Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2003 James Melough
1:1. “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the forth month,
in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of
Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.”
This thirtieth year is generally taken to have been his own age, the year in
which he would have begun his priestly service; and he was among the Jewish
captives in Babylon, having been taken there as a prisoner during
Nebuchadnezzar’s second incursion against Israel in 597 BC, eleven years
before the final destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
The “river of Chebar” or “Grand Canal” was literally the canal of that name,
which brought the waters of the Euphrates to the city of Nippur, lying
southeast of Babylon in a loop of the river, and then rejoined the Euphrates.
His seeing “visions of God” is better translated “visions from God.” Thus we
learn that most, if not all, of the revelations given him were in the form of
visions, rather than in dreams or direct disclosures from God.
1:2. “In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king
Jehoiachin’s brief reign of three months and ten days over Judah, ended with
his being taken prisoner to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, an imprisonment that
lasted thirty-seven years, and ended with his being released by Evilmerodach,
son of Nebuchadnezzar II. He died in Babylon without ever returning to Judah.
1:3. “The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the
son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of
the Lord was there upon him.”
These are generally understood to have been Ezekiel’s own words, the “him” at
the end of the sentence being usually translated “me.” They inform us that he
was a priest as well as a prophet, “the son of Buzi” also a priest, but about
whom nothing else is known.
The hand of the Lord is here synonymous with a Divine endowment or
1:4. “And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a
great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and
out of the midst thereof as of the color of amber, out of the midst of the
Wind is a biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit, and it is impossible to miss the
similarity between the first part of this verse concerning the whirlwind and
the fire, and what is written in Ac 2 relative to the descent of the Holy
Spirit on the day of Pentecost, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven
as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were
sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it
sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost....”
A whirlwind, however, is almost invariably associated with Divine anger, as is
also fire, it being written concerning God, “For our God is a consuming fire,”
Heb 12:29. It’s being described as “a great whirlwind” points
symbolically to God’s almighty power.
The north is synonymous with the dwelling place of God, as is declared
indirectly by its ommission in Ps 75:6-7, “For promotion cometh neither from
the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he
putteth down one, and setteth up another.” It is also instructive to note
that the compass needle always points to the north; and to consider also that
there is a void in the northern heavens which is beyond the scrutiny of any
“... a fire infolding itself” means that it was in the form of a great ball of
fire, out of which darted flashes of lightning.
“... and out of the midst thereof as of the color of amber, out of the midst
of the fire,” means that it had the appearance of gleaming bronze or brass,
the metal that is always synonymous with Divine judgment.
The elements mentioned here combine to present a symbolic picture of Divine
wrath and judgment about to descend upon rebel Judah.
1:5. “Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living
creatures, and this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.”
Out of the midst of the fiery ball came four living creatures resembling men,
and the emphases continues to be on judgment, for four is the biblical number
of testing or trial.
These living creatures were the cherubim, invariably associated with the
execution of God’s commands, and the guardianship of His glory, as for
example, at the entrance of Eden to prevent the return of guilty Adam and Eve,
Ge 3:23-24; and their symbolic guardianship of the Mercy Seat in the
Tabernacle, Ex 25:18-20. Here they are presented as the bearers of the Divine
throne chariot, see 1 Chr 28:18, its being a chariot which moved with the
speed of lightning, verse 14, reminding us of God’s omnipresence. As to their
positions, it is generally accepted that they stood one at each corner of a
1:6. “And every one had four faces;, and every one had four wings.”
They appear to have been the same as those of the creatures in Re 4: they were
the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The only difference seems to
be that these had four wings each, whereas those in Re 4 had six each, a
possible explanation for the difference being that four is the number of
testing, and here the emphasis is upon judgmental testing, whereas in Re 4 the
emphasis is on Christ’s worthiness as a resurrected Man, and six is the number
Judgment continues to be emphasized here in the repetition of the number four,
the four faces announcing that the judgment will be world-wide, while
the wings point to the fact that the judgment originates in the realm of the
heavens: God is its source.
Each face corresponds to one of the four Gospels: the lion portraying Christ
as set forth as King in the Gospel of Matthew; the ox portraying Him as the
suffering Servant presented in Mark; the man portraying Him as the perfect Man
set forth in Luke; and the eagle setting Him before us as the heavenly One
described in John.
1:7. “And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet
was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the color of
“... straight” as used here, is generally taken to mean that they were
standing upright, or that their legs were without knee joints, but this
ignores the fact that it is their feet, not their legs, that are
described, so it may be better to understand the term to mean that their feet
were pointing straight forward in resolute determination to execute God’s
commands; the likeness of the soles of their feet to calves’ feet being the
reminder that the One on whose behalf they acted was the Lord Jesus Christ who
would later come down to earth to bear the judgment due to sin, and it is to
be remembered that the calf or young bullock was the most costly of the
Their sparkling like burnished brass continues to emphasize that their work
was that of judgment.
1:8. “And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four
sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.”
The human hands under their wings would remind us that they were the
representatives of the Lord of Glory Who would at the time appointed take His
place as a man on the earth, and go out to Calvary bearing man’s sin, to die
in man’s guilty stead, and thereby expiate man’s sin.
The repeated mention of their faces calls to mind what is written in Scripture
concerning the face, “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man
to man,” Pr 27:19. The truth being declared in the repeated mention of their
faces is that these angelic messengers of judgment were fully aware of what is
in man’s heart; the repeated mention of their wings being the reminder that
they were God’s spiritual agents, and that judgment will be according to
The final part of the verse simply emphasizes the idea of testing or judgment
by repeating the fact that each had four faces and four wings.
1:9. “Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when
they went; they went every one straight forward.”
The fact that their wings touched one another is the symbolic declaration of
their unanimity of purpose: they were of one mind because they had the mind of
The fact that they had no need to turn around to change direction emphasizes
1:10. “As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a
man (on the front), and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four
had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an
eagle (on the back of their heads).”
Since the location of the other faces is mentioned in relation to the human
one, it is clearly the most important; nor is it difficult to see that in the
four we have a fourfold designation of the Lord Jesus Christ corresponding to
the presentation of Him given in the four Gospels. The face of the man
corresponds to the Gospel of Luke, which presents Him as the Son of man; that
of the lion, to the Gospel of Matthew which presents Him as God’s anointed
King; the ox corresponds to the Gospel of Mark in which He is presented as
God’s perfect Servant; and the eagle, the creature of the air, corresponds to
the Gospel of John in which He is set before us as the heavenly One, God the
1:11. “Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward;
two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their
“Thus were their faces” refers to the description of their faces given in
verse ten. Of their four wings, two were stretched up towards heaven,
touching the corresponding wings of his fellow cherub on either side, while
with the remaining pair each covered his body.
The pairs of wings stretched heavenward may indicate their dependence on God,
while their touching those of the cherub on either side, may portray the
mutuality of their activity.
1:12. “And they went everyone straight forward: whither the spirit was
to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.”
This announces their total submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit; and
since each one’s four faces looked at the same time toward an opposite compass
point, a change in the area of their activity required no turning on their
part. This is the virtual equivalent of their being omnipresent, though to a
lesser degree, of course, than the Holy Spirit who directed their activity.
1:13. “As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance
was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps (torches); it
went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out
of the fire went forth lightning.”
The general appearance of the living creatures was like that of blazing coals
in the form of torches, with extremely bright fire moving between each of
them, while bolts of lightning kept shooting out from the fire. The
symbolic picture appears to be of the reflected glory of God, but sufficiently
reduced in brilliance as to enable Ezekiel to observe it without being
Some idea of the brilliance of the Divine glory may be gathered from the fact
that when Moses came down from the mount where he had been given the tables of
the Law, his face glistened so brightly that he had to place a vail over it
before men could look upon him, see, Ex 34:29-35.
1:14. “And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of
a flash of lightning.”
The swiftness of the living creatures was such that their movements to and fro
were like flashes of lightning.
1:15. “Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the
earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.”
Other translations of this verse indicate that there were four wheels: one for
each of the four living creatures, and since a wheel (having neither beginning
nor ending) is the symbol of what is eternal, the truth being symbolically
declared here may be that the visible living creatures were the symbolic
visible representatives of the invisible eternal God.
1:16. “The appearance (form) of the wheels and their work (material)
was like unto the color of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their
appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.”
“... appearance” refers to the form or shape of the wheels; and “their work”,
to the material of which they were made.
“... the color of a beryl” is generally understood to have been the color of
gold tinted with green, the gold speaking of Divine glory; and the green
(color of life), of God as the source of all life.
“... a wheel in the middle of a wheel” can hardly have been anything other
than two wheels joined at right angles so that they could roll ball-like in
any of four directions without having to veer.
1:17. “When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they
turned not when they went.”
This refers to their manner of movement as described in the preceding verse.
1:18. “As for their rings (rims), they were so high that they were
dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.”
The four wheels were of such great size as to beget reverential awe in the
heart of the beholder; and the rims were studded with eyes. A question we
would all do well to ponder is: if the mere symbol of God evoked such
reverential wonder, what will it be like to stand in His very presence -
particularly for those who will have died without having trusted in the Lord
Jesus Christ as Savior, and who will therefore have to meet Him as Judge
rather than Savior?
The multitudinous eyes speak of God’s omniscience: He knows even the thoughts
and intents of our hearts; and the repetition of the number four continues to
emphasize the idea of trial or judgment.
Some, without explaining the spiritual significance of it, suggest that the
wheels had spokes.
1:19. “And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by (with)
them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels
were lifted up.”
The implied unity of the four living creatures and the four wheels emphasizes
the truth that they are the united testimony to the myriad aspects of the
Divine power and glory.
1:20. “Withersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their
spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against (beside) them: for
the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”
Where ever the Holy Spirit, Who was resident in the four living creatures,
impelled them to go they went, and the wheels went with them, for the same
Holy Spirit within the four living creatures resided also in the four wheels.
1:21. “When those went, these went, and when those stood, these stood;
and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over
against (beside) them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the
When the four living creatures moved, the wheels moved with them, and when the
living creatures stood still so did the wheels; when the living creatures were
lifted up from the earth, the wheels also went up beside them, because the
Holy Spirit was in the wheels as well as in the living creatures.
1:22. “And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living
creature was as the color of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their
Stretched out above the heads of the living creatures - and therefore above
the wheels also - was an arch, vault, or expanse, smaller, but similar in
appearance, to the firmament or sidereal heavens which are stretched out over
the earth; and the color of the firmament was like glittering crystal or ice.
“... terrible,” as used here to describe the crystal, is related to the idea
of instilling fear or dread similar to that which will smite those who will be
arraigned for judgment at the great white throne. Everything, in fact, in
this section of Ezekiel seems to speak of Divine judgment.
1:23. “And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one
toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one
had two, which covered on that side, their bodies.”
As they stood under the miniature firmament each living creature had one pair
of his wings stretched out horizontally so that they touched the corresponding
pair of his fellow cherub. The remaining pair were used to cover his body.
1:24. “And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the
noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as
the noise of an host: when they stood they let down (folded) their wings.”
When the four creatures moved, the noise made by their wings was like the roar
of mighty waters, but it was, in fact, the voice of God Almighty, and not just
roaring unintelligibly: He was speaking, and such was the volume of His voice
that it sounded not only like the noise of great waters, but also like the
noise of a mighty marching army, which tends to confirm that all of this has
to do with God’s execution of judgment.
Relative to the power of God’s voice, it is instructive to note that in
creation He simply spoke, and immediately the universe with its countless
trillions of worlds came into existence, as it is written, “By the word of the
Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his
mouth .... For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast,” Ps
1:25. “And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their
heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.”
The voice was that of God, and their standing still, with their wings folded,
declares the reverence of those mighty creatures in the presence of the
Almighty. What judgment awaits puny man whose rebellion against that same God
isn’t confined to the passive, but consists of brazen activity in thought,
word, and deed!
1:26. “And above the firmament that was over their heads was the
likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the
likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon
Above the firmament that was over the heads of the living creatures and the
wheels, was a throne like a sapphire (deep blue) stone, the occupant of which
resembled a man.
Only spiritually blind eyes will fail to recognize that this is the throne of
heaven, the One sitting upon it being the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The blue
sky ought to be the constant reminder of that glorious heavenly throne, and of
the One Who occupies it.
1:27. “And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire
round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from
the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of
fire, and it had brightness round about.”
From head to toe the figure upon the throne was in color like glowing bronze,
or a glowing alloy of gold and silver, with fire playing over it, so that he
was enveloped in glorious splendor. This is a symbolic portrait of the glory
of the resurrected Lord. It will dazzle every eye, and bow every heart in
worship. For all the ignominy He suffered here on earth, there will be a
corresponding measure of eternal glory in heaven.
1:28. “As the appearance of the bow (rainbow) that is in the cloud in
the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This
was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw
it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.”
Acting like a foil for the glory of the Lord’s person was a rainbow-hued
brilliance reminding us that as He will be glorified eternally in the
damnation of those who spurn His grace, so will He also be glorified eternally
in the salvation of all who trust Him as Savior, for the rainbow is the symbol
of mercy and grace following judgment, see Ge 9:11-16, “... And God said, This
is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you ... for perpetual
generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a
covenant between me and the earth .... And I will remember my covenant ... and
the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember
the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh
that is upon earth.”
The fact that God’s throne is represented as being in the form of a moveable
carriage, may be the symbolic announcement of His omnipresence; and the use of
the terms appearance and likeness reminds us that Ezekiel didn’t
actually see the very form of God, but rather representations of Him, for no
man in his natural body can see God and live.