posted on Jan, 5 2018 @ 05:01 PM
Ezekiel is the prophet of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.
He had been taken into exile, like half the population of Jerusalem, when Nebuchadnezzar took away King Jehoiakim, eleven years before the final
Therefore his mission began near the river Chebar, in Mesopotamia, where he “saw visions of God, when the heavens were opened” (ch1 v1)
This wording is important.
Ezekiel does not say that he “saw God”.
John rightly observes that “no man has ever seen God” in the true sense. At the most, they have seen images accommodating themselves to men’s
understanding, designed to give them the sense that they are “in the presence of God”.
The “opening of the heavens” doesn’t come into the detail of his description. The phrase is a way of summing up the whole experience; in effect,
he has seen into “the place where God is”.
The event is dated in several ways.
It was the fifth day of the fourth month in the calendar.
It was the thirtieth year, probably since the prophet’s birth.
It was the fifth year since the king was taken into exile.
“The hand of the Lord” was upon Ezekiel , and the vision followed.
He saw the approach of a “stormy wind”, accompanied with cloud and brightness and fire, which are all standard signs of the presence of the God of
The approach of the storm from the north is probably meant to imply that God has come from his base in Jerusalem.
“Wait one moment!” cries the alert reader. “I have my atlas open in front of me, which clearly shows Jerusalem lying due west from
Babylon, as the crow flies”.
Yes, but the armies of the ancient world were not crows, and even crows would not fly straight over the Syrian desert. The normal way of getting from
one end of the Fertile Crescent to the other was to go north to the apex, in the first instance, and then turn south. When a Babylonian army
approached Judah, or when bands of Jerusalem exiles were being led into
Babylon, they would arrive in either case from the north.
So Babylon and Jerusalem, like King’s Cross and Euston on the London Underground system, are both “to the north of” each other from the
The four “living creatures” come out of the midst of this fire.
Since they attend the storm-centre of God’s place in heaven, the original concept may be that they represent the four winds.
Between them, they cover the four directions of the world, and thus the world as a whole.
They have wings, like many of the attendants of God, so that they can go swiftly and directly to their work. The same is implied by the statement that
they always go straight forward, without turning.
They are approximately of human form, and therefore have an extra pair of wings to cover their bodies. Even if they have nothing that needs covering,
the servants of God cannot be seen as going “naked”.
In a later chapter they are called cherubim, which identifies them with the attendant figures attached to the ark.
They are given four faces, those of a man, a lion, an ox (or “cherub”), and an eagle.
It’s been observed that each of these four living things has a kind of supremacy in its own sphere.
Thus the eagle can claim supremacy amongst the birds of the air (and it was “on eagles’ wings” that God brought Israel out of Egypt- Exodus ch19
The lion can claim supremacy amongst the wild beasts of the land (and Judah is called “a lion’s whelp”- Genesis ch49 v9).
The ox can claim supremacy amongst domesticated animals (and “horns” are a symbol of power all the way through the Old Testament).
While humanity, by God’s decree in Genesis, was given supremacy amongst all of them.
So I suggest that these four living creatures also represent God’s control over the living world at large.
Only the fish are missing. For In the symbolism of the Old Testament, the sea is not really part of God’s ordered world.
Their outspread wings are supposed to be touching one another, which implies that they are arranged in a square, facing outwards, and moving in that
However, the formality of this picture is slightly spoiled by v14, which suggests a greater freedom of movement; “And the living creatures darted to
and fro, like a flash of lightning”.
Since the place where God dwells is supposed to be coming down to Ezekiel, and therefore moving, it is presented as having wheels, one for each of the
four living creatures.
Their form is “a wheel within a wheel”. Commentators explain this as two wheels arranged crossways, so that the wheels themselves may go in each
of the four directions.
They have eyes in their rims, indicating that they are guided by the intelligence of the Spirit- by the spirit of the living creatures, in the first
instance, but the living creatures themselves are guided by the Spirit of God.
They move with a great noise, like the loudest sounds which an Israelite can imagine (a heavy rain-storm, or the clamour of an army).
Above all this there is “the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal”.
The dwelling-place of God is conventionally in the heavens, above the firmament.
That is where John goes in Revelation ch4, where he sees the throne of God surrounded by a “sea of crystal”- the firmament, that is, the sky seen
In Exodus, the seventy elders of Israel are taken up the mountain to meet God, “and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire
stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Exodus ch24 v10). This must be taken as a more portable version of the firmament, part of what was
necessary to convey the sense that they were in the presence of God.
Since Ezekiel is in the plain, with no mountains around, the portable firmament has to come all the way down to meet him.
Man was made “in the image of God”- that is, with intelligent awareness and conscious will.
In recognition of that similarity, God is here depicted as “a likeness as it were of human form”, sitting above “the likeness of a throne”.
He appears to emerge from fire (which is the most basic Old Testament symbol of God), and above the waist he resembles “gleaming bronze, like the
appearance of fire enclosed round about”. Gleaming bronze was part of the original description of the fire, and the living creatures themselves
“sparkled like gleaming bronze”. The same feature can be found in the visions of Daniel ch10 and Revelation ch1. I suppose the explanation is
that bronze reflects light, as we might guess from the ancient use of bronze in mirrors. So any source of light which is not fire itself seems to
resemble that metal.
There is also a brightness all around the image, “like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain”.
This bow was promised after the Flood as “the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth”
(Genesis ch9 v17).
Thus there is a symbol of God’s mercy in place to accompany the symbols of his power.
It is not surprising that, upon the sight of this vision, Ezekiel was sufficiently stunned to fall to the ground, hiding his face.