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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 1

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

Verse 1

General remarks. Before beginning my manuscript on this book, and especially the first chapter, 1 spent a considerable amount of time in study. 1 have consulted various commentaries and other works of reference such as histories and dictionaries. 1 was aware that most of the explanations that are offered as to the four creatures and their significance, insisted on recognizing the characteristics of the God of all creation, and this in opposition to the idea that they could signify any governments among men. However, there need be no difficulty on this point, for all of the glory and other greatness attributed to these powers of the world must be acknowledged as coming from God because He was concerned with the progress of them in view of the relations they had with His people. (See Dan 2:37; i: 17, 32; 5; 18.) Here is another thought that should be given consideration. Any explanation that is offered on a passage of the Bible should agree with the historical facts that may be learned from authentic sources. The interpretation that will be given on the meaning of the symbols shown in this chapter should be virtually true historically of the institutions that will be referred to. If this is true (and it is assured that it will be) then no violence can possibly be done the great subject at hand. Eze 1:1. Thirtieth year refers to the age of Ezekiel when he began to write. Verse 3 says he was a priest and Num 4:3 requires the priest to be at that age when he starts his term; not that he was acting as priest, for lie was in Babylon at the time. The captives were scattered over different places in the land of the Chaldeans and Ezekiel was with the group that was by the river Chebar. This was a stream that flowed into the Euphrates some 200 miles north of Babylon. At this time and place the Lord began his communication with Ezekiel for the purpose of prophecy.

Verse 2

Eze 1:2. Jehoiachin’s captivity. The Babylonian captivity was accomplished in three stages and the account is in 2 Kings 24, 25. After the third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar took posses-sion of Jerusalem which marked the start of the 70-year epoch. Yet the king of Judah was permitted to occupy his throne as a vassal under the authority of the king of Babylon, After eight years of such a reign Jehoiakim died and his son Jehoia- chin came to the throne. But he reigned only three months, and then the king of Babylon took him off the throne and carried him to the land of Babylon. At that ttme the greatest portion of the citizens of Judah were taken and among them was the prophet Ezekiel. Eleven years later the third and final stage of the captivity occurred. These three stages of the captivity are frequently referred to as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd captivities. Since Ezekiel was taken with the 2nd one, or at the time when Jeboiachin was taken, he dates his writing from that event. In other words, Ezekiel had been in Babylon five years when lie began writing.

Verse 3

Eze 1:3. Ezekiel speaks of himself in the third person in this verse while most of his compositions are in the first person, The word expressly has none in the original and does not add anything to the thought. However, we may note that in the first verse the Lord communicated with the prophet in a vision and in this verse it is by word. The conclusion is that he was both to see and hear in his service as an inspired prophet. Hand, of the Lord is a phrase often used in the Bible and it means here that the Lord took Ezekiel in hand; not only to control but also to assist him.

Verse 4

Eze 1:4. The Babylonian captivity as a whole had been going on for 13 years when Ezekiel began to write, but tile complete subjugation of Judah was still six years in the future. Hence it was appropriate for the prophet to start his great book as if it were all stilt in the future. This accounts for the coming of the whirlwind from (he north, since the Babylonians came into Palestine from that direction. (See the note on that with the comments in Isa 14:31 in volume 3 of this Commentary.) A whirlwind is not only strong and swift but its circulating motion tends to draw articles toward its center. That is why the whirlwind was Heen infolding itself. The second word is not in the original but tile first is from t.AQAeu which Strong defines, “A primitive root; to take (in the widest variety of applications).'’ The simple meaning of the passage is that this combination of whirlwind ami cloud was taking hold of the surrounding materials. The appropriateness of this illustration will appear as the chapter proceeds. There is some uncertainty in tiie works of reference about the word amber, but all agree that it is something that has a distinctive glow as of something highly polished. Again the figure will be seen to be appropriate as we get to the central subject of the chapter.

Verse 5

Eze 1:5. There existed in ancient times what are referred to as "The Four World Empires,” and they figure largely in the prophecies and history of the Bible. The names of those empires (with some variations in some of them which will be noted as oc-casion suggests) are Babylonia, Medo- Persia, Greece and Borne. These empires are the four living creatures of this verse. They will be seen to have possessed various characteristics, but this verse names only one and it is that which is common to all of them which is the likeness of a man. This signifies intelligence which further means the four creatures were powers among mankind; made up of human beings.

Verse 6

Eze 1:6. The very title "world empires" would suggest the idea of a rule that is over the whole world; that is, that part which is civilized and subject to government control, hence (the four faces and four wings, corresponding to the four points of the compass. The figure signifies an Institution that can look in ail directions with its faces and go in all directions with its wings, Using some poetic words, "I am monarch of all 1 survey.”

Verse 7

Eze 1:7. The illustrations for the four empires will be drawn from the characteristics of dumb creatures in many instances. However, since the powers are human institutions, the selection and description of the various beasts will be made to conform as far as possible to the higher traits of human beings. The word for feet also is rendered “legs,” and their being straight denotes they are more graceful in their outline and do not have abrupt, protruding parts as the feet of many animals do. Sole means the paw as a whole, and according to Moffatt's translation these paws were "rounded like the feet of calves.” Such members would give to the crea-ture a more firm bearing upon the surface over which it traveled.

Verse 8

Eze 1:8. The writer takes care to tell us that the characteristics he is describing apply to the four creatures individually and alike. The general likeness unto man in verse 5 denotes intelligence. In this verse the com-parison is narrowed down to the hands of the man, and that indicates skill which certainly was necessary in accomplishing world-wide dominion.

Verse 9

Eze 1:9. In symbolic language an animal or other object may be represented as doing things that are above nature, such as trees talking in Jdg 9:8-15, And here we see a creature that can fly and look in four directions at once. This is to illustrate an empire that began at some locality and then spread out in all four directions until it became a world power, Witijs were joined in-dicates the ability to fly in any and all directions at one time or as if in one concerted movement. Turned not is the same as the preceding thoughts. The creature would not need to turn about to change his direction since he has the equipment and ability for traveling in all directions at the same time.

Verse 10

Eze 1:10. Let the reader not forget that all figures and their explanations apply to each of the four empires. That does not mean that no differences existed between the four in their general history for there were many, In fact, no two of them were uniformly alike in their whole make-up and conduct. But as far as this chapler is concerned they are the same for all of them possessed the characteristics portrayed hy these symbols and figures of speech. Neither do I wish to appear arbitrary in ray selection of characteristics to be at-tributed to these empires. There are numerous terms in our language that could be used correctly because such vast institutions as we are considering would have many things in common with each other. I only claim that among such traits, the ones that will be named were true of each of the empires. In keeping with the foregoing explanations the following comments are offered on this and the following verses of the chapter. Please note the writer says they four had these marks which is the reason for my comments in the beginning of this paragraph. The face of a man indicates intelligence; a lion is fierce and bold; an ox is strong; and an eagle has the quality of fleetness and exaltation.

Verse 11

Eze 1:11. A creature with four wings as described here would be well equipped. The two that were stretched upward would enable him to travel, and he would also be protected by the two that covered his body.

Verse 12

Eze 1:12. Straight forward and turned not was explained at verse 9. The spirit that prompted the movements of these creatures will be explained later in the chapter.

Verse 13

Eze 1:13. This verse is a general description Of the four creatures, and the central meaning is that they were lively and attractive which was true of the empires.

Verse 14

Eze 1:14. Ran and returned does not mean they went back to their starting place, for history does not bear out that idea, The word denotes a successful traveling over the civi-lized world. Flash of lightning is not user! to indicate that it waa only a flash and then soon over. The comparison is to the universal presence of the creatures. This comparison to the general and simultaneous appearance of lightning is used in Matthew 24; Matthew 27 and Revelation 1; Revelation 7.

Verse 15

Eze 1:15. The symbol now changes but it ia the same subject. There is nothing strange in the idea of another object to have the same meaning as that ot the one form just presented. Jesus spoke many parables to illustrate the one institution, so we should not be confused over the use of two representations by Ezekiel, Furthermore, there is no more difference be-tween the two illustrations of Ezekiel than there was between the many parables spoken by Jesus. All symbols must be Interpreted in a way that will agree with the literal facts con-nected with the subjects intended to be illustrated. Such a procedure will be followed in explaining the wheel that is introduced into this passage. Notice it was by the living creatures, which denotes that each was to work with the other in their movements. This weel had four faces which corresponds with the four faces of the creatures. Face is from pankh and Strong defines it, “The face (as the part that turns); used in a great variety of applications (literal and figurative) also (prepositional prefix) as a preposition (before, etc.).’’ From this definition we would understand that by face is meant that part of the wheel that turns; that Is, its forward and outer edge. But this wheel will be seen to have moved in four directions at once just as the creatures did, which would require that it have four faces in harmony with the four faces of the creatures. A simple wheel would have but two faces, hence we will need the information that will be given in the following verse.

Verse 16

Eze 1:16. It is evident the wheel that Ezekiel saw was no ordinary one, either in its construction or size. Instead, It was composed of two parts or wheels and one was nested inside the other. Middle is from tavek and the definition of Strong defines it, “From an unused root meaning to sever; a bisection, i.e. (by implication) the center." Let us suppose two large hoops so nearly the same size that one will just slip inside the other. Now give this last one a quarter turn which will present an object whose four sections will resemble the four quarters of a globe; turning the hoop so that its plane will stand at right angles with the plane of the other. This will give what Ezekiel saw; a wheel in the middle of a wheel. And with an object thus constructed it would be prepared to roll in any one of the four directions without turning, just as the creatures with their four faces could do.

Verse 17

Eze 1:17. This verse takes the same explanation as that for the four living creatures in verse 9, 12. Since the wheel was a companion symbol with the four creatures it would need to travel along with them.

Verse 18

Eze 1:18. The rings were the felloes or rims, located at that part which is called the face in verse 15. They were high or lofty which corresponds with that quality of the eagle in verse 10. Dreadful is from a word that is defined “reverence” in Strong’s lexicon. The rims or felloes were full of eyes and that indicates intelligence as per verse 10. It was appropriate for these eyes to be in tbe rims of the wheel since that was the part that would be outmost in seeing where to go.

Verse 19

Eze 1:19. The wheel went whenever the living creatures went because both symbols represented the same thing which was the four empires. By the same token the creatures and the wheel were lifted up (made exalted and important) at the same time.

Verse 20

Eze 1:20. The central meaning of the word for spirit is "life" in the sense of consciousness. The living creatures would have such a spirit because they were beings that belonged to the animal kingdom. The wheels were normally inanimate objects and hence would not possess such a spirit. Yet in the use of them for symbolical purposes they represented the same things as did the living creatures which was the reason for saying the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

Verse 21

Eze 1:21. This verse is virtually the same as the preceding one, and the concluding clause of each is exactly tbe same. The co-operation of the creatures and the wheels signifies that they represent the same thing which is tbe four world empires noted at verse 5, As to the appropriateness of two different kinds of illustrations for the same thing, see the comments at verse 15.

Verse 22

Eze 1:22. The firmament means a vast expansion like the arch of the sky above the earth. Terrible means it was awe-inspiring, and had the appearance of a huge mass of rock crystal formed like a dome to cover the creatures.

Verse 23

Eze 1:23. Beneath this vast arch or dome of crystal could be seen the winged creatures. Straight is from the same word as in verse 7 and means they were graceful. One toward the other is equivalent to joined one to another in verse 9. Throughout this whole imagery the one idea that predominates is that of unity ill pur-pose. The wings were for the purpose of protection as well as for exalted traveling. (Verse 11.)

Verse 24

Eze 1:24. This verse as a whole is a passage intended to show the greatness of the institutions symbolized by the living creatures and the wheels. Great waters is a figure and when used in a favorable sense indicates a multitude of people. Such would be a fitting symbol of these empires for they were regarded as including virtually all of the civilized world. Voice of the Almighty means the voice of God. This statement is not made on the strength of the word’s being cap-italized, for all punctuations have been done by man, and while often they are correct, they are of no authority. I have examined the uses of the original word and without a single exception the connection shows it to mean God. Furthermore, Strong defines the original word, "The Almighty" with capital A. This indicates that God was recognized in the four empires, and that also agrees with Dan 2:37; Dan 4:17; Dan 4:32; Dan 5:18. Voice of speech indicates not only that there was consciousness hut intelligence in the creatures which agrees with the fact that the creatures represented governments of and by men. "When these creatures were not flying they let their wings down, which indicates they used them then only for defence purposes.

Verse 25

Eze 1:25. This voice was evidently the same as that mentioned in the preceding verse. The Almighty could be heard by the inspired prophet and the force of it -would be to confirm the declarations indicated by the passages cited in the preceding verse.

Verse 26

Eze 1:26. This throne was the source from where the voice issued just mentioned, Precious stones are frequently used to compare both the beauty and value of things pertaining to God’s arrangements. On this throne was the likeness of a man which denotes the Almighty, for Gen 1:26 and many other passages teach that man was made in the image of God. However, it is God and not his image that is meant in this place for we have already learned that He was connected with these world governments.

Verse 27

Eze 1:27. This verse is a highly figurative description of the Almighty. The meaning is that God is as intense as fire, as resplendent as amber, and that the entire Being was radiant with this indescribable glory.

Verse 28

Eze 1:28. Another figure is added to the picture of the Almighty. He is likened to the rainbow that spans the heavens, betokening the calm that follows a storm and shedding over the earth all of the primary colors. This vision so impressed Ezekiel that he was prostrated and fell dispirited to the ground on his face, where he lay until he heard a voice speaking unto him.
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/ezekiel-1.html. 1952.
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