As for the wheels, it was cried to them in my hearing, O wheel.
None of all the prophets have set out the providence of God in His wisdom, power, sovereignty, and superintendency more than this prophet Ezekiel, nor by more elegant emblems. In the whole verse you have four parts.
I. THE CRIER. Which though not expressed, yet is necessarily to be understood. "It was cried"; by whom? By Him that sat upon the throne (ver. 1), that is the Lord.
II. YOU HAVE THE CRY ITSELF. "O wheel!"
III. THE OBJECT OF THE CRY. To whom it was made; it was to the wheels. "As for the wheels, it was cried to them."
IV. Here is THE WITNESS IN WHOSE PRESENCE THE CRY WAS UTTERED, and that was the prophet. "It was cried in my hearing." In speaking of these wheels, it will be necessary to look into the whole vision. In which vision you may see an excellent subordination of causes one to another, and all to the supreme cause, in the carrying on the government in the providential kingdom of Christ.
1. You have the supreme cause set out by the appearance of a man upon a throne above the firmament (Ezekiel 1:26). Above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, and upon the throne was the likeness of a man above upon it. The likeness of a man. Who is this but the Lord Christ in the Person of the Mediator? But Christ was not as yet come in the flesh, why then is He here represented in the likeness of a man?
(1) It was to prefigure His incarnation.
(2) It was to show that the government of the world was put into His hand as Mediator, and that He possessed the throne of the world not as God only, but according to His human nature. By Him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). And hence it is that God the Father calls Him, My King (Psalm 2:6).
2. Though Christ rules absolutely, yet He doth not rule immediately; He governs the world by the agency of the Eternal Spirit. As Christ rules for God, so the Spirit rules for Christ. He is the great Administrator of the government throughout the mediatory kingdom. He sets all a-going (Ezekiel 1:12). Whither the Spirit was to go, they went; and again (ver. 20), whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went; thither was their Spirit to go. All the angels of God are under the command of the Spirit. And so it is with the wheels, they all move as the Spirit of God moves them. What great things did the judges in Israel of old! Why, all was by the Spirit of God. So it is said of Othniel, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went out to war, and the Lord delivered his enemies into his hand (Judges 3:10). So it is said (Judges 11:29), The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he fought against the children of Ammon; and the Lord delivered them into his hands. So it is said of Samson: The Spirit of the Lord moved him (Judges 13:25). Princes, armies, navies are all nothing without the Spirit of God act them. If God dispirits, the men of might cannot find their hands. The sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them (Leviticus 26:36). And if God spirits men, one shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight (Deuteronomy 32:30). The wheels go which way soever the Spirit goes. If you see the wheel go over kingdoms, and break down thrones and sceptres, marvel not at the matter, for the Spirit of God is in the wheels.
3. Here is another subordination of causes; and that is the living creatures. In chap. Ezekiel 1:5 you read of four living creatures, every one of which had four faces (ver. Ezekiel 1:6). He doth not say who or what these living creatures are in that vision; but in this tenth chapter he tells you they are the angels (ver. Ezekiel 10:20). The living creatures that I saw, under the God of Israel, I knew that they were the cherubims; everyone had four faces apiece (ver. Ezekiel 10:21). The former vision was at Chebar, this was in the temple. God discovers Himself more in the temple than at Chebar (Psalm 29:9). And if you look into chap. Ezekiel 1:10, there is a description of their faces. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, and the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle. The very same faces with the four beasts mentioned (Revelation 4:7). These four faces show four excellent endowments. Wisdom and prudence, typed out by the face of a man. Courage and boldness, by the face of a lion. Diligence and industry, by the face of an ox. Expedition and dispatch, by the face of an eagle. These were the likeness of the four faces of each cherubim, all which is to instruct us in the wise forecast by which the Providence of God doth dispose of all these lower events that come to pass in the world. The angels are the great ministers of Christ in the government of the world, called four here (chap. Ezekiel 1:5), four living creatures; not because Christ uses that number, and no more, but the number relates to the object, namely, the world, which is constantly divided into four parts, east, west, north, and south; and these are called the four quarters of the earth (Revelation 20:8). And the four quarters of heaven (Jeremiah 49:36). As there are four parts of the world, so the angels are said to be four; to show that they have a care of the whole earth (Revelation 7:1). But otherwise God doth not use only four angels in the conducting the affairs of the world, but many, yea multitudes (2 Kings 6:17). Christ hath His angels in all quarters; as the devil and his angels compass the whole world for evil, so Christ hath His angels who compass it for good. They are in every corner and company; especially in every church and assembly. The inward part of the temple was to be adorned with cherubims, to note the special attendance of the angels in the assemblies of the saints (1 Corinthians 11:10). If Satan and fallen angels have a power to influence the affairs of the world for evil, then surely good angels have as much power as they to influence them for good, otherwise devils should gain by their fall more than ever they had by their standing. Great is the influence of angels in the governments of the world; therefore the wheels are said to follow the motions of the cherubims (Ezekiel 10:16).
4. Here is a further subordination; and that is of the affairs of the world to the angels. Christ, who rules all, sends His Spirit, the Spirit acts the angels, the angels rule the world, and therefore you have in the next place a vision of wheels. By these wheels the world is resembled, and all the affairs of it (Ezekiel 1:19). When the living creatures went, the wheels went by them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. And ver.
2. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood. Now they which are called here the living creatures are in Ezekiel 10:16 called the cherubims, and the reason of all is in the next words, for the Spirit of the living creature is in them, i.e. in the wheels, as it is twice mentioned (Ezekiel 1:20, 21). So that here you have a short view of the whole subordination of causes one to another, and of all to the supreme cause, in ordering all the affairs of this lower world. God the Father puts the government of all into the hands of Christ. Christ substitutes the Spirit to be His Prorex, and sends Him into the world to manage all things. The Spirit acts the angels, and they all minister to Him. The angels act the wheels, and they all are governed by them. I must open this part of the vision a little more distinctly concerning the wheels —
1. As to the nature of them.
2. As to what is ascribed to them.
1. As for the nature of these wheels, they are visional, and presented by way of emblem. The prophet tells you (chap. Ezekiel 1:1) the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. These wheels were a part of those visions, and therefore not material wheels, but yet as really represented to the eye of the prophet in similitude, and as strongly impressed upon his mind in the image of them as if they had been material. By the wheels we are to understand this visible world, because of the turnings and changes of all things in it. It is usual with the Spirit of God to resemble the world to things that are in their nature most mutable.
(1) The wheel is a thing fitted for motion. From its figure it is apt to turn and move any way; that spoke that is now lowermost is anon highest, and that which is got to the top soon comes to the bottom again; here is no such matter as a permanent state of things. What are the kingdoms and empires of the world, but so many wheels turning up and down? Those four great monarchies, the Babylonian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, where are they? What is become of them? how did they wheel from one to another, and at last wheeled out of being? So it is with cities, — what is become of Sodom, and the cities of the plain? Nay, what is become of Jerusalem? She that was once the beauty of the whole earth, and yet now laid waste, and not one stone left upon another. Nay, the Church, which hath a firmer foundation than heaven and earth, yet she is a wheel too: hurried here and there, never long in any condition; sometimes prosperous, sometimes persecuted. Now she enjoys rest and peace; anon, O thou afflicted, and tossed with tempest! One while she is in Egypt, another while in the wilderness; sometimes in Canaan, and sometimes in Babylon. The lot of the Church under the Gospel is the same. It is the same with particular persons and families; how doth the wheel turn there? Solomon tells you, one generation passes away, and another comes, but he tells you of none that stays. Man's exit is so near to his entrance, that what comes between is inconsiderable. His birth is a change, his death is a change, and so is his whole life: there are changes in his health; well today, sick tomorrow. Changes in his height and honour; now on the top of the wheel, anon at the bottom. You have an instance of this in Haman.
(2) Wheels make a great noise, their motion is obstreperous; so the prophet describes them (Nahum 3:2). The noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the jumping chariots. So it is in the motions of the world. Great wars make a great noise; therefore you read of the noise of the trumpet, and the noise of war (Exodus 32:17). Every battle of the warrior is with confused noise (Isaiah 9:5). Great sorrows and great rejoicings make a great noise (Ezra 3:13). You read of the noise of joy, and the noise of weeping. Great changes in government make a great noise (Jeremiah 49:21). The earth is moved at the noise of their fall.
(3) The wheel is an instrument of great variety of services; it is many ways useful. The chariot is drawn upon wheels; great burdens are carried upon the wheel. Now, from these things it will not be difficult for you to apprehend what is meant by the wheels in this vision; namely, all created beings in this lower world; and all instruments which God makes use of in the government of it; all the elements, fire, water, earth, and air: they are so many wheels. But we are to understand them chiefly of rational agents: kings and princes, magistrates and ministers, armies and navies, rich and poor, learned and unlearned. Thus much for the nature of the wheels, which is the first thing to be opened.
2. As to what is ascribed to them. Now, concerning these wheels, there are several things ascribed to them that are of very great moment.
(1) It is said the wheels are full of eyes (Ezekiel 10:12). "The wheels were full of eyes round about." This implieth the Omniscience of Christ, and His exact notice of all matters in the world; though many things may be hid from us, yet there is nothing hid from Him. If we could suppose anything done by man that is unknown to God, why then, in that particular thing the knowledge of man would be superior to God; he would know something more than God knows, which is impossible; for the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3). There are secrets of government, secrets of state, secrets of the heart, secret contrivances, secret aims and intentions; but none of them are secrets to God. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world. Thus the wheels are full of eyes.
(2) This sets out the care of Christ: the things of the world are not carried on by a blind force; all events are wisely disposed of by the governing care of Providence, which hath a special influence in the managing of all. Things may seem to us to run upon wheels, to go at random, or to fail out by chance, but there is no such thing as chance to that God that foresees and orders all events. He worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will. Those motions and commotions in the world that to us seem most irregular and confused are all ordered by God.
(3) These wheels are said to go upon their four sides (ver. 11 of this 10th chap.). I told you before that the four wheels answer to the four parts of the world; and when it is said they went on the four sides, the meaning is that, look what quarter of the world was appointed to them, thither they went and there they moved. And then it shows their motion was constant and settled, answering to the immutable purpose of Him with whom there is no shadow of change. God is not as man, who is fickle and doth not know his own mind, turning from one side to another; today for pulling down what yesterday he set up. There is no altering the course of Providence; no art, no power, no policy can turn Him out of the way, His Providence is settled in its motion.
(4) There is no going back (ver. 11). They turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went. We may be sure there are no retrograde motions in the course of Providence. How can there, seeing the wheels are full of eyes round about? He to whom all future events are in present view can see no cause to repent. There can be no blots in the copy of Providence, because it is written by the straight line of His unerring counsel. If God go forth against a person, or against a nation or people, none can stand in His way to turn Him back (Isaiah 43:13). If God will pull down, who can support? If God will take away (be it honours, or crowns, or kingdoms, or life itself), who can hinder Him? Can policy turn Him back? No. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought (Isaiah 8:10).
(5) The wheels are said to he lifted up from the earth, and to be high and dreadful (Ezekiel 1:18, 19). This is to teach us that God's wisdom is infinite and unsearchable, and His Providences full of mystery. Sometimes they move in an ordinary way, then the wheels move upon the earth. Sometimes God goes out of the usual road, and acts in extraordinary ways, that reason can't reach, then the wheels are said to be "high, and lifted up from the earth." How little could Joseph see what God was doing when he was in the pit at Dothan, less in the dungeon in Egypt, when he is laid in chains for a reward of his chastity? Oh, how high are the wheels above the earth! nay, sometimes they are so high that they are dreadful (ver. 18). They were so to Jeremiah (Ezekiel 12:1). Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? They were so to Job (chap. Job 19:7). Behold I cry out of wrong, but am not heard; I cry aloud, but there is no judgment. He hath kindled His wrath against me, and He counts me as one of His enemies (ver. Job 19:11). When the Church is in trouble, and all the earth sits still, and is at, rest. When you see Christians kingdoms broken with wars and tumults, and heathen nations in peace and quiet. His providences are ever righteous, but sometimes very mysterious.
(6) There is a wheel in the midst of a wheel (Ezekiel 1:16, and ver. Ezekiel 10:10 of this chap.). Their appearance and their work was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. This implies a transverse motion, like the circles in a globe, that cut and cross each other. It is to show us how cross and contrary the motions of Providence are to our apprehensions and designs. He brings about His purposes by contrary means. Haman lays a plot against the Jews, to cut off all the people of God in one day; and the king himself was in the plot too; letters were written, the thing agreed on. The wheel seems to run very smoothly; but mark the next words, it was turned to the contrary; and in the day that the enemy thought to have power over the Jews, that the Jews had power over them that hated them. Here's a wheel in the midst of a wheel. Who can understand the intricacies of Providence? The working of this inward wheel is seen many ways. When God shall make such impressions upon the spirits of men as shall have their effect in their utter ruin, is not this from the wheel within?
(7) The wheels are sometimes at a stop, they stand stiff. So you read (ver. 18 of this 10th chap.). When the cherubims stood, the wheels stood. This sometimes is really so. God suspends the ordinary operation of the creatures. The lions' mouths are shut so long as Daniel is in the den. The fire hath no power upon the three martyrs. God can stop the motions of all second causes as He pleases. The sun stands still upon Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, if God will have it so. The sea divides, and the waters stand as a wall to fence out a passage for Israel. God can put a stand to the greatest wheels. Israel in Egypt cries for deliverance, God promises the thing, and sends Moses to effect it; but instead of being delivered, their bondage is increased, and their task doubled. The wheels seem to stand.
(8) The wheels are said to have all one likeness (Ezekiel 1:16; Ezekiel 10:10). They four had one likeness. Likeness in colour and appearance. Their appearance was like the colour of a beryl (Ezekiel 1:16). Likeness in situation, none higher than other: likeness in dimension, none greater or lesser than other. This teacheth us that there are the same dispensations of Providence in all times and all places, alike changes and vicissitudes everywhere (Ecclesiastes 9:2). All times have their turns, and all places their changes, as well one as another. That which befalls one nation befalls another; in all parts of the world the wheels are the same, all move to accomplish the purposes of God; alike in end, all move to promote the glory of God.
(9) The wheels are upon the earth (Ezekiel 1:15). "As I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures." He mentions but one wheel, because he that saw one saw all, by reason of their likeness. But how could the wheel be seen on the earth, when the prophet saw the vision in heaven? As the wheels were not material wheels, but visional; so this earth was not the material earth, but earth in a vision; and so it was not the earth beneath, but an earth above. The wheels are said to be seen on the earth, and not in heaven, to intimate to us the difference between this state and that. This is a state of changes, but that state is unchangeable; the wheels are on earth, there are none in heaven. As there are no changes in God, I am the Lord, I change not (Malachi 3:6); so there are no changes in the glory that results from His presence. All things in that state are durable and permanent. In heaven, where all graces are perfect, there all our comforts are constant. But here, where all our duties are mixed with infirmities, no wonder if all our comforts have their alloys. It is the wisdom of God to proportion our outward condition to our inward disposition, which is mixed and chequered. The wheels are seen upon the earth.
(10) The wheels are acted by the living creatures (Ezekiel 1:19; Ezekiel 10:16, 17). The living creatures in the first chapter are the cherubims in this, and they are the angels that are intended by both. And that which is the design of the Holy Ghost in these expressions is to confirm this truth, that all inferior causes are acted and governed by causes superior. No creature moves below without a guide above. When the cherubims went, the wheels went. The angels have a great hand in the government of the world. And therefore if we will have any more distinct account of the motions of the wheels, we must then observe the motions of the angels. And concerning them, here are three things to be remarked —
1. Their going.
2. Their being lifted up.
3. Their returning.
1. Their going. It is said they went; and this going of theirs hath two circumstances not to be passed by.
(1) They went straight forward.
(2) They ran.
(1) They went straight forward. "They went"; there was no cessation. "They went forward"; there was no interruption. "They went straight forward," without diversion. Had they looked back, that had denoted unwillingness. Had they turned aside, that had spoken out frowardness. Had they given over before they had completed their course, that had argued weariness. And this carriage of the angels is instructive in three duties. To be diligent in the Lord's work. It is the rule God gives us (Ecclesiastes 9:10). You have motives to this both from without and within; both from below and from above. From without. How industrious are wicked men in the service of sin, making provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. And shall they take more pains to damn their souls than we do to save ours? You have motives from within. How active is indwelling sin in the heart; what vigorous efforts doth it make to set up its dominion within, to gratify every lust, to spoil every duty, to root out the habits of grace, to quench all the motions of the spirit. You have motives from beneath. How restless are the infernal spirits against your souls; and should not this awaken us out of our sinful slumbers, and quicken us to duty? the apostle proposes it for that end (1 Peter 5:8). You have motives from above. The good angels of God, oh, how active are they in all their ministrations; therefore called flames of fire (Psalm 104:4), because of their agility and fervency in fulfilling the commands of God.
(2) Another duty this carriage of the angels teaches us is to mind our way and have our eye to the mark. "They turned not when they went." They looked not this way or that, but straight forward, to accomplish that which was their appointed work. As the apostle said (Philippians 3:14), I press toward the mark. Of all things be sure to mind this, to have an eye to special duty; this is going straight forward. This carriage of the angels instructs us to persevere in the ways of God, without being weary. The cherubims went straight forward, and turned not when they went; and shall not the wheels do so too? Shall we begin in the spirit and end in the flesh? (Galatians 5:7).
(3) There is another circumstance in their motion, and that is the speed of it; they ran (Ezekiel 1:14). The living creatures ran...as the appearance of a flash of lightning, which notes their great speed and swiftness in doing the will of God; and therefore they are described with wings (Ezekiel 1:6). Every one had four wings. In Daniel 9:21 it is said, Gabriel came flying to him swiftly. And this shows us what our duty is, namely, To labour that the will of God may be done on earth by us, as it is done in heaven by angels. So was David (Psalm 119:60). Hasty purposes are usually clogged with show performances. So the Apostle Paul. Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood. A ready obedience is a good proof of the power and virtue of grace in the heart, and renders the duty highly acceptable to God.
2. They are lifted up. The living creatures were lifted up from the earth (Ezekiel 1:19 and Ezekiel 10:17). The expression may be taken either in an active or a passive sense. Take it actively, the living creatures lift up themselves from the earth, and the wheels lifted up themselves also, and then it imports their looking up to heaven for direction and assistance. So do the angels, and so do the wheels, to teach us that there is no moving right in the work of God, without direction and assistance from God; therefore says David, To Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul (Psalm 25:1). Wisdom to guide the undertaking, help to perfect the performance, and success to crown the service. If the expression be taken in a passive sense, then this lifting up imports a Divine power influencing the creatures in a more than ordinary manner, to fit them for some eminent service. It is said of Jehoshaphat, that his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord (2 Chronicles 17:6), i.e. he was carried above all discouragements and difficulties; and made strong and valiant for God and His work. This teaches us that God doth sometimes spirit second causes in an unwonted manner, and elevates them above themselves. So it was with David's worthies; of one of whom it is said, he lifted up his spear against eight hundred. whom he slew at one time (2 Samuel 23:8). There is a notable promise referring to this in Zechariah 11:8. He that is feeble among them shall be as David, and the house of David as the angel of the Lord. Let the Spirit of the Lord but lift up some Zerubbabel to set on foot temple work, and nothing shall hinder; what though there be a Samaritan faction at home, and that backed with a foreign confederacy with the Persian court? What great things did the apostles do in the infancy of the Gospel! Lord, even the devils are subject to us through Thy name (Luke 10:17).
3. There is the return of the living creatures. So it is said (Ezekiel 1:14). The living creatures ran and returned; but this seems to contradict the ninth and twelfth verses, for there it is said, They turned not when they went. But this receives an easy solution. They turned not from going and doing the work appointed them; but when that work was done, then they returned. They turned not from executing their commission, but then they returned to receive new instructions. And hence they are called watchers (Daniel 4:13). Behold a watcher, and an holy one, and (ver. 17), This matter is by the decree of the watchers. They watch for God's orders to execute them for the Church's good; and this teaches us two things.
(1) That God will have an account of all the work He hath given us to do. As the angels return, so do the wheels. Every one of us must give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). There are none of us but have somewhat or other to account to God for.
(2) We are taught hereby never to be weary of the work God sets us to do: one duty should fit us for another (Galatians 6:9). Thus by the wheels being acted by the cherubims we learn what a perfect harmony there is among all second causes in their dependence upon and subjection to the wise and holy God.
4. Here is another thing ascribed to these wheels, and that is, the influencing virtue of the same spirit which acted the living creatures (Ezekiel 1:20). The spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. By the spirit here is meant the Divine Spirit, the eternal Spirit of God: the same Spirit that acts the living creatures, acts the wheels also; which in chap. Ezekiel 10:17 is called the Spirit of Life; and this is that Spirit which guided all their motions; therefore it is said (Ezekiel 1:12), Whither the Spirit was to go, they went. There is not an angel in heaven, nor a wheel upon earth, but are all acted and governed by the same Spirit. As the Spirit wa
Parallel VersesKJV: As for the wheels, it was cried unto them in my hearing, O wheel.