Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
VISION BY THE
1. Now it came to pass--rather, "And it came," &c. As
this formula in
has reference to the written history of previous times, so here
and Es 1:1),
it refers to the
unwritten history which was before the mind of the writer. The
prophet by it, as it were, continues the history of the preceding times.
In the fourth year of Zedekiah's reign
Jeremiah sent by Seraiah a message to the captives
to submit themselves to God and lay aside their flattering hopes of a
speedy restoration. This communication was in the next year, the fifth,
and the fourth month of the same king (for Jehoiachin's captivity and
Zedekiah's accession coincide in time), followed up by a prophet
raised up among the captives themselves, the energetic Ezekiel.
thirtieth year--that is, counting from the beginning of the
reign of Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar, the era of the
Babylonian empire, 625 B.C., which epoch coincides
with the eighteenth year of Josiah, that in which the book of the law
was found, and the consequent reformation began [SCALIGER]; or the thirtieth year of Ezekiel's life. As
the Lord was about to be a "little sanctuary"
to the exiles on the Chebar, so Ezekiel was to be the ministering
priest; therefore he marks his priestly relation to God and the people
at the outset; the close, which describes the future temple, thus
answering to the beginning. By designating himself expressly as "the
and as having reached his thirtieth year (the regular year of priests
commencing their office), he marks his office as the priest among the
prophets. Thus the opening vision follows naturally as the formal
institution of that spiritual temple in which he was to minister
Chebar--the same as Chabor or Habor, whither the ten tribes had been
transported by Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser
It flows into the Euphrates near Carchemish or Circesium, two hundred
miles north of Babylon.
visions of God--Four expressions are used as to the revelation granted
to Ezekiel, the three first having respect to what was presented from
without, to assure him of its reality, the fourth to his being
internally made fit to receive the revelation; "the heavens were opened"
Ac 7:56; 10:11;
"he saw visions of God"; "the word of Jehovah came verily (as
the meaning is rather than 'expressly, English Version,
unto him" (it was no unreal hallucination); and "the hand of Jehovah
was upon him"
Da 10:10, 18;
the Lord by His touch strengthening him for his high and arduous
ministry, that he might be able to witness and report aright the
revelations made to him).
2. Jehoiachin's captivity--In the third or fourth year of Jehoiakim,
father of Jehoiachin, the first carrying away of Jewish captives to
Babylon took place, and among them was Daniel. The second was under
Jehoiachin, when Ezekiel was carried away. The third and final one
was at the taking of Jerusalem under Zedekiah.
4. whirlwind--emblematic of God's judgments
(Jer 23:19; 25:32).
out of the north--that is, from Chaldea, whose hostile forces would
invade Judea from a northerly direction. The prophet conceives
himself in the temple.
fire infolding itself--laying hold on whatever surrounds it, drawing
it to itself, and devouring it. Literally, "catching itself," that is,
kindling itself [FAIRBAIRN].
The same Hebrew occurs in
as to the "fire mingled with the hail."
brightness . . . about it--that is, about the "cloud."
out of the midst thereof--that is, out of the midst of the "fire."
colour of amber--rather, "the glancing brightness (literally, 'the
eye', and so the glancing appearance) of polished brass. The
Hebrew, chasmal, is from two roots, "smooth" and "brass" (compare
[GESENIUS]. The Septuagint and
Vulgate translate it, "electrum"; a brilliant metal
compounded of gold and silver.
5. Ezekiel was himself of a "gigantic nature, and thereby suited to
counteract the Babylonish spirit of the times, which loved to manifest
itself in gigantic, grotesque forms" [HENGSTENBERG].
living creatures--So the Greek ought to have been translated in
the parallel passage,
not as English Version, "beasts"; for one of the "four" is a
man, and man cannot be termed "beast."
shows that it is the cherubim that are meant.
likeness of a man--Man, the noblest of the four, is the ideal model
after which they are fashioned
The point of comparison between him and them is the erect posture of
their bodies, though doubtless including also the general mien. Also
6. Not only were there four distinct living creatures, but each of
the four had four faces, making sixteen in all. The four living
creatures of the cherubim answer by contrast to the four world
monarchies represented by four beasts, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and
The Fathers identified them with the four Gospels: Matthew the lion,
Mark the ox, Luke the man, John the eagle. Two cherubim only stood
over the ark in the temple; two more are now added, to imply that,
while the law is retained as the basis, a new form is needed to be
added to impart new life to it. The number four may have respect to the
four quarters of the world, to imply that God's angels execute His
commands everywhere. Each head in front had the face of a man as the
primary and prominent one: on the right the face of a lion, on the left
the face of an ox, above from behind the face of an eagle. The Mosaic
cherubim were similar, only that the human faces were put looking
towards each other, and towards the mercy seat between, being formed
out of the same mass of pure gold as the latter
(Ex 25:19, 20).
two wings are added to cover their countenances; because there they
stand by the throne, here under the throne; there God deigns to consult
them, and His condescension calls forth their humility, so that they
veil their faces before Him; here they execute His commands. The face
expresses their intelligence; the wings, their rapidity in fulfilling
God's will. The Shekinah or flame, that signified God's presence, and
the written name, JEHOVAH, occupied the
intervening space between the cherubim
Ge 4:14, 16; 3:24
("placed"; properly, "to place in a tabernacle"), imply that the
cherubim were appointed at the fall as symbols of God's presence in a
consecrated place, and that man was to worship there. In the
patriarchal dispensation when the flood had caused the removal of the
cherubim from Eden, seraphim or teraphim (Chaldean
dialect) were made as models of them for domestic use
The silence of the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth chapters of Exodus to
their configuration, whereas everything else is minutely described, is
because their form was so well-known already to Bezaleel and all Israel
by tradition as to need no detailed description. Hence Ezekiel
at once knows them, for he had seen them repeatedly in the carved work
of the outer sanctuary of Solomon's temple
He therefore consoles the exiles with the hope of having the same
cherubim in the renovated temple which should be reared; and he assures
them that the same God who dwelt between the cherubim of the temple
would be still with His people by the Chebar. But they were not in
Zerubbabel's temple; therefore Ezekiel's foretold temple, if literal,
is yet future. The ox is selected as chief of the tame animals, the
lion among the wild, the eagle among birds, and man the head of all, in
his ideal, realized by the Lord Jesus, combining all the excellencies
of the animal kingdom. The cherubim probably represent the ruling
powers by which God acts in the natural and moral world. Hence they
sometimes answer to the ministering angels; elsewhere, to the redeemed
saints (the elect Church) through whom, as by the angels, God shall
hereafter rule the world and proclaim the manifold wisdom of God
Re 3:21; 4:6-8).
The "lions" and "oxen," amidst "palms" and "open flowers" carved in the
temple, were the four-faced cherubim which, being traced on a flat
surface, presented only one aspect of the four. The human-headed winged
bulls and eagle-headed gods found in Nineveh, sculptured amidst palms
and tulip-shaped flowers, were borrowed by corrupted tradition from the
cherubim placed in Eden near its fruits and flowers. So the Aaronic
(Ex 32:4, 5)
and Jeroboam's calves at Dan and Beth-el, a schismatic imitation of the
sacred symbols in the temple at Jerusalem. So the ox figures of Apis
on the sacred arks of Egypt.
7. straight feet--that is, straight legs. Not protruding in any
part as the legs of an ox, but straight like a man's
[GROTIUS]. Or, like
solid pillars; not bending, as man's, at the knee. They glided
along, rather than walked. Their movements were all sure, right, and
without effort [KITTO, Cyclopedia].
sole . . . calf's
foot--HENDERSON hence supposes that
"straight feet" implies that they did not project horizontally like men's feet,
but vertically as calves' feet. The solid firmness of the round foot
of a calf seems to be the point of comparison.
colour--the glittering appearance, indicating God's purity.
8. The hands of each were the hands of a man. The hand is the symbol
of active power, guided by skilfulness
under their wings--signifying their operations are hidden from our
too curious prying; and as the "wings" signify something more than
human, namely, the secret prompting of God, it is also implied that they
are moved by it and not by their own power, so that they do nothing at
random, but all with divine wisdom.
they four had . . . faces and . . .
wings--He returns to what he had stated already in
this gives a reason why they had hands on their four sides, namely,
because they had faces and wings on the four sides. They moved
whithersoever they would, not by active energy merely, but also by
knowledge (expressed by their faces) and divine guidance
(expressed by their "wings").
9. they--had no occasion to turn themselves round when changing
their direction, for they had a face
looking to each of the four quarters of heaven. They made no mistakes;
and their work needed not be gone over again. Their wings were joined
above in pairs (see
10. they . . . had the face of a man--namely, in front. The human
face was the primary and prominent one and the fundamental part of the
composite whole. On its right was the lion's face; on the left, the ox's
at the back from above was the eagle's.
11. The tips of the two outstretched wings reached to one another,
while the other two, in token of humble awe, formed a veil for the lower
parts of the body.
stretched upward--rather, "were parted from above" (compare Margin;
The joining together of their wings above implies that, though the
movements of Providence on earth may seem conflicting and confused, yet
if one lift up his eyes to heaven, he will see that they admirably
conspire towards the one end at last.
12. The same idea as in
The repetition is because we men are so hard to be brought to
acknowledge the wisdom of God's doings; they seem tortuous and confused
to us, but they are all tending steadily to one aim.
the spirit--the secret impulse whereby God moves His angels to the
end designed. They do not turn back or aside till they have fulfilled
the office assigned them.
13. likeness . . . appearance--not tautology. "Likeness" expresses
the general form; "appearance," the particular aspect.
coals of fire--denoting the intensely pure and burning justice
wherewith God punishes by His angels those who, like Israel, have
hardened themselves against His long-suffering. So in
Isa 6:2, 6,
instead of cherubim, the name "seraphim," the burning ones, is
applied, indicating God's consuming righteousness; whence their cry to
Him is, "Holy! holy! holy!" and the burning coal is applied to his
lips, for the message through his mouth was to be one of judicial
severance of the godly from the ungodly, to the ruin of the latter.
lamps--torches. The fire emitted sparks and flashes of light, as
went up and down--expressing the marvellous vigor of God's Spirit,
in all His movements never resting, never wearied.
fire . . . bright--indicating the glory of God.
out of the fire . . . lightning--God's righteousness will at last
cause the bolt of His wrath to fall on the guilty; as now, on Jerusalem.
14. ran and returned--Incessant, restless motion indicates the
plenitude of life in these cherubim; so in
"they rest not day or night"
flash of lightning--rather, as distinct from "lightning"
"the meteor flash," or sheet lightning [FAIRBAIRN].
15. one wheel--The "dreadful height" of the wheel
indicates the gigantic, terrible energy of the complicated revolutions
of God's providence, bringing about His purposes with unerring
certainty. One wheel appeared traversely within another, so that the
movement might be without turning, whithersoever the living creatures
Thus each wheel was composed of two circles cutting one another at
right angles, "one" only of which appeared to touch the ground ("upon
the earth"), according to the direction the cherubim desired to move
with his four faces--rather, "according to its four faces" or
sides; as there was a side or direction to each of the four creatures,
so there was a wheel for each of the sides
[FAIRBAIRN]. The four sides
or semicircles of each composite wheel pointed, as the four faces of
each of the living creatures, to the four quarters of heaven.
refers "his" or "its" to the wheels. The cherubim and their wings
and wheels stood in contrast to the symbolical figures, somewhat
similar, then existing in Chaldea, and found in the remains of Assyria.
The latter, though derived from the original revelation by tradition,
came by corruption to symbolize the astronomical zodiac, or the sun and
celestial sphere, by a circle with wings or irradiations. But Ezekiel's
cherubim rise above natural objects, the gods of the heathen, to the
representation of the one true God, who made and continually upholds
16. appearance . . . work--their form and the material of their
beryl--rather, "the glancing appearance of the Tarshish stone"; the
chrysolite or topaz, brought from Tarshish or Tartessus in Spain. It was
one of the gems in the breastplate of the high priest
four had one likeness--The similarity of the wheels to one another
implies that there is no inequality in all God's works, that all have a
beautiful analogy and proportion.
17. went upon their four sides--Those faces or sides of the four wheels
moved which answered to the direction in which the cherubim desired to
move; while the transverse circles in each of the four composite wheels
remained suspended from the ground, so as not to impede the movements of
18. rings--that is, felloes or circumferences of the wheels.
eyes--The multiplicity of eyes here in the wheels, and
in the cherubim themselves, symbolizes the plenitude of intelligent
life, the eye being the window through which "the spirit of the
living creatures" in the wheels
looks forth (compare
As the wheels signify the providence of God, so the eyes imply that He
sees all the circumstances of each case, and does nothing by blind
19. went by them--went beside them.
20. the spirit was to go--that is, their will was for going
whithersoever the Spirit was for going.
over against them--rather, beside or in conjunction with them.
spirit of the living creature--put collectively for "the living
creatures"; the cherubim. Having first viewed them separately, he
next views them in the aggregate as the composite living creature in
which the Spirit resided. The life intended is that connected with God,
holy, spiritual life, in the plenitude of its active power.
21. over against--rather, "along with"
[HENDERSON]; or, "beside"
22. upon the heads--rather, "above the heads"
terrible crystal--dazzling the spectator by its brightness.
23. straight--erect [FAIRBAIRN],
two . . . two . . . covered . . .
bodies--not, as it might seem, contradicting
The two wings expanded upwards, though chiefly used for flying, yet up
to the summit of the figure where they were parted from each other,
covered the upper part of the body, while the other two wings covered
the lower parts.
24. voice of . . . Almighty--the thunder
(Ps 29:3, 4).
voice of speech--rather, "the voice" or "sound of tumult," as in
From an Arabic root, meaning the "impetuous rush of heavy rain."
noise of . . . host--
25. let down . . . wings--While the Almighty gave forth His voice,
they reverently let their wings fall, to listen stilly to His
26. The Godhead appears in the likeness of enthroned humanity, as in
Besides the "paved work of a sapphire stone, as it were the body of
heaven in clearness," there, we have here the "throne," and God "as a
man," with the "appearance of fire round about." This last was a
prelude of the incarnation of Messiah, but in His character as Saviour
and as Judge
The azure sapphire answers to the color of the sky. As others are
called "sons of God," but He "the Son of God," so others are called
"sons of man"
(Eze 2:1, 3),
but He "the Son of man"
being the embodied representative of humanity and the whole human race;
as, on the other hand, He is the representative of "the fulness of the
While the cherubim are movable, the throne above, and Jehovah who moves
them, are firmly fixed. It is good news to man, that the throne above
is filled by One who even there appears as "a man."
27. colour of amber--"the glitter of chasmal" [FAIRBAIRN]. See on
rather, "polished brass" [HENDERSON]. Messiah is
described here as in
Da 10:5, 6;
Re 1:14, 15.
28. the bow . . . in . . . rain--the symbol of the sure covenant of
mercy to God's children remembered amidst judgments on the wicked; as
in the flood in Noah's days
"Like hanging out from the throne of the Eternal a fing of peace,
assuring all that the purpose of Heaven was to preserve rather than to
destroy. Even if the divine work should require a deluge of wrath,
still the faithfulness of God would only shine forth the more brightly
at last to the children of promise, in consequence of the
tribulations needed to prepare for the ultimate good" [FAIRBAIRN].
I fell upon . . . face--the right attitude, spiritually, before we
enter on any active work for God
(Eze 2:2; 3:23, 24;
In this first chapter God gathered into one vision the substance of all
that was to occupy the prophetic agency of Ezekiel; as was done
afterwards in the opening vision of the Revelation of Saint John.