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Ezekiel 1:1 Now it happened- The intention may be to connect with the previous prophecy, Jeremiah, which had concluded with Jeremiah sending a message to the captives urging them to accept their situation and not expect an immediate return from exile (Jer.  51:59 cp. Jer. 29:1-32). Ezekiel  was therefore encouraging the exiles that despite no immediate restoration, they could be sure of a huge activity of God for them which would bring about the restoration in due course.

In the thirtieth year in the fourth month in the fifth of the month-
This could refer to Ezekiel as a priest starting ministry at age 30 (:3). He was the priest of the "little sanctuary" in exile (Ez. 11:16), a sanctuary that didn't require a temple.

As I was among the captives by the river Chebar-
The mention of the river was to connect with the description sitting by the rivers of Babylon weeping in depression (Ps. 137:1).

That the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God
- Ezekiel’s opening vision of the cherubim was surely to encourage the captives in Babylon that above them was an awesome Angelic system, that was able to carry them with it back to the land- if they were workers together with God. Although it seemed that they were sitting still, nothing was happening, they were just passing time by the rivers of Babylon, above them there was an intensely active system of Angels working for their good. Asaph, writing Psalms in the captivity, perceived this when [surely referring to Ezekiel’s recent vision] he speaks of how the God who dwells between the cherubim is in fact actively leading Judah somewhere (Ps. 80:1). And yet the common phrase “Lord of Hosts” / Angels never once occurs in Ezekiel or Daniel. This outstanding omission is surely reflective of the sad fact that the Angel-cherubim withdrew from the land during the captivity- the land where the Angelic eyes of the Lord had run to and fro previously. See on:20.



Ezekiel 1:2 In the fifth of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity- At this time a year before, the false prophets of Judah were prophesying the overthrow of Babylon and the return of Jeconiah within two years (Jer. 28:3). Ezekiel's message was intended to help them reject these fanciful ideas of immediate salvation and to demonstrate that the things of God's glory are far weightier and eternal than that.

Ezekiel 1:3 The word of Yahweh came specifically to Ezekiel the priest the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of Yahweh was there on him- As noted on :1, he became a priest at 30 and was intended to be the priest of the "little sanctuary" in exile (Ez. 11:16).

Ezekiel 1:4 I looked, and behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with flashing lightning and a brightness around it; and out of its midst as it were glowing metal out of the midst of the fire- The primary potential fulfilment of Ezekiel to is in the restoration from Babylon. The great emphasis on the Angel-cherubim shows the importance of the Angels in it. The Cherubim of chapter 1 "came out of the north". "The North" in the prophets often refers to "the north country" of Babylon. Is the whole vision primarily describing the Angels coming from Babylon, with the wheels "upon the earth" (:15) representing natural Israel under Angelic control? Thus "when the living creatures (Angels) went, the wheels went by them" (:19), due to the Angelic inspiration of the Jews and their touching the hearts of men like Cyrus, Ezra and Nehemiah "according to the good hand (Angel) of... God upon" them; "the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels" (:20). Remember that the Angels are the vehicles of God's Spirit. The visions of the glory progressively removing from the temple show the Angel departing from Jerusalem, and then in chapters 40-48 the glory Angel returns to a re-built Jerusalem. Recall how the Angel in Ex. 33 and 34 is also described as the "glory". The idea is that as the depressed captives sat by the rivers of Babylon in "the north", they were to be aware that a huge, powerful, glorious system of Divine operation was hanging over them. If they identified with it, then this would ultimately return them to Zion.

And yet the cherubim vision also spoke of an invasion from Babylon unless there was repentance amongst the exiles and those still in the land. Ezekiel was taken captive in the second wave of deportations; but the temple had still not been sacked nor Jerusalem taken. Hence the cherubim vision had a double application. It could speak of a further invasion from the north, or of the return of the exiles. All alike would work out God's glory.

Ezekiel 1:5 Out of its midst came the likeness of four living creatures. This was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man- The overall silhouette upon them was of a man. The cherubim were the heavenly representation of men, both the exiles and also perhaps the invading Babylonian armies. So there was something human about all this majesty of God's glory. His care for man is paramount to His glory and personality. Ultimately this came to full term in His glorious manifestation in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Ezekiel was prophesying against the background of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Their sculptures reveal winged bulls and lions with human heads. The cherubim alluded to them in that one aspect of meaning is that they could represent the invaders from the north which God would bring upon His people. But the "living creatures" were alive, not dead like the Babylonian ones. They were not quadrupeds, like the Assyrian and Babylonian forms. They were more human, and stood erect, having feet and hands as men have.


Ezekiel 1:6 Each one had four faces, and each one of them had four wings- In Rev. 4:7 the four heads are distributed, one to each of the "living creatures", while here each has four faces. This is to highlight the sense of humanity, and of God's awareness of every angle of human situation. That was the lesson so required by Judah in their depression by the rivers of Babylon.


Ezekiel 1:7 Their feet were straight feet- The return of the exiles led by Ezra made the journey by a "right way" from Babylon to Zion (Ezra 8:21). Yet this is the very word used about the "straight" feet of the Cherubim Angels here (also :23). The return from Babylon involved following in the path of the Angels, walking in step with them. The restoration prophecy of Jer. 31:9 spoke of how the returnees would walk "in a straight way" (s.w.) "by the rivers of waters"- and surely Ezra consciously alluded to this when by the river Ahava he fasted for the exiles to return in a "right / straight way". He knew that these prophecies of restoration would not just automatically come true- they had to be fulfilled by much prayer, fasting and stepping out in faith. But so very few perceived that. And the challenge remains for us today- to walk in the way which God's Angels have potentially prepared for us, with prayer and boldness. I feel this is especially true in the matter of latter day witnessing. Rev. 14:6 describes the great latter fulfilment of the great preaching commission in terms of an Angel flying in Heaven with the Gospel of the Kingdom to be preached to all nations and languages. Surely the implication is that the latter day preachers of the Gospel are walking on earth in league with an Angelic system above them, empowering and enabling them.

And the soles of their feet were like the soles of a calf’s feet; and they gleamed like burnished brass- If the cherubim speak also of God's people, as well as the Angelic hosts and the hosts of Babylon, then perhaps the message was simply that God was awesomely involved- as awesome as the cherubim vision- with His people on earth. The same Angelic system that brought the hosts of Babylon upon Judah also went with Judah into captivity, and would return from there with them- if they still wished to be part of that Angelic system. And yet most of Judah opted out of it, and remained in Babylon, just as we can opt out and remain in Babylon today. In this context it's interesting that the vision of Jesus as the Son of Man in Rev. 1 has similarities with the cherubim vision of Ez. 1 (feet like brass, Ez. 1:7 = Rev. 1:15; shining face, Ez. 1:13 = Rev. 1:16; voice like many waters, Ez. 1:24= Rev. 1:15). Perhaps this suggests that Israel's failure to identify with the cherubim led to a refulfilment of the prophecy in the person of the Lord Jesus, who was in person all that God intended Israel to have been. Thus the prophecies of Israel as "the servant of Yahweh", given in the context of the restoration, could have been fulfilled in the people of Israel, but were reapplied and fulfilled in the person of the Lord Jesus.


Ezekiel 1:8 They had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and the four of them had their faces and their wings like this- See on :10. As noted on :5 and :6, one theme of the visions of glory was God's humanity and how the function and direction of the huge system of Divine activity is influenced by and in a sense dependent upon man. This is why Ezekiel sees the hands of a woman under the wings on every side of them. This presence of human hands is so emphasized; each of them, on all four sides, had this image of human hands as it were supporting them. Because God's work is responsive to human freewill, God is in a sense "in need of man", as Abraham Heschel put it.


Ezekiel 1:9 Their wings were joined one to another; they didn’t turn when they went; each one went straight forward- This is an intentional paradox; wings can hardly be joined to each other if they are used for flying. But this is the paradox and contradiction, as viewed from earth, of God's glorious progress and activity for His people. The whole system would not be diverted- that is twice emphasized in saying that they didn't turn, but went straight forward. See on :7. An alternative is to understand that they each moved with two wings upward and two always down (:11,24), and it was the two upward wings which touched each other and therefore appeared to be "joined". The word speaks of joining in fellowship. This huge system was united, for the ultimate good of God's people and to restore Zion. Hence Jerusalem would be built as a city compacted or "joined" together (Ps. 122:3 s.w.).


Ezekiel 1:10 As for the likeness of their faces, they each 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; the four of them also had the face of an eagle- There are evident similarities between Ezekiel's cherubim, and the four living creatures of Rev. 4. They are both described as "full of eyes" (Ez. 1:18 = Rev. 4:6), with four very similar faces (lion, calf, man, eagle in Rev. 4:7 = lion, ox, man, eagle in Ez. 1:10); and both have wings (Rev. 4:8 = Ez. 1:8). Yet the living creatures of Revelation speak of being redeemed by the blood of Christ and made king-priests in God's Kingdom (Rev. 5:8-10)- as if they are the redeemed people of God. The four faces are likely to be connected with the four standards of the tribes of Israel (Lion = Judah, Man = Reuben, Ox = Ephraim, Eagle = Dan). Each of those tribes had two other tribes assigned to them in the encampment procedures of Num. 2. There is extra-Biblical tradition that the cherubim in Solomon's temple had the same four faces which Ezekiel saw on the cherubim- lion, ox, man and eagle (John Thomas, Eureka (West Beach: Logos, 1984 ed.) Vol. 2 Ch. 4 sec. 4.2). Those to whom Ezekiel related his vision would have immediately understood the point- that the earthly sanctuary was a reflection of the Heavenly, and that above that was a huge Angelic system operating, which also represented God's people- them. But that huge system was to remove to Babylon, and then the final visions of Ezekiel show that glory returning. Ezekiel, as the representative "son of man" as he's so often styled, was caught up within that system and transported at ease between Babylon and Jerusalem- and those who wanted to opt in with God and His Angels could likewise be taken to Babylon and returned. Those who chose to remain in Babylon were therefore resisting being part of an awesome system of God manifestation and Angelic operation. We have that same choice in things great and small today.


Ezekiel 1:11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; two wings of each one touched another, and two covered their bodies- See on :9. Heb. 'were parted from above'. The impression is of unity in diversity. What appeared to the exiles to be contradictory was in fact working together in unity towards God's purpose.


Ezekiel 1:12 Each one went straight forward- Literally, 'in front of their faces'. Their faces were set and they didn't flinch. The same idea was to be applied to Ezekiel in Ez. 3:9. He was to identify with God's way and the cherubim, and would be strengthened to follow in the one way if that was what he chose.

 

Where the spirit was to go, they went; they didn’t turn when they went- The cherubim, this massive system of Divine operation, was direct by God's Spirit. The feature of not turning during their movement is a major feature (Ez. 1:9,12,17; 10:11,16). The impression was given of God's unchanging massive help towards the realization of His purpose with His people.


Ezekiel 1:13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches. The fire went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning- See on :7. The visual impression was of perpetual, churning activity and the cycling of power. This was a necessary encouragement for the exiles sitting in depression by the rivers of Babylon. God had not forgotten. His apparent silence only masked a hugely active and powerful system of operation.


Ezekiel 1:14 The living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning- Perhaps the idea was that they ran and returned between Jerusalem and the exiles' camp in Babylon. The return from exile could be achieved in a flash, and likewise the Jews still in Judah could be taken to Babylon in a flash.


Ezekiel 1:15 Now as I saw the living creatures, there was one wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, for each of the four faces of it- The wheels make the living creatures appear as on a chariot, connecting with "the chariot of the cherubim" (1 Chron. 28:18). The firm grounding of this heavenly vision of power "on the earth" indicates that God's glory and activity were not simply in Heaven but active upon earth, both to transport a repentant Judah back to the land, and also to bring forth chariots of enemies to further destroy the land and temple.


Ezekiel 1:16 The appearance of the wheels and their work was like a beryl: and the four of them had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel- The wheels imply they were chariots, or mounted on chariots; indeed this is a root meaning of the Hebrew word translated "cherub". Zechariah sees the same Angel chariots emerging from between two bronze mountains (Zech. 1:7-11), perhaps designed to recall the bronze pillars of the temple (1 Kings 7:15-22). The rebuilt temple was intended to be the point from which the Angel chariots would go forth; but that didn't happen at the very limited restoration from Babylon, and so the first four seals of Rev. 6 are full of allusion to this Zechariah vision- it was not left unfulfilled because of Israel's indolence, but rather was reapplied to the latter day events of which Revelation speaks.

The wheel within a wheel, each revolving as a gyroscope, deepens the impression of movement in contrary directions and yet all within the same direction. The confusion and contradictions which the exiles struggled with, as we do, were all somehow moving in the same direction, led by God's Spirit. Daniel was contemporary with Ezekiel, and so the mention of the beryl would connect with his description of the future Messiah figure as having a body of beryl, also replete with torches of fire and lightning just as seen in the cherubim vision (Dan. 10:6). As mentioned above, the final manifestation of God's glory, Spirit, judgment and salvation was to be in the Lord Jesus.


Ezekiel 1:17 When they went, they went in their four directions. They didn’t turn when they went- Like a complex series of gyroscopes within each other, so that the movement might be without turning to wherever they advanced. Thus each wheel was composed of two circles, cutting one another at right angles, "one" only of which appeared to touch the ground ("upon the earth" :15), according to the direction the cherubim desired to move in. The idea was that what might appear to be contradictory direction was in fact all seamlessly part of movement in the same direction. And again this has so much meaning for our lives, as it did for the exiles by the river Chebar. What appears useless, taking us away from our intended direction, is being used by God in His bigger direction of our lives towards His Kingdom and restoration.


Ezekiel 1:18 As for their rims, they were high and dreadful; and the four of them had their rims full of eyes all around- See on :10. The abundance of eyes gave the impression of God's awareness and intense gaze upon His people. The captives were tempted to think that God was no longer looking at them, unaware of their struggles, their losses, their history. But the vision impressed upon them that He was intensely aware. Likewise the same idea of many eyes is used to encourage the exiles to the same effect in Zech. 3:9; 4:10. And again, as noted on :16, Zechariah's stone full of eyes looked forward to the Lord Jesus, the Messiah figure who was to be the quintessence and personalization of all this Spirit, power and glory.


Ezekiel 1:19 When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up- The wheels would speak of God's active engagement with things upon the earth. And there were times when the whole chariot was lifted up above the earth.


Ezekiel 1:20 Wherever the spirit was to go, they went under the spirit’s control- The wheels, it appears, represented God’s people Israel on earth. If they had kept in step with the Spirit-Angel, following Him both to Babylon and back to Judah at His bidding, they would have been in step with God’s plan for them, and all would have prospered. This passage appears to be behind Paul’s appeal to us to walk in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Ezekiel himself was the great example of this, for he was “lifted up” by the Spirit just as the wheels were lifted up, and went wherever he was taken, backwards and forwards between Babylon and Judah (Ez. 8:3; 11:1). He became part of the Cherubic system. See on Ez. 10:2,8.

 

And the wheels were lifted up beside them, for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels- The spirit of the living creatures in the Heavens was the same spirit in the wheels, God’s people who operationalize God’s will here on earth.  That vision was then immediately demonstrated in practice when the Spirit of God entered into Ezekiel and he was sent to preach; just as the Spirit of the living creatures had been in the wheels, and they were sent to and fro in the earth (Ez. 2:2). And thus Ezekiel sees the hand of a man coming to him, just as he had seen it associated with the cherubim in the vision (Ez. 1:8 = Ez. 2:9). And surely Ezekiel is addressed as “son of man” in this context because the living creatures have the “likeness of a man” (Ez. 1:5); Ezekiel, God’s man on earth, alone and separate from his brethren, was merged with the huge Heavenly system above him, because God’s Spirit was in him, and he was willing to do God’s will. Just as the cherub “stretched forth his hand” to direct another Angel, so God’s hand was stretched forth [s.w.] upon Ezekiel and he likewise was sent to do God’s will (Ez. 2:9; 8:3; 10:7). Knowing that we are part of this huge Heavenly system of working, identified with the Angels and the very cherubim of glory above, can eclipse to a large extent our human feelings of loneliness.

The LXX gives "spirit of life". As will be explained in Ez. 20 and also was explicit in Jer. 31, the returning exiles were offered a new covenant which involved being enlivened with a new spirit, the Spirit which was to bring the dry bones of scattered Judah back to life and restoration to the land in Ez. 37. This was taught here right at the beginning of Ezekiel's vision. See on :21.

Ezekiel 1:21 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 beside them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels- Later, Ez. 37:14 alludes directly back to this vision of the Angel-cherubim's spirit being placed in the "wheels" of natural Israel: "I (the Angel) shall put My spirit in you, and ye shall live". The cherubim therefore can be interpreted in different ways. This was the Angelic system working with and for Israel, and repentant Judah were bidden become part of it.


Ezekiel 1:22 Over the head of the living creature there was the likeness of an expanse, like an awesome crystal to look on, stretched forth over their heads above- Continually we encounter the word and idea of "likeness". Ezekiel is seeing a vision of God's operations with His people, and we are unwise to try to attach meaning to every detail. The overall impression is of hugely powerful and active operation of God through His Spirit. The "expanse" seems to be a kind of crystal platform for God Himself who presided over the workings of this great system.


Ezekiel 1:23 Under the expanse were their wings straight, the one toward the other: each one had two which covered their bodies on this side, and each one had two which covered their bodies on that side- For "straight" see on :7. The cherubim are not so much pictured as supporting God but covering themselves in bowed reverence beneath Him.


Ezekiel 1:24 When they went, I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a noise of tumult like the noise of an army. When they stood, they let down their wings- See on :7. This great army was the Lord of hosts, of armies, of Angels. The cherubim also speak of God's people. The noise is that of the LXX in Ez. 3:12, which has "the voice as of a great earthquake". Later, Ezekiel hears the "noise" of "shaking" or earthquake as the bones of Israel in exile come together by the spirit / Angelic operation of Yahweh, thereby forming a great army (Ez. 37:7). The Spirit came from four places (Ez. 37:9)- just as there were four cherubim. As the sound of the cherubim was as of a great army, so revived Israel stood up as a great army (Ez. 37:10).The Angel cherubim would work with God's disillusioned and broken people, to revive them, so that they would become like the guardian Angels of Israel above them. The point was that the Angel cherubim system which Ezekiel had seen at work amongst the captives was able to gather them together, and give life to the nation. And yet that didn't happen to those exiles- because they didn't walk in step with the spirit.


Ezekiel 1:25 There was a voice above the expanse that was over their heads when they stood and let down their wings- It was God's word which was paramount, and even more powerful than this huge system of Angelic power. And it was that word which Ezekiel was to speak to Israel.


Ezekiel 1:26 Above the expanse that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and on the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man on it above- The repeated sense of "likeness" is because here we have an impression of God Himself. We are made in God's image; not mentally, because we need to develop that image within us. Therefore it seems that we are somehow in His literal image. Whatever word we use about God- corporeal, material, tangible etc.- seems somehow inappropriate. But the fact is that God is real, He exists in an actual personal form, we pray to Him as children in His image, and we can form personal relationship with Him. He is not a puff of smoke out in the cosmos, nor a mere abstraction, but a personal being who had a begotten Son.


Ezekiel 1:27 I saw as it were glowing metal, as the appearance of fire within it all around, from the appearance of his waist and upward. From the appearance of his waist and downward I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him- The idea is of the maximum heat known to people at that time- metal which was molten. The Babylonian worship of fire and the gods of fire was being deconstructed; Israel's God was the ultimate fire greater than all others. And yet that intense heat was ameliorated by the grace and promise of the rainbow that appeared silhouetted over it (:28).


Ezekiel 1:28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke- When Paul writes of our being transformed into “the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49) he seems to have in mind Ez. 1:28 LXX: “The appearance of the image of the glory of the Lord”. “The glory” in Ezekiel is personified-  it refers to a person, and I submit that person was a prophetic image of Jesus Christ. But Paul’s big point is that we each with unveiled face have beheld the Lord’s glory (2 Cor. 3:16- 4:6); just as he did on the Damascus road, and just as Ezekiel did. It follows, therefore, that not only is Paul our example, but our beholding of the Lord’s glory propels us on our personal commission in the Lord’s service, whatever it may be.