Ezekiel 1 – “Ezekiel Sees God”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Ezekiel sees God sitting on his throne. The throne is supported by a chariot which is itself supported by four supernatural creatures and four wheels.

II. Photo
God’s glory radiates: “Like the appearance of the bow which shines in the clouds on a day of rain, such was the appearance of the surrounding radiance!” (v. 28a)

III. Important Verses
1:  In the thirtieth year, 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.
5-9: In the center of it were also the figures of four creatures. And this was their appearance: They had the figures of human beings. However, each had four faces, and each of them had four wings; the legs of each were [fused into] a single rigid leg, and the feet of each were like a single calf’s hoof; and their sparkle was like the luster of burnished bronze. They had human hands below their wings. The four of them had their faces and their wings on their four sides. Each 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.
26: Above 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.
27-28: From what appeared as his loins up, I saw a gleam as of amber — what looked like a fire encased in a frame; and from what appeared as his loins down, I saw what looked like fire. There was a radiance all about him. Like 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.

IV. Outline

1. Introduction to the vision of God
2-3. Introduction to experiencing God’s hand
4-28. The vision
    4. The storm cloud
    5-14. Description of the chimerical creatures
    15-18. Description of the enormous wheels
    19-21. The wheels moved in unison with the chimerical creatures
    22-25. Description of the crystal platform
    27-28a. Description of the glory of God
    28b. Ezekiel bows and listens to a voice

V. Comment
The book of Ezekiel begins with what appears to be two short introductions:

  • In the thirtieth year, 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. (v. 1)
  • On the fifth day of the month — it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin — 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. (v. 2)

Two questions arise: (1) Why is are the dates (vv. 1, 2) and the locations (vv. 1, 3) repeated? (2) Why doesn’t the author provide more biographical information about Ezekiel? Hals answers these questions as follows. First, in regards to the repetition, it seems that an editorial blending of two or more sources might have taken place. Indeed, phrases are also repeated in in vv. 9b and 12b, as well as in vv. 24b and 25b. Second, in regards to the dearth of biographical information, it seems that the point of prophetic introductions was not to deliver historical/biographical information. Hals writes: “The aim of [God] whose word the prophet speaks is – as the message itself attests (see 12:21-25) – to bring about the accomplishment of that very word. And that accomplishment happened in this particular world of dates and places. These dates and places are not recorded that listeners might better understand the personal history of the prophet. The overwhelming absence of biographical detail reveals that such a concern is foreign to the text. Instead, it is for the meaning of the message that the history is essential.” (12) Thus, the historical information is another way of saying, “Trust me, this actually happened.” It is neither meant to provide context nor paint a biographical picture.
The chapter climaxes with the vision of God in vv. 26-28. As Hals points out, the amount of verses decreases with each new facet of Ezekiels vision: the creatures receive ten verses, the wheels receive seven verses, the chariot receives four verses, and God and his throne receive three verses. When it comes to God, Allen highlights the fact that he is depicted in the same manner as the other ancient Near Eastern gods, i.e. he takes a human form. Allen writes: “When [God] appears in a recognizable form in the Old Testament, the human form is regarded as the natural and characteristic one for him to assume. What is elsewhere implicit in references to [God] sitting, standing, or the like (Amos 7:7; 9:1; Isa 6:1) is here explicitly stated. In this vision there is hardly any distinction between the way in which the living beings and [God] are described as human… [God] manifests himself to human beings as a person in the highest form of life generally perceptible to them.” (35)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Allen, Leslie C. “Ezekiel 1-19” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 28 (Waco, Texas: Wordbook, 1994).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Hals, Ronald M. “Ezekiel” The forms of the Old Testament Literature vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989)
Photo taken from http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/image/0711/iridescent_allen_big.jpg

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