For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 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 captivity,”


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 communication.


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 fire.”


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 telescope.


“... 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 square.


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 of man.


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 burnished brass.”


“... 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 symbolic

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 prescribed offerings.


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 perfect knowledge.


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 God.


The fact that they had no need to turn around to change direction emphasizes their omniscience.


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 Son.


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 bodies.”


“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 destroyed.


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 wheels.”


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 heads above.”


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 33:6-9.


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 it.”


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.

Ezekiel 2


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough