Yahweh is by definition a God who acts…. Indeed, this collection of prophecies leaves the impression that when Yahweh acts in judgment against his people it is not primarily to punish them but that they and the world might know him (Block NICOT 49).
1:1 – Ezekiel recorded his prophecies which were given after being taken into exile to the Babylonian region of the “Chebar river (or canal)” near Nippur in 599 BC (cf. Psalm 137:1-8). He was the son of Buzi the priest and was from Jerusalem (1:3). The date of his calling by the LORD into the prophetic ministry was July 31, 593 BC. One particularly peculiar thing about the book of Ezekiel is its autobiographical style that is not found in the other prophets on such a wide scale. Perhaps this is related to the obscure mention of the “thirtieth year” which some (beginning with Origen) take to refer to his age when he was taken into exile (Block NICOT 82). Age thirty was age for entering the priesthood according to Numbers 4:30.
1:2 – Ezekiel dates his prophecies (1:2; 33:21; 40:1) according to the exile (in relation to Jehoiachin’s exile) rather than according to Zedekiah the last king of Judah. Why the precise dating of each prophecy? (see 3:16; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1; 26:1; 29:1; 29:17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1; 33:21; 40:1) It allows for verification of the prophetic message and provides historical notation for context. Why is Jehoiachin’s reign and exile the basis for counting the years, months and days considering he only reigned for three months and ten days (2 Kings 24:8; 2 Chron.36:9)? He was the last acknowledged Davidic king of Judah (see 2 Kings 25:27-30) and he also went into exile in the year Ezekiel went into exile along with many others of Jerusalem.
1:3 – Ezekiel means “May God strengthen or toughen” or “God strengthens or toughens” (Block NICOT 9). Does his name carry significance for the ministry which he would be called to carry out? What are we to make of the “hand of the LORD” being on him? Was this an easy thing or difficult? Was Ezekiel willing or reticent?
1:4 – Ezekiel saw a great windstorm of flashing lightning and brilliant light coming from the “north” or “Zaphon” – which is the name of the mountain of Baal who was the god of storms – what is the significance? If there is any it is not suggested in the text itself other than to signify that the LORD comes and goes wherever He pleases.
1:5-14 – Who or what are the“four living creatures”? (these are explained further in Ezekiel 10) They have four faces: human (Gen.1:28), lion (Gen.49:9), ox (Psalm 106:19-20), and eagle (Deut.28:49); four wings: two touching each of the other living creatures (Exodus 25:18-22) and two covering their bodies; feet like calves but also like burnished bronze; human hands under the wings; human bodies; and they move without turning in any way and without use of either their legs or wings. Their movement is strictly powered by the Spirit (1:12) where they have free movement in any direction. What are we to make of these strange creatures? Daniel Block (NICOT 96) explains the four distinctive faces: “the four-headed cherubim declare that Yahweh has the strength and majesty of the lion, the swiftness and mobility of the eagle, the procreative power of the bull and the wisdom and reason of humankind.”
1:15-18 – What is the “wheel within a wheel”? These wheels are brilliant and sparkling and covered in “eyes”. What are we to make of the wheels within wheels? This implies utterly free movement in any direction. The wheels are associated directly to the living creatures. How should we picture these wheels? The “eyes” may either refer to the all-seeing eyes of God or simply to what appears as eyes but are really just the brilliance of some form of gems in the wheels.
1:19 – The power of movement in the creatures and wheels is the same…the “Spirit of life”. What is the significance for us and for the rest of the prophecies to Ezekiel?
1:24 – The sound of the cherubim’s wings were like “many waters,” the “voice of Shaddai,” and an “army camp” (see Psalm 18:7-15). Why these metaphors and the nature of the divine chariot from heaven?
1:25 – Whose “voice” is heard by Ezekiel? Does it matter?
1:16-28 – On the throne of lapis lazuli sits one “like a man”, but glowing, brilliant and full of fire and compared to a rainbow. He has the appearance of the glory of Yahweh. Who is this one “like a man”? (see Rev.1:12-18) What is Ezekiel’s response?
We should not get lost in the details, but always keep the big picture before us. Daniel Block (NICOT 106-109) helps by offering seven points to this first (difficult) passage: 1-the transcendent glory of God; 2-the transcendent holiness of Yahweh; 3-the sovereignty of Yahweh; 4-the proclamation of Yahweh’s interest in His people; 5-the proclamation of Yahweh’s presence among the exiles; 6-hints of the impending judgment of Yahweh; and 7-that whoever follows God’s calling must know God and have a clear vision of Him. Iain Duguid (NIVAC 59) sees this opening vision (and those that follow) as reminiscent of Genesis and the theme of “creation-uncreation-recreation”.
Block, Daniel I. Ezekiel (New International Commentary on the Old Testament. volumes 1-2. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997 & 1998). Duguid, Iain M. Ezekiel (New International Version Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).