1Now 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.a
Chronological Notes relative to the commencement of Ezekiel's prophesying
-Year from the Creation, according to Archbishop Usher, 3409. -Year of the Jewish era of the world, 3166. -Year from the Deluge, 1753. -Second year of the forty-sixth Olympiad. -Year from the building of Rome, according to the Varronian or generally received account, 159. -Year from the building of Rome, according to Cato and the Fasti Consulares, 158. -Year from the building of Rome, according to Polybius the historian, 157. -Year from the building of Rome, according to Fabius Pictor, 153. -Year of the Julian Period, 4119. -Year of the era of Nabonassar, 153. -Year from the foundation of Solomon's temple, 409. -Year since the destruction of the kingdom of Israel by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, 126. -Second year after the third Sabbatic year after the seventeenth Jewish jubilee, according to Helvicus. -Year before the birth of Christ, 591. -Year before the vulgar era of Christ's nativity, 595. -Cycle of the Sun, 3. -Cycle of the Moon, 15. -Twenty-second year of Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of the Romans: this was the eighty-sixth year before the consulship of Lucius Junius Brutus, and Publius Valerius Poplicola. -Thirty-first year of Cyaxares, or Cyaraxes, the fourth king of Media. -Eleventh year of Agasicles, king of Lacedaemon, of the family of the Proclidae. -Thirteenth year of Leon, king of Lacedaemon, of the family of the Eurysthenidae. -Twenty-fifth year of Alyattes II., king of Lydia, and father of the celebrated Croesus. -Eighth year of AEropas, the seventh king of Macedon. -Sixth and last year of Psammis, king of Egypt, according to Helvicus, an accurate chronologer. This Egyptian king was the immediate predecessor of the celebrated Apries, called Vaphres by Eusebius, and Pharaoh-hophra by Jeremiah, . -First year of Baal, king of the Tyrians. -Twelfth year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. -Fourth year of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.
This chapter contains that extraordinary vision of the Divine glory with which the prophet was favoured when he received the commission and instructions respecting the discharge of his office, which are contained in the two following chapters. The time of this Divine manifestation to the prophet, 1-3. The vision of the four living creatures, and of the four wheels, 4-25. Description of the firmament that was spread over them, and of the throne upon which one sat in appearance as a man, 26-28. This vision, proceeding in a whirlwind from the NORTH, seems to indicate the dreadful judgments that were coming upon the whole land of Judah through the instrumentality of the cruel Chaldeans, who lay to the north of it. See .
NOTES ON CHAP. I
Verse 1. In the thirtieth year] We know not what this date refers to. Some think it was the age of the prophet; others think the date is taken from the time that Josiah renewed the covenant with the people, , from which Usher, Prideaux, and Calmet compute the forty years of Judah's transgression, mentioned .
Abp. Newcome thinks there is an error in the text, and that instead of bisheloshim, in the thirtieth, we should read bachamishith, in the fifth, as in the second verse. "Now it came to pass in the fifth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month," &c. But this is supported by none of the ancient Versions, nor by any MS. The Chaldee paraphrases the verse, "And it came to pass thirty years after the high priest Hilkiah had found the book of the law, in the house of the sanctuary," &c. This was in the twelfth year of Josiah's reign. The thirtieth year, computed as above, comes to A.M. 3409, the fourth year from the captivity of Jeconiah, and the fifth of the reign of Zedekiah. Ezekiel was then among the captives who had been carried way with Jeconiah, and had his dwelling near the river Chebar, Chaborus, or Aboras, a river of Mesopotamia, which falls into the Euphrates a little above Thapsacus, after having run through Mesopotamia from east to west.-Calmet.
Fourth month] Thammuz, answering nearly to our July.
I saw visions of God.] Emblems and symbols of the Divine Majesty. He particularly refers to those in this chapter.
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 colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.c
4 Verse 4. A whirlwind came out of the north] Nebuchadnezzar, whose land, Babylonia, lay north of Judea. Chaldea is thus frequently denominated by Jeremiah.
A great cloud, and a fire infolding itself] A mass of fire concentrated in a vast cloud, that the flames might be more distinctly observable, the fire never escaping from the cloud, but issuing, and then returning in upon itself. It was in a state of powerful agitation; but always involving itself, or returning back to the centre whence it appeared to issue.
A brightness was about it] A fine tinge of light surrounded the cloud, in order to make its limits the more discernible; beyond which verge the turmoiling fire did not proceed.
The colour of amber] This was in the centre of the cloud; and this amber-coloured substance was the centre of the labouring flame. The word ηλεκτρον, which we translate amber, was used to signify a compound metal, very bright, made of gold and brass.
5Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
5 Verse 5. Also out on the midst thereof came-four living creatures.] As the amber-coloured body was the centre of the fire, and this fire was in the centre of the cloud; so out of this amber-coloured igneous centre came the living creatures just mentioned.
6And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
6 Verse 6. Every one had four faces] There were four several figures of these living creatures, and each of these figures had four distinct faces: but as the face of the man was that which was presented to the prophet's view, so that he saw it more plainly than any of the others; hence it is said, , that each of these figures had the likeness of a man; and the whole of this compound image bore a general resemblance to the human figure.
7And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.d
7 Verse 7. Their feet were straight feet] There did not seem to be any flexure at the knee, nor were the legs separated in that way as to indicate progression by walking. I have before me several ancient Egyptian images of Isis, Osiris. Anubis, &c., where the legs are not separated, nor is there any bend at the knees; so that if there was any motion at all, it must have been by gliding, not progressive walking. It is a remark of AElian, that the gods are never represented as walking, but always gliding; and he gives this as a criterion to discern common angelic appearances from those of the gods: all other spiritual beings walked progressively, rising on one foot, while they stretched out the other; but the deities always glided without gradual progressive motions. And Heliodorus in his Romance of Theogines and Charicha, gives the same reason for the united feet of the gods, &c., and describes the same appearances.
Like the sole of a calf's foot] Before it is stated to be a straight foot; one that did not lay down a flat horizontal sole, like that of the human foot.
And they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.] I suppose this refers rather to the hoof of the calf's foot, than to the whole appearance of the leg. There is scarcely any thing that gives a higher lustre than highly polished or burnished brass. Our blessed Lord is represented with legs like burnished brass, .
8And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
8 Verse 8. They had the hands of a man under their wings] I doubt much whether the arms be not here represented as all covered with feathers, so that they had the appearance of wings, only the hand was bare; and I rather think that this is the meaning of their having "the hands of a man under their wings."
9Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
9 Verse 9. Their wings were joined one to another] When their wings were extended, they formed a sort of canopy level with their own heads or shoulders; and on this canopy was the throne, and the "likeness of the man" upon it, .
They turned not when they went] The wings did not flap in flying, or move in the manner of oars, or of the hands of a man in swimming, in order to their passing through the air; as they glided in reference to their feet, so they soared in reference to their wings.
10As 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.
10 Verse 10. As for the likeness of their faces] There was but one body to each of those compound animals: but each body had four faces; the face of a man and of a lion on the right side; the face of an ox and an eagle on the left side. Many of these compound images appear in the Asiatic idols. Many are now before me: some with the head and feet of a monkey, with the body, arms, and legs of a man. Others with the head of the dog; body, arms, and legs human. Some with the head of an ape; all the rest human. Some with one head and eight arms; others with six heads or faces, with twelve arms. The head of a lion and the head of a cock often appear; and some with the head of a cock, the whole body human, and the legs terminating in snakes. All these were symbolical, and each had its own appropriate meaning. Those in the text had theirs also, could we but find it out.
13As 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.
13 Verse 13. Like burning coals of fire] The whole substance appeared to be of flame; and among them frequent coruscations of fire, like vibrating lamps, often emitting lightning, or rather sparks of fire, as we have seen struck out of strongly ignited iron in a forge. The flames might be something like what is called warring wheels in pyrotechny. They seemed to conflict together.
14And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
14 Verse 14. The living creatures ran and returned] They had a circular movement; they were in rapid motion, but did not increase their distance from the spectator. So I think this should be understood.
15 ¶ Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
15 Verse 15. One wheel upon the earth] It seems at first view there were four wheels, one for each of the living creatures; that is, the creatures were compound, so were the wheels, for there was "a wheel in the middle of a wheel." And it is generally supposed that these wheels cut each other at right angles up and down: and this is the manner in which they are generally represented; but most probably the wheel within means merely the nave in which the spokes are inserted, in reference to the ring, rim, or periphery, where these spokes terminate from the centre or nave. I do think this is what is meant by the wheel within a wheel; and I am the more inclined to this opinion, by some fine Chinese drawings now before me, where their deities are represented as walking upon wheels, the wheels themselves encompassed with fire. The wheel is simply by itself having a projecting axis; so of these it is said, "their appearance and their work was, as it were, a wheel within a wheel." There were either two peripheries or rims with their spokes, or the nave answered for the wheel within. I have examined models of what are called Ezekiel's wheels, which are designed to move equally in all directions: but I plainly saw that this was impossible; nor can any kind of complex wheel move in this way.
20Whithersoever 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.g
20 Verse 20. The spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.] That is, the wheels were instinct with a vital spirit; the wheels were alive, they also were animals, or endued with animal life, as the creatures were that stood upon them. Here then is the chariot of Jehovah. There are four wheels, on each of which one of the compound animals stands; the four compound animals form the body of the chariot, their wings spread horizontally above, forming the canopy or covering of this chariot; on the top of which, or upon the extended wings of the four living creatures, was the throne, on which was the appearance of a man, .
21When 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.h
22And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.
22 Verse 22. The colour of the terrible crystal] Like a crystal, well cut and well polished, with various faces, by which rays of light were refracted, assuming either a variety of prismatic colours, or an insufferably brilliant splendour. This seems to be the meaning of the terrible crystal. Newcome translates, fearful ice. The common translation is preferable.
23And 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.
23 Verse 23. Every one had two, which covered on this side] While they employed two of their wings to form a foundation for the firmament to rest on, two other wings were let down to cover the lower part of their bodies: but this they did only when they stood, .
24And 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.
24 Verse 24. The noise of their wings] When the whirlwind drove the wheels, the wind rustling among the wings was like the noise of many waters; like a waterfall, or waters dashing continually against the rocks, or rushing down precipices.
As the voice of the Almighty] Like distant thunder; for this is termed the voice of God, ; .
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.
26 Verse 26. A sapphire] The pure oriental sapphire, a large well cut specimen of which is now before me, is one of the most beautiful and resplendent blues that can be conceived. I have sometimes seen the heavens assume this illustrious hue. The human form above this canopy is supposed to represent Him who, in the fulness of time, was manifested in the flesh.
27And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
27 Verse 27. The colour of amber] There are specimens of amber which are very pure and beautifully transparent. One which I now hold up to the light gives a most beautiful bright yellow colour. Such a splendid appearance had the august Being who sat upon this throne from the reins upward; but from thence downward he had the appearance of fire, burning with a clear and brilliant flame. For farther particulars .
28As 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.
28 Verse 28. As the appearance of the bow] Over the canopy on which this glorious personage sat there was a fine rainbow, which, from the description here, had all its colours vivid, distinct, and in perfection-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. In all this description we must understand every metal, every colour, and every natural appearance, to be in their utmost perfection of shape, colour, and splendour. "And this," as above described, "was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." Splendid and glorious as it was, it was only the "appearance of the likeness," a faint representation of the real thing.
I have endeavoured to explain these appearances as correctly as possible; to show their forms, positions, colours, &c. But who can explain their meaning? We have conjectures in abundance; and can it be of any use to mankind to increase the number of those conjectures? I think not. I doubt whether the whole does not point out the state of the Jews, who were about to be subdued by Nebuchadnezzar, and carried into captivity. And I am inclined to think that the "living creatures, wheels, fires, whirlwinds," &c., which are introduced here, point out, emblematically, the various means, sword, fire, pestilence, famine, &c., which were employed in tneir destruction; and that God appears in all this to show that Nebuchadnezzar is only his instrument to inflict all these calamities. What is in the following chapter appears to me to confirm this supposition. But we have the rainbow, the token of God's covenant, to show that though there should be a destruction of the city, temple, &c., and sore tribulation among the people, yet there should not be a total ruin; after a long captivity they should be restored. The rainbow is an illustrious token of mercy and love.