Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 22: Ezekiel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Ezekiel himself explains at the very beginning of his Book, at what period he discharged the prophetic office; and on this depends the knowledge of his argument. For unless we understand how God stirred him up, we can with difficulty enter into his spirit, and shall be unable to receive any just fruit from his instruction. It is necessary, therefore, to begin from this point: namely, the time of his Prophecy: for he says:
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.
1. Et fuit tricesimo anno, quarto meuse quinta mensis, et ego 22 in medio Captivitatis, 23 super fluvium Chebar aperti sunt coeli, et vidi visiones Dei.
2. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity.
2. In quinta mensis, ipse est annus quintus captivitatis regis Joiakim.
We see that the Prophet was called to the office of a Teacher in the fifth year after Jehoiachin had voluntarily surrendered himself to the king of Babylon, (2Ki 24:15); and had been dragged into exile, together with his mother: for it was, says he, “in the thirtieth year.” The greater part of the Commentators follow the Chaldee Paraphrast, and understand him to date from the finding of the Book of the Law. It is quite clear, flint this year was the eighteenth of king Josiah; but in my computation, I do not subscribe to the opinion of those who adopt this date. For this phrase — “the thirtieth year,” would then appear too obscure and ‘forced. We nowhere read that succeeding writers adopted this date as a standard. Besides, there is no doubt that the usual method among the Jews was to begin to reckon from a Jubilee. For this was a point of starting for the future. I therefore do not doubt that this thirtieth year is reckoned from the Jubilee. Nor is my opinion a new one; for Jerome makes mention of it, although he altogether rejects it, through being deceived by an opposite opinion. But since it is certain that the Jews used this method of computation, and made a beginning from Jobel, that is, the Jubilee, this best explains the thirtieth year If any one should object, that we do not read that this eighteenth year of king Josiah was the usual year in which every one returned to his own lands, (Le 25) and liberty was given to the slaves, and the entire restoration of the whole people took place, yet the answer is easy, although we cannot ascertain in what year the Jobel fell, it is sufficient for us to assign the Jubilee to this year, because the Jews followed the custom of numbering their years from this institution. As, then, the Greeks had their Olympiads, the Romans their Consuls, and thence their computation of annals; so also the Hebrews were accustomed to begin from the year Jobel, when they counted their years on to the next restoration, which I have just mentioned. It is therefore probable that this was a Jubilee year — it is probable, then, that this was the Jubilee. For it is said that Josiah celebrated the passover with such magnificent pomp and splendor, that there had been nothing like it since the time of Samuel. (2Ch 35:18.) The conjecture which best explains this is, not that he celebrated the passover even with such magnificence, but that he was induced to do so by the peculiar occasion, when the people were restored and returned to their possessions, and the slaves were set free. Since, then, this was the Jubilee, the pious king was induced to celebrate the passover with far greater splendor than was usual — nay, even to surpass David and Solomon. Again, although he reigned thirteen years afterwards, we do not read that he celebrated any passover with remarkable splendor. We do not doubt as to his yearly celebration; for this was customary. (2Ki 23:23.) From this we conclude that the celebration before us was extraordinary, and that the year was Jobel. But though it is not expressed in Scripture, it is sufficient for us that the Prophet reckoned the years according to the accustomed manner of the people. For he says, that this was “the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity:” who is called also Jehoiakim; for Jehoiakim succeeded Josiah, and reigned eleven years. The thirteen years which remain of Josiah’s reign and these eleven, make twenty-four. (2Ki 23:36.) Now, “his successor,” Jehoiachin, passed immediately into the hands of king Nebuchadnezzar, and was taken captive at the beginning of his reign, and reigned only three or four months. (2Ki 24:8.) After that, the last king, Zedekiah, was set up by the will of the king of Babylon. We see, therefore, that nine years are made up: add the space of the reign of Jehoiachin: so it is no longer doubtful as to the reckoning of “the thirtieth year” from the eighteenth of king Josiah. It is true that the Law of God was found during this year, (2Ch 34:14,) but the Prophet here accommodates himself to the received rule and custom.
We must now come to the intention of God in appointing Ezekiel as his Prophet. For thirty-five years Jeremiah had not ceased to cry aloud, but to little purpose. When, therefore, this Prophet Jeremiah was so occupied, God wished to give him a coadjutor. Nor was it but a slight relief when at Jerusalem Jeremiah became aware that the Holy Spirit was speaking through another mouth in harmony with himself; for by this means the truth of his teaching was confirmed. In the thirteenth year of Josiah, Jeremiah undertook the prophetic office: (Jer 1:2:) eighteen years remain: add the eleven years of Jehoiakim, and it will make twenty.-nine: then add another year, and five more, and we shall have thirty-five years. This then was his hard province, to cry aloud continually for thirty-five years, to the deaf, nay, even to the insane. God, therefore, that he might succor his servant, gave him an ally who should teach the same things at Babylon which Jeremiah had not desisted from proclaiming at Jerusalem. He profited not only the captives, but also the rest of the people who still remained in the city and the land. As far as the captives were concerned, this confirmation was necessary for them: for they had false Prophets there, as we learn from Jer 29:21; there was Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah; they proudly boasted that they were endued with the Spirit of revelation; they promised the people marvels, they derided the softness of those who had left their country, they said that they were determined to fight to the very last, and to run the risk of their lives rather than voluntarily give up the inheritance of divine promise. In this way they insulted the captives. After this there was Shemaiah the Nehelamite, (Jer 29:24,) who wrote to the high priest Zephaniah, and reproached him for being careless and neglectful, because he did not severely punish Jeremiah as an impostor and a fanatic, and a false intruder into the prophetic office. Since, therefore, the Devil had his busy agents there, God stationed his Prophet there, and hence we see how useful, nay, how necessary it was, that Ezekiel should discharge his prophetic office there. But the utility of his instructions extended much further, since those at Jerusalem were compelled to listen to the prophecies which Ezekiel uttered in Chaldea. When they saw that his prophecies agreed with those of Jeremiah, it necessarily happened that they would at least enquire into the cause of this coincidence. For it is not natural that one Prophet at Jerusalem, and another in Chaldea, should utter their prophecies, as it were, in the same key, just as two singers unite their voices in accordance with each other. For no melody can be devised more perfectly complete than that which appears between these two servants of God. Now we see the meaning of what our Prophet says concerning “the years.” In the thirtieth year: then in the fourth month, (the word month being’ understood,) and in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives
Before I proceed any farther, I will briefly touch on the subjects which Ezekiel treats. He has all things in common with Jeremiah, as I have said, with this peculiarity, that he denounces the last slaughter against the people, because they ceased not to heap iniquity upon iniquity, and thereby inflamed still more and more the vengeance of God. He threatens them, therefore, and that not once only, because such was the hard-heartedness of the people, that it was not enough to utter the threatenings of God three or four times, unless he should continually impress them. But, at the same time, he shows the causes why God determined to treat his people so severely; namely, because they were contaminated with many superstitions, because they were perfidious, avaricious, cruel, and full of rapine, given up to luxury and depraved by lust: all these things are united by our Prophet, that he may show that the vengeance of God is not too severe, since the people had arrived at the very last pitch of impiety and all wickedness. At the same time, he gives them, here and there, some taste of the mercy of God. For all threats are vain, unless some promise of favor is held out. Nay, the vengeance of God, as soon as it is displayed, drives men to despair, and despair casts them headlong into madness: for as soon as any one apprehends the anger of God, he is necessarily agitated, and then, like a raging beast, he wages war with God himself. For this reason, I said, that all threats are vain without a taste of the mercy of God. The Prophets always argue with men with no other intention than that of stirring’ them up to penitence, which they could never effect unless God could be reconciled to those who had been alienated from him. This then is the reason why our Prophet, as well as Jeremiah, when they reprove the people, temper their asperity by the interposition of promises. He also prophesies against heathen nations, like Jeremiah, especially against the children of Ammon, the Moabites, the Tyrians, the Egyptians, and the Assyrians. (Jeremiah 26-29.) But from the fortieth chapter he treats more fully and copiously concerning the restoration of the Temple and the city. He there professedly announces, that a new state of the people would arise, in which both the royal dignity would flourish again, and the priesthood would recover its ancient excellence, and, to the end of the book, he unfolds the singular benefits of God, which were to be hoped for after the close of the seventy years. Here it is useful to remember what we observed in the case of Jeremiah: (Jer 28:) while the false Prophets were promising the people a return after three or five years, the true Prophets were predicting what would really happen, that the people might submit themselves patiently to God, and that length of time might not interrupt their calm submission to his just corrections.
As we now understand what our Prophet is treating, and the tendency as well as the substance of his teaching, I will proceed with the context.
He says: as I was among the captives While some skillfully explain the words of the Prophet, they think that he was not in reality in the midst of the exiles, but refer this to a vision, as if; when he uses the word “among,” signifying “in the midst,” its sense could be, that he was in the assembly of the whole people: but his intention is far otherwise, for he uses the above phrase that he may show that he was an exile together with the rest, and yet that the prophetic spirit was granted to him in that polluted land. Hence the words, “among the captives,” or, “in the midst of the captives,” do not mean the assembly, but simply narrate, that, though the Prophet was far from the Sacred Land, yet the hand of God was extended to him there, that he might excel in the prophetic gift. Hence the folly of those is refuted, who deny to our Prophet the possession of any spirit of revelation before he went into exile. Although they do not err so much through mistake and ignorance as through willful stupidity; for the Jews took nothing so ill as the thought of God’s reigning beyond the sacred land. To this day, indeed, they are hardened, because they are dispersed through the whole world, and scattered through all regions, and yet retain much of their ancient pride. But then, when there was any hope of return, this profanation seemed to them scarcely tolerable, if the truth of God were to shine forth elsewhere than in the holy land, but especially in the Temple. The Prophet then shows, that he was called to the office of instruction when he was in the midst of the exiles, and one among them. God’s inestimable goodness is conspicuous in this, because he called the Prophet, as it were, from the abyss: for Babylon was a profound abyss: hence the Spirit of God emerged with its own instrument, that is, brought forth this man, who should be the minister and herald of his vengeance as well as of his favor. We see, therefore, how wonderfully God drew light out of darkness, when our Prophet was called to his office during his exile. In the meantime, although his doctrine ought to be useful to the Jews still remaining in this country, yet God wished them not to return to him without some mark of their disgrace. For, because they had despised all the prophecies which had been uttered at home, in the Temple, the Sanctuary, and on Mount Zion, these prophecies were now to issue forth from that cursed land, and from a master who was sunk, as I have said, in that profound abyss. We see then, that God chastised their impious contempt of his instructions, not without putting them to shame. For a long time Isaiah had discharged the prophetic office; then came Jeremiah: but the people ever remained just as they formerly were. Since then prophecy when flowing freely from the very fountain was despised by the Jews, God raised up a Prophet in Chaldea. Blow, therefore, we see the full meaning of the clause.
He says, “by the river of Chebar,” which many understand to mean the Euphrates, but they assign no reason, except their not finding any other celebrated river in that country; for the Tigris loses its name after flowing into the Euphrates, and on this account they think the Euphrates is called Chebar. But we are ignorant of the region to which our Prophet was banished: perhaps it was Mesopotamia, or else beyond Chaldea, and besides, since the Euphrates has many tributaries, it is probable that each has its own name. But since all is uncertainty, I had rather leave the matter in suspense. Because the Prophet received his vision on the banks of the river, some argue from this, that the waters were, as it were dedicated to revelations, and when they assign the cause, they say that water is lighter than earth, and as a prophet must necessarily rise above the earth, so water is suitable for revelations. Some connect this with ablution, and think that baptism is prefigured. But I pass by these subtleties which vanish of themselves, and very willingly do I leave them, because in this way Scripture would lose all its solidity: conjectures of this kind are very plausible, but we ought to seek in Scripture sure and firm teaching;, in which we can acquiesce. Some for instance torture this passage, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept,” (Ps 137:1,) as if the people betook themselves to their banks to pray and worship; when the situation of that country only is described, as being watered by many rivers, as I have just mentioned.
He says, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God God opens his heavens, not that they are opened in reality, but when, by removing every obstacle, he allows the eye of the faithful to penetrate even to his celestial glory; for if the heavens were cleft a thousand times, yet what great brightness must it be to arrive at the glory of God? The sun appears small to us, yet it far exceeds the earth in size. Then the other planets, except the moon, are all like small sparks, and so are the stars. Since, therefore, light itself grows dark before our glance penetrates thus far, how can our sight ascend to the incomprehensible glory of God? It follows therefore when God opens the heavens, that he also gives new eyesight to his servants, to supply their deficiency to pierce not only the intervening space, but even its tenth or hundredth part. So, when Stephen saw the heavens open, (Ac 7:56,) his eyes were doubtless illuminated with unusual powers of perceiving far more than men can behold. So, at the baptism of Christ, the heavens were opened, (Mt 3:16,) that is, God made it appear to John the Baptist, as if he were carried above the clouds. In this sense the Prophet uses the words, the heavens were opened, He adds, I saw visions of God Some think that this means most excellent visions, because anything excellent is called in Scripture divine, as lofty mountains and trees are called mountains and trees of God; but this seems too tame. I have no doubt but that he calls prophetic inspiration “visions of God,” and thus professes himself sent by God, because he put off as it were his human infirmities when God intrusted to him the office of instructor. And we need not wonder that he uses this phrase, because it was thought incredible that any prophet could arise out of Chaldea. Nathaniel asked whether any good thing could come out of Nazareth, and yet Nazareth was in the Holy Land. How then could the Jews be persuaded that the light of celestial doctrine could shine in Chaldea, and that any testimony to the grace of God could spring from thence? and that there also God exercised judgment by the mouth of a Prophet? This would never have been believed unless the calling of God had been marked in some signal and especial manner. Since he next adds, this was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, (or Jechoniah, or Jechaniah,) it is plain that by these very words he reproves the obstinacy of the people. For when God afflicts us severely, at first we are much agitated, but by degrees we necessarily become submissive. Since, however, the willfulness of the people was not subdued during these five years, we infer that they persevered in rebellion against God. Nor does he spare those who remained at Jerusalem, for these took credit to themselves for not going into exile with their brethren, and so they despised them, as we often find in Jeremiah. Since then those who remained at home pleased themselves and thought their lot the best, the Prophet here marks the time, because it was necessary to allay their ferocity, and since they resisted the prophecies of Jeremiah, to use a second hammer that they might be completely broken in pieces. This is the reason why he speaks of 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.
3. Fuit sermo Iehovae ad Ezechielem filium Buzi sacerdotem, in terra Chaldaeorum, super fluvium Chebar: et fuit super eum illic manus Iehovae.
He does not repeat the copula which was placed at the beginning of the first verse, and we may perhaps wonder why the book should begin with a copula: for when he says, “and it came to pass,” it seems to denote something going before it, and it seems out of place when nothing precedes it. But probably an oblique antithesis or comparison is intended between those prophecies which had flourished for a long period at Jerusalem, which was their peculiar and genuine scat, and that which was arising in Chaldea; as if he would say, “even among Chaldaeans,” for the particle ו, vau, is often used in the sense of גם, gam, “even.” The sense therefore is, after God had exercised his servants even to weariness, since many prophets had discharged their duties at Jerusalem, now at length he speaks in Chaldea. He says, therefore, “the word of the Lord came unto him.” I know not why some dream that Jeremiah is here called “Buzi,” unless because it was a foolish persuasion of the Jews, that the father of a prophet is never mentioned unless he were a prophet himself. Their ignorance is proved on other occasions, and here surely their curiosity is shameful, since they decide this Buzi to be a prophet, and because they know of no one else, they fix on Jeremiah: as if it were probable, that when the father was left at Jerusalem, the son was an exile, which is entirely conjectural. But because he was a priest;, so he says, “the son of Buzi.” Our Prophet ought to have some reputation, for if he had been of plebeian obscurity, he would scarcely have been listened to. The priestly dignity, then, availed something towards securing attention. Now he expresses what I have previously mentioned, in the land of Chaldea, as if he had said: although God has not been accustomed to raise up prophets in lands so distant and polluted, yet now his rule is changed, for even among the Chaldeans is one endued with the prophetic spirit. And the particle שם, illic, “there,” is emphatically added, “was there upon him,” says he. For otherwise the Jews would have dreaded Ezekiel, as if he were a monster, when they found that the word of God had proceeded from Chaldea. “What,” say they, “will God pollute and contaminate his doctrine, by its springing up from such a place as that? Who are the Chaldeans, that God should erect his seat there? Mount Zion is his dwelling-place: here he is worshipped and invoked. Here must his lamp burn of necessity, as he has often witnessed by his prophets.” To such taunts the Prophet; replies: God has begun to speak in Chaldea — there his power is conspicuous: “The word of the Lord is come unto me; for we know that God alone is to be heard, and that prophets are only to be attended to, as far as they utter what proceeds from him.” Hence it is required that all teachers of the Church should first have been learners, so that God alone may retain his own rights, and be the only Lord and Master. As then supreme authority resides in God alone, when prophets desire to be heard, they profess not to offer their own comments, but faithfully to deliver a message from God. Thus also our Prophet. I touch these points rather lightly now, as I have treated them more at length elsewhere. At length he adds, the hand of the Lord was upon him Some explain the word “hand” by “prophecy,” but this seems to me weak and poor: I take “hand” to mean divine power, as if Ezekiel had said that he was endued with divine power, so that it should be quite clear that he was chosen a Prophet. The hand of God, then, was a proof of new favor, so that Ezekiel might subject; to his own sway all the captives, since he carried with him the authority of God. This may also be referred to the efficacy of his doctrine. For the Lord not only suggests words to his servants, but also works by the secret influence of his Spirit, and suffers not their labors to be in vain. The passage then may be received in this sense. But since the Prophet only assumes to himself what was necessary, and so claims for himself the position and standing of a Prophet, so when he uses the word “hand,” I do not doubt his meaning to be an inward operation. There is, it is admitted, an inward efficacy of the Holy Spirit when he sheds forth his power upon hearers, that they may embrace a discourse by faith, so also if all hearers were deaf, and God’s word should evaporate as smoke, yet there is an intrinsic virtue in the prophecies themselves: Ezekiel points out this as given to him by God. Here I shall finish, because I should be compelled to break off directly, and we shall be coming to the vision, which is the most difficult of all.
Grant, Almighty God, since thou didst bless thy people with the continued grace of thy Spirit when it was cast out of its inheritance, and didst raise up a Prophet even from the lowest depths, who should recall it to life when it was all but despaired of — O grant, that although the Church in these days is miserably afflicted by thy hand, we may not be destitute of thy consolation, but show us, through thy pity, that life may be looked for even in the midst of death; so that we may bear all thy chastisements patiently, until thou shalt show thyself’ our reconciled Father, and thus at length we may be gathered into that happy kingdom, where we shall enjoy our full felicity, in Jesus Christ cur Lord. — Amen.
A Vision is now to occupy our attention, whose obscurity so deterred the Jews that they forbade every attempt to explain it. But God appeared to his Prophet either in vain or not in vain: it is most absurd to suppose the former — then if the vision is useful, it is necessary for us to attain at least a partial understanding of it. If any one object that the vision was exclusively intended for the Prophet — the objection is easily answered, for what the Prophet wrote was clearly for the use of the whole Church. Now, if any one asks whether the vision is lucid, I confess its obscurity, and that I can scarcely understand it: but yet into what God has set before us, it is not only lawful and useful but necessary to enquire. Base indeed would be our sloth should we willingly close our eyes and not attend to the vision. We shall perhaps but skim the surface of what God wills: yet this is of no small moment, and not only a moderate but a slight degree of understanding may suffice for this. Thus briefly do I finish my preface, and come to the words of the Prophet: —
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.
4. Et vidi, et ecce ventus furbinis 24 veniens ab Aquilone: nubes magna, et ignis involutus 25 et splendor ei undique: et e medio ejus tanquam facies Hasmal e medio ignis.
We must first consider the intention of this Vision. I have no doubt but that God wished first to invest his servant with authority, and then to inspire the people with terror. When therefore a formidable form of God is here described, it. ought first to be referred to reverence for the teaching conveyed; for, as we have remarked before, and shall further observe as we proceed, the Prophet’s duty lay among a hard-hearted and rebellious people; their arrogance required to be subdued, for otherwise the Prophet had spoken to the deaf. But God had another end in view. An analogy or resemblance is to be held between this vision and the Prophet’s doctrine. This is one object. Then as to the vision itself, some understand by the four animals the four seasons of the year, and think that the power of God in the government of the whole world is here celebrated. But that sense is far-fetched. Some think that the four virtues are represented — because, as they say, the image of justice is conspicuous in man, that of prudence in the eagle, of fortitude in the lion, of endurance in the ox. Yet although this is a shrewd conjecture it has no solidity. Some take the contrary view, and think that four passions are here intended, viz. fear and hope, sorrow and joy. Some think that three faculties of the mind are denoted. For in the soul, τὸ λόγικον, is the seat of reason; θύμικον, that of the passions; ἐπιθυμήτικον, that of the lusts; and συντέρεσις that of the conscience. But these guesses are also puerile. It was formerly the received opinion, that under this figure were depicted the four Evangelists: they think Matthew was compared to a man, because he begins with the generation of Christ; Mark to a lion, because he begins at the preaching of John; Luke to an ox, because he begins his narrative by mentioning the priesthood; and John to an eagle, because he penetrates, as it were, to the secrets of heaven. But in this fiction there is no stability, for it would all vanish if it were to be properly examined. Some think it a description of the glow of God in the Church, and that the animals are here to be taken for the perfect who have already made greater progress in faith, and the wheels for the weak and undisciplined. But they afterwards heap together many trifles, which it is better to bury at once, and not take up our time ill refuting them. All these, then, I reject; and now we must see what the Prophet really does mean. I have already said, that it was the Almighty’s plan, when he gave commands to his Prophet so to honor him, that his doctrine should not be open to contempt. But the special reason which I touched upon must be considered — viz.: that God shortly points out by this symbol, for what purpose he sends his Prophet. For the visions have as great a likeness to the doctrine as possible. For this reason, in my opinion, Ezekiel says, behold! a whirlwind came out of the north The people had already experienced the vengeance of God, Mien he had used first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to chastise them. Jeconiah, as we have seen, had gone into voluntary exile. The Jews thought that they would still have a quiet home in their city and country, and laughed at the simplicity of those who had so quickly gone into exile. The Prophet therefore says, that he saw a stormy wind from the north This rush of the wind or tempest ought to be referred to the judgment of God: for he wished to strike terror into the Jews, that they should not grow torpid in their security. After he has spoken concerning the storm or tempest, he adds — I saw four living creatures and four wheels connected together, to signify that their motion had not originated from chance but from God. These two things ought to be joined together, viz.: that the storm sprang up out of the north, and that God, the author of the storm, was beheld upon his throne. But in the meanwhile, that God’s majesty might the Jews, he says — I saw four living creatures and four wheels connected together By the four living’ creatures he understands cherubim: and we have no need of any other explanation, for he explains it so in chapter 10., when he saw God in the temple, the four living creatures were under his feet, and he says they are cherubim. Now we must see why four animals are here enumerated, when two cherubim only embraced the Ark of the Covenant; and next, why he describes four heads to each: for if he wished to accommodate his language to the rites of the Sanctuary, why did he not place two cherubim, with which God was content? (Ex 20:18;) for he seems here to depart from the command of God himself: (Nu 7:89) now, four heads and round feet, do not suit the two cherubim by whom the Ark of the Covenant was surrounded. But the solution is at hand: the Prophet so alludes to the Sanctuary, or, at the same time, to bend his discourse to the rudeness of the people. For their religion had become so obsolete, and their contempt of the law so great., that the Jews were ignorant of the use of tie Sanctuary; then they so worshipped God as if he were at a distance from them, and entirely rejected his providential care over human affairs. Here, then, we see how gross was their stupor, so that though often stricken, they never were aroused. Because the Jews were thus completely torpid, it became needful to propose to them a new form, and so the Prophet chooses half of it from the Sanctuary itself, and assumes the other half, as it was required for so rude a people; although he did not manufacture anything out of his own mind, for I am now speaking of the counsel of the Holy Spirit. God was, therefore, unwilling to drive the Jews away from the sanctuary, for that was the foundation of all right understanding of truth, but because he saw that the legal form was not sufficient, he therefore added a new supply, and as he gave each cherub four heads, so he wished their number to be four.
With regard to their number, I doubt not that God wished to teach us that his influence is diffused through all regions of the world, for we know the world to be divided into four parts; and that the people might know that God’s providence rules everywhere throughout the world, four cherubim were set up. Here also it is convenient to repeat, that angels were represented by cherubim and seraphim: for those who are called cherubim here and in Eze 10, are called seraphim in Isa 6:2; and we know that angels are called principalities and powers, (Eph 3:10,) and are rendered conspicuous by these titles, while Scripture calls them the very hands of God himself. (Col 1:16.) Since, therefore, God works by angels, and uses them as ministers of his power, then when angels are brought forward, there the providence of God is conspicuous, and his power in the government of the world. This, then, is the reason why not two cherubim only were placed before the Prophet’s eyes, but four: because God’s providence ought to be evident in earthly things, for the people then imagined that God was confined to heaven; hence the Prophet teaches not only that he reigns in heaven, but that he rules over earthly affairs. And for this reason, and with this end, he extends his power over the four quarters of the globe. Why, then, has each animal four heads? I answer, that by this, angelic virtue is proved to reside in all the animals. Yet a part is put for the whole, because God by his angels works not only in man and other animals, but throughout creation; and because inanimate things have no motion in themselves, as God wished to instruct a rude and dull people, he sets before them the image of all things under that of animals. With reference, then, to living creatures, man holds the first place, because he was formed after the image of God, and the lion reigns over the wild-beasts, but the ox, because he is most useful, represents all domestic animals, or, as they are usually called, tame animals. Since the eagle is a royal bird, all birds are comprehended under this word; and here I am not fabricating allegories, but only explaining the literal sense; for it seems to me sufficiently plain, that God signifies angelic inspiration by the four cherubim, and extends it to the four regions of the earth. Now:, as it is equally clear that no creature moves by itself, but that all motions are by the secret, instinct of God, therefore each cherub has four heads, as if it were said that angels administer God’s empire not in one part of the world only, but everywhere; and next, that all creatures are so impelled as if they were joined together with angels themselves. The Prophet then ascribes four heads to each, because if we can trust our eyes when observing the manner in which God governs the world, that angelic virtue will appear in every motion: it is then, in fact, just as if angels had the heads of all animals: that is, comprehended within themselves openly and conspicuously all elements and all parts of the world; — thus much concerning the four heads.
As to the four wheels, I do not doubt their signifying those changes which we commonly call revolutions: for we see the world continually changing and putting on, as it were, new faces, each being represented by a fresh revolution of the wheel, effected by either its own or by some external impulse. Since, then, there exists no fixed condition of the world, but continual changes are discerned, the Prophet joins the wheels to the angels, as if he would assert that no changes occur by chance, but depend upon some agency, viz., that of angels; not that they move things by their inherent power, but because they are, as we have said, God’s hands. And because these changes are really contortions, the Prophet says, I saw wheel within wheel; for the course of things is not continuous, but when God begins to do anything, he seems, as we shall again perceive, to recede: then many things mutually concur, whence the Stoics fancied that fate arose from what they called a connection of causes. But God here teaches his people far otherwise, viz., that the changes of the world are so connected together, that all motion depends upon the angels, whom he guides according to his will. Hence the wheels are said to be full of eyes. I think that God opposed this form of the wheels to the foolish opinion of men, because men fancy Fortune blind, and that all things roll on in a kind of turbulent confusion. God, then, when he compares the changes which happen in the world to wheels, calls them “full of eyes,” to show that nothing is done with rashness or through the blind impulse of fortune. This imagination surely arises from our blindness: we are blind in the midst of light, and therefore when God works, we think that he turns all things upside down; and because we dare not utter such gross blasphemy against him, we say that Fortune acts without consideration, but in the meantime we transfer the empire of God to Fortune itself. Seneca tells a story of a jester belonging to his wife’s father, who, when he lost the use of his eyes through old age, exclaimed that he had done nothing to deserve being cast into darkness — for he thought that the sun no longer gave light to the world; but the blindness was in himself. This is our condition: we are blind, as I have already said, and yet we wish to throw the cause of our blindness upon God himself; and because we do not dare openly to bring a charge against him, we impose upon him the name of fortune; and for this reason the Prophet says the wheels have eyes.
We now understand the scope of the vision, and we must next approach its several parts. After he has said, a wind sprung up from the north, and a great cloud, he adds, there was also a fire folding round itself Moses, in the ninth chapter of Exodus, (Ex 9:24,) uses the same word when he speaks of the storm which he caused in Egypt. There was fire en-folded or entwined, and the splendor of fire. Some shrewdly expound this splendor of the fire, as if God’s judgments were not obscure, but exposed to the eyes of all. I cannot agree in this meaning, nor do I think it correct. Here the majesty of God is described to us according to the usual scriptural method. He says, the fire was splendid in its circuit, and then there was as it were the appearance of “Hasmal” in the midst of the fire Many think Hasreal to be an angel or an unknown phantom, but, in my opinion, without reason, for Hasmal seems to me a color. Jerome, following the Greek, uses the word electrum, but surprises me by saying that it is more precious than gold or silver; for electrum is composed of gold, with a fifth part of it silver, hence, as it does not; exceed them both in value, Jerome was mistaken. But whether it was electrum or any remarkable color, it so clearly portrayed to the Prophet the majesty of God, that he ought to be wrapt in admiration, although the vision was not offered for his sake personally, but, as I have said before, for the Church at large. The color differed from that of fire, that the Prophet might understand that the fire was heavenly, and, as a symbol of God’s glory, had a form unlike that of common fire. Now follows:
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.
5. Et e medio ejus similitudo quatuor animalium, et hic aspectus eorum, similitudo hominis ipsis.
I have already explained why God showed four angels to his Prophet under the form of four animals. It was necessary to turn a little aside from the sanctuary, since the whole legal worship was obnoxious to the profane. God therefore descends, as it were, from heaven, and appears familiarly on earth, as if he would say that he reigned not only above among his angels, but that he exercised his power here, because angels are engaged on earth, and are connected with all regions of the globe; and the conclusion is, that God’s providence is everywhere diffused. He says, these animals have the likeness of a man, which does not seem in accordance with the rest of the context. He will immediately say that each animal had four heads, then that their feet were round or like those of a calf, as some interpret it: but here he says they have the form of a man, and the solution is, that the first feet are like those of a man, although in some respects different; nor is it doubtful that cherubim were beheld by the Prophet as angels of God. Wings also do not suit human nature, but he means, that they had the usual human stature: although they are not entirely like human beings, yet there is much likeness in their general appearance: and now we understand why it is said that the likeness was human
6. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
6. Et quatuor facies cuique, et quatuor alae cuique ex ipsis.
He now comes to the heads and wings themselves. Many suppose that each animal had four heads, and then that four appearances belonged to each head; others extend the wings much further, because they assign four wings to each of the four heads, and others even sixteen; but this does not seem in accordance with the Prophet’s words. He simply says each had four heads, and then four wings. The wings and the heads correspond; but one animal was endowed with only four heads, and so I do not think that it had more than four wings, which will again be evident from the context. He adds afterwards —
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.
7. Et pedes eorum pes rectus, et planta pedis eorum tanquam planta pedis vituli: 26 et scintillas jaciebant, 27 tanquam aspectus chalybis politi.
This seems added by way of explanation. Since Ezekiel has spoken of their human form, he adds that their feet were straight, although he calls them round or like those of a calf. I refer the straightness not to the feet only but also to the legs. It is therefore just as if he had said that these animals stood as men do. For we differ from the brutes, who look down towards the ground. As the poet appositely remarks, when he commends the singular favor which God has conferred upon man,
Man looks aloft, and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies. 28
The Prophet now signifies the same thing, when he says that the animals had straight feet. He asserts that they had not anything akin to brutes, but rather to the appearance or likeness of man. He says that their feet were round, and this seems to indicate their agility or the variety of their movements, as if he had said that their feet were not confined, to any one direction, but wherever God impels them they move easily, since their feet are round. If any of us wishes to turn either to the right or the left, he will feel himself to be contending with nature, if he attempt at the same time to walk backwards; if however his feet were round, or of the form of calves’ feet, he could easily move in any direction. Agility of this kind then seems pointed at in the animals. As to the sparks which shone like polished brass or steel, we know that this similitude often occurs in Scripture, for whenever God wishes to render his servants attentive, he proposes new figures which may excite their admiration. This very thing happened to our Prophet, because if the usual fleshy color had appeared in these animals, this perhaps would have been neglected: even the Prophet had not considered the meaning of the vision with sufficient attention. But when he saw the glistening thighs and sparks shining in every direction, as if from polished steel, then he was compelled to apply his mind more attentively to this vision, Now, therefore, we see why he says that the appearance of the legs was like polished steel, and that sparks glittered on them
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.
8. Et manus hominis sub alis de sub alis super quatuor latera vel angulos, et facies et alae ipsis quatuor.
Now the Prophet says: hands were under their wings Since hands are the principal instruments of action, we know that all actions are often denoted by this word: whence hands, either pure or defiled, signify the works of men either clean or unclean. When the Prophet says that the animals were endowed with hands, he signifies that they were ready for the performance of any duty enjoined upon them: for he who is without hands lies useless, and cannot execute any work. Therefore that the Prophet may express angelic vigor, he says that they had hands. This also refers to their human figure, but hands denote something peculiar: namely, that they have such agility that they can execute every commandment of God. For he says: they were under their wings, by which words he signifies, that the angels have no motions in themselves, so that they cannot be carried where they please, except they are divinely impelled, and their every action guided by the will of God. For without doubt by wings, as in this place so in others, we must understand something more than human, Since therefore the wings, with which the animals are clothed, signify nothing else but the secret instinct of God, it follows, that hands hidden under the wings denote nothing else than that angels do not move, as we say, intrinsically, but are impelled from without, namely, by the power of God himself: hence they are not carried about rashly hither and thither, but all their actions are governed by God, since he bends and directs them whithersoever he pleases. This is the reason why the Prophet says that he saw hands on the animals, and then that those hands were under their wings He repeats again, they had faces, and four wings to them The use of the phrase four sides is worthy of notice, just as if he had said that the animals have the power of acting equally in all directions, not that they had four hands each, although at first sight this may appear to be the meaning of the words on four sides, or in each corner, but it simply means that the hands so appeared on the animals, that they were ready for action whensoever God wishes to impel these animals. Now follows —
9. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
9. Societae erant quaeque ad aliam alarum: 29 ipsorum animalium non revertebantur in gradiendo: 30 vir, 31 versus faciem suam ex opposite 32 incedebant.
He says the wings were conjoined, which he soon more clearly explains: for he will say that the wings were joined together, and that two were so extended that they clothed or ruled the whole body: but here he touches shortly upon what he will soon treat more at length. Their wings then were so joined together that one touched the other: and afterwards he adds, they so went forward that they did not return; and he seems to contradict himself when he afterwards says the animals ran like lightning and then returned: but these two things are not inconsistent, for he will soon add the explanation: namely, that the animals so go forward that they proceed in a perpetual course towards their own end or goal, but it does not follow that they afterwards rest there. Therefore when the animals proceed, they do not turn aside in either one direction or another, nor do they turn back, but go straight on in their destined course afterwards, like lightning, yet they have different meetings: and what this means we have no time to explain now, but must defer it till tomorrow.
Almighty God, since by our dullness we are so fixed down to earth that, when thou stretchest forth thine hand to us, we cannot reach forth to thee, grant, that being roused up by thy Spirit, we may learn to raise our affections to thee, and to strive against our sluggishness, until by a nearer approach thou mayest become so familiarly known to us, that at length we may arrive at the fruition of full and perfect glory laid up for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We must now see why the Prophet says, each animal walked onwards, or in the direction of his face. I simply interpret it in a straight course, so that they neither wandered nor declined to either the right hand or the left. For those who turn the face on one side or the other, often stumble, and thus decline from the right way: there was therefore such attention in the animals, that they always kept their object in view, and never bent from their fixed purpose. Hence we see that a fixed, and, as we say, inflexible rule in divine actions is here commended. Men often change their places, and fluctuate, and when they have any purpose, if a different thought strike them, they are carried back again, as if they had forgotten themselves. But God wishes to show that his actions are so arranged, that they have nothing in them either crooked or erroneous. For we have said that angels are represented by these living creatures; and under the image of angels the government of the whole world is signified, because it must be held, that they are, as it were, the hands of God, since he used them in obedience to his will.
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.
10. Et similitudo facierum facies hominis, et facies leonis ad dextram ipsis quatuor: facies bovis a sinistra ipsis quatuor, et facies aquiae ipsis quatuor.
He now comes down to the faces or countenances of the living creatures themselves. The face is properly used with reference to the whole body, but the Prophet only means the countenance. He says therefore that there was on the right as it were the face of a man and of a lion, and on the left, the face of an ox and of an eagle We explained yesterday why four heads and as many faces are ascribed to the angels of God, because so great was the dullness of the people, that they did not acknowledge the providence of God over all parts of the world. For we know that they were so intoxicated with foolish confidence, that they wished to hold God shut up as it were within a prison: for their temple was as it were God’s prison. Hence the Prophet shows how the providence of God shines over other parts of the world. But since there is vigor in animals, so for brevity’s sake he puts four remarkable species of animals. Yet one question remains, and that a difficult one, for in Eze 10:14, he puts a cherub for an ox. Some think, or at least reply, that it appeared at a distance the face of an ox, but nearer it was that of a cherub. All see that this is a sophistry, and because they cannot otherwise escape the difficulty, they have imagined that fiction, which has no firmness in it. Others think that cherub and ox are identical; but this may be refuted from many places, for cherubim have not the heads of oxen, as all very well know. I therefore have no doubt there was some difference in the second vision, when God appeared to his own Prophet in the Temple. It is called the same vision on account of the likeness, but it does not follow that all particulars were exactly the same. Nor ought this conjecture to be rejected, because when God made himself known to his servant in Chaldea, as I have said before, he wished to reprove the sloth of the people by this multiform image; but when he appeared a second time in the Temple, there it was something more divine. Hence therefore the variety, because each animal then bore the face of a cherub instead of that of an ox. Therefore, besides the stature of the whole body, there was a remarkable feature whence the Prophet could more easily and familiarly recognize these living-creatures to be cherubim or angels. This reason also seems to explain why God showed to his Prophet a form which approached more nearly to that of the sanctuary, and to the two cherubim who surrounded the ark. Besides, some think that the heads were so arranged, that the man’s head should look towards the east, and the opposite head towards the west. But it is scarcely to be doubted that the four faces had the same aspect, and turned their eyes in the same direction, there being on the right the two forms which we have mentioned of a man and a lion, and on the left, those of an ox and an eagle. Afterwards follows —
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.
11. Et facies eorum 33 animalium; et alae eorum extensae vel divisae erant ab excelso, euique 34 colligatae ad socium, et duabus tegebant corpore.
He says, that the faces as well as the wings were extended, because the four faces proceeded from one body. Here then the Prophet says, that they are not united together, so that a fourfold form could be seen on one head: there was the form of a man, and then that of a lion, as in one glass various forms sometimes appear, but each answers to its own original. So also the reader might mistake here, as if different faces belonged to the same head: hence the Prophet says, they were stretched forth or divided from above. Here he points out a diversity of heads, and as to the wings, he says they were extended, and, at the same time, shows the manner, viz., two joined or bound together, so that each animal was bound to its neighbor. The four living creatures were united by their wings: this the Prophet means; and as to the other wings, he says that they covered their bodies, and so we see some likeness between this vision and that vouchsafed to Isaiah, which he relates in his chap. 6. The reason why the rings were joined together upwards is sufficiently clear; because God has such different motions, and so agitates the earth, that the things which seem to be conflicting are most in unison. The joining, then, was upwards, that is, with respect to God himself, because on earth there often appears dreadful confusion, and the works of God, as far as we can understand them, appear mutually discordant: but whoever raises his eyes to heaven will see the greatest harmony between those things which have the appearance of opposition below — that is, as long as we remain upon earth, and in the present state of the world.
12. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
12. Et unum quodque ad contra faciem suam ambulabat; secundum quod erat illuc spiritus ad ambulandum, 35 ambulabant, non revertebantur ambulando.
Here the Prophet repeats, that the movement of the living creatures was in each case directed towards, or in the direction of its face: and he will say the same again: nor is this repetition superfluous, since, as we said yesterday and must repeat again, mankind can scarcely’ be induced to ascribe glory to the wisdom of God. For we are so stupid, that we think that God mingles all things inconsiderately, as if he were in the dark. Since, therefore, the actions of God appear to us distorted, it is needful to repeat this clause, viz., that angels proceed straight forward, that is, are constrained to obedience. For the son who wishes to imitate his father, and the servant his master, is often agitated and at a loss what to do. Since then, something always appears confused in creatures, the Prophet diligently enforces that angels proceed in the direction of their face, that is, they tend at once to their goal, and decline neither to one side or the other. What he announces with regard to angels, ought to be referred to God himself; because his intention was not to extol angelic wisdom, but he sets them before us as God’s ministers, that we may perceive here one of the fundamental principles of our faith, viz., that God so regulates his actions, that nothing is with him either distorted or uncontrolled.
He adds, wheresoever there was spirit for proceeding, they proceeded 36 Spirit is here used in the sense of mind or will: we know that it is often put metaphorically for wind, and also for the human soul, but here the will ought to be understood, and so the Prophet alludes to that very motion by which angels are borne along when God uses their assistance. Since, therefore, the vigor and swiftness of angels is so great that they fly like the wind, the Prophet seems to allude to this likeness. And what David says in the 104th Psalm, “God makes the winds his ministers,” the Apostle, in the first chapter of the Hebrews, aptly applies to the angels themselves. This analogy then, will stand very well, viz., that the angels proceeded wherever their will bore them; and yet by this word the Prophet points out that secret motion by which God bends his angels as he pleases. In the meantime, he confirms what we have lately seen, that angels are not rashly driven in every direction, but have a definite end, because God, who is the fountain of all wisdom, works through their means. He says again, they so proceed as not to return, that is, that they do not deviate from their course, for he afterwards says, they do turn backwards. But it is easy to reconcile these statements, because it only signifies that their course was not abrupt. While, therefore, they are proceeding in one direction, they go forward until they finish their allotted space, and then they return like lightning. For God does not so fit his angels for one single work, and that they should rest ever afterwards, but daily, nay, every moment, he exercises them in obedience. Since, then, the angels are continually occupied, it is not wonderful that the Prophet says, that they go and return, and yet not return, which is explained by their not receding until they have discharged their duty. Lastly, this vision has no other meaning than to inform the Prophet that God does not desert his works in the middle of their course, as he says in Ps 138:8. Since, therefore, in the works of God, there is nothing unfinished or mutilated, the angels go forward, and finish their allotted space till the goal: they afterwards return like lightning, as he will shortly say. It follows: —
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.
13. Et similitudo animalium aspectus eorum tanquam carbones ignis ardentis, tanquam aspectus lampadum discurrens inter animalia, et splendor igni, et ex igne egrediebatur fulgur.
As I said yesterday, something divine ought to shine forth in this vision, because God set forth the face of a man and of an ox, of an eagle and of a lion, and in this he accommodates himself to the stupidity of the people, as I have said, and also to the capacity of the Prophet, because, as we are men, we cannot penetrate beyond the sky. God therefore bore in mind his Prophet, and all the pious, while, at the same time, he wished indirectly to reprove the people’s sluggishness. At the same time, if the face of a man had not been different from common forms, the vision had not excited such admiration in the mind of the Prophet. Hence something heavenly ought to be mixed with the earthly figures. This is the reason why the living creatures were like burning fire Now we begin to understand what this difference means; as when God appeared to Moses, if there had been nothing wonderful in it, Moses would not have thought that he was called by God, but he acknowledged God in the bush, because he saw that the bush was on fire and yet not consumed. (Exod. 3:2, 3.) Then he began to be aroused, and to reflect within himself, that a divine vision was presented to him. The same is to be diligently observed in this place. And hence we gather, how humanely, nay, how indulgently, God deals with us. For, as on his part, he sees how small is our comprehension, so he descends to us: hence the faces of the living creatures, the stature of their body, and what we have formerly mentioned. Now, however, since he sees us torpid upon the ground, and lying there, as it were idle, so he raises us up: this is the meaning of what Ezekiel now says, viz., the appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals. And since coals taken out of the fire sometimes die out, he says the coals were burning. The Prophet would of necessity be moved when he saw that. the living creatures were not really such, that is, when he saw in the form of the animals something celestial, and exceeding the standard of nature, and even the senses of man: and this also ]s profitable to the rest of man.-kind. For when we read this vision we acknowledge what the Prophet narrates to be so evident, that God shines forth in it, and does not suffer his Prophet to doubt. Hence his teaching, which is marked by such certain proofs, is better confirmed to us. In the meantime, it is desirable to impress upon the memory what we said yesterday, that there is something terrific in this vision, since the people were hardened against all threats, nay, even blows themselves. For God had already inflicted severe judgments, not only on the kingdom of Israel, but on the city itself, and the whole land of Judah. Even the captives were champing their bits and roaring, because driven into exile, and, in the meantime, those who remained in the city thought that they were treated nobly. Wherefore such was their security, that it was necessary to put terrors before them, as we shall see a little while afterwards. And it is also said, the fire burned before God, where he not only wishes his own glory to be beheld by us, but where he wishes to strike fear, as he did at the promulgation of the law. (Ex 19:20) And David, in the 18th Psalm, narrates that God appeared to him in this way when he was preserved by him: (Ps 18:8-15:) doubtless he understands that God unfolded his formidable power against the unbelieving. So also in this place, he says, the appearance of the living creatures was like fiery and burning coals, and then he adds another image, that they were like lamps, which some explain as firebrands or burnt wood. But another opinion is more general, and more approved by me. The Prophet now expresses the form of the fire more dearly, viz., that the coals were like lamps For lamps send out their brightness to a distance, and seem to scatter their rays in every direction, like the sun when it shines through the serene air. On the whole, the Prophet means, that the fire was not obscure but full of sparks, and shows that rays were diffused like lighted lamps. Afterwards he says, they walked between the living creatures The Prophet sees, as it were, a fiery form amidst the living creatures themselves. Thus God wished to show the vigor of his own spirit in all actions, that we should not measure it in our manner, according to the depravity which is innate with us. For when we discourse concerning the works of God, we conceive what our reason comprehends, and we wish in some way to affix in our minds an image of God. But God shows, that when he works there is a wonderful vigor, as if fire were moving to and fro. Hence that vigor is incomprehensible to us.
Afterwards he says, The fire was bright, and lightning issued from it This would affect the Prophet’s mind, when he saw fire glittering in an unaccustomed manner. We know that fire is often bright, especially when flame is added; but the Prophet here intends something very uncommon, as if he had said that the fire is not like that arising from lighted wood, but that it was resplendent, whence we may readily collect that God here sets before us his visible glory: and for the same reason he says, lightning issued from the fire Hence arises the splendor just mentioned, since lightning is mingled with the fire. But we know that lightning cannot be beheld without fear; for in a moment the air seems inflamed, just as if God would in some way or other absorb the world: hence the appearance of lightning is always terrible to us. He was unwilling, indeed, that his Prophet should be frightened, except as far as was needful to humble him. But, as I stated at the beginning, this vision was not offered to the Prophet for his private use, but that it might be useful to the whole people. Meanwhile the Prophet, as he was but human, had need of this preparation, that he might be humbled. For we always attribute something to pride, which renders our senses obtuse, so as to be incapable of the glory of God. Therefore when God wishes to become familiarly known to us, he strips us of all pride and all security: lastly, humility is the beginning of true intelligence. Now we understand why lightning issued from the fire: he afterwards confirms this.
14. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
14. Et animalia currebant, et revertebantur instar fulguris. 37
Here the Prophet explains more clearly what would otherwise be obscure. He says that the living creatures ran, and returned like lightning: by which words he doubtless signifies their amazing swiftness. For lightning (as Christ uses that comparison when he speaks of his own Advent — Mt 24:27) goes forth from one part of the world and penetrates instantly to the opposite. Since, then, the swiftness of lightning is so great that it reaches in a moment through the immensity of heaven, for this reason the Prophet says, the living creatures ran, and returned like lightning: as if he had said, in whatever direction God wishes to impel them, they were ready to obey; as we have formerly said, angels are at hand to obey the commands of God: but we cannot comprehend the extreme swiftness of their course, unless by this comparison of lightning. Now we see how well these two things agree, that they did return and yet did not: they did not return until they had arrived, as I have already said, at the goal, because, although many hindrances occur, yet God breaks through them, so that they never interrupt his actions. The devil, indeed, by his obstacles, endeavors to compel God to recede; but here the Prophet shows that when God determines anything, the angels are ready to govern the world, and that they have so much vigor in them, that they go on constantly to the end, as far as God inspires them with his own power. Afterwards it follows —
15. Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
15. Et aspexi animalia, 38 ecce rota una in terra prope animalia ad quatuor ad faciem cujusque.
Now the Prophet descends to the wheels which were joined to the living creatures. Each had a double wheel, as we shall see afterwards — that is, one wheel rolling upon another. The Prophet did not notice at one glance that the wheels stood near the living creatures, and this is occasioned by the magnitude of the vision. For although he was attentive, and God doubtless gave him understanding by his Spirit, and although he was taken up, as it were, into heaven, yet inasmuch as he could not at once embrace so great a vision he was convicted of infirmity. Then this wonderful secret was set before him, that he might attend to the whole spectacle with greater reverence. He says, therefore, when he had fixed his eyes upon the living creatures, immediately the wheels appeared He uses indeed the singular number, but afterwards declares, there were four wheels. And now he removes all doubt: behold, says he, one wheel — how one wheel? thus, near each living creature, at right angles, at the face of each 39 We see, then, that there was a wheel to each animal: this is easily gathered from the Prophet’s words. I explained yesterday what God meant to represent to his servant and to us by these wheels: namely, the changes which constantly occur in the world. For if we consider what the condition of the world is, we may correctly compare it to a sea, and even a tempestuous one. For as the sea is subject to opposite winds, and hence storms are excited, so also since there is nothing firm or calm in the world, its condition is a perpetual change like the turning of a wheel. The wheels stood near the Angels, because the world is governed by the secret inspiration of God. When all things seem to roll round by a blind and rash chance, yet God has his servants who regulate all their motions, so that nothing is confused, nothing discomposed. This, then, is the reason why the wheels went forward and stood near the Angels, as he immediately repeats again. Now follows —
16. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: trod their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.
16. Aspectus rotarum et opus 40 stent aspectus Tharsis et strutlitudo unius ad quatuor, 41 et aspectus eorum, et forma 42 quemadmodum si rota esset in medio rotae.
Now the Prophet uses the plural number, and says, there were four wheels. He says, the color was like a precious stone. Jerome translates it “sea,” because the sea which looks towards Cilicia with respect to Judea is called Tharsis. But I know not why the color of the sea or the sky took his fancy. But granting that, the word is not found simply for a bluish-green color, for tharsis is a precious stone, as we learn from Exodus, Ex 28:20, and many other places. The Greeks translated it chrysolite, but I know not whether correctly, nor does it much matter. We need only hold it to be a precious stone, whose color was so exquisite that it attracted all eyes to itself. And so God wished, under the figure of wheels, to place before his Prophet something earthly; but, at the same time, to raise his mind by its color, because he would ascertain from this that they were not either common wheels, or wooden, or of any earthly material, but heavenly ones. The color, then, was intended to draw off the Prophet’s mind, so that he might ascertain that heavenly secrets were laid open to him.
Like the appearance of a precious stone, he says: afterwards, and they four had one likeness This may, indeed, be referred to the living creatures as some have conjectured, but I have no doubt that the Prophet here teaches, that the wheels were so equal that there was no difference between them. Therefore their proportion and equality shows that in all God’s work there is the greatest arrangement — not that this lies on the surface, (for we should rather think that all things are involved in hurried confusion,) but if we raise our senses above the world, it will doubtless be given us to acknowledge what the Prophet here describes, viz.: that in all God’s works the arrangement is so complete that no line could be better directed. God therefore, whilst he turns round the world, preserves an even course with respect to himself, so that what we call changes or revolutions have no inequality with respect to himself, but each is in harmony with all the others. At length he adds, their aspect and workmanship, or form, was as if each wheel were in the midst of a wheel, so that the bending of one wheel is across that of another. For he does not mean to say, that one wheel was greater and another less, but that two wheels were so united that they were at right angles to each other. Now, we may see why the wheels were double; I touched on it briefly yesterday — viz., because God does not seem to hold on a direct course, but to have various changes, and, as it were, in contrary directions, as if the motion by which each creature is inspired with vigor was drawn in different ways. Therefore it is said, one wheel was in the middle, of another Finally, here God represents to us to the life what experience teaches. For first, the world is carried, along just as the wheels run round, and that, too, not simply but with such great variety that God seems to send forth his impelling force, now to the right hand and now to the left. This, then, is as if two wheels were entangled together. But I cannot proceed further now, and must leave the rest till to-morrow.
Grant, O Almighty God, since thou wishest us to be subject to so many changes, that we cannot settle on earth with quiet minds — grant, I pray thee, that, being subject to so varying a condition, we may seek our rest in heaven, and always aspire to behold thy glory, so that what our eyes cannot discern may shine upon us from thence; and may we so acknowledge thy hand and power in the government of the whole world, that we may repose upon thy paternal care till we arrive at the enjoyment of that happy rest Which has been acquired for us by the blood of thine only begotten Son. — Amen.
17. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went.
17. Ad quatuor latera sua, ambulando ibant, non revertebantur cum ambularent.
What he had already explained he now repeats for the sake of confirmation, that they went upon their four sides — that is, each living creature proceeded straight forward; the words they turned not refer to their perseverance; not that they exceeded the appointed space, but because they went forward to their object without intermission. I touch but lightly now on what has been already sufficiently explained.
18. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.
18. Et circumferentiae ipsis, 43 it proceritas ipsis, et terror ipsis: et terga ipsarum 44 plena oculis per circuitum ipsis quatuor.
What he says about the circumferences of the wheels may seem superfluous, but he refers to the second clause of the verse, where he says, that these circumferences were full of eyes. Here, then, he now treats about their height and terrible aspect. It signifies that the wheels were large, for being round their length and breadth is equal. When he says they were lofty, he, doubtless, signifies that they inspire terror by their very appearance, as he afterwards expresses it.. The sum of the whole is, that these wheels were not common ones, but. they so exceeded the usual size that their magnitude was formidable. But all these things tend to impress the vision on the attention of the Prophet, because unless the Lord should, as it were, draw us violently to himself, we should become torpid through sloth. The Prophet then required to be so variously affected, that, as soon as he sees that no common vision is before him, he should apply all his faculties to its consideration. What he now says, that the circumferences of the wheels were full of eyes, signifies that all the wheels were not rashly but considerately put in motion. If the eyes had been in other parts, they had not been useful; but since the wheels turned by means of their felloes — that is, their iron hoops — there the Prophet saw the eyes fixed.
Now, therefore, we see in what manner God directs the world in various ways, and yet nothing’ is done without reason and plan. By the eyes, the Prophet understands, that providence which never wanders. He does not say, that every wheel had two eyes, but that the circumferences were full of eyes, which expresses much more than if he had said they possessed eyes: which means that there was not the least motion in the wheels unless arranged and governed with the utmost reason. And hence the error of those who think that years are intended by the entangled wheels is refuted. This idea they obtained, I suppose, front the Egyptians, for in their hieroglyphics the year is represented under the image of a serpent., which, being twisted round, bites his own tail. It is indeed true, that the continual series of time is so woven together that year draws year behind it, as Virgil also says in his second Georgic —
“The year returns into itself by its own footsteps.”
But this is altogether out of place here, where the Prophet; signifies that motions which seem to us confused are yet connected, because God does nothing either rashly or inconsiderately. Now, therefore, we comprehend the sense of this portion. He adds —
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.
19. Et cum incederent animalia, incedebant rotae prope illa; et cum attollerentur animalia e terra, simul elevantur rotae.
By this verse the Prophet teaches, that all the changes of the world depend on celestial motion. For we have said that the living creatures represent to us Angels whom God inspires with a secret virtue, so that he works by means of their hands. Now, therefore, when he says, that the wheels proceeded through a higher movement than their own, it follows that nothing happens by chance in the world, but that God, by his own incomprehensible wisdom, so directs all things that nothing happens except by that secret instinct which is imperceptible to us. Therefore in this teaching of the Prophet, as in a glass, we ought to consider what is concealed from human comprehension. We see many things happen, and in the meantime we think the motions, which are so perplexed and multiplied, confused; but the Prophet meets this perverse imagination, and teaches that the wheels rest by themselves and are set in motion by a higher force — that is, as the living creatures or cherubim are moved, so the wheels are drawn along by their influence. Now, therefore, because we perceive the meaning of the Holy Spirit, so the usefulness of the doctrine is to be noticed. When we see men planning’ so many things that they disturb the whole world, when we see many conspiracies made, and then all things necessary for action prepared, let us perceive that God governs all things, but in a secret manner which surpasses our senses. Also, when we see many things happen as we think unseasonably, let us think that Angels are discharging their duty, and that by their motion and inspiration things in themselves motionless are borne along. The same may be said of other things: winter, for example, may be too mild or too rough; in that excess, let us consider what the Prophet teaches here, viz.: that God so governs the order of the seasons, that nothing happens unless by his inspiration. When, therefore, the living creatures went forward, the wheels near them also wear forward, he says, meaning that the living creatures were the rule by which the wheels directed their course, and when they were raised, he adds, the wheels were raised also
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.
20. Quo erat spiritus ad curtdum ambulabant, illuc spiritus ad eundum; etiam rotae attollebantur cum ipsis; quia spiritus antmalis erat in rotis.
Thus I arrange the clauses, for though others join the first; clause with the second part of the verse, it is too forced. Therefore the Prophet repeats what he had said, though he is rather prolix. Afterwards he adds, that the wheels were raised, taking the word generally for elevated, but not exactly as in the last and next verse. I now add the next verse —
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.
21. Ambulando ambulebant: 45 et cum starent stabant: et cum elevarentur, 46 attollebantur rotae simul cum ipsis; quia spiritus animalis in rotis.
He continues the same sentence, that the wheels were fixed, not that they fell but stood without motion, which we know to be unnatural, for a wheel cannot stand on any part of its rim, but will either fall on one side or the other, or will roll on: for the Prophet says that the wheels were immovable. Whence it follows that their moving force was external to themselves. Afterwards he confirms the same by additional words. For as the living creatures and the wheels stood together, so they moved and were elevated together. Here the Prophet enlarges upon what he had just touched upon. For although the matter is obscure, yet this copiousness excites attention, and leads us to understand that the motion of the wheels is not uselessly transferred to the living creatures, and that the cause resides there: because if this had been said briefly, it might have been transmitted carelessly, but since the Prophet so often asserts the motion of the wheels to be derived from the living creatures, hence it follows that all changes of things which are seen in the world have their origin from some external source, as I have formerly said. The reason, too, is repeated — that the spirit of the living creatures or animals was in the wheels: for here as before there is an alteration in the number. Though the Prophet understood the spirit of the living creatures to be in the wheels, yet the wheels do not comprehend anything, but receive vigor, as the moon obtains its brightness from the sun. So we perceive that the wheels are impelled, not that the intelligence of the living creatures had been transfused through the wheels. For God does not give mind and judgment to either winter or summer, to either peace or war, to either the calm or the storm, the pestilence or anything else. What then? Neither air, nor earth, nor sea, have any rigor by themselves, unless so far as God by his angels directs the earth to this use, or while he bends the minds of men in one direction or the other, to either war or peace. Now, therefore, we clearly see the meaning of the spirit of the living creatures being in the wheels, viz., that God transfuses his influence through angels, so that not even a sparrow falls to the earth without his foresight, as Christ says, (Mt 10:29; Lu 12:6.) Therefore, whenever the confusion of our affairs urges us to despair, let us try to remember this sentiment, that the spirit of the living creatures is in the wheels. And truly when we tremble in doubtful circumstances, what can we do but acquiesce in this doctrine — viz., that the end of everything will be according to God’s decree, because nothing is carried on without his permission, and that there, is no motion, no agitation under the heavens, unless he has inspired it by his angels. Now it follows —
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.
22. Et similitudo super capita animalis hoc est animalium firmamenti: 47 tanquam aspectus chrystalli terribilis; expansi 48 super capita ipsorum animalium desuper.
Now the Prophet states the principal thing in this vision — that God was seated on his throne: because if he had spoken only of wheels and living creatures, the vision had been partial, and therefore inefficient. But when he places God upon his own throne, we understand that angels, who inspire motion in other things, have neither vigor nor motion peculiar to themselves. On the whole, the Prophet here says that angels so move all things that are done under heaven, that no proper motion ought to be ascribed to them. And why? because God presides over them and governs their actions. This is the object of the latter part of the vision, which we are now going to explain.
He says then, above the heads of the living creatures was the likeness of a firmament 49 By these words he wishes gradually to draw us to God himself, and God also so deals with his Prophet that he places different steps by which the Prophet himself according to his capacity may gradually climb to an immense altitude. The Prophet does not here speak concerning the throne of God, but only concerning the firmament. For when we raise our eyes upwards, God’s glory appears nearer to us than it does on earth. True it is, that it shines equally on all sides; but heaven has in itself: greater excellence than the whole earth, and the nearer we approach to God, the more conspicuous to us becomes his image. For truly God there exercises his own power and wisdom much more clearly than on earth. How many wonders does the sun present to us! If we consider first the planets, and next the stars, we shall be inspired a hundred times with admiration. Therefore when the Prophet speaks of the firmament, he raises our thoughts so that they approach by degrees unto God. He saw therefore the likeness of the firmament Had he simply seen the firmament, it would not have been a vision: for this is always visible. I know not why the Greeks used the word στερέωμα, nor why the Latins followed them: for the Hebrew word רקיע, rekiang, has nothing like it or in affinity with it. Yet I use the received word. The heavens then, which are always visible, could not render the Prophet sufficiently attentive. But he saw the likeness of the firmament, whence he noticed that it was not the mere sky, but a new form submitted to his eyes, as if God were bringing the Prophet himself into heaven with outstretched hand. Above the heads of the living creatures an expansion was spread out Here another participle is used, נטוי, netvi, signifying “extended,” for the word נטה, neteh, means to extend or stretch out. As the appearance of terrible crystal, he says; for the color of crystal was in this sky which the Prophet saw, but God added the terror, because, as I have previously mentioned, on account of our sluggishness God must put forth violence when he wishes to attach us entirely to himself. Above the heads of the living creatures themselves, he says, upwards; that is, that we may understand them to be subject to the sway of Almighty God, as we shall afterwards see. It follows —
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.
23. Et sub expansione vel firmamen,to alto ipsorum recta, quaeque ad socium suum, cuique animali duae alae quibus se operiebat, et euique dum quibus operiebant se sua cotpora vel in corporibus suis.
There is some obscurity in the words, but it may be easily removed if we remark the two ways of covering; for those wings which tended upwards covered the living’ creatures themselves- that is, their faces, but the other wings, which were joined to their bodies, covered the body itself. Some think that there is a repetition here, and say that the two wings which cover the face and those which cover the body are the same. But this seems to me absurd. I have no doubt but that what we saw before is repeated, namely, that each living creature was covered with four wings, comprising the two which were raised upwards, and the two which were so joined that each living creature was connected with another. That was one form of covering: but another was by letting the wings fall which covered the whole body. On the whole, the Prophet adds nothing new, but impresses what he had said before. It follows —
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.
24. Et audivi vocem alarum ipsorum sicuti vocem aquarum magnarum vel multarum sicuti vocem Dei, 50 cum ambularent vocem sermonis sicuti vocem castrorum, hoc est exercitus: cum starent remittebant alas suas.
When the Prophet says, he heard the voice of wings, it is an explanation of his former teaching, when he said that the wings followed the course of the living creatures, and stood, unless when they were drawn by the living creatures: this he now expresses more clearly by the word voice We know that, precepts are expressed by the voice, and this is the means of human intercourse, so that he who bears sway proclaims by the voice what he wishes to be done. Since therefore what we have previously said was obscure — that the wheels were moved by the living creatures — therefore the Prophet says there was a voice in the motion of the wings He had said this before, and he now repeats that the living creatures sometimes rested and let fall their wings. When the wings were thus let fall there was no motion in the wheels; but as the wheels obey the motions of the living creatures, he says the wings were vocal; not that the wheels were endued with ears or could hear any commands. But the Prophet could not otherwise express what I have just said: viz., that heaven and earth are full of angelic motion, unless he said that in such motion there was something like a voice, as he said that whatever happens obeys God’s will. But this obedience cannot be conceived unless a voice go before it. Now therefore we see the Prophet weaving his own discourse, and by a new form of speech expressing and confirming what we formerly saw — that the wheels were mowed by the living creatures, because in the wings themselves a voice was heard, he adds, it was as it were a voice many or mighty waters We know that a great noise arises from the overflow of art impetuous river. Nothing is more terrible than its sound, for it is something like a crash which seems to threaten the breaking up of the whole earth, and this vehemence the Prophet now expresses. He adds, a voice of God It will be harsh to explain this of God himself, to whom although the phrase is often attributed, yet we know that it is done metaphorically. But there ought to be some external likeness which may show the Prophet what was not visible of itself. But that cannot suit the phrase, “the voice of God,” unless we understand it as in Ps. 29:5, 6, 9, concerning thunder: the voice of God shakes the cedars and the mountains, and makes the animals miscarry in the woods. Here David calls thunder the voice of God, but I know not whether this metaphor is suitable to the present place. Nor yet if we could take the word of God in another sense, could it mean anything but thunder. Others translate שדי, shedi, brave or violent, which suits tolerably well, unless a general form of speech is not sufficiently fitted to this place. For those images of things ought to be set before the mind of the Prophet that tend to raise it upwards. Besides, if he had said simply the voice of a strong or violent man, it would imply but little, so I dare not reject the meaning — thunder; and if this exposition is unsatisfactory to any one, yet the meaning will still be a loud and terrific voice, because Scripture calls cedars and mountains, cedars and mountains of God, on account of their superior excellence. (Ps 80:11; Ps 36:6.)
He says, when they walked, because there was no other motion, for he said that the wings of the animals were let fall while they stood. Then it was not necessary for earthly things to be agitated, unless when the inspiration goes forward in the living creatures, that is the angels. He adds, the voice of speech Here Ezekiel proceeds further, asserting the voice to be articulate. True, inanimate things cannot hear a voice, but as I have said, he wished to represent the obedience in the wheels to be such as if they had been taught, and God had eloquently and articulately commanded what he wished to be done; or as if the wheels had spoken intelligibly, so that the wheels might not afterwards roll round rashly, but in accordance with a received command. He says, as it were the voice of armies And the simile is to be diligently noticed, because in an army, in consequence of the multitude, one can scarcely notice another with the view of promoting union, and yet military discipline requires this. 51 Therefore, in camps there is great clamor and confusion, yet each accommodates himself to others, and so order is preserved. The Prophet therefore signifies, that although infinitely numerous events meet together, yet nothing is left without guidance, because God governs all earthly motions with much better skill than a general, though endued with singular foresight, rules his army. We see therefore what the Spirit intends by this part of the vision, when he compares the things that are carried on in the world to mighty forces; for he says that such reason was displayed among this multitude, that although their clamors are tumultuous, yet all things are mutually suited to each other. Again he says, when they stood they let down their wings This question may be asked, how can the living creatures rest when God is always at work: as also Christ says, My Father and I work even to this day? (Joh 5:17.) Since therefore the power of God is never at rest, what can the resting of the living creatures mean? for God works by angels as we have seen: if they rest, God has his periods of repose, which is absurd. But when the Prophet says they rested, he wishes to mark the variety of human events. For sometimes they are so tranquil, that we think God is taking some repose, and is completely at rest in heaven: not that he ever ceases, but because we do not perceive the agitations, which plainly show his virtue to consist in motion and in action. Therefore the Prophet here wishes only to denote variety; not that we ought to imagine God to rest at any time or his angels to repose, but because he does not always work in the same equable manner.
Grant, Almighty God, that though we have wandered far from thee, we may be taught by thy word, and hold on in the right way of approach to thyself, and by faith contemplate what is otherwise hidden from us, and thus depend entirely on thee. May we so rely on thy providence, as not to doubt our perfect safety while our life and salvation are in thy care, so that while tossed about by various storms we may remain quiet, until at length we enjoy that blessed and eternal rest which thou hast prepared for us in heaven by Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
25. And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.
25. Et fuit vox desuper expansione quae erat super caput eorum; cum ipsa starent remittebant alas suns.
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.
26. Et super firmamentum 52 quae erat super caput eorum tanquam visio, vel aspectus lapidis saphiri similitudo solii: et super similitudinem solii similitudo tanquam aspectus hominis super ipsum desuper.
Is a former lecture we said, that the Prophet, while magnifying the glory of God, spoke of the firmament, because human minds cannot penetrate to so great a height, unless by degrees. On this account, the Prophet described to us the expansion of the heavens. He now adds, there was a likeness of a throne above the firmament, and the likeness of a man sat on the throne. He mentions the steps in order by saying, above the expansion was the throne, and above the thone a man For he repeats what he had formerly said about the expansion of the heavens. And as God consulted his infirmity, so he now accommodates his discourse to the measure of our capacity. It is worthy of observation that he says, he saw the likeness of an appearance. Hence we gather, that it was not the true heavens which he beheld, nor was it a throne formed of any material substance, nor was it a real and natural body of a man. This also the Prophet clearly expresses, lest any one should imagine that there is anything visible in God, and, like the fanatics, should suppose him to be corporeal; so from this passage any one might ignorantly collect, that God can be seen by the eye, confined within place and be seated as a man. Lest these imaginings should creep into men’s minds, the Prophet here testifies, that it was not a human body nor any material throne which he saw, but that these forms and appearances only were presented to him. Let not any one think that the Prophet is vainly prolix in matters sufficiently clear.
He says, above the expansion, which was above the head of the living creatures We have already explained why he treats of the heads of the living creatures — namely, because the former vision ought all to be referred to God himself. He now adds, the expansion, because we cannot ascend from the living creatures to God without some assistance. Hence the firmament is brought before us, so that we may arrive at the loftiness of God by degrees. The phrase, the likeness of a sapphire stone, is used to show that figures only were apparent to the Prophet: and this is the meaning of the likeness of a throne. For we know that heretics formerly disturbed the Church by their folly, who thought God to have a human form like ourselves, and also a throne on which he sits. Hence the Holy Spirit, that he may meet such comments, says, that the Prophet did not see a material throne, but only the likeness of one. But this is chiefly needful in mentioning the figure of a man: ‘for this and similar passages, having been erroneously explained by those who assigned a human form to the Almighty, have given occasion to the error that God is corporeal and circumscribed within a defined space, and they proceeded to that pitch of fury, that they rushed in troops and wished to stone all those who opposed their impiety. The Prophet, therefore, says here, that he saw, as it were, the likeness of a human appearance One noun ought to suffice, but because we are so prone to vague and erroneous opinions, he joins the word “appearance” to “likeness.” We see, then, that whatever the ancient heretics fabricated about the visible form of God is excluded by the clearest language.
It is now asked, Why God put on the form of a man in this vision as well as in other similar ones? I willingly embrace the opinion of those fathers who say that this is the prelude to that mystery which was afterwards displayed to the world, and which Paul magnificently extols when he exclaims —
“Great is this mystery — God is manifest in the flesh.”
The view of Jerome is harsh, who applies these words to the Father himself. For we know that the Father was never clad in human flesh. If he had simply said, that God is here represented, there would have been no absurdity; let all mention of persons be removed, and then it is true enough that the man seated on the throne was God. The Prophet also at the end of the chapter bears witness to this, when he says, this was the likeness of God’s glory, (Eze 1:28:) for he uses the name Jehovah, by which the eternity and primary essence of God is expressed. It is quite tolerable that God should be represented by this figure, but what John says in his chapter 12 (Joh 12:41,) must be added, that when Isaiah saw God sitting on his throne, he saw the glory of Christ, and spoke concerning him. Hence what I have already cited from the ancients completely agrees with this, that as often as God appeared under the form of man, an obscure glimpse was afforded of the mystery which was at length manifested in the person of Christ. In the meantime we must entirely avoid the dreams of Servetus, who is easily refuted by the words of the Prophet. For he contends that this likeness was really a man, and then that Christ was a figurative Son, because God was visibly composed, as he said, of three uncreated elements.
These are most detestable blasphemies, and unworthy of refutation, yet because that impious blasphemer fascinated many vain persons, who suffered the deserved punishment of their foolish curiosity, it is useful just to touch on their errors in passing. He imagines, then, that Christ was the visible God from the creation of the world, and in this way he interprets him to be the image of God. He does not acknowledge the Father as a person, but says, the Father was the invisible God, but that Christ is both the Father’s image and also a person. He now says, he was composed of three uncreated elements. If he had said of three elements only, Christ had not been God, but he fancies for himself elements called into being which have their origin in the essence of God; these elements, he says, were so disposed as to have the form of man, so that he does not say that Christ appeared only in human form, but he says, that Christ was a man figured in that. divine essence. At length he says, that Christ was made man of the seed of Abraham, because to these three elements a fourth was added, which he allows to be created: so he says Christ was man, because he imagines a mass concocted in some confused manner out of that visible deity and of the seed of Abraham. Christ then, according to him, was man for a time, because that visible deity was mingled with flesh, he next adds, that the flesh of Christ was absorbed by the Deity; and so God was made man not by union but by confusion; and then he says, that the man was deified, and that Christ’s flesh became of the same essence with God: and hence, that he is no longer man. Hence he derides us, who teach that we cannot be partakers of Christ unless we ascend by faith into heaven, because he feigns his body to be everywhere and immense. How can this be? He is deified, says he, and hence retains no trace of human nature. We now see what monstrous things this impostor fabricated. But our Prophet dispels such clouds when he says — then appeared the likeness of the appearance of a man.
Daniel describes to us the throne of God more distinctly, who (Da 7:9 and following) brings forward The Ancient of Days as wearing- the figure of a man. There God is placed on the highest summit: next Christ the Mediator is joined to him: and Daniel says he was brought to the Ancient of Days, because as Christ descends from the Father, so he was received into his glory, and now the greatest sway and power has been given to him, as we are there taught at length. But, with reference to this passage, it ought to suffice us, that the Prophet saw God only in the person of Christ, because what is said of the likeness of a man cannot be transferred to either the Father or the Spirit: for neither the Father nor the Spirit was. ever manifested in flesh, but God was manifested to us in flesh when Christ appeared, in whom resides the fullness of the Divinity. In Php 2:7, Paul says that Christ was made in man’s likeness; and that in form and habit he appeared man, but in another sense: for he does not make a figurative Christ, nor does he treat professedly of the essence of Christ’s body, but he informs us, that such was his condition when he came down to us. He says, that he was humbled, so that he differed in nothing from the human species: and even the word μόρφη is used by Paul, which distinguishes essence from species. Now, therefore, we hold the view of Paul, who says, that Christ was found in fashion as a man, because he was outcast and despised in our flesh. But in this place the Holy Spirit teaches otherwise, viz., that Christ now appeared in the form of man, though not yet made man. If any one should now ask, whence this body was taken, the reply is at hand: the body was not created as to substance, but this form was created for the time. For God, as is well known, sometimes gives his angels bodies, which afterwards vanish away. But there was another reason for this vision, because Christ did not appear in the form of man, that he might taste food as the angels did, (Gen. 19:2, 3) but only that he might accommodate himself to the capacity of the Prophet.
The sum of the whole then is this: the likeness of body was only in appearance, as the Prophet says, but not in essence. Hence we collect, that when mention is made of God the whole essence is understood, which is common to the Son and the Holy Spirit with the Father: for under the name Jehovah it is absurd to understand Christ only. It follows, then, that the whole essence of God is here comprehended. At the same time, when the persons are mutually compared, the phrase, “in the form of man,” belongs solely to Christ. The whole Deity, then, appeared to his Prophet, and that too in the form of a man, but yet neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit appeared, because the persons begin to be considered when the peculiar property of Christ is shown forth. We are compelled to remark this, because fanatics now spread a new error, as if Christ and the Holy Spirit were distinct Deities from the Father. A certain impostor, named George Blandrata of Piedmont, once came among us under the character of a physician, and concealed his impiety as long as he could, but when he found himself detected he fled to Poland, and infected the whole of that region with his poison. He is unworthy of mention, but because he wished to acquire a name by his blasphemies, he has become, forsooth, as famous as he desired. Since, then, this error is widely circulated, and the whole of Poland is infected with this diabolical delirium, as I have said, those who are less exercised in Scripture ought to fortify themselves lest they fall into those snares. They imagine that Christ is indeed God, but not that God whom Moses and the Prophets celebrate; and although God is often mentioned in the Law and the Prophets, yet they restrict this to the Father alone: they allow, indeed, Christ to be God, but when pressed closer, they say that he is God in essence, 53 to whom the Father has communicated his essence, as it were, by transfusion; so, according to these, he is only a fictitious God, because he is not the same God with the Father. They think their impiety is established as often as the Father is simply called God: but the solution is easy, that a comparison is then made between the Father and the Son. In John 3, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son: true, the Father is here called God, but, on the other hand, the Son is added: so it is not to be wondered at that the original Deity is placed in the highest position. At other times, when there is no comparison between one person and another, then the whole Deity, which is common to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is one and simple, is denoted. Lastly, when the persons do not come into consideration, there is no relation of one to the other, but when the persons are considered, then the mark of relation between them arises, so that the Father is put first, and then the Son and Holy Spirit, each in its own order.
I shall not collect the universal testimony of Scripture, because it is sufficient just to put the finger on these foul errors, lest any of the unskillful should be caught by such snares. When Paul says, (1Ti 3:16,) that God was manifest in the flesh, surely he does not speak of any secondary or adventitious essence. For the essence of God is one: therefore the whole Deity was manifest in the flesh, as also Christ says, I am in the Father and the Father in me; (John 14:10, 11;) and in other places he teaches, that the whole fullness of Deity resides in Christ. Hence we collect, that the essence of God ought not to be torn, as if one part could be with Christ, and another with the Father. So that when John, in his Canonical Epistle, (1Jo 5:20,) says, that Christ is truly God: This is the true God, he says, and life eternal — surely the blasphemy will not be tolerated if men should say that the true God is any other than the Father. Concerning whom then can this be predicted, except the only God? If this is transferred from the Father he will cease to be God. If, therefore, Christ is truly God, it follows, that his essence is the same as the Father’s. So that when Paul says, that the Church was purchased with the blood of God, (Ac 20:28,) surely the name of God is placed there simply and without addition. When that impostor restricts the name of God to the Father, how will this agree with the opinion of Paul? God, he says, redeemed the Church with his own blood: if this were so, we ought to understand that God of glory who was from eternity and whom Moses and the Prophets celebrate. Now therefore, we understand how Christ appeared as to person in human form, and yet the whole Deity appeared. That Christ appeared can be clearly shown from that twelfth chapter of John which I have quoted. (Joh 12:41.) That the whole Deity appeared both Isaiah and Ezekiel plainly testify. I saw Jehovah seated on his throne. (Isa 6:1.) Who is that Jehovah unless the God of Israel, concerning whom Moses formerly pronounced, Thy God, O Israel, is one God, (De 6:4.) How then does John transfer this to Christ? why, with regard to person. We see then how well all these things harmonize, because the whole Deity appeared in the perfection of his glow, and of his immense essence, and yet appeared in the person of Christ alone, because neither the Father nor the Spirit were ever clothed in human flesh.
I have dwelt a little longer on this doctrine, because there are many who are not versed in the writings of the Fathers, and cannot easily satisfy themselves, and these are knotty points; yet I have endeavored so to clear up a matter which seems obscure and perplexing, as shortly as possible, that any one of moderate capacity and judgment can easily understand what I have said. At the same time, I shall not proceed with what I could skillfully bring forward on the point;. Nothing is more useful in such matters than wisdom tempered with sobriety and discretion. God appeared under a visible form to his servant: could Ezekiel on that account do as scholastic theologians do — philosophize with subtility concerning God’s essence, and know no end or moderation in their dispute! by no means, but he restrained himself within fixed bounds. Paul was caught up even to the third heavens, (2Co 12:4,) but he says, that he heard unspeakable things which he was not permitted to explain. So, therefore, let us be content with sound doctrine, which can sufficiently fortify us against all the snares of the devil. For this reason he says, upon the throne was the likeness as of the appearance of a man 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.
27. Et vidi tanquam formam Hasmal, tanquam aspectum ignis intus per circuitum, ab aspectu lumborum ejus et supra, et ab aspectu lumborum ejus et infra, vidi quasi aspectum ignis et splendor illi in circuitu.
By these words the Prophet signifies that God appeared so visible under the form of man that the splendor dazzled his eyes. For if the appearance of Christ was such that the Prophet could consider each part separately, as when I behold a man, I not only cast my eyes upon his form from head to foot, but I consider of what kind his eyes are, and also his sides, and what his stature is, whether tall or short.
When we look at men or trees, a glance is sufficient for distinguishing their several parts. But if we wish to cast our eyes upon the sun, they are immediately made dim, for the brightness of the sun is so great that it dazzles us. Then if our eyes cannot bear the light of the sun, how can the glance of our mind penetrate even to God, and comprehend the whole of his glory? This then is the Prophet’s object when he says, I saw as it were the color of amber. We have said that some interpreters understand an angel here, but in my judgment, their view is erroneous: hence I reject it, for I have no doubt that color is meant, and what sort of color. As to Jerome’s version, electrum, I leave it doubtful: as to his saying that it is more precious than gold and silver, this is foolish, because it is composed of both metals. But then its color was remarkable, because it not only attracted the eyes of the Prophet but dazzled them with its splendor, so that he acknowledged it as celestial and divine. Therefore he adds, there was as it were the appearance of fire within, which we have previously explained, and that, too, round about it The fire was apparent, so that the Prophet might understand that there were some marks of the glory of God; and at the same time, that he might perceive, as we shall see at last, this vision to be otherwise useless unless he restrained himself within due limits: because when the majesty of God meets us on the way, it can destroy the angels themselves. What therefore would become of us? But God suits himself to our capacities, so that visions should be useful to us only when we avoid pride and are not carried away by foolish and bold curiosity. He says then, the fire appeared upwards and downwards, that is above and below his loins, and the fire was brilliant round about Afterwards he adds —
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.
28. Tanquam similitudo atcus, 54 tanquam aspectas arcus, qui est in nube in die phvia 55 sic fuit aspectus splendoris in circuitu. Haec visio similitudinis gloriae Iehovm, et aspexi, et cecidi super faciem meam, et audivi vocem loquentis. 56
The Prophet now adds, that the likeness of a celestial bow was presented to him, which profane men call his, and imagine that she performs the commands of the gods, and especially of Juno. But Scripture calls it the bow of God, not because it was created after the Deluge, as many falsely suppose, but because God wished to stir up our hope with that symbol, as often as thick vapors cloud the heavens. For we seem as if drowned under those waters of the heavens. God therefore wished to meet our distrust, when he wished the bow in the heavens to be a testimony and pledge of his favor, because it is said by Moses, I will put my bow in the heavens. (Ge 9:13.) Now some distort this as if the bow was not in existence before: but there is no doubt that God wished to inscribe a testimony of his favor on a thing by no means in accordance with it, as he freely uses all creatures according to his will. The bow in the heavens is often a sign of continued rain, and seems as if it attracted the shower. Since then its very aspect may cause terror, God says in opposition to this feeling, as often as the bow appears, it is clearly determined that. the earth is now safe from a deluge. But the opinion of those who consider it in this place a testimony of favor does not seem to me proved, for the whole vision is opposed to it. This is indeed plausible that a bow appeared because God now wished to show himself propitious to his servant, just as they interpret that verse in the fourth chapter of Revelations, (Re 4:3,) when John saw the throne of God surrounded by a bow, because God was reconciled to the world by Christ. As far as this passage is concerned, I do not dispute it, but to interpret it so here would be altogether out of place, because the whole of this vision was formidable, as I said at the beginning. Thus to mingle contrary things would pervert the whole order of the vision.
What, then, is the object of this bow in the heavens? We have said that heaven appeared to the Prophet as he ascended by degrees to comprehend the glory of God, because the marks of deity are more conspicuous in heaven than on earth. For if we look back upon what we have formerly explained, God is never without witness, as Paul says, (Ac 14:17,) but yet his majesty shines clearer in the heavens. But when the bow appears, a new reason occurs for magnifying the glory of God. For in the bow we have the image of deity more clearly expressed, whilst we reflect on the magnificent workmanship of heaven, and whilst we turn our eyes round to all the stars and planets. In this way, I allow, God compels us to admire his glory, but the bow presents an addition not to be despised, as if God would add something to the; bare aspect of heaven. Now therefore we see why the Prophet saw a celestial bow, — that he might be more and more affected when God presented such signal appearances to his view, and that he might be more induced to contemplate his glory. Hence what interpreters bring forward about a symbol of reconciliation is altogether out of place.
I saw, says he, the form of a bow which is placed, or which is in the cloud on a rainy day. If any one should ask if those colors are without substance, it is certain that colors arise from the rays of the sun on a hollow cloud, as philosophers teach. Therefore when the Prophet says, a bow appears on a rainy day, he simply means, exists or appears in the midst; not that the colors have any substance, as I have just said, but the rays of the sun, whilst they are mutually reflected on the hollow cloud, occasion the manifold variety. Afterwards he adds again, like the appearance of brightness round about Again the Prophet confesses that his eyes were blinded, because he could not bear such great splendor. And God manifests himself familiarly to all his servants, yet so as not to foster our curiosity, to which mankind are ‘far too inclined. God then wished to manifest himself as far as it was useful, but not so far as the desire of mankind — which is always immoderate — would carry them. Since mankind so eagerly strain themselves that they easily become weakened, we must remark what the Prophet inculcates a second time, namely, that the appearance of brightness was seen round about Of what sort, then, was that brightness? Why, such as to blind the Prophet’s eyes, and to render him conscious of his weakness, so that he should not desire to know more than was lawful, but submit himself humbly to God.
At length he says, this was a vision of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah, and by these words confirms what I have said before, that the glory, of God was so beheld by the Prophet, that God did not appear as he really is, but as far as he can be beheld by mortal man. For if the angels tremble at God’s glory, if they vail themselves with their wings, what should we do who creep upon this earth? We must hold, then, that as often as the Prophets and holy fathers saw God, they saw as it were the likeness or aspect of the glory of God, but not the glory itself, for they were not fit for it; for this would be to measure with the palm of our hands a hundred thousand heavens, and earths, and worlds. For God is infinite; and when the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, how can our minds comprehend him? But although God has never appeared in his immeasurable glory, and has never manifested himself as he really exists, yet we must nevertheless hold that he has so appeared as to leave no doubt in the minds of his servants as to their knowing that they have seen God. And this is the purport of those phrases which sometimes appear difficult. I have seen God face to face, says Jacob. (Ge 32:30.) But was he so foolish as to think that he saw God like a mortal? by no means; but that appearance convinced him of its certainty, as if he had said that no specter by which he could be deceived was presented to his view; for the devil deludes us unless we are attentive and cautious. Therefore Jacob here distinguishes the vision which he enjoyed from all prodigies in which profane nations delighted. Familiar knowledge, then, is the meaning of seeing face to face. At the same time, as I have said, God never gave the Fathers a sight of himself except according to their capacity. He always had respect to their faculties, and this is the meaning of the phrase, this was a vision of the splendor of Jehovah’s glory. Since, then, it is certain that Christ was beheld by him, he is Jehovah, that is, Eternal God; and although he is distinct from the person of the Father, yet he is entirely God, for the Father is in him: for the essence cannot be divided without impiety, although the persons must be distinguished. The rest I shall put off till tomorrow.
Grant, O Almighty God, since of thine unbounded goodness, thou hast counted us worthy of such honor as to descend to earth in the person of thine only-begotten Son, and to appear familiarly to us daily in thy gospel, in which we contemplate thy living image: — grant, I pray thee, that we may not abuse so great a benefit to vain curiosity, but may be truly transformed into thy glory, and so proceed more and more in the renewal of our mind and conduct, that we may at length be gathered to that eternal glory which has been obtained for us by thine only-begotten Son our Lord. Amen.
After the Prophet has recited the Vision, the object of which was to confirm his mission, he now adds, I fell upon my face, by which words he expresses his persuasion that God’s glory was manifested to him. For the knowledge of God does truly humble us, while the Prophet also teaches that men cannot be brought to order unless they are laid prostrate: for he does not say that he was only prepared to receive the commands of God, nor does he commend his own teachableness, but rather signifies that he was violently thrown down. For he had not all at once put off the affections of the flesh; but we know that confidence is born with us. Therefore, because the Prophet was not naturally disposed to obey God, he ought to be cast down with fear, that at length he might be really humbled. Now he adds:
That is, when I was. — Calvin.
Among the Captives. — Calvin.
Or tempestuous. — Calvin.
Or twisted. — Calvin.
I conjecture that the points have been changed in this place, because עגל signifies round, and here עגל is put, which is a calf. I know no reason why the Prophet should say calves’ feet or like a calf: this seems rather strange, but I do not contend about trifles. — Calvin.
Others. translate, “and sparks” — Calvin.
Os homini sublime, etc. — Ovid Metam. 1 Dryden.
That is, each wing was connected with the next wing. — Calvin.
That is, when they moved, they did not turn back. — Calvin
Or each, איש — that is, each animal. — Calvin.
Literally, in the direction of its face. — Calvin.
Some stop here, and take the words, “but their wings were extended,” disjunctively: but because the copula is used in each place, perhaps we had better unite the clauses in the same context, thus, “Their faces therefore and their wings were extended.” — Calvin.
Now he speaks of the wings themselves. — Calvin
That is, as far as the spirit led them for walking. — Calvin.
This rendering seems most in accordance with Calvin’s Interpretation, and is evidently better than Newcome’s, “whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went.” The French reads, “selon que l’esprit estoit pour cheminer, ils cheminoyent.” — Ed.
He uses another word, but they both (בזק, bezek, and ברק, berek,) signify the same thing: for they signify lightning and brilliancy. — Calvin.
That is, while I was beholding the living creatures. — Calvin.
Latin, ad quatuor adfaciem cujusque, by which Calvin seems to mean that each wheel intersected another at right angles, the four spherical parts thus becoming four faces or sides. The French translation has in the text aux quatre, and in the comments a quatre a la face d’ un chacun
That is, workmanship or form — Calvin.
That is, there was a certain equable proportion between the four wheels, so that one was altogether like another — Calvin.
Either their work or workmanship; — On leur ouvrage ou leur facon. — Calvin.
Properly backs, but he means circumferences or felloes, iron hoops. — Calvin.
That is, circumferences or strakes; their strakes were full of eyes. — Calvin.
i.e. When the living creatures went, the wheels went, and when the one stood the other stood. — Calvin.
This word, נשא, nesa, is correctly used for being lifted up from the earth, for he had said “raised” before without any addition. — Calvin.
Expansion, רקיע, rekiang, is the word used by Moses in the history of creation. — Calvin.
Others translate ice. — Calvin.
Firmament, or extended expansion; the word, נטרי, netvi, is referred to רקיע, rekiang. — Calvin.
Or a strong voice, or the voice of a strong one, as some think. — Calvin.
The French Translation rather amplifies than accurately renders this sentence.
Or rather expansion, as we have said. — Calvin.
“Deum essentiatum. Deus factitius.” — Orig. “Dieu essentie. Dieu qui a este fait.” — Fr.
We must repeat the words “I saw” from the former verse. — Calvin.
That is, when it rains. — Calvin.
Others translate, a speaking voice. — Calvin.