Introduction to Ezekiel
We know scarcely anything of Ezekiel except what we learn from the book that bears his name. Of the date and authorship of this book there has scarcely been any serious question. The Book of Ezekiel has always formed part of the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament. Ezekiel is found in the most ancient versions.
Ezekiel , "God strengtheneth" or "hardeneth," was the son of Buzi, a priest probably of the family of Zadok. He was one of those who went into exile with Jehoiachin 2 Kings 24:14, and would seem to have belonged to the higher class, a supposition agreeing with the consideration accorded to him by his fellow exiles (Ezekiel 8:1, etc.). The chief scene of his ministry was Tel-Abib in northern Mesopotamia, on the river Chebar, along the banks of which were the settlements of the exiles. He was probably born in or near Jerusalem, where he must certainly have lived many years before he was carried into exile. The date of his entering upon the prophetic office is given in Ezekiel 1:1; and if, as is not unlikely, he entered upon this office at the legal age of 30, he must have been about 14 years of age when Josiah died. In this case, he could not have exercised the priestly functions at Jerusalem. However, since his father was a priest Ezekiel 1:3, no doubt he was brought up in the courts of the temple, and so became familiar with its services and arrangements.
Ezekiel 54ed in a house of his own, was married, and lost his wife in the ninth year of his exile. Of the rest of his life we know nothing.
The period during which Ezekiel prophesied in Chaldea was signalized by the miserable reign of Zedekiah, ending in his imprisonment and death - by the destruction of the temple, the sack of Jerusalem, and the final deportation of its inhabitants - by Gedaliah's short regency over the poor remnant left behind in the country, his treacherous murder, and the flight of the conspirators, conveying Jeremiah with them into Egypt - and by Nebuchadnezzars conquests in the neighboring countries, and especially his prolonged siege of Tyre.
The year in which Ezekiel delivered his prophecies against Egypt corresponds with the first year of the reign of Pharaoh-Hophra, the Apries of Herodotus. The accession (589 b.c.) of this king to the Egyptian throne affected very materially the future of the kingdom of Judah. Since the first capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews had found the service of the Chaldaeans a hard one, and were ready at any moment to rise and shake off the yoke. Egypt was the only power from which they could hope for effectual support; and Egypt had long been inactive. The power of Necho was broken at Carchemish (605 b.c., Jeremiah 46:2; 2 Kings 24:7). Apries, during his reign of 19 years, was determined to recover the ground which his grandfather and father had lost in Palestine and in Syria. No doubt rumors of these designs had reached the Jews, both in Jerusalem and in captivity, and they were watching their opportunity to break with Babylon and ally themselves with Egypt. Against such an alliance Ezekiel came forward to protest. He told his countrymen that their hopes of safety did not lay in shaking off a yoke, which they could not do without the grossest perjury, but in repenting of their sins and turning to the God of their fathers.
The fallacy of the hopes entertained by the Jews of deliverance through Egypt was soon made manifest. In the course of the final siege of Jerusalem, Hophra attempted a diversion which proved unsuccessful. Nebuchadnezzar left the siege of Jerusalem to attack the Egyptians, who - forced to retreat over the borders - offered no further resistance to the captor of Jerusalem Jeremiah 37:5-8. It was at this time that Ezekiel commenced the series of prophecies against Egypt Ezekiel 29-32, which were continued until the blow fell upon that country and ended in the ruin and deposition of Pharaoh-Hophra.
This book throws much light upon the condition and the feelings of the Jews both in the holy land and in exile, and upon the relation of the two parties to each other.
Idolatry remained in Jerusalem, even among the priests and in the temple Ezekiel 8:5., and clung to the exiles Ezekiel 14:3., though probably in a less decided degree. Mixed up with this unfaithfulness to the true God there was prevalent a superstitious confidence in His disposition to protect the city and people, once His own. Utterly disregarding the conditional character of His promises, and the more spiritual nature of His blessings, people satisfied themselves that the once glorious Jerusalem never would and never could be overthrown Ezekiel 13:2. Hence, arose the foolish rebellions of Zedekiah, commencing in reckless perjury, and terminating in calamity and disgrace. Connected with this feeling was a strange reversal of the relative positions of the exiles and of the Jews at home. The latter, though only the most ordinary of the people 2 Kings 24:14, afflicted to despise their exiled countrymen Ezekiel 11:14.; and Ezekiel had to assure his fellow-exiles that to them and not to the Jews in Palestine belonged the enduring title of God's people Ezekiel 11:16-17, Ezekiel 11:20.
But though the voice of the prophet may have sounded back to the country which he had left, yet Ezekiel's special mission was to those among whom he dwelt.
(a) He had to convince them of God's utter abhorrence of idolatry, and of the sure and irrevocable doom of those who practiced it;
(b) He had to show that the Chaldaeans were the instruments of God, and that therefore resistance to them was both hopeless and unlawful;
(c) He had to destroy their presumptuous confidence in external privileges, to open their eyes to a truer sense of the nature of the divine promises; and, lastly,
(d) He had to raise their drooping hearts by unfolding to them the true character of the divine government, and the end for which it was administered.
The Book of Ezekiel may be said in this respect to be the moral of the captivity. The captivity was not simply a divine judgment, but a preparation for a better state, an awakening of higher hopes. It was Ezekiel's part to direct and satisfy these hopes. He was to set before his countrymen the prospect of a restoration, reaching far beyond a return to their native soil; he was to point to an inauguration of divine worship far more solemn than what was to be secured by the reconstruction of the city or temple on its original site in its original form. Their very condition was intended, and was calculated, to stir their hearts to their inmost depths, and awaken thoughts which must find their answer in the messages characteristic of Gospel truth. In the Law there had been intimations of restoration upon repentance Deuteronomy 30:1-10 : but this is expanded by Ezekiel Ezek. 18, and the operations of the Holy Spirit are brought prominently forward Ezekiel 37:9-10.
The mission of Ezekiel should be compared with that of his countryman, Jeremiah, who began his prophetic office earlier, but continued it through the best part of the time during which Ezekiel himself labored. Both had to deliver much the same messages, and there is a marked similarity in their utterances. But Jeremiah's mission was incomparably the more mournful one. Ezekiel's task was, indeed, a bitter one; but personally he soon acquired respect and attention, and if at first opposed, was at last listened to if not obeyed. He may have been instrumental, together with Daniel, in working that reformation in the Jewish people, which certainly was, to some extent, effected during the captivity.
One of the immediate effects of the captivity was the reunion of the severed tribes of Israel. The political reasons which had severed them were at an end; a common lot begat sympathy in the sufferers; and those of the ten tribes who even in their separation had been conscious of a natural unity, and could not but recognize in the representative of David the true center of union, would be naturally inclined to seek this rarity in amalgamation with the exiles of Judah. In the course of the years which had elapsed since their exile, the numbers of the ten tribes may well have wasted away, partly through absorption among the pagan who surrounded them; and thus the exiles from Judah may have far exceeded in number and importance those who yet remained of the exiles of Israel. Accordingly, we find in Ezekiel the terms which Judah and Israel applied indiscriminatey to those among whom the prophet dwelt (see Ezekiel 14:1); and the sins of Israel, no less than those of Judah, are summed up in the reproof of his countrymen.
All descendants of Abraham were again being drawn together as one people, and this was to be effected by the separated members gathering again around the legitimate center of government and of worship, under the supremacy of Judah. The amalgamation of the exiles of Israel and of Judah is in fact distinctly predicted by Jeremiah Jer 3:18; a prediction which had its accomplishment in the restoration of the people to their native land by the decree of Cyrus (compare also Ezekiel 37:16.). Attempts have been made from time to time to discover the LOST ten tribes, by persons expecting to find, or thinking that they have found, them existing still as a separate community. According to the foregoing view, the time of captivity was the time of reunion. Ezekiel's mission was "to the house of Israel," not only to those who came out with him from Jerusalem or Judah, but to those also of the stock whom he found residing in a foreign land, where they had been settled for more than 100 years Ezekiel 37:16; Ezekiel 48:1.
The order and the character of the prophecies which this book contains are in strict accordance with the prophet's mission. His first utterances are those of bitter denunciation of judgment upon a rebellious people, and these threatenings are continued until the storm breaks in full fury upon the deserted city. Then the note is changed. There are yet indeed threatenings, but they are for unfaithful shepherds, and for the enemies of God's people. The remainder of the book is full of reassurances, of hopes and promises of renovation and blessing, in which the spiritual predominates over the temporal, and the kingdom of Christ takes the place of the kingdom upon Mount Zion.
The prophecies are therefore in general arranged in chronological order. So far as the people of God were concerned, there are two chief groups:
(1) those delivered before the destruction of the city Ezekiel 1-24,
(2) those delivered after the destruction of the city Ezekiel 33-48.
There was an interval during which the prophet's mouth was closed so far as regarded the children of his people, from the ninth to the twelfth year of the captivity. During this interval, he was guided to utter words of threatening to the pagan nations, and these utterances find their place Ezekiel 25-32. They form a suitable transition from the declaration of God's wrath to that of His mercy toward His people, because the punishment of their enemies is in itself a part of the deliverance of His people. But the arrangement of these prophecies against the pagan is rather local than chronological, so that, as in the case of Egypt, several prophecies delivered at various times on the same subject are brought together.
The leading characteristics of Ezekiel's prophecies are, first, his use of visions; secondly, his constant reference to the earlier writings of the Old Testament. The second of these characteristics is especially seen by his application of the Pentateuch. It is not merely the voice of a priest, imbued with the Law which it was his profession to study. It is the voice of the Holy Spirit Himself, teaching us that the Law, which came from God, is always just, wise, and holy, and preparing the way for the enlarged interpretation of the ancient testimonies, which our blessed Lord Himself promulgated afterward.
In regard to visions, the most striking is that in which is revealed the majesty of God to him (See the Ezekiel 1 notes). Besides these are visions of ideal scenes (e. g. Ezekiel 8) and of symbolic actions (e. g. Ezekiel 4.).
The temple and its services furnish much of the imagery and figurative language of the book. These ordinances were but the shell containing within the kernels of eternal truth; these were the shadows, not the substance; and when the Spirit of God would reveal by the mouth of Ezekiel spiritual realities, He permitted the prophet to clothe them in those symbols with which he and his country were familiar. Some have insisted that the language of the prophet takes its color from the scenes which surround him, that "the living creatures" Ezekiel 1, for instance, were suggested by the strange forms of Assyrian sculpture familiar to us through recent explorations. But these living creatures (like the Seraphim of Isaiah, Isaiah 6:2) have much more in common with the cherubim of the Jewish temple than with the winged figures of Assyria. And though, here and there, we find traces of the place of his sojourn (as in Ezekiel 4:1), it is but seldom. By the waters of Babylon the prophet remembered Zion, and his language, like his subject, was, for the most part, not of Chaldaea but of Jerusalem.
The various systems of interpretation of Ezekiel's prophecies have been summed up under the heads of:
To many the prophecy is still in the course of fulfillment. The temple in its completeness is for the time when the kingdom of Christ shall be fully established, and He shall have put down all rule and all principalities and power, to deliver up the kingdom unto the Father, that God may be all in all (see the Ezekiel 37 notes).
The relation of the visions of Ezekiel to those of the Book of Revelation is very marked. So much is common to the two books that it is impossible to doubt that there is in the Revelation of John a designed reference to the older seer. It is not merely that the same images are employed, which might be supposed naturally to belong to a common apocalyptic language, but in some of the visions there is a resemblance which can only be accounted for by an identity of subject; and as the subject is by John often more precisely defined, the later vision throws great light upon the former. For example, the opening visions of Ezekiel and of John can scarcely be otherwise than substantially identical. Since there can be no doubt as to who is designated by John, we are led by an irresistible conclusion to recognize in the vision of Ezekiel the manifestation of the glory of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who was made man, "in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." But while the central object is the same there are marked differences in the two visions.
In Ezekiel, the various particulars are parts of one whole, which represents the manifestations of the glory of God upon "earth," and in all the creatures of the "earth:" in John the scene is "heaven." Again, a characteristic feature of Ezekiel's prophecy is the declaration of God's judgments, first against the rebellious city, and then against the enemies of the chosen people. In the Book of Revelation the same figures, both to denote wickedness and its punishment, which are by Ezekiel applied to idolatrous Judah, are by John turned upon idolatrous Babylon. The image of Babylon as "the great whore" finds its parallel in the whoredoms of Aholah and Aholibah Ezekiel 23, and the judgment is pronounced upon the former in the very terms which in Ezekiel are employed against the latter (compare Revelation 17:16 and Ezekiel 23:36, etc.). The repetition of such descriptions by the Christian seer must be owing to something more than the mere employment of figurative language already in use; in fact, just as our Lord's predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem are so mixed up with those of the end of the world, that we learn to regard the destruction of the city as the type and anticipation of the final judgment, so in the adoption of Ezekiel's language and figures by John, we see a proof of the extended meaning of the older prophecies. It is one conflict, waged from the first, and waging still; the conflict of evil with good, of the world with God, to be accomplished only in the final consummation, to which the Book of Revelation manifestly conducts us.
There is one feature in the writings of Ezekiel, which deserves particular notice. This is (to use a modern term) their eschatological character, i. e. their reference not merely to "an" end, but to "the" very end of all (see, e. g. Ezekiel 7; Ezekiel 36). There are many parts which have special reference to the circumstances of the prophet and his countrymen. The local and the temporary seem to predominate; but looking closely, more than this is to be found. The reiteration of the threats of the Law by Ezekiel proves that the events which he predicts form part of that plan which was set forth at the commencement of the national life of the children of Israel. And, since this fundamental plan of government reached beyond the time of any one particular visitation, so Ezekiel's predictions of siege, of slaughter, of dispersion, did not have their final accomplishment in the consequences of the Chaldaean conquest.
This is borne out by the history of the Jewish nation. There is no city of which such dreadful sieges are recorded as the city of Jerusalem. The horrors predicted by Moses and by Ezekiel have had their literal fulfillment on more than one occasion; yet the discourses of our Lord Matthew 24; Luke 21 repeat the same predictions, and manifestly look forward to the end of time, to the final judgment of the world. Since, therefore, each temporal judgment foreshadows the final retribution, so one prophecy may be directly addressed to many periods of time, in all of which the immutable law illustrates itself in the history of nations and individuals. This gives the principle upon which we are to interpret even those passages in Ezekiel which seem most particularly to refer to Israel and to Jerusalem. John the Baptist, Paul, and our Lord Himself, teach us to regard believers in Christ as the true Israel, the real children of Abraham; and this because connected with the truth, that the institution of the Church of Christ is only a continuance of the plan according to which God called Abraham out of the world, and separated his descendants to be a special people to Himself. Israel represents the visible church, brought into special relation with God Himself. The prophetic warnings have therefore their applications to the Christian church when neglectful of the obligations which such relation imposes.
Many of the calamities of Christendom have been the direct consequence of departure from the principles of the law of Christ (compare James 4:1). These predictions of Ezekiel are therefore not to be interpreted simply as illustrative of, but as directly predictive of, the future of the church, Jewish and Christian, until the end of time. This view is confirmed by the introduction of passages setting forth in the strongest terms individual responsibility (see especially Ezekiel 18). Their unique appropriateness to such a book as that of Ezekiel is best seen when we perceive that he is addressing, not simply the historical Israel of his own day, but the whole body who have been, like Israel of old, called forth to be God's people, and who will be called to strict account for the neglect of their consequent privileges (see Ezekiel 11:19.).
The parts of the book were probably arranged by the prophet himself, who, at the same time, prefixed the dates to the several prophecies. The precision of these dates affords a clear proof that the prophecies were in the first instance orally delivered, written down at the time of their delivery, and afterward, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, put together into one volume, to form a part of those Scriptures which God has bequeathed as a perpetual inheritance to His church.
Some have thought that the frequent insertion of passages from older writers is characteristic rather of an author than of a prophet; but even if Ezekiel, the priest, imbued not only with the spirit, but also with the letter, of the Law engrafted it upon his predictions, this can in no degree lessen the authority of his commission as a prophet. The greater part of this book is written in prose, although the images employed are highly poetical. Some portions, however, may be regarded as poetry; as, for instance, the dirge of the kings Ezekiel 19:1-14, the lay of the sword Ezekiel 21:8, the dirges of Tyre Ezekiel 27; 28 and of Egypt Ezekiel 31-32. The language bears marks of the later style, which was introduced at the time of the Babylonian captivity.
Points of contact in the writings of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and John, are numerous, and the principal will be found noted in the marginal references.
The first three chapters of Ezekiel contain the account of Ezekiel's call.
A mighty whirlwind issues from the north, and a dark cloud appears in that quarter of the heavens. In the midst of the cloud is an area of dazzling brightness surrounded by encircling flames. Therein are seen four beings of strange and mysterious shape standing so as to form a square, below their feet are four wheels, and over their heads a throne on which is seated the likeness of a man dimly seen, while a voice issuing from the throne summons the prophet to his office.
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
The thirtieth year - being closely connected with as I, is rather in favor of considering this a personal date. It is not improbable that Ezekiel was called to his office at the age prescribed in the Law for Levites Numbers 4:23, Numbers 4:30, at which age both John the Baptist and our Lord began their ministry. His call is probably to be connected with the letter sent by Jeremiah to the captives Jeremiah 29 written a few months previously. Some reckon this date from the accession of Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar, 625 b.c., and suppose that Ezekiel here gives a Babylonian, as in Ezekiel 1:2 a Jewish, date; but it is not certain that this accession formed an era in Babylon and Ezekiel does not elsewhere give a double date, or even a Babylonian date. Others date from the 18th year of Josiah, when Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law (supposed to be a jubilee year): this would give 594 b.c. as the 30th year, but there is no other instance in Ezekiel of reckoning from this year.
The captives - Not in confinement, but restricted to the place of their settlement.
The fourth month - "Month" is not expressed in the original. This is the common method. Before the captivity the months were described not by proper names but by their order, "the first, the second," etc.; the first month corresponding nearly with our "April." After the captivity, the Jews brought back with them the proper names of the months, "Nisan" etc. (probably those used in Chaldaea).
Chebar - The modern "Khabour" rises near Nisibis and flows into the Euphrates near "Kerkesiah," 200 miles north of Babylon.
Visions of God - The exposition of the fundamental principles of the existence and nature of a Supreme God, and of the created angels, was called by the rabbis "the Matter of the Chariot" (compare 1 Chronicles 28:18) in reference to the form of Ezekiel's vision of the Almighty; and the subject was deemed so mysterious as to call for special caution in its study. The vision must be compared with other manifestations of the divine glory Exodus 3; Exodus 24:10; Isaiah 6:1; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2. Each of these visions has some of the outward signs or symbols here recorded. If we examine these symbols we shall find them to fall readily into two classes,
(1) Those which we employ in common with the writers of all ages and countries. "Gold, sapphire, burnished brass," the "terrible crystal" are familiar images of majestic glory, "thunders, lightnings" and "the rushing storm" of awful power. But
(2) We come to images to our minds strange and almost grotesque. That the "Four Living Creatures" had their groundwork in the cherubim there can be no doubt. And yet their shapes were very different. Because they were symbols not likenesses, they could yet be the same though their appearance was varied.
Of what are they symbolic? They may, according to the Talmudists, have symbolized orders of Angels and not persons; according to others they were figures of the Four Gospels actuated by one spirit spread over the four quarters of the globe, upon which, as on pillars, the Church is borne up, and over whom the Word of God sits enthroned. The general scope of the vision gives the best interpretation of the meaning.
Ezekiel saw "the likeness of the glory of God." Here His glory is manifested in the works of creation; and as light and fire, lightning and cloud, are the usual marks which in inanimate creation betoken the presence of God Psalm 18:6-14 - so the four living ones symbolize animate creation. The forms are typical, "the lion" and "the ox" of the beasts of the field (wild and tame), "the eagle" of the birds of the air, while "man" is the rational being supreme upon the earth. And the human type predominates over all, and gives character and unity to the four, who thus form one creation. Further, these four represent the constitutive parts of man's nature: "the ox" (the animal of sacrifice), his faculty of suffering; "the lion" (the king of beasts), his faculty of ruling; "the eagle" (of keen eye and soaring wing), his faculty of imagination; "the man," his spiritual faculty, which actuates all the rest.
Christ is the Perfect Man, so these four in their perfect harmony typify Him who came to earth to do His Father's will; and as man is lord in the kingdom of nature, so is Christ Lord in the kingdom of grace. The "wings" represent the power by which all creation rises and falls at God's will; the "one spirit," the unity and harmony of His works; the free motion in all directions, the universality of His Providence. The number "four" is the symbol of the world with its "four quarters;" the "veiled" bodies, the inability of all creatures to stand in the presence of God; the "noise of the wings," the testimony borne by creation to God Psalm 19:1-3; the "wheels" connect the vision with the earth, the wings with heaven, while above them is the throne of God in heaven. Since the eye of the seer is turned upward, the lines of the vision become less distinct. It is as if he were struggling against the impossibility of expressing in words the object of his vision: yet on the summit of the throne is He who can only be described as, in some sort, the form of a man. That Yahweh, the eternal God, is spoken of, we cannot doubt; and such passages as Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; John 1:14; John 12:41, justify us in maintaining that the revelation of the divine glory here made to Ezekiel has its consummation or fulfillment in the person of Christ, the only-begotten of God (compare Revelation 1:17-18).
The vision in the opening chapter of Ezekiel is in the most general form - the manifestation of the glory of the living God. It is repeated more than once in the course of the book (compare Ezekiel 8:2, Ezekiel 8:4; Ezekiel 9:3; 10; Ezekiel 11:22; Ezekiel 40:3). The person manifested is always the same, but the form of the vision is modified according to special circumstances of time and place.
In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity,
The Jewish date. This verse and Ezekiel 1:3, which seem rather to interrupt the course of the narrative, may have been added by the prophet when he revised and put together the whole book. The word "captivity" (as in Ezekiel 1:1) refers to the "transportation" of the king and others from their native to foreign soil. This policy of settling a conquered people in lands distant from their home, begun by the Assyrians, was continued by the Persians and by Alexander the Great. The Jews were specially selected for such settlements, and this was no doubt a Providential preparation for the Gospel, the dispersed Jews carrying with them the knowledge of the true God and the sacred Scriptures, and thus paving the way for the messengers of the kingdom of Christ.
The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.
Came expressly - The phrase marks that it was in truth a heaven-sent vision.
The hand of the Lord - A phrase in all prophecy implying a "constraining" power, because the spirit "constrains" the prophet independently of his own will.
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
Out of the north - From this quarter the Assyrian conquerors came upon the holy land. The vision, though seen in Chaldaea, had reference to Jerusalem, and the seer is to contemplate judgment as it is coming upon the holy land. Others consider the words expressive of the special seat of the power of Yahweh. The high mountain range of Lebanon that closed in the holy land on the north naturally connected to the inhabitants of that country the northern region with the idea of height reaching to heaven, from which such a vision as this might be supposed to come.
Infolding itself - Forming a circle of light - flames moving round and round and following each other in rapid succession, to be as it were the framework of the glorious scene.
Amber - The original word occurs only in Ezekiel. The Septuagint and the Vulgate have "electrum," a substance composed by a mixture of silver and gold, which corresponds very well to the Hebrew word. The brightness, therefore, is that of shining metal, not of a transparent gum. Render it: "out of the midst thereof," like Ezekiel 1:7 burnished gold out of the midst of fire.
Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
Living creatures - The Hebrew word answers very nearly to the English "beings," and denotes those who live, whether angels, men (in whom is the breath of life), or inferior creatures.
And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
In the Revelation of John each "beast" has its own distinctive character, here each unites in itself the four characters; there each has six wings, like the Seraphim Isaiah 6:2, here only four.
And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
The "foot" seems here to mean the lower part of the leg, including the knee, and this was "straight," i. e. upright like a man's. The "sole" is the "foot" as distinguished from the "leg," the leg terminated in a solid calf's hoof. This was suitable for a being which was to present a front on each of its four sides. Ezekiel was living in a country on the walls of whose temples and palaces were those strange mixed figures, human heads with the bodies of lions and the feet of calves, and the like, which we see in the Babylonian and Assyrian monuments. These combinations were of course symbolic, and the symbolism must have been familiar to Ezekiel. But the prophet is not constructing his cherubim in imitation of these figures, the Spirit of God is revealing forms corresponding to the general rules of eastern symbolism.
And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
Or, "They had the hands of a man under their wings on all four sides, just as they had wings and faces on all four sides."
Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
Two of the wings were in the act of flying, so stretched out that the extremity of each touched a wing of a neighboring living creature, similarly stretched out. This was only when they were in motion. See Ezekiel 1:24.
They went every one straight forward - The four together formed a square, and never altered their relative position. From each side two faces looked straight out, one at each corner - and so all moved together toward any of the four quarters, toward which each one had one of its four faces directed; in whatsoever direction the whole moved the four might be said all to go "straight forward."
As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
Each living creature had four faces, in front the face of a man, that of a lion on the right side, that of an ox on the left side, and that of an eagle behind, and the "chariot" would present to the beholder two faces of a man, of a lion, of an eagle, and of an ox, according to the quarter from which he looked upon it.
Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
Thus ... - Rather, And their faces and their wings were separated above. All four formed a whole, yet the upper parts of each, the heads and the wings (though touching), rose distinct from one another. Two wings of each, as in the case of Isaiah's Seraphim, were folded down over the body: and two were in their flight Ezekiel 1:9 "stretched upward" parted) so as to meet, each a wing of the neighboring living creature, just as the wings of the cherubim touched one another over the mercy-seat of the ark.
And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
The "chariot," though composed of distinct parts, was to be considered as a whole. There was one spirit expressive of one conscious life pervading the whole, and guiding the motions of the whole in perfect harmony.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
Lamps - "like the appearance of" flames. Omit the "and" before "like." The "bright flames" resembled "coals of fire."
It went up - i. e. "fire went up."
And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
Translate it: "one wheel upon the earth by" each of "the liviing creatures" on his four sides (i. e. on the four sides of each of the living creatures). There was a wheel to "each" of the living creatures: it was set "by," i. e. immediately "beneath" the feet of the living creature, and was constructed for direct motion in any of the four lines in which the creatures themselves moved. Their "work" or make, i. e. their construction, was "a wheel in the middle of a wheel;" the wheel was composed of two circumferences set at right angles to each other, like the equator and meridian upon a globe. A wheel so placed and constructed did its part alike on each side of the living creature beneath which it stood. The "ten bases" of the temple 1 Kings 7:27-36 were constructed with lions, oxen, and cherubim, between the ledges and wheels at the four corners attached beneath so as to move like the wheels of a chariot.
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.
When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went.
Upon their four sides - i. e. straight in the direction toward which their faces looked. Since the four quarters express all directions, the construction of the living creatures was such that they could move in each direction alike.
As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.
Rings - The felloes (circumference) of the wheels: they were both high and terrible. The "eyes" may have been no more than dazzling spots adding to their brilliancy. But it seems more likely that they had a symbolic meaning expressing either the universal fulfillment of God's will through His creation (2 Chronicles 16:9; compare Ezekiel 10:12), or the constant and unceasing praise which His works are ever rendering to Him Revelation 4:8. The power of nature is no blind force. it is employed in the service of God's Providence, and the stamp of reason is impressed all over it. It is this very thing that makes the power of nature terrible to him who is at enmity with God.
And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
Whithersoever the spirit of the four living creatures was to go, the wheels went - there was the spirit of the wheels to go. All four creatures together with their wheels are here called "the living creature," because they formed a whole, one in motion, and in will, for one spirit was in them.
When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.
"The color" (Hebrew, "eye") "of the terrible crystal" refers to the dazzling brightness of the "firmament," a clear bright expanse between the "throne" and the "living creatures," separating heaven from earth.
And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies.
Every one had two, which covered ... - Or, each one had two wings covering his body on either side.
And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings.
The voice of the Almighty - Thunder.
The voice of speech - Rendered in Jeremiah 11:16 "a great tumult." Some take it to describe the rushing of a storm.
And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.
A voice from the firmament - Compare Ezekiel 3:12; in the midst of the tumult, are heard articulate sounds declaring the glory of God.
And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.
Sapphire - Clear heavenly blue.
The appearance of a man - Deeply significant is the form of this manifestation. Here is no angel conveying God's message to man, but the glory of the Lord Himself. We recognize in this vision the prophetic annunciation of the Holy Incarnation. We are told little of the extent to which the human form was made evident to the prophet. For the vision was rather to the mind than to the bodily eye, and even inspired language was inadequate to convey to the hearer the glory which eye hath not seen or ear heard, and which only by special revelation it hath entered into the heart of man to conceive.
And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
The rainbow is not simply a token of glory and splendor. The "cloud" and the "day of rain" point to its original message of forgiveness and mercy, and this is especially suited to Ezekiel's commission, which was first to denounce judgment, and then promise restoration.