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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 1

 

 

Verses 1-28

Ezekiel 1-3. Ezekiel Enters upon his Ministry.

Ezekiel 1:1-28. Ezekiel's Vision.

Ezekiel 1:1-3. Like the prophets generally, Ezekiel enters upon his ministry only after he has had a vision of God and a call from Him. The book, therefore, appropriately opens with a description of these experiences. They took place "in the thirtieth year"—a difficult phrase: perhaps the thirtieth year of the prophet's life—in any case in 592 B.C., the fifth year after Jehoiachin and the leading citizens of Judah had been carried captive into Babylon (2 Kings 24:10

Ezekiel 1:16). Among them was Ezekiel, who whether or not a priest himself, came of a priestly family—a fact which explains certain elements in the vision about to be described, and which accounts for the form into which he casts his ideals (Ezekiel 40-48) and in general for the temper of his mind. The Jewish colony of which he was a member was settled in the neighbourhood of a large navigable canal called the Chebar, S.E. of Babylon. It was there that he had the vision of God which sent him forth upon his ministry. It came upon him apparently when he was in a state of trance or ecstasy—for that is the implication of the frequently recurring phrase "the hand of Yahweh was upon him"; and the full bearing of the vision is not appreciated till we remember that the God who there came into his experience with such illumining and quickening power was popularly supposed to be confined to Canaan, the home of His people, or more particularly to the Temple; but, as certain symbolical details of the vision will soon make clear, this great God is not thus confined, but even in distant Babylon He can make Himself felt and known.

Ezekiel 1:4-21. The vision, which is unusually complicated and elaborate, would be very difficult to render pictorially; but the ultimate elements can still be recognised which were fused together in the sublime experience of ecstasy. It was suggested in part by the prophet's knowledge of Isaiah's vision (Isaiah 6), of Solomon's Temple, and the mongrel figures of Babylonian art. But it is not till towards the end of the description that we hear anything of the Divine Being Himself (Ezekiel 1:26); attention is first concentrated on the wonderful chariot upon which He is borne, and the details of it are all symbolic of aspects of the Divine nature. First the prophet sees a fiery cloud approaching—flashing like amber, or rather electrum (a mixture of silver and gold). From out the glow four living creatures, suggested by the cherubim of the Temple (1 Kings 6:23-28, Genesis 3:24*, Psalms 18:10*, Isaiah 6:2*), begin to articulate themselves; each of these creatures had four wings and four faces, that of a man, lion, ox, eagle, symbolising respectively intelligence, dignity, strength, and speed. The four creatures face east, west, north, and south, suggesting that all parts of the universe alike are open to the gaze of God—an idea further enhanced by the presence of wings attached to the creatures, and of wheels beneath and beside them, so that there is no spot inaccessible to the Divine energy: for everywhere this mysterious chariot can go. The wonder and weirdness of it all is heightened by the presence of eyes in the wheels. Wheels so equipped cannot miss their way, and to those mysterious eyes every part of the universe is open. The creatures and the wheels alike were animated by the Divine life: and in the midst of the creatures was a perpetual flash of lightning, and the glow of fire—suggested, no doubt, by the altar fire of Isaiah's vision—so that the whole phenomenon constituted an awe-inspiring symbol of the omnipotence, the omnipresence, and the omniscience of God.

If it be said that much in this vision is obscure and some of it grotesque—the combination, e.g. of wings and wheels as means of locomotion—it may be urged in reply that the prophet is quite conscious that he is attempting to describe the indescribable. Instead of boldly describing the things themselves, he usually only hints at their appearance: it was "the likeness of" living creatures, faces, etc., that he saw—something like them, but in the last analysis something unutterable. The vision is a mystery, as every vision of God must be, and this feature persists throughout the description to the end. Indeed this sense of mystery, with its accompanying reverence and reticence, is most prominent when Ezekiel comes to tell of the figure throned upon the chariot which he has just described.

Ezekiel 1:22-28. Though the whole is a vision of God, it is worth noting that Ezekiel does not name or describe Him till towards the end. This has the literary effect of heightening the reader's suspense, though the impression of the Divine presence is far less immediate than that produced by the story of the vision and call experienced by Isaiah or Jeremiah. God is more remote to the later prophet.

The mysterious reverberating whirr of the mighty wings is followed by an equally mysterious silence. The wings droop, the chariot stops. Above the heads of the creatures is seen a crystal floor or platform (here called firmament) on which rested a sapphire throne—the imagery here suggests the deep blue of heaven—and on the throne is Almighty God Himself, something like a radiant human figure of supernatural brilliance and glory. And all this terror of the Divine majesty is softened by the sight of a lovely rainbow round the throne. But little wonder that, when the prophet saw the awful vision, he fell prostrate upon his face.

Notice the incessant repetition, in the last few verses, of the words "appearance" and "likeness." At this point more than ever, Ezekiel knows himself to be describing things which it is not possible for a man to utter.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ezekiel 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/ezekiel-1.html. 1919.

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