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Ezekiel: Chapter 1

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1In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 2On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), 3the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was on him there.

4As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. 5In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. 6Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. 7Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. 8Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: 9their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. 10As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; 11such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13In the middle of a Symmachus: Heb lacks With a yoke the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire. 14The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.

15As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. b Heb have given the hand to 16As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl; and the four had the same form, their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel. 17When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved. 18Their rims were tall and awesome, for the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22Over the heads of the living creatures there was something like a dome, shining like crystal, c Gk OL: Heb And the appearance of spread out above their heads. 23Under the dome their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each of the creatures had two wings covering its body. 24When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, d Heb of their faces a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings. 25And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads; when they stopped, they let down their wings.

26And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; a Gk: Heb like the awesome crystal and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. 27Upward from what appeared like the loins I saw something like gleaming amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around; and downward from what looked like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and there was a splendor all around. 28Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.

When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.

Notes:

a Symmachus: Heb lacks With a yoke

b Heb have given the hand to

a Gk OL: Heb And the appearance of

b Heb of their faces

c Gk: Heb like the awesome crystal

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

4.1–24.27 : Part 2: Prophecies of doom against Judah and Jerusalem.

4.1–5.17 : Symbolic actions describing the coming siege of Jerusalem.

Like his speechlessness, these actions appear to be literary metaphors rather than observable performances (e.g., see 4.4–8n. ). In Ezekiel, reality is more complex than the merely observable.

4.1–3 :

A brick inscribed, before baking, with a drawing of Jerusalem. An iron plate, a baking griddle, symbolizing the barrier between the city and God.

4–8 :

At one level the postures commanded of Ezekiel illustrate the coming siege of Jerusalem and its duration. They also depict both God's pre‐siege punishments of Israel in the land (v. 5; see Lev 26.14–32 ) and God's post‐siege punishment of Judah in exile (v. 6; cf. Num 14.34 ).

5–6 :

The precise significance of the numbers is unclear.

9–17 :

Coarse bread and rationing symbolize the rigors of the coming siege of Jerusalem (cf. Jer 19.9; Lam 4.10 ).

9 :

The necessity of mixing grains indicates scarcity of foodstuffs.

10–11 :

Twenty shekels, approximately 228 gr (8 oz). One‐sixth of a hin, approximately .64 l (.67 qt).

12–13 :

Siege symbolism again blurs into exile symbolism here. Human dung, considered unclean (Deut 23.13 ), represents the defiling effects of exile to an unclean land. Zech 3.3–5 shows how those in the tradition of Ezekiel came to terms with this defilement after the exile. Ezekiel was allowed to substitute dried “cow dung” (v. 15 ), common fuel in the Near East.

14 :

Cf. Lev 17.10–16 .

16 :

Staff of bread, “food supply” (Lev 26.26 ).

5.1–17 :

The razor symbolizes military defeat (Isa 7.20 ). The defeated people are then destroyed in three different ways. Even their remnant undergoes further judgment.

5 :

Center of the nations, central priests, such as Ezekiel, viewed Jerusalem as the mythopoetic center of the earth (see 38.12 , “center [lit. navel] of the earth”; 43.13–17n. ).

10 :

Cannibalism was a curse for breaking the “Holiness Collection” covenant (Lev 26.29 ).

12 :

Pestilence, famine, and sword (also 6.11–12; 7.15; 12.16; 14.21 ) are also linked as modes of destruction in Lev 26.25–26 and in Jeremiah (e.g., Jer 14.12; 21.7 ).

13 :

They shall know …, 6.7n.

16 :

Staff of bread, 4.16n.

17 :

14.21; Lev 26.22 .

6.1–14 : Two prophecies against Israel's idolatry.

1–10 :

The mountains of Israel, the highlands, representing all Israel, are here associated with illegitimate worship and idolatry (v. 9; cf. 18.6 ). High places were ritual installations or shrines. Their destruction was a curse for breaking the “Holiness Collection” covenant (Lev 26.30 ).

4 :

Idols translates Ezekiel's characteristic term “gillulim,” found in Lev 26.30 and thirty‐nine times in Ezekiel.

6 :

Towns shall be waste …, Lev 26.31 .

7 :

You shall know …, one of over sixty similar closing declarations in Ezekiel (see vv. 10,13–14 ). Ezekiel prophesies that God's judging and saving acts will prove God's sovereign identity and result in human recognition of God. In general, the book of Ezekiel deemphasizes the prophet's human experience, focusing instead on God's desire to reveal the mystery of God's own self.

11–14 :

A second prophecy of judgment, beginning with an expressive action.

14 :

From the wilderness of south Judah to Riblah in central Syria was the maximum extent of Israelite territory.

1.1–3.27 : Part 1: The call of Ezekiel.

1.1–3 : Superscription.

Ezekiel was a Zadokite priest (v. 3; 44.15–31n. ), steeped in the traditions of Jerusalemite royal theology (Zion theology; see Introduction). Despite his exile, he never loses his priestly role (cf. 43.12n. ). The thirtieth year, probably Ezekiel's own age. At the age for assuming his duties at the Jerusalem Temple (Num 4.3 ), Ezekiel sought solitude outside his settlement (see 3.14–15 ) to reflect on what course his life might instead take in exile. Fifth day of the fourth month… fifth year of the exile would be July 31, 593 BCE. Chebar, a canal, flowing near Nippur, which is mentioned also in Babylonian documents.

3 :

The name Ezekiel means “God strengthens.” Hand of the LORD ( 3.14,22; 8.1; 33.22; 37.1; 40.1 ), Ezekiel undergoes the same types of divine compulsions and ecstatic trances experienced by Israel's early prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 18.46; 2 Kings 3.15 ). Chaldeans, Babylonians.

1.4–28a : The throne‐chariot vision.

Cf. the imagery in 1 Kings 22.19–22; Isa 6.1–9 . The first two‐thirds of Ezekiel's vision of God merely describes the creatures and wheels below the platform supporting God's throne. In Ezekiel's theology of God's transcendence, God is clearly far removed from earthly perception.

4 :

Stormy wind… cloud… and fire are phenomena often associated with the appearance of God in the Hebrew Bible (see Ps 18.8–12 ). Out of the north, because the shape of the Fertile Crescent meant that anything coming from Jerusalem arrived in Babylonia from the north. Something like, Ezekiel uses the word like to suggest the difference between his description and the transcendent reality itself.

5–14 :

The living creatures are identified as cherubim in a later vision ( 10.15,20 ), guardians of God's throne (see Ex 25.18–22; 1 Kings 6.23–28 ), namely winged, human‐headed lions or bulls. Uncharacteristically, the creatures Ezekiel sees have four faces (v. 10; cf. Rev 4.7 ).

13 :

Torches, cf. Gen 15.17 .

15–21 :

The four … wheels (compare the four faces of the creatures) to God's throne are a crucial element in Ezekiel's reconciling of his central priestly belief that God had elected and now dwelled in Zion with the earthly Zion's coming destruction by the Babylonians (see Introduction). Its wheels mean that the real, cosmic Zion—throne has omnidirectional mobility and is not tied down to earthly Jerusalem. See further 1.26–28n.

18 :

Full of eyes, symbolic of omniscience ( 10.12; Zech 4.10; cf. Rev 4.6,8 ).

22–25 :

A dome, referring to the cosmic firmament of Gen 1.6–8 , which separates earth and heaven. Jerusalem and its Temple mount symbolize the cosmic mountain where heaven and earth intersect at the dome.

26–28 :

Thus the LORD was still really enthroned atop the cosmos, even though Jerusalem, the symbol of God's cosmic dwelling (Ps 26.8; 63.2; 102.16 ), was to be destroyed by the Babylonians. On the glory of the LORD, see 10.1–22n. Appearance of the likeness, the qualified language again emphasizes God's transcendence and cosmic power (see 1.4n. ). God's self is three levels removed from Ezekiel's description of God.

1.28b–3.27 : Ezekiel's commissioning.

The sheer length of this section reflects the need to establish Ezekiel's authority in the factious milieu of his times.

1.28b–2.8a :

Ezekiel is commissioned in a series of addresses.

2.1 :

The term mortal is literally “son of man” (textual note b), a Heb idiom designating a member of the category of “humanity.” The traditions of Ezekiel's group stressed how God and the divine realm transcended this category (the idiom occurs ninety‐three times in Ezekiel).

2 :

Spirit (see 3.12,14,24 ), an empowerment that Ezekiel experiences as coming from God.

2.5 :

Rebellious house, a phrase unique to Ezekiel that designates one of his major themes: Judah's ingrained defiance (ch 20 ).

6 :

Briers and thorns… scorpions, though Ezekiel is a priestly official, his message will be met with hostility.

2.8b–3.3 :

In conformity with the contemporary emergence of the concept of God's word as sacred text, Ezekiel is told to eat a scroll (cf. Zech 5.1–4; Rev 10.8–11 ). The scroll depicts the coming, fixed judgment of Judah. See 3.22–27n.

3.3 :

Jeremiah's metaphor (Jer 15.16 ) becomes a concrete sensation in Ezekiel. Yielding to God's word is sweet (Ps 19.10 ), even when its contents involve pain.

3.4–9 :

Preparation for resistance.

6–7 :

Obscure speech, Isa 33.19 .

8–9 :

Hard, or “strong.” Compare the meaning of Ezekiel's name, “God strengthens” ( 1.3n. ).

10–11 :

A final charge.

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