Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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.
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.
I. HIS PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS. A real, though sometimes undiscoverable, fitness between the instrument and the task, is an invariable law in the procedure of God.
1. Mark the significance of his name, "God becomes strength." Most probably the name had originated with God, who had, either secretly or openly, influenced his father Buzi in selecting it. A name, when God-given, is a revelation of what is unique and special in the man's nature. Thus Israel, Nabal, Peter, Jesus.
2. He was designated from his birth, and by his birth, to special service for God. Every man's entrance into life is designed to be an entrance upon Divine service. The world a capacious temple, and God its central Object. In Ezekiel's case there was no diversion of purpose; no casting about for a definite vocation in life. His education, all through the stages of youth, was concentrated on this single object - to be Jehovah's priest. The noblest types of the Levitical priesthood would be set before him as his model.
3. He had reached the maturity of his powers. By a merciful ordinance of God, in accommodation to human weakness, God had prohibited the priests from entering upon full service until they had attained the ripe age of thirty. Then strength would be developed; practical wisdom and knowledge of human affairs would be acquired; self-mastery might be attained. Acting on this declaration of the Divine will, John the Baptist (like Ezekiel, priest and prophet in one), and our Lord himself, began not their public ministry until they had reached their thirtieth year. There are nowhere signs of haste or impatience in the development of Jehovah's plans. Premature action is a concomitant of weakness - an omen of failure.
4. His moral fitness. Many of the priests in the temple were mere functionaries - professional automatens. The performance of the most sacred duties degenerated into mere mechanism. Men saw not the spiritual import of sacrifice, nor the awful significance of the temple ritual, and priests too often became "blind leaders of the blind." But Ezekiel was alive to the moral greatness of his office. To him had been revealed the nearness and the holiness of God; the spirituality of the Law, which carried its sanctions into man's interior nature; the dark facts of human sin; the need of atonement and of cleansing. Hence, as the ordained servant of a holy God, Ezekiel had cultivated humility, habits of devotion, a principle of childlike faith, candid truthfulness, conscientious fidelity, and unflinching courage. For such sublime service, the highest qualities of soul were demanded.
5. His fertile imagination. Many of the visions described in his prophetic book are based upon objects and scenes in the temple at Jerusalem. Commencing here (prior to the Captivity) to exercise his faith in the unseen; commencing here the practice of looking beneath the surface of material things, and acquiring a habit of spiritual penetration, he gradually learnt to discover in nature symbols of celestial truths, and to see God everywhere. Thus he trained his imagination for useful and distinguished service.
II. HIS FIELD OF SERVICE.
1. The vicissitudes of earthly affairs. While Ezekiel looked forward to the fulfilment of his peaceful vocation in Jerusalem, lo! war and defeat resulted in exile and bondage. With the dust of humiliation upon their heads, the chelsea people were conducted to Chaldea, and residence was allotted to them on the banks of the Chebar. Nothing is more fluctuating than earthly fortune. Jerusalem today, Chaldea tomorrow.
2. No outward circumstance is fatal to our real welfare nor a barrier to benevolent activity. Now it was to be seen that piety can flourish amid a dearth of external privileges. The seeds of religious truth shall be carried into new fields. The special capacity of Ezekiel shall find more fitting, scope for its exercise than amid the quiet grandeur of Solomon's temple. He is a priest in an ampler temple - a priest for the world. The soul is superior to all imprisonment.
3. The permanency of spiritual work. The kingcraft of Nebuchadnezzar, the overthrow of Zedekiah, the honours and decorations of Chaldean captains, - these things have long since ceased to exert any influence upon the life of the human race; but Ezekiel is still (and has been for twenty centuries) a teacher of men: his work still proceeds; his name is encircled with honour. Already king and captive have exchanged places. The first is last; the last, first.
III. HIS INVESTITURE WITH THE PROPHET'S OFFICE. Jeremiah during Ezekiel's time, and John afterwards, were, like him, priests and prophets too. In the case of other prophets, some special visit from God - some suitable display of his glory - attended their special designation to office. We have parallel instances in Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah. The vision was supersensuous, and must be accounted for, partly by external, and partly by internal, causes.
1. External. "The heavens were opened." The veil of material limitation was, for the time, withdrawn. The celestial realm was disclosed. A similar privilege was accorded to Elisha's servant, in answer to his master's prayer: "And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." To open the heavens to human view is to unveil, in part, the spiritual universe. So, to our Lord on the banks of Jordan, "the heavens were opened." A Divine voice proceeded; the Holy Ghost was imparted. Ezekiel, like Moses and Isaiah, "saw visions of God." The heavens were opened for the very purpose that the central Object might be seen. To see God; to have undoubted assurance of his presence, purity, and aid - this, every true prophet requires. "The word of God came expressly," or rather verily, to him. The ear confirmed the vision of the eye. Not only a spectacle, but an articulate voice. So Hamlet sought to assure himself of the reality of the spectre, when he demanded that it should speak. The ear is a more trustworthy witness than the eye. "Faith comes by hearing."
2. There was, on the part of Ezekiel, internal aptitude. Our organs o! sense have become dull, gross, earthly, by reason of the decline and decay of the soul's true life. As vehicles by which the soul holds commerce with the spiritual realm, they are insufficient. Hence the spirit of a man has to be quickened by a special activity of God, so that it may, for the time being, transcend its native capabilities, its native sphere, in order to see God's administration of the universe, and in order to receive new communications of his will. This is what is usually termed a state of ecstasy. In the creation of the material universe, a word was sufficient; but so indocile, intractable, are the elements of human disposition and will, that the hand of Jehovah must be exerted. "The hand of the Lord was upon him." - D.
I. WAS ADDRESSED TO EZEKIEL AT A TIME WHICH HE VERY MINUTELY RECORDS. "Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity." This statement made with so much detail suggests:
1. That Ezekiel received this summons in vigorous manhood. We take "in the thirtieth year" as referring to the age of the prophet. The mighty call reached him when he had passed beyond the inexperience and immaturity of youth, and before the approach of the decay of either his physical or mental powers. Thirty years was the age at which the Levites in the wilderness entered upon their laborious duties (Numbers 4:3). Jerome says that the priests entered upon their office at the same age; but the statement is very questionable. John the Baptist began his ministry on the completion of his thirtieth year. And "the Light of the world" was not publicly manifested until our Lord had attained the same age.
2. That he desired to place the reality of his predictions beyond question. Some of these are very remarkable. "We should deem it impossible for any one," says Fairbairn, "in a spirit of candour and sincerity, to peruse the wonderful and discriminating predictions contained in his writings respecting either the Jews themselves (those, for example, in ch. 5., 6., 11., 17., 21.), or the neighbouring nations, more particularly those of Tyre and Egypt - predictions which foretold in regard to the subjects of them very different and varying fortunes, and such as necessarily required ages for their accomplishment - we should deem it impossible for any one in a proper spirit to examine these, and compare them with the fulfilment, without being persuaded that they afford indubitable evidence of a supernatural insight into the far distant future." And the minuteness of the statement of time in the text, and the chronological order which is observed and stated in the prophecies, would emphasize the genuineness of these predictions and the certainty of their Divine origin.
3. That the summons made a deep impression upon the sold of the prophet. The careful particularity of the record indicates that Ezekiel felt profoundly the importance of that which he records. Those seasons in which God approaches most near to the soul, and communicates most directly with us, are momentous; they constitute epochs in our spiritual history.
II. WAS ADDRESSED TO HIM IN SIGNIFICANT CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. In a heathen land. "In the hind of the Chaldeans," whither he had been carried captive by Nebuchadnezzar. The Chaldeans were idolaters. The Jewish rabbins assert that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets only in the Holy Land. But here in Chaldea the inspiration of God quickens the soul of Ezekiel, heaven is opened unto him, visions of God are unfolded unto him, and the voice of God speaks to him. In the same land the Divine inspiration came to Daniel. And it was not at Jerusalem, but in Patmos, that St. John beheld his marvellous and glorious visions, and heard the mighty and awful voices of the great apocalypse. God is not limited to any place whatsoever. His Spirit can work as freely and effectively in one place as in another.
2. In a captive condition. "As I was among the captives," or, "in the midst of the captivity." With others of his fellow countrymen Ezekiel had been taken from Judaea and settled in Chaldea. That some of the captives painfully felt their condition is clear kern Psalm 137. To the patriotic and the pious there was much in their exile to cause grief. They would mourn for the fatherland with its stirring and sacred memories, and for the temple and its precious privileges, kern which they had been removed. These sorrows the godly had to suffer in common with the wicked. Those who were faithful to the Lord their God had to bear the captivity which had come upon the people by reason of the general unfaithfulness. Ezekiel, Daniel, and his three noble companions in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, men eminent for their religious fidelity, suffered the privations and griefs of the captivity not less, but perhaps much more, than they did whose sins caused that captivity. In every age the good are subject to the same outward afflictions and trials as the wicked. They have no exemption from the common calamities of life. In this respect "all things come alike to all," etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:2).
3. By the river of Chebar. We cannot with certainty identify this river. According to some it is "the modern Khabour, which rises near Nisibis, and flows into the Euphrates near Kerkesiah, two hundred miles north of Babylon." But Professor Rawlinson is of opinion that it "is the Nahr Malcha, or Royal Canal of Nebuchadnezzar - the greatest of all the cuttings in Mesopotamia." It is probable that there was quiet and solitude by this river, and these are favourable to the reception of Divine communications. It was amid the awful heights of Sinai that Moses on two occasions was alone with God forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:15-18; Exodus 34.). And somewhere in the seclusion of the same mountain region "the Lord passed by" the Prophet Elijah, and the voice of God spake unto him (1 Kings 19:8-18). And our Lord and Saviour frequently sought retirement for communion with his Father (Matthew 14:22, 23; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42; Luke 5:16). Devout solitude and serenity are congenial with Divine manifestation and communication. Moreover, there is something very suggestive about a river. It tends to hush the tumults of the mind and to stimulate peaceful and pure thought. When the spirit of Elisha was agitated, he was incapable of exercising his prophetic office, but when the agitation was allayed by music, he was able to prophesy. "When the minstrel played the hand of the Lord came upon him." And, as has been suggested by another, the gentle murmutings and rhythmic ripplings of the waters of the river may in like manner have attuned the spirit of Ezekiel to prophetic action and utterance.
III. WAS ACCOMPANIED BY DIVINE VISIONS. "The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." These words indicate:
1. A remarkable faculty in man. He has power to behold "visions of God." 1 do not attempt to determine whether he saw them with the eye of the body or of the mind. To me it seems almost certain that the vision was spiritual. But whether it was physical or spiritual does not affect the great truth that we have power to receive spiritual and Divine revelations. Doubtless the seeing faculty in the case of the prophet was purified and strengthened for beholding these sublime and celestial scenes (cf. 2 Kings 6:17); but no new or additional faculties were given unto him. It behoves us to respect our nature, seeing that it is capable of beholding visions and hearing voices from God.
2. Great condescension in God. He opened the heavens, unfolded the glorious revelations, and empowered the prophet to behold them. The prophet speaks of them as "visions of God." The expression indicates that:
(1) God was their Author. They proceeded from him.
(2) God was their Object. It is true that "no man hath seen God at any time." The essential Deity "no man hath seen, nor can see;" yet these visions were manifestations of his majesty. Schmieder has beautifully said, "The Lord stooped to him, and his spirit was caught up to see God."
IV. WAS ACCOMPANIED BY DIVINE COMMUNICATIONS. "The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest." Or, more correctly, "The word of Jehovah came in reality unto Ezekiel." The prophet not only saw Divine visions, but he also "heard the voice of One that spake" (ver. 28). The true prophet is himself taught of God. His authority with men arises from the fact that he speaks not his own thoughts, opinions, or conclusions, but the word which he has received from God; that he conies to them with an assured "Thus saith the Lord."
V. WAS ACCOMPANIED BY THE DIVINE IMPARTATION OF POWER. And the hand of the Lord was there upon him." The power of God was acting upon the spirit of Ezekiel as an inspiring, strengthening, constraining force. "The hand of Jehovah was on Elijah," and though weary, he put forth great physical exertion (1 Kings 18:46). The right hand of the glorified Lord was laid upon St. John in his dread swoon, and he was revived and strengthened. Whom God summons to arduous service he strengthens for the discharge of the same. He gives power commensurate with duty. - W.J.
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
(1) the reception of Divine truth, as graciously revealed in various ways to the human intelligence; and
(2) the subjection to Divine authority, as exercised with wisdom and compassion by him whose omnipotent hand can both point out the path of duty and service, and can clear away every obstacle which might prevent that path being pursued. - T.
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 vers. 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 vision heard the noise of the wings of the living ones, and the voice above the firmament - appealing to the sense, not of sight, but of hearing. It is perhaps not fanciful to discern here a conscious, voluntary witness to God borne by his creation, and especially by those endowed with the human prerogative of speech, as the utterance and expression of thought and reason. The music of the spheres, the voice of the stars, "the melody of woods and winds and waters," all testify to God. The poet represents the heavenly bodies as
"Forever singing as they shine, VI. THE GLORY OF THE ETERNAL IS SEEN IN THE COMMUNITY AND HARMONY APPOINTED BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH. The living creatures had wings by which they soared into the sky; they reposed and ran, however, upon wheels, by which they maintained their connection with the solid ground. This remarkable combination of wings and wheels seems to point to the twofold aspect of all creation. All things have an earthly and a heavenly side. If wheels alone were provided, earth would seem cut off from heaven; if wings alone, the terrestrial element would be lacking, which would be a contradiction to obvious fact. Man has a body, and bodily needs and occupations, which link him to the earth; but he has also a spiritual nature and life which witness his relation to the ever-living God - the Spirit who seeketh such to worship him as worship in spirit and in truth. Yet his whole nature is created by God, and redeemed by Christ; and his service and sacrifice, in order to being acceptable, must be undivided and complete. Whether we regard the nature of the individual man, or regard the Church which is the body of Christ, we are constrained to acknowledge that all parts of the living nature - body, soul, and spirit - are summoned to unite in revealing to the universe the incomparable majesty and glory of God. - T.
VI. THE GLORY OF THE ETERNAL IS SEEN IN THE COMMUNITY AND HARMONY APPOINTED BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH. The living creatures had wings by which they soared into the sky; they reposed and ran, however, upon wheels, by which they maintained their connection with the solid ground. This remarkable combination of wings and wheels seems to point to the twofold aspect of all creation. All things have an earthly and a heavenly side. If wheels alone were provided, earth would seem cut off from heaven; if wings alone, the terrestrial element would be lacking, which would be a contradiction to obvious fact. Man has a body, and bodily needs and occupations, which link him to the earth; but he has also a spiritual nature and life which witness his relation to the ever-living God - the Spirit who seeketh such to worship him as worship in spirit and in truth. Yet his whole nature is created by God, and redeemed by Christ; and his service and sacrifice, in order to being acceptable, must be undivided and complete. Whether we regard the nature of the individual man, or regard the Church which is the body of Christ, we are constrained to acknowledge that all parts of the living nature - body, soul, and spirit - are summoned to unite in revealing to the universe the incomparable majesty and glory of God. - T.
(1) as veils, which scarcely hide the Divine Artificer;
(2) as symbols, indicating his perfections;
(3) as instruments, with which he accomplishes his will.
For the vision before us, God chose to employ, not the grosser forms of inert matter, but the dynamic forces which are at work on every side - wind, light, heat.
I. The idea is brought before us of INSCRUTABLE MYSTERY. This is betokened by the whirlwind. In all revelation of his doings which God vouchsafes to man, there must be more or less of mystery. The finite cannot measure the infinite. How the wind originates, what its full mission, or whither its destination, we cannot tell. This was a stormy wind - partly baneful, partly beneficent. It betokened a severe visitation of Jehovah - a temporary calamity destined to issue in permanent good. "He rideth upon the wings of the wind." As in the hotter climate of the East, a storm rapidly rises and sweeps the face of the earth; so, after repeated monitions, Jehovah suddenly visits men in judgment. "His footsteps are not known;" "He maketh his messengers winds."
II. There is the idea of PARTIAL REVELATION. This is indicated by the cloud. The cloud both tempers the heat of the sun and conceals the wonders of the starry heavens. Whenever God has revealed his glorious majesty to men, there has been the attendant circumstance of the cloud. At the Red Sea, on Mount Sinai, over the mercy scat, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the glory of God was veiled within the drapery of a cloud. The eye of sinful man cannot sustain the overpowering brightness of the Deity. For what is at present concealed from us, no less than for what is disclosed to us, it becomes us to be sincerely thankful. "What we know not now we snail know hereafter."
III. There is the idea of PURIFYING ENERGY. This is symbolized by the fire. One of the most potent and widespread agents at work in the material universe, is fire - an impressive emblem of the purity ann justice of the Most High. Nothing in nature is more destructive than fire. For the precious metals, it is the only agent that purifies. The flame was self-kindled, as was the flame that consumed the sacrifice on the temple altar. This vision was intended to extinguish the false hopes of the Hebrews. The design was threefold, viz. to produce
(1) suitable terror and alarm;
(2) genuine sorrow; and
(3) internal purification. A fire is kindled in mine anger. Wood and hay and stubble will be consumed; gold and silver will be beautified.
IV. There is the PROSPECT OF EVENTUAL PROSPERITY. "A brightness was about it." We have here a prefigurement of that "abounding grace" which is yet in reserve fur the chosen remnant of Israel - a picture of the "times of refreshing" which shall in due time come "from the presence of the Lord." A prophet who announces only judgment is no less false than he who peals forth only the clarion note of mercy. The brightness is set forth here as suffusing the whole vision - storm, cloud, fire. Every part of Jehovah's administration shall be covered with renown. He will graciously vindicate his ways to the satisfaction and joy of his saints. Immortal splendour will encircle the final result. - D.
I. THE VARIETY OF AGENCIES EMPLOYED IN THE PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
1. The entire animate creation is thus employed. Great is the diversity of opinion as to the meaning of the four living creatures, the likeness of which Ezekiel saw (vers. 4-10). We will state what we believe to be their true significance. As delineated by the prophet "it is an ideal combination," as Fairbairn says; "no such composite creature exists in the actual world." And the name by which they are called, living ones, "presents them to our view as exhibiting the property of life in its highest state of power and activity; as forms of creaturely existence altogether instinct with life." Hengstenberg says that the living creatures are "the ideal combination of all that lives on earth." We regard them as intended to symbolize the whole living creation of God. And their composition, relations, and movements teach us that every variety and order of life is employed in his providential government of our world. The endeavour has been made to assign a specific meaning to each different portion of the living creatures. The symbolism unfolds itself to us thus: "The likeness of a man" indicates mental and moral powers; e.g. reason, conscience, affections, etc. "The hands of a man" indicate dexterity, power of skilful and active service. "The face of a lion" suggests strength (cf. Proverbs 30:30), courage (cf. Proverbs 28:1), and sovereignty. "The face of an ox" leads us to think of patient, diligent, productive labour (cf. Proverbs 14:4). And "the face of an eagle" suggests the power of soaring high above the earth (cf. Job 39:27; Isaiah 40:31), the keen, searching gaze, and the far extended vision. In the evolution of his providential government God employs powers of every kind and degree. The convincing reasoner and the eloquent speaker, the man of brilliant imagination and the man of patient investigation, the skilful inventor and the diligent handicraftsman, and men and women and little children even, having only feeble and commonplace abilities, God uses in the working out of his great designs. All creatures, from the lowest insect to the highest intelligence, are subject to his control and subservient to his purposes. It is doubtful whether the symbolism of the living creatures includes the angelic creation. But apart from this vision, we know that angels are employed by God in his providential government of our world. Illustrations of such employment abound in the sacred Scriptures. Endless in variety and countless in number are the agents which he employs.
2. The great forces of nature are thus employed by God. (Vers. 15-21.) The wheels symbolize the powers of nature. Their relation to the living creatures, and the relation of both to the great God, is thus pictorially set forth by Hengstenberg: "The whole was designed to represent a kind of vehicle, in which the Lord occupied the place of the charioteer, the living creature the place of the chariot, under which are the powers of nature represented by the wheels." This interpretation of the meaning of the wheels is confirmed by Psalm 18:10: "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind;" Psalm 104:3, 4: "Who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind," etc.; Psalm 148:8: "Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word." All the forces of nature serve God, and are used by him in the execution of his purposes. In the case before us these powers are represented as about to be employed for judgment upon the unfaithful Jews. But they are also employed for purposes of mercy and grace. He can use them for the protection of his faithful people, as well as for the punishment of the rebellious.
II. THE CHIEF CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OPERATION OF THE PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
1. The immensity of its extent. It is said of the rings, or circumference, of the wheels that "they were so high that they were dreadful;" or, "they were both high and terrible." How vast are the designs and doings of the providence of God! That providence goes back into the immeasurable and awful past; it reaches onward into the endless future. It embraces an infinity of events, some of which are of stupendous importance.
2. The complexity of its movements. We read of the wheels that "their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel" (ver. 16). "The wheels are not ordinary wheels," says Hengstenberg, "but double wheels, one set into the other." Looking upon the working of an elaborate and intricate machine or engine, the uninitiated are bewildered by the movements, the relations and bearings of which they know not. Somewhat thus do we contemplate the operations of the providential government of God. "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known;" "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Unfathomably deep to us are the mysteries of the Divine providence.
3. The wisdom of its direction. The rings of the wheels were "full of eyes round about them" (ver. 15). Eyes are the symbols of intelligence. The forces of nature are not blind or aimless in their movements, but are directed by the All-wise. And however inexplicable to us the workings of the providential government of God may be, they are guided and controlled by infinite intelligence and goodness.
4. The harmoniousness of its operation. "When the living creatures went, the wheels went by them," etc. (vers. 19-21). One Spirit animated the whole. The one Power which employs and controls the whole living creation also governs the inanimate forces of nature, so that all cooperate towards one great and blessed end. Though the great powers at work in our world often seem to us to be in conflict, yet in his providence God is prompting some, and restraining others, for the accomplishment of his own gracious and glorious purposes. "All things work together for good to them that love God."
5. The progressiveness of its movements. "They turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward" (ver. 9); "They went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; they turned not when they went" (ver. 12). Real and great progress is being made in our world. The former days were not better than these. The social condition of the people improves; education advances along the whole line; science makes great and rapid strides; in the apprehension of revealed truth there is marked progress; and Christian principles and practice are ever extending their empire. Under the providential government of God, the world is moving, not to the darkness of midnight, but to the splendours of noontide.
III. THE SUPREME CONTROLLER OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD. (Vers. 22-28.) Notice:
1. The manifestation of the God-Man. We have spoken of the manifestation of the God-Man; but Ezekiel does not say that he saw either man or God. Very guarded are his words: "Upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it" (ver. 26). He tells us that he also saw "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (ver. 28). It was a vision, perhaps as clear as the prophet was capable of receiving, of the Divine-Human. We can have no doubt of the Person thus indicated. It was a foreshadowing of the incarnation of the Son of God; an anticipation of God manifest in the flesh.
2. The supremacy of the God-Man. "Upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it." The Lord is upon the throne. He is the great Head of the providential government of God. All created life, and all nature's forces, are subject to his control. "All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth." This fact is rich in consolation and in inspiration to all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The gracious fidelity of the God-Man. "As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness that was round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." The meaning of "the bow that is in the cloud" is determined by Genesis 9:12-17. It indicates that in the severe judgments which were coming upon the chosen people, God would not forget the gracious covenant which he had made with their fathers. Even the judgments would be inflicted for their well being, and after the judgments there would be a return of prosperity and of the manifest favour of God (cf. Isaiah 54:7-10). In wrath he remembers mercy. The God-Man presides over the providential government of our world in infinite fidelity and grace. He reigns to bless and to save.
1. Let us believe in this glorious government. "The Lord reigneth."
2. Let us render loyal obedience to the gracious King. - W.J.
I. OBSERVE THEIR NUMBER AND VARIETY. As all matter is cubical, having length, breadth, and thickness, so the number four is the prophetic sign for our terrestrial globe. Hence we have in the vision a four-laced form of life, with one aspect towards each quarter of the globe. There is completeness and sufficiency in all God's arrangements. The manifold varieties of creature life are ordained to do their Master's will, in whatever quarter of the world exigency may arise. This is an intimation of help to the righteous, but of vengeance to the wicked.
II. NOTE THEIR INTELLIGENT QUALITIES. The human form is prominent in the prophetic picture, indicative of the fact that intelligence and reason are the ruling attributes. The universe is not a promiscuous assemblage of dead atoms, nor is the life of men the march of inexorable fate. Combined with the intelligence of man, is the courage of the lion, the patient endurance of the ox, and the stilt speed of the eagle. The noblest service which God's creatures can render, falls immeasurably short of the requirements of God. Yet are our powers never so ennobled or enlarged as when engaged in his work. To him must our very best be consecrated. Far from exhausting our strength, God's service renews and refreshes the spirit. There is always a latent reserve of power. The more we do, the more we can do. Two wings are at rest, while two are in motion.
III. MARK THEIR INTENSE DEVOTION. "Their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps... the fire was bright." The nature of true servants was given to these living creatures. They glowed with sympathetic ardour to fulfil their Monarch's will. The flame within was kindled and kept alive by an invisible hand, so that by virtue of its intense energy, it touched and beautified every part of their nature. As the ministers of Jehovah, they shared in his resplendent purity.
IV. SEE THEIR PROMPT AND GLAD OBEDIENCE. "They went every one straight forward... whither the spirit was to go, they went." Service was a delight. It would have been a restraint upon the impulses and energies of their nature - a very pain - if no service had been allotted them. Hastening to execute the high behests of God, they go and return like a lightning flash. Personality was retained in its full integrity, but self was repressed; they moved spontaneously under the Divine impetus. Self-will sweetly coalesced and identified itself with the will of God. The perfection of a child spirit is reached when we can say, "I do always the things that please him." No by-ends, nor sinister advantages, are sought by these dutiful servants. Each one moves in a straightforward line. The shortest course is pursued to reach the Divine end.
V. THERE WAS UNITY OF ACTION, COMBINED WITH DIVERSITY. Each form of creature life had its special mission to fulfil; yet each worked in harmony with the other for a common end. In appearance they were conjoined, and yet were separate. The particular service to be performed by the eagle's wing could not be executed by the foot of the ox, nor by the hand of the man. There is scope in God's service forevery quality and attribute of soul.
VI. NOTE THEIR SPECIAL COMMISSION. These ideal forms of creature life were commissioned to chastise the rebellious nations. They appear on this occasion as the executors of Divine vengeance. "Fire went up and down among the living creatures, and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning." When God comes forth to judge the earth, he is accustomed to employ a variety of agents. Sometimes he employs the material elements, as at Pompeii and Moscow. Sometimes he employs men - even "men of the world, which are his hand." Sometimes he employs the principalities and powers of heaven. "The angels are the reapers;" "They shall bind the tares in bundles to burn them." John heard a voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, "Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth." The Jews in their exile, when Ezekiel appeared upon the scene, were flattering themselves with the prospect of a speedy restoration to liberty and to home; but the mission of Ezekiel was designed to dissipate this false hope. A long night of chastisement was to precede the dawn of mercy. The glowing fire and the lightning flame were impressive portents of impending judgment. "Our God is a consuming fire." - D.
I. THAT THIS TERRESTRIAL GLOBE IS THE STAGE ON WHICH GOD IS WORKING OUT HIS REDEMPTIVE ENTERPRISE. Other ends, which are plainly sought in nature, are evidently not final; they are steps to a loftier end. It is possible that, in other planets, other aspects of God's glorious nature are in course of being unveiled; other purposes are unfolding; other principles (perhaps not comprehensible by men) are being developed. Our earth is consecrated and set apart for this high end, viz. that it may be the theatre for the display of moral redemption.
II. THAT ALL THE WHEELS OF NATURE MOVE TOWARDS THE EXECUTION OF THIS PLAN. By the wheels of nature are symbolized all mechanical and chemical forces. These are ever moving in their appropriate activities; are, in their sphere, resistless. For the most part these activities are a blessing to men; but if withstood, they injure and destroy. These great dynamic forces do not act in a capricious and haphazard manner. They follow implicitly the mandates of law; they are represented as "lull of eyes;" they are the docile, ready servants of the cherubim: "the spirit of the living creatures is in the wheals also." The same Divine Spirit which dwells in angels and in men, possesses and potentiates (though in inferior measure) the forces of nature. Mechanical forces yield to chemical; chemical forces yield to vital; vital forces yield to intelligent; intelligent forces yield to spiritual. A graduated scale of subordination appears, and in all there is the manifestation of one controlling Spirit. This complete subordination of nature to the central purpose of redemption, is seen in the miracles wrought by Jesus Christ. The intervening agents are not within the range of human vision; yet, to a spiritual eye, they might have been (in part at least) discerned. For to Nathanael Jesus Christ affirmed, with special emphasis, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
III. THAT, BY THE FORCES OF MATERIAL NATURE, GOD'S WILL IS SWIFTLY AND NOISELESSLY DONE. The idea conveyed to the mind by the vision of these mysterious wheels is easy and rapid motion. Celerity is made prominent by the fact that they went straight to their destination: "They turned not when they went." It was enough that the volition of the Divine mind was expressed. "He spake: and lo! it was done;" "Whither the spirit was to go, they went;" "The spirit of the living creature was in the wheels." If the cherubim were lifted up from the earth, these wheels were lifted up; or when the cherubim stood, the wheels stood. Service in any direction - rest or motion - the wheels instantly and spontaneously followed the Divine behest. Here saints may find strong consolation: "God's will is our sanctification." His will shall be done. For who can finally resist it?
IV. THE VAST SCALE OF GOD'S PLANS AND AGENCIES APPALLS OUR FINITE MINDS. "The felloes of these wheels were so high," says the prophet, "that they were dreadful." It is the ambition of the human mind to measure and grasp the universe; and when, at length, we begin to discover the magnitude and the minuteness of God's works, we fall prostrate under a sense of our impotence. "It is higher than heaven; what can we know? It is deeper than Hades; what can" our feeble intellect do? It should temper our self-confidence, and induce in us profound modesty, to remember that we do not, while in the flesh, see objects as they absolutely exist; we see only the likeness and appearance of realities. A subjective element mingles with the objective, in our consciousness. "Now we know in part. We anticipate the time when imperfect knowledge shall give place to perfect certainty.
V. THAT ALL THE ACTIVITIES OF NATURE AND OF PROVIDENCE ARE TINGED WITH A MORAL PURPOSE. There is surely something to be gathered from the fact that the prophet makes mention of these several colours. The fire which enfolded upon itself was of the colour of amber. The throne on which the Eternal sat was in appearance like a sapphire stone. The living creatures were like burning coals of fire. The wheels were like the colour of the beryl - i.e. a bluish green. These colours are constituent elements of the perfect white, and imply that God's righteousness (as well as his wisdom and goodness) is manifest in all his works. The universe is imbued with a moral purpose. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven;" "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills by righteousness." - D.
that which also I delivered unto you." We learn -
I. THAT GOD'S ELEVATION ABOVE HIS CREATURES IS A MORAL ATTITUDE RATHER THAN MATERIAL DISTANCE. His eminence measured by intrinsic excellence, not by intervening space. That both angels and men - all the principalities and powers - are symbolized in the "living creatures" (or cherubim) is evident from the fact that immediately above the wings of these ideal beings stretched the floor of heaven - a crystal firmament, awe-inspiring in its splendour - and on this was erected the sapphire throne of Deity. Between the blue transparent floor of the heavenly palace and the wings of the cherubim no distance intervened. "He is not far from every one of us; in him we live." We may see, not only the rod, but also the hand that has appointed it. "Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved;" "The Lord of hosts is with us;" "Thou encompassest my path;" "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
II. THAT GOD IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF THIS UNIVERSE. He was seen by Ezekiel, as also by Isaiah, occupying a throne. This implies that he has not given himself up to majestic and well earned repose. The crystal firmament and the sapphire throne bespeak the presence of serene and perfect peace. Yet there is no indolence in heaven. Perfect life means constant activity. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;" "They serve him day and night in his temple." It is an exploded fallacy of the sceptics that God has withdrawn himself from the scenes of earth, and takes no interest in human affairs. The very opposite is the truth. He acts mediately in the most minute changes and events. "His throne is prepared in the heavens: his kingdom ruleth over all."
III. THAT THE MOST HIGH GOD DEIGNS TO REVEAL HIMSELF IN HUMAN FORM. This is an unquestionable honour put upon human nature. We have in these visions of Ezekiel mysterious forms of cherubic life, but God does not disclose himself to the view of the prophet in any of these forms. "Verily he took not on him the nature of angels." It is nowhere said that God created the angels in his own image. It is said that man was formed after the likeness of himself. It is nowhere said that recovery was provided for fallen angels; for man it is provided, and at prodigious expense. Angels are uniformly styled "servants;" the redeemed from humanity are designated "sons." In the apocalpytic visions of St. John, the angels stand in an outer circle round about the throne; while the elders - representatives of the Church - sit on thrones nearer to the Deity. God has put stupendous honour on human nature. There is a Man upon the highest throne. God has stooped to our poor level, that he might raise us up to his. "We are to be partakers of the Divine nature." In this vision granted to Ezekiel we have a forecast of the Incarnation - an anticipation of Bethlehem.
IV. THAT GOD'S NATURE GLOWS WITH FIERY INDIGNATION AGAINST SIN. The glorious Being who occupied the throne, presented in one respect a twofold appearance. From the loins - as a dividing line - upwards he appeared as chasmal, electron - as when gold and silver are fused in the flame. From the loins downward there was the appearance of fire. No other interpretation can be put upon this, but that the God of heaven was about to proceed on an errand of judgment. It was still in his heart to forgive, if only men would abandon the abominable thing; but the lower parts of his person - his legs and feet - burned with fierce resolve to vindicate his outraged honour. Similar is the declaration of the Apostle Paul, that "the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of his Son;" "He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire;" "Our God is a consuming Fire."
V. THAT IN THE MIDST OF JUDGMENT GOD IS MINDFUL OF HIS COVENANTED MERCY, "As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about." The execution of righteous retribution upon the ungodly will be an occasion of advantage, and blessing to the redeemed. The blacker the storm cloud, the more clear and beauteous is the rainbow traced upon its departing form, when the Sun of Righteousness again shines forth. This is God's repeated proclamation of mercy - the renewal of his gracious covenant. This brightness was round about Jehovah's head - a halo of glory, a diadem of transcendent beauty - redemption's matchless crown. In it are blended all the attributes of Divine perfection, from the scarlet hue of righteousness to the soft blue of perfect peace. "He will be ever mindful of his covenant;" and it increases our strong consolation to be ever mindful of it also. On the raindrops this heavenly bow of beauty is sketched, as if to suggest that on the daily gifts which flow from the Divine hand we may discern the "everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure."
VI. THAT THE SUPREME LORD OF HEAVES AND EARTH STOOPS TO HOLD INTERCOURSE WITH MEN. This series of magnificent visions was intended to prepare the mind of the prophet to receive new disclosures of truth, new commissions of duty. The splendour of the scene, when once the prophet's visual organ was enlarged - the glorious sovereignty of Jehovah especially - so impressed and awed the prophet's mind, that he fell upon his face. Nothing so humbles the proud heart of man as the sight of God, or even a general sense of his nearness. In the presence of God's greatness, he perceived by contrast his own littleness; in the presence of God's purity, he saw his own vileness; under a sense of God's absolute rule, he was constrained to render glad and preempt obedience. Such lowliness of spirit is a prerequisite for the Master's service. "The meek will he teach his way." Because the lawgiver of Israel was the meekest of men, God "made known his ways unto Moses." So is it still. "With the froward thou wilt show thyself froward." Humility of mind is the only attitude in which we can wait with patience at wisdom's gate, and really pray, "Speak, Lord; for thy servants hear." And still God speaks to humble men. Prayer is not a mere traditional custom of piety. It is a real application poured into the attentive ear of God, and gracious messages of love come to us in return. Said oar Lord in his last days on earth, "If a man love me, he will keep my commandments, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." Ezekiel - a man of like passions with ourselves - records, "I heard the voice of One that spake." - D.
I. THE ELEVATION AND SUPERIORITY OF THE DIVINE BEING. The living creatures are depicted as above the earth, but below the heavens. Above the firmament that was over their heads, the prophet in his vision saw the dim form which shadowed forth the presence of the Eternal. Position, we know, is relative, and it would be absurd to take this representation as literal. Yet how instructive and inspiring is this picture! Ezekiel took the same view of the great Author of all being as was taken by Isaiah, who saw the Lord "high and lifted up." Raise our thoughts as we may, God is still immeasurably above us. When we speak of him as "the Most High," we are striving, in such language, to set forth his infinite superiority to ourselves and to all the works of his hands.
II. THE AUTHORITY AND DOMINION OF THE DIVINE BEING. A throne speaks, not only of greatness, but of power and of right to rule. God is the King, to whose sway all creation is subject, and to whose moral authority all his creatures who are endowed with an intelligent and voluntary nature should delight to offer a glad obedience. His commands are the laws which we are bound to obey; his voice is for us the welcome voice of rightful authority. The religion of the Bible is a religion which enjoins and requires obedience and subjection. Christianity is the revelation of a kingdom which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
III. THE HUMANITY OF THE DIVINE BEING. Such language may at first hearing sound almost daring. And nothing would be further from the truth than to suggest that the Deity is subject to human frailties and infirmities, such as the heathen - both savage and cultivated - have been in the habit of attributing to their gods. But there is great significance in the language of Ezekiel, when he tells us that upon the throne of universal empire "there was the appearance of a man." We have thus brought before us the glorious truth that the human nature is akin to the Divine. We can reason to some extent from our own thoughts and feelings to those of the Infinite Spirit. The resemblance is of course partial, but it is real. And believers in the Incarnation cannot but recognize the justice and the preciousness of this representation of the prophet.
IV. THE SPLENDOUR OF THE DIVINE BEING. Ezekiel uses all the resources of nature to invest his representation of the Eternal with unapproachable splendour. He failed, where all must fail, in the attempt to portray that which cannot be portrayed. His language, glowing as it is, gives but hints and suggestions of glory which surpasses human apprehension. Yet, as he speaks of sapphire and amber, of fire and brightness, we feel that his mind was impressed with the Divine glory, and that his description is fitted to awaken our profoundest and lowliest reverence and adoration.
V. THE MERCY OF THE DIVINE BEING. No picture of the character and attributes of the Supreme would be complete which did not include mercy. Man stands pressingly in need of the Divine compassion. His weakness, his sin, his helplessness, are such, that Divine pity is his only hope. Now, the bow in the cloud is the emblem of mercy. The rain, the dense dark clouds, the floods upon the earth, represent affliction, chastisement, distress. But the sun of grace and kindness shines through the gloom; the rainbow spans the sky, and its beauty cheers the soul of the beholder, as with an assurance of compassion, as with a promise of relief. Mercy is the crowning attribute of the Supreme. God is our King and Judge; but he has not forgotten to be gracious; he is also our Father and our Saviour. - T.
I. MAN HAS A NATURE CAPABLE OF REVERENCE. Fear is one thing, reverence is another. Fear is awakened by the sense and apprehension of personal danger; reverence is enkindled by the sight of supreme goodness, purity, and power. It may be base to fear; it must be honourable and profitable to venerate. It is the prerogative of man to recognize, to admire, to adore supreme excellence.
II. GOD IS THE PROPER AND SUPREME OBJECT OF REVERENCE. Within limits it is right and good that we should honour and revere our fellow men. The child may justly revere the parent, the pupil, the teacher, the subject the king. Yet there is but One who may be revered with no qualification, with no reserve. The Divine attributes are such that, the more we study them, the more we shall find in them deserving of wondering and adoring awe, and the more shall we be assured that there is in them an infinity of excellence which is unfathomable, undiscoverable.
III. IN GOD'S PRESENCE IT IS JUST THAT HUMAN REVERENCE SHOULD BE MANIFESTED AND EXPRESSED. Ezekiel says, with beautiful simplicity, "I fell upon my race." Overcome with the vision of natural and moral perfection, the prophet felt himself unfit to look up, felt that his right place was in the dust. It is meet and proper theft we should manifest the emotions which we justly feel. With reverence and godly fear should human spirits, conscious alike of dependence and of ill desert, draw near to the Infinite Holiness and Strength. Familiarity in devotion is hateful and contemptible; lowly veneration is both becoming and acceptable.
IV. REVERENCE IS THE ATTITUDE IN WHICH MAN IS JUSTIFIED IN EXPECTING BLESSING FROM GOD.
1. It is good for us profoundly to feel our inferiority, our dependence, our innumerable necessities.
2. It is good for us to receive the revelation of God that is only made to the lowly and submissive.
3. It is good that reverent, prophetic spirits should be the channel by which men may submissively receive authoritative representations of Divine glory and Divine grace. - T.
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE GLORY OVERWHELMS EVEN THE BEST OF MEN IN THEIR PRESENT STATE. When he saw "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord," Ezekiel fell upon his face. We find the same thing in Ezekiel 3:23; Ezekiel 43:3; Ezekiel 44:4. Isaiah felt himself "undone" when he "saw the Lord sitting upon a throne" (Isaiah 6:5). Daniel, after a vision of heavenly glory, was emptied of all strength (Daniel 10:8). And even St. John, the beloved disciple, who had reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, when he saw the revelation of his majesty, "fell at his feet as dead" (Revelation 1:17).
1. The sight of such glory humbles man with the sense of his own immeasurable inferiority. How vast is the disparity between the Creator and the creature! He, "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy, and who dwelleth in the high and holy place;" we, frail men "that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, and are crushed before the moth." It is humiliating to reflect upon the infinite distance between the glory of God and our insignificance and meanness and shame. Such considerations rebuke those persons who, in hymn or prayer, address the Most High in terms of unbecoming familiarity, or even of positive irreverence. Most inadequate must be their realization of the truth that he is "glorious in holiness," and of their own unworthiness. "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few."
"The more thy glories strike mine eyes, 2. The sight of such glory overwhelms man by quickening his consciousness of sin into greater activity. Thus it was with Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5); and with St. Peter, when he was impressed with the superhuman powers of his Master, and perhaps realized that he was the Son of God (Luke 5:8). Such splendours as Ezekiel saw reveal the darkness and defilement of the hearts and lives of those who see them. The conscious presence of perfect holiness awakens or intensifies man's sense of his own sinfulness. "I have heard of thee," saith Job, "by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." 3. Such humiliation is a condition of hearing the voice of God. "I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of One that spake." Pride and self-sufficiency cannot hear the Divine voice. "The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way.... The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant." The highest revelations are for the simple, spiritual, and teachable - the child. like spirits (cf. Matthew 11:25, 26). Moses, eminent for his meekness, was admitted into communion and communication with God of special intimacy (Numbers 12:6-8). The humbling effect of Divine visions sometimes qualifies the soul to hear Divine voices. II. GOD IN HIS GRACE RAISES AND REVIVES HIS SERVANTS OVERWHELMED WITH THE MANIFESTATIONS OF HIS GLORY. "And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet," etc. Three remarks are suggested. 1. The design of such manifestations is not to overwhelm, but to prepare for service. The Divine intention in the vision which Ezekiel saw was to prepare him for the discharge of the arduous duties of his prophetic mission. So also was it with Isaiah 6 and with St. John (Revelation 1.). And if spiritual visions of the true and the holy are granted unto God's servants now, it is in order that they may more efficiently serve him amongst their fellow men. 2. The Divine summons to duty or service is accompanied by Divine strength to obey the same. "And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the Spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me." Here are three points. (1) The title by which Ezekiel is addressed. "Son of man." Expositors have discovered various meanings in this appellation; but it seems to us that the interpretation of Lightfoot is the true one. "This expression is of frequent use in Scripture, in the Hebrew rabbins, but more especially in the Chaldean and Syrian tongues Why Ezekiel, and no other prophet, should have been so often styled thus, has been ascribed to different reasons by different commentators. To me... the principal reason appears to be this - that, as his prophecy was written during the Babylonish captivity, he naturally made use of the Chaldean phrase, 'Son of man,' that is, 'O man.'" (2) The summons which was addressed to him. "Stand upon thy feet." That is the attitude of respectful attention. It also indicates readiness for service. (3) The strength which was communicated to him. "And the Spirit entered into me," etc. It is the same Spirit which was in the living creatures and in the wheels. The Spirit was given to the prophet to set him upon his feet and to empower him to hear the word of the Lord. The entrance of the Spirit into him "is a quickening of mind and body conjointly, which brings about the transition from the revelation in vision to the revelation by word" (Schroder). When God commands, he also invigorates for the fulfilment of the command. When he summons man from spiritual death, he bestows the life-giving Spirit to every one who will receive him (cf. Ephesians 2:4-6; Ephesians 5:14). When he calls upon us to work out our own salvation, he encourages us to do so by the assurance that he worketh in us (Philippians 2:12, 13). When he sends us forth to arduous service, he says, "Certainly I will be with thee" (Exodus 3:12). And when he calls us to painful endurance, he gives us the assurance, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Corinthians 12:9). 3. After the Divine summons and strength comes the Divine voice. "I heard him that spake unto me." Humbled by the vision of glory, and revived and strengthened by the Spirit, the prophet was now in a condition to hear the voice of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12, 13). "Signs without the Word are in vain. What fruit would there have been if the prophet had merely seen the vision, but no word of God had followed it?" (Calvin). CONCLUSION. Here are two cheering considerations. 1. When God casts down it is in order that he may the more effectually revive us. (Hosea 6:1, 2.) 2. Whom God commissions he also qualifies. - W.J.
2. The sight of such glory overwhelms man by quickening his consciousness of sin into greater activity. Thus it was with Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5); and with St. Peter, when he was impressed with the superhuman powers of his Master, and perhaps realized that he was the Son of God (Luke 5:8). Such splendours as Ezekiel saw reveal the darkness and defilement of the hearts and lives of those who see them. The conscious presence of perfect holiness awakens or intensifies man's sense of his own sinfulness. "I have heard of thee," saith Job, "by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
3. Such humiliation is a condition of hearing the voice of God. "I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of One that spake." Pride and self-sufficiency cannot hear the Divine voice. "The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way.... The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant." The highest revelations are for the simple, spiritual, and teachable - the child. like spirits (cf. Matthew 11:25, 26). Moses, eminent for his meekness, was admitted into communion and communication with God of special intimacy (Numbers 12:6-8). The humbling effect of Divine visions sometimes qualifies the soul to hear Divine voices.
II. GOD IN HIS GRACE RAISES AND REVIVES HIS SERVANTS OVERWHELMED WITH THE MANIFESTATIONS OF HIS GLORY. "And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet," etc. Three remarks are suggested.
1. The design of such manifestations is not to overwhelm, but to prepare for service. The Divine intention in the vision which Ezekiel saw was to prepare him for the discharge of the arduous duties of his prophetic mission. So also was it with Isaiah 6 and with St. John (Revelation 1.). And if spiritual visions of the true and the holy are granted unto God's servants now, it is in order that they may more efficiently serve him amongst their fellow men.
2. The Divine summons to duty or service is accompanied by Divine strength to obey the same. "And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the Spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me." Here are three points.
(1) The title by which Ezekiel is addressed. "Son of man." Expositors have discovered various meanings in this appellation; but it seems to us that the interpretation of Lightfoot is the true one. "This expression is of frequent use in Scripture, in the Hebrew rabbins, but more especially in the Chaldean and Syrian tongues Why Ezekiel, and no other prophet, should have been so often styled thus, has been ascribed to different reasons by different commentators. To me... the principal reason appears to be this - that, as his prophecy was written during the Babylonish captivity, he naturally made use of the Chaldean phrase, 'Son of man,' that is, 'O man.'"
(2) The summons which was addressed to him. "Stand upon thy feet." That is the attitude of respectful attention. It also indicates readiness for service.
(3) The strength which was communicated to him. "And the Spirit entered into me," etc. It is the same Spirit which was in the living creatures and in the wheels. The Spirit was given to the prophet to set him upon his feet and to empower him to hear the word of the Lord. The entrance of the Spirit into him "is a quickening of mind and body conjointly, which brings about the transition from the revelation in vision to the revelation by word" (Schroder). When God commands, he also invigorates for the fulfilment of the command. When he summons man from spiritual death, he bestows the life-giving Spirit to every one who will receive him (cf. Ephesians 2:4-6; Ephesians 5:14). When he calls upon us to work out our own salvation, he encourages us to do so by the assurance that he worketh in us (Philippians 2:12, 13). When he sends us forth to arduous service, he says, "Certainly I will be with thee" (Exodus 3:12). And when he calls us to painful endurance, he gives us the assurance, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
3. After the Divine summons and strength comes the Divine voice. "I heard him that spake unto me." Humbled by the vision of glory, and revived and strengthened by the Spirit, the prophet was now in a condition to hear the voice of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12, 13). "Signs without the Word are in vain. What fruit would there have been if the prophet had merely seen the vision, but no word of God had followed it?" (Calvin).
CONCLUSION. Here are two cheering considerations.
1. When God casts down it is in order that he may the more effectually revive us. (Hosea 6:1, 2.)
2. Whom God commissions he also qualifies. - W.J.