Ezekiel 1


The captivity and exile of Judah and Israel must be regarded as retributive

chastisement inflicted by God on account of their apostasy!   Although much

obscurity gathers around the earlier history of the “chosen people,” one fact

stands out in undisputed clearness — they were a people prone to idolatry and

rebellion against Jehovah. Their own historians, men proud of their descent

from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, men themselves profoundly attached to

the one true God, record with unsparing fidelity the defections of their

countrymen from the service and worship to which they were bound by

every tie of gratitude and loyalty. Apostasy was not confined to any class;

kings and subjects alike did wickedly in departing from God. As a nation

they sinned, and as a nation they suffered. Surrounded by people more

powerful than themselves — by Egypt, by Phoenicia, by Assyria — their

strength lay in their pure faith and their spiritual worship. But again and

again they yielded to temptation, and fell into the idolatries practiced by

surrounding peoples. The punishment was foretold, the warning was

repeated; but all was in vain. And it was in fulfillment of prophetic threats

that the inhabitants, first of Northern and then of Southern Palestine, were

transported to the East, and condemned to the existence which awakened

their pathetic lamentations, when, strangers in a strange land, they wept

when they remembered Zion. Ezekiel, when he awoke to a consciousness

of his prophetic mission, found himself amongst those who were bearing

the penalty due to their follies and sins.


1 “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.”

Now; literally, and. The use of the conjunction indicates here, as

in Jonah 1:1, that the narrative that follows links itself on to something

that has gone before. In Exodus 1:1 and I Samuel 1:1 it may point

to a connection with the book that precedes it. Here the sequence is

subjective. We may think of Ezekiel as retracing the years of his life till he

comes to the thirtieth. Then, as it were, he pulls himself up. That must be

the starting point of what he has to say. Our English use of “now” is nearly

equivalent to this. In the thirtieth year. I incline, following Origen,

Hengstenberg, Smend, and others, to refer the date to the prophet’s own

life. That year in Jewish reckoning was the age of full maturity. At that age

the earlier Levites (Numbers 4:23, 30, 39, 43, 47) had entered on their

duties. It is probable, though no written rule is found, that it was the

normal age for the functions of the priesthood. In the case of our Lord

(Luke 3:23) and of the Baptist it appears to have been recognized as

the starting point of a prophet’s work. Jeremiah’s call as a “child”

(Jeremiah 1:6; the word may, however, include adult manhood, as in

I Samuel 30:17; I Kings 3:7) was obviously exceptional. In the fourth month.

Both here and in v. 2 the months are probably reckoned from Abib, or Nisan,

the month of the Passover, with which the Jewish year began (Exodus 12:2;

Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7), so that the fourth month, known by later Jews as

Tammuz, would bring us to June or July. Among the captives (literally, the

captivity) by the river of Chebar. By most earlier commentators the Chebar

has been identified with the Chaboras of the Greeks (now the Khabour), which

rises in Upper Mesopotamia, at Ras-el-Ain, and falls into the Euphrates at

Carcesium, a city which modern geographers distinguish from the Carchemish

of the Old Testament. Recent critics, however (Rawlinson, Smend, and others),

have urged that this was too far north to be in the “land of the Chaldeans (v. 3),

or Babylonn (II Kings 24:16), and have suggested that the Chebar of Ezekiel is the

Nahr-Malcha, or Royal Canal of Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of that

king’s irrigation works, to which, therefore, the name Chebar (i.e. uniting)

would be appropriate. The identification of Chebar with the labor of

II Kings 17:6, to which the ten tribes had been deported (whether, with

Rawlinson, we think of that river as identical with the Chaboras, or still

further north, near an affluent of the Tigris of the same name), must, for

like reasons, be rejected. The two names are, indeed, spelled differently, with

initial letters that do not interchange. The heavens were opened. The

phrase, not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, appears in Matthew 3:16;

John 1:51; Acts 7:56; 10:11; Revelation 4:1. Visions of God. The words admit

of three interpretations:


  • Great, or wonderful, visions; as in the “mountains of God” (Psalm 36:6),

the “cedars of God” (Ibid. ch. 80:10), the “river of God”(Ibid. ch. 65:9);

  • visions sent from God; or
  • actual theophanies or manifestations of the Divine glory.


Of these the last is most in harmony with what follows, here and elsewhere, on the

phrase (compare ch. 8:3; 40:2; 43:3). Such a theophany constituted in his

case, as in that of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:9),

Zechariah (Zechariah 1:8-14), his call to the office of a prophet. The

visions may be thought of as manifested to his waking consciousness in an

ecstatic state, and are thus distinguished from the dreams of sleep (compare

Joel 2:28 for the distinction between the two — “visions” belonging to

the young, and “dreams” to the old). The visions of Balaam, seen in a

“trance,” but with his “eyes open” (Numbers 24:3-4), and of Paul,

“whether in the body or out of the body” he could not tell (II Corinthians

12:2-3), present suggestive parallels.


Whether we call the faculty the higher reason, or spiritual faith, there is a faculty

by which we gain knowledge of the Author of our being. The greatest men have

been those who have enjoyed the clearest vision of God. Such vision is possible

only to natures endowed with intelligence, with moral capacity, with a free and

spiritual faculty. Such natures “look unto Him, and are lightened” (Psalm 34:5).

In His light they see light  (Ibid. ch. 36:9).  It is the especial privilege of the pure

in heart that they “see God”  (Matthew 5:8).  Only the superstitious and ignorant

can suppose that He who is the Eternal, Immortal, and Invisible is apprehended

by sense. He is seen by the cleansed, illumined vision of the soul.



Visions of God (v. 1)


The Book of Ezekiel opens with a glorious apocalypse. No doubt the

primary object of this revelation was the spiritual education of the prophet.

But all the deeper spiritual experiences of individual souls afford living

lessons for their brethren. Therefore the visions are recorded and the

private privileges published abroad, inviting our study at least, perhaps also

our emulation.




Ø      A priest. (See v. 3) Of all men they who minister to others in spiritual

things need first to have their own visions of God. A spiritually blind

priest can only give dead, formal, perfunctory service. Yet it is only

too possible to handle religious business officially without any true

insight, without any experience of the Divine. The wry familiarity

with the routine of religious services may tend to harden a soul

against the inner truth and reality of religion. The priest may see

the temple, but never behold the glory of God.  It is a great

moment when he rises from formal service to spiritual experience.


Ø      A prophet. Ezekiel is now called to the high mission of prophecy.

But he must first behold his own visions of God. The prophet

must be a seer. No one can speak for God who has not first

heard the voice of God or seen the glory of His truth. The true

preparation for public preaching is private communion with God.


  • THE TIME OF THE VISIONS. In early maturity. Ezekiel was in his

thirtieth year. This was the time for entering on the priestly office. It was

the same age as that of Jesus when He commenced His public life. Our

subject has a very special bearing on all persons who are about thirty years

old. Samuel was called in childhood, Moses when eighty years of age,

Ezekiel at an intermediate period. Different souls take varying times for

their development. Some are like the slow oak, others like the rapidly

growing sycamore. There is a special fitness in the time of Ezekiel’s vision.


Ø      It was after years of preparation. All secular training and earthly

experience may be enlisted in the service of God, and consecrated

to His use.


Ø      It was before a life of work. The visions are seen on the very threshold

of the prophet’s public career. It is well indeed to meet God early in life.

Then the soul is most susceptible. Joel says that young men shall see

visions, while old men only dream dreams. Such visions consecrating

early manhood give promise of a full day of work. It is possible to be

called to the vineyard at the eleventh hour. But it is sad to have

lingered in the marketplace so long. and it is far better to begin in

the fresh, fair morning of life.




Ø      Ezekiel was among the captives.


o       He was an exile from his native land. God is not confined

to holy sites.  Enemies may banish from home; they cannot

banish from God.


o       He was surrounded by sorrowful men — among the captives.”

The atmosphere was depressing. Yet the light of heaven broke

through it. God is not the less good and great because men are

fallen and human life is too often a sad wreck.


o       He was himself a captive. Those very waters of Babylon by

which others hung their harps in despair heard the first notes

of the lyre of a braver soul. Trouble revealed the need of God,

and invited His gracious help. If Ezekiel had not been a

captive he might never have beheld his glorious visions. The

visions were worth the captivity. If poets learn in sorrow what

they teach in song, may not the glory of the song justify the

experience of the sorrow, and so explain some of the mystery

of it?


Ø      Ezekiel was by the river Chebar. He was in no city confines, but out in

the open, in a quiet scene of nature. Isaiah saw his vision in the temple of

Solomon (Isaiah 6.). Ezekiel saw his in the more glorious temple of

nature.  God is on the broad earth as surely as He is in any sacred place.




Ø      It was from heaven. Then the prophet must look up to see it. The

heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), and yet many men

never heed the message because earth enchains their attention.

We need to know that there are transactions in heaven which

deserve our notice. The physicist holds astronomy to be as true

a science as geology. There is a spiritual astronomy which claims

our study as much as the facts of man and earth.


Ø      It was through the opening of heaven. To many heaven is sealed.

The firmament is like brass. No glory of God breaks through its

awful expanse.  God has to reveal Himself before any man can

see His glory. But revelation is not the creation of new truth. It is

only rolling back the curtain, opening the gates of the unseen.

The heavenly world is present, but too often it is veiled from sight,

or perhaps our “eyes are holden.”


  • THE NATURE OF THE VISION. It was a vision of God. The prophet

is to see some rays of the Divine glory, some fringe of the robe of the

Almighty. This is the highest of all visions. It is much more important that

the prophet should behold the eternal glory of God than that he should

foresee future earthly events. No doubt the secondary vision — the

prevision of what is to happen on earth — is got through the higher vision;

it is seen in the mirror of Divine truth. For us this vision of God comes in a

new form. Heaven was open when Christ was manifested. In the human

countenance of Jesus we may see that once rare sight of the glory of God,

which is as a very vision of angels of God ascending and descending upon

the Son of man (John 1:51).


2 “In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king

Jehoiachin’s captivity,”   The date of this deportation stands as B.C. 599

(II Kings 24:8-16; II Chronicles 36:9-10), and thus brings us to B.C. 595

as the time of Ezekiel’s first vision. It was for him and for his fellow exiles a

natural starting point to reckon from. It would have been, in one sense, as natural

to reckon from the beginning of Zedekiah’s reign, as Jeremiah does (Jeremiah 39:1-2),

but Ezekiel does not recognize that prince — who was, as it were, a mere

satrap under Nebuchadnezzar — as a true king, and throughout his book

systematically adheres to this era (ch. 8:1; 20:1; 24:1, et al.).

About this time, but a year before, the false prophets of Judah were

prophesying the overthrow of Babylon and the return of Jeconiah within

two years (Jeremiah 28:3), and the expectations thus raised were

probably shared by many of Ezekiel’s companions in exile, while he himself

adhered to the counsels of the letter which Jeremiah had sent (Jeremiah

29:1-23) to the Jews of the Captivity. To one who felt himself thus apart

from his brethren, musing over many things, and perhaps perplexed with

the conflict of prophetic voices, there was given, in the “visions of God”

which he relates, the guidance that he needed. They did not break in, we

may well believe, suddenly and without preparation on the normal order of

his life. Like other prophets, he felt, even before his call, the burdens of his

time and (like Lot – II Peter 2:8 – CY - 2014) vexed his soul with the ungodly

deeds of these among whom he lived.


3  “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.” The word of the Lord came

 expressly, etc.; literally, coming, there come the word of the Lord; the iteration

having (as commonly in this combination in Hebrew) the force of emphasis.

The phrase stands, as elsewhere, for the conscious inspiration which made

men feel that Jehovah had indeed spoken unto them, and that they had a

message from Him to deliver.  (While not in the same league with Ezekiel,

I too serve the same Master and received a call when I was 12 years old

“to prepare.”  Because of this call I studied the word of God seriously

and while at Cumberland College in 1962 came across in the school library

The Pulpit Commentary the which I have studied extensively and now

am trying to relate it on this web site since it is public domain material!

My parents got me a 23 volume set at Christmas 1963.  For the last 43

years [now 50], through God’s mercy and the help of the Holy Spirit, I have tried

to relate God’s word to the public over WHOP radio and for the last

20 or so years, on local television.  I commit this work unto God – CY –

2014 [as of 2019 we are no longer on local television as Spectrum

unilaterally stopped carrying the church services as well as the Adult

Bible Class.  We still are on WHOP but no longer live.  I tape it

during the week and WHOP picks it up off of the website at

https://www.adultbibleclass.com  as we now are also on You Tube -

CY - 2021)   To give parallel passages would be to copy several pages from a

concordance, but it may not be without interest to note its first

(Genesis 15:1) and last (Malachi 1:1) occurrences in the Old

Testament, and its reappearance in the New Testament (Luke 3:2).

Unto Ezekiel. We note the transition from the first person to the third; but

it does not give sufficient ground for rejecting either v. 1 or vs. 2-3 as

an interpolation. (For the prophet’s name, which appears only here and in

ch.24:24.   The hand of the Lord. Here again we have a phrase of frequent

occurrence, used of Elijah (I Kings 18:46), of Elisha (II Kings 3:15), of Daniel

(Daniel 8:18; 10:10), of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:11), of John (Revelation 1:17). The

“hand” of the Lord is the natural symbol of His power, and the phrase seems

to be used to add to the consciousness of inspiration, that of A CONSTRAINING

IRRESISTIBLE POWER!  Ezekiel continually uses it (Ch.3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22;

37:1; 40:1).




            Introduction Respecting the Person and Mission of the Prophet

                                                            (vs. 1-3)


·         HIS PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS. A real, though sometimes

undiscoverable, fitness between the instrument and the task, is an invariable

law in the procedure of God.


Ø      Mark the significance of his name, “God becomes strength.” Most

probably the name had originated with God, who had, either secretly or

openly, influenced his father Buzi in selecting it. A name, when God-

given, is a revelation of what is unique and special in the man’s nature.

Thus Israel, Nabal, Peter, Jesus.


Ø      He was designated from his birth, and by his birth, to special service for

God. Every man’s entrance into life is designed to be an entrance upon

Divine service. The world a capacious temple, and God its central Object.

In Ezekiel’s case there was no diversion of purpose; no casting about for

a definite vocation in life. His education, all through the stages of youth,

was concentrated on this single object — to be Jehovah’s priest. The

noblest types of the Levitical priesthood would be set before him as

his model.


Ø      He had reached the maturity of his powers. By a merciful ordinance of

God, in accommodation to human weakness, God had prohibited the

priests from entering upon full service until they had attained the ripe age

of thirty. Then strength would be developed; practical wisdom and

knowledge of human affairs would be acquired; self-mastery might be

attained. Acting on this declaration of the Divine will, John the Baptist

(like Ezekiel, priest and prophet in one), and our Lord Himself, began

not their public ministry until they had reached their thirtieth year. There

are nowhere signs of haste or impatience in the development of

Jehovah’s plans. Premature action is a concomitant of weakness — an

omen of failure.


Ø      His moral fitness. Many of the priests in the temple were mere

functionaries — professional automatens (robots). The performance

of the most sacred duties degenerated into mere mechanism. Men saw

not the spiritual import of sacrifice, nor the awful significance of the

temple ritual, and priests too often became “blind leaders of the blind.”

But Ezekiel was alive to the moral greatness of his office. To him had

been revealed the nearness and the holiness of God; the spirituality

of the Law, which carried its sanctions into man’s interior nature;

the dark facts of human sin; the need of atonement and of cleansing.

Hence, as the ordained servant of a holy God, Ezekiel had cultivated

humility, habits of devotion, a principle of childlike faith, candid

truthfulness, conscientious fidelity, and unflinching courage. For

such sublime service, the highest qualities of soul were demanded.


Ø      His fertile imagination. Many of the visions described in his prophetic

book are based upon objects and scenes in the temple at Jerusalem.

Commencing here (prior to the Captivity) to exercise his faith in the

unseen; commencing here the practice of looking beneath the surface of

material things, and acquiring a habit of spiritual penetration, he

gradually learned to discover in nature symbols of celestial truths, and

to see God everywhere. Thus he trained his imagination for useful and

distinguished service.




Ø      The vicissitudes of earthly affairs. While Ezekiel looked forward to the

fulfillment of his peaceful vocation in Jerusalem, lo! war and defeat resulted

in exile and bondage. With the dust of humiliation upon their heads, the

chelsea people were conducted to Chaldea, and residence was allotted to

them on the banks of the Chebar. Nothing is more fluctuating than earthly

fortune. Jerusalem today, Chaldea tomorrow.


Ø      No outward circumstance is fatal to our real welfare nor a barrier to

benevolent activity. Now it was to be seen that piety can flourish amid a

dearth of external privileges. The seeds of religious truth shall be carried

into new fields. The special capacity of Ezekiel shall find more fitting,

scope for its exercise than amid the quiet grandeur of Solomon’s temple.

He is a priest in an ampler temple — a priest for the world. The soul is

superior to all imprisonment.


Ø      The permanency of spiritual work. The kingcraft of Nebuchadnezzar,

the overthrow of Zedekiah, the honors and decorations of Chaldean

captains, — these things have long since ceased to exert any influence

upon the life of the human race; but Ezekiel is still (and has been for twenty-

six centuries) a teacher of men: his work still proceeds; his name is encircled

with honor. Already king and captive have exchanged places. The first is

last; the last, first.



during Ezekiel’s time, and John afterwards, were, like him, priests and

prophets too. In the case of other prophets, some special visit from God —

some suitable display of his glory — attended their special designation to

office. We have parallel instances in Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah. The vision

was supersensuous, and must be accounted for, partly by external, and

partly by internal, causes.



Ø      External. “The heavens were opened.” The veil of material limitation

was, for the time, withdrawn. The celestial realm was disclosed. A similar

privilege was accorded to Elisha’s servant, in answer to his master’s

prayer: “And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw:

and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round

about Elisha (II Kings 6:17).  To open the heavens to human view is

to unveil,  in part, the spiritual universe. So, to our Lord on the banks of

Jordan,  “the heavens were opened.” A Divine voice proceeded; the

Holy Ghost  was imparted.  Ezekiel, like Moses and Isaiah, “saw visions

of God.”  The heavens were opened for the very purpose that the central

Object  might be seen. To see God; to have undoubted assurance of His

presence,  purity, and aid — this, every true prophet requires. “The word

 of God  came expressly,” or rather verily, to him. The ear confirmed the

vision  of the eye. Not only a spectacle, but an articulate voice. So Hamlet

sought to assure himself of the reality of the spectre, when he demanded

that it should speak. The ear is a more trustworthy witness than the eye.

“Faith comes by hearing.”  (Romans 10:17)


Ø      There was, on the part of Ezekiel, internal aptitude. Our organs of sense

have become dull, gross, earthly, by reason of the decline and decay of

THE SOUL’S TRUE LIFE!   As vehicles by which the soul holds

commerce  with the spiritual realm, they are insufficient. Hence the spirit


GOD, so that it may,  for the time being, transcend its native capabilities,

its native sphere, in order  to see God’s administration of the universe,

and in order to receive new  communications of His will. This is what

is usually termed a state of ecstasy.  In the creation of the material universe,

a word was sufficient; but so indocile,  intractable, are the elements of

human disposition and will, that the hand  of Jehovah MUST BE

EXERTED!   “The hand of the Lord was upon him.”


The “word” and the “hand” here spoken of are metaphorical,

but they are strictly true; i.e. the just idea is, as far as may be by language

and emblem, thus conveyed to our mind. If God reveal Himself to man, it

must be by means of the characteristics of man’s spiritual nature; and such

characteristics are pictured in the expressions here employed by Ezekiel.

The “word” of the Lord means one thing, the “hand” another; yet the

employment of both expressions is necessary in order to convey, with

anything like completeness, the penetration of the prophet’s nature by

Divine truth, the commission of the prophet to undertake Divine service.


4 “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 color of amber, out of the

midst of the fire.”  A whirlwind came out of the north. What, we ask, was the

meaning of this symbolism? In Jeremiah 1:13-14 a like symbol is

explained as meaning that the judgments which Judah was to suffer were to

come from the north, that is, from Chaldea, upon the prophet’s

countrymen. Here the prophet is himself in Chaldea, and what he sees is

the symbol, not or calamities, but of the Divine glory, and that explanation

is, accordingly, inapplicable. Probably the leading thought here is that the

Divine presence is no longer in the temple at Jerusalem, It may return for a

time to execute judgment (ch. 8:4; 10:1, 19-20), and may again

depart (ch.11:23), but the abiding glory is elsewhere, and the

temple is as Shitoh had been of old (Psalm 78:60). Ezekiel was looking

on the visible symbol of what had been declared in unfigurative language

by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9). That the north should have

been chosen rather than any other quarter of the heavens is perhaps connected:


  • with Job 37:22, where it appears as the region of “fair weather,” the

unclouded brightness of the “terrible majesty” of God;


  • with Isaiah 14:13, where “the sides of the north” are the symbols of

the dwelling place of God.


For the Jews this was probably associated with the thought of the mountain heights

of Lebanon as rising up to heaven, or with the fact that the “north side” of Zion

(Psalm 48:2), as the site of the temple, was the “dwelling place of the great King.”

Parallels present themselves in the Assyrian hymns that speak of the “feasts of the

silver mountains, the heavenly courts” (as the Greeks spoke of Olympus), “where

the gods dwell eternally” (‘Records of the Past,’ 3:133), and this ideal mountain

was for them, like the Meru of Indian legend, in the farthest north. So, in the

legendary geography of Greece, the Hyperborei, or “people beyond the

north,” were a holy and blessed race, the chosen servants of Apollo

(Herod., 4:32-36: Pindar, ‘Pyth.,’ 10:4; AEsch., ‘Choeph.,’ 373). Possibly

the brilliant coruscations of an Aurora Borealis may have led men to think

of it as they thought of the glory of the dawn or the brightness of the

lightning, as a momentary revelation of the higher glory of the throne of

God. (For the “whirlwind” as the accompaniment of a Divine revelation,

See I Kings 19:11; Job 38:1; Acts 2:2.) A great cloud, etc. So

far the signs of the approaching theophany were like those on Sinai

(Exodus 19:16, 18) and Horeb (I Kings 19:11). With a fire

infolding itself; the Revised Version margin gives flashing continually.

The Authorized Version suggests the thought of a globe of fire darting its

rays through the surrounding darkness. The color of amber; literally, the

eye. The Hebrew word for “amber” (chashmal) occurs only here and in

v. 27 and ch. 8:2. It is almost absolutely certain that it does not mean what

we know as “amber.” The Septuagint and Vulgate give electrum, and this, in

later Greek and Latin authors, has “amber” for one of its meanings.

Primarily, however, it was used for a metallic substance of some kind,

specifically for a compound four parts of gold and one of silver (Pithy,

Hist. Nat.,’ 23:4, s. 23). Some such compound is probably what we have

to think of here, and so the description finds a parallel in Daniel 10:6;

Revelation 1:15. This, in its ineffable brightness, is seen in the center of

the globe of fire. One may compare Dante’s vision of the Divine glory

(‘Paradise,’ 33:55).


5 “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.” The likeness of four living creatures. The Authorized Version

is happier here in its rendering than in Revelation 4:6, where we find

“beasts” applied to the analogues of the forms of Ezekiel’s vision. There 

the Greek gives ζῶαzoabeasts; animals; living ones -  as the Septuagint

does here, while in Daniel 7:3-7 we have θήριαthaeriaanimals.  In ch. 10:15

they are identified with the “cherubim” of the mercy seat; but the fact that they

are not so named here is presumptive evidence that Ezekiel did not at first

recognize them as identical with what he had heard of those cherubim, or with

the other like forms that were seen, as they were not seen, in the temple (I Kings

6:29; 7:29), on its walls (II Chronicles 3:7), and on its veil or curtain (Exodus 36:35).

What he sees is, in fact, a highly complicated development of the cherubic

symbols, which might well appear strange to him. It is possible that the Assyrian

and Babylonian sculptures, the winged bulls and lions with human heads, which

Ezekiel may have seen in his exile, were elements in that development. The

likeness of a man. This apparently was the first impression. The “living

creatures” were not, like the Assyrian forms just referred to, quadrupeds.

They stood erect, and had feet and hands as men have.


The “living creatures” of John’s grander “revelations,” are linked to human

experience by a common likeness. Whether we take them as symbolical of Divine

attributes, or as descriptive of heavenly beings, the human features are

equally significant – “the likeness of a man.”



The Likeness of Man (v. 5)


There is very much in the visions of Ezekiel that strikes us as strange, and

even monstrous. With the sweep of his mighty eagle wing he soars far

above commonplace experience to awful regions of unearthly sublimity.

But ever and anon in his highest flights he seems to find relief by laying

hold of some trait of human nature. The Son of man appears repeatedly in

Ezekiel’s celestial panorama. The prophet seems to delight in hearing the

still, sad music of humanity among the dread sounds of the larger universe.

Those living creatures which may have been suggested to his eye of

prophetic imagination by the cherubs at the Jerusalem temple, or by the

winged bulls on Assyrian monuments which we now see on the great

tablets in the British Museum those, prototypes of the “living creatures” of

St. John’s grander “revelations,” were not simply viewed in their

strangeness and greatness. They were linked to human experience by a

common likeness. Whether we take them as symbolical of Divine

attributes, or as descriptive of heavenly beings, the human features are

equally significant.


·         THERE ARE HUMAN FEATURES IN HEAVEN. We think of heaven

by its contrast with earth. But it also has points of resemblance. All will not

be strange there. The same God who made earth, made heaven; and he

who rules the one sphere also reigns in the other. In passing from earth to

heaven we do but cross from one district to another district in the same

Divine dominion.


Ø      There is a resemblance between spirits in heavenly regions and men.

Angels may be without physical bodies, sinless, and gifted perhaps with

higher faculties than any possessed by a Plato or a Milton on earth. Yet

they are spirits, and we are spirits. There is a natural kinship in all

spiritual life.


Ø      There is a human likeness in God. Man was made in the image of God.

Then, conversely, we may say that in some degree God is like man. The

child may give us some idea of the parent. The positive side of

anthropomorphism is reasonable and helpful to our understanding. We

cannot limit God to the human. But we may recognize human

characteristics as part of the infinite nature of God. Christ is the

manifestation of these characteristics.


Ø      The human Christ is in heaven. Christ ascended to heaven in His human

nature, and He is there now as a brother man. Therefore it is more fully

true in Christian days than before the incarnation of our Lord, that there

are human elements in heaven.  (But they are redeemed!  CY - 2021)


Ø      There are men in heaven. Many have gone there before our time, and

are in the celestial sphere. May not the spirits  of the blessed dead have

some influence on the very atmosphere of  heaven, spreading through

it a certain human tone?



vision was a revelation to him. In this revelation he saw traits of humanity.


Ø      Revelation comes to us through human channels. God speaks to us

through prophets, and teaches us by means of the lives of His saints.

This is not merely a limitation. It helps us the better to understand

Divine truth. It is a translation of the thought of heaven into

the language  of earth. Only let us beware of the literalism which

forgets that any such  translation has taken place.


Ø      Revelation makes known to us the true glory of humanity. We do not

know what man may become till we see the Divine idea of man in the

heavenly revelation. Ezekiel’s vision of the human in heaven, like Plato’s

doctrine of the Divine ideas, suggests to us that there is something far

above normal humanity for man to aim at. The earthly man is far below

the heavenly. Let him strive after that lofty ideal. Especially is this

possible now that the heavenly man has descended to earth in the

Person of Christ. To follow Christ is to copy the celestial type of



Ø      In all religion it is important not to lose sight of human nature. The

prophet in his vision of God is careful to observe anything that links the

Divine to the human, the heavenly to the earthly; a purely celestial religion

could have little influence on poor, toiling, struggling man. We have to



o       God’s sympathy with man;

o       man’s living, earthly experience of God;

o       man’s duty to his fellow men.


6 “And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.”

We note the points of contrast with other like visions.


  • In Isaiah 6:2 each seraph has six wings, as each “living creature”

has in Revelation 4:8.


  • In Revelation 4:7 the four heads are distributed, one to each of the

“living creatures,” while here each has four faces, and forms, as it were, a

Janus quadrifrons. The wings are described more minutely in v. 11.


7 “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 color of burnished brass.”

Their feet were straight feet, etc. The noun is probably used as including the

lower part of the leg, and what is meant is that the legs were not bent, or kneeling.

What we may call the bovine symbolism appears at the extremity, and the actual

foot is round like a calf’s. The Septuagint curiously enough gives “their feet were

winged (πτερωτοὶ - pterotoi ). Burnished brass. Probably a shade less brilliant,

or more ruddy, than the electrum of v. 4 (see note there).


8 “And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four

sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.”

They had the hands of a man, etc. The prophet seems to

describe each detail in the order in which it presented itself to him. What he

next sees is that each of the four forms has two hands on each of its four

sides. Nothing could supersede that symbol of activity and strength.


9 “Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they

went; they went every one straight forward.” Their wings were joined, etc.

As interpreted by vs. 11 and 24, two of the wings were always down, and

when the living creatures moved, two were extended upwards, so that their

tips touched, and were in this sense “joined.” When at rest, these were let

down again (v. 24). They turned not, etc. We note the emphasis of the

threefold iteration of the fact (vs. 12, 17). None of the four forms revolved

on its axis. The motion of what we may call the composite quadrilateral was

simply rectilinear. Did the symbolism represent the directness, the

straightforwardness, of the Divine energy manifested in the universe?


10 “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.”

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?


  • 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 John’s vision

(Revelation 1:13) represents the same symbolism.


  • The lion had been the familiar emblem of sovereignty, both in the

temple of Solomon (I Kings 7:29) and in his palace (Ibid. ch.10:20;

II 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.


  • The ox had appeared, as here, so also in I 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.


  • 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 ch.17:3, 7; while in Daniel 7:4 the lion has eagle’s

wings (compare 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:


Ø      that Ezekiel may have seen this symbol;

Ø      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 Matthew, and the man with Mark,

and conversely, while the ox and the eagle are uniformly assigned to Luke

and John respectively), must be considered as the play of a devout imagination,

but not as unfolding the meaning of either Ezekiel or 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.


11 “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 were their faces: and, etc.; better, with Revised

Version, and their faces and their wings were separate above; i.e. were

stretched upward, touching the neighboring wings at the tip, and so

“joined,” while the other two covered the bodies and were never stretched

(compare Isaiah 6:2).


12 “And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to

go, they went; and they turned not when they went.” Whither the spirit was to go, etc.

The description passes on to the originating force of the movement of the mysterious

forms. The Hebrew noun may mean “breath,” “wind,” or “spirit,” the meanings often

overlapping one another. Here the higher meaning is probably the true one.

The “Spirit” (as in Genesis 1:1; 6:3; Psalm 104:30; 139:7; Isaiah 40:7, 13; and in

Ezekiel himself, passim) is the Divine Source of life in all its forms, especially in

its highest form, moral, intellectual, spiritual. It is this which gave unity and harmony

to the movements of the “living creatures,” as it gives a life, harmony, and unity to

all the manifold manifestations of the might of God of which they were the symbols.

(On “they turned not,” see note on v. 9.)



Straightforwardness (v. 12)


Ezekiel seems to have been particularly struck with the direct movement of

the four living creatures which he beheld in his vision, for he refers to this

several times. “Their feet were straight” (v. 7). Twice the prophet tells us

that “they went every one straight forward” (vs. 9, 12), and on the

second occasion he emphasizes his assertion by adding that “they turned

not when they went” — a remark which he subsequently repeated in

describing the motion of the wheels (v. 17).



contrast between the heavenly, the ideal, the perfect, and the too common

course of human conduct on earth. The lanes and alleys of earth are

crooked; the golden streets of the new Jerusalem are all straight. Our

conduct is commonly marked by uncertainty, indecision, and variability,

and sometimes by duplicity and shameful inconsistency. We walk with

halting gait. We put our hand to the plough, and then look back. Like

Christian on the Hill Difficulty, we turn aside from the steep path of duty to

some bower of ease; or, like the same pilgrim in later life, we forsake the

narrow way for Bye-path Meadow — the road to Giant Despair’s castle.

In order to realize the ideal of heavenly conduct certain characteristics

must be formed.


Ø      Truth. We must really go the way we profess to be in. If we walk

only to be seen of men, we shall take different paths according as

their eyes are upon us, or as we are left to ourselves. Eve-service

is always variable service. The path of the hypocrite is crooked.


Ø      Singleness of aim. Many men turn first to the right and then to the

left, while they are drawn hither and thither by counter attractions.

Their thoughts are like the compasses of ships that are sailing between

Magnetic rocks. Let them beware of the danger of making shipwreck.

“Ye cannot serve God and mammon”  (Luke 16:13).  The divided

life is a broken life. The single eye is the only safe vision.


Ø      Perseverance. It is easier to start straight than to keep straight. Yet it is

vain to begin well and turn aside later to paths of error. Bad men

sometimes do good deeds. It is the good man who lives a good life

throughout, or at least in the main.



CHARACTERISTICS. It is never easily attained, and it is quite

unattainable without the conditions on which it depends. These must be



Ø      A right aim. Each of the living creatures is said to go, as the words may

be rendered literally, “in the direction of his face.” If he faced an

impassable barrier, a huge cliff, or a yawning chasm, straightforward

progress would be impossible. If he laced a wrong way it would be

undesirable. Don Quixote rides straightforward in tilting at a windmill, and

only gets an ignominious fall. The youth in ‘Excelsior ‘ goes

straightforward in his alpine climbing, and is rewarded in the useless death

of a fanatic. Heavenly conduct can be continuously direct, because in

heaven there is no need of repentance. The first step for us on earth is to

face about to the right. Conversion must precede consistency.


Ø      A fixed gaze. This is implied in the reference to the direction of the face.

The look ahead precedes the movement forward. The blind man falls into

the ditch. If any one walks blindfolded he is sure to move circuitously. The

ploughman who would cut a straight furrow must not notice the daisies by

his side or the lark overhead; he must fix his eyes on the end of his course.

The Christian must run straight, by “looking unto Jesus, the Author and

Finisher of the faith.”


Ø      Harmony of powers and energies. The living creatures of Ezekiel’s

vision are strangely composite — various faces, calves’ feet, birds’ wings.

Yet faces, feet, and wings all turn in one direction. There is no “schism in

the body.” The schism in our nature between flesh and spirit, and the

consequent contradiction of our aims, accounts for the crooked paths we

take. The internal harmony of a life at peace is necessary for a

straightforward course.


Ø      Spiritual direction. The movement is “whither the spirit was to go.” The

higher nature must conquer, command, and direct the lower. Conscience

must be supreme. Spiritual thought and feeling must be paramount. The

Spirit of God must be sought and yielded to as the guide and impulse of all

the life’s course.


13 “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.” Like burning coals of fire, etc.

It may not be amiss to note the fact that the phrase throughout the Bible

denotes incandescent wood. The nearest approach to its use by Ezekiel is in

II Samuel 22:9,13. For “lamps,” read, with the Revised Version, “torches.”

Here the vision of Ezekiel, in which the living creatures were thus incandescent,

bathed, as it were, in the fire that played around them, yet not consumed,

followed in the path of previous symbols — of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2),

of the pillar of fire by night (Ibid. ch.13:22), of the fire on Sinai (Ibid. ch.19:18),

of the “fire of the Lord” (Numbers 11:1-3), and the “fire of God” (II Kings 1:12).

Speaking generally, “fire,” as distinct from “light,” seems to be the symbol of the

power of God as manifested against evil. “Our God is a consuming Fire”

(Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). The red light of fire has in it an element

of terror which is absent from the stainless white of the eternal glory, or from the

sapphire of the visible firmament. Lightning (compare Exodus 19:16;

20:18; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18).


There are men in whose breasts the fire of God burns dimly. The embers

smolder in a dull mass, threatening speedy extinction. Love is chilling,

faith is fainting; as for the flame of hope, that is long since dead. On the

other hand, the bright fire may stand for fresh warmth of soul, a burning

zeal, a passion of devotion, a glow of heavenly love.


14 “And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a

flash of lightning.” Ran and returned. Compare the “to and fro” of

Zechariah 4:10. The comparison implies at once suddenness (as in Matthew

24:27) and overwhelming brightness.



Unseen Forms of Intelligent Ministry (vs. 5-14)


Man is only a part, though an integral part, of the active universe of God.

Even inert matter is pervaded by dynamic forces, such as attraction, heat,

and electricity; and every part of God’s creation is executing, either

intelligently or ignorantly, His supreme will. To a heathen monarch he made

a startling revelation, “I girded thee, though thou hast not known me”

(Isaiah 45:5).  These cherubic forms (seen first at the gate of Eden, and again

in symbol over the mercy seat) are representatives of all creature life, both

terrestrial and super terrestrial. Human science is not the measure of God’s




cubical, having length, breadth, and thickness, so the number four is the

prophetic sign for our terrestrial globe. Hence we have in the vision a four-

faced form of life, with one aspect towards each quarter of the globe.

There is completeness and sufficiency in all God’s arrangements. The

manifold varieties of creature life are ordained to do their Master’s will, in

whatever quarter of the world exigency may arise. This is an intimation:


Ø      of help to the righteous, but

Ø      of vengeance to the wicked.


·         NOTE THEIR INTELLIGENT QUALITIES. The human form is

prominent in the prophetic picture, indicative of the fact that intelligence

and reason are the ruling attributes. The universe is not a promiscuous

assemblage of dead atoms, nor is the life of men the march of inexorable

fate. Combined with the intelligence of man, is the courage of the lion, the

patient endurance of the ox, and the swift speed of the eagle. The noblest

service which God’s creatures can render, falls immeasurably short of the

requirements of God. Yet are our powers never so ennobled or enlarged as

when engaged in His work. To Him must our very best be consecrated. Far

from exhausting our strength, God’s service renews and refreshes the

spirit. There is always a latent reserve of power. The more we do, the more

we can do. Two wings are at rest, while two are in motion.


  • MARK THEIR INTENSE DEVOTION. “Their appearance was like

burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps… the fire was

bright.” The nature of true servants was given to these living creatures.

They glowed with sympathetic ardor to fulfill their Monarch’s will. The

flame within was kindled and kept alive by an invisible hand, so that by

virtue of its intense energy, it touched and beautified every part of their

nature. As the ministers of Jehovah, they shared in His resplendent purity.



every one straight forward… whither the spirit was to go, they went.”

Service was a delight. It would have been a restraint upon the impulses and

energies of their nature — a very pain — if no service had been allotted

them. Hastening to execute the high behests of God, they go and return

like a lightning flash. Personality was retained in its full integrity, but self

was repressed; they moved spontaneously under the Divine impetus.

Self-will sweetly coalesced and identified itself with the will of God. The

perfection of a child spirit is reached when we can say as Jesus said,

“I do always the things that please Him” (John 8:29).  No by-ends,

nor sinister advantages, are sought by these dutiful servants. Each one

moves in a straightforward line. The shortest course is pursued to reach

the Divine end.



DIVERSITY. Each form of creature life had its special mission to fulfill; yet

each worked in harmony with the other for a common end. In appearance

they were conjoined, and yet were separate. The particular service to be

performed by the eagle’s wing could not be executed by the foot of the ox,

nor by the hand of the man. There is scope in God’s service for every

quality and attribute of soul.


  • NOTE THEIR SPECIAL COMMISSION. These ideal forms of

creature life were commissioned to chastise the rebellious nations. They

appear on this occasion as the executors of Divine vengeance. “Fire went

up and down among the living creatures, and the fire was bright, and out of

the fire went forth lightning.” When God comes forth to judge the earth, He

is accustomed to employ a variety of agents. Sometimes He employs the

material elements, as at Pompeii and Moscow. Sometimes He employs men

— even “men of the world, which are his hand”  (Psalm 17:14).  Sometimes

He employs the principalities and powers of heaven. “The angels are the

 reapers;” “They shall bind the tares in bundles to burn them.”  (Matthew

13:37-42).  John heard a voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels,

“Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth”

(Revelation 16:1).  The Jews in their exile, when Ezekiel appeared upon the

scene, were flattering themselves with the prospect of a speedy restoration

to liberty and to home; but the mission of Ezekiel was designed to dissipate

this false hope. A long night of chastisement was to precede the dawn of

mercy. The glowing fire and the lightning flame were impressive portents

of impending judgment. “Our God is a consuming fire.”  (Hebrews 12:29)


15 “Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the

earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.”  Behold one wheel, etc.

As the prophet gazed, yet another marvel presented itself — a “wheel” was seen.

It is “by” or “beside” (Revised Version) the living creatures, and “for each of

the four faces thereof” (Revised Version); i.e. as the next verse states definitely,

there were four wheels. We may compare the analogues of the “wheels” of fire in

the theophany of Daniel 7:9, and the chariot of the cherubim in I Chronicles 28:18.


16 “The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the

color 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.”  Like unto the color of a beryl. The Hebrew for “beryl”

(tarshish) suggests that the stone was called, like the turquoise, from the

region which produced it. Here and in Daniel 10:6 the Septuagint leaves it

untranslated. In Exodus 28:20 we find χρυσόλιθοςchrusalithos

chrysolite;  in ch.10:9 and 28:13 ἄνθραξ - anthrax, i.e. carbuncle. It is obvious,

from this variety of renderings, that the stone was not easily identified. Probably

it was of a red or golden color, suggesting the thought of fire rather than the

pale green of the aquamarine or beryl (see especially Daniel 10:6). They four had

one likeness, etc. A closer gaze led the prophet to see that there was a

plurality in the unity. For the one “wheel” we have four; perhaps, as some

have thought, two wheels intersecting at right angles, perhaps, one,

probably seen behind, perhaps also below, each of the living creatures.

They are not said actually to rest upon it, and the word “chariot” is not

used as it is in I Chronicles 28:18. They would seem rather to have

hovered over the wheels, moving simultaneously and in full accord with

them. The “wheels” obviously represent the forces and laws that sustain

the manifold forms of life represented by the “living creatures” and the

“Spirit.” In each case the number four is, as elsewhere, the symbol of

completeness. A wheel in the midst of (within, Revised Version) a wheel;

i.e. with an inner and outer circumference, the space between the two

forming the “ring” or felloe of v. 18.


17 “When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned

not when they went.”  When they went, etc. The meaning seems to be that the

relative position of the wheels and the living creatures was not altered by

motion. On “they turned not,” see note on v. 9. All suggests the idea of

orderly and harmonious working.


18 “As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and

their rings were full of eyes round about them four.” As for their rings, etc.

The “rings” or “felloes” of the wheels impressed the prophet’s mind with a

sense of awe, partly from their size, partly from their being “full of eyes.”

These were obviously, as again in ch. 10:12, and in the analogues of the

“stone with seven eyes” in Zechariah 3:9; 4:10, and the “four beasts

[i.e. ‘living creatures’] full of eyes,” in Revelation 4:6, symbols of the

omniscience of God working through the forces of nature and of history.

These were not, as men have sometimes thought, blind forces, but were

guided as by a supreme insight (compare II Chronicles 16:9).


19 “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.”  The wheels went by them; better, with Revised Version,

beside them; i.e. moving in parallel lines with them. And when the living

creatures went, etc. The truth embodied in the coincident movements of

the “living creatures” and the “wheels,” is the harmony of the forces and

laws of nature with its outward manifestations of might. In the two

directions of the movement, onward and upward — when the living

creatures were lifted up — we may see:


  • the operations of the two when they are within the range of man’s

knowledge, and, as it were, on the same plane with it; and

  • those which are as in a higher region beyond his ken.


20 “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 was to go, etc. The secret of the coincidence of the movements of the

“living creatures” and of the “wheels” was found in the fact, which the

prophet’s intuition grasped, that the phenomena of life and law HAD


of the living creature” (singular, because the four are regarded as one

complex whole), the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Revised Version margin, give

“the spirit of life,” a rendering tenable in itself, but the contextual meaning

of the word is in favor of the Authorized Version and the Revised Version text.


21 “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.”  When those went, these went. The words, strictly speaking,

add nothing to the previous description; but the prophet appears to have

wished to combine what he had before said separately, so as to make the

picture complete, before passing on to the yet more glorious vision that

next met his gaze.



 Nature’s Material Forces are the Active Servants of the Church (vs. 15-21)


New phenomena now appear to the prophet’s ecstatic vision. Wheels of

vast and appalling magnitude are seen, and seen in combination with the

cherubim. Now, wheels are essential parts of man’s mechanical

contrivances; therefore we are compelled to regard the material earth and

the encircling atmosphere as the scene of this activity. In a striking and

instructive manner we perceive God working in and through material

nature. We learn in this passage:




ends, which are plainly sought in nature, are evidently not final; they are

steps to a loftier end. It is possible that, in other planets, other aspects of

God’s glorious nature are in course of being unveiled; other purposes are

unfolding; other principles (perhaps not comprehensible by men) are being

developed. Our earth is consecrated and set apart for this high end, viz.

that it may be the theater for the display of moral redemption.



EXECUTION OF THIS PLAN. By the wheels of nature are symbolized all

mechanical and chemical forces. These are ever moving in their appropriate

activities; are, in their sphere, resistless. For the most part these activities

are a blessing to men; but if withstood, they injure and destroy. These great

dynamic forces do not act in a capricious and haphazard manner. They

follow implicitly the mandates of law; they are represented as “full of eyes;”

they are the docile, ready servants of the cherubim: “the spirit of the living

creatures is in the wheels also.” The same Divine Spirit which dwells in

angels and in men, possesses and potentiates (though in inferior measure)

the forces of nature. Mechanical forces yield to chemical; chemical forces

yield to vital; vital forces yield to intelligent; intelligent forces yield to

spiritual. A graduated scale of subordination appears, and in all there is the

manifestation of ONE CONTROLLING SPIRIT!  This complete

subordination of nature to the central purpose of redemption, is seen in the

miracles wrought by Jesus Christ. The intervening agents are not within the

range of human vision; yet, to a spiritual eye, they might have been (in part

at least) discerned. For to Nathanael Jesus Christ affirmed, with special

emphasis, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven

open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son

of man.”  (John 1:51)




the mind by the vision of these mysterious wheels is easy and rapid

motion. Celerity is made prominent by the fact that they went straight to

their destination: “They turned not when they went.” It was enough that

the volition of the Divine mind was expressed. “He spake: and lo! it was

done”  (Psalm 33:9); “Whither the spirit was to go, they went;” “The spirit

of the living creature was in the wheels.” If the cherubim were lifted up

from the earth, these wheels were lifted up; or when the cherubim stood,

the wheels stood.  Service in any direction — rest or motion — the wheels

instantly and spontaneously followed the Divine behest. Here saints may

find strong consolation: “God’s will is our sanctification.” His will shall

be done. For who can finally resist it?



APPALLS OUR FINITE MINDS. “The felloes of these wheels were so

high,” says the prophet, “that they were dreadful.” It is the ambition of the

human mind to measure and grasp the universe; and when, at length, we

begin to discover the magnitude and the minuteness of God’s works, we

fall prostrate under a sense of our impotence. (I recommend Fantastic Trip

on You Tube – CY – 2014).  “It is higher than heaven;  what can we know?

It is deeper than Hades; what can” our feeble intellect do? It should temper

our self-confidence, and induce in us profound modesty, to remember that

 we do not, while in the flesh, see objects as they absolutely exist; we see

only the likeness and appearance of realities.  A subjective element mingles

with the objective, in our consciousness.  “Now we know in part

(I Corinthians 13:12).  We anticipate the time when imperfect

knowledge shall give place to perfect certainty.




surely something to be gathered from the fact that the prophet makes

mention of these several colors. The fire which enfolded upon itself was

of the color of amber. The throne on which the Eternal sat was in

appearance like a sapphire stone. The living creatures were like burning

coals of fire. The wheels were like the color of the beryl — i.e. a bluish

green. These colors are constituent elements of the perfect white, and

imply that God’s righteousness (as well as His wisdom and goodness) is

manifest in all His works. The universe is imbued with a moral purpose.

“Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down

from heaven”   (Psalm 85:11);  “The mountains shall bring peace to the

people, and the little hills by righteousness.” (Ibid. 72:3)


22 “And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living

creature was as the color of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over

their heads above.” And the likeness of the firmament, etc. The word is the

same as that in Genesis 1, passim; Psalm 19:1; 150:1; Daniel 12:3. It

meets us again in vs. 23, 25-26, and in 10:1, but does not occur

elsewhere in the Old Testament. What met the prophet’s eye was the

expanse, the “body of heaven in its clearness” (Exodus 24:10), the deep

intense blue of an Eastern sky. Like the color of the terrible crystal, etc.

The Hebrew noun is not found elsewhere. Its primary meaning, like that of

the Greek κρύσταλλος - krustalloscrystal - is that of “cold,” and I incline

therefore to the  margin of the Revised Version, “ice.” Rock crystal, seen,

as it is, in small masses, and in its pure colorless transparency, hardly suggests

the idea of terror; but the intense brightness of masses of ice, as shining in the

morning sun, might well make that impression. Had Ezekiel seen the glories of

a mountain throne of ice as he looked up, on his way from Palestine to

Chaldea, at the heights of Lebanon, or Hermon, and thought of them as the

fitting symbol of the throne of God? We note, in this connection, the use of

“terrible” in Job 37:22 (see note on ver. 4).


23 “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.” Under the firmament, etc.

The description must be read as completing that of v. 11. The two upper wings

of the “living creatures” were not only stretched out, but they pointed to the

 azure canopy above them, not as sustaining it, but in the attitude of adoration.

Nature, in all her life phenomena, ADORES THE MAJESTY OF THE

ETERNAL!  (Think of the great dishonor done to God by giving honor due

to Him to Mother Nature!  This is widespread in the 21st Century.  Psalm 29:2

counsels us to “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.”  - CY – 2014)


24 “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 noise of their wings, etc. The wings representing the

soaring, ascending elements in nature, their motion answers to its

aspirations, their sounds to its inarticulate groanings (Romans 8:26) or

its chorus of praise. The noise of great waters may be that of the sea, or

river, or torrents. Ezekiel’s use of the term in ch. 31:7, in connection with the

cedars of Lebanon, seems in favor of the last. On the other hand, in ch.27:26;

Psalm 29:3; 107:23, the term is manifestly used for the seas. The thought appears

 again in Revelation 1:15; 19:6. In Psalm 29:3, et al., the “voice of the Lord” is

identified with thunder. For the voice of speech, which wrongly suggests articulate

utterance, read, with the Revised Version, a noise of tumult.


25 “And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their

heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.”

And there was a voice from the firmament. Revised Version

gives above. The prophet’s silence suggests that what he heard was at first

ineffable (compare II Corinthians 12:4), perhaps unintelligible. All that he

knew was that an awful voice, like thunder (compare John 12:29), came

from above the expanse of azure, and that it stilled the motion of the

wings, working peace, as in the midst of the endless agitations of the

universe. The wings that had been stretched upward are now folded, like

the others.



The Glory of the Eternal (vs. 4-25)


It is plain that Ezekiel was possessed, and all but overwhelmed, by a conviction

of the glorious attributes and universal sway of God. The imagery under

which he conceived and represented the Divine presence and government is

altogether different from either classical or modern art; but it would be a

narrow pedantry which on this account would repudiate it as valueless or

ineffective. In fact, it is opulent, varied, and impressive. Everything earthly

must come short of setting forth Divine glory; yet much is communicated

or suggested by this vision of the majesty of the Eternal which may aid us

to apprehend God’s character, and reverently to study God’s kingly

operations carried on throughout the universe.



It was in these, as in a setting, that the more specific forms discerned by the

prophet were enshrined. The stormy wind from the north, the great cloud

with its flashing fire, the amber brightness gleaming about it, — all these

are manifestations of an unseen but mighty power, recognized by the spirit

as Divine. This is certainly a stroke of the true artist, first to portray the

material, the vehicle, and then to proceed to paint in the more defined

symbolic figures. The modern doctrine of the correlation and convertibility

of forces points us to the unity which is at the heart of all things, and

convinces us that we are in a universe, a cosmos, which, if it is to be

explained by any rational and spiritual power behind it, must be explained


prophets alike find scope for their imagination in connecting all the

phenomena and the forces of nature with the creative Spirit conceived

as revealed by their means.



CREATURES. There is, of course, no intention to picture any actually

existing animals under the imagery of the vs. 5-14. But we have a

symbolic representation of life. Every observer is conscious that, in passing

from mechanical and chemical forces to consider the manifold forms of life,

he is climbing, so to speak, to a higher platform. Living beings, in all their

wonderful and admirable variety of structure and of formation, are

witnesses to the wisdom and the power of the Creator. Let Science tell us

of the order and of the process of their appearing; the fact of their

appearing, in whatever manner, is a welcome taken of the Divine interest in

this earth and its population. If the poet delights to trace God’s splendor

in “the light of setting suns,” the physicist may with equal justice

investigate in organic nature the handiwork of the All-wise. Late is the

work of the living God, in whom all creatures “live, and move, and have

their being”  (Acts 17:28).  A lifeless planet would lack, not only the

interest with which our earth must be regarded, but something of the

evidence which tells us GOD IS HERE AND IS EVER CARRYING




ATTRIBUTES. Each living one in the prophet’s vision possessed a

fourfold aspect or countenance; the combination being intended to enrich

our conceptions of the handiwork of God, and the witness of that

handiwork to Him. Interpretations differ; but it is not uncommon to

recognize in the ox the sacrificial, in the lion the powerful and regal, in the

eagle the aspiring, elements, added to the true humanity, and combining

with it to complete the representation. The four Gospels have been

generally regarded as exhibiting severally these four characteristics; and

accordingly the symbol of Matthew is the man, of Mark the lion, of Luke

the ox, of John the eagle.



INTELLIGENCE. The wheels had their rings or felloes “full of eyes round

about.” This is symbolical of understanding, because sight is the most

intellectual of the senses, the eye being the medium of the greater part of

our most valuable knowledge of the world without. Conscious intelligence

can only arise through participation in the Divine nature (II Peter 1:4);  it is

the subject, not the object, of knowledge. In an especial manner the intellect

witnesses to the glory of God, for by it we have insight into the Divine

reason. In the exercise of the prerogative of knowledge and judgment, in

insight and intuition, we are putting forth powers which are in themselves

among the most splendid and convincing testimonies to “the Father of

lights.”  (James 1:17)



UTTERANCE. The prophet in his vision heard the noise of the wings of

the living ones, and the voice above the firmament — appealing to the

sense, not of sight, but of hearing. It is perhaps not fanciful to discern here

a conscious, voluntary witness to God borne by His creation, and especially

by those endowed with the human prerogative of speech, as the utterance

and expression of thought and reason. The music of the spheres, the voice

of the stars, “the melody of woods and winds and waters,” all testify to

God. The poet represents the heavenly bodies as


“Forever singing as they shine,

‘The hand that made us is Divine.’”


Yet the articulate, definite, and intelligible utterances of beings endowed

with intellect and with speech are necessary to enrich and to complete the

chorus of adoration and praise offered by earth to heaven. The tongue, “the

glory of the frame,” has its place to fill, its witness to bear, in the service of

the vast, illimitable temple.




AND EARTH. The living creatures had wings by which they soared into

the sky; they reposed and ran, however, upon wheels, by which they

maintained their connection with the solid ground. This remarkable

combination of wings and wheels seems to point to the twofold aspect of

all creation. All things have an earthly and a heavenly side. If wheels alone

were provided, earth would seem cut off from heaven; if wings alone, the

terrestrial element would be lacking, which would be a contradiction to

obvious fact. Man has a body, and bodily needs and occupations, which

link him to the earth; but he has also a spiritual nature and life which

witness his relation to the ever-living Godthe Spirit who seeketh such

to worship him as worship in spirit and in truth  (John 4:23-24).  Yet his

whole nature is created by God, and redeemed by Christ; and his service

and sacrifice, in order to being acceptable, must be undivided and complete.

Whether we regard the nature of the individual man, or regard the Church

which is the body of Christ, we are constrained to acknowledge that all

parts of the living nature — body, soul, and spirit — are summoned to unite

in revealing to the universe THE INCOMPARABLE MAJESTY AND



26 “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.” The likeness of a throne. The greatest glory was kept

to the last. High above the azure expanse was the likeness of a throne (we note

the constant recurrence of the word “likeness,” nine times in this one

chapter, as indicating Ezekiel’s consciousness of the vision character of

what he saw). The idea of the throne of the great King first appears in

I Kings 22:19, is frequent in the Psalms (Psalm 9:4, 7; 11:4; 45:6),

notably in Isaiah 6:1. In the visions of John (Revelation 1:4, and

passim) it is the dominant, central object throughout. As the appearance

of a sapphire stone. The intense blue of the sapphire has made it in all

ages the natural symbol of a heavenly purity. Ezekiel’s vision reproduces

that of Exodus 24:10. It appears among the gems of the high priest’s

breastplate (Ibid. ch.28:18; 39:11) and in the “foundations” of the wall of

the heavenly city,  Revelation 21:19. The description of the sapphire given

by Pliny (‘Hist. Nat.,’ 37:9), as “never transparent, and refulgent with spots

of gold,” suggests lapis lazuli. As used in the Old Testament, however, the

word probably means the sapphire of modern jewelry (Braun, ‘De Vest.

Sacerd.,’ p. 630, edit. 1680). A likeness as of the appearance of a man.

The throne, the symbol of the sovereignty of God over the “living

creatures” and the “wheels,” over the forces and the laws which they

represented, is not empty. There was “a likeness as of the appearance” (we

note again the accumulation of words intended to guard against the

thought that what was seen was more than an approximate symbolism) “of

a man.” In that likeness there was the witness that we can only think of

God by reasoning upward from all that is highest in our conceptions of

human greatness and goodness, and thinking of them as free from their

present limitations. Man’s highest thought of God is that it is “a face like

his face that receives him.” He finds a humanity in the Godhead. It is

noticeable that this preluding anticipation of the thought of the Incarnation,

not recognized in the vision of Moses (Exodus 24:10) or Isaiah (6:1),

appears prominently in the two prophets of the exile — here and in the

memorable Messianic vision of “One like unto the [‘a,’ Revised Version]

Son of man” in Daniel 7:13. What might have been perilously

anthropomorphic in the early stages of the growth of Israel, when men

tended to identify the symbol with the thing symbolized, was now made

subservient to the truth which underlies even anthropomorphic thought

(compare Revelation 1:13). Irenaeus (‘Adv. Haer.,’ 4:20. 10), it may be

noted, dwells on the fact that Ezekiel uses the words, “‘haec visio

similitudmis gloriae Domini,’ ne quis putaret forte eum in his proprie

vidisse Deum.”


27 “And I saw as the color 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 color of amber. The “amber” (see note on v. 4)

represents the purity and glory of the Divine nature — the truth that God

is light” in His eternal essence. The “fire” which, here as ever, represents

the wrath of God against evil, is round about within it, i.e. is less

absolutely identified with the Divine will, of which it is yet an almost

constant manifestation. It is, in the language of the older logicians, an

inseparable accident rather than part of its essential nature.


28 “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.”

As the appearance of the bow. The glorious epiphany was

completed, as in Revelation 4:3 and 10:1, by the appearance of the

rainbow. The symbol of God’s faithfulness, and of the hope that rested on

it (Genesis 9:13). was seen in the glory of the Divine perfection, even in

the midst of the fire of the Divine wrath. Mercy and love are thought of as


ITS HISTORY, attempering the chastisements which are needed for those

with whom that love is dealing. The whole complex appearances of Ezekiel’s

descriptions, including the arch of prismatic colors, finds its nearest natural

analogue, as has been before suggested (note on v. 4), in the phenomena of the

Northern Lights. I fell upon my face. As in ch.3:23; Daniel 8:17-19; compare

Revelation 10:5-6; Ibid. ch. 1:17, the prostrate attitude of lowliest adoration,

the dread and awe of one who has seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and yet

survives, was a preparation for the more direct revelation to his consciousness

of the Word and will of Jehovah (comp. Dante ‘Inferno,’ 3:136; 5:142).



The Providential Government of God (vs. 4-28)


This is acknowledged even by some of the ablest expositors to be a most

difficult portion of sacred Scripture. Isaac Casaubon says that “in the

whole of the Old Testament there is nothing more obscure than the

beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel.” And Calvin “acknowledges

that he does not understand this vision.” Yet we would humbly and

reverently endeavor to set forth what appear to us to be the principal

teachings of this marvelous vision. Its chief meaning the prophet himself

tells us when he says that he saw “the appearance of the likeness of the

glory of Jehovah” (v. 28). But in this case that glory is His glory in the

providential government of our world. In dealing with this subject we may

perhaps bring out the main teachings of our text by considering:





Ø      The entire animate creation is thus employed. Great is the diversity of

opinion as to the meaning of the four living creatures, the likeness of

which Ezekiel saw (vs. 4-10). We will state what we believe to be their

true significance. As delineated by the prophet “it is an ideal

combination,” as Fairbairn says; “no such composite creature exists in

the actual world.” And the name by which they are called, living ones,

presents them to our view as exhibiting the property of life in its highest

state of power and activity; as forms of creaturely existence altogether

instinct with life.”  Hengstenberg says that the living creatures are

“the ideal combination of all that lives on earth.” We regard them as

intended to symbolize the whole living creation of God. And their

composition, relations, and movements teach us that every variety

and order of life is employed in His providential government of

our world. The endeavor has been made to assign a specific meaning

to each different portion of the living creatures. The symbolism unfolds

itself to us thus: “The likeness of a man” indicates mental and moral

powers; e.g. reason, conscience, affections, etc. “The hands of a man”

indicate dexterity, power of skilful and active service. “The face of a

lion” suggests strength (compare Proverbs 30:30), courage (Ibid. 28:1),

and sovereignty. “The face of an ox” leads us to think of patient,

diligent, productive labor (compare Ibid. ch. 14:4). And

“the face of an eagle” suggests the power of soaring high above the

earth (compare Job 39:27; Isaiah 40:31), the keen, searching gaze, and

the far extended vision. In the evolution of His providential government

God employs powers of every kind and degree. The convincing reasoner

and the eloquent speaker, the man of brilliant imagination and the man of

patient investigation, the skilful inventor and the diligent handicraftsman,

and men and women and little children even, having only feeble and

commonplace abilities, God uses in the working out of His great designs.

All creatures, from the lowest insect to the highest intelligence, are subject

to His control and subservient to His purposes. It is doubtful whether the

symbolism of the living creatures includes the angelic creation. But apart

from this vision, we know that angels are employed by God in His

providential government of our world. Illustrations of such employment

abound in the sacred Scriptures. Endless in variety and countless in

number are the agents which He employs.


Ø      The great forces of nature are thus employed by God. (vs. 15-21.)

The wheels symbolize the powers of nature. Their relation to the living

creatures, and the relation of both to the great God, is thus pictorially set

forth by Hengstenberg: “The whole was designed to represent a kind of

vehicle, in which the Lord occupied the place of the charioteer, the living

creature the place of the chariot, under which are the powers of nature

represented by the wheels.” This interpretation of the meaning of the

wheels is confirmed by Psalm 18:10: “He rode upon a cherub, and did

fly; yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind;” Psalm 104:3: “Who

maketh the clouds His chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the

wind,” etc.; Psalm 148:8: “Fire, and hail; snow, and vapors; stormy

wind fulfilling His word.” All the forces of nature serve God, and are

used by Him in the execution of His purposes. In the case before us

these powers are represented as about to be employed for judgment

upon the unfaithful Jews. But they are also employed for purposes

of mercy and grace. He can use them for the protection of His

faithful people, as well as for the punishment of the rebellious.





Ø      The immensity of its extent. It is said of the rings, or circumference, of

the wheels that “they were so high that they were dreadful;” or, “they

were both high and terrible.” How vast are the designs and doings of

the providence of God! That providence goes back into the

immeasurable and awful past; it reaches onward into the endless future

(Romans 11:33-36).  It embraces an infinity of events, some of which

are of stupendous importance.


Ø      The complexity of its movements. We read of the wheels that “their

appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of

a wheel” (v. 16). The wheels are not ordinary wheels,but double

wheels, one set into the other.  Looking upon the working of an

elaborate and intricate machine or engine, the uninitiated are

bewildered by the movements, the relations and bearings of

which they know not.  Somewhat thus do we contemplate the

operations of the providential government of God. “Thy way is

in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps

 are not known”  (Psalm 77:19); “Oh the depth of the riches both

of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His

judgments, and His ways past finding out!”  (Romans 11:33). 

Unfathomably deep to us are the mysteries of the Divine providence.


Ø      The wisdom of its direction. The rings of the wheels were “full of eyes

round about them” (v. 18). Eyes are the symbols of intelligence. The

forces of nature are not blind or aimless in their movements, but are

directed by the All-wise. And however inexplicable to us the workings

of the providential government of God may be, they are guided and

controlled by infinite intelligence and goodness.


Ø      The harmoniousness of its operation. “When the living creatures went,

the wheels went by them,” etc. (vs. 19-21). One Spirit animated the

whole. The one Power which employs and controls the whole living

creation also governs the inanimate forces of nature, so that all

cooperate towards one great and blessed end. Though the great

powers at work in our world often seem to us to be in conflict,

yet in His providence God is prompting some, and restraining others,

for the accomplishment of His own gracious and glorious purposes.

“All things work together for good to them that love God.”

(Romans 8:28)


Ø      The progressiveness of its movements. “They turned not when they

went; they went every one straight forward” (v. 9); “They went every

one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; they

turned not when they went” (v. 12). Real and great progress is being

made in our world. The former days were not better than these. The

social condition of the people improves; education advances along the

whole line; science makes great and rapid strides; in the apprehension

of revealed truth there is marked progress; and Christian principles

and practice are ever extending their empire. Under the providential

government of God, the world is moving, not to the darkness of

midnight, but to the splendors of noontide.






Ø      The manifestation of the God-Man. We have spoken of the

manifestation of the God-Man; but Ezekiel does not say that he saw

either man or God. Very guarded are his words: “Upon the likeness

 of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above

upon it” (v. 26). He tells us that he also saw “the appearance of the

likeness of the glory of the Lord” (v. 28). It was a vision, perhaps as

clear as the prophet was capable of receiving, of the Divine-Human.

We can have no doubt of the Person thus indicated. It was a

foreshadowing of the incarnation of the Son of God; an

anticipation of God manifest in the flesh.


Ø      The supremacy of the God-Man. Upon the likeness of the throne

Was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.”

The Lord is upon the throne. He is the great Head of the providential

government of God.  All created life, and all nature’s forces, are

subject to His control. “All power is given unto Him in heaven

and in earth”  (Matthew 28:18).  This fact is rich in consolation

and in inspiration to all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.


Ø      The gracious fidelity of the God-Man. “As the appearance of the bow

that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the

brightness that was round about. This was the appearance of the

likeness of the glory of the Lord.” The meaning of “the bow that

is in the cloud” is determined by Genesis 9:12-17. It indicates that

in the severe judgments which were coming upon the chosen people,

God would not forget the gracious covenant which He had made

with their fathers. Even the judgments would be inflicted for their

well being, and after the judgments there would be a return of

prosperity and of the manifest favor of God (compare Isaiah 54:7-10).

In wrath He remembers mercy. The God-Man presides over the

providential government of our world IN INFINITE FIDELITY

AND GRACE!   He reigns to bless and to save.  The Lord

reigns.  (See Psalms 97-103)




He Who is upon the Throne (vs. 26-28)


There is a natural tendency to clothe the spiritual in material form, and thus

to bring the invisible and impalpable within the range and sphere of sense.

It must not be supposed that, when the inspired writers, in this and similar

passages, depict in imagery of material splendor the presence of the

Almighty, they are misled by their own language, and forget that “God is a

Spirit.” Their aim is to represent, in such a way as shall impress the mind,

the glorious attributes of the Eternal, to suggest the relations which He

sustains to His creatures, and to inspire those emotions which are becoming

to the subjects of Divine authority in approaching their rightful King. Thus

understood, the language of this passage is fitted to help us to conceive

aright of Him whom no man hath seen.  (I Timothy 6:16)



The living creatures are depicted as above the earth, but below the

heavens. Above the firmament that was over their heads, the prophet in his

vision saw the dim form which shadowed forth the presence of the Eternal.

Position, we know, is relative, and it would be absurd to take this

representation as literal. Yet how instructive and inspiring is this picture!

Ezekiel took the same view of the great Author of all being as was taken

by Isaiah, who saw the Lord “high and lifted up”  (Isaiah 6:1).  Raise

our thoughts as we may, God is still immeasurably above us. When we

speak of him as “the Most High,” we are striving, in such language, to

set forth His infinite superiority to ourselves and to all the works of His




throne speaks, not only of greatness, but of power and of right to rule. God

is the King, to whose sway all creation is subject, and to whose moral

authority all His creatures who are endowed with an intelligent and

voluntary nature should delight to offer A GLAD OBEDIENCE!   His

commands are the laws which we are bound to obey; His voice is for us

the welcome voice of rightful authority. The religion of the Bible is a

religion which enjoins and requires obedience and subjection. Christianity

is the revelation of a kingdom which is righteousness, peace, and joy in

the Holy Ghost.  (Romans 14:17)


  • THE HUMANITY OF THE DIVINE BEING. Such language may at

first hearing sound almost daring. And nothing would be further from the

truth than to suggest that the Deity is subject to human frailties and

infirmities, such as the heathen — both savage and cultivated — have been

in the habit of attributing to their gods. But there is great significance in the

language of Ezekiel, when he tells us that upon the throne of universal

empire “there was the appearance of a man.” We have thus brought before

us the glorious truth that the human nature is akin to THE DIVINE!

We can reason to some extent from our own thoughts and feelings to

those of the Infinite Spirit. The resemblance is of course partial, but it

is real. And believers in the Incarnation cannot but recognize the

justice and the preciousness of this representation of the prophet.


  • THE SPLENDOR OF THE DIVINE BEING. Ezekiel uses all the

resources of nature to invest his representation of the Eternal with

unapproachable splendor. He failed, where all must fail, in the attempt to

portray that which cannot be portrayed. His language, glowing as it is,

gives but hints and suggestions of glory which surpasses human

apprehension. Yet, as he speaks of sapphire and amber, of fire and

brightness, we feel that his mind was impressed with the Divine glory, and

that his description is fitted to awaken our profoundest and loftiest

reverence and adoration.


  • THE MERCY OF THE DIVINE BEING. No picture of the character

and attributes of the Supreme would be complete which did not include

mercy. Man stands pressingly in need of THE DIVINE COMPASSION!

Man’s weakness, his sin, his helplessness, are such, that Divine pity is his

only hope. Now, the bow in the cloud is the emblem of mercy. The rain, the

dense dark clouds, the floods upon the earth, represent affliction,

chastisement, distress. But the sun of grace and kindness shines through

the gloom; the rainbow spans the sky, and its beauty cheers the soul of the

beholder, as with an assurance of compassion, as with a promise of relief.

Mercy is the crowning attribute of the Supreme. God is our King and

Judge; but He has not forgotten to be gracious; He is also our Father and

our Saviour.


The Rainbow (v. 28)


The glory of God is here compared to a rainbow. Observe some of the

points of resemblance.


  • A HEAVENLY SPLENDOR. There is beauty on earth in the flowers

of the field, in the plumage of birds, in the brightness of insect life, and in

innumerable objects of the great garden of nature. There is also beauty in

heaven. The smile of God is heaven’s sunshine; His presence is the joy of

the eternal summer of that perfect clime. To see God is to behold the

highest beauty. Happy the soul to which it can be said, Thine eyes shall

see the King in his beauty” (Isaiah 33:17).  Men who shrink from Divine

things as though they were dull and unattractive are as yet blind to the

true nature of them.  The house of God is a place of gladness for those

who have learned to worship in the beauty of holiness.


  • A HARMONY OF VARIOUS ELEMENTS. All colors are present in

the rainbow, ranged in perfect order and blending where they meet without

any harshness of contrast. There is rich variety in the glory of God. Each

may find there his favorite hues of the perfect character. Some may select

the true blue of faithfulness, others may prefer the glowing red of love. To

one the golden splendor of perfection is most entrancing, to a second the

imperial purple appears as the supremely important color, to a third the

green that reminds him of sweet fields of nature and earthly beauty may

seem most attractive. All are present in the rich pleroma of glory. And all

are in harmony. There is no clashing of Divine attributes. “Mercy and truth

are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”

(Psalm 85:10).


  • A CONTRAST WITH CLOUD AND STORM. The bow is “in the

cloud.” It is seen “in the day of rain.” These facts give it the peculiar

significance which we attach to it. All is not bright. Therefore the serene

arc is the more welcome; and when it stands against an inky thundercloud

its brightness is most apparent. There can be no rainbow on a cloudless

day. The glory of God’s goodness is seen in contrast with the thunders of

wrath against sin. It is most visible in days of storm and terror if only men

will look up for it.


  • A PROMISE OF ETERNAL MERCY. The rainbow recalls God’s

primitive promise to Noah (Genesis 9:12-17). But each rainbow is a

new appearance, and therefore a fresh pledge or the old world promise.

Apart from the special application of the bow to the Flood in the covenant

with Noah, it is a natural token of mercy in the midst of judgment, and thus

a natural sign of God’s saving grace. The glory of God is like this rainbow.

He is glorious, therefore, in His mercy. LOVE is the chief beauty of the

character of God, as indeed it is ITS CENTRAL FACT!


  • A BROAD REVELATION. All can see the rainbow. It stretches wide

from hill to plain, from frowning cliff to far across the purple waves of the

storm lashed sea. The glory of God’s grace is not a choice fact for a few

rare souls to enjoy. It is THE SUBSTANCE OF A WORLD WIDE GOSPEL!

 All are invited to behold it.



Reverence (v. 28)


In order that the prophet might be prepared to discharge his prophetic

ministry aright, it was necessary that, in the first place, he should

experience a just conception of the greatness, holiness, and authority of the

Being by whom he was commissioned. He could only then appear in a

proper attitude before men when he had found what was his proper

attitude before God. The fear of the King of heaven alone could preserve

him from any fear of those whom he was directed to visit as an authorized

ambassador. Hence there was first afforded to Ezekiel a vision of the

Eternal Majesty — a vision which doubtless often recurred to his memory

when he was fulfilling the duties devolving upon him as the servant and

messenger of Jehovah to men, and when he encountered incredulity,

neglect, scorn, or opposition.



thing, reverence is another. Fear is awakened by the sense and

apprehension of personal danger; reverence is enkindled by the sight of

supreme goodness, purity, and power. It may be base to fear; it must be

honorable and profitable to venerate. It is the prerogative of man to

recognize, to admire, to adore supreme excellence.



REVERENCE. Within limits it is right and good that we should honor

and revere our fellow men. The child may justly revere the parent, the

pupil, the teacher, the subject the king. Yet there is but One who may be

revered with no qualification, with no reserve. The Divine attributes are

such that, the more we study them, the more we shall find in them

deserving of wondering and adoring awe, and the more shall we be

assured that there is in them an infinity of excellence which is

unfathomable, undiscoverable.  (“O the depth of the riches both of

the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His

judgments, and His ways past finding out!”  - Romans 11:33)




beautiful simplicity, “I fell upon my face.” Overcome with the vision of

natural and moral perfection, the prophet felt himself unfit to look up, felt

that his right place was in the dust. It is meet and proper theft we should

manifest the emotions which we justly feel. With reverence and godly fear

should human spirits, conscious alike of dependence and of ill desert, draw

near to the Infinite Holiness and Strength. Familiarity in devotion is hateful

and contemptible; lowly veneration is both becoming and acceptable.





Ø      It is good for us profoundly to feel our inferiority, our dependence,

our innumerable necessities.

Ø      It is good for us to receive the revelation of God that is only made

to the lowly and submissive.

Ø      It is good that reverent, prophetic spirits should be the channel by

which men may submissively receive authoritative representations

of Divine glory and Divine grace.



    The Vision of God is the Source of Prophetic Inspiration (vs. 22-28)


We cannot fail to observe in Scripture that the prominent prophets were

prepared for their responsible work by an ecstatic sight of Deity. Without a

clear and overpowering sense of the greatness of God, along with the

undeserved honor of being His messenger, mortal men shrink from the

perilous task of reproving and warning their fellows. This was the royal

university in which the prophets received their high commission; and every

evangelic prophet, too, must hear his message from Jehovah’s lips before

he can speak with authority to the people. In the words of  Paul, modern

preachers should be able to say, “I have received of the Lord that which

also I delivered unto you.”  (I Corinthians 11:23)  We learn:




eminence measured by intrinsic excellence, not by intervening space. That

both angels and men — all the principalities and powers — are symbolized

in the “living creatures” (or cherubim) is evident from the fact that

immediately above the wings of these ideal beings stretched the floor of

heaven — a crystal firmament, awe-inspiring in its splendor — and on this

was erected the sapphire throne of Deity. Between the blue transparent

floor of the heavenly palace and the wings of the cherubim no distance

intervened. “He is not far from every one of us; in him we live and

move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:27-28).  We may see, not only

the rod, but also the hand that has appointed it. “Because He

is at my right hand, I shall not be moved”  (Psalm 16:8);  “The Lord

of hosts is with us” (Ibid. ch. 46;76);  “Thou encompassest my path”

(Ibid. ch. 139:3); “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

(Matthew 5:8)




also by Isaiah, occupying a throne. This implies that He has not given

Himself up to majestic and well earned repose. The crystal firmament and

the sapphire throne bespeak the presence of serene and perfect peace. Yet

there is no indolence in heaven. Perfect life means constant activity. “My

Father worketh hitherto, and I work”  (John 5:17); “They serve Him day

 and night in His temple”  (Revelation 7:15).  It is an exploded fallacy of

the skeptics that God has withdrawn Himself from the scenes of earth,

and takes no interest in human affairs.  The very opposite is the truth.

He acts mediately in the most minute changes and events. “His throne

 is prepared in the heavens: His kingdom ruleth over all.”  (Psalm




IN HUMAN FORM. This is an unquestionable honor put upon human

nature. We have in these visions of Ezekiel mysterious forms of cherubic

life, but God does not disclose Himself to the view of the prophet in any of

these forms. “Verily He took not on Him the nature of angels” (Hebrews

2:16).  It is nowhere said that God created the angels in His own image.

It is said that man was formed after the likeness of Himself. It is nowhere

said that recovery was provided for fallen angels; for man it is provided,

and at prodigious expense. Angels are uniformly styled “servants;” the

redeemed from humanity are designated “sons.” In the apocalpytic

visions of John, the angels stand in an outer circle round about the throne;

while the elders — representatives of the Church — sit on thrones nearer

to the Deity. God has put stupendous honor on human nature. There is a

Man upon the highest throne. God has stooped to our poor level, that He

Might raise us up to His. “We are to be partakers of the Divine nature”

(II Peter 1:4).  In this vision granted to Ezekiel we have a forecast of the

Incarnation — an anticipation of Bethlehem.



AGAINST SIN. The glorious Being who occupied the throne, presented in

one respect a twofold appearance. From the loins — as a dividing line —

upwards He appeared as chasmal, electron — as when gold and silver are

fused in the flame. From the loins downward there was the appearance of

fire. No other interpretation can be put upon this, but that the God of

heaven was about to proceed on an errand of judgment. It was still in His

heart to forgive, if only men would abandon the abominable thing; but the

lower parts of His person — His legs and feet — burned with fierce resolve

to vindicate His outraged honor. Similar is the declaration of the Apostle

Paul, that “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven, in flaming fire

taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel

of his Son;”  (II Thessalonians 2;8); “He will burn up the chaff with

unquenchable fire;” (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17);  “Our God is a

 consuming Fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)



COVENANTED MERCY, “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.” The execution of righteous retribution upon the ungodly will be an

occasion of advantage, and blessing to the redeemed. The blacker the

storm cloud, the more clear and beauteous is the rainbow traced upon its

departing form, when the Sun of Righteousness again shines forth. This is

God’s repeated proclamation of mercy — the renewal of his gracious

covenant. This brightness was round about Jehovah’s head — a halo of

glory, a diadem of transcendent beauty — redemption’s matchless crown.

In it are blended all the attributes of Divine perfection, from the scarlet hue

of righteousness to the soft blue of perfect peace. “He will be ever mindful

of his covenant”  (Psalm 111:5; 105:8); and it increases our strong consolation

to be ever mindful of it also. On the raindrops this heavenly bow of beauty

is sketched, as if to suggest that on the daily gifts which flow from the Divine

hand we may discern the “everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and

sure.”  (II Samuel 23:5)




magnificent visions was intended to prepare the mind of the prophet to

receive new disclosures of truth, new commissions of duty. The splendor

of the scene, when once the prophet’s visual organ was enlarged — the

glorious sovereignty of Jehovah especially — so impressed and awed the

prophet’s mind, that he fell upon his face. Nothing so humbles the proud

heart of man as the sight of God, or even a general sense of His nearness.

In the presence of God’s greatness, he perceived by contrast his own

littleness; in the presence of God’s purity, he saw his own vileness; under a

sense of God’s absolute rule, he was constrained to render glad and

preempt obedience. Such lowliness of spirit is a prerequisite for the

Master’s service. “The meek will He teach his way”   (Psalm 25:9). 

Because the lawgiver of Israel was the meekest of men, God “made

known His ways unto Moses” (Ibid. 103:7).  So is it still. “With the

froward thou wilt show thyself froward  (II Samuel 22:27; Psalm

18:26).  Humility of mind is the only attitude in which we can wait

with patience at wisdom’s gate, and really pray, “Speak, Lord; for

thy servants hear”  (I Samuel 3:10).  And still God speaks to humble

men. Prayer is not a mere traditional custom of piety. It is a real

application poured into the attentive ear of God, and gracious messages

of love come to us in return. Said our Lord in His last days on earth,

“If a man love me, he will keep my commandments, and my

Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode

With him.”   (John 14:23 - God has the ability and desire to live in every

man, woman and child SIMULTANEOUSLY!  - CY – 2014)  Ezekiel —

a man of like passions with ourselves — records, “I heard the voice of

One that spake.”  (v. 28)


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                                                The Bright Fire (v. 13)


“And the fire was bright.” Either the living creatures themselves seem to be

transformed into fire, to be glowing with fire, or the prophet means to tell

us that he saw a bright fire in the midst of them. In any case this fire is part

of the heavenly vision. It is symbolical of the life of perfection.



There are men in whose breasts the fire of God burns dimly. The embers

smoulder in a dull mass, threatening speedy extinction. Love is chilling,

faith is fainting; as for the flame of hope, that is long since dead. On the

other hand, the bright fire may stand for fresh warmth of soul, a burning

zeal, a passion of devotion, a glow of heavenly love. Let us note the

advantages of this.


1. Light. The bright fire shines. Truth is obscure in the dull soul. Out of

burning love springs the flame that illumines many a dark mystery.

2. Power. Heat is a source of energy in the human body as well as in the

furnace of the steam-engine. Spiritual heat is spiritual force. Lethargy and

paralysis seize the soul when it has ceased to glow with heavenly devotion.

3. Purification. The bright fire burns up foul refuse, which would only lie

on a dull fire in a lump that gives off evil odours, while it quenches the

flames that are too feeble to consume it. Evil thoughts and passions only

disappear when they are burnt up in the fires of devotion.

4. Cheering. There is no pleasanter image than that of an English fireside.

When the winter storm howls out of doors, the open fire within is a centre

about which the family gladly gathers, and where domestic life spends its

happiest hours. So there is a cheerful glow in the company of souls among

whom the fire of God burns. Gloomy religion is a sign of cold-heartedness.

But the brightest glow of earthly devotion is as a foretaste of the warmth

and brightness and joy of God’s heavenly home, where he is gathering his

children one by one from the frosts and wilds of earth around the great fire

of his own love.



first inquiry must be as to whether the fire is alight at all — whether it has

been extinguished, or whether it has ever been lit. No bellows or fuel will

bring fire into the cold, black grate. It may be that the fire of devotion to

God has never been kindled in a man’s breast. For him the first need is for

a spark from the heavenly altar. Fire kindles fire. Christ’s glowing heat sets

our dull heart beating in response. “We love him, because he first loved

us.” But the fire may be alight and yet it may burn but poorly. Here,

however, we must beware of a mistake. The fire that crackles and blazes

most has not necessarily the most strength and beat. It may be only the

“flash in the pan,” while quiet glowing coals will last longer and give out

more power. Yet even these may fail. Let us see what is then needed.

1. Fresh air. The coals may have “caked.” They must be stirred and broken

up. One vigorous thrust with the poker may startle the dull cinders into a

brisk blaze. Souls need shaking up. Crusty habits must be broken.

Changes, shocks of surprise, blows of trouble, all do their work to let the

air of heaven in upon the dull fire of the self-contained soul.

2. More fuel. A fire cannot live forever on its own cinders. Old grey ashes

will not burn again. Souls need fresh fuel — new truth, repeated stores of

grace, food in Scripture and in Christ, nourishment from communion with


3. A free vent. While the chimney is foul the fire wilt be dull.. The upward

movement of the flame of devotion may be choked by the sooty accretions

of earth. It must have a free course to the sky. It must also have scope for

the play of its energy in life and work. Then it will leap up bright and




                                    Wheels of Providence (vs. 15-21)


Whatever else the prophet may have understood by the vision of the

wheels, it seems clear that some earthly things are there indicated in

contrast with the heavenly cherubim. The living creatures have wings, to

soar above the earth. The wheels are constructed to run along the ground.

They therefore seem to represent the Divine upon earth.


I. FREE MOVEMENT. Each wheel has another wheel within it, seemingly

set at right angles to it, so that the two are like the equator and the

meridian on a globe. This construction allows of free motion in any



1. Providence is in motion. Change is part of the order of nature and of

life. There is a Divine progress moving on to a grand consummation.

2. This motion is free. The wheels within wheels can run in any direction.

The great world does not go spinning down the grooves of change. Nature

and human life are not cramped and limited to the set course of a railway.

God works in freedom, and can turn the direction of events whithersoever

he chooses.


II. TERRIBLE INTELLIGENCE. The circles of the wheels are awful to

behold, for they are studded with eyes. The course of nature is not blind.

Every fact is stamped with thought; every change is marked by intelligence.

History also, the great course of the human world, is marked by the

thought of a Divine purpose. This thought shows adaptation to

circumstances. The many-eyed wheels can see welt where they are going,

and so avoid disaster and make straight for their goal. But such vast and

universal intelligence has an element of terror about it. Man is sure to be

baffled and confounded if he is mad enough to try to outwit God’s

providence. Even when he submits, there must be something tremendous in

the conception of a universal and all-searching gaze.


III. HARMONY WITH HEAVEN. The wheels always accompany the

living creatures. The lower course on earth corresponds to the direction of

beings whose wings sweep through heavenly regions. Heaven and earth are

linked together. The same principles that are displayed above are to be seen

in the Divine movements here. The contrast between the two worlds is

only too sadly apparent on the human side; on the Divine side it does not

exist. Moreover, just in proportion as men endeavor to conform to the will

of God do they make their lives to run parallel with the holy lives of

heavenly beings. Thus the good man’s career is a partial realization of

heaven upon earth.


IV. SPIRITUAL DIRECTION. Like the living creatures, the wheels run

whithersoever the Spirit is to go.


1. Gods Spirit is on the earth. Heaven is his throne, but earth is his

footstool. Nature and providence are inspired. The thought and purpose

and harmony of the whole are above and beyond the blind concourse of

dead matter, the wild, chaotic rush of uncontrolled waves of circumstance.

The signs of mind in the world are not like the wave-marks found on rocks,

which bear testimony to the past existence of an ocean, but only in distant

geologic ages. They show a present living Spirit.

2. The recognition of the presence of Gods Spirit will make earth agree

with heaven. The wheels do not follow the living creatures. Both are

directed by the same Spirit. It is a vain fancy that men can imitate the

angels of heaven. But it is a possible thing to follow the leadings of God’s

Spirit. In doing so earthly life is surely assimilated to the life of heaven.




                                    Exile and Captivity (v. 1)


It is not the soil which a people till that makes that people a nation. The

Jews have more than once furnished a striking illustration of this principle;

for no nation has suffered more from banishment and dispersion, and no

nation has more tenaciously clung to its nationality, or more effectively

preserved it in circumstances the most unfavourable. It is its religion which

makes a people a nation; even more than a common language, a common

ancestry, and common traditions. It has ever been so conspicuously with

the Jews. The record of their captivity in the East is a record of their

religious experience; the literature of their captivity is the literature of their

prophets, amongst whom Ezekiel occupies a place of prominence and

interest. His figure, as we see him in imagination, “among the captives by

the river of Chebar,” is historically picturesque; but it is also suggestive of

sacred and precious truth.




GOD ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR APOSTASY. Although much obscurity

gathers around the earlier history of the “chosen people,” one fact stands

out in undisputed clearness — they were a people prone to idolatry and

rebellion against Jehovah. Their own historians, men proud of their descent

from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, men themselves profoundly attached to

the one true God, record with unsparing fidelity the defections of their

countrymen from the service and worship to which they were bound by

every tie of gratitude and loyalty. Apostasy was not confined to any class;

kings and subjects alike did wickedly in departing from God. As a nation

they sinned, and as a nation they suffered. Surrounded by people more

powerful than themselves — by Egypt, by Phoenicia, by Assyria — their

strength lay in their pure faith and their spiritual worship. But again and

again they yielded to temptation, and fell into the idolatries practised by

surrounding peoples. The punishment was foretold, the warning was

repeated; but all was in vain. And it was in fulfillment of prophetic threats

that the inhabitants, first of Northern and then of Southern Palestine, were

transported to the East, and condemned to the existence which awakened

their pathetic lamentations, when, strangers in a strange land, they wept

when they remembered Zion. Ezekiel, when he awoke to a consciousness

of his prophetic mission, found himself amongst those who were bearing

the penalty due to their follies and sins.




SPIRITUAL TEACHERS AND LEADERS. It is obvious that, when

separated from their metropolis and their temple, when denied the religious

privileges to which their fathers had been accustomed, the Jews stood very

especially in need of men who, by their character, their knowledge, their

sympathy, and their moral authority, should rally the courage, inflame the

piety, and inspire the hope of their countrymen. And it is a proof of God’s

wonderful care and kindness that the Hebrews in their captivity were not

left without such men. A noble, heroic, and saintly band they were; and

right well did they fulfil a mission of no ordinary difficulty. It is sufficient to

name Ezra and Nehemiah, who were commissioned to lead bands of the

exiles back to the sacred soil; and Ezekiel and Daniel, who were directed to

instruct their fellow countrymen in religious truth, to admonish and to

comfort them, and to utter to the heathen nations around words of faithful








1. There were negative advantages. By means of the Captivity, the chosen

nation was finally and forever delivered from the sin of idolatry. The

witness of the prophets, the stern discipline of adversity, the opportunity of

reflection and repentance, were not in vain.

2. There was this great positive advantage accruing to Israel through the

exile in the East — the people were encouraged to turn to the Lord whom

they had forsaken, to seek reconciliation and restoration, and to make

vows of obedience and fidelity to him to whom their allegiance was justly

due. .


                                    Visions of God (v, 1)


God is; God lives; God everywhere and forever works and manifests

Himself. But spirit is only apprehensible by spirit. And the created

intelligence finds its noblest exercise in tracing the presence and

recognizing the attributes of the Supreme. An especial revelation was

accorded to the prophets; but one great end of this special revelation

doubtless was that by their intermediation and ministry men generally might

be encouraged to look upwards, and to behold the gracious face of their

Father in heaven.



by those who seem to delight in degrading man to a mere observer of

natural phenomena. But as upon earth the knowledge of our fellow men is

more precious and excellent than the knowledge of material processes and

physical laws; so do we find the full scope for the highest powers of our

being when we pass from his works to the Divine Worker, and from his

children to the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Whether we call the faculty

the higher reason, or spiritual faith, there is a faculty by which we gain

knowledge of the Author of our being. The greatest men have been those

who have enjoyed the clearest vision of God. Such vision is possible only

to natures endowed with intelligence, with moral capacity, with a free and

spiritual faculty. Such natures “look unto him, and are lightened.” In his

light they see light. It is the especial privilege of the pure in heart that they

“see God.” Only the superstitious and ignorant can suppose that he who is

the Eternal, Immortal, and Invisible is apprehended by sense. He is seen by

the cleansed, illumined vision of the soul.




Reason. and the nature must be rational which is to commune with him.

There are many who, gifted with powers of intellect, rise to a rational

apprehension of him who is the Eternal Law and Order behind all

phenomena which appeal to sense. But God is Righteousness, Holiness,

and Love, and the nature must be moral, and morally susceptible and

loving, which is to experience a fuller communion with him. Worldliness,

the absorption in the outward show of things; sin, the repugnance to

submissive contact with the pure and blessed Spirit;-these are the

hindrances which prevent men from seeing God. The eyes of the blind must

be opened, the scales must fall from them, before the glorious vision of

perfect goodness can be enjoyed, before the spirit of man can sun itself in

the light of the Divine countenance.



AND PROPHETIC VISION OF GOD. Doubtless those who were

summoned to be the vehicles of Divine truth to their fellow men were

providentially selected and fitted for the office. Certain times, places,

circumstances of various kinds, were chosen with this end in view. But we

are more concerned with those moral preparations which made men meet

to see “visions of God.” We especially note two characteristics of all

honoured with this capacity and faculty.


1. Humility and receptivity. God reveals himself to the lowly, while he

rejects the proud. Man must empty himself of self-conceit, self-

righteousness, and self-confidence, in order that he may be filled with the

Divine nature.

2. Aspiration. The look must be heavenward; the desire and longing must

be Godward. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my

soul after thee, O God!”




GOD. As a matter of fact, man does thus help his fellow man. Ezekiel

brought God near to the hearts of the children of the Captivity. Readers of

the inspired Scriptures have always been indebted to prophets and apostles

for spiritual help; God himself has spoken through the enlightened nature

of his special ministers, and his voice has thus reached multitudes who

were profoundly in need of teaching, of guidance, of consolation. And this

service is being rendered today. In the Church of Christ visions of God are

daily enjoyed; and for those visions Christians are indebted to the agency,

the ministry, of their fellow men. The service is constantly rendered, and is

as constantly acknowledged with gratitude and appreciation.


APPLICATION. A clearer and completer vision of God is attained by

those who are brought spiritually into contact with Jesus Christ, the Son of

the Father, and the true Light. A fuller illumination is effected by the

agency of the Holy Spirit, whose presence has, ever since Pentecost., more

abundantly enriched the Church. The children of the Captivity were

indebted to Ezekiel for aid in recognizing and rejoicing in the eternal light;

but we are far more under obligation to him who has come forth from God,

and has gone to God, and who has assured us, “He that hath seen me hath

seen the Father.”




                        The Lord’s Word and the Lord’s Hand (v. 3)


The prophet felt and knew that God was drawing near to him. This

experience he could only express in language drawn from human relations.

Spiritual realities were by him expressed in terms derived from the acts of

bodily life. The “word” and the “hand” here spoken of are metaphorical,

but they are strictly true; i.e. the just idea is, as far as may be by language

and emblem, thus conveyed to our mind. If God reveal himself to man, it

must be by means of the characteristics of man’s spiritual nature; and such

characteristics are pictured in the expressions here employed by Ezekiel.

The “word” of the Lord means one thing, the “hand” another; yet the

employment of both expressions is necessary in order to convey, with

anything like completeness, the penetration of the prophet’s nature by

Divine truth, the commission of the prophet to undertake Divine service.



RECEIVE THE TRUTH. The word is the expression of the thought. The

Divine word is the utterance of the Divine thought, and the Divine thought

is truth. The expression here used implies a community of nature between

man and God. God has thoughts and purposes which concern man’s good;

and man’s highest well being is dependent upon the introduction of these

into his spiritual nature. Man has not simply to hear and understand the

word; it is for him to welcome and retain and ponder it, as a precious

possession and a mighty power. The word of God, no doubt, came in a

special sense to the prophets; there was a directness, an absence of any

intermediary, in this communication. Through the prophet the word came

to the people, to whom it might and did prove a word of enlightenment, of

warning, of encouragement. That this might be so, the prophet’s nature

needed to be yielded up to the penetrating, purifying, illumining grace of

God himself.




“hand of the Lord” is an expression frequently met with in the Scriptures.

Nehemiah acknowledges the “good hand of God upon him.” To interpret

the expression, it must be remembered that the hand is the symbol of

activity, of the practical nature, of direction, of control, of protecting

power. Now, a man could not fulfil prophetic functions simply by hearing

the word of the Lord; there was something for him to do. In truth, the

relations between God and man are such that it is necessary that God

should command, and that man should obey. And if this is true of men

generally, it is manifestly true of those who were called to the prophetic

office. They had need not simply of revelation, but of guidance, of

authority exercised and conveyed. What is this but to say that they needed

that the hand of the Lord should be upon them? It must be remembered

that the Prophet Ezekiel discharged his ministry, both by the

communication verbally of Divine messages, and by the performance of

certain actions. Of these actions some were symbolical, and others were

directly and obviously instructive and directive. Thus the prophet needed,

not merely the word of the Lord to enter his mind, but the hand of the

Lord to control and govern his conduct.


APPLICATION. True religion is twofold. It enjoins upon us


(1) the reception of Divine truth, as graciously revealed in various ways to

the human intelligence; and

(2) the subjection to Divine authority, as exercised with wisdom and

compassion by him whose omnipotent hand can both point out the path of

duty and service, and can clear away every obstacle which might prevent

that path being pursued.



                        Early Symbols of Jehovah’s Presence (v. 4)


 The materials of the vision are supplied from the storehouse of nature. We

climb along the altar-steps of material nature up to nature’s God. Earthly

phenomena serve


(1) as veils, which scarcely hide the Divine Artificer;

(2) as symbols, indicating his perfections;

(3) as instruments, with which he accomplishes his will.


For the vision before us, God chose to employ, not the grosser forms of

inert matter, but the dynamic forces which are at work on every side —

wind, light, heat.


I. The idea is brought before us of INSCRUTABLE MYSTERY. This is

betokened by the whirlwind. In all revelation of his doings which God

vouchsafes to man, there must be more or less of mystery. The finite

cannot measure the infinite. How the wind originates, what its full mission,

or whither its destination, we cannot tell. This was a stormy wind — partly

baneful, partly beneficent. It betokened a severe visitation of Jehovah — a

temporary calamity destined to issue in permanent good. “He rideth upon

the wings of the wind.” As in the hotter climate of the East, a storm rapidly

rises and sweeps the face of the earth; so, after repeated monitions,

Jehovah suddenly visits men in judgment. “His footsteps are not known;”

“He maketh his messengers winds.”


II. There is the idea of PARTIAL REVELATION. This is indicated by the

cloud. The cloud both tempers the heat of the sun and conceals the

wonders of the starry heavens. Whenever God has revealed his glorious

majesty to men, there has been the attendant circumstance of the cloud. At

the Red Sea, on Mount Sinai, over the mercy scat, on the Mount of

Transfiguration, the glory of God was veiled within the drapery of a cloud.

The eye of sinful man cannot sustain the overpowering brightness of the

Deity. For what is at present concealed from us, no less than for what is

disclosed to us, it becomes us to be sincerely thankful. “What we know not

now we snail know hereafter.”


III. There is the idea of PURIFYING ENERGY. This is symbolized by

the fire. One of the most potent and widespread agents at work in the

material universe, is fire — an impressive emblem of the purity ann justice

of the Most High. Nothing in nature is more destructive than fire. For the

precious metals, it is the only agent that purifies. The flame was selfkindled,

as was the flame that consumed the sacrifice on the temple altar.

This vision was intended to extinguish the false hopes of the Hebrews. The

design was threefold, viz. to produce


(1) suitable terror and alarm;

(2) genuine sorrow; and

(3) internal purification.


“A fire is kindled in mine anger.” Wood and hay and stubble will be

consumed; gold and silver will be beautified.



brightness was about it.” We have here a prefigurement of that “abounding

grace” which is yet in reserve fur the chosen remnant of Israel — a picture

of the “times of refreshing” which shall in due time come “from the

presence of the Lord.” A prophet who announces only judgment is no less

false than he who peals forth only the clarion note of mercy. The brightness

is set forth here as suffusing the whole vision — storm, cloud, fire. Every

part of Jehovah’s administration shall be covered with renown. He will

graciously vindicate his ways to the satisfaction and joy of his saints.

Immortal splendour will encircle the final result.



            The Divine Summons to the Prophetic Mission (vs. 1-3)


“Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year,” etc. Our text authorizes the

following observations. The Divine summons to the prophetic mission –



MINUTELY RECORDS. “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the

fourth month, in the fifth day of the month In the fifth day of the month,

which was the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity.” This statement

made with so much detail suggests:


1. That Ezekiel received this summons in vigorous manhood. We take “in

the thirtieth year” as referring to the age of the prophet. The mighty call

reached him when he had passed beyond the inexperience and immaturity

of youth, and before the approach of the decay of either his physical or

mental powers. Thirty years was the age at which the Levites in the

wilderness entered upon their laborious duties (<040403>Numbers 4:3). Jerome

says that the priests entered upon their office at the same age; but the

statement is very questionable. John the Baptist began his ministry on the

completion of his thirtieth year. And “the Light of the world” was not

publicly manifested until our Lord had attained the same age.

2. That he desired to place the reality of his predictions beyond question.

Some of these are very remarkable. “We should deem it impossible for any

one,” says Fairbairn, “in a spirit of candour and sincerity, to peruse the

wonderful and discriminating predictions contained in his writings

respecting either the Jews themselves (those, for example, in ch. 5., 6., 11.,

17., 21.), or the neighbouring nations, more particularly those of Tyre and

Egypt — predictions which foretold in regard to the subjects of them very

different and varying fortunes, and such as necessarily required ages for

their accomplishment — we should deem it impossible for any one in a

proper spirit to examine these, and compare them with the fulfilment,

without being persuaded that they afford indubitable evidence of a

supernatural insight into the far distant future.” And the minuteness of the

statement of time in the text, and the chronological order which is observed

and stated in the prophecies, would emphasize the genuineness of these

predictions and the certainty of their Divine origin.

3. That the summons made a deep impression upon the sold of the

prophet. The careful particularity of the record indicates that Ezekiel felt

profoundly the importance of that which he records. Those seasons in

which God approaches most near to the soul, and communicates most

directly with us, are momentous; they constitute epochs in our spiritual






1. In a heathen land. “In the hind of the Chaldeans,” whither he had been

carried captive by Nebuchadnezzar. The Chaldeans were idolaters. The

Jewish rabbins assert that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets only in the

Holy Land. But here in Chaldea the inspiration of God quickens the soul of

Ezekiel, heaven is opened unto him, visions of God are unfolded unto him,

and the voice of God speaks to him. In the same land the Divine inspiration

came to Daniel. And it was not at Jerusalem, but in Patmos, that St. John

beheld his marvellous and glorious visions, and heard the mighty and awful

voices of the great apocalypse. God is not limited to any place whatsoever.

His Spirit can work as freely and effectively in one place as in another.

2. In a captive condition. “As I was among the captives,” or, “in the midst

of the captivity.” With others of his fellow countrymen Ezekiel had been

taken from Judaea and settled in Chaldea. That some of the captives

painfully felt their condition is clear kern Psalm 137. To the patriotic and

the pious there was much in their exile to cause grief. They would mourn

for the fatherland with its stirring and sacred memories, and for the temple

and its precious privileges, kern which they had been removed. These

sorrows the godly had to suffer in common with the wicked. Those who

were faithful to the Lord their God had to bear the captivity which had

come upon the people by reason of the general unfaithfulness. Ezekiel,

Daniel, and his three noble companions in the court of Nebuchadnezzar,

men eminent for their religious fidelity, suffered the privations and griefs of

the captivity not less, but perhaps much more, than they did whose sins

caused that captivity. In every age the good are subject to the same

outward afflictions and trials as the wicked. They have no exemption from

the common calamities of life. In this respect “all things come alike to all,”

etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:2).

3. By the river of Chebar. We cannot with certainty identify this river.

According to some it is “the modern Khabour, which rises near Nisibis,

and flows into the Euphrates near Kerkesiah, two hundred miles north of

Babylon.” But Professor Rawlinson is of opinion that it “is the Nahr

Malcha, or Royal Canal of Nebuchadnezzar — the greatest of all the

cuttings in Mesopotamia.” It is probable that there was quiet and solitude

by this river, and these are favourable to the reception of Divine

communications. It was amid the awful heights of Sinai that Moses on two

occasions was alone with God forty days and forty nights (Exodus

24:15-18; 34.). And somewhere in the seclusion of the same mountain

region “the Lord passed by” the Prophet Elijah, and the voice of God

spake unto him (1 Kings 19:8-18). And our Lord and Saviour

frequently sought retirement for communion with his Father (Matthew

14:22, 23; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42; 5:16). Devout solitude and

serenity are congenial with Divine manifestation and communication.

Moreover, there is something very suggestive about a river. It tends to

hush the tumults of the mind and to stimulate peaceful and pure thought.

When the spirit of Elisha was agitated, he was incapable of exercising his

prophetic office, but when the agitation was allayed by music, he was able

to prophesy. “When the minstrel played the hand of the Lord came upon

him.” And, as has been suggested by another, the gentle murmutings and

rhythmic ripplings of the waters of the river may in like manner have

attuned the spirit of Ezekiel to prophetic action and utterance.



opened, and I saw visions of God.” These words indicate:


1. A remarkable faculty in man. He has power to behold “visions of God.”

1 do not attempt to determine whether he saw them with the eye of the

body or of the mind. To me it seems almost certain that the vision was

spiritual. But whether it was physical or spiritual does not affect the great

truth that we have power to receive spiritual and Divine revelations.

Doubtless the seeing faculty in the case of the prophet was purified and

strengthened for beholding these sublime and celestial scenes (compare

II Kings 6:17); but no new or additional faculties were given unto him. It

behoves us to respect our nature, seeing that it is capable of beholding

visions and hearing voices from God.


2. Great condescension in God. He opened the heavens, unfolded the

glorious revelations, and empowered the prophet to behold them. The

prophet speaks of them as “visions of God.” The expression indicates that:


(1) God was their Author. They proceeded from him.

(2) God was their Object. It is true that “no man hath seen God at any

time.” The essential Deity “no man hath seen, nor can see;” yet these

visions were manifestations of his majesty. Schmieder has beautifully said,

“The Lord stooped to him, and his spirit was caught up to see God.”



word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest.” Or, more

correctly, “The word of Jehovah came in reality unto Ezekiel.” The

prophet not only saw Divine visions, but he also “heard the voice of One

that spake” (v. 28). The true prophet is himself taught of God. His

authority with men arises from the fact that he speaks not his own

thoughts, opinions, or conclusions, but the word which he has received

from God; that he conies to them with an assured “Thus saith the Lord.”



POWER. And the hand of the Lord was there upon him.” The power of

God was acting upon the spirit of Ezekiel as an inspiring, strengthening,

constraining force. “The hand of Jehovah was on Elijah,” and though

weary, he put forth great physical exertion (1 Kings 18:46). The right

hand of the glorified Lord was laid upon St. John in his dread swoon, and

he was revived and strengthened. Whom God summons to arduous service

he strengthens for the discharge of the same. He gives power

commensurate with duty.


            The Overwhelming and the Reviving in Divine Revelations

                                                (v. 28 to ch. 2:2)


“And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of One that

spake. And he said unto me, Son of man,” etc. Two main lines of

meditation are suggested by these verses.




saw “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” Ezekiel fell

upon his face. We find the same thing in Ezekiel 3:23; 43:3; 44:4.

Isaiah felt himself “undone” when he “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne”

(Isaiah 6:5). Daniel, after a vision of heavenly glory, was emptied of all

strength (Daniel 10:8). And even St. John, the beloved disciple, who

had reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, when he saw the revelation of his

majesty, “fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17).


1. The sight of such glory humbles man with the sense of his own

immeasurable inferiority. How vast is the disparity between the Creator

and the creature! He, “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,

whose name is holy, and who dwelleth in the high and holy place;” we, frail

men “that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, and are

crushed before the moth.” It is humiliating to reflect upon the infinite

distance between the glory of God and our insignificance and meanness

and shame. Such considerations rebuke those persons who, in hymn or

prayer, address the Most High in terms of unbecoming familiarity, or even

of positive irreverence. Most inadequate must be their realization of the

truth that he is “glorious in holiness,” and of their own unworthiness. “God

is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few.”


“The more thy glories strike mine eyes,

The humbler I shall lie.”


2. The sight of such glory overwhelms man by quickening his

consciousness of sin into greater activity. Thus it was with Isaiah

(Isaiah 6:5); and with St. Peter, when he was impressed with the

superhuman powers of his Master, and perhaps realized that he was the

Son of God (Luke 5:8). Such splendours as Ezekiel saw reveal the

darkness and defilement of the hearts and lives of those who see them. The

conscious presence of perfect holiness awakens or intensifies man’s sense

of his own sinfulness. “I have heard of thee,” saith Job, “by the hearing of

the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent

in dust and ashes.”

3. Such humiliation is a condition of hearing the voice of God. “I fell upon

my face, and I heard a voice of One that spake.” Pride and self-sufficiency

cannot hear the Divine voice. “The meek will he guide in judgment; and the

meek will he teach his way.… The secret of the Lord is with them that fear

him; and he will show them his covenant.” The highest revelations are for

the simple, spiritual, and teachable — the child. like spirits (compare

Matthew 11:25, 26). Moses, eminent for his meekness, was admitted

into communion and communication with God of special intimacy

(Numbers 12:6-8). The humbling effect of Divine visions sometimes

qualifies the soul to hear Divine voices.




“And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet,” etc. Three

remarks are suggested.


1. The design of such manifestations is not to overwhelm, but to prepare

for service. The Divine intention in the vision which Ezekiel saw was to

prepare him for the discharge of the arduous duties of his prophetic

mission. So also was it with Isaiah 6 and with St. John (Revelation 1.). And

if spiritual visions of the true and the holy are granted unto God’s servants

now, it is in order that they may more efficiently serve him amongst their

fellow men.

2. The Divine summons to duty or service is accompanied by Divine

strength to obey the same. “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon

thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the Spirit entered into me when he

spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto

me.” Here are three points.

(1) The title by which Ezekiel is addressed. “Son of man.” Expositors have

discovered various meanings in this appellation; but it seems to us that the

interpretation of Lightfoot is the true one. “This expression is of frequent

use in Scripture, in the Hebrew rabbins, but more especially in the

Chaldean and Syrian tongues Why Ezekiel, and no other prophet, should

have been so often styled thus, has been ascribed to different reasons by

different commentators. To me… the principal reason appears to be this —

that, as his prophecy was written during the Babylonish captivity, he

naturally made use of the Chaldean phrase, ‘Son of man,’ that is, ‘O man.’”

(2) The summons which was addressed to him. “Stand upon thy feet.” That

is the attitude of respectful attention. It also indicates readiness for service.

(3) The strength which was communicated to him. “And the Spirit entered

into me,” etc. It is the same Spirit which was in the living creatures and in

the wheels. The Spirit was given to the prophet to set him upon his feet

and to empower him to hear the word of the Lord. The entrance of the

Spirit into him “is a quickening of mind and body conjointly, which brings

about the transition from the revelation in vision to the revelation by word”

(Schroder). When God commands, he also invigorates for the fulfilment of

the command. When he summons man from spiritual death, he bestows the

life-giving Spirit to every one who will receive him (compare Ephesians 2:4-6;

5:14). When he calls upon us to work out our own salvation, he

encourages us to do so by the assurance that he worketh in us

(Philippians 2:12-13). When He sends us forth to arduous service, He

says, “Certainly I will be with thee” (Exodus 3:12). And when he calls

us to painful endurance, he gives us the assurance, “My grace is sufficient

for thee” (II Corinthians 12:9).

3. After the Divine summons and strength comes the Divine voice. “I heard

him that spake unto me.” Humbled by the vision of glory, and revived and

strengthened by the Spirit, the prophet was now in a condition to hear the

voice of the Lord (compare 1 Corinthians 2:12-13). “Signs without the Word

are in vain. What fruit would there have been if the prophet had merely

seen the vision, but no word of God had followed it?” (Calvin).


CONCLUSION. Here are two cheering considerations.


1. When God casts down it is in order that he may the more effectually

revive us. (<280601>Hosea 6:1, 2.)

2. Whom God commissions he also qualifies.