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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Ezekiel 1

 

 

Verses 1-28

Ezekiel 1:1. In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, and fifth day of the month. The Jews were accustomed to reckon time from great and auspicious events, as the call of Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, and the building of the temple. Now, the finding of the long-lost copy of the law of Moses, 2 Kings 22:8, filled the land with joy, and called a great multitude to Jerusalem to celebrate anew the Lord’s passover. This was in the eighteenth year of Josiah, from which only those thirty years can with certainty be collected.

By the river Chebar, which rises in the mountains of Mesopotamia; and running through the middle of that country, disembogues into the Euphrates at the city of Cobar, not far below Carchemesh. Ptolemæ calls it καβωρας, intersecting Mesopotamia.

I saw the visions of God; or as in Ezekiel 1:3, the Word of the Lord came to Ezekiel. The prophet speaks here in the third person. The condescension was great. Messiah in person came to a worm! Similar illustrations appear in Jeremiah 47:1. In like manner, St. Paul also, speaking of his vision, says, I knew a man in Christ Jesus, caught up to the third heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:2. Ezekiel records in all seventeen distinct visions, of which Messiah’s chariot is the first, which formed the grand seal of his call to the prophetic office. The other sixteen are as follow.

2. Commences with chap. 3., to the end of chap. 7., in various visions. 3. Ezekiel 8, 9. 10, 11. comprise visions seen in the sixth year. 4. Ezekiel 12. to the succeeding chapter. 5. Ezekiel 13. seen in the seventh year. 6. Ezekiel 21, 22. 23, 7. Ezekiel 24. seen in the ninth year. 8. Ezekiel 25. concerning other nations. 9. Ezekiel 26. against Tyre. 10. Same subject continued to chap. 28, 11. Ezekiel 29. against Pharaoh and Egypt. 12. Ezekiel 31. the subject continued. 13. Ezekiel 32. the subject continued. 14. Ezekiel 33. the duties of a watchman. 15. Ezekiel 35, 36. against Moab, with comfort to Israel. 16. Ezekiel 37, 38. 39. Israel restored, and Gog destroyed. 17. Ezekiel 40. the new temple seen in the twenty fifth year.

Of Ezekiel’s visions, archbishop Newcome says, and his words are cited by a recent critic with marks of strong approbation, “However numerous the fictions of Ezekiel are, they all appear in magnificent dress, and each in its peculiar splendid one. Lustre shines in him on every side; and if the poet has here and there overloaded his subject with ornaments, we shall be unable to refuse our admiration to his genius, notwithstanding these defects.”—From the words fictions and defects, we may gather, that the primate believed in Ezekiel’s inspiration the same as we believe in the inspiration of Milton, Pope, or Racine the younger, whose beautiful poem sur la religion has been eulogized by Rousseau.

Milton far surpasses the primate in the excellence of his remarks concerning this most glorious discovery of God to the prophet. He regards this vision as the chariot of Messiah, the Son of God, and the Redeemer of Israel, who hurled apostate angels to the dire abyss.

“Nor less on either side tempestuous fell His arrows, from the fourfold-visaged Four Distinct with eyes, and from the living wheels Distinct alike with multitude of eyes; One spirit in them ruled, and every eye Glared lightning, and shot forth pernicious fire Among th’ accursed, that withered all their strength, And of their wonted vigour left them drained, Exhausted, spiritless, afflicted, fallen. Yet half his strength he put not forth, but checked His thunder in mid volley: for he meant Not to destroy, but root them out of heaven.” Paradise Lost, book 6:814.

Ezekiel 1:4. A whirlwind came out of the north. The rabbins have so great a reverence for this vision, that they are afraid to explain it. It is in substance the same as Moses saw. Exodus 25:18. The same as Isaiah saw, chap. 6.; and as St. John saw. Revelation 4:5. The whirlwind out of the north may import the Babylonian army in its approach to Judea, for they made a circuitous route along the Euphrates to avoid the deserts, fit only to be traversed by the Arabs. The cloud and the fire mark the vehicles which God employs, when he is pleased to converse with man. The colour of amber. The Hebrew word chasmal may be understood of a vivid colour, as the centre of the fire. But as amber retains its colour, and is more fragrant in a state of friction, it may denote the divine excellence which subsisted in many of the captive Jews.—The living creatures, literally animal creatures, import the ministry of holy angels, who continually surround the throne of God. In Ezekiel 10:15-20, the animals are called cherubim; and it is plain that their bodies resembled those of men, and were erect. The man may denote their wisdom and purity, the eagle their piercing sight, the ox their strength, and the lion unconquerable courage.

Ezekiel 1:5. Out of the midst of the cloud of Messiah’s chariot, when he rode on the wings of the wind; notes of which will be found on Deuteronomy 33:26.—Four living creatures, designating the cherubim seen by Isaiah, chap. 6.; and more fully illustrated by St. John. Revelation 4. The whole vision therefore exhibits Christ reigning over angels and saints in his kingdom, and glorious in the midst of his church. Such likewise are the visions in Revelation 5, 8, 9.

Ezekiel 1:7. Their feet were straight feet. The feet of a bull, seen in the vision, are firm and strong, and may therefore denote the stability of the love, the covenant, and righteousness of Him who is the rock and strength of our salvation. Their feet sparkled with corruscations, like pots of brass when by an intense heat they boil in the furnace. Metals in a state of fusion, as in the blast furnaces of iron, are too vivid for the eye to contemplate without injury to the sight, as when we look intensely at the sun. This fire designates the presence of the seraphim, a name equivalent to burning ones.

Ezekiel 1:8. They had the hands of a man under their wings. Likewise, as in Ezekiel 1:26, the figure of a man was above the chariot of glory. This is the continuous designation of the incarnate glory of Christ, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He rides above the chariot, which moves at his command; he extends his arm of power under every wing, for Christ is all and in all, everliving and glorious in his sanctuary. In him the church rides triumphantly over all her foes; she mounts up with wings as eagles, and leaves the world and sin behind.

Ezekiel 1:10. They four had the face of a man; for man, in regard of his spirit, is allied to angels. Poole, in a table on this verse, places the man to the south, the ox to the east, the eagle to the north, and the lion to the west. Then transposing their position, he places the lion to the south, &c.

Ezekiel 1:13. Their appearance was like burning coals of fire. The Deity veiled himself in a sheet of devouring fire on Sinai. Elisha saw the mountains of Samaria full of horses of fire, and chariots of fire. In a similar manner were the heads of the holy apostles crowned with the spires of a celestial flame. Acts 2:3-4. What then has the church to fear? The God of our salvation is a consuming fire.

Ezekiel 1:14. The living creatures ran and returned, with a velocity like the electric fluid: ever living, ever active, ever watchful, ever devout. They sit not as statues, like the wooden protectors of cities and temples. They have no fixed abode, but where their aid is most wanted, thither they fly; and while the church dwells in tents, the seraphim surround the camp. Psalms 34:7.

Ezekiel 1:15. One wheel upon the earth. There were four wheels, yet only one touched the earth. Hence, we may gather, that angels are concerned in the humblest affairs of human life, where all things revolve in changes from adversity to prosperity, and from prosperity to adversity.

Ezekiel 1:18. Their rings—were dreadful. The Hebrew, the Chaldaic, and the LXX read “backs” for rings, which best agrees with Ezekiel 10:12, and with Revelation 4:6, where it is said that the four beasts were full of eyes before and behind. A body so full of eyes, says Dr. Wall, seems to denote the society of angels and men. Lapide thinks that the beauty of those eyes might be represented by the peacock’s tail; but he spins out figures much too far. The eyes denote, no doubt, the divine omniscience.

Ezekiel 1:22. The likeness of the firmament upon the heads—was as the colour of the terrible crystal. Jerome reads, crystalli horribilis; natural enough for a man of Milan, who had seen the glaciers of mount Blanc, and the constant rainbows which appear on the sunny side in the droppings of the melted ice; a sublime sight to the traveller. The Chaldaic reads, the strong or the very luminous crystal. The glory is like that which Moses saw. Exodus 24:10.

Ezekiel 1:24. The noise of their wings, as they went or flew, for both these motions are ascribed to them, was like the noise of great waters. The strake of their wings was so dreadful that it shook the heavens, and made the earth tremble. The great voice also which Israel heard at the giving of the law, appalled their hearts with fear; and the voice of the Son of man which John heard in Patmos, was like the sound of many waters. Revelation 1:13; Revelation 1:15.

Ezekiel 1:26. Above the firmament—was the likeness of a throne. In like manner Moses beheld the divine glory on the mount, and Isaiah saw the Messiah sitting on his throne. This was a prelude or intimation of our Saviour’s incarnation, for the divine nature cannot be conceived to sit upon a throne; and it marks farther, that he is a God of justice presiding over the nations of the earth.

Ezekiel 1:27. I saw as the colour of amber. See Ezekiel 1:4. This amber was the colour assumed by the Word of the Lord, when he appeared to the prophet at the time the elders of Judah sat before him: Ezekiel 8:2. Jerome leaves the Hebrew chasmal untranslated. It is both here and in Ezekiel 8:2, associated with fire, and might designate the peculiar appearance of burning coals.

Ezekiel 1:28. The appearance of the bow—in the day of rain. This emblem of the divine presence, often mentioned in scripture, is to man a happy token that God is mindful of his covenant. See on Genesis 9:13. It was to Ezekiel a sure pledge that Israel should once more receive the former and the latter rain.

REFLECTIONS.

In this most consoling but sanctifying vision, we see that the holy prophets were purely passive in the call to their high mission. The character of a prophet was high, his work arduous and difficult, requiring an extraordinary degree of grace to bear the honours and sustain the persecutions attached to the office. Hence God exercised his sovereignty in the selection of his servants.

The care of providence over the church is unceasing. When the Lord’s people go into captivity or affliction, he will be with them there for their support and high defence. No man shall afflict them without permission, and then only by weight and measure.

This cloud of glory, the vehicle of the supreme Being when conversing with men, marks farther by its moving position that the true church sojourns on earth, and has no permanent habitation here. It is not in Jerusalem, nor in Samaria, nor in any particular place that men shall worship the Father. He is a Spirit, and they that worship him must do it in spirit and in truth. The peculiar sanctity of tombs and temples is a human error. God prefers the heart of the contrite to any house that man can build.

The cloud moving in a right line from north to south, and the way the human face looked, shows that how crooked soever the ways of man may be, the Lord’s way is perfect. He proceeds with his administration, and turns not aside for the winding of vallies or the elevation of hills. The saints have only to follow in a pious and teachable temper, and the Lord will surely turn their captivity and lead them as his Israel to his holy hill.

The movements of providence are complicated. As in a watch, so in the chariot of the Lord, there was a wheel within a wheel. The great builder of heaven and earth has his plan before him; but he conceals it from angels and men till the proper time. In his work he employs all in heaven and all on earth, the multitude of the wicked and the righteous few. The Assyrian wheel rolled in the bloody career of conquest; but the Lord holding the reins of his chariot, suffered him only to crush Samaria, and took off his wheels before Jerusalem. In like manner the wheel of Babylon rolled Judah into captivity, but the wheel of Persia set them free. Thus in ten thousand cases, God, taking the wicked by their passions, one while permits them to chastise, and another while to defend his people, while all the time they are solely seeking to gratify the pride, avarice and ambition of their own hearts. Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/ezekiel-1.html. 1835.

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