Ezekiel 1:10
(10) On the right side . . . on the left side.--The apparent obscurity of this description is due only to the punctuation in the English Bible. "They four had the face of a man" (viz., in front, as Ezekiel viewed them), "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" (viz., on the back, or side opposite to Ezekiel). These faces are the same as those given to the living creatures in Revelation 4:7, except that there each creature had but one of them.

Verse 10. - As for the likeness, etc. The Revised Version rightly strikes out the comma after "lion." The human face meets the prophet's gaze. On the right he sees the lion, on the left the ox, while the face of the eagle is behind. What did the symbols mean?

(1) The human face represents the thought that man, as made "after the image of God" (Genesis 1:27), is the highest symbol of the Eternal. So long as we remember that it is but a symbol, anthropomorphism is legitimate in thought, and appropriate in visions; though, like theriomorphism, it becomes perilous, and is therefore forbidden (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 4:17) when it takes concrete form in metal or in stone. So Daniel (Daniel 7:9, 13) sees the "Ancient of Days" and "one like unto a son of man;" and St. John's vision (Revelation 1:13) represents the same symbolism.

(2) The lion had been the familiar emblem of sovereignty, both in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:29) and in his palace (1 Kings 10:20; 2 Chronicles 9:18, 19). So, in Genesis 49:9, it is the symbol of the kingly power of Judah, and appears with a yet higher application in Revelation 5:5; while, on the other hand, it represents one of the great monarchies of the world in Daniel 7:4. Its modern heraldic use in the arms of England and elsewhere presents yet another analogue.

(3) The ox had appeared, as here, so also in 1 Kings 7:25, 44, in company with the lion, notably in the twelve oxen that supported the "sea" or "laver" in the temple. Here also we have a kind of sovereignty - the natural symbol of a strength made subservient to human uses. Both the lion and the ox, as we have seen, may have become familiar to Ezekiel as a priest ministering in the temple or as an exile.

(4) The eagle was, in like manner, though not taking its place in the symbolism of the temple, the emblem of kingly power, and is so employed by Ezekiel himself in Ezekiel 17:3, 7; while in Daniel 7:4 the lion has eagle's wings (comp. Hosea 8:1; Isaiah 46:11; Obadiah 1:4; Habakkuk 1:8). In Assyrian sculpture Nisroch (the name is cognate with the Hebrew for "eagle," nesher) appears as an eagle-headed human figure, and is always represented as contending with or conquering the lion and the bull (Layard, 'Nineveh,' 2:458, 459). The facts suggest the inference

(1) that Ezekiel may have seen this symbol;

(2) that over and above the general thought that all the powers of nature are subject to the government of God, there was also the more specific thought that the great kingdoms of the earth were but servants of his, to do his pleasure? The reproduction of the fourfold form, with the variation already noticed, in Revelation 4:7, is every way suggestive, and it is, at least, a natural inference that the symbols had acquired a new significance through the new truths that had been revealed to the seer of Patrons; that the human face may have connected itself with the thought of the Son of man who shared in the glory of the Father; the ox with that of his sacrifice; the lion with that of his sovereignty over Israel, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5); the eagle with that of his bearing his people as on eagles' wings, into the highest heavens (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11) The patristic interpretation, which finds in the four living creatures the symbols of the four evangelists (an interpretation by no means constant or unvarying - the lion being sometimes identified with St Matthew, and the man with St. Mark, and conversely, while the ox and the eagle are uniformly assigned to St. Luke and St. John respectively), must be considered as the play of a devout imagination, but not as unfolding the meaning of either Ezekiel or St. John. In the later Jewish tradition the four forms are assigned, taking Ezekiel's order, to the tribes of Reuben, Judah, Ephraim, and Dan, as the "standards" (Numbers 2:2) which they generally bore when encamped in the wilderness; but this is obviously outside the range of the prophet's thoughts.

1:1-14 It is a mercy to have the word of God brought to us, and a duty to attend to it diligently, when we are in affliction. The voice of God came in the fulness of light and power, by the Holy Spirit. These visions seem to have been sent to possess the prophet's mind with great and high thoughts of God. To strike terror upon sinners. To speak comfort to those that feared God, and humbled themselves. In ver. 4-14, is the first part of the vision, which represents God as attended and served by a vast company of angels, who are all his messengers, his ministers, doing his commandments. This vision would impress the mind with solemn awe and fear of the Divine displeasure, yet raise expectations of blessings. The fire is surrounded with a glory. Though we cannot by searching find out God to perfection, yet we see the brightness round about it. The likeness of the living creatures came out of the midst of the fire; angels derive their being and power from God. They have the understanding of a man, and far more. A lion excels in strength and boldness. An ox excels in diligence and patience, and unwearied discharge of the work he has to do. An eagle excels in quickness and piercing sight, and in soaring high; and the angels, who excel man in all these respects, put on these appearances. The angels have wings; and whatever business God sends them upon, they lose no time. They stood straight, and firm, and steady. They had not only wings for motion, but hands for action. Many persons are quick, who are not active; they hurry about, but do nothing to purpose; they have wings, but no hands. But wherever the angels' wings carried them, they carried hands with them, to be doing what duty required. Whatever service they went about, they went every one straight forward. When we go straight, we go forward; when we serve God with one heart, we perform work. They turned not when they went. They made no mistakes; and their work needed not to be gone over again. They turned not from their business to trifle with any thing. They went whithersoever the Spirit of God would have them go. The prophet saw these living creatures by their own light, for their appearance was like burning coals of fire; they are seraphim, or burners; denoting the ardour of their love to God, and fervent zeal in his service. We may learn profitable lessons from subjects we cannot fully enter into or understand. But let us attend to the things which relate to our peace and duty, and leave secret things to the Lord, to whom alone they belong.As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man,.... For these living creatures are men, redeemed from among men by the blood of Christ; their business lies with men, to preach the Gospel to them: and they should be humane, kind, and tender in their behaviour towards them; wounded consciences of weak believers, distressed and disconsolate souls, requiring such usage; and they should be men in understanding, have a large knowledge of the Scriptures, of the truths of the Gospel, and of Jesus Christ, since their work is to feed men with knowledge and understanding; and should act the manly part, quit themselves like men in defence of the Gospel, and the truths of it;

and the face of a lion on the right side; denoting the strength of Gospel ministers, the lion being the strongest among beasts, Proverbs 30:30; and they have need to be strong in the grace of Christ, and in the power of his might, to do the several parts of their work; to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ; to wrestle with principalities and powers, and to bear the infirmities of the weak: and also their courage and fortitude of mind; their boldness in preaching the Gospel of Christ, not fearing the faces of men, nor their revilings; see Proverbs 28:1;

and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; expressive of the patience of Gospel ministers in bearing the yoke that is upon them, not only of the ministry, but of the weaknesses of saints, and the reproaches and indignities of the wicked; and in instructing those that oppose themselves, and in waiting the issue of their ministry: and also of their laboriousness in their ministrations; particularly in treading out the corn of the word, for the subsistence of the saints: see 1 Corinthians 9:9;

they four also had the face of an eagle; showing their strong and clear sight of the Gospel, and the mysteries of it; the eagle having so strong an eye, that it is able to look full and steadfastly upon the sun; and their diligence in searching into the deep things of God, and particularly to find out where the carcass is, a crucified Christ, to feed upon themselves, and to direct others to it likewise. It seems as if these four living creatures had four distinct heads, as well as faces, and that the position of them was in this manner; the face of a man before; the face of a lion on the right side; the face of an ox on the left; and the face of an eagle behind, These four are the most excellent of creatures. The Talmudists have a saying,

"there are four that are proud (or excel) in the world; the lion among beasts; the ox among cattle; the eagle among birds; and man, whom God has exalted above all, for he rules over all (o).''

(o) Apud Schindler. Lex. Pentaglott, p. 267.

Ezekiel 1:9
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