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THE FOURTH “VISION OF GOD.”
This description is almost identical, even in phrase, with that given in chap.
1 . The repetition with such particularity of all these details proves that Ezekiel regarded the vision, even in its minuteness, as picturing a deep mystery. This alone would exclude the hypothesis that the symbols used were merely familiar emblems of sovereignty, well known to every Israelite (1 Kings 6:29; 1 Kings 7:25; 1 Kings 7:44; Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 17:7), or that the living creatures merely represented divine intelligence, power, creative might and omniscience. Piepenbring. The emphasis placed upon this vision by the prophet shows that he understood it to contain some new revelation. Indeed, this vision is the key to the entire prophecy. All the fundamentals to Ezekiel’s theology are here pictorially expressed: his conception of God human in his attributes (not beastly, as the heathen thought), gloriously enthroned above all gods, One who only needs to be seen as he is in order to be reverenced; his conception of man, whose chief duty is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever;” his conception of the world and its government as being wholly, constantly, irrevocably, everlastingly dominated by its divine King; all nature and all history, life and death, things present and things to come, governed by one Will which “makes for righteousness.” This prophecy is a picture in whirlwind and fire of the song of the seraphim: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of hosts: that which filleth the whole earth is his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Ezekiel’s vision has been called “ a song without words.” His cherubim are speechless. They do not need to speak. Before the majesty of Jehovah they stand and drop their wings, too awed to speak. The effect of this “vision of God” upon the seer may be traced in almost every chapter of his prophecy. For detailed description of the vision see also notes on chap. 1.
1. “Behold… as it were a sapphire stone, with the appearance of the likeness of a throne upon it” (LXX.). The glory of the Lord has returned from the threshold of the house (Ezekiel 9:3) and the prophet now sees it above the cherubim. If we follow the Septuagint it is not the color of the throne which is described as sapphire, but of the foundation, “the firmament” upon which rests the throne; and this agrees with Exodus 24:10, and Revelation 21:19. It is a very curious fact, pointed out by Delitzsch, that the ancients lacked color perception. No ancient language contains the word sky-blue. It was not until the Middle Ages that even the poets seem to have noticed that the sky was blue. The Hebrews alone seem to have discovered this and have expressed the thought beautifully with the help of the sapphire which is the more precious the deeper the blue. “Sapphire blue is the blue of the heaven; blue is the color of the atmosphere illumined by the sun, through which shine the dark depths of space; the color of the finite pervaded by the infinite; the color taken by that which is most heavenly as it comes down on the earthly, the color of the covenant between God and men. And blue passes almost universally as the color of fidelity… In biblical symbolism there is associated with blue the idea of the blue sky and with the blue sky the idea of the Godhead coming forth from its mysterious dwelling in the unseen world and graciously condescending to the creature.” Franz Delitzsch, Iris.
2. Between the wheels Literally, whirling; a different word from the one formerly used for wheel. It is used also in Ezekiel 10:13, and signifies that the wheels are all the time moving like a whirlwind. (Compare also Psalms 77:18; Ezekiel 33:23.) It is used, not of a single wheel, but of the entire “wheelwork,” or chariot.
Coals of fire That which previously the prophet had only ventured to describe as appearing like coals of fire (Ezekiel 1:13) he now sees can be handled and used as powerful weapons of judgment.
Scatter them over the city All this is symbolical of judgment to come. Josephus tells us how this prophecy was fulfilled by Nebuzaradan, who, having robbed the temple of its treasures, set fire to it “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., X, Ezekiel 8:5).
3. Right side Or, south side of the temple. Ezekiel, coming through the north door into the outer court of the sanctuary, sees just in front of him the cherubim and the throne. He states the position in order to show that he had the best possible opportunity to see what happened when the man went into the fire.
4. The glory of the Lord went up The cherubim remained, but Jehovah once more removed to the threshold (Ezekiel 9:3). Was this in order to view the execution of his commands in the burning of the city? This is wholly conjecture. Perhaps the idea is that otherwise the man could not have had the strength to fulfill his commission. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 3:23) could not stand near God’s glory; how much less would he have been able to enter his chariot!
The house was filled with the cloud “God’s presence without a cloud is to man insupportable.” Even when God appeared to Moses “the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud,” and of those on the mount of transfiguration it is said “a cloud overshadowed them.”
From the cherub Or, from the chariot. As in Hebrew the words cherub and chariot are nearly identical it would only require a very slight error to make this substitution. The connection shows that the entire chariot is meant. In the recently discovered Senschirli inscriptions, dating from about Ezekiel’s era, one man is named “Rekub-El,” chariot of God.
Court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory It is here for the first time made perfectly clear that the brightness which from the beginning had impressed the prophet was the shining of the divine One and not of the throne or the chariot.
5. Even to the outer court See comments Ezekiel 8:16; Ezekiel 9:3. We consider the glory to be over the threshold of the inner court, near the sanctuary.
The voice of the Almighty God The Hebrews often spoke of the thunder as the voice of El Shaddai, or Jehovah (Psalms 29:0). The movements of the cherubs’ wings, as they made ready to accompany their Master, though detained by divine will, could be heard even into the court of the Gentiles, and sounded like the noise of thunder. “‘El Shaddai’ was the name of God as ruling over nature, while ‘Jehovah’ expressed his covenant relationship to Israel.” Plumptre.
6. Take fire Fire symbolizes God’s purity. “What really destroys the town is the destructive holiness of Jehovah.” Orelli.
7. And one cherub Literally, the cherub the one nearest to him. Even though the divine glory is compassionately absent, yet human weakness seems to be inadequate to the task assigned until the guardian of the divine honor assists him in doing what was commanded. (Compare Isaiah 6:5-6.) We lose sight now of this man clothed with linen, and there is no attempt whatever to picture the conflagration.
8. “And something like a human hand became visible on the cherubs under their wings.” Kautzsch. Ezekiel could not have known it, but in view of the incarnation there is an added beauty in this picture of a man’s hand beneath these symbolical representations of universal life. The hand that moves the world is the hand that made it the hand of “the man Christ Jesus.” (See note Ezekiel 1:26.)
9-11. See notes on chap. 1.
12. The prophet now sees, what escaped him at the first appearance of these creatures (Ezekiel 1:5-13), that they, as well as the wheels, were full of eyes. Though the movements of the living creatures and the wheels were like lightning there was nothing capricious or blind about these. An infinite knowledge guided their activity. (Compare Revelation 4:6.) As has been said, the prophet receives here 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!”
13. “As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels” (R.V.). The last word galgal is very difficult to translate. Dean Plumptre translates it by “chariot,” saying that the prophet “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” ( Pulpit Commentary). But, while this is an easy way out of the difficulty, unfortunately this word never has this meaning in any other passage. It is almost the word wheel, with an emphasis upon the fact that the wheel is whirling. Perhaps the most sensible rendering which would retain the literal meaning would be, “They were called in my hearing, ‘whorl,’ or ‘whirlwind.’” (Compare Kautzsch.) The reference is to their lightning-like rapidity of movement. (Compare Ezekiel 1:14.)
14. This is a description corresponding exactly to that given in Ezekiel 1:10, except that here, instead of “the face of an ox,” we have the face of a cherub. Many explanations of this have been attempted, but none seem satisfactory. Some suppose that Ezekiel calls the face of the ox the face of “ the cherub” (Hebrews) referring to the one which had given the coal of fire to the man in linen; others think that he refers thus to it because the movement of the chariot was in the direction which it faced; others imagine that he intends to express here the idea that the typical cherub form was that of an ox, while still others venture to hint that the prophet had changed the face of an ox into the face of the cherub, because the former notion had proven distasteful to his companions in exile. The last two suppositions are contradicted by many direct statements in both visions; the other hypotheses do not seem very convincing, and unless a future examination of ancient manuscripts shall show a corruption of the text it may be best frankly to acknowledge that we do not know why the prophet makes this change. Professor Toy omits the verse from his revised text.
15. Were lifted up The prophet recognizes the same peculiarity of movement as had impressed him in the wheels when the vision first appeared (Ezekiel 1:20). There was a spirit both in wheels and cherubim which controlled their actions. The motive power of the chariot was neither wheel nor wing, but a unifying spirit.
17. Lifted up themselves, etc. Literally, were lifted up with them; for the spirit of life was in them.
19. They went out Jehovah returns to his chariot (Ezekiel 10:18) and moves solemnly out of the temple. The prophet notices that the cherubim and wheels still move in absolute harmony. The interaction of the animate and the inanimate is perfect.
Every one stood Literally, it stood; the chariot paused as for the last time it left the sanctuary. It was Jehovah’s farewell to his ancient and beloved temple. The silence of that impressive moment was a prophecy of the lament uttered six centuries later: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” (Matthew 23:37.)
The God of Israel Here again the tender national name for Jehovah is given. The use of this name by the prophet is always significant (Ezekiel 8:4; Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:19-20; Ezekiel 11:22; Ezekiel 40:2; Ezekiel 44:2). This is none other than Israel’s God, and (Ezekiel 10:20) he will remain the God of Israel still, even though his people forsake him and he himself is forced to leave his sanctuary, which has been turned into an idol temple. Yea, and it will be as the God of Israel that he will come to comfort and deliver the faithful remnant in Babylon. He does not cease to be Israel’s God, though the time has come when he must be recognized as also the God of the whole earth.
20-22. I knew that they were the cherubim If we try to dissect this vision we are in great danger of taking all the life out of it. It must not be forgotten that the cloud and the lightning, the wheels and cherubim, were only “the pictorial clothing of the supreme truth that in his vision, Ezekiel’s soul met the Infinite and Eternal face to face and heard the secret of Jehovah’s counsel from his own mouth” (W. Robertson Smith); yet, we may be able to catch, if only in dim outline, the meaning of each part of this complex picture. Not until Ezekiel had several times seen this vision did he realize that the “living creatures” who were the glory-bearers of Jehovah were the cherubim. They were so unlike the cherubim of the temple with which he was acquainted that he never realized their essential identity until he saw the vision in the temple itself, and perceived that these living creatures took the place above the mercy scat which the carved cherubim formerly occupied, just as the flying wheels and the throne took the place always sacred to the unseen glory (the Shekinah). It is surprising that expositors, notwithstanding the marked difference between Ezekiel’s cherubim and those of the tabernacle and temple, have yet attempted to make them as nearly identical in form as possible. Even M. Pinches supposes there must have been “a peculiar cherubic form” which Ezekiel recognized in the living creatures, “though kept secret from all others,” and even yet an “unfathomable mystery!” (Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1893.) But whatever Ezekiel’s words imply here, they could not declare exact similarity of form (Exodus 25:20; 1 Kings 8:7). Indeed the chief object in repeating the vision must have been to bring out the new truth revealed by this new view of these strange symbolic creatures as cherubim. Muller’s idea ( Ezekiel Studien, 1895) that Ezekiel substituted the cherubim in this vision for “living creatures” and made certain other changes because of the criticism of those to whom he had told the first vision, is as deficient in a just appreciation of the prophet’s character as in spiritual discernment. Ezekiel 10:22 is in itself sufficient refutation of this hypothesis. Every Hebrew would have been surprised at the identification by a priest, such as Ezekiel, of these animal forms with the temple cherubim, and would begin to search at once for the points of comparison and contrast, and for spiritual lessons hidden therein.
On the other hand, it is equally clear that these “living creatures” of Ezekiel were not copies of the so-called “winged bulls” of Assyria. Those stone guardians of the temple, with their single human face and long beard and miter ornamented with horns, were strikingly different from these fiery four-faced “living ones” covered with eyes. It has recently been doubted whether the name Kerubi is ever used of these “guardians of the palace” (Davis, Genesis and Semitic Tradition). But if, indeed, those complex animal forms bore the same name as these living creatures of Ezekiel this would only more quickly lead everyone who listened on the banks of the old Babylonian canal to the recital of this strange vision, to compare and contrast these very different forms in order to learn the lessons, which might thus be taught, of providence and deity. What those spiritual lessons were we may be able now only to grasp very partially. One may well regret that the author of the Hebrews, when he spoke of the “cherubim of glory,” was forced to add, “of which we cannot now speak particularly” (Hebrews 9:3-5). How much controversy and confusion of tongues it would have saved if he had given just then one of the parentheses of which he was so fond! The similarity between the Babylonian and all forms of the Hebrew cherubim is evident. All of these “mighty ones” were symbolical forms manifesting the Invisible. They were divine watchers and “guardians,” mediators between God and man, representatives of the divine will, protectors of the divine law, and upholders of the divine throne.
But the differences grow on one. The Babylonian genii which protected the temples and palaces had an independent power for good or evil and needed to be propitiated by gifts and prayers. A recently deciphered text gives the piercing cry which daily ascended from those Babylonian homes:
Propitious be the favorable Shidu that is before thee.
May the Lamassu that goeth behind thee be propitious.
King, Illustrated Archaeology, 1894.
The horror of this worship is well expressed by the psalmist:
They sacrificed their sons
And their daughters unto Shidim, And shed innocent blood.
Psalms 106:37 ; see also Deuteronomy 32:17 .
How different from the Hebrew cherubim! They were wholly dominated by the One. There was no caprice or personal feeling possible. In Eden, in the tabernacle, in the temple, on the Chebar, everywhere and always, Jehovah dwells “between the cherubim,” and his will and his spirit moves them. But while the Bible cherubim agree in this and thus differ vitally from the Babylonian there is a vast growth to be traced in the Hebrew conception represented by these symbolic forms. The cherubim in Eden are guardians of the tree of life, and their revolving sword or “disk of fire” (Lenormant) is especially emphasized. They are pre-eminently representatives of the divine justice and power. The cherubim of the tabernacle and the temple have no sword. They watch over the mercy seat and the written law, and point the way with beckoning wings to the new Eden the gates of which are now open and to the Tree of Life of which, through God’s mercy, even the sinful man can now eat. All the cherubic heraldry wrought into the tapestry of the tabernacle and adorning the walls of the temple was a heraldry of grace.
But Ezekiel’s vision shows a great advance upon any previous revelation. Before this the cherubim were only seen in the temple. They were guardians of the covenant of grace which God had made with the Israelites.
Only Israelites could enter the temple. It was only the sins of the Jewish nation which the high priest confessed, and for which he received pardon as he knelt close to the mercy seat, shadowed by the glorious wings of the cherubim. Where the cherubim are God’s holy place must be; but Ezekiel sees the cherubim outside the temple and outside the limits by which heretofore he and his nation had always bounded the “holy city” and the “holy land.” God’s holy place and the holy guardians of his law and covenant are not confined any more within the walls of Jerusalem. The throne which the Jews always thought of as above the cherubim in the temple is now seen on the Chebar. Jehovah now “fills the whole earth with his glory,” and all nature “with the floating edges of his robe” (Jeremiah 7:4), and the symbolic cherubim are no longer of the exclusive Jewish type! They have taken on a manifold form. They are neither Jewish nor Egyptian nor Babylonian. They combine all elements. The single-faced cherub of the Jerusalem temple has become the four-sided, four-winged, four-faced cherub of God’s universal sanctuary. It looks toward every point of the compass, toward every nation of men.* The images of gold in the local holy of holies has given way to living beings full of spiritual fires. The cloud of incense hiding the unseen Presence has given place to “the likeness of a man upon the throne.” The Palestinian and Jewish conception of God and his providence has gone down before the new and lofty thought that the one God belongs to the whole earth and the whole earth to him, and that all forms of life even the gods and genii of the heathen and the guardians of death are but manifestations or servants of the One supreme. (See notes chap. 1.) Never have the omnipotence, the omnipresence, and the omniscience of the Deity been more vividly and forcibly pictured. Whirlwind, cloud, and lightning, and all the most subtle and untamable forces of nature are his ministers. The powers of heaven and earth and the underworld bow submissively before his throne. Life and death, men and demons, are his servants. It was a lesson Ezekiel’s captive and stricken comrades needed to learn. They, no doubt, almost universally thought of Jehovah as the God of Jerusalem and of Canaan, and when they were carried away from these holy places away from the temple, the altar, and the cherubim and all the customary worship and ritual were left far behind them in the distance, many of them began to feel themselves justified in honoring the gods of the land wherein they dwelt. Especially were they tempted to do this when it appeared that even the sanctity of the distant temple was not to be maintained, but even the holy of holies had been profaned by the feet of the invading heathen. Then it was that this seer of God, in this splendid picture, painted before their eyes the mighty all-conquering truth, that “the Lord is here,” and every spot where he reveals himself is holy ground; and that he is “Lord” in Babylon as truly as in Jerusalem. This is the central thought of the vision and of the entire prophecy. Israel may sin, the temple may be destroyed, Jerusalem may fall, “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take council… against Jehovah,” but his sovereignty remains untouched. He is still “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, a mighty and a terrible,” who “doth execute the judgment… and loveth the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:17); as powerful and as gracious on the plains of Chaldea as in the mountains about the holy city.
[*This explains the repetition again and again of this fourfold symbolism. The use of the numeral four in ancient times in this symbolic sense cannot be doubted. (See our Introduction to Ezekiel, “Symbolism.”)] This seems to have been the lesson which God taught Ezekiel and he in turn taught to his countrymen from this “vision of God.” Thus the nature and office of the cherubim are clearly seen. They are the guardians of the divine majesty, mediatorial revelations of the glory of the One, concentrating in themselves all the forces of immaterial nature and all the quintessence of universal life. Animate and inanimate nature, man, and all the powers and principalities of heaven and Hades are but revelations of the divine Presence, fitly enthroning the supreme revelation of the invisible God in the “man upon the throne.”
The influence of this vision upon later writers is almost unparalleled. The early fathers, particularly, were sure that the four cherubim were symbolical of the nature and work of Christ: the man representing his Incarnation; the lion, the emblem of Judah, his eternal Kingship; the ox, his atoning sacrifice; the eagle, his heavenly spirit and essential divinity. So also many of the earliest fathers believed that these “living creatures” prefigured the four evangelists: St. Matthew having written the gospel of his humanity; St. Mark, the eagle gospel; St. Luke, the priestly or sacrificial narrative; and St. John, the royal gospel, showing his glorious generation from the Father though later writers almost universally assign the eagle to St. John, and the lion to St. Mark.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezekiel 10". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent