Ezekiel 1: Visions Born of Captivity
The captivity in Babylon is now the central point of our study. It lasted seventy years. (Jer. 25) It began in 606 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar took a few choice people from Jerusalem to Babylon. (Dan. 1:1-3) The second great deportation was effected in 597 B.C. Ezekiel, the priest, was one of the number then taken into exile, together with Jehoiachin, his king. His mission began five years later, in 592 B.C. (Ezek. 1:2) His message then was addressed to those in exile. He lived in a house of his own in Tel-Abib, by the river Chebar, which was probably a tributary of the Euphrates. (Ezek. 1:1; 3:15, 24, etc.) There was evidently a colony of the Jews there. (See Jeremiah's advice to them in chap. 29.) The elders came to Ezekiel's home to hear his messages to them. (Ezek. 8:1, etc.)
The message is very carefully arranged. It has three distinct divisions: (1) chaps. 1-24, (2) chaps. 25-32, and (3) chaps. 33- 48. It will be well to take a general survey of the contents of the first division now. Four dates are given: first, the fifth day of the fourth month in the fifth year of Jerusalem's captivity - that is 592 B.C. (Ezek. 1:2); second, the fifth day of the sixth month in the sixth year (Ezek. 8:1); third, the tenth day of the fifth month in the seventh year (Ezek. 20:1); and fourth, the tenth day of the tenth month in the ninth year. (Ezek. 24:1) This was the same day on which Nebuchadnezzar invested Jerusalem. (2 Kings 25:1) The following year, 586 B.C., the city capitulated and was burnt. The burden of these chapters (1-24) is, briefly, the impending fall of Jerusalem, This is pictured in many ways by vision, allegory and parable, and symbolic actions. The prophet addresses "the rebellious house" of Israel in captivity that they who have ears may take warning and profit by his words. Like Jeremiah, he sees no hope for those left in Jerusalem. They must perish. (Ezek. 10) As for those in exile, they are stiff-necked, slow to hear, and must suffer much in consequence. But when they have been purged, they will return to their land, and "form the foundation of a better Israel in the future." (Ezek. 11:17-20; 20:37-38) These two things seem to be fully summed up in chapter 24. The fate of those in the city is depicted in the parable of the boiling pot. Its effect upon those in exile finds expression in the death of Ezekiel's wife, and the manner in which he was commanded to accept the sad event. Before this event, the prophet's lips had been closed; he could not teach the people on account of their rebelliousness. (Ezek. 3:22-27) But after the experience of the destruction of their loved city, "the desire of their eyes," his mouth would be opened, they would listen to his words, and "know that I am Jehovah." (Ezek. 24:27)
The prophecy opens with a most wonderful vision of the cherubim. So many details are given that it is difficult to form a clear idea of it. Yet devout readers are profoundly impressed by the majesty and glory of the sacred picture, even though they cannot define it or see distinctly what it means. The significance of the picture as a whole seems clear. It is plain from chapter 10 that the four animals are cherubim. The two most prominent places in the Word where we find cherubim mentioned are in Gen. 3:24 and Exod. 25. The cherubim were placed at the entrance of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life. They were also above the mercy seat, and on the curtains and veil in the tabernacle. They were guards to protect interior sacred things from destruction. (A. 308) In Ezekiel, the living creatures or cherubim signify "the Lord as to Divine Providence, and as a guard preventing His being approached except through the good of love; and as this guard itself is in the heavens, and chiefly in the inmost heaven, therefore this heaven is signified by the cherubim." (E. 504) Thus, the vision of Ezekiel is in essentials a vision of the Lord as the Word. "The Divine external sphere of the Word" is described in verse 4. (P. P.) All the terms used in this verse wonderfully describe familiar characteristics of the sense of the letter. "Out of the midst" of this are the four living creatures with the likeness of a human being. In its inner sense, the Word is in the human form. "The Word is God." Each creature had four faces and four wings. Celestial and spiritual things are conjoined therein. (S. 80) The natural sense sparkles, from the Divine natural good therein. (Verse 7) Its inner sense has a humanizing power. (Verse 8) The conjunction of good and truth gave power to protect and to rise. (Verse 9) The appearance of the Word to different groups of people is various, and yet in essence the Word is the same. Each of the four had the same four faces. (Verse 10) The inner life is protected perfectly against profanation. (Verse 11) The life in the Word is from the Lord and directed only to Him. (Verse 12) It glows from Divine Love and flashes forth Divine Truth. (Verses 13-14) Wheels give power of motion, power of acting and going forward. This is effected by truth derived from good—the doctrine of life. (A. 9872) The spirit of the Lord or of His Providence is in doctrine drawn from the Word. This gives doctrine its power. By the Divine Spirit of the Lord also people are directed in using doctrine in the work of regeneration. (Verses 15-21) The firmament or expanse above the creatures is "the Divine above and in the Word." (Verses 22-23) Thence is the influx and power of the Divine Truth. (Verses 24-25) Above all is the Lord Himself as a human being. (Verse 26) The two closing verses describe "the Divine Love and Divine Truth appertaining to Him."
The meaning of the vision is probably not very clear. Our power, however, of grasping the passing wonderful nature of the Divine Book is very limited. At least the vision and its imperfect significance to us suggest very strongly the hidden depths of wisdom which are far beyond our reach. We bow in humility before the Infinite Wisdom of the Lord, Still we reach upward.
"The more fully evils in the natural man are set aside by shunning them and turning away from them, the more nearly is man conjoined with the Lord . . . and the more nearly he is conjoined with the Lord the wiser he becomes" (P. 33-34), and consequently sees more clearly the wonderful nature of the Divine Word, which is our guide.
The first chapter is the key-note to the prophecy. Taking it in connection with the twenty-three following chapters, which all point to the lesson to be learnt from the impending fall of Jerusalem as a consequence of sin, it seems to suggest the Lord's providence in permitting the most direful evils to come out, be seen, and felt, and repented of. (P. 281) War with all its horrors exists for judgment, until our hatred of it exceeds our lust for it. The name Ezekiel has the twofold meaning, "God will strengthen" and "God will prevail." The word God has reference to the Divine Truth. (See A. 2769.) The seer's name suggests the strength in the Divine Truth in the Word to enable people to prevail in the worst temptation—combats with evil, the hardest lessons in life.