|The Book of Ezekiel|
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Go to Bible: Ezekiel 1
“in the thirtieth year.” This is Ezekiel’s age. Although that fact is not plainly stated and has been challenged, that the 30 years refers to Ezekiel’s age has been generally accepted since the time of the Church Father Origin. It is unlikely it refers to an unstated and unknown event. According to Num. 4:3, a descendant of Aaron, and thus a priest, entered priestly ministry at age 30, and Ezekiel was a priest (Ezek. 1:3). Thus it is appropriate that his prophetic visions started when he was 30.
“in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month.” Edwin Thiele (The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Revised Edition, 1983) has proposed that this date, in the fifth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin (Ezek. 1:2), is July 31, 593 BC, and that date has been accepted by many scholars. Ezekiel is the most exactly dated of all the prophetic books.
“I was among the captives.” Ezekiel was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army when Jehoiachin, who only reigned 3 months, was king of Judah (2 Kings 24:14-16). He was taken to the area of Nippur, about 600 miles (950 km) east of Jerusalem.
“Chebar canal.” Of this canal that is mentioned in Ezekiel 1:1, Daniel Block writes: “Located in the vicinity of Nippur, the Chebar conduit was but one of many branches of an elaborate canal system that distributed water from the Tigris and the Euphrates throughout the city and its environs” (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Ezekiel chapters 1-24).
Because Ezekiel says he was among the captives located by the canal, we do not know if Ezekiel was personally near the canal at the time of the vision. Nippur is around 70 miles southeast of the city of Babylon, which would have been a good two days journey at that time, so Ezekiel was far enough from the captive royalty of Judah he would not have been influenced much by them.
“I saw visions of God.” God called and chose Ezekiel and, as we learn when we read the book, involved him in an honorable and amazing mission, but one fraught with difficulties and dangers. Ezekiel’s calling was not guesswork on the part of the prophet, nor was it a subtle revelation to him. God shows us by Ezekiel’s example how powerful and personal He can be.
Ezekiel was taken captive to Babylon when he was 26 years old and when Jehoiachin was king of Judah (Ezek. 1:2; 33:21; 40:1; 2 Kings 24:14-16), and the Babylonians settled him in the area of the Chebar canal close to the city of Nippur. It is worth noting that Ezekiel the priest was taken captive to Babylon, while Jeremiah the priest (Jer. 1:1) was left in Judah and had many interactions with king Zedekiah there. Ezekiel was a priest from a line of priests (Ezek. 1:3) and was in the fifth year of his captivity when God appeared to him (Ezek. 1:2). He had just turned 30 when God appeared to him (Ezek. 1:1) which meant that he was not yet considered in the fullness of his priestly service in Jerusalem when he was taken captive (cp. Num. 4:3-47), although he likely had started working as priest when he was 20 (1 Chron. 23:24-25).
He was justifiably angry and bitter about his situation (Ezek. 3:14) because throughout his early years he no doubt looked forward to being a priest and getting to serve God in that way, only to have it—and his homeland and even likely his family—taken from him due to the sin of the leaders of Judah who had consistently ignored the warnings of the prophets, Jeremiah being one of them.
The Bible tells us that Ezekiel was among the captives by the Chebar canal when he noticed what at first looked like a storm on the horizon. However, it turned out to be not a normal desert storm but Yahweh Himself approaching on his chariot-throne, surrounded by clouds and flashes of what seemed to be lightning. And what a chariot-throne Yahweh rode on! The description of it is such that it challenges translators and boggles the mind, but is certainly fitting for Yahweh, the creator of the universe. The chariot-throne had four cherubim in a hollow square position, with four wings each, so the chariot-throne could fly, and four wheels beside the cherubim so it could roll on the ground, and it could move swiftly as lightning. When it moved it made a great sound like rushing waters or the commotion of an army, and it glittered brilliantly and flashed like fire. Above the cherubim was a platform that sparkled like ice or crystal, and on the platform was a great blue throne, and on the throne sat Yahweh Himself in the form of a man. That more or less summarizes Ezekiel 1, and then in Ezekiel 2 God begins to speak to Ezekiel about his calling and what he is supposed to do.
We need to see Ezekiel 1 for what it really is: not just a confusing description of what some people think is a space ship, but rather a loving and righteous God, angry over the sin of His people, who is coming in person to call out a young man into His service. God was about to call Ezekiel to a very serious and difficult ministry, in very difficult time, and He was going to show up in person to do it. He came to Ezekiel in all the power and majesty of His holy position as God; riding on his chariot throne, complete with glittering colors, fire, flashing lightning, and the sound like the commotion of a coming army. Yahweh is coming in all His power and glory; it demands our attention!(top)
“the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity.” Ezekiel is the most exactly dated of all the prophetic books, and the dates reckoned from the captivity of king Jehoiachin of Judah (2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Chron. 36:9-10). There are 15 dated visions in Ezekiel, and many undated revelations, for example, Ezekiel 12 has five undated revelations from Yahweh (cp. Ezek. 12:1, 8, 17, 21, 26).
Ezekiel 1:1-2 is the first dated vision, and it occurred in the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, fourth month, fifth day, which scholars have pinpointed as July 31, 593 BC.
Ezekiel was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar in the second major wave of the deportations of the Israelites to Babylon. The first had come in the “first year” of Nebuchadnezzar (which in Babylonian biblical counting was his accession year, but in non-accession counting was his first actual year). This was the 3rd year of Jehoiakim according to Babylonian counting (Dan. 1:1) and the fourth year of Jehoiakim according to Judean dating (Jer. 25:1; cp. Jer. 46:2). Daniel had been taken captive to Babylon in the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar, which was nine years before Ezekiel was carried to Babylon. Jeremiah was prophesying at the same time as Ezekiel and Daniel, but remained in Judah, eventually going to Egypt (Jer. 43:6-7).(top)
|Eze 1:3||- (top)|
“a stormy wind came out of the north.” It is certainly no accident that God appeared to Ezekiel coming out of a storm cloud. Nippur was one of the most ancient Sumerian cities, and the name “Nippur” comes from the ancient Sumerian and means “Lord wind.” In Sumerian mythology Nippur, the city close to where Ezekiel was located, was the home of Enlil, the Sumerian storm god and creator of mankind. In fact, the ancient mythology was that Enlil actually created mankind at Nippur. Through the centuries and conquests of nations, Enlil lost his powerful position to the Babylonian god Marduk, but Enlil remained as one of the powerful Mesopotamian gods and the god who carried out the decrees of the council of gods that met at Nippur. The sanctuary of Enlil at Nippur was considered sacred by all the various dynasties that ruled Mesopotamia.
Understanding the religious context of the area where Ezekiel was located helps us understand why Yahweh showed Himself to Ezekiel in the way He did. Yahweh showed Himself to Ezekiel not only as the true God and thus the creator of mankind, but as the “real” storm God as well, approaching Ezekiel like a powerful storm on His chariot-throne, complete with wind, clouds and lightning. Yahweh is rightfully called, “the Most High God” because He rules over all other gods and lords (cp. Gen. 14:18; Ps. 7:10; Isa. 14:14; Dan. 4:2; Mark 5:7; Acts 16:17. this is often abbreviated to simply “Most High”).
“a great cloud with fire flashing back and forth.” Although this is described as if Ezekiel is seeing an actual storm coming, we learn as we read that this “storm” is Yahweh approaching, and what Ezekiel is seeing is part of a grand vision in which Yahweh appears to him. The “cloud” surrounding God was the cloud of glory around him (cp. Ezek. 1:28).
“And out of the center of it gleamed something like the glow of gleaming amber.” As Yahweh’s chariot-throne approached, surrounded by clouds and flashing like lightning, it makes sense that the inside would gleam and glow like amber, for Yahweh Himself was on the throne of His chariot. As for the “gleaming amber,” the meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain, and it is only used in Ezekiel 1:4, 27; and 8:2. We know that God’s presence caused a gleam or glow, but the exact nature of it is unknown, although amber is a likely candidate. The fact that Ezekiel describes the gleam from the presence of God in rare and uncertain terms shows us that it was a rare and hard to describe sight. The phrase, “the glow of,” which in some versions is “the color of” (CJB; JPS; KJV) is the same Hebrew word as “eye” in Ezekiel 1:18.(top)
“four living creatures.” The Hebrew word translated “living creature” is from the Hebrew word “living” (alive) and generally refers to living animals, although most English versions render that as “living creatures,” and some as “living beings.” It is completely understandable why the prophet Ezekiel would call them “living creatures,” because he had never seen a cherub, until his own description in Ezekiel 1 and 10, we did not really know what they looked like. Although there are cherubim over the ark of the covenant, they are not described in any kind of detail in the Bible, and it seems like the way they are portrayed over the ark was different than the more exact description that Ezekiel saw.
For example, the cherubim over the ark seem to have only one face, not four, to have only one set of wings instead of two, and are not said to have arms with hands at all. Furthermore, the cherubim that are portrayed in the Millennial Temple only have two faces, not four; a human face and a lion face (Ezek. 41:18-19). It is possible that the sculpture, carvings, and weavings of the cherubim in the Temple are not fully accurate representations of them, but are more general representations. However, it is also possible that “cherub” is a general description of a category of spirit beings rather than a specific spirit being in the same way that “beetle” loosely describes a category of insects and not a specific insect such as a “rhinoceros beetle” or a “lady bug.” If that were the case, we could see how the descriptions of the cherubim differed yet each being was a cherub. That also opens the door for the six-winged creatures in Revelation 4:6-8 to be cherubim.
The book of Ezekiel does not tell us when or how Ezekiel came to the realization that the “living beings” were cherubim, but we learn from Ezekiel 10:15 and 10:20, that they were indeed cherubim.
We were first introduced to cherubim in Genesis 3:24, when God employed them to guard the way into the Garden of Eden and the tree of life, but they were not described other than they were obviously powerful and could wield a flaming sword. The next times we saw the cherubim in the Bible they were associated with the Ark of the Covenant in both Moses’ Tent of Meeting and Solomon’s Temple, and likely symbolize that cherubim guard the Ark of the Covenant just as they guarded the Garden of Eden (cp. Exod. 25:20; 37:9; 1 Kings 6:27; 2 Chron. 3:11, 13). In Exodus we learned that cherubim have wings, but we do not learn that they each had four wings until Ezekiel 1 and 10. We learn that God used cherubim to move from one place to another in Samuel and Psalms (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10), but those verses made it seem like God rode on them like one rides on a horse. However, since Ezekiel tells us they have the general form of a human, that is unlikely. God’s riding a cherub is likely an abbreviated way of saying what is described in much more detail in Ezekiel, that the cherubim power God’s chariot-throne. Finally, here in Ezekiel 1 and 10 we are given a much more complete picture of cherubim.
Like angels, they are alive; they are said to be living creatures. They are basically humanoid in shape (Ezek. 1:5), but have some very significant differences. On their head, each one of them has four different faces that each face in a different direction; the face of a human, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle, so they keep watch in every direction at once (Ezek. 1:10; 10:21). They each have four wings (Ezek. 1:6, 11; 10:21), so they fly, and can fly quick as lightning, and when they fly with God’s chariot-throne, they make a sound like a coming army (Ezek. 1:24). When they are not flying, one set of wings is stretched outward and one set is down and covers their body (Ezek. 1:11). Also, they have arms and hands like human hands under their wings (Ezek. 1:5; 10:21). The arms and hands allow them to grasp things as a human would, which is why the cherubim in Genesis could wield a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24). Also, although their basic form was human, including their upper leg, their “feet,” which included the area up to about the knee, were like those of a calf (Ezek. 1:7). Although the exact purpose for that is not given, it no doubt enables them to run on rocky soil and perhaps also they can be used as weapons. [For more on the cherubim and their purpose, see commentary on Ezek. 1:10].
“they had human form.” This refers to their basic shape. Obviously, humans do not have wings and four different faces.(top)
|Eze 1:6||- (top)|
“legs.” The Hebrew word is actually “feet,” but in the Hebrew culture the “foot” can also refer to the lower leg, which apparently it does here. Similarly, the “hand” can refer to the lower arm almost to the elbow, which is why the Bible says the nails were driven into Jesus’ “hands,” but we know from Roman custom it was actually the wrist.
“gleamed.” The Hebrew word also can be translated “shined” or “sparkled” so exactly how the feet looked is unclear, other than that they were glorious.(top)
“They had human hands under their wings.” The Hebrew is unclear as to how many arms with hands the cherubim had. The ancient exegetes said four sets of arms with hands, but modern scholars tend to believe the Hebrew text should be understood to mean two arms with hands, as a human has.(top)
|Eze 1:9||- (top)|
“of a man in front.” It seems that the way Ezekiel was looking, the face he was looking at was a human face. The four living creatures formed a hollow square, and the platform with God’s throne was somehow supported above them, but how it was supported is not given in the text. As the living creatures were assembled and moved, all their faces aligned the same: the human faces one way, the lion faces to the right, the ox faces to the left, and the eagle faces to the back. When the cherubim-throne moved, whichever way it moved all the same faces would be looking that direction.
The four specific faces of the cherubim are no accident. The lion, eagle, and ox are often portrayed in the art and architecture of the ancient near east, and all three animals were known for their respective strength: the lion in the fight, the eagle as the most powerful of birds, and the ox in plowing and hauling. Their strength made them formidable guards. Beyond pure strength, the lion was also known for courage and ferocity, as well as serving as a royal symbol (note the lions on each side of Solomon’s throne: 1 Kings 10:19-20). The eagle was thought to be the fastest and most noble bird; and the ox was also a symbol of fertility and divinity (note Jeroboam’s golden calves: 1 Kings 12:28; 2 Chron. 13:8). Mankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation and the wisest of all the creatures, so the human face was fitting as well.
The function of the cherubim is not specifically described, but it is at least in part to guard and protect God and the things of God, and perhaps to worship as well. The derivation of the word “cherub” is not known, although it could have a meaning related to “strength, mighty” and to “bless, praise” (cp. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon). Smith’s Bible Dictionary says that a good possible derivation is from the Aramaic for “great, strong,” and it references Philo and Gesenius. God placed cherubim with flaming swords to guard the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). The Book of Enoch, widely read and believed among the Jews, says the cherubim do not sleep, and guard God’s throne and glory (Enoch; LXXI:7). Ezekiel’s cherubim are closely related to the “living creatures” in Revelation 4:6-8, and we can see in Revelation that the living creatures stand in a guarding position between God and the spirit beings who are around Him.
That the cherubim were involved in guarding God and the things of God has been widely recognized. Smith’s Bible Dictionary mentions them being guardians of the covenant and avengers of its breach (Baker Book House, 1981, Vol. 1, p. 420). Hasting’s Bible Dictionary also sees a connection between cherubim and guardianship of the divine. The fact that there were cherubim above the ark of the covenant, and also cherubim on the curtains of Moses’ Tent of Meeting (Exod. 26:1), including the curtains that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (Exod. 26:31-35), and also on the walls of the Temple (1 Kings 6:29) reinforces the connection between cherubim and guarding God and His holy place.
Although it may seem strange to us that God would have guards, it makes perfect sense when we see how God works hard to be close to His creation. God spent time with Adam and Eve in the Garden (cp. Gen. 3:8) and He will live among His people in the everlasting future (Rev. 21:3-4). Between the Fall and Revelation 21, God sometimes appears to people in human form (see commentary on Gen. 18:1). Similarly, God sits among his spirit beings and deals personally with them (see commentary on Gen. 1:26). But there is a potential problem that is created when God works closely to His creation: evil spirits such as Satan may try to directly intervene and overthrow Him. While we know that would be impossible due to God’s great power, it is a scene that God no doubt wants to avoid, and the way to avoid it is to have a contingent of powerful and ever vigilant guards around Him, and the “living beings” known as cherubim serve that purpose and guard Him as well as worship Him.
The Second Commandment says not to make an image of anything in heaven or on earth. Yet there were sculptured cherubim in the Tent of Meeting and the Temple, and also woven and carved base-relief cherubim in those holy places. This shows that the cherub motif was not borrowed from the mythology or experience of any other eastern culture, but they were actual creatures of God and their presence in the Tent of Meeting and Temple was not just for decoration, but communicated a deep truth: they were representing the spirit creatures that guarded God and the things of God.
Furthermore, the fact that many eastern cultures, including the Egyptian, Phoenician, Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian, have powerful winged creatures, for example, the winged bulls that guard Assyrian palaces, testifies to the reality of the cherubim. The Devil is a copycat and deceiver, and no doubt his demons appeared to ancient people in forms that in some ways mimicked the creatures of God and confused people. Of course, the most egregious misrepresentation of cherubs is the transformation of these powerful guardian creatures into chubby babies with tiny wings, as has been done in Western art and religion. The Devil cannot defeat God’s powerful cherub bodyguards, so he mocks them.(top)
“two wings that touched the wing of another.” It does not seem that the wings of the cherubim were in constant contact, but rather they were large enough that the wing of one cherub could reach and touch the wing of another. This indicates that the cherubim did not have a huge distance between them.
“and two wings covering its body.” Each cherub had four wings (Ezek. 1:6). The NLT is a paraphrased translation, but it gives the picture very clearly: “Each [cherub] had two pairs of outstretched wings—one pair stretched out to touch the wings of the living beings on either side of it, and the other pair covered its body.” This was while the chariot-throne was at rest. It seems clear that each cherub used all four wings when in flight, and let their body wings down when stopped (Ezek. 1:24).(top)
“the Spirit.” In Ezekiel chapter 1, “The Spirit” occurs here in Ezekiel 1:12, and later in Ezekiel 1:20. We later learn that “the Spirit” is Yahweh (see commentary on Ezek. 8:2). God appears as “the Spirit” in Ezekiel 1:12, 20; 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 24). [For more on the uses of “spirit,” see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit’”].
As many commentators point out, “the Spirit” (or “the spirit”) here in Ezekiel 1:12 has been interpreted many ways, including the wind, the Spirit of God, the spirit within the living creatures themselves, and the vital energy or impulse by which God, from His throne, acted upon them. However, since these cherubim carry God upon His throne, they would never go where they wanted to, they would always go where God wanted them to. Therefore we must understand “the Spirit” to be a reference to God here, and that is borne out in many other references in Ezekiel (cp. Ezek. 1:12, 20; 3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1, 24. And see commentary on Ezek. 8:3).
“The Spirit” is not a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ or to a third member of the Trinity referred to as the Holy Spirit. Putting the whole multi-chapter vision that Ezekiel had together makes it very clear that the Spirit is Yahweh Himself. [For more on why this Spirit could not be a pre-incarnate Christ, see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son,” and for more on why it could not be a third member of the Trinity referred to as “the Holy Spirit,” see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”].
“They did not turn when they went.” They did not veer from their course; they traveled straight ahead (cp. Ezek. 10:11).(top)
“their appearance was like burning coals of fire.” This description is confusing, and we are confronted with the fact that describing God’s chariot-throne which was glorious in the extreme, is exceedingly difficult. This would be one occasions when we could genuinely say, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but even a photo would likely not capture the greatness of this vision, a video would do much better.
“The fire moved back and forth.” The Hebrew text simply has “it” moved, but that is unclear in English, so most versions nuance this in some way for clarities sake.(top)
“moved backward and forward as quickly as.” The text seems to be emphasizing how fast these cherubim could move, not how they were moving, as if they were constantly darting around. That would hardly seem appropriate considering the throne of God was on the platform they were carrying. From the vision we see that power and majesty of God, that when He wanted to, He could move like a flash of lightning, but He did not just keep darting back and forth.(top)
“I saw one wheel on the ground beside the living creatures.” We now get a more complete picture of God’s cherubim chariot-throne. It is an awesome sight. Four cherubim somehow have a platform above them on which was placed God’s throne, and we are told it can move quick as lightning, being carried through the air by cherubim with powerful wings. But now we see the chariot-throne is equally as capable when moving on the ground, being equipped with four gleaming wheels. We have seen God fly on cherubim in other verses (2 Sam. 22:11), but this is the first time we see God’s throne with wheels, however, we see the wheels again in Daniel 7:9. The wheels seem to be on the outside of the cherubim (cp. Ezek. 10:2).(top)
“gleam.” This is the same Hebrew word as “eye” in Ezekiel 1:18. The word “eye” was used of things that sparkled or caught one’s attention.
“beryl.” The stone has also been proposed to be yellow topaz. There is really no way to be sure.
“as if one wheel was inside another wheel.” This is impossible to fully understand, because we have not been given enough information. Many interpretations are possible and many have been given.
It seems quite likely that each wheel was composed of two wheels that were placed at 90-degree angles. If that is the case, then each wheel was similar to the cherub beside it in that it could move straight ahead in four directions without turning. Just as each cherub had four faces and each face was looking in a different direction so that the cherub could move straight forward in different directions, a wheel composed of two wheels at 90-degree angles would allow God’s cherubim chariot to roll straight forward in four different directions.
Another possible interpretation is that the “wheel in a wheel” description could mean that each wheel had an inner hub and outer rim, and that gave the picture of a wheel inside a wheel. That kind of wheel construction was common in the ancient world and is a standard way of constructing wheels. However, it seems that the common nature of wheel construction using a hub, spokes, and rim argues against that being what Ezekiel saw, because he would likely then have said that he saw wheels next to the cherubim.(top)
“they did not turn when they went.” The wheels rotated when they moved, but they did not veer from their direction. Like the cherubim, they went straight ahead.(top)
“rims full of eyes.” This does not mean the wheels were alive and could see, and in fact that is highly unlikely. The Hebrew word “eye” was used of many things, including things that sparkled or gleamed, like eyes are said to gleam. Also, in the Babylonian world, “eye” was used to refer to a nail or pebble that looked like an eye or had the shape of an eye. It is possible that the text is simply saying these wheels sparkled all around, or that they were decorated with sparking gems or rivets like eyes. There are many examples of the Hebrew word not referring to an eye, many in Ezekiel itself. For example, the word “eye” is used for “gleam” in Ezekiel 1:4 and 16, and “glittering” in Ezekiel 1:22. Also, it is used of wine which “sparkles” (gives its eye) in the cup (Prov. 23:31), and many other uses could be cited.(top)
|Eze 1:19||- (top)|
“the Spirit.” “The Spirit” occurs in Ezekiel 1, here in Ezekiel 1:12, and later in Ezekiel 1:20. We later learn that the Spirit is Yahweh (Ezek. 8:2). God appears as “the Spirit” in Ezekiel 1:12, 20; 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 24). See commentary on Ezekiel 1:12 and 8:3.
“for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.” What the phrase means is unclear. Scholars do mostly agree that the phrase serves to show that the whole chariot-throne system works and moves together in concert.(top)
“for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.” What the phrase means is unclear. Scholars do mostly agree that the phrase serves to show that the whole chariot-throne system works together and moves together in concert (cp. Ezek. 10:17).(top)
“platform.” Although the Hebrew word raqiva (#07549 רָקִיעַ) is usually rendered “firmament,” “dome,” or “expanse,” there is good lexical and contextual reason to translate it as “platform” here; a platform with Yahweh’s throne set on it (cp. NET, Word Biblical Commentary; The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Hermeneia Critical and Historical Commentary; The Anchor Bible: Ezekiel; Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Ezekiel. And compare also NJB, NRS, and NLT).
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that the basic concept of the Hebrew root of raqiva is “stamping, as with the foot, and what results.” Thus, raqiva referred to broad plates, beaten out. We certainly see this when the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated raqiva as stereōma, a solid supporting structure. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon gives one of the two definitions of raqiva as “the vault of heaven, or ‘firmament,’ regarded by the Hebrews as solid, and supporting ‘waters’ above it.” The Holladay Hebrew-English Lexicon says that raqiva refers to a beaten metal “plate, firmament (i.e. vault of heaven, understood as a solid dome).”
The Latin Vulgate translated raqiva as firmamentum, referring to something which strengthens or supports, thus a firm structure, and that came into the English as “firmament,” which lexically means the same as the Latin, something firm that strengthens or supports. However, because of its use in Genesis and a lack of understanding of the Hebrew cosmology, the “firmament” lost its attachment to something firm, and was thought to refer to an expanse, the expanse of heaven. Many people today think it refers to the expanse of heaven, but we must keep in mind that the ancients thought of the “expanse of heaven” as a kind of hard dome over them, an expanse that had some solidness to it. The concept of “infinite space” was not a cosmological concept in the ancient near east.
The important point for understanding Ezekiel is that the raqiva, the “firmament,” was not thought to be an empty expanse of air, like we moderns might imagine. Even as an “expanse,” it was a hard surface that extended out into the distance. Ezekiel used raqiva as a hard surface, but as the hard platform that was above the cherubim and upon which God’s throne was placed.
It has been traditionally thought by many (and with good reason) that above the cherubim was an “expanse” like described in Genesis, the expanse of heaven, and God’s throne was above it. But while that seemed logical, it makes Ezekiel’s vision impossible to understand. If God is in heaven on His throne, what is the point of the cherubim with four wings and the wheels beside them coming to Ezekiel? This vision makes sense to us once we realize that the cherubim and wheels are part of God’s chariot-throne and God’s throne is on a platform above the cherubim.
It seems that the cherubim were such a vital part of God’s chariot-throne that when the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat and cherubim are being described as a centerpiece of Solomon’s Temple that the cherubim are even called, “the chariot” (cp. 1 Chron. 28:18).
“glittering.” This is the same word as it translated “eye” in Ezekiel 1:18 (see commentary on Ezek. 1:18, “eyes”).
“like crystal.” The Hebrew word (#07140 קֶרַח), which often refers to ice and could refer to that here, also can refer to crystal, hence the different English translations. Both ice and crystal can glitter and shine awesomely in the sunlight. Also, both crystal and ice are clear enough that Yahweh could see the cherubim and wheels, and anything else beneath Him, and the cherubim could watch Him.(top)
|Eze 1:23||- (top)|
“I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of great waters.” It seems clear that when the cherubim flew, they used all four wings, but when they stopped they let down the wings that covered their bodies.(top)
“Then a voice came from above the platform.” Although it is not explicitly stated, we can see that this is Yahweh, directing his chariot-throne.
“platform.” See commentary on Ezekiel 1:22.(top)
“over their heads.” That is, over the heads of the cherubim, as the context shows.
“sapphire stone.” This could also be lapis lazuli. The blue color was associated with God and his throne (Exod. 24:10; Ezek. 10:1).
“the form of a man.” This is God, Yahweh, appearing in the form of a man, as is clear from the context. [For more on Yahweh appearing in human form, see commentary on Ezekiel 8:2 and Gen. 18:1].
The book of Ezekiel gives us a lot of information about God and His chariot-throne, which He traveled on when He came to speak with Ezekiel. The chariot-throne travels lightning-fast through the air (Ezek. 1:14), powered by four four-winged cherubim (Ezek. 1:11), and when it lands it has wheels and can roll (Ezek. 1:16-17). It is quite compact, and thus can park between the south side of the Temple and the Temple enclosure wall (Ezek. 10:3). The cherubim are close enough together that their wings can touch (Ezek. 1:9). Above the cherubim and the wheels is a platform that glistens like crystal and is likely somewhat transparent, allowing God to see the cherubim, wheels, and ground below Him (Ezek. 1:22). Upon the platform is a sapphire-blue throne, and upon the throne God sits in the form of a human (Ezek. 1:26). The cherubim are living creatures, and go wherever and whenever God instructs them to (Ezek. 1:20), and when they move they make a great noise like the noise of an army (Ezek. 1:24).
Given the human shape of the cherubim and their four faces looking in four different directions (Ezek. 1:5-6, 10), it is likely that when God traveled on His cherubim-powered chariot-throne it is sometimes expressed simply as “God rode on a cherub” (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10). It is unlikely that God would ride piggy-back style on a cherub. Also, that God rides on a cherubim-powered chariot-throne explains why cherubim are referred to as God’s “chariot” in 1 Chron. 28:18.(top)
“And there was brightness all around him.” This brightness is the “glory” of the LORD, the glory of Yahweh. See commentary on Ezekiel 1:28.(top)
“the rainbow.” The colors of the rainbow are also associated with God’s throne in Revelation 4:3. God loves brilliant colors, and we see them associated with God in different places, particularly here and Revelation 4, and, of course, in God’s world around us.
“This was the appearance of the form of the glory of Yahweh.” This translation in the REV is quite literal. The sense of the sentence is picked up in several versions that are slightly less literal but catch the sense well. For example, “This was how the appearance of the glory of ADONAI looked” (CJB). Or, “This is what the glory of the LORD looked like to me” (NLT).
Here in Ezekiel 1:28 and most other places, the “glory of Yahweh” is the brilliant light that surrounds Yahweh, and He is in the center of the brilliant light. Sometimes, such as in Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 4:3, the light surrounding God is multi-colored. Ezekiel saw both the brilliant light that surrounded Yahweh and Yahweh Himself in a human form (Ezek. 1:26-28). Historically it has sometimes been thought that the “glory” was the divine presence itself, but the Bible describes the brilliant glory as being around God, not God Himself appearing as a brilliant light. Thus the Hastings Bible Dictionary has: “It [“glory”] is also frequently used…to denote a particular physical appearance indicating the divine presence” (James Hastings, ed., A Dictionary of the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1988, “Glory,” p. 184).
As we will see below, Yahweh appeared in different ways. There are times when He appeared to people without His glory being visible, such as when He visited Abraham (Gen. 18:1). At other times He appeared in a cloud of brilliant light, and people could see the light but not Yahweh Himself. Sometimes, like here in Ezekiel, Yahweh appeared in His “glory,” the brilliant light that surrounded Him, but Yahweh Himself could also be seen in the light (Ezek. 1:26-28).
Since the phrase “the glory of Yahweh” is a way of describing the brilliant light that surrounds Yahweh with Him in the center, sometimes the Bible focuses on the glorious brilliance around Yahweh and sometimes on Yahweh Himself. This in large part explains why, when Yahweh appears in a given record, the Bible sometimes says “Yahweh” while at other times it says “the glory of Yahweh.” For example, “the glory of Yahweh” stood in front of Ezekiel on a plain near Nippur, but it was Yahweh Himself who spoke to Ezekiel (Ezek. 3:22-24). Similarly, Ezekiel 3:12 says that “the glory of Yahweh rose from its place,” but it is clear in the context that Yahweh’s chariot-throne was lifting off and moving with Yahweh Himself in the center of the glory that surrounded Him. Also, in Ezekiel 9:3, “the glory of God” moved to the threshold of the Temple, but “He” (Yahweh) spoke to Ezekiel. Also, because of the sin of the religious and political leaders of Judah, “the glory of Yahweh” left the Temple (Ezek. 10:4, 18; 11:23), but it was Yahweh who left; and He returns in Ezekiel 43:1-6, which is still future. But the Bible says “the glory of Yahweh” left because Yahweh in all His glory left the Temple.
When Stephen was being stoned, he looked up and saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” but he described it saying, “I see…the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56). Stephen saw “the glory of God,” i.e., the brilliant light that surrounded God, but he described it to the people there as “God” because he and his audience all knew that the “glory of God” was there because God was there in the center of the brilliant glory. Furthermore, to Stephen, “God” was the important focus, not the light around Him.
There are many times in the Bible when “the glory of Yahweh” is said to be present but Yahweh Himself was apparently not seen. The “glory of Yahweh” is not separate from Yahweh as if Yahweh Himself could be in one place and the “glory of Yahweh,” the brilliant light around Him, could be in another place. When the people saw the glory of Yahweh, they knew that the reason for the brilliant light was that God was in the center of it, and often when Yahweh appeared, He only allowed people to see the glorious light that surrounded Him, but not He Himself (cp. Exod. 16:7, 10; 24:16-18; Lev. 9:23-24; Num. 14:10; 16:19, 42; 20:6; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 7:1-3).
A good example of people seeing the light around God but apparently not God in person was when “the glory of Yahweh” filled Moses’ Tent of Meeting and Solomon’s Temple. The brilliant light revealed that God was present there in a special way, dwelling above the Mercy Seat and between the cherubim (Exod. 25:22; Num. 7:89; 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chron. 13:6; Ps. 80:1, 99:1; Isa. 37:16). When “the glory of the Lord” shined around the shepherds at the birth of Christ, it almost assuredly indicated that a very proud Father God was personally present there at the announcement of the birth of His only begotten Son, but the shepherds did not see Yahweh Himself (Luke 2:9).
God is in control of when and how He appears to people, so it should not surprise us that when God shows up in person, He shows up in different ways, each appropriate to the circumstance. Sometimes He is surrounded by brilliant light, which can be multi-colored as it is in Ezekiel 1:27-28 and Revelation 4:3-5. The brilliant light around God is the inapproachable light of 1 Timothy 6:16. Sometimes when God shows up in the form of a human as He did to Ezekiel, His body is described as being like fire (Ezek. 1:27). This may refer to the yellow, orange, red, blue and even green colors of fire, but also it likely describes the fact that, like fire, God Himself is glowing and the light shining from Him is moving and changing. God does not have to show up in a dull human form, but can reveal Himself in an amazing form that apparently shines, glows, and flashes like fire. However, when God showed up in Daniel’s vision of the end-times judgment, it was a regal indeed, with God in snow white clothing and with the white hair of age and wisdom, sitting on a fiery throne of judgment (Dan. 7:9-10).
Sometimes when Yahweh comes in person the brightness around Him is described as a cloud. This is what happened at the dedications of Moses’ Tent of Meeting and Solomon’s Temple. The cloud of light that filled Moses’ Tent and Solomon’s Temple was so bright that the priests could not minister there (Exod. 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 7:1-3). The glory of Yahweh is also described as a bright cloud in Ezekiel 10:3-4, and God said he would appear in a cloud on the Mercy Seat between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:2). We can understand why the brightness around God is sometimes described as a “cloud” because His brightness was localized and thus was much like a bright cloud in the sky with the sun shining through it such that it can only be squinted at. A brilliant cloud also appeared at the Transfiguration and indicated the presence of God, and God spoke from the cloud and said, “This is my beloved Son…” (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34).
The appearance of the cloud around God could change, depending on the situation. Although it was usually a brilliant light, sometimes it was dark. Furthermore, sometimes it had lightning or both thunder and lightning, and sometimes it had some of the other colors of the rainbow around God as well, or the colors of fire. When God came down on Mount Sinai at the time of the Exodus, there was a thick dark cloud, thunder and lightning, smoke, and the appearance of a consuming fire (Exod. 19:16-18; 24:16-17). When God first showed Himself to Ezekiel, he saw a cloud flashing with fire and there was a brilliance around the cloud and a glow in the middle of it that had the deep yellow-orange color of amber (Ezek. 1:4).
It is important to recognize that there are a couple of times when “the glory of Yahweh” does not seem to refer to His personal presence. In the phrase, “the glory of Yahweh,” the Hebrew word “glory” is kabod (#03519 כָּבוֹד), and kabod has a broad range of meanings. In different contexts kabod can mean glory, splendor, honor, distinction, reputation, importance, essence, power, and even heaviness or burden.
When the Bible speaks of the “glory” of Yahweh as the brilliant light that surrounds Him, it is using “glory” with the meaning of something that is awe inspiring and of great splendor and wonder. As we have seen above, that brilliant awe-inspiring and wonderous light indicates the presence of God (cp. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 458, (#03519 כָּבוֹד) #2. c. “of God, glory, in historic theophanies”). There are times, however, when the word “glory” refers to God’s majesty, power, or His praise and honor. For example, in Isaiah 35:2 when the wilderness and desert will see the “glory of God” and be transformed into fertile land, the word “glory” most likely refers to His awe-inspiring power that elicits praise. A similar use is in Habakkuk 2:14 when the whole world is filled with the knowledge of the “glory of Yahweh,” most likely meaning His power and majesty.
In contrast to the “glory of Yahweh,” which occurs quite often in the Old Testament and almost always refers to the personal presence of Yahweh, the phrase the “glory of God” occurs very rarely in the Old Testament and never refers to His personal presence. In the Old Testament, the phrase “the glory of God” refers to the power and majesty of God (cp. Ps. 19:1, Prov. 25:2). However, the phrase “the glory of the God of Israel” refers to the glorious brilliance around Yahweh, and it only occurs five times, all in Ezekiel (Ezek. 8:4; 9:3; 10:19; 11:22; 43:2).
In the New Testament, the phrase “glory of the Lord” is rare, occurring three times, and it can refer to God’s personal presence (Luke 2:9), or to praise and honor (2 Cor. 8:19), or in one case it refers to the glory of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). The phrase “the glory of God” in the New Testament almost always refers to the power and majesty of God or something that elicits the praise and honor of God (cp. John 11:4, 40; Rom. 3:23; 15:7; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 4:14). Only a few times does the “glory of God” refer to the brilliant light that surrounds God (Acts 7:55; Rev. 15:8; 21:23, and perhaps Rev. 21:11).
God desires a special and personal relationship with people, so it is not unusual that He would manifest His presence among humans at various critical times in history, and often He is surrounded by glorious light, “the glory of Yahweh.”
[For more on Yahweh appearing in human form, see commentary on Gen. 18:1].(top)