For the life of the prophet prior to the vision which this chapter relates, and which constituted his call to that office, see Introduction.
Now; literally, and. The use of the conjunction indicates here, as in Jonah 1:1, that the narrative that follows links itself on to something that has gone before. In Exodus 1:1 and 1 Samuel 1:1 it may point to a connection with the book that precedes it. Here the sequence is subjective. We may think of Ezekiel as retracing the years of his life till he comes to the thirtieth. Then, as it were, he pulls himself up. That must be the starting point of what he has to say. Our English use of "now" is nearly equivalent to this. In the thirtieth year. I incline, following Origen, Hengstenberg, Smend, and others, to refer the date to the prophet's own life. That year in Jewish reckoning was the age of full maturity. At that age the earlier Levites (Numbers 4:23, Numbers 4:20, Numbers 4:39, Numbers 4:43, Numbers 4:47) had entered on their duties. It is probable, though no written rule is found, that it was the normal age for the functions of the priesthood. In the case of our Lord (Luke 3:23) and of the Baptist it appears to have been recognized as the starting point of a prophet's work. Jeremiah's call as a "child" was obviously exceptional. Other theories are:
(a) that there is no evidence that that era was in use in Ezekiel's time, and
(b) that he nowhere else uses a double historical chronology.
The fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity. The date of this deportation stands as B.C. 599 (2 Kings 24:8-16; 2 Chronicles 36:9, 2 Chronicles 36:10), and thus brings us to B.C. 595 4 as the time of Ezekiel's first vision. It was for him and for his fellow exiles a natural starting point to reckon from. It would have been, in one sense, as natural to reckon from the beginning of Zedekiah's reign, as Jeremiah does (Jeremiah 39:1, Jeremiah 39:2), but Ezekiel does not recognize that prince—who was, as it were, a mere satrap under Nebuchadnezzar—as a true king, and throughout his book systematically adheres to this era (Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 20:1; Ezekiel 24:1, et al.). About this time, but a year before, the false prophets of Judah were prophesying the overthrow of Babylon and the return of Jeconiah within two years (Jeremiah 28:3), and the expectations thus raised were probably shared by many of Ezekiel's companions in exile, while he himself adhered to the counsels of the leter which Jeremiah had sent (Jeremiah 29:1-23) to the Jews of the Captivity. To one who felt himself thus apart from his brethren, musing over many things, and perhaps perplexed with the conflict of prophetic voices, there was given, in the "visions of God" which he relates, the guidance that he needed. They did not break in, we may well believe, suddenly and without preparation on the normal order of his life. Like other prophets, he felt, even before his call, the burdens of his time. and vexed his soul with the ungodly deeds of these among whom he lived.
The word of the Lord came expressly, etc.; literally, coming, there come the word of the Lord; the iteration having (as commonly in this combination in Hebrew) the force of emphasis. The phrase stands, as elsewhere, for the conscious inspiration which made men feel that Jehovah had indeed spoken unto them, and that they had a message from him to deliver. To give parallel passages would be to copy several pages from a concordance, but it may not be without interest to note its first (Genesis 15:1) and last (Malachi 1:1) occurrences in the Old Testament, and its reappear, race in the New Testament (Luke 3:2). Unto Ezekiel. We note the transition from the first person to the third; but it does not give sufficient ground for rejecting either verse 1 or verse 2, 3 as an interpolation. (For the prophet's name, which appears only here and in Ezekiel 24:24, see Introduction; and for "land of Chaldeans," note on Ezekiel 24:1.) The hand of the Lord. Here again we haw a phrase of frequent occurrence, used of Elijah (1 Kings 18:46), of Elisha (2 Kings 3:15), of Daniel (Daniel 8:18; Daniel 10:10), of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:11), of St. John (Revelation 1:17). The "hand" of the Lord is the natural symbol of his power, and the phrase seems to be used to add to the consciousness of inspiration, that of a constraining, irresistible power. Ezekiel continually uses it (Ezekiel 3:14, Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 40:1).
A whirlwind came out of the north. What, we ask, was the meaning of this symbolism? In Jeremiah 1:13, Jeremiah 1:14 a like symbol is explained as meaning that the judgments which Judah was to suffer were to come from the north, that is, from Chaldea, upon the prophet's countrymen. Here the prophet is himself in Chaldea, and what he sees is the symbol, not or calamities, but of the Divine glory, and that explanation is, accordingly, inapplicable. Probably the leading thought here is that the Divine presence is no longer in the temple at Jerusalem, It may return for a time to execute judgment (Ezekiel 8:4; Ezekiel 10:1, Ezekiel 10:19, Ezekiel 10:20), and may again depart (Ezekiel 11:23), but the abiding glory is elsewhere, and the temple is as Shitoh had been of old (Psalms 78:60). Ezekiel was looking on the visible symbol of what had been declared in unfigurative language by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:12, Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 26:6, Jeremiah 26:9). That the north should have been chosen rather than any other quarter of the heavens is perhaps connected
The likeness of four living creatures. The Authorized Version is happier here in its rendering than in Revelation 4:6, where we find "beasts" applied to the analogues of the forms of Ezekiel's vision. There the Greek gives ζῶα, as the LXX. does here, while in Daniel 7:3-7 we have θήρια In Ezekiel 10:15 they are identified with the "cherubim" of the mercy seat; but the fact that they are not so named here is presumptive evidence that Ezekiel did not at first recognize them as identical with what he had heard of those cherubim, or with the other like forms that were seen, as they were not seen, in the temple (1 Kings 6:29; 1 Kings 7:29), on its walls (2 Chronicles 3:7), and on its veil or curtain (Exodus 36:35). What he sees is, in fact, a highly complicated development of the cherubic symbols, which might well appear strange to him. It is possible (as Dean Stanley and others have suggested) that the Assyrian and Babylonian sculptures, the winged bulls and lions with human heads, which Ezekiel may have seen in his exile, were elements in that development. The likeness of a man. This apparently was the first impression. The "living creatures" were not, like the Assyrian forms just referred to, quadrupeds. They stood erect, and had feet and hands as men have.
We note the points of contrast with other like visions.
Their feet were straight feet, etc. The noun is probably used as including the lower part of the leg, and what is meant is that the legs were not bent, or kneeling. What we may call the bovine symbolism appears at the extremity, and the actual foot is round like a calf's. The LXX. curiously enough gives "their feet were winged ( πτερωτοὶ)." Burnished brass. Probably a shade less brilliant, or more ruddy, than the electrum of Ezekiel 1:4 (see note there).
They had the hands of a man, etc. The prophet seems to describe each detail in the order in which it presented itself to him. What he next sees is that each of the four forms has two hands on each of its four sides. Nothing could supersede that symbol of activity and strength.
Their wings were joined, etc. As interpreted by Ezekiel 1:11 and Ezekiel 1:24, two of the wings were always down, and when the living creatures moved, two were extended upwards, so that their tips touched, and were in this sense "joined." When at rest, these were let down again (Ezekiel 1:24). They turned not, etc. We note the emphasis of the threefold iteration of the fact (Ezekiel 1:12, Ezekiel 1:17). None of the four forms revolved on its axis. The motion of what we may call the composite quadrilateral was simply rectilinear. Did the symbolism represent the directness, the straightforwardness, of the Divine energy manifested in the universe?
As for the likeness, etc. The Revised Version rightly strikes out the comma after "lion." The human face meets the prophet's gaze. On the right he sees the lion, on the left the ox, while the face of the eagle is behind. What did the symbols mean?
Thus were their faces: and, etc.; better, with Revised Version, and their faces and their wings were separate above; i.e. were stretched upward, touching the neighbouring wings at the tip, and so "joined," while the other two covered the bodies and were never stretched (comp. Isaiah 6:2).
Whither the spirit was to go, etc. The description passes on to the originating force of the movement of the mysterious forms. The Hebrew noun may mean "breath," "wind," or "spirit," the meanings often overlapping one another. Here the higher meaning is probably the true one. The "Spirit" (as in Genesis 1:1; Genesis 6:3; Psalms 104:30; Psalms 139:7; Isaiah 40:7, Isaiah 40:13; and in Ezekiel himself, passim) is the Divine Source of life in all its forms, especially in its highest form, moral, intellectual, spiritual. It is this which gave unity and harmony to the movements of the "living creatures," as it gives a life, harmony, and unity to all the manifold manifestations of the might of God of which they were the symbols. (On "they turned not," see note on Ezekiel 1:9.)
Like burning coals of fire, etc. It may not be amiss to note the fact that the phrase throughout the Bible denotes incandescent wood. The nearest approach to its use by Ezekiel is in 2 Samuel 22:9, 2 Samuel 22:13. For "lamps," read, with the Revised Version, "torches." Here the vision of Ezekiel, in which the living creatures were thus incandescent, bathed, as it were, in the fire that played around them, yet not consumed, followed in the path of previous symbols—of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), of the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:22), of the fire on Sinai (Exodus 19:18), of the "fire of the Lord" (Numbers 11:1-3), and the "fire of God" (2 Kings 1:12). Speaking generally, "fire," as distinct from "light," seems to be the symbol of the power of God as manifested against evil. "Our God is a consuming Fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). The red light of fire has in it an element of terror which is absent from the stainless white of the eternal glory, or from the sapphire of the visible firmament. Lightning (comp. Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18).
Ran and returned. Compare the "to and fro" of Zechariah 4:10. The comparison implies at once suddenness (as in Matthew 24:27) and overwhelming brightness.
Behold one wheel, etc. As the prophet gazed, yet another marvel presented itself—a "wheel" was seen. It is "by" or "beside" (Revised Version) the living creatures, and "for each of the four faces thereof" (Revised Version); i.e. as the next verse states definitely, there were four wheels. We may compare the analogues of the "wheels" of fire in the theophany of Daniel 7:9, and the chariot of the cherubim in 1 Chronicles 28:18.
Like unto the colour of a beryl. The Hebrew for "beryl" (tarshish) suggests that the stone was called, like the turquoise, from the region which produced it. Here and in Daniel 10:6 the LXX. leaves it untranslated. In Exodus 28:20 we find χρυσόλιθος; in Ezekiel 10:9 and Ezekiel 28:13 ἄνθραξ, i.e. carbuncle. It is obvious, from this variety of renderings, that the stone was not easily identified. Probably it was of a red or golden color, suggesting the thought of fire rather than the pale green of the aquamarine or beryl (see especially Daniel 10:6). They four had one likeness, etc. A closer gaze led the prophet to see that there was a plurality in the unity. For the one "wheel" we have four; perhaps, as some have thought, two wheels intersecting at right angles, perhaps, one, probably seen behind, perhaps also below, each of the living creatures. They are not said actually to rest upon it, and the word "chariot" is not used as it is in 1 Chronicles 28:18. They would seem rather to have hovered over the wheels, moving simultaneously and in full accord with them. The "wheels" obviously represent the forces and laws that sustain the manifold forms of life represented by the "living creatures" and the "Spirit." In each case the number four is, as elsewhere, the symbol of completeness. A wheel in the midst of (within, Revised Version) a wheel; i.e. with an inner and outer circumference, the space between the two forming the "ring" or felloe of 1 Chronicles 28:18.
When they went, etc. The meaning seems to be that the relative position of the wheels and the living creatures was not altered by motion. On "they turned not," see note on Ezekiel 1:9. All suggests the idea of orderly and harmonious working.
As for their rings, etc. The "rings" or "felloes" of the wheels impressed the prophet's mind with a sense of awe, partly from their size, partly from their being "full of eyes." These were obviously, as again in Ezekiel 10:12, and in the analogues of the "stone with seven eyes" in Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:10, and the "four beasts [i.e. 'living creatures'] full of eyes," in Revelation 4:6, symbols of the omniscience of God working through the forces of nature and of history. These were not, as men have sometimes thought, blind forces, but were guided as by a supreme insight.
The wheels went by them; better, with Revised Version, beside them; i.e. moving in parallel lines with them. And when the living creatures went, etc. The truth embodied in the coincident movements of the "living creatures" and the "wheels," is the harmony of the forces and laws of nature with its outward manifestations of might. In the two directions of the movement, onward and upward—when the living creatures were lifted up—we may see
Whithersoever the spirit was to go, etc. The secret of the coincidence of the movements of the "living creatures" and of the "wheels" was found in the fact, which the prophet's intuition grasped, that the phenomena of life and law had one and the same originating source. For "the spirit of the living creature" (singular, because the four are regarded as one complex whole), the LXX; Vulgate, and Revised Version margin, give "the spirit of life," a rendering tenable in itself, but the contextual meaning of the word is in favour of the Authorized Version and the Revised Version text.
When those went, these went. The words, strictly speaking, add nothing to the previous description; but the prophet appears to have wished to combine what he had before said separately, so as to make the picture complete, before passing on to the yet more glorious vision that next met his gaze.
And the likeness of the firmament, etc. The word is the same as that in Genesis 1:1-31, passim; Psalms 19:1; cf. 1; Daniel 12:3. It meets us again in verses 23, 25, 26, and in Daniel 10:1, but does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament. What met the prophet's eye was the expanse, the "body of heaven in its clearness" (Exodus 24:10), the deep intense blue of an Eastern sky. Like the colour of the terrible crystal, etc. The Hebrew noun is not found elsewhere. Its primary meaning, like that of the Greek κρύσταλλος, is that of "cold," and I incline therefore to the margin of the Revised Version, "ice." Rock crystal, seen, as it is, in small masses, and in its pure colourless transparency, hardly suggests the idea of terror; but the intense brightness of masses of ice, as shining in the morning sun, might well make that impression. Had Ezekiel seen the glories of a mountain throne of ice as he looked up, on his nay from Palestine to Chaldea, at the heights of Lebanon, or Hermon, and thought of them as the fitting symbol of the throne of God? We note, in this connection, the use of "terrible" in Job 37:22 (see note on Job 37:4).
Under the firmament, etc. The description must be read as completing that of Ezekiel 1:11. The two upper wings of the "living creatures" were not only stretched out, but they pointed to the azure canopy above them, not as sustaining it, but in the attitude of adoration. Nature, in all her life phenomena, adores the majesty of the Eternal.
The noise of their wings, etc. The wings representing the soaring, ascending elements in nature, their motion answers to its aspirations, their sounds to its inarticulate groanings (Romans 8:26) or its chorus of praise. The noise of great waters may be that of the sea, or river, or torrents. Ezekiel's use of the term in Ezekiel 31:7, in connection with the cedars of Lebanon, seems in favour of the last. On the other hand, in Ezekiel 27:26; Psalms 29:3; Psalms 107:23, the term is manifestly used for the seas. The thought appears again in Revelation 1:15; Revelation 19:6. In Psalms 29:3, et al; the "voice of the Lord" is identified with thunder. For the voice of speech, which wrongly suggests articulate utterance, read, with the Revised Version, a noise of tumult.
And there was a voice from the firmament. Revised Version gives above. The prophet's silence suggests that what he heard was at first ineffable, perhaps unintelligible. All that he knew was that an awful voice, like thunder (comp. John 12:29), came from above the expanse of azure, and that it stilled the motion of the wings, working peace, as in the midst of the endless agitations of the universe. The wings that had been stretched upward are now folded, like the others.
The likeness of a throne. The greatest glory was kept to the last. High above the azure expanse was the likeness of a throne (we note the constant recurrence of the word "likeness," nine times in this one chapter, as indicating Ezekiel's consciousness of the vision character of what he saw). The idea of the throne of the great King first appears in 1 Kings 22:19, is frequent in the Psalms (Psalms 9:4, Psalms 9:7; Psalms 11:4; Psalms 45:6), notably in Isaiah 6:1. In the visions of St John (Revelation 1:4, and passim) it is the dominant, central object throughout. As the appearance of a sapphire stone. The intense blue of the sapphire has made it in all ages the natural symbol of a heavenly purity. Ezekiel's vision reproduces that of Exodus 24:10. It appears among the gems of the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:18; Exodus 39:11) and in the "foundations" of Revelation 21:19. The description of the sapphire given by Pliny ('Hist. Nat.,' 37.9), as "never transparent, and refulgent with spots of gold," suggests lapis lazuli. As used in the Old Testament, however, the word probably means the sapphire of modern jewellery. A likeness as of the appearance of a man. The throne, the symbol of the sovereignty of God over the "living creatures" and the "wheels," over the forces and the laws which they represented, is not empty. There was "a likeness as of the appearance" (we note again the accumulation of words intended to guard against the thought that what was seen was more than an approximate symbolism) "of a man." In that likeness there was the witness that we can only think of God by reasoning upward from all that is highest in our conceptions of human greatness and goodness, and thinking of them as free from their present limitations. Man's highest thought of God is that it is "a face like his face that receives him." He finds a humanity in the Godhead. It is noticeable that this preluding anticipation of the thought of the Incarnation, not recognized in the vision of Moses (Exodus 24:10) or Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1), appears prominently in the two prophets of the exile—here and in the memorable Messianic vision of "One like unto the ['a,' Revised Version] Son of man" in Daniel 7:13. What might have been perilously anthropomorphic in the early stages of the growth of Israel, when men tended to identify the symbol with the thing symbolized, was now made subservient to the truth which underlies even anthropomorphic thought (comp. Revelation 1:13). Irenaeus ('Adv. Haer.,' 4.20. 10), it may be noted, dwells on the fact that Ezekiel uses the words, "'haec visio similitudmis gloriae Domini,' ne quis putaret forte eum in his proprie vidisse Deum."
As the colour of amber. The "amber" (see note on Ezekiel 1:4) represents the purity and glory of the Divine nature—the truth that "God is light" in his eternal essence. The "fire" which, here as ever, represents the wrath of God against evil, is round about within it, i.e. is less absolutely identified with the Divine will, of which it is yet an almost constant manifestation. It is, in the language of the older logicians, an inseparable accident rather than part of its essential nature.
As the appearance of the bow. The glorious epiphany was completed, as in Revelation 4:3 and Revelation 10:1, by the appearance of the rainbow. The symbol of God's faithfulness, and of the hope that rested on it (Genesis 9:13). was seen in the glory of the Divine perfection, even in the midst of the fire of the Divine wrath. Mercy and love are thought of as over arching all the phenomena of the world and its history, attempering the chastisements which are needed for those with whom that love is dealing. The whole complex appearances of Ezekiel's descriptions, including the arch of prismatic colours, finds its nearest natural analogue, as has been before suggested (note on verse 4), in the phenomena of the Northern Lights. I fell upon my face. As in Ezekiel 3:23; Daniel 8:17; Revelation 1:17, the prostrate attitude of lowliest adoration, the dread and awe of one who has seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and vet survives, was a preparation for the more direct revelation to his consciousness of the Word and will of Jehovah (comp. Dante 'Inferno,' 3:136; 5:142).
HOMILIES BY VARIOUS AUTHORS
Exile and captivity.
It is not the soil which a people till that makes that people a nation. The Jews have more than once furnished a striking illustration of this principle; for no nation has suffered more from banishment and dispersion, and no nation has more tenaciously clung to its nationality, or more effectively preserved it in circumstances the most unfavourable. It is its religion which makes a people a nation; even more than a common language, a common ancestry, and common traditions. It has ever been so conspicuously with the Jews. The record of their captivity in the East is a record of their religious experience; the literature of their captivity is the literature of their prophets, amongst whom Ezekiel occupies a place of prominence and interest. His figure, as we see him in imagination, "among the captives by the river of Chebar," is historically picturesque; but it is also suggestive of sacred and precious truth.
I. THE CAPTIVITY AND EXILE OF JUDAH AND ISRAEL MUST BE REGARDED AS RETRIBUTIVE CHASTISEMENT INFLICTED BY GOD ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR APOSTASY. Although much obscurity gathers around the earlier history of the "chosen people," one fact stands out in undisputed clearness—they were a people prone to idolatry and rebellion against Jehovah. Their own historians, men proud of their descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, men themselves profoundly attached to the one true God, record with unsparing fidelity the defections of their countrymen from the service and worship to which they were bound by every tie of gratitude and loyalty. Apostasy was not confined to any class; kings and subjects alike did wickedly in departing from God. As a nation they sinned, and as a nation they suffered. Surrounded by people more powerful than themselves—by Egypt, by Phoenicia, by Assyria—their strength lay in their pure faith and their spiritual worship. But again and again they yielded to temptation, and fell into the idolatries practised by surrounding peoples. The punishment was foretold, the warning was repeated; but all was in vain. And it was in fulfilment of prophetic threats that the inhabitants, first of Northern and then of Southern Palestine, were transported to the East, and condemned to the existence which awakened their pathetic lamentations, when, strangers in a strange land, they wept when they remembered Zion. Ezekiel, when he awoke to a consciousness of his prophetic mission, found himself amongst those who were bearing the penalty due to their follies and sins.
II. THE CAPTIVITY AND EXILE OF JUDAH AND ISRAEL WERE THE OCCASION OF THE RAISING UP AMONG THEM OF GREAT SPIRITUAL TEACHERS AND LEADERS. It is obvious that, when separated from their metropolis and their temple, when denied the religious privileges to which their fathers had been accustomed, the Jews stood very especially in need of men who, by their character, their knowledge, their sympathy, and their moral authority, should rally the courage, inflame the piety, and inspire the hope of their countrymen. And it is a proof of God's wonderful care and kindness that the Hebrews in their captivity were not left without such men. A noble, heroic, and saintly band they were; and right well did they fulfil a mission of no ordinary difficulty. It is sufficient to name Ezra and Nehemiah, who were commissioned to lead bands of the exiles back to the sacred soil; and Ezekiel and Daniel, who were directed to instruct their fellow countrymen in religious truth, to admonish and to comfort them, and to utter to the heathen nations around words of faithful warning.
III. THE CAPTIVITY AND EXILE OF JUDAH AND ISRAEL WERE THE MEANS OF SECURING TO THE FAVOURED NATION IMPORTANT AND MEMORABLE RELIGIOUS ADVANTAGES AND BENEFITS.
1. There were negative advantages. By means of the Captivity, the chosen nation was finally and forever delivered from the sin of idolatry. The witness of the prophets, the stern discipline of adversity, the opportunity of reflection and repentance, were not in vain.
2. There was this great positive advantage accruing to Israel through the exile in the East—the people were encouraged to turn to the Lord whom they had forsaken, to seek reconciliation and restoration, and to make vows of obedience and fidelity to him to whom their allegiance was justly due.—T.
Visions of God.
God is; God lives; God everywhere and forever works and manifests himself. But spirit is only apprehensible by spirit. And the created intelligence finds its noblest exercise in tracing the presence and recognizing the attributes of the Supreme. An especial revelation was accorded to the prophets; but one great end of this special revelation doubtless was that by their intermediation and ministry men generally might be encouraged to look upwards, and to behold the gracious face of their Father in heaven.
I. MAN'S CAPACITY FOR THE VISION OF GOD. This is often denied by those who seem to delight in degrading man to a mere observer of natural phenomena. But as upon earth the knowledge of our fellow men is more precious and excellent than the knowledge of material processes and physical laws; so do we find the full scope for the highest powers of our being when we pass from his works to the Divine Worker, and from his children to the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Whether we call the faculty the higher reason, or spiritual faith, there is a faculty by which we gain knowledge of the Author of our being. The greatest men have been those who have enjoyed the clearest vision of God. Such vision is possible only to natures endowed with intelligence, with moral capacity, with a free and spiritual faculty. Such natures "look unto him, and are lightened." In his light they see light. It is the especial privilege of the pure in heart that they "see God." Only the superstitious and ignorant can suppose that he who is the Eternal, Immortal, and Invisible is apprehended by sense. He is seen by the cleansed, illumined vision of the soul.
II. MAN IS SUBJECT TO MANY HINDRANCES WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM EXPERIENCING AND ENJOYING THIS VISION. God is Reason. and the nature must be rational which is to commune with him. There are many who, gifted with powers of intellect, rise to a rational apprehension of him who is the Eternal Law and Order behind all phenomena which appeal to sense. But God is Righteousness, Holiness, and Love, and the nature must be moral, and morally susceptible and loving, which is to experience a fuller communion with him. Worldliness, the absorption in the outward show of things; sin, the repugnance to submissive contact with the pure and blessed Spirit;-these are the hindrances which prevent men from seeing God. The eyes of the blind must be opened, the scales must fall from them, before the glorious vision of perfect goodness can be enjoyed, before the spirit of man can sun itself in the light of the Divine countenance.
III. THERE WERE MORAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR A SPECIAL AND PROPHETIC VISION OF GOD. Doubtless those who were summoned to be the vehicles of Divine truth to their fellow men were providentially selected and fitted for the office. Certain times, places, circumstances of various kinds, were chosen with this end in view. But we are more concerned with those moral preparations which made men meet to see "visions of God." We especially note two characteristics of all honoured with this capacity and faculty.
1. Humility and receptivity. God reveals himself to the lowly, while he rejects the proud. Man must empty himself of self-conceit, self-righteousness, and self-confidence, in order that he may be filled with the Divine nature.
2. Aspiration. The look must be heavenward; the desire and longing must be Godward. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God!"
IV. PROPHETIC AID HAS EVER BEEN USED TO ENLIGHTEN MEN, AND TO ENABLE THEM TO EXPERIENCE VISIONS OF GOD. As a matter of fact, man does thus help his fellow man. Ezekiel brought God near to the hearts of the children of the Captivity. Readers of the inspired Scriptures have always been indebted to prophets and apostles for spiritual help; God himself has spoken through the enlightened nature of his special ministers, and his voice has thus reached multitudes who were profoundly in need of teaching, of guidance, of consolation. And this service is being rendered today. In the Church of Christ visions of God are daily enjoyed; and for those visions Christians are indebted to the agency, the ministry, of their fellow men. The service is constantly rendered, and is as constantly acknowledged with gratitude and appreciation.
APPLICATION. A clearer and completer vision of God is attained by those who are brought spiritually into contact with Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, and the true Light. A fuller illumination is effected by the agency of the Holy Spirit, whose presence has, ever since Pentecost; more abundantly enriched the Church. The children of the Captivity were indebted to Ezekiel for aid in recognizing and rejoicing in the eternal light; but we are far more under obligation to him who has come forth from God, and has gone to God, and who has assured us, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."—T.
The Lord's word and the Lord's hand.
The prophet felt and knew that God was drawing near to him. This experience he could only express in language drawn from human relations. Spiritual realities were by him expressed in terms derived from the acts of bodily life. The "word" and the "hand" here spoken of are metaphorical, but they are strictly true; i.e. the just idea is, as far as may be by language and emblem, thus conveyed to our mind. If God reveal himself to man, it must be by means of the characteristics of man's spiritual nature; and such characteristics are pictured in the expressions here employed by Ezekiel. The "word" of the Lord means one thing, the "hand" another; yet the employment of both expressions is necessary in order to convey, with anything like completeness, the penetration of the prophet's nature by Divine truth, the commission of the prophet to undertake Divine service.
I. THE QUICKENING AND ILLUMINATION OF THE MIND TO RECEIVE THE TRUTH. The word is the expression of the thought. The Divine word is the utterance of the Divine thought, and the Divine thought is truth. The expression here used implies a community of nature between man and God. God has thoughts and purposes which concern man's good; and man's highest well being is dependent upon the introduction of these into his spiritual nature. Man has not simply to hear and understand the word; it is for him to welcome and retain and ponder it, as a precious possession and a mighty power. The word of God, no doubt, came in a special sense to the prophets; there was a directness, an absence of any intermediary, in this communication. Through the prophet the word came to the people, to whom it might and did prove a word of enlightenment, of warning, of encouragement. That this might be so, the prophet's nature needed to be yielded up to the penetrating, purifying, illumining grace of God himself.
II. THE SUBMISSION AND OBEDIENCE OF THE WILL PRACTICALLY TO ACKNOWLEDGE DIVINE AUTHORITY. The "hand of the Lord" is an expression frequently met with in the Scriptures. Nehemiah acknowledges the "good hand of God upon him." To interpret the expression, it must be remembered that the hand is the symbol of activity, of the practical nature, of direction, of control, of protecting power. Now, a man could not fulfil prophetic functions simply by hearing the word of the Lord; there was something for him to do. In truth, the relations between God and man are such that it is necessary that God should command, and that man should obey. And if this is true of men generally, it is manifestly true of those who were called to the prophetic office. They had need not simply of revelation, but of guidance, of authority exercised and conveyed. What is this but to say that they needed that the hand of the Lord should be upon them? It must be remembered that the Prophet Ezekiel discharged his ministry, both by the communication verbally of Divine messages, and by the performance of certain actions. Of these actions some were symbolical, and others were directly and obviously instructive and directive. Thus the prophet needed, not merely the word of the Lord to enter his mind, but the hand of the Lord to control and govern his conduct.
APPLICATION. True religion is twofold. It enjoins upon us
The glory of the Eternal.
This marvellous vision, which has correspondences with others to be found in Scripture, must be interpreted in the light of the prophet's peculiar genius and imagination, and in the light of the canons and customs of ancient and Oriental art. To find significance in every detail would be to indulge an idle curiosity; to dismiss the figures as the product of an imagination dissociated from truth would be irrational and irreverent. It is plain that Ezekiel was possessed, and all but overwhelmed, by a conviction of the glorious attributes and universal sway of God. The imagery under which he conceived and represented the Divine presence and government is altogether different from either classical or modern art; but it would be a narrow pedantry which on this account would repudiate it as valueless or ineffective. In fact, it is opulent, varied, and impressive. Everything earthly must come short of setting forth Divine glory; yet much is communicated or suggested by this vision of the majesty of the Eternal which may aid us to apprehend God's character, and reverently to study God's kingly operations carried on throughout the universe.
I. THE GLORY OF THE ETERNAL IS SEEN IN NATURAL FORCES. It was in these, as in a setting, that the more specific forms discerned by the prophet were enshrined. The stormy wind from the north, the great cloud with its flashing fire, the amber brightness gleaming about it,—all these are manifestations of an unseen but mighty power, recognized by the spirit as Divine. This is certainly a stroke of the true artist, first to portray the material, the vehicle, and then to proceed to paint in the more defined symbolic figures. The modern doctrine of the correlation and convertibility of forces points us to the unity which is at the heart of all things, and convinces us that we are in a universe, a cosmos, which, if it is to be explained by any rational and spiritual power behind it, must be explained by a power which is undivided and single. Poets and prophets alike find scope for their imagination in connecting all the phenomena and the forces of nature with the creative Spirit conceived as revealed by their means.
II. THE GLORY OF THE ETERNAL IS SEEN IN LIVING CREATURES. There is, of course, no intention to picture any actually existing animals under the imagery of the verses 5-14. But we have a symbolic representation of life. Every observer is conscious that, in passing from mechanical and chemical forces to consider the manifold forms of life, he is climbing, so to speak, to a higher platform. Living beings, in all their wonderful and admirable variety of structure and of formation, are witnesses to the wisdom and the power of the Creator. Let Science tell us of the order and of the process of their appearing; the fact of their appearing, in whatever manner, is a welcome taken of the Divine interest in this earth and its population. If the poet delights to trace God's splendour in "the light of setting suns," the physicist may with equal justice investigate in organic nature the handiwork of the All-wise. Late is the work of the living God, in whom all creatures "live, and move, and have their being." A lifeless planet would lack, not only the interest with which our earth must be regarded, but something of the evidence which tells us God is here, and is ever carrying out his glorious plans.
III. THE GLORY OF THE ETERNAL IS SEEN IN HUMAN ATTRIBUTES. Each living one in the prophet's vision possessed a fourfold aspect or countenance; the combination being intended to enrich our conceptions of the handiwork of God, and the witness of that handiwork to him. Interpretations differ; but it is not uncommon to recognize in the ox the sacrificial, in the lion the powerful and regal, in the eagle the aspiring, elements, added to the true humanity, and combining with it to complete the representation. The four Gospels have been generally regarded as exhibiting severally these four characteristics; and accordingly the symbol of Matthew is the man, of Mark the lion, of Luke the ox, of John the eagle.
IV. THE GLORY OF THE ETERNAL IS SEEN ESPECIALLY IN INTELLIGENCE. The wheels had their rings or felloes "full of eyes round about." This is symbolical of understanding, because sight is the most intellectual of the senses, the eye being the medium of the greater part of our most valuable knowledge of the world without. Conscious intelligence can only arise through participation in the Divine nature; it is the subject, not the object, of knowledge. In an especial manner the intellect witnesses to the glory of God, for by it we have insight into the Divine reason. In the exercise of the prerogative of knowledge and judgment, in insight and intuition, we are putting forth powers which are in themselves among the most splendid and convincing testimonies to "the Father of lights."
V. THE GLORY OF THE ETERNAL IS SEEN ESPECIALLY IN UTTERANCE. The prophet in his v