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Ezekiel: Chapter 1

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1In the thirtieth year, a We do not know the 30th of what. on the fifth day of the fourth month, when I was in the community of exiles by the Chebar Canal, the heavens 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—3 the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, by the Chebar Canal, in the land of the Chaldeans. And the hand of the LORD came upon him there.

4I looked, and lo, a stormy wind came sweeping out of the north—a huge cloud and flashing fire, surrounded by a radiance; and in the center of it, in the center of the fire, a gleam as of amber.5In the center of it were also the figures of four creatures. And this was their appearance:

They had the figures of human beings.6However, each had four faces, and each of them had four wings;7the legs of each were [fused into] a single rigid leg, and the feet of each were like a single calf's hoof; a I.e., cleft in front. and their sparkle b Or “plumage.” was like the luster of burnished bronze.8They had human hands below their wings. The four of them had their faces and their wings on their four sides.9Each one's wings touched those of the other. They did not turn when they moved; each could move in the direction of any of its faces.

10Each of them had a human face [at the front]; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right; each of the four had the face of an ox on the left; and each of the four had the face of an eagle [at the back].11Such were their faces. As for their wings, they were separated: above, each had two touching those of the others, while the other two covered its body.12And each could move in the direction of any of its faces; they went wherever the spirit impelled them to go, without turning when they moved.

13Such then was the appearance of the creatures. With them was something that looked like burning coals of fire. This fire, suggestive of torches, kept moving about among the creatures; the fire had a radiance, and lightning issued from the fire.14 c‐ Meaning of Heb. uncertain. Dashing to and fro [among] the creatures was something that looked like flares. ‐c Meaning of Heb. uncertain.

15As I gazed on the creatures, I saw one wheel on the ground next to each of the four‐faced creatures.16As for the appearance and structure of the wheels, they gleamed like beryl. All four had the same form; the appearance and structure of each was as of two wheels cutting through each other.17And when they moved, each could move in the direction of any of its four quarters; they did not veer when they moved.18Their rims were tall and frightening, for the rims of all four were covered all over with eyes.19And when the creatures moved forward, the wheels moved at their sides; and when the creatures were borne above the earth, the wheels were borne too. 20Wherever the spirit impelled them to go, they went—wherever the spirit impelled them—and the wheels were borne alongside them; for the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. 21When those moved, these moved; and when those stood still, these stood still; and when those were borne above the earth, the wheels were borne alongside them—for the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels.

22Above the heads of the creatures was a form: an expanse, with an awe inspiring gleam as of crystal, wasspread out above their heads.23Under the expanse, each had one pair of wings extended toward those of the others; and each had another pair covering its body. 24When they moved, I could hear the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the sound of Shaddai, a Traditionally “the Almighty”; see Gen. 17.1 . a tumult like the din of an army. When they stood still, they would let their wings droop.25 b‐ Meaning of Heb. uncertain. From above the expanse over their heads came a sound. ‐b Meaning of Heb. uncertain. When they stood still, they would let their wings droop.

26Above the expanse over their heads was the semblance of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and on top, upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form.27From what appeared as his loins up, I saw a gleam as of amber— b‐ Meaning of Heb. uncertain. what looked like a fire encased in a frame; ‐b Meaning of Heb. uncertain. and from what appeared as his loins down, I saw what looked like fire. There was a radiance all about him.28Like the appearance of the bow which shines in the clouds on a day of rain, such was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. That was the appearance of the semblance of the Presence of the LORD. When I beheld it, I flung myself down on my face. And I heard the voice of someone speaking.

Notes:

a We do not know the 30th of what.

a I.e., cleft in front.

b Or “plumage.”

c‐c Meaning of Heb. uncertain.

a Traditionally “the Almighty”; see Gen. 17.1 .

b‐b Meaning of Heb. uncertain.

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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