Now, the natural form of the hand shows that it is designed for work. It may be clenched into the fist for fighting, but this is not its natural condition, and all the finer qualities of fingers and thumb are here wasted. A clublike end to the arm would be better than a flat palm and supple fingers, if the primary purpose of the hand were pugilism. Nature declares that we are not made to fight; we are made to work.
II. HANDIWORK IS DIVINE AND HOLY. There are hands in heaven. By a figure of speech, God is said to have hands (e.g. Psalms 8:6). The cherubim have hands. The strange thing is that these wondrous beings have both wings and hands, combining the fight of a bird with the work of a man. This is the ideal state—to be able to soar aloft in heavenly regions, and yet to have faculty for practical tasks. Too often winged souls lack working hands. They who soar, dream; they who work, pled. The perfect pattern of life represented by the cherubim is that of wings and hands—power of flight and skill in work, poetry and practice, devotion and service, contemplation and activity, aspiration and application. Seen in heaven, the hands are holy. The shrivelled, paralyzed hand of the fakir is a token of fanatical folly. There is no disgrace in the horny band of toil. Work is Divine; for God works (John 5:17). Work is heavenly. There will be service in heaven. There is no paradise for the indolent.
III. THE HAND NEEDS TO BE REDEEMED. Sometimes it is brutalized into a weapon of hatred. Frequently it is soiled by deeds of evil. The swift, silent hand of the thief is a degraded hand. Every sin stains the hand that performs the wicked action. If the human hand express d the character of the work it is sometimes put to, it would be twisted, knotty, foul, sore, rotten. The hand wants redemption—a redemption which follows that of the head. For the poor hand is but the servant of the head, that shames it with evil orders. When Christ saves a soul, he brings "the redemption of the body." The hand is then made holy—only to work what is good, only to write what is true, ready to stoop to uplift the fallen, to grasp with friendly pressure the hand of a poor distressed brother, to point to the way of heavenly perfection.
In Ezekiel 10:4 Ezekiel says that the glory visited the threshold of the house. Now he describes its departure and return to the cherubim.
I. THE GLORY OF NEW DIVINE REVELATIONS HAS DEPARTED. The glory that visited the threshold of the temple brought a special symbolical revelation, and when that revelation had been made the glory retreated and left the scene in its normal earthly condition. Revelation has come in epochs separated by periods of assimilation, when the newly revealed truth has been left to work among man like leaven. God gave the Law once for all from Sinai. The gospel was brought into the world by Christ and his apostles, and left there to spread—not left without the aid of God's Spirit and that inward revelation by which an old truth becomes new in each fresh heart that receives it, but still given as a completed thing in respect to its facts and substance. We have no more prophets like Isaiah nor apostles like St. Paul. But we do not need them, for Christ has given us the perfect truth for all time. Yet we cannot but feel that there was a wonder and a beauty in those old days when the glory of the growing revelation was flashing out upon an astonished world.
II. THE GLORY OF HIGHEST RAPTURE WILL DEPART. There are times when heaven is opened and we see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Then we would fain build our tabernacles and retain the rare delight. But it is not to be. These angel visits are few and far between. Jacob wakes from his dream to the chili loneliness of the desolate hills of Bethel. The disciples who have witnessed the Transfiguration must descend from Hermon to the troubles of the plain, and exchange the society of Moses and Elijah for that of a raving lunatic. It is rare for the soul to be in a condition to enjoy the greatest bliss. But it is not necessary that this condition should remain; indeed, it is better to be in quieter moods for the homely tasks of life. Therefore we must still tread this lower earth, though we may have some fine glimpses of the heavenly splendour. The spray that is flung off from the great ocean of celestial bliss may occasionally reach us in drops of gold. Yet our vocation is to walk by faith. Meanwhile the departure of this glory does not mean the departure of God; he is with us in the dullest days. Nor does it mean our fall and shame; it may be best for the faithful servant to work in quiet without the full revelation of the Divine presence. We need ceaseless grace; we can wait for eternal glory.
III. THE GLORY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE MAY DEPART. There is a glory which should be on us and abiding with us. All Christians are "called to be saints." Few of us may behold the celestial splendour, but all of us should wear the aureole of purity. When we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the new glory of pardon and cleansing should abide. But, alas! even this glory too soon departs; the cleansed garments are again dragged through the mire, and the Christian, though renewed by Christ, dares not regard himself as a "saint." When he falls into a great sin the glory has indeed departed. If the fresh fervour of youth fades, and a commonplace character is all that remains, must it nut be said that the glory has departed, though the faith and fidelity may remain?
There is great resemblance between Ezekiel 1:1-28. and Ezekiel 10:1-22. Ezekiel is transported in spirit from the banks of the Babylonian river Chebar to the temple at Jerusalem. Yet the cherubim which he sees in the one place are exactly the same as those he has seen in the other. This fact of identity in great diversity of circumstances strikes the prophet as remarkable, and he chronicles it with emphasis. Earthly scenes change; heavenly facts remain.
I. THE RANGE OF HEAVENLY CHANGELESSNESS.
1. In various times. Divine grace is always essentially the same. On the very threshold of history Abraham is justified by faith; today faith is the one ground of the soul's becoming right with God. The Psalms of David express the inmost essence of religion for modern Christians. The gospel of the first century is the gospel for the nineteenth century. The Christ of history is the Christ of the future. If we can see the old familiar countenances of the essential Divine facts that cheered and warned and guided our fathers, we have just the vision that we need today—though, indeed, the old truths are to have fresh applications, and though, perhaps, we may have to remove the veils with which the errors of the past have sometimes obscured them.
2. In various places. The cherubim of Chebar were the cherubim of Jerusalem. The Christ of Nazareth is the Christ for London. The religion that dawned among the hills of Galilee spreads like a day over the whole earth, and shows itself as suitable for England as for the East, and as suitable for China and Africa and New Guinea as for Europe and America.
3. Under various circumstances. The quiet river bank was very different from noisy Jerusalem. Yet the same wondrous cherubim looked down upon both scenes, as the same stars of heaven gaze upon the city slums and the country villages, on the blood stained battlefield and the peaceful meadow. The same God is over all. The gospel of Christ is the same for all—rich and poor, learned and ignorant, young and old.
II. THE CAUSES OF HEAVENLY CHANGELESSNESS.
1. Inherent truth. Our better changes come largely from the correction of mistakes. We are always having to unlearn our errors, to slough the old skin. But truth abides. In heaven all is true. God's Word is true. Therefore while "all flesh is grass … and the grass withers … the Word of the Lord abideth forever" (1 Peter 1:24, 1 Peter 1:25).
2. Absolute perfection. Revelation came by stages of growth and development and through human channels. Hence its changes and the putting away of the old form of it in the Law for the new form of it in the gospel. But when we see through these earthly manifestations the really Divine behind them, we come upon absolute perfection, which is changeless.
3. Stable constancy. God is not fickle. His representative agents, symbolized by the cherubim, must be constant too. God will keep to his word. Therefore we may build upon his promise as on a granite rock. We change; he abideth faithful.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The throne of Deity.
The prophet, in this chapter, makes use of all the wealth of earthly and human imagery to enhance his readers' conception of the glory of the Eternal. The throne here pictured is the throne of God, and the metaphor is employed in order to gather around the Deity all associations which may help to raise the thoughts in reverence, confidence, and adoration towards the King of the universe. At the same time, every figure drawn from earth, from man, must needs come short of the great reality; for the finite can do no more than merely suggest the Infinite.
I. GOD IS THE SUPREME KING BY UNDERIVED RIGHT. Earthly monarchs reign by right of conquest, or election, or inheritance. They come to reign, they begin to reign. In these respects there is contrast between the sovereigns who bear sway among men and the King of kings and Lord of lords; for he is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. To examine, to question, to vindicate his right is an absurdity, an impossibility; it is the condition and foundation of all rights, and is indemonstrable and self-evident.
II. GOD IS SUPREME IN THE POSSESSION AND EXERCISE OF KINGLY POWER. Earthly sovereigns differ one from another in the military and naval forces they command, in the weight they bring to the councils of nations, in the respect and tear with which they are regarded. But there is no measure by which power such as emperors wield can be compared with Omnipotence. There is One, and there can be only One, who is almighty, who wields all the resources of the universe, and of whom it may be said that all the manifestations of his might are "but the whisperings of his power."
III. GOD IS SUPREME IN THE UNIVERSALITY OF HIS DOMINION. Vast as are the realms of the greatest of earthly potentates, these are but a speck, a mote, when placed beside the kingdom of the Creator. For this both transcends all and includes all the kingdoms of the earth: "His kingdom ruleth over all."
IV. GOD IS SUPREME IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS CHARACTERISTIC OF HIS SWAY. The true glory of a prince does not lie so much in the extent of his dominions as in the justice of his rule and administration. All human righteousness is a mere reflection of the righteousness of the great King of heaven and earth. "A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom." A throne is sometimes thought of in association with the arbitrary and despotic exercise of power; all such associations must be dismissed when we come to think and speak of the Occupant of the throne of heaven. There may be that in his government which perplexes and baffles us; but nothing is so certain to our minds as his unswerving rectitude, his inflexible justice. Our highest powers of veneration are inadequate to conceive and to adore his moral attributes. Our proper attitude is to fall down before him and acknowledge the insufficiency of our purest homage.
V. GOD IS SUPREME IN HIS CLAIM UPON ALL HIS INTELLIGENT CREATION FOR HONOUR AND GLORY. It is sometimes represented by utilitarian thinkers that men's faculties are misused and their time wasted in the attempt to "glorify God." But the view of human nature is indeed both superficial and radically false which admits of such an objection to the practice of devotion. The worship which consists only of words and gestures is indeed an unprofitable superstition. But the worship which is spiritual is both acceptable to God and profitable and elevating to man. It is well to conceive of God as a King as well as a Father. Many human relationships must concur in order to present to our minds the claims of God upon our nature. To Christians the throne of Christ is the throne of God. "Thou art the King of glory, O Christ!"—T.
The brightness of the Divine glory.
The Shechinah-cloud in the holiest place was the visible representation and symbol of the presence of the Eternal in the place set apart for special communion between God and man. Appealing primarily to the sense of sight, it did in reality appeal to the intelligence and the conscience of the people. It was the same luminous cloud which Ezekiel beheld in his vision, and in which he recognized the manifestation of the Divine presence and interest.
I. THE TRUE GLORY OF THE LORD CONSISTS IN HIS MORAL ATTRIBUTES. The Jews ever required a sign. But whilst the multitude may have rested in the sign, the enlightened and spiritual passed from the sign to the thing signified. True glory is not in material splendour, however dazzling, but in that excellence which is perfected in God, the Source of all goodness. Whilst the less reflecting may be more impressed with the omnipotence and omnipresence of God, which must indeed excite the reverent admiration of all to whom he makes himself known, such as are morally cultivated and susceptible will find the highest and purest glory in the Divine wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and love.
II. THIS GLORY IS PECULIARLY IMPRESSIVE WHERE THESE IS SPIRITUAL SUSCEPTIBILITY. As the man is affected by many things which are neither felt nor noticed by the brute, so the spiritually living and earnest are impressed and influenced by the contemplation of the Divine character and attributes. These may have no interest for the worldly and the selfish; but they are felt to be great, sacred, and precious realities by all natures that are brought by spiritual teaching into sympathy with God. "They are spiritually discerned." There is a capacity within us which is only developed and satisfied when brought into contact with the purity and the grace of him who is a Spirit, and who will be worshipped in spirit and in truth.
III. THE VISION OF THIS BRIGHTNESS IS A MOTIVE AND STIMULUS TO HUMAN OBEDIENCE AND PRAISE. The hosts of heaven gaze upon the Divine glory, and by the vision are prompted to unceasing adoration, it is the same with the enlightened and spiritual among the sons of men. As the daybreak and the sunrise call forth the glad song of the lark as it soars aloft, so the rising of "the brightness of the Lord's glory" upon a soul summons it to the glad exercise of exulting adoration. Nor does this term the only response. Man's active nature renders the service which is due to him who is recognized as the Source of all good, of all blessing. Obedience is acted praise, as praise is uttered obedience.
IV. TO THE CHRISTIAN THE LORD JESUS IS THE RICHEST REVELATION OF THE DIVINE GLORY. The evangelist tells us that he and his fellow disciples beheld Christ's glory, "the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes the Son of God as "the Emanation from the Divine glory." They who look into Christ's face behold the moral attributes of Deity in all their resplendent brightness, "They look unto him, and are lightened, and their laces are not ashamed."—T.
The voice of the Almighty.
The human voice deserves to be studied and admired as a most effective and delicate and exquisitely beautiful provision for the expression of thought and feeling. It is so ethereal, so semi-spiritual, that there seems scarcely any anthropomorphism in attributing it to the Creator himself. The sounds of nature may indeed be designated the voice of God. But the characteristics of the human utterance seem most justly attributable to him who comprehends in perfection within himself all those thoughts and emotions which are distinctive of the spiritual nature.
I. THE EXPRESSION CASTS LIGHT UPON THE NATURE OF GOD. The voice is, among all the inhabitants of this earth, man's prerogative alone. And for this reason—man alone has reason, and therefore he alone has speech. There are noises and sounds, and even musical sounds, in nature; but to man alone belongs the voice, the organ of articulate speech and intelligible language. When voice is attributed to the Almighty God, it is implied that he is himself in perfection that Reason which he communicates to his creature man. Our intellect and thought are derived from his, and are akin to his; our reason is "the candle of the Lord" within.
II. THE EXPRESSION CASTS LIGHT UPON THE INTERCOURSE BETWEEN GOD AND MAN. The purpose of the voice is that man may communicate with his fellow man by means of articulate language, and by means of all those varied and delicate shades of intonation by which we convey our sentiments, and indicate satisfaction and disapproval, confidence and distrust, tenderness and severity, inquiry and command. Now, where we meet in Scripture with the phrase, "the voice of God Almighty when he speaketh," we are led to think of the purpose for which he utters his voice. It is evidently to communicate with man—mind with mind—that we may be acquainted with his thoughts, his wishes, his sentiments with regard to us, if we may use language so human. The whole of nature may be regarded as uttering the Divine thought, though, as the psalmist tells us, "there is no speech nor language, and their voice cannot be heard." But his articulate speech comes through the medium of human minds—the minds of prophets and apostles, and (above all) the mind of Christ Jesus. The Word speaks with the Divine voice; in him alone that voice reaches us with all the faultless tones, and with the perfect revelation which we need in order that we may realize and rejoice in the presence of the Divine Father of spirits, the Divine Saviour and Helper.
III. THIS EXPRESSION CASTS LIGHT UPON THE DUTY AND PRIVILEGE OF MAN.
1. It is ours to listen with grateful joy to the voice of God. "The friend of the bridegroom rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice." Christ speaks, and his utterances are welcome to every believing and sympathetic nature; they are as the sound of a voice long expected and wished for, as it now fails upon the listening and eager ear. The sinner may well dread the voice which can speak to him as with the thunder of threatened vengeance. But the Christian recognizes the tones of love and the accents of gentleness.
2. It is ours to listen to the voice of God with believing submission and obedience. God's voice is always with authority. Because he reveals himself as our Father, he does not cease to command. "Ye have not heard his voice at any time," was the stern reproach addressed by Jesus to the unspiritual Jews. The exhortation comes to us all, "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The machinery of God's providence.
A man must be embodied ignorance who should suppose that all the activities of God's government come within the range of his vision. Our knowledge is not the measure of existence.
"There are more things in heaven and earth
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy."
What we know is an infinitesimal fraction of what we do not know. Hence every revelation of God's administrative rule should be welcomed with eager delight.
I. GOD'S ESSENTIAL MAJESTY IS INCONCEIVABLE. The difficulty for man to comprehend the nature and government of God lies, not on the part of God, but on the part of man. His spiritual nature is so environed with bars of flesh that he cannot discern spiritual realities. Truth finds its way into his mind mainly by the use of sensuous images. The difficulty is aggravated by long habits of neglect and self-indulgence. Under these circumstances, the marvel is that he knows as much about the world as he does. We can form no definite conception of the Infinite or of the Eternal; yet it appears to our reason that God must be infinite in capacity and eternal in duration. Possibly, God is above the conception of the oldest archangel. Possibly, God cannot reveal the whole extent of his nature to any created being. Certain it is that the wing of human imagination soon tires in its attempt to soar to the height of the Godhead. All the machinery of his rule is in harmony with himself—majestic, ethereal, sublime! How shall man measure himself with God? Surely he is but a mote in the sunbeam, incomparably minute, yet to God incomparably precious!
II. GOD'S PRESENCE, WITHOUT A CLOUD, IS TO MAN INSUPPORTABLE. On every occasion on which God has condescended to reveal himself to men there has been the attendant circumstance of a cloud. "God is light;" but to human sensibilities the full blaze of light is insufferable. When God appeared to Moses among the solitudes of Horeb, "the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud." The presence of God among the Hebrews in the desert was symbolized by the pillar of cloud. At the moment when the first Jewish temple was consecrated to the service of Jehovah, a mysterious "cloud filled the house of the Lord." God was known to abide in the holy of holies, in the cloud that covered the mercy seat. When Moses and Elijah descended to commune with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, "a cloud overshadowed them," and the voice of the Father "was heard out of the cloud." At the close of our Lord's earthly mission he ascended from earth to heaven from the heights near Bethany, "and a cloud received him out of the apostles' sight." So too the prophecies which announce the next appearance of our Lord indicate the surroundings of a cloud: "Behold! he cometh with clouds;" "Ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven." Clouds distribute and attenuate the fierce light of the sun, and enhance the splendours of the scene. They are a manifestation of the component parts of light. They reveal its beauty and its power. So God attempers the brightness of his essential glory to suit the necessities of men.
III. GOD'S ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IS AN ELABORATE AND COMPLEX SYSTEM. Human agency is intimately allied with the dynamic forces of nature on the one side, and with the active powers of angels on the other. The wheels (with the numerical symbol, four), impressive from their magnitude and their rotatory speed, indicate the mighty forces of nature. Even in these wheels the prophet discovers eyes, which are the symbol of intelligence. The cherubic beings are represented as combining the strength of the ox, the courage of the lion, the swiftness of the eagle, and the intelligence of man. Beneath their wings there is seen, ever and anon, a human hand—the index of human agency and action. Resting on this complex system of cherubic life is seen the cerulean throne of God, bright as a sapphire stone. In the destruction of Jerusalem the Chaldean armies did not act alone. Nebuchadnezzar, probably, was not conscious that any power, other than his own will, was instigating him to the war. Nevertheless, he was an instrument of justice in the hand of God. There is much service done for God which is not intended. Said God respecting Cyrus, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Human kings and warriors are only parts of a complex system. Human will has a very limited circle in which to play; yet it has its place.
IV. IN THIS COMPLEX SYSTEM THE MEDIATOR FULFILS AN IMPORTANT PART. (Ezekiel 10:2.) "The man clothed with linen" clearly represents the great High Priest—the Divine Mediator. He who brings mercy to men is also the Minister of judgment. He who proclaims "the acceptable year of the Lord" announces also "the day of vengeance of our God." God will "judge the world by that Man whom he hath ordained." If the great Shepherd will preserve his flock, he must destroy the wolves. Justice and mercy go hand in hand. As we see here the ministrations of angels, along with God's Son, in the work of destruction; so in later days we see, in fact, the alliance of angels with Christ in the work of men's salvation. Nor should we fail to overlook the promptitude with which the Son fulfilled his Father's word, "Go in between the wheels,…and fill thine hand with coals of fire,…and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight." Is not this a practical commentary upon Messiah's words, "I do always the things that please him"? So with all God's servants, "They go straight forward."
V. GOD ENTERS UPON THE WORK OF DESTRUCTION SLOWLY AND RELUCTANTLY. We read in the fourth verse that the glory of the Lord withdrew from the inner court of the temple, and stood over the threshold of the house. Again, we read in the eighteenth verse that "the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight." Again, in the next chapter the record runs, "And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city." With slow and successive steps God departed from the sanctuary which he had chosen for his residence.. All this prefigured the "leaving the house desolate," and the ascension from the Mount of Olives," by our Lord. So has it always been. The axe is laid at the root of the tree—a delay of judgment—that the tree may yet become fruitful. Infinite patience belongs to God. He "is slow to anger, while plenteous in mercy." A great truth is embodied in the old adage—
"The mill of God grinds slowly,
But it grinds exceeding small."
VI. WE DISCOVER IN THIS VISION THE HARMONY OF SCRIPTURE. Between this unveiling of God's purposes respecting Israel, and his purposes towards the world revealed in the Apocalypse of John, there are instructive resemblances. The cherubic forms again appear. Angels have special charge over the forces of nature—winds and fire and earthquake. So far as human vision reaches, kings and armies act by their own free will, and to accomplish their own ambitions; but when we are lifted up to God's pedestal, and are shown the progress of events from that high standpoint, we see that a series of Divine agents is employed—men fulfilling their part in subordination to angelic ministers. In God's great army we have generals and captains and lieutenants, as well as the rank-and-file. In the government of the universe, men fill a humble though an honourable place; and consequent on their diligence and fidelity now will be their promotion to higher office by and by. "Be thou ruler over five cities!" "Be thou ruler over ten cities!" "I appoint unto you kingdoms, as my Father hath appointed me."—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Ezekiel 10:1, Ezekiel 10:2, Ezekiel 10:6, Ezekiel 10:7
The vision of judgment by fire.
"Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim," etc. The vision recorded in this chapter is substantially a repetition of that which is described in the first chapter, as the prophet himself intimates (Ezekiel 10:20, Ezekiel 10:22). The only differences of any importance are that the prophet was not in the same place when he received this vision as when he received its counterpart, and that the symbolical actions in this have not occurred before. We shall not again notice those features of the manifestation which we considered in our treatment of the first chapter, but shall confine our attention to the symbolical actions, and at present to the scattering of coals of fire over the city. The work of judgment begun in the last chapter is continued in this one. The destroying angels have (in vision) gone forth slaying the guilty people; the dead bodies were lying in the temple courts and the city streets; and now the command is given to finish the work of judgment by scattering coals of fire over the city, and so destroying it. Three chief points call for attention.
I. THE AUTHOR OF THIS JUDGMENT. "He spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels," etc. The Speaker is the enthroned One: "God the Father sitting on the throne, to the Son, to whom he has given full power to execute judgment" (John 5:27). Notice:
1. The majesty of his state. (Ezekiel 10:1.) It is not said that any manifestation or appearance of God was given in this vision. But Ezekiel beheld the appearance of the exalted throne over the cherubim, a throne as of pure and brilliant sapphire like the clear and deep vault of heaven. "The heaven-like colour of the throne indicates," says Hengstenberg, "the infinite eminence of God's dominion over the earth, with its impotence, sin, and unrighteousness." The representation is intended to shadow forth the glory of God. How glorious he is! The glory of heavenly things far surpasses the highest glory of earth, and the glory of God transcends the highest of heaven. He is "glorious in holiness;" "the glorious Lord;" "the King of glory;" "the God of glory;" "the Father of glory;" and his kingdom is glorious in majesty.
2. The sovereignty of his authority. God is supreme over the forces of nature, symbolized by the wheels; over every form of life, symbolized by the cherubim, or "living creatures" (Ezekiel 1:1-28.); over the six destroying angels (Ezekiel 9:1-11.); and in a sense over "the man clothed with linen," who is the Agent of the Father (cf. John 14:31; John 15:10; John 17:18). He commands the scattering of fire over the city. The Chaldeans could not have laid waste Jerusalem but for his permission. "His kingdom ruleth over all." "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain."
II. THE GREAT AGENT OF THIS JUDGMENT. "And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels," etc. The man clothed in linen, who was to scatter the coals of fire over the city, was, as we have seen, the angel of Jehovah, otherwise called the angel of the covenant. Notice:
1. The diverse functions ascribed to him. In the preceding chapter he was summoned to the preservation of the pious; in this he is sent forth to complete the work of destruction because of sin. This is suggestive of his two comings into our world. He came as a Saviour, to bring forgiveness to sinners, and deliverance from sin, and comfort for mourners, and strength for the weak, and hope for the despairing, and to scatter wide the blessings of Divine grace. But he will come again as a Judge in dreadful majesty. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, rendering vengeance on them that know not God," etc. But a more correct and complete analogy to these diverse functions ascribed to him in this vision is in the fact that in his future coming he will both perfect the salvation of his people, and deliver over to punishment those who have rejected him. That coming will be either the cause of ineffable rapture and adoration (Revelation 7:9-17), or of unutterable terror and anguish to every man (Revelation 6:15-17).
2. The prompt obedience rendered by him. "And it came to pass, that when he had commanded the man clothed with linen, saying, Take fire from between the wheels, from between the cherubim; then he went in," etc. (verses 6, 7). His delight was in doing the will or his Father. "Jesus saith, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." And at the close of his mission upon earth, he said with infinite satisfaction, "Father, … I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou Rarest me to do." He complied with his Father's will at all times, in all things, and with his whole heart. How perfect is the example which he sets us in this respect! Let us imitate him, endeavouring to obey the holy will even as he did.
III. THE MEANS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Fill thine hand with coals of fire,… and scatter them over the city." The fire denoted was elemental fire; for it was taken from between the wheels, and the wheels symbolize the forces of nature; and it was to be used in burning the city. In this use of fire we have an illustration of:
1. A most useful servant becoming a most terrible foe. The Most High, if he pleases, can turn our greatest comforts into our direst curses; and he may do so if we misuse them. "They had abused fire," says Greenhill, "to maintain their gluttony, for fulness of bread was one of their sins; they burned incense to idols, and abused the altar fire, which had been the greatest refreshing to their souls;… and now even this fire kindled upon them." And as a matter of fact, fire was used in destroying the temple and other places in Jerusalem. Josephus tells how Nebuzaradan, by command of the King of Babylon, having despoiled the temple of its precious and sacred treasures, set fire to it. "When he had carried these off, he set fire to the temple in the fifth month, the first day of the month, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, and in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar; he also burnt the palace and overthrew the city" ('Ant.,' 10. 8.5).
2. The divers uses of fire as represented in Holy Scripture. It is there used to set forth both cleansing and avenging powers. It is the symbol of the purification of the human heart and life from sin (Isaiah 6:6, Isaiah 6:7; Malachi 3:2, Malachi 3:3). It is also the symbol of the punishment of the incorrigibly corrupt (Matthew 25:41). "Our God is a consuming Fire;" and we must each be brought consciously near unto him, either to be cleansed from our sin, or, failing in this, to bear the just judgment thereof; for the Divine fire is essentially antagonistic to sin.
1. Let us eschew every form of sin.
2. Let us seek the application of the purifying fire of the Divine love to our hearts.—W.J.
Ezekiel 10:4, Ezekiel 10:18, Ezekiel 10:19
; and Ezekiel 11:22, Ezekiel 11:23
The withdrawal of the presence of God from a guilty people.
"Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub, and stood over tile threshold of the house," etc. These verses, which are all essentially related to one subject, suggest the following observations.
I. THAT GOD NEVER WITHDRAWS HIS GRACIOUS PRESENCE FROM A PERSON OR A NATION UNTIL THEY HAVE QUITE FORSAKEN HIM. The chosen people had despised his laws; they had turned aside from his worship for the most debasing idolatries; they had filled the land with their violence; they had denied his observation of their lives, and his interest therein; and they had persecuted his prophets wire called them to repentance. They had abandoned him provokingly and persistently; and now he is about to take from them his gracious presence. That presence he never withdraws from any individual or from any community until he has been rejected—driven away, as it were, by heinous and continued sin. In proof of this we may refer to the following and other portions of the sacred Scriptures: 1 Samuel 15:23, 1 Samuel 15:26; 1Sa 28:15-18; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Psalms 78:56-64; Jeremiah 7:8-16.
II. THAT GOD WITHDRAWS HIS GRACIOUS PRESENCE FROM A PERSON OR A NATION VERY GRADUALLY. We have an intimation of his leaving the temple in Ezekiel 9:3, where the glory of God departs from the holy of holies to the threshold of the house, by which is meant, says Schroder, "the outermost point, where the exit was from the court of the people into the city." In Ezekiel 9:4 the prophet beholds the same movement repeated. Then in verses 18 and 19 the Lord's complete abandonment of the temple is symbolically exhibited. And in Ezekiel 11:22, Ezekiel 11:23 the symbol of the gracious presence departs from the city, and makes a temporary sojourn on the Mount of Olives before forsaking the land. Thus step by step the symbol of the glory of the Lord goes away from them. It is as though he forsook them with great reluctance. By his servant Hosea he expresses the same truth: "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel?" etc. (Hosea 11:8). It seemed, too, as though he would be entreated by them not to depart from their midst, and moved away so gradually in order that they might so entreat him. And if God withdraws himself, or withholds his gracious influences from any one, he does so, as it were, with measured steps and slow. Men are not left to themselves and their own devices hastily. God waits long to be gracious unto man. He does not depart from any one until he has received great and protracted provocation. He is "the God of patience;" and "he delighteth in mercy."
III. THAT WHEN GOD WITHDRAWS HIS GRACIOUS PRESENCE FROM A PERSON OR NATION THEY ARE BEREFT OF HIS PROTECTION. Shortly after Ezekiel had seen the glory of God pass away from the holy of holies to the threshold of the house (Ezekiel 9:3), the destroying angels began their work of slaughter in the temple. And before the complete destruction of the city, the glory of God departed from it to the Mount of Olives. When the Lord had quite withdrawn his gracious presence they were at the mercy of their enemies, and troubles came upon them test and furiously. "When the sun is in apogee, says Greenhill, "gone from us, we have short days and long nights, little light but much darkness; and when God departs, you have much night, and little day left, your comforts fade suddenly, and miseries come upon you swiftly." What a tragical example of this we have in the case of King Saul! When God had departed from him, and answered him no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams, he was sore distressed, and the terrible end was close at hand (1 Samuel 28:15-20; 1 Samuel 31:1-13.). "This is to be forsaken indeed, when God prepares to forsake us. Lo! then more than ever darkness comes over all the powers of man's spirit and over his life, and even trusted, loved countenances of friends go into shadow. Good thoughts grow ever fewer, impulses to prayer ever more rare; admonitions of conscience cease; the holy of holies in the man becomes empty down to the four walls and the usual pious furniture" (Schroder).
CONCLUSION. "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called Today; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." And let us pray, "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me."—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20