Then I looked, and, behold…
A man must be embodied ignorance who should suppose that all the activities of God's government come within the range of his vision. Our knowledge is not the measure of existence.
"There are more things in heaven and earth
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy." What we know is an infinitesimal fraction of what we do not know. Hence every revelation of God's administrative rule should be welcomed with eager delight.
I. GOD'S ESSENTIAL MAJESTY IS INCONCEIVABLE. The difficulty for man to comprehend the nature and government of God lies, not on the part of God, but on the part of man. His spiritual nature is so environed with bars of flesh that he cannot discern spiritual realities. Truth finds its way into his mind mainly by the use of sensuous images. The difficulty is aggravated by long habits of neglect and self-indulgence. Under these circumstances, the marvel is that he knows as much about the world as he does. We can form no definite conception of the Infinite or of the Eternal; yet it appears to our reason that God must be infinite in capacity and eternal in duration. Possibly, God is above the conception of the oldest archangel. Possibly, God cannot reveal the whole extent of his nature to any created being. Certain it is that the wing of human imagination soon tires in its attempt to soar to the height of the Godhead. All the machinery of his rule is in harmony with himself - majestic, ethereal, sublime! How shall man measure himself with God? Surely he is but a mote in the sunbeam, incomparably minute, yet to God incomparably precious!
II. GOD'S PRESENCE, WITHOUT A CLOUD, IS TO MAN INSUPPORTABLE. On every occasion on which God has condescended to reveal himself to men there has been the attendant circumstance of a cloud. "God is light;" but to human sensibilities the full blaze of light is insufferable. When God appeared to Moses among the solitudes of Horeb, "the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud." The presence of God among the Hebrews in the desert was symbolized by the pillar of cloud. At the moment when the first Jewish temple was consecrated to the service of Jehovah, a mysterious "cloud filled the house of the Lord." God was known to abide in the holy of holies, in the cloud that covered the mercy seat. When Moses and Elijah descended to commune with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, "a cloud overshadowed them," and the voice of the Father "was heard out of the cloud." At the close of our Lord's earthly mission he ascended from earth to heaven from the heights near Bethany, "and a cloud received him out of the apostles' sight." So too the prophecies which announce the next appearance of our Lord indicate the surroundings of a cloud: "Behold! he cometh with clouds;" "Ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven." Clouds distribute and attenuate the fierce light of the sun, and enhance the splendours of the scene. They are a manifestation of the component parts of light. They reveal its beauty and its power. So God attempers the brightness of his essential glory to suit the necessities of men.
III. GOD'S ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IS AN ELABORATE AND COMPLEX SYSTEM. Human agency is intimately allied with the dynamic forces of nature on the one side, and with the active powers of angels on the other. The wheels (with the numerical symbol, four), impressive from their magnitude and their rotatory speed, indicate the mighty forces of nature. Even in these wheels the prophet discovers eyes, which are the symbol of intelligence. The cherubic beings are represented as combining the strength of the ox, the courage of the lion, the swiftness of the eagle, and the intelligence of man. Beneath their wings there is seen, ever and anon, a human hand - the index of human agency and action. Resting on this complex system of cherubic life is seen the cerulean throne of God, bright as a sapphire stone. In the destruction of Jerusalem the Chaldean armies did not act alone. Nebuchadnezzar, probably, was not conscious that any power, other than his own will, was instigating him to the war. Nevertheless, he was an instrument of justice in the hand of God. There is much service done for God which is not intended. Said God respecting Cyrus, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Human kings and warriors are only parts of a complex system. Human will has a very limited circle in which to play; yet it has its place.
IV. IN THIS COMPLEX SYSTEM THE MEDIATOR FULFILS AN IMPORTANT PART. (Ver. 2.) "The man clothed with linen" clearly represents the great High Priest - the Divine Mediator. He who brings mercy to men is also the Minister of judgment. He who proclaims "the acceptable year of the Lord" announces also "the day of vengeance of our God." God will "judge the world by that Man whom he hath ordained." If the great Shepherd will preserve his flock, he must destroy the wolves. Justice and mercy go hand in hand. As we see here the ministrations of angels, along with God's Son, in the work of destruction; so in later days we see, in fact, the alliance of angels with Christ in the work of men's salvation. Nor should we fail to overlook the promptitude with which the Son fulfilled his Father's word, "Go in between the wheels,...and fill thine hand with coals of fire,...and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight." Is not this a practical commentary upon Messiah's words, "I do always the things that please him"? So with all God's servants, "They go straight forward."
V. GOD ENTERS UPON THE WORK OF DESTRUCTION SLOWLY AND RELUCTANTLY. We read in the fourth verse that the glory of the Lord withdrew from the inner court of the temple, and stood over the threshold of the house. Again, we read in the eighteenth verse that "the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight." Again, in the next chapter the record runs, "And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city." With slow and successive steps God departed from the sanctuary which he had chosen for his residence.. All this prefigured the "leaving the house desolate," and the ascension from the Mount of Olives," by our Lord. So has it always been. The axe is laid at the root of the tree - a delay of judgment - that the tree may yet become fruitful. Infinite patience belongs to God. He "is slow to anger, while plenteous in mercy." A great truth is embodied in the old adage -
"The mill of God grinds slowly,
But it grinds exceeding small."
VI. WE DISCOVER IN THIS VISION THE HARMONY OF SCRIPTURE. Between this unveiling of God's purposes respecting Israel, and his purposes towards the world revealed in the Apocalypse of John, there are instructive resemblances. The cherubic forms again appear. Angels have special charge over the forces of nature - winds and fire and earthquake. So far as human vision reaches, kings and armies act by their own free will, and to accomplish their own ambitions; but when we are lifted up to God's pedestal, and are shown the progress of events from that high standpoint, we see that a series of Divine agents is employed - men fulfilling their part in subordination to angelic ministers. In God's great army we have generals and captains and lieutenants, as well as the rank-and-file. In the government of the universe, men fill a humble though an honourable place; and consequent on their diligence and fidelity now will be their promotion to higher office by and by. "Be thou ruler over five cities!" "Be thou ruler over ten cities!" "I appoint unto you kingdoms, as my Father hath appointed me." - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.