James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.Ezekiel 1:1-3:27
HIS CALL AND PREPARATION
Ezekiel was carried to Babylon with King Jehoiachin, as we gather by comparing Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 33:21; Ezekiel 40:1 with 2 Kings 24:11-16; and lived with the exiles on the river Chebar probably at Tel-abib (Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:15). Unlike Jeremiah, he was married and had a stated residence (Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 24:1; Ezekiel 24:18). His ministry began in the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, and seven before the capture of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 1:1-2), when he himself was thirty years old (Ezekiel 1:1). His prophetic activity extended over a period of at least twenty-two years (Ezekiel 1:2; Ezekiel 29:17), during which time he was often consulted by the leaders in exile (Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1), though his advice was not always followed. The time and manner of his death are unknown.
Like Daniel and the Apostle John who, like himself, prophesied outside of Palestine, he follows the method of symbol and vision, or as we prefer to put it, God followed that method through him. And like them, his ministry was directed to “the whole house of Israel,” the twelve tribes, rather than to either Judah or Israel distinctively, after the manner of the pre-exilic prophets. His purpose was twofold: (1) to keep before the exiles the national sins which had brought Israel so low; and (2) to sustain their faith by predictions of national restoration, the punishment of their enemies, and ultimate earthly glory.
Scofield divides the book into seven great prophetic strains indicated by the expression, “The hand of the Lord was upon me” (Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 40:1), and seven minor divisions indicated by the formula, “And the word of the Lord came unto me.” But although this is interesting and instructive, yet for our present purpose, we emphasize three main divisions only, as follows:
1. Prophecies delivered before the siege of Jerusalem, foretelling its overthrow (chaps. 1-24). These correspond to the general character of Jeremiah’s messages with whom for a while Ezekiel was contemporary.
2. Prophecies delivered during the period of the siege (chaps. 25-32). These are chiefly about the Gentile nations.
3. Prophecies after the downfall of the city (chaps. 33-48). These deal with the restoration entirely.
THE PROPHET CALLED
Give the time, place and circumstances as indicated in verses one and two. Look at the map and identify the Chebar. Give the details of Ezekiel biography in verse three.
Note the vision he beheld the whirlwind, cloud, fire, brightness, color (Ezekiel 1:4); the four living creatures (Ezekiel 1:5-14); the wheels (Ezekiel 1:15-21); the firmament (Ezekiel 1:22-23); the voice (Ezekiel 1:24-25); the throne and the man above it (Ezekiel 1:26-27); and finally, the definition of it all (Ezekiel 1:28). Note in the last verse that out of this glory the voice spake that directed the prophet. Freshen your recollection by comparing Exodus J, 33 and 34; 1 Kings 19; Isaiah 6; Daniel 10; Acts 9; and Revelation 1.
The “living creatures” are doubtless identical with the cherubim of the garden of Eden, to which further reference will be made in the next lesson.
EQUIPPED AND COMMISSIONED
Note the address “Son of Man” (Ezekiel 1:1). It is used by Jesus Christ seventy- nine times in referring to Himself, and by Jehovah ninety-one times in speaking to Ezekiel, which suggests that the prophet is considered in a priestly and mediatorial capacity. Or, we may take the thought of Scofield that in the case of our Lord it is His racial name as the representative man in the sense of 1 Corinthians 15:45-47. If so, applying the idea here, it means that Jehovah, while not forsaking Israel even in her disobedience and hour of punishment, would yet remind that people that they are but a small part of the race for which He also cares.
Note the relation in which the Holy Spirit comes to the prophet, and examine your concordance to see that “entering into him” is more of a New Testament than an Old Testament way of speaking of that relation.
Note finally, that like other recipients of God’s revelation the prophet heard the voice that spake to him and recognized the speaker.
Now follow a description of the moral condition of the people to whom he is sent (Ezekiel 1:3-5), and a warning to himself, corresponding to Jeremiah’s (Ezekiel 1:6-8). The demand for absolute obedience in the transmission of his message are set forth symbolically in the figure of the book (2’9; 3:3), although the transaction itself is difficult to explain. Perhaps it took place in a vision. How does it show that he was to preach only what God imparted to him? How that he was to make it his own? How that in a spiritual sense he was to live on it? Whatever its message, the Word of God is sweet to faith because it is the Word of God (compare Jet. 1:9; 15:16; Revelation 10:9-10).
1. When was Ezekiel made a captive?
2. What do we learn of his domestic history?
3. What method of teaching does he exemplify?
4. What was its purpose?
5. State the three main divisions of the book, with chapters.
6. What other men had corresponding visions of glory?
7. What, possibly, is the significance of the phrase “Son of Man”?
8. How is the inspiration of Ezekiel’s message symbolized?
In our last lesson we had the first description of the cherubim met with in Scripture, although the beings themselves were brought before us in Eden (Genesis 3), and their images, or figures, in the tabernacle. In the latter case two were in the Holy of Holies over the Ark of the Covenant and others wrought in needlework upon the curtains of the sanctuary and the veil (Exodus 25-27).
Imperfect and erroneous conceptions of the cherubim have prevailed, as instanced in that they are almost always pictured as angels, which they are not, but rather the living embodiment of some important truth.
FAMILY TO ISRAEL
That they were familiar Israel is seen in that Moses gives no description of them either in Genesis or Exodus. Is this accounted for by the circumstance that they continued to exist in Eden guarding the approach to the tree of life, and visible to man, say, down to the time of the flood? If so, Shem, who was contemporaneous with Abraham for 150 years, might easily have transmitted to him, and through him to his descendants, a knowledge of their appearance and of that which their presence was intended to teach.
But their appearance is not revealed to us until we reach Ezekiel, when they are presented as having in general, a human form, but each with four faces and four wings one face of a man, another of a lion, a third of an ox, and a fourth of an eagle. Their motions were as swift as lightning, and the sound of their wings in flight as of great waters of a mighty host. A throne was in the firmament above them, and on the throne the divine glory in the likeness of a man. “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” said the prophet, which shows the connection between it and our humanity in the person of Immanuel.
Subsequently, at chapter 10, the prophet speaks of seeing these beings again in the temple at Jerusalem, and identifies them as “the cherubim.”
They are seen once more by John on Patmos (Revelation 4-5) where “they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” and with the four and twenty elders they fall down before the Lamb and sing a new song a song of praise for the redemption of man. This is very significant.
TYPE OF REDEEMED HUMANITY
That they are beings designed to set forth some great truth of redemption is evident, since they are introduced at its opening scene in Genesis, and in its closing scene in Revelation, and associated with it throughout.
The symbolism of the faces of the cherubim considered together, gives us the highest possible conception of life, with the noblest characteristics belonging to created intelligence.
The face of the man sets forth the highest ideal of wisdom and knowledge; that of the lion adds majesty and power; that of the ox, creative or productive industry; and the eagle, dominion and irresistible might, for the range of his vision and the power of his flight, as well as his boldness and courage, are unequaled.
The other features, however, were equally striking. Eyes before and behind, show ceaseless vigilance and exalted capacities for knowledge; wings, denote a higher and wider sphere of service than simply the earth; going straight forward, never turning their bodies, as we must necessarily do, but with four faces always moving in the direct line of vision, points to a superior spiritual nature and undeviating integrity in God’s service; their glorious appearance, also, like burning coals of fire, sparkling as burnished brass, has its significance.
If now, according to the ordinary principles of symbolic interpretation, we ask for the realization of all this, we may find it in our redeemed humanity when delivered from the curse, and restored, and glorified through Jesus Christ. The cherubim would seem to be the embodiment of that glory to which our humanity is destined in the resurrection state that combination of powers and excellencies which shall be ours when our salvation is consummated in the life to come.
THE EMBODIMENT OF THE GLORIFIED LIFE
This is further corroborated by the fact that originally they stood within the prohibited bounds of paradise, and kept “the way of the tree of life”; i.e., they not only guarded it, but preserved the approach to it, as if until, in the fullness of time, redeemed humanity might have access to it again.
The divine presence since the entrance of sin, had withdrawn himself from all familiar intercourse with men, no longer walking with them as in their innocence in paradise. But He had not withdrawn Himself from earth or from men altogether, since He might still be approached, and His favor secured at the gateway to the tree of life. Here the cherubim dwelt with the flaming sword of the divine presence between them. So also in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, their privileged place lies over the mercy seat, while here in Ezekiel’s vision above their heads in the crystal firmament, the glory of the God of Israel in human form was seated on the throne.
Thomas Wicke, D.D., from whose “The Economy of the Ages” the above is an abridgment, regards the fact that the cherubim are always found in immediate connection with the surroundings of the divine presence, as declaring that those they represent have a right within the paradise of God — the blessed promise held out to our redeemed humanity. Compare Revelation 5:9, where the cherubim unite with the four and twenty elders in the song of redemption itself the song of the Lamb.