Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
This chapter contains that extraordinary vision of the Divine glory with which the prophet was favored when he received the commission and instructions respecting the discharge of his office, which are contained in the two following chapters. The time of this Divine manifestation to the prophet, Eze 1:1-3. The vision of the four living creatures, and of the four wheels, vv. 4-25. Description of the firmament that was spread over them, and of the throne upon which one sat in appearance as a man, Eze 1:26-28. This vision, proceeding in a whirlwind from the North, seems to indicate the dreadful judgments that were coming upon the whole land of Judah through the instrumentality of the cruel Chaldeans, who lay to the north of it. See Jer 1:14; Jer 4:6; Jer 6:1.
In the thirtieth year - We know not what this date refers to. Some think it was the age of the prophet; others think the date is taken from the time that Josiah renewed the covenant with the people, Kg2 22:3, from which Usher, Prideaux, and Calmet compute the forty years of Judah's transgression, mentioned Kg2 4:6.
Abp. Newcome thinks there is an error in the text, and that instead of בשלשים bisheloshim, in the thirtieth, we should read בחמישית bachamishith, in the fifth, as in the second verse. "Now it came to pass in the fifth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month," etc. But this is supported by none of the ancient Versions, nor by any MS. The Chaldee paraphrases the verse, "And it came to pass thirty years after the high priest Hilkiah had found the book of the law, in the house of the sanctuary," etc. This was in the twelfth year of Josiah's reign. The thirtieth year, computed as above, comes to A.M. 3409, the fourth year from the captivity of Jeconiah, and the fifth of the reign of Zedekiah. Ezekiel was then among the captives who had been carried way with Jeconiah, and had his dwelling near the river Chebar, Chaborus, or Aboras, a river of Mesopotamia, which falls into the Euphrates a little above Thapsacus, after having run through Mesopotamia from east to west. - Calmet.
Fourth month - Thammuz, answering nearly to our July.
I saw visions of God - Emblems and symbols of the Divine Majesty. He particularly refers to those in this chapter.
Jehoiachin's captivity - Called also Jeconiah and Coniah; see Kg2 24:12. He was carried away by Nebuchadnezzar; see Kg2 24:14.
The hand of the Lord - I was filled with his power, and with the influence of the prophetic spirit.
A whirlwind came out of the north - Nebuchadnezzar, whose land, Babylonia, lay north of Judea. Chaldea is thus frequently denominated by Jeremiah.
A great cloud, and a fire infolding itself - A mass of fire concentrated in a vast cloud, that the flames might be more distinctly observable, the fire never escaping from the cloud, but issuing, and then returning in upon itself. It was in a state of powerful agitation; but always involving itself, or returning back to the center whence it appeared to issue.
A brightness was about it - A fine tinge of light surrounded the cloud, in order to make its limits the more discernible; beyond which verge the turmoiling fire did not proceed.
The color of amber - This was in the center of the cloud; and this amber-coloured substance was the center of the laboring flame. The word ηλεκτρον, which we translate amber, was used to signify a compound metal, very bright, made of gold and brass.
Also out on the midst thereof came - four living creatures - As the amber-coloured body was the center of the fire, and this fire was in the center of the cloud; so out of this amber-coloured igneous center came the living creatures just mentioned.
Every one had four faces - There were four several figures of these living creatures, and each of these figures had four distinct faces: but as the face of the man was that which was presented to the prophet's view, so that he saw it more plainly than any of the others; hence it is said, Eze 1:5, that each of these figures had the likeness of a man; and the whole of this compound image bore a general resemblance to the human figure.
Their feet were straight feet - There did not seem to be any flexure at the knee, nor were the legs separated in that way as to indicate progression by walking. I have before me several ancient Egyptian images of Isis, Osiris. Anubis, etc., where the legs are not separated, nor is there any bend at the knees; so that if there was any motion at all, it must have been by gliding, not progressive walking. It is a remark of Adrian, that the gods are never represented as walking, but always gliding; and he gives this as a criterion to discern common angelic appearances from those of the gods: all other spiritual beings walked progressively, rising on one foot, while they stretched out the other; but the deities always glided without gradual progressive motions. And Heliodorus in his Romance of Theogines and Charicha, gives the same reason for the united feet of the gods, etc., and describes the same appearances.
Like the sole of a calf's foot - Before it is stated to be a straight foot; one that did not lay down a flat horizontal sole, like that of the human foot.
And they sparkled like the color of burnished brass - I suppose this refers rather to the hoof of the calf's foot, than to the whole appearance of the leg. There is scarcely any thing that gives a higher lustre than highly polished or burnished brass. Our blessed Lord is represented with legs like burnished brass, Rev 1:15.
They had the hands of a man under their wings - I doubt much whether the arms be not here represented as all covered with feathers, so that they had the appearance of wings, only the hand was bare; and I rather think that this is the meaning of their having "the hands of a man under their wings."
Their wings were joined one to another - When their wings were extended, they formed a sort of canopy level with their own heads or shoulders; and on this canopy was the throne, and the "likeness of the man" upon it, Eze 1:26.
They turned not when they went - The wings did not flap in flying, or move in the manner of oars, or of the hands of a man in swimming, in order to their passing through the air; as they glided in reference to their feet, so they soared in reference to their wings.
As for the likeness of their faces - There was but one body to each of those compound animals: but each body had four faces; the face of a man and of a lion on the right side; the face of an ox and an eagle on the left side. Many of these compound images appear in the Asiatic idols. Many are now before me: some with the head and feet of a monkey, with the body, arms, and legs of a man. Others with the head of the dog; body, arms, and legs human. Some with the head of an ape; all the rest human. Some with one head and eight arms; others with six heads or faces, with twelve arms. The head of a lion and the head of a cock often appear; and some with the head of a cock, the whole body human, and the legs terminating in snakes. All these were symbolical, and each had its own appropriate meaning. Those in the text had theirs also, could we but find it out.
They went every one straight forward - Not by progressive stepping, but by gliding.
Whither the spirit was to go - Whither that whirlwind blew, they went, being borne on by the wind, see Eze 1:4.
Like burning coals of fire - The whole substance appeared to be of flame; and among them frequent coruscations of fire, like vibrating lamps, often emitting lightning, or rather sparks of fire, as we have seen struck out of strongly ignited iron in a forge. The flames might be something like what is called warring wheels in pyrotechny. They seemed to conflict together.
The living creatures ran and returned - They had a circular movement; they were in rapid motion, but did not increase their distance from the spectator. So I think this should be understood.
One wheel upon the earth - It seems at first view there were four wheels, one for each of the living creatures; that is, the creatures were compound, so were the wheels, for there was "a wheel in the middle of a wheel." And it is generally supposed that these wheels cut each other at right angles up and down: and this is the manner in which they are generally represented; but most probably the wheel within means merely the nave in which the spokes are inserted, in reference to the ring, rim, or periphery, where these spokes terminate from the center or nave. I do think this is what is meant by the wheel within a wheel; and I am the more inclined to this opinion, by some fine Chinese drawings now before me, where their deities are represented as walking upon wheels, the wheels themselves encompassed with fire. The wheel is simply by itself having a projecting axis; so of these it is said, "their appearance and their work was, as it were, a wheel within a wheel." There were either two peripheries or rims with their spokes, or the nave answered for the wheel within. I have examined models of what are called Ezekiel's wheels, which are designed to move equally in all directions: but I plainly saw that this was impossible; nor can any kind of complex wheel move in this way.
As for their rings - The strakes which form the rim or periphery.
They were dreadful - They were exceedingly great in their diameter, so that it was tremendous to look from the part that touched the ground to that which was opposite above.
Were full of eyes - Does not this refer to the appearance of nails keeping on the spokes, or strakes or bands upon the rim?
When the living creatures went, the wheels went - The wheels were attached to the living creatures, so that, in progress, they had the same motion.
The spirit of the living creature was in the wheels - That is, the wheels were instinct with a vital spirit; the wheels were alive, they also were animals, or endued with animal life, as the creatures were that stood upon them. Here then is the chariot of Jehovah. There are four wheels, on each of which one of the compound animals stands; the four compound animals form the body of the chariot, their wings spread horizontally above, forming the canopy or covering of this chariot; on the top of which, or upon the extended wings of the four living creatures, was the throne, on which was the appearance of a man, Eze 1:26.
The color of the terrible crystal - Like a crystal, well cut and well polished, with various faces, by which rays of light were refracted, assuming either a variety of prismatic colors, or an insufferably brilliant splendor. This seems to be the meaning of the terrible crystal. Newcome translates, fearful ice. The common translation is preferable.
Every one had two, which covered on this side - While they employed two of their wings to form a foundation for the firmament to rest on, two other wings were let down to cover the lower part of their bodies: but this they did only when they stood, Eze 1:24.
The noise of their wings - When the whirlwind drove the wheels, the wind rustling among the wings was like the noise of many waters; like a waterfall, or waters dashing continually against the rocks, or rushing down precipices.
As the voice of the Almighty - Like distant thunder; for this is termed the voice of God Psa 18:13; Exo 9:23, Exo 9:28, Exo 9:29; Exo 20:18.
A sapphire - The pure oriental sapphire, a large well cut specimen of which is now before me, is one of the most beautiful and resplendent blues that can be conceived. I have sometimes seen the heavens assume this illustrious hue. The human form above this canopy is supposed to represent Him who, in the fullness of time, was manifested in the flesh.
The color of amber - There are specimens of amber which are very pure and beautifully transparent. One which I now hold up to the light gives a most beautiful bright yellow color. Such a splendid appearance had the august Being who sat upon this throne from the reins upward; but from thence downward he had the appearance of fire, burning with a clear and brilliant flame. For farther particulars see the notes on Ezekiel 10 (note).
As the appearance of the bow - Over the canopy on which this glorious personage sat there was a fine rainbow, which, from the description here, had all its colors vivid, distinct, and in perfection - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. In all this description we must understand every metal, every color, and every natural appearance, to be in their utmost perfection of shape, color, and splendor. "And this," as above described, "was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." Splendid and glorious as it was, it was only the "appearance of the likeness," a faint representation of the real thing.
I have endeavored to explain these appearances as correctly as possible; to show their forms, positions, colors, etc. But who can explain their meaning? We have conjectures in abundance; and can it be of any use to mankind to increase the number of those conjectures? I think not. I doubt whether the whole does not point out the state of the Jews, who were about to be subdued by Nebuchadnezzar, and carried into captivity. And I am inclined to think that the "living creatures, wheels, fires, whirlwinds," etc., which are introduced here, point out, emblematically, the various means, sword, fire, pestilence, famine, etc., which were employed in their destruction; and that God appears in all this to show that Nebuchadnezzar is only his instrument to inflict all these calamities. What is in the following chapter appears to me to confirm this supposition. But we have the rainbow, the token of God's covenant, to show that though there should be a destruction of the city, temple, etc., and sore tribulation among the people, yet there should not be a total ruin; after a long captivity they should be restored. The rainbow is an illustrious token of mercy and love.