Ezekiel 1 - Outline of Ezekiel (MENU page)
The Book of the Prophet, Ezekiel -
Like Jeremiah and Daniel, Ezekiel lived and ministered at the time of the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (in 586 BC).

At the time of the final siege, Jeremiah was an old man nearing the end of a long ministry which had already spanned the reigns of several kings (Jer 1:1-3). Though few gave heed, Jeremiah spoke God's Word within the walls of the besieged city. After the city fell, Nebuchadnezzar allowed Jeremiah to remain in the land with the small remnant of Jews who were not taken captive. But they also refused to hear God's Word.

About 19 years before the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, took the first group of captives from the city, during the third year of king Jehoiakim's reign. At that time, Daniel, probably a teenager, was carried away to Babylon, where he was instructed in the culture of his captors (Dan 1:1-4). Daniel's ministry would span the entire seventy year period, which Jeremiah had foretold would elapse before a remnant could return to partially restore Jerusalem. Daniel's ministry was primarily to the successive Babylonian and Medo-Persian kings and rulers. Daniel's prophecies relate to the character and duration of the times of the Gentiles, during which Israel would remain subservient to the Gentile powers.

About 11 years before the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar removed king Jehoiakim and placed his son Jehoiachin on the throne. Three months later, Nebuchadnezzar ended Jehoiachin's brief reign, established his uncle Zedekiah as king, and took Jehoiachin and many nobles captive to Babylon (2Kin 24:8-17). Ezekiel was among those captives (v.2). Ezekiel ministered to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. His prophecies proclaim the absolute righteousness of God in His judgment and dispersion of Israel, and the absolute certainty of His purpose for Israel's future restoration under their Messiah.

Ezekiel wrote the first 24 chapters of his book during the last six years of Zedekiah's eleven year reign, which ended with the destruction and final captivity of Jerusalem (2Kin 24:18- 25:4-f). In these early chapters of Ezekiel's book, the LORD explained the cause and character of judgment to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. In chapters 25-32 the focus turns to God's judgment upon Israel's enemies (with short and long term applications). Chapters 33-48 look forward to the restoration of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom of the Messiah.

1. Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth [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.
2 In the fifth [day] of the month, which [was] the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity,
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.
The time and place, where Ezekiel's ministry began...
  • ...in the thirtieth year...- Although there has been debate concerning the significance of this number,
    it is most likely that it refers to Ezekiel's age. According to v.3, Ezekiel was a priest. The work of a priest did not begin until the age of thirty (Num 4:3; cp. Luk 3:23). Prior to his captivity, Ezekiel was ineligible to serve in the Temple, because he was too young. Now, as an exile from the land, he would never have that opportunity. Yet, the LORD had a work for him to do, for which He called him to minister at the appointed age.
  • ...in the fifth year of Jehoichin's captivity...- As mentioned in the introduction,
    Ezekiel was among the captives taken to Babylon when Jehoichin was deposed as king in Jerusalem. Apparently, he was about 25 years old, at that time. Due to the trauma of captivity, Ezekiel was very aware of the time that had elapsed. He was still counting off the days as they passed.
         With few exceptions, Ezekiel's book is organized chronologically, with frequent time references. The exceptions relate to the prophecies against other nations, which are grouped together in ch.25-32. Some of those prophecies were delivered prior to the fall of Jerusalem and others afterwards (eg., 29:1,17).
  • ...in the land of the Chaldeans, by the river Chebar...- While some have identified this location as the Khabur River in Syria,
    the land of the Chaldeans is the lower regions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Nebuchadnezzar carried the Jewish captives to the vicinity of Babylon (2Kin 24:16), where they were apparently settled near Telabib {meaning 'mound of the Flood'} along the Kebar Canal (3:15), which is believed to have been near Nippur, within 50 miles southeast of Babylon.
The circumstance...
  • ...as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar...-
    This was a place of weeping and bitterness for the exiles. See Psa 137.
  • ...the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. -
    While others wept, Ezekiel was given a heart to know the LORD (cp. Jer 24:5-7).
    In several other places, we read that "the heavens were opened" to allow special revelation from God (eg., Mat 3:16; Luk 3:21,22; Joh 1:51; Acts 7:56; 10:11; Rev 4:1; 19:11). God often communicated such revelation to his prophets through 'visions' in which they saw and heard His message (eg., Ex 24:9,10; Num 12:6; Dan 8:1,2).
  • ...the word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest...
    The phrase "the word of the LORD came..." occurs at least 47 times in this book. This, or a similar phrase, identifies each of Ezekiel's many messages as specifically received from God. This first occurrence is emphatic, due to the repetition of the Hebrew word 'hayah' {to be, to become, to come; 'came expressly' is HB= hayah hayoh}. Ezekiel was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had heard from God.
  • ...and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.
    This (or a very similar) phrase is repeated six more times in this book (3:14; 3:22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; 40:1). Beyond the hearing of God's Word, this phrase implies the LORD's constraining and enabling power, by which the prophet would fulfill the task committed to him. cp. 1Kin 18:46
The vision (1:4- 3:21)...
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 the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
This vision is of "the glory of the LORD" (v.28).
The vision continually increases in its brightness and intensity, as it is opened before Ezekiel's eyes. This opening verse is reminiscent of the LORD's glory upon Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:16-18; 24:16,17). But there, the fearful cloud and fire were stationary, at a distance from the camp. Here, they rush toward the observer.
...a whirlwind came out of the north...
Ezekiel saw a powerful storm approaching from the north. Other prophets used similar language to describe the destructive power of Nebuchadnezzar's forces, which God would send in judgment upon Jerusalem (Jer 1:13-16; 23:19; 25:9,32; Hab 1:8,9). 'A whirlwind' is also descriptive of the judgments, in the future Tribulation period (Jer 30:23,24). In the near term, the invading Babylonians would come 'from the north.'
     But here, Ezekiel sees the glory of the LORD coming out of the north. Some have supposed that this implies that God's physical dwelling is in the northern reaches of our sky. However, the word 'north' {HB=saphon} is derived from HB=saphan {meaning: hidden, gloomy, unknown}. The implication is that the LORD is coming to make Himself known, to those to whom He had previously been obscure. As we will see, this is the LORD's purpose, as revealed in Ezekiel's prophecy (eg., Eze 11:12; 37:13).
     The approaching storm cloud, though dark and heavy, yet flashed with lightning, with a golden glow at its center.
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.
6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
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 colour of burnished brass.
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.
9 Their wings [were] joined one to another;
they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man,
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.
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.
...out of the midst thereof came...-
Ezekiel soon perceived more detail concerning the glow at the center of the approaching cloudy whirlwind.
...the likeness of four living creatures...-
These creatures were unlike anything which the prophet had previously seen. Later, Ezekiel identifies them as "cherubim" (Eze 10:1). Their description and function matches that of the seraphim, which are associated with the holiness of God (eg., Isa 6:1-3; Rev 4:6-8). 'Cherubim' means 'captive ones.' 'Seraphim' means 'burning ones.' These creatures, who are captivated with the holiness of God, purge away all that is unholy from before His Presence.
     As Ezekiel gazed, the details of the vision became more clear. (In the following verses, he will share these details with us.) Out of the distant dark but glowing cloud, appeared these forward guards of the holiness of the LORD... important details concerning their features soon emerged... followed by Ezekiel's awareness of one wheel... then of four wheels... and unique features of these wheels... then, looking up, he becomes aware of a platform above the wheels... and of a throne above the platform... and of a Person upon the throne.
     Within the Tabernacle and Temple, the LORD's glory was depicted by cherubim embroidered on the veil and inner curtains, and by the golden cherubim which guarded the LORD's visible glory above the Mercy Seat, the lid upon the Ark of the Covenant. That lid was also called "the Chariot of the Cherubim" (1Chr 28:18) and was regarded as the earthly throne of God (eg., Psa 80:1; 99:1; Isa 37:16). These and other details, in the earthly Tabernacle, were a pattern of the heavenly reality. Ezekiel was granted a vision of the reality, as the Chariot of the God of Israel appeared before him.
     The Glory of the One enthroned in that chariot is the object of this vision. The things which surround Him, being of the heavenly realm, are beyond the ability of earthly minds to fully comprehend. Words fail as Ezekiel attempts to describe what he saw. There is much more here than human eyes can discern. Some interpreters err in attempting to explain this vision as a revelation of modern technology (eg., 'wheels within wheels' in v.16, as helicopters or other mechanical devices). This is a vision of One whose ways and thoughts are far above our comprehension (Isa 55:8,9).
The features of the four living creatures -
  • the likeness of a man - ie., human like - intelligent, rational, responsible, aware
  • four wings - mobility beyond that of man, speed.
    - humble modesty before the Holy God. (Some of their wings were for a covering, v.11, Isa 6:2.)
    Although Ezekiel counts four wings here (v.6), he seems to see six wings in v.23 (two stretched out for flight and four for covering, corresponding with the description in Isa 6:2 and Rev 4:8).
  • straight {HB=yashar, upright} feet - ie., They stood upright on their legs, like mankind.
    - and/or, They were upright (morally before God) in all that they stood for.
  • like calves feet - This was an identifying characteristic of "clean" animals (Lev 11:3,47).
    - These creatures were pure and acceptable before God.
  • sparkled... like burnished brass.- They brilliantly reflected the pure light which shone around them.
  • hands... under their wings...- Their human like hands suggest their ability to perform intricate and complicated tasks.
  • four faces...- Interpreters have disagreed on the significance of these faces.
    Some suggest that these faces represent the inherent abilities of these creatures (as illustrated by the highest forms of the earthly creation): Intelligence (man), Authoritative Power (lion), Strong and patient Service (ox), Swiftness (eagle).
         Others suggest that these faces represent the symbols of the four camps of Israel around the Tabernacle (Num 2:3,10,18,25). According to Jewish tradition, the standards {ie., banners} of these four leading tribes pictured a man (Reuben), a lion (Judah), an ox (Ephraim), and an eagle (Dan). However, with the exceptions of Judah (Gen 49:9) and Ephraim (Deu 33:17), there is no direct biblical support for linking these symbols to the representative tribes. If this is the intended meaning, these creatures were seen as representatives of the God of Israel (which, of course, they were).
         Yet, it would also be expected that His representatives should bear some likeness to the One whom they serve. It is noteworthy that these faces correspond with the various aspects of Christ's Person and work, as depicted in the four Gospels:
    • Matthew - the King, 'the Branch of David' (a Lion)
    • Mark - His humble submission to the Father's will, 'My Servant the Branch' (an Ox)
    • Luke - His humanity, 'the Man whose name is the Branch' (a Man)
    • John - His Deity, 'the Branch of the LORD' (an Eagle)
      [For further discussion, see the Book Notes at the introduction to Matthew ch. 1.]
      [The above Notes will open in this window. Return to the study in Ezekiel ch. 1, via the 'Book Notes' button.]
  • wings... joined one to another...- This suggests that the four creatures flew in a square formation:
    perhaps, with one creature on each corner of the square, and the wings of adjacent creatures touching at the center of each side of the square.
12 And they went every one straight forward:
whither the spirit was to go, they went;
[and] they turned not when they went.
13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance [was] like burning coals of fire,
[and] like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures;
and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
14 And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
The faithfulness of the living creatures to God's Spirit -
  • ...they went... straight forward... whither the Spirit was to go... they turned not...
    These creatures, directed by the Spirit of God, are undeviating in their pursuit of the purposes of Him, with whom there is no shadow of turning. Num 23:19; Mal 3:6; Rom 11:29; Jam 1:17
  • ...like burning coals... the appearance of lamps... the fire was bright...-
    It has been suggested that "lamps" is in 'the plural of majesty,' and refers to one great or intense Lamp. If so, the text could be read: "the appearance of a Lamp: it went up and down among the living creatures..." The Spirit of God, who swore by Himself to Abraham (Gen 15:17), illuminates, instructs and infuses these creatures as they do His will in behalf of the heirs of salvation (Psa 104:4; Heb 1:14). The glory of God was active in and through them (cp. 2Cor 3:18).
  • ...[they] ran and returned... as... a flash of lightining...
    These living creatures are instant in their obedience to, and in their accomplishment of, God's purposes. eg., Psa 147:15; Dan 9:21; Mat 24:27,31
15. Now as I beheld the living creatures,
behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
16 The appearance of the wheels and their work [was] like unto the colour 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.
17 When they went, they went upon their four sides: [and] they turned not when they went.
18 As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful;
and their rings [were] full of eyes round about them four.
19 And 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.
20 Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither [was their] spirit to go;
and the wheels were lifted up over against them:
for the spirit of the living creature [was] in the wheels.
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 them:
for the spirit of the living creature [was] in the wheels.
The wheels -
...as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creature...
As Ezekiel was looking closely at the living creatures, he suddenly became aware of "one wheel" resting on the ground near one of them. He soon saw that there were four wheels, one by each living creature. These were the wheels of the chariot, which stood above him. While he had not yet noticed the chariot itself, his attention was drawn to the wheels {HB= 'owphan - (the word is derived from a root meaning 'to revolve')}.
     The "wheels" beneath the glory of God are also mentioned in Dan 7:9, where 'wheels' is a different word {HB=galgal - (which is derived from a root meaning 'to roll' or 'to whirl')}. Both words suggest the flow of boundless energy (as also evidenced by the 'burning fire', in Dan 7:9).
...the appearance of the wheels... like the colour of beryl {ie., the topaz, yellowish green}...
...as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.
The picture of a wheel within a wheel is difficult to grasp. Perhaps the wheels were concentric, one whirling within the other at differing speeds, with inexhaustible energy. Perhaps, as some translations suggest, each wheel had another wheel oriented perpendicular to the other, allowing the assembly to roll forward, right or left, without turning (v.17).
...their rings {ie., rims}... were so high... dreadful...
The great size of the wheels struck the prophet with awe.
...their rings were full of eyes round about them...
The omniscience of God includes the affairs of men, for the wheels were upon the earth. eg., 2Chr 16:9; Pro 15:3; Heb 4:13
Yet, the wheels were not restricted to rolling on the ground.
...when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
...whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither [was their] spirit to go...
...for the spirit of the living creature [was] in the wheels.
The living creatures and their associated wheels were inseparable in their instant obedience to the Spirit, for the same Spirit was in both. The wheels, like the creatures, were alive with the Spirit. Later, Ezekiel would overhear, when someone spoke directly to the wheels (10:13).
22 And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature
[was] as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.
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.
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 their wings.
The firmament {expanse} (ie., the floor of the chariot) -
...the likeness... as the colour {HB-'ayin, eye, appearance} of the terrible {ie., fearful, awe causing} crystal...
Again, Ezekiel struggles to describe what he sees. He tells us what the 'firmament' looked like. But he is unable to say of what it was made. The word "crystal" {HB=qerach} is usually translated 'frost' or 'ice.' Ezekiel, looking up through this floor, would soon perceive "the likeness of a throne" above it. Compare the descriptions of the 'paved work' or 'the sea' beneath the throne, as given in Ex 24:10 and Rev 4:3-6.
The sound...
...the noise of their wings... of great waters... as the voice... of the Almighty... of speech... of an host {ie., an army, a multitude}...
The words 'noise' and 'voice' are translations of the same word {HB=qol} (also in vs.25,28). In this realm, everything is moved by the voice of the LORD, which is rich and full beyond measure (cp. Eze 43:2; Rev 1:15; 19:6), for it expresses innumerable and wonderful thoughts beyond our comprehension {eg., Psa 40:5; 139:17,18; Isa 55:9-11}.
     Having become aware of the sound of this voice, the prophet loses sight of the creatures, the wheels, and the firmament, and looks above them in search of its Source.
25 And there was a voice from the firmament that [was] over their heads,
when they stood, [and] had let down their wings.
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.
27 And I saw as the colour 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.
28 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.
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.
the likeness of a throne... the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it...
The repeated use of the words 'likeness' and 'appearance' describe what met Ezekiel's eyes, though the underlying substance remained hidden. The scene is very similar to Rev 4:2,3. The enthroned One is obscured from man's view, by His own glory. Like Moses, Ezekiel was not allowed to gaze directly upon the LORD, but he was permitted to glimpse His afterglow (Ex 33:20-23).
     A full spectrum of bright light bursts forth around this One, with colors more brilliant than a rainbow. Yet, rather than being bathed in its illumination, He Himself radiates forth in glorious splendor.
...from the appearance of his loins upward... downward... I saw as it were... fire, and... brightness round about.
...and when I saw... I fell upon my face...
Confronted by the flaming glory of the LORD, who can stand before Him? cp. Rev 1:12-18
...and I heard a voice of one that spake.
(The words spoken are pronounced, as the vision proceeds, in the next chapter.)

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