Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 22: Ezekiel, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.
1. Et aspexi, et ecce super expansionem quae erat super caput cherubim tanquam lapis sapphiri, sicut aspectus similitudinis solii quod videbatur super cos.
Here the Prophet relates another vision which has a great likeness to the first which he related to us in the first chapter, but it has another object, as we shall soon see. Since we discussed the chief members of the vision in the first chapter, I shall now therefore be shorter. I shall only glance at what I formerly said, and at the same time point out any difference. But before we descend to that, God’s design in this vision must be understood. God wished to bear witness to the Jews that he had nothing further in common with them, because he intended to leave the temple, and then to consume the whole city with burning. But lest this threat should be unheeded by the Jews, God’s majesty was placed before them so fearfully that it might strike even the obstinate with fear. Now I come to the words. He says, that he saw again over the heads of the cherubim a throne, whose color was like sapphire Instead of living creatures he now puts cherubim, and there is no doubt that those living creatures of which he formerly spoke were cherubim. But because the vision occurs in the temple, God begins familiarly to explain to his servant what was previously too obscure. For he had seen the four living creatures near the river Chebar, namely, in a profane country. When therefore the Jews and Israelites were absent as exiles far from the temple, it is no wonder that God did not appear so clearly to his Prophet as he now does when brought into the temple. For although the Prophet has not changed his place, yet he does not seem to have been transferred to Jerusalem in vain, and to behold what was done in the temple. This is the reason why he now calls those cherubim which he had before called simply living creatures. But we have explained why four cherubim were seen, while only two were in the sanctuary, namely, because the Jews were almost buried in gross ignorance. They had long ago departed from the pursuit of sincere piety, and the light of celestial doctrine had been almost extinct among them. Since, therefore, the ignorance of the people was so gross, something rude must be put before them, or otherwise they could not understand what they ought to learn.
Now it is by no means doubtful that God obliquely wishes to reprove that base ignorance, because it was not his fault that they did not perceive in the law and the temple whatever was useful to be known for their salvation. When, therefore, God changes this legal form, there is no doubt he shows how degenerate the people was, just as if he had transfigured himself. But we must also remember what I then said, that four cherubim were offered to the Prophet that God might show that he embraced the whole world under his own dominion. We saw a little while ago, that the Jews, While they thought themselves already without God’s care, being thoroughly callous, were so blind that they supposed at the same time that God exercised no care over the world. In vain, therefore, in their perverse imaginations they shut up God in heaven; he shows that he rules the whole universe, and that nothing moves except by his secret power. Since then four cherubim are put instead of two, it is just as if God showed that he reigned throughout the four quarters of the globe, and that his power is extended in all directions, and hence that it was the height of impiety for the Jews to imagine that he had deserted the earth Thirdly, we must remark what has also been said before, that the cherubim had four heads, that God might show that angelic motions flourish in all creatures. But I shall repeat this last comment in its proper place. I now only touch it shortly.
We must now see why the Prophet says, there was a throne whose color was like sapphire, and the throne itself was above the four cherubim: because in truth God has his angels at hand to obey him: hence they are placed under his feet, that we may know that they are not independent, but are so subject to God that they always depend upon his nod, and are borne wherever he commands them. This is the reason why they were placed under the expanse where God’s throne was As far as the expanse is concerned, it is the noun which Moses uses in relating the creation of the world. (Gen. 1:6, 7, 8.) The Greeks translated it by στερεωμα but badly: the Latins imitated them when they used the expression “firmament:” but it is taken for the heavens, and for the whole space between us and heaven, and yet it is above the world. God shows his throne above the expanse of heaven, not without himself, lest the Prophet should conceive anything earthly. For we know how inclined men’s minds are to their own fictions. But when God is mentioned, we cannot conceive anything aright unless we raise all our senses above the whole world. God, therefore, to raise up the mind of his Prophet, and to show himself at hand that the Prophet may reverently attend to the oracles, and then that he may regard the heavenly glory of God with becoming humility, interposed the expansion between his throne and the earth. It follows —
2. And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight.
2. Et dixit ad virum, qui indutus erat vestibus lineis, dixit, Vade 210 intra in medium rotarum 211 sub cherub, et imple volas tuas carbonibus ignis 212 e medio cherubim, et sparge contra urbem. Et ingressus est in oculis meis. 213
Now the end of the vision is related, which I just touched upon, since God determined utterly to destroy the city; but this is described by a visible and external symbol. God therefore is said to have commanded the wan who was clad in linen garments to fill his hands with coals, and to scatter them, on the city, namely, that he might cause a general burning. Here, indeed, God’s name is not expressed, but shortly afterwards the Prophet more clearly relates what he here touches so briefly and so obscurely. It is evident that the person seated on the throne is here spoken of, and we may collect from the context, that this command cannot be referred to any but to God. But we must observe, that the angel commanded to mark the elect now assumes a new character. And hence we collect that the angels were so the ministers of God’s favor toward the faithful, that at the same time, whenever they were commanded, they executed his vengeance; as a steward placed over a large family, not only sustains the office of providing for the family, in supplying it with food and clothing, but in chastising those who conduct themselves sinfully and wickedly. Such, therefore, is the duty of God’s angels. When God wishes to brand sinners with double shame, he often delivers them up to the devil as his executioner, and when we are delivered into the devil’s hand, this is a sign of extreme vengeance. But God by his angels often exercises judgment against the reprobate, as examples everywhere occur; but that is peculiarly remarkable, when the angel slew so many thousands in the army of Sennacherib, that he raised the siege by which the Assyrians oppressed Jerusalem. (2Ki 19:35; Isa 37:36.) The same thing is now delivered by the Prophet. We saw the angel clad in the linen garments become the protector of the faithful, to preserve them from all injury. But now he is sent to scatter coals through the whole city, to consume the stones and the wood, as well as the men.
These things seem to be contrary to each other, but we show that there is nothing absurd in it, if God imposes a double character on his angels. He said, therefore, to the man who was clothed, enter within the wheel under the cherub Here there is a change of number, because the singular number cherub is put for cherubim. But I remarked before that this is usual, and God proposed nothing else than to mark the place where the fiery coals were taken which burnt up the city. The altar was never without fire; for it was not lawful to use any kind of fire, since in this way the sacrifices were contaminated. (Lev. 6:12, 13.) But that perpetual fire, which God wished to burn upon the altar, regarded reconciliation to himself; for sins were expiated by sacrifices, and therefore the fire on the altar was as it were the people’s life. But now God signifies that he had a hidden fire within the wheels, which were near the cherubim, or the four animals. But we have said, and it will be necessary to repeat it again, that by wheels all agitations are represented which are discerned under heaven, or revolutions, as they are usually called. But he saw wheels under the angels, because when the wind rises, when the sky is covered with clouds and mists, when the rain descends, and the air is disturbed by lightnings, we think, when all these things happen, that such motions and agitations take place naturally. But before this God wished to teach us that great agitations are not blind, but are directed by secret instinct, and hence the notion or inspiration of the angels, always exists. Now, therefore, when God orders his angel to take fire from the midst of the wheel which was under the cherub, this only means that God has various means of destroying the city. Now the wheels, as we saw before, were carried in different directions, so that they flew throughout the city. Since, therefore, the fire was in the midst of the wheels, while the angels transferred the wheels by their own secret motion, hence we gather that the burning of the city was in the hand of God, and at the same time in the temple. For the Prophet does not now see the wheels near the river Chebar, but in the temple itself; and there is a tacit contrast, as I have reminded you, between the fire by whose incense God was reconciled, and whence also the sacrifices had their odor sweet and pleasing to God, and between this fire, which should be destructive to the whole people. But he says, the angel had entered, that we may know, as I have said before, as soon as God has pronounced what he wishes to be done, that the execution of it is at hand. Lastly, the Prophet here commends to us the effect of his command, when he says, that the angel entered immediately, as God had commanded. It follows —
3. Now the cherubims stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court.
3. Et cherubim stabant ad extra domus cum veniret vir: 214 et nubes replevit atrium interius.
Here the Prophet relates where the cherubim were when the men entered, which looks only to the certainty of the prophecy. For we are not here to seek any cunning speculations why they were on the right hand. It is only intended to show that the way was open to the angel to approach directly to God, and that the cherubim were disposed there to render their assistance; for there ought to be an agreement between the angel who took the fire which he scattered through the whole city, and the cherubim who carried all the angels. Here the Prophet shows this agreement, because the cherubim were turned to the right hand when he entered, so that God was at hand; then also the cherubim were at. hand, and thus the wheels bore along the fire.
Now we understand the intention of what we read. The interior court was filled with a cloud: doubtless this signifies, that God by all means confirmed the vision, that no suspicion should creep in that the Prophet was deluded with an empty spectra (Exod. 40:34, 35; Nu 9:15.) This therefore is the reason why God not only appeared on his heavenly throne, but also filled the temple with a cloud; although, as I have said before, this cloud was a symbol of God’s alienation, (1 Kings 8:10, 11; Ps 18:12,) and we know that the sanctuary was filled with a cloud, although God then wished to testify his paternal favor: but in this place and elsewhere, as in Psalm 18, and in other places, a cloud seems to signify the averted face of God, as if the temple was full of darkness. And this afterwards is better confirmed; for he says —
4. Then the glory of the LORD went up front the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD’S glory.
4. Et elevata fuit gloria Ie-hovae desuper cherub 215 ad limen domus; 216 et impleta fuit domus nube: et atrium impletum fuit fulgore gloriae Iehovae.
In this verse the Prophet confirms what he lately touched upon, viz., that the temple was filled with blackness, because God had transferred his glory away. He says then, that the brightness of God’s glory appeared above the threshold But the glory of God resided in the sanctuary and in the very ark of the covenant; but now, when it advances to the threshold, it is just as if he should extinguish the splendor of his glory by which the temple was adorned, and transfer it elsewhere. But he says, that the glory of Jehovah was elevated from its place: these words signify change of place: God is everywhere said to dwell between the cherubim, and he wished to be called upon there; but now his glory is said to be removed elsewhere. Hence, therefore, it appears, that the temple was deprived of God’s presence, and was in some sense stripped of its furniture; for without God what remained? Hence that darkness which was formerly mentioned, and is again repeated. The glory of Jehovah then was withdrawn: from whence? from its own place and station, where it dwelt between the cherubim, and came to the threshold of the temple: then he says, all was changed. For the temple in which God’s glory formerly shone forth became full of darkness; but the threshold of the house, which was as it were profane, was full of splendor: not that God dwelt at the threshold, for this vision has another meaning, viz., that God after leaving his temple appeared without it; for by the threshold he signifies a place conspicuous to all. Now therefore we understand the design of the Holy Spirit when he says, the glory of Jehovah was elevated from that seat, which he had chosen as a residence for himself between the cherubim, and was conspicuous above the threshold: whence it happened that the temple itself grew dark, but God’s brightness was conspicuous in the court itself. It follows —
5. And the sound of the cherubims’ wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh.
5. Et vox alarum cherubim audita fuit usque ad exterius atrium, sicuti vox Dei omnipotentis cum loquitur.
In this verse also the Prophet confirms the vision, because God always gave signs of his presence. But it seems also to have another object, since the cherubim by the sound of their wings point out a remarkable change, both unusual and incomprehensible. For he says, there was a noise which shook the place, just as if God was speaking. When therefore we hear God’s voice, the Prophet means to say, it is just as if God thundered from heaven and made the whole world tremble; for no concussion can be more severe than that sound of the cherubims’ wings. From this a certain wonderful change must be perceptible, since God so filled his Prophet with terror, that he should be a messenger and witness of it to all others.
Grant, Almighty God, since thou now placest before our eyes proofs of thine anger, that we may not perversely provoke thy wrath, like thine ancient people; but rather, may we so profit by this teaching as to grow wise in time, and strive to be reconciled to thee, and to cast away all our depraved desires, until at length we shall be gathered unto that blessed rest which thine only-begotten Son has procured for us by his blood. — Amen.
Lecture Twenty sixth.
6. And it came to pass, that when he had commanded the man clothed with linen, saying, Take fire from between the wheels, from between the cherubims; then he went in, and stood beside the wheels.
6. Et factum est cum praecepisset viro qui indutus erat lineis, dicendo, Sume ignem e medio rotae, e medio cherubim; profectus est, et stetit e regione rotae.
7. And one cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubims unto the fire that was between the cherubims, and took thereof, and put it into the hands of him that was clothed with linen: who took it, and went out.
7. Et extendit cherub manure suam e medio cherubim ad ignem qui erat in medio cherubim: et recepit, et dedit in volas 217 ejus qui indutus erat lineis: et accepit, et egressus est.
Here the Prophet teaches the end of the vision. The Jews thought that they should always be safe and secure under God’s presence; they thought that the sacred fire on the altar availed for the expiation of all wickedness. But God showed that he so resided in the temple that he clothed himself with wrath against them, and that the cherubim were keepers of his arms by which they were at length to be destroyed. We see, therefore, that this false and perverse glowing by which the Jews were intoxicated was cut from under them, since they thought that God was in some way bound to themselves exclusively. Hence the angel is ordered to take fire and to sprinkle it about the city, that it may be destroyed by the burning. But this was necessary, because the Jews, while they for a long time obstinately abused the forbearance of God, could not be induced to repent by any fear of his wrath. For this reason this vision was shown to the Prophet. Then he says that fire was given, but whence was it taken? it was, says he, in the midst of the cherubim. When David prays to God, he makes mention of the cherubim, (Ps 80:1,) by which a more familiar access is laid open, and deservedly so; because God, when inviting the faithful to himself, as if he stretched forth his hands to them, had angels at hand who brought him in contact with men. Now the Prophet teaches, that God’s presence was of no use to the Jews, because he was in arms for their destruction; and the cherubim, who were formerly ministers of his grace, were now at hand to execute his vengeance, since they extend fire from hand to hand for the conflagration of the whole city. For he says, that he was come who was clad in linen garments, and stood near the wheels, by which words he signifies, that angels were thoroughly prepared to obey God’s commands in every particular. In men there is great delay and even languor; but the Prophet assures us, that angels were ready for the performance of their duty. As soon as God shows them what he wishes to be done, they have their hands extended, and thus they are prepared to execute his will. For this reason he says, that they stood near the wheels It follows —
8. And there appeared in the cherubims the form of a man’s hand under their wings.
8. Et visa est ipsis cherubim similitudo manus hominis sub alis
I will now pass rapidly over what I explained more copiously in the first chapter, lest I should burden you with vain repetition. I said that hands appeared under the wings, that the Prophet might understand the great vigor of angels for action: but in the meantime it marked the agreement of their agitation with the obedience which they offer to God. For doubtless wings in angels represent direction, by which God testifies that the angels have no proper or independent, motion, but are governed by his secret instinct: for wings signify something terrestrial and human. And it is clear that when wings were given to angels, by this symbol God’s secret government was pointed out, (Col 1:16,) for they are not only called principalities, but powers. Since, therefore, God governs angels by his own will, he therefore wishes them to be represented in the sanctuary as winged. (Ex 25:20, and Ex 37:9.) Now, because there is no action without hands, the Prophet says that human hands appeared under the wings: as if he had said, that this alacrity was not without its effect, because it was joined with operation, for we know that all functions are designated by this word in Scripture. It is then as if he said, that the angels were winged, since they were animated by the secret virtue of God, and had no motion in themselves; then that they were apt and fit for exercising the functions committed to them, because they were endued with hands. But he says that those hands lay hid under their wings, because angels do not take up anything rashly, as men take up a matter vigorously, but without choice. He says, then, that their hands were covered by the wings, because angels undertake nothing rashly nor without consideration, but every operation of theirs depends on that secret government of God of which I have spoken. It follows —
9. And when I looked, behold the four wheels by the cherubims, one wheel by one cherub, and another wheel by another cherub: and the appearance of the wheels was as the colour of a beryl stone.
9. Et aspexi, et ecce quatuor rotae e regione cherubim, rota una e regione cherub unius, altera rota e regione alterius cherub: et aspectus rotarum tanquam similitudo lapidis Tharsis.
Here the Prophet, as in the first chapter, says that wheels were added to each living creature. I have previously explained what the wheels mean. I will now only allude to them; concerning the living creatures I shall by and bye treat more fully. But the wheels are images of all the changes which are discerned in the world. No more suitable figure can be chosen; for nothing is stationary in the world, but revolutions, as we commonly call them, are continually happening. Since, therefore, they are so changeable, nay even tumultuous at times, profane men cannot understand how the world is governed by the fixed counsel of God; but they fabricate for themselves a blind fortune: hence God in concession to our weakness has represented to us, under the form of wheels, all changes of things, all accidents, as they are called, and all events; as if he were to say, that all things in the world are revolving and changing, not only that all elements are agitated upwards and downwards, but human events especially. Meanwhile he has corrected the error, while he has conceded something to the rudeness of men. For we see manifold conversions which appear to us under the form of a wheel: but meanwhile we indulge in too much license, when we imagine a blind fortune. Hence the Prophet saw wheels near the cherubim; that is, he saw those changes by which men’s minds are disturbed, as if all things happened rashly in the world. But he saw that the wheels did not revolve by their own force, but are annexed to the angels, since all events depend on a first cause, namely, on that secret ordinance and inspiration of God, by which the angels are moved, and whence also they have their vigor. In this explanation nothing is forced, because it is not doubtful that the living creatures, as we shall soon see, signify angela Let us go on then to the context —
10. And as for their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel.
10. Et aspectus eorum similitudo una, 218 ipsis quatuor, quemadmodum si rota esset in medio rotae.
We have also explained this part. He says that all had the same aspect, not because God always governs events in an equable manner, for experience opposes this. But he means that the appearance was the same, because the variety which causes darkness to our eyes, does not remove the perpetual and well-arranged tenor of the works of God. Hence there is one appearance to the four wheels, because all God’s works agree among themselves; and although their wonderful variety draws our eyes this way and that, yet he knows how to direct to his own purposes things which appear so dissipated. There is again a kind of concession, when he says, that wheel was in the midst of wheel For we see things so mutually involved, that no distinction occurs to us when we consider God’s works by our own carnal sense. If we wish, therefore, to judge concerning God’s works, wheel will be in the midst of wheel; that is, there will be wonderful perplexity, and this will hold us so bound together, that our minds cannot extricate themselves. This, therefore, is the concession, that. wheel was in the midst of wheel; but the common error is corrected directly afterwards, when the Prophet adds that the wheels were full of eyes It follows then —
11. When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went.
11. Cum profisiscerentur, ad quatuor latera pergebant, non revertebantur in eundo 219 quia ad locum ad quem respiciebat caput post illud ambulabant, non revertebantur eundo.
12. And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had.
12. Et tota caro ipsorum, et dorsa ipsorum, et manus ipsorum, et alae ipsorum, denique rotae ipsae plenae erant oculis in circuitu ipsis quatuor rotis.
Now, as I have remarked, after the Prophet has granted that there are certain events of things as it were twisted and bending, and that God acts through windings, he then shows that God does nothing rashly: and that the events which we think tumultuous and confused have a certain direction, and that too the best. For this reason he says, first that the wheels had set out, they did not return, since each followed its own head Interpreters do not agree on these words. For as to the turning of the head, some translate it “the first,” and thus mean that in whatever way the first cherub goes, the others follow him. But I rather think that the wheels are compared with the cherubs themselves, and the singular noun head is here put for heads: for we before saw that wheels were annexed to each cherub, Therefore each wheel has its own head, that is, has a living creature by which it is ruled. Hence the sense of the Prophet is, that the ‘wheels turned on this side or on that, by any outward or sudden impulse, but were governed by the cherubim themselves, which will explain this portion more clearly.
He adds, that the wheels were full of eyes. Hence we gather, that although by the events of things God may seem to sport and to have various erratic circuits, yet all things are governed by his inestimable wisdom: for this reason the wheels are said to be full of eyes The Prophet uses the word flesh inappropriately for the very body of the wheels. But we know that the language which he used in exile was not very elegant, and hence it is by no means wonderful if it is rather rough and savors of asperity. Yet the sense is not doubtful, since the whole body of the wheels in their back and their hands was all full of eyes: he next adds, the wheels themselves, not to mark anything different, but afterwards when he speaks of the flesh, the back and the hands, he names the wheels simply: as if he had said that they were full of eyes in every part. Now we see how things contrary in appearance may be best reconciled. For the events of things are as unstable as if any one kept turning’ a wheel: then they become complicated, as if wheel was within wheel: but in the meantime God so tempers all things among themselves which seem to us confused, that it may appear that he perceives best what is necessary to be done, and that the events of things are full of eyes. But whence does this arise? This clearness depends on the angelic inspiration, for the wheels are not turned in different directions of their own accord, but each follows its own leader and head. It is also said, in appearance like the stone Tharsis, (beryl.) Jerome thought the Cilician sea was intended, and so translated it sky-colored: but because we know that this name beryl occurs among the precious stones, I therefore retain the simple sense. Now it follows —
13. As for the wheels, it was cried unto them in my hearing, O wheel.
13. Ad rotas ipsas clamavit, rota in auribus reels.
By this verse the Prophet better confirms what I have said, that the events of things are full of eyes, since they depend on the secret commands of God. Because therefore nothing happens unless by God’s command, hence it happens in the multiform changes of things that there is an equable tenor with reference to God. He says therefore that God cried, or the angel, O wheel. We know that wheels are properly without sense: but here the Prophet signifies that God’s voice is heard by all creatures, so that not even the slightest motion happens without that secret instinct. When the air is serene and calm, we do not think that God’s voice reigns there, but we imagine some natural cause: so also when the sky is clouded, when it rains, when storms rise, when other changes happen, in some way or other we exclude God from these actions. But the Prophet, on the contrary, says, that he heard the voice of God when he cried O wheel 220 But God did not exclaim by way of derision, but wished to testify that there was a certain hidden inclination by which all creatures obey his command To this end therefore God exclaims, O wheel, that we should not think that events are rashly moved, or that any agitation arises without control, or that the elements are so gross that they do not obey God, since his voice gives efficacy and vigor to all.
14. And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
14. Et quatuor facies uni, singulis animalibus, facies unius facies cherub, et facies secundi facies hominis, et tertii facies leonis, et quarti facies aquilae.
Now Ezekiel descends to the animals themselves, which he now pronounces to be cherubim, yet under another form than that in the sanctuary. We said in the first chapter why he saw four cherubim since only two surrounded the ark of the covenant. This variation may seem absurd, for God was accustomed to accommodate his visions to the forms of the law, that he might hold the people in the simplicity of the law. But the reason which I brought forward in the first chapter is by no means to be rejected, because in truth so great was the grossness and rudeness of the people, that it was necessary to bend aside from the first and genuine institution. God had been content with two cherubim, and in that number doubtless he represented all angels; but he was surrounded on the right hand and on the left that he might show the people that he could never be wanting in power to bring them help. Now the Jews were so stupified that they shut up God in heaven, because scarcely any recognition of his providence then remained, as we have already seen. Since, therefore, the Jews thus excluded God from the government of the world, he was obliged to use a new form, different from that of the law, that they might really perceive that God’s government extended over the four quarters of the world. And there is no doubt that by the four living creatures God reminded them that nothing took place in the world without his control. But when the world is described, its four quarters or regions are put.
Now, therefore, we understand why the Prophet saw not two cherubim only but four: the same reason for difference in the form of the cherubim is also added. For the cherubim were like winged boys: but the Prophet says, that each of the living creatures was furnished with four heads. This was doubtless an assistance towards rousing’ the people from their torpor, because the Jews could not otherwise understand the meaning and the force of the angelic inspiration by which God governs the whole world: hence after four living creatures had been presented before the Prophet, four heads were also given to each living creature, namely, the head of an ox, of a man, of a lion, and of an eagle We said in the first chapter, that by these heads all living creatures were represented to us: for although trees, and the sea, and rivers, and herbs, and the air, and stars, and sun, are parts of the universe, yet in living beings there is some nearer approach to God, and some clearer display of his energy: for there is motion in a man, in an ox, in an eagle, and in a lion. These animals comprehend within themselves all parts of the universe by that figure of speech by which a part represents the whole. Meanwhile since angels are living creatures we must observe in what sense God attributes to angels themselves the head of a lion, an eagle, and a man: for this seems but little in accordance with their nature. But he could not better express the inseparable connection which exists in the motion of angels and all creatures. We have said, that angels are not called the powers 221 of God in vain: now when a lion either roars or exercises its strength, it seems to move by its own strength, so also it may be said of other animals. But God here says, that the living creatures are in some sense parts of the angels though not of the same substance, for this is not to be understood of similarity of nature but. of effect. We are to understand, therefore, that while men move about and discharge their duties, they apply themselves in different directions to the objects of their pursuit, and so also do wild beasts; yet there are angelic motions underneath, so that neither men nor animals move themselves, but their whole vigor depends on a secret inspiration.
A difficult question remains, namely, why Ezekiel says here that the first head was that of a cherub, while in the first chapter he said it was that of an ox. (Eze 10:10.) Some escape the difficulty by saying that it appeared at a distance like an ox, but a nearer inspection showed it to be a cherub, But this is too forced, so that I have no doubt that there is some difference in the vision; nor does what he afterwards adds, that this was the living creature which he saw at the river Chebar, oppose this; for he calls anything which is like another, and has the same object, the same thing. Paul says their fathers in the desert ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Cor. 10:3, 4.) But we know how different was the symbol manna, and the water flowing from the rock, from the sacred Supper which Christ left for us; but as I have already said, since there is an affinity between the sacred symbols, they are to be referred to the same scope. Thus Paul says, the same drink and the same food, and Ezekiel says, it was the same living creature. Meanwhile, there is nothing out of place in our saying that the vision is slightly changed, For when God opened himself at first, the Prophet was on profane ground, now the vision is added more in the form of the sanctuary, because he was seized by the Spirit, that he might see the abominations by which the Jews had stained the temple, as already stated. When therefore the face of an ox was presented to the Prophet, near the river Chebar, that he might now understand that they were angels, or living’ cherubs, and that the four heads may not distract him, the face of a cherub is presented to him; so that, being admonished by this sign, he may determine that each living creature is nothing else than an angel or cherub, although it differs from the received form, of which God had proposed to Moses an example on the mount.
We now understand why God turned aside from the course prescribed in his law, when he offered this vision to his Prophet; because, in truth, the people had so degenerated from all sense of piety, that they could not be taught by the simple plan or rule of the law, but had need of gross remembrancers. This is one explanation. Then again four living creatures are employed, that God may signify that his energy is diffused through the whole universe. Then, again, four heads are assigned to each living creature, that we may know that no part of the world is free from his providence, and from that secret inspiration which is efficacious through angels. Then as to the last clause, where the face of an ox appeared to the Prophet before, now he beholds that of a cherub, that he may understand that these living creatures are nothing else than angels; but the reason why God endues his angels with a new form, is because the slothfulness of the people was so great, that they did not recognize what they ought to have been familiar with, for it was not God’s fault that they had not imbibed the doctrine of piety from their earliest childhood. Now it follows —
15. And the cherubims were lifted up. This is the living creature that I saw by the river of Chebar.
15. Et ascenderunt cherubim: ipsum est animal quod videram in fluvio Chebar.
We shall afterwards explain in the proper place why he says the cherubim ascended. The first and principal scope of this vision was that God would no longer dwell in the temple, because he had determined to depart thence on account of the impious and wicked profanations by which the temple had been contaminated. Now for this reason he says, the cherubim ascended; but he adds, that was the living creature, which he had seen near the river Chebar He adds this for clearing up the vision, because if it had been offered only once, the Jews might doubt its tendency, and its obscurity would take away their taste for it, and render the prophetic teaching quite insipid. But since the vision is repeated, God confirms and sanctions what otherwise had not been sufficiently stamped upon the hearts of the people; for experience also teaches us this, that we increase in faith and make further progress according as God speaks with us again and again. For even if we seem to ourselves to follow up what we have learnt from the Scriptures, yet if the same sentence is repeated, we become still more familiar with it. Then again, if we read the same sentiment in two or three Prophets, God brings forward more witnesses, that so the truth may be better established; since we know our great propensity to doubt, we are always fluctuating, and although the word of God has in it sufficient energy to confirm us, we are still unsettled, unless our minds are propped up by various supports. God therefore wished to place the same thing twice before the eyes of his Prophet, that the former vision might make more impression not only on the Prophet himself, but also upon all the Jews. For we said that although there was some difference, yet there is no discordance in the Prophet’s saying that the living creature was one and the same.
16. And when the cherubims went, the wheels went by them: and when the cherubims lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also turned not from beside them.
16. Et cum proficiscebantur cherubim proficiscebantur rotae e regione ipsorum: 222 et cum attollerent cherubim alas suas in sublime e terra, non revertebantur rotae, etiam ipsae e regione ipsorum.
The Prophet here confirms what he had said before, namely, that there was no intrinsic motion in the wheels, but that they were drawn by a secret instinct wherever the cherubim moved themselves. Hence we gather that the events of things are not accidental, nor excited in various directions by any blind impulse, but directed by the hidden energy of God, and that too by means of angels. First he says, when the cherubim set out, the wheels set out at the same time: then when the cherubim raised their wings upwards, the wheels followed the same course, and did not return; that is, were not drawn aside from that agreement of which he had spoken before; but how the wheels were not reversed, we shall explain more clearly to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, since we are the work and fashioning of thy hands, that we may know that we exist and move in thee alone, so that we may submit ourselves to thee, and not only may we be ruled by thy hidden providence, but may it so appear that we are obedient and submissive to thee, as becometh sons, that we may desire to glorify thy name in the world, until we arrive at the fruition of that blessed inheritance which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.
Lecture Twenty seventh.
We began yesterday to explain the sentence of the Prophet when he says, that the wheels were raised together with the living creatures But we have shortly taught that whatever we behold in creation so depends on angelic motion and inspiration, that there is an inseparable connection between them. Now the Prophet adds, that the wheels were not reversed, by which phrase he expresses their continual tenor. For it cannot happen that any agreement should appear for a time without a sudden change occurring. But the Prophet says that the wheels were so raised with the living creatures that they never departed from them. Now we understand his intention. He had previously asserted the same thing of the living creatures, and there was a kind of contradiction to be solved which might otherwise occasion a scruple, for he said that the living creatures were reversed and yet not reversed, but we can reconcile these two things, because the living creatures never deviated from their prescribed course and from a definite and settled space; meanwhile they were reversed, because they ran like lightning and hastened quickly from one action to another. Meanwhile the Prophet wished to teach, that in God’s works nothing is abrupt, nothing cut off, nothing mutilated, but angels so direct all actions and all events of things, that whatever God determines arrives at its own end. But this does not prevent God from operating variously, and after at one goal from beginning a new course. Now it follows —
17. When they stood, these stood; and when they were lifted up, these lifted up themselves also: for the spirit of the living creature was in them.
17. Et cum starent animilia stabant etiam: et cum elevaren-tur elevebant se: quia spiritus animalis in ipsis.
As he just said that the wheels were obedient to the movement of the living creatures, so he now says that they ceased with them. But in this place it seems as if some incongruity might arise: for it is not correct to say that angels ever rest. We know that their quickness and promptness in executing God’s commands is celebrated. (Ps. 103:20, 21.) Then since angels are the powers of God, it follows that they never cease from their office of working. For God never can rest; he sustains the world by his energy, he governs everything however minute, so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his decree. (Mt 10:29.) And there is that known and celebrated sentence of Christ, My Father and I work hitherto. (Joh 5:17.) Since, therefore, God never rests from his works, how then can that resting be explained of which the Prophet says, when the angels stood, the wheels also stood? I reply: it must be taken in a human sense; for although God works continually by means of angels, yet he seems sometimes to rest between. For he does not govern his works in any equable manner, as for instance, the heavens are sometimes calm, and at others agitated, so that a great variety appears in God’s works, from which we may imagine that he is sometimes in vehement motion, and at others at perfect repose. This, therefore, is the cessation of which the Prophet now speaks when he says, the living creatures stood, and at the same time the wheels with them Experience also confirms this; for God sometimes seems to mingle heaven and earth, and rouses us by unaccustomed work, while at others the course of his works seems to flow like a placid river. So that it is not absurd to say that the wheels stood with the living creatures, and proceeded and were elevated with them He adds, the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels, I explained this point, in the first chapter, but here it may be shortly explained, that the spirit is here taken for secret vigor or instinct. The wheels are not properly animated, because we said that the events of things are represented to us by this word, and whatever seems to happen in the world; but their incomprehensible vigor and agitation proceeds from God’s command, so that all creatures are animated by angelic motion: not that there is a conversion of the angel into an ox or a man, but because God exerts and diffuses his energy in a secret manner, so that no creature is content with his own peculiar vigor, but is animated by angels themselves. Now it follows —
18. Then the glory of the LORD departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims.
18. Et egressa est gloria Iehovae e limine domus, et stetit super cherubim:
19. And the cherubims lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the LORD’S house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.
19. Et sustulerunt cherubim alas suas, et ascenderunt e terra in oculis reels: cum egrederentnr rotae etiam coram ipsis: et stetit super limen portae Iehovae orientalis: et gloria Dei Israel super ipsa sursum.
Here the Prophet teaches us what is the principal point in the vision, namely, that God had deserted the temple: for we, know with what confidence the Jews boasted that they should be safe continually under the protection of God. In consequence of the promise, that God’s temple should be the place of his rest wherein he would dwell, (Ps 132:14,) they did not think it possible that God would ever leave them: so they sinned without restraint; and while they drove him far away from them by their crimes, yet they wished to have him in some way bound to them. This folly is derided by Isaiah — Heaven is my seat, and earth is my foot. stool: what house therefore will ye build for me? (Isa 66:1.) God had commanded his temple to be built, and wished to have his earthly dwelling, place there: but he says that his wish had been rendered nugatory: and how? why when he promised that he would dwell in the temple, he wished his name to be purely and reverently invoked there.
But the Jews had polluted the temple in every way. Hence they thought that God was shut up there in vain: because his liberality did not tend to his partaking of the captivity of the Jews, but to his having them in obedience to himself. Therefore Isaiah deservedly says, that the temple became unfit for the use of God when it was profaned. So also we see in Jeremiah: Do not trust in lying words, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah. (Jer 7:4.) That repetition is used because they were so elated by their obstinacy. The Jews resisted the Prophets, and as often as any threat was uttered against them, they immediately fled to that asylum, the temple of the Lord.
For this reason therefore the Prophet now relates, that the glory of God had deserted the sanctuary: for otherwise what we have seen would have been out of place: he was sent to scatter burning through the whole city: in this way the temple would have been burnt, and God would have been consumed by peculiar fire: here I speak after the common form, because when the ark of the covenant is called the God of hosts, (2Sa 6:2,) how could it happen that the fire should destroy the ark, together with all parts of the temple? But God himself meets them and shows them that the temple was deprived of its glory when it was destroyed by the enemy. Afterwards the temple was overthrown And in the Psalms its lamentable ruin is described, how cruelly and proudly, and with what barbarous mockery the enemy insulted it, (Psalm 74, and Psalm 79:) this was very disgraceful, and disturbed their weak minds. Hence it was necessary to persuade the faithful that God no longer dwelt in the temple, but that it remained only an empty spectacle, because he had taken away his glory since the place was corrupted by so many defilements. Now therefore we understand the design of the Prophet, when he says that the glory of Jehovah had departed from the threshold of the house, and stood above the cherubim But he had already said that the cherubim had raised their wings, which he again confirms. Whence it follows, that God with his angels, when the temple was left, deserted the Jews, so that for the future they would boast themselves in vain to be safe under his protection. Therefore he says that the cherubim raised their wings, and ascended from the earth before his eyes Nor is this clause superfluous, since it was difficult to persuade the Jews of what he said about his deserting them. There was a celebrated oracle, “here will I dwell, since I have chosen it.” (Ps 132:14.) When they grasped at that, they thought that the sun would sooner fall from heaven than God would leave that temple.
But the Prophet says that he saw it clearly, that no doubt might remain. If any one should here ask, how that promise which I have mentioned agrees with that departure which the Prophet here relates? the answer is easy, if we only understand that God does not always work by human means, nor yet according to our carnal perception. God often seems to act so abruptly that his beginning is without an end: in fine, God seems sometimes to sport and to draw back his hand, so that the event does not answer to the joyful beginnings. Since therefore, according to our carnal senses, God’s works appear to be frustrated, it is necessary to use such language: otherwise we should never understand how God departed from the sanctuary, when he had chosen it in perpetuity. But he so departed, that the place still remained sacred, and the temple stood before God though it had been overthrown in the eyes of men. The visible appearance of the temple was taken away, but meanwhile, since the temple was founded on the promise of God, it stood among its ruins, as I have said. For this reason Daniel, although solitude and devastation ought to avert his eyes and senses from Judea, prayed in that direction, as if the temple had remained entire. And why so? He looked at the promise. (Da 6:10.) And for this reason the Prophet said, after the return from the captivity, that the glory of the second temple surpassed that of the first, as the Prophet Haggai says. (Hag 2:9.) And we know with what copiousness and magnificence Isaiah discourses concerning the splendor of the second temple and its inestimable glory. (Isa 60:7.) We shall see also a similar doctrine at the end of this book. Since therefore the temple stood before God, because it was founded on his promise, this temporary desertion could not abolish what I have said concerning God’s perpetual station.
same thing also must be said concerning the kingdom: that kingdom ought to stand while the sun and moon shone in heaven, (Ps. 89:37, 38,) this is true: and yet there was a sad interruption during many years. For we know what a serious disgrace the last king suffered: then had all dignity fallen to ruin, so that nothing could be seen but the horrible vengeance of God. And yet that promise always had its own effect; as long as the sun and moon shall stand, they shall be my faithful witnesses of the perpetuity of the kingdom. Now then we understand in what sense God left his temple, and yet did not in anywise break his promise. But he says, the glory of the God of Israel stood at the eastern gate, but above it, so that it was raised up from the earth. The meaning of that speech was, that the Jews might know that God was no longer to be sought in that dwelling of wood and stone, because he had not only left his seat, but had ascended upwards, that they should have no more intercourse with him. Now it follows —
20. This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims.
20. Ipsum est animal quod vide-ram subtus Deum Israel in fluvio Chebar: et cognovi quod cherubim esscut.
He repeats what we have seen before, namely, that one vision was offered twice, because God wished to mark distinctly what otherwise had been doubtful. The Prophet indeed was sufficiently persuaded that God had appeared to him, but the confirmation of it was not in vain, because he would have to sustain great conflicts. Meanwhile it must be observed, that the vision was confirmed a second time, not for the private advantage of a single person, but that this drawing attention to it might profit the whole people, or at any rate render those without excuse who so despised the favor of God, so manifest and so clearly laid open to them. He says, therefore, this was the living creature which he had seen under the God of Israel In the first chapter he related that there was a throne in the open firmament of heaven, where he sat who was like a man in external form, and yet was not a man. There we saw that the true and only God was alluded to, and yet that this description could not apply to the Father, but necessarily belonged to the Son. These two things then are to be borne in mind: and the Prophet here takes away all doubt when he names the God of Israel like a man, which could not apply to the person of the Father. That likeness then ought, to be agreed upon among the pious. Controversy, therefore, on this point ought not be engaged in; for Sabellius, who took away the distinction of persons, was sufficiently refuted by his own extravagance. Since, therefore, the Father never put on the form or likeness of man, and it is nowhere read in the Scriptures that. he is compared to a man, we must explain this of Christ. And now Ezekiel bears witness that he is the God of Israel. We see, therefore, how foolishly the triflers of our day babble who desire to disturb the Churches by making Christ a sort of deity transfused from the substance of the Father. They confess, indeed, that he is God, but this confession is a mere pretense, 223 since they say that the God of Israel means God the Father, and that the title cannot apply to either the Son or the Spirit. The Spirit, therefore, is mistaken when he says by the Prophet’s mouth, the God of Israel appeared in human form This place, therefore, is remarkable for refuting that delusion by which foolish men fatigue themselves and others: while they allow Christ to be God, yet they deprive him of his true deity, because they say that it is derived from the Father.
He says also, that he knew them to be cherubim Now although he knew that God had appeared to him before, yet he had no certain knowledge concerning the living creatures, for with regard to them he remained in suspense; but now after God has familiarly explained to him the vision in the temple, he says, that he was taught that they were cherubim So what we said yesterday is confirmed, that the face of the ox was changed into that of a cherub, so that the Prophet understood that angels were pointed out under the form of cherubim, even those which surrounded the ark of the covenant. Let us proceed —
21. Every one had four faces apiece, and every one four wings; and the likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings.
21. Quatuor quatuor: 224 facies uni, et quatuor alae uni: et similitudo manuum hominis sub alis ipsorum.
The Prophet appears to dwell on points by no means doubtful: he has already spoken of the four heads, then why does he repeat it? Because he was dealing with a dull and perverse people: they were also slow in receiving the Prophet’s doctrine: and they added this vice worse than all the rest, namely, a constant and open endeavor to detract from the authority of all the Prophets. For this reason the Prophet says, that there were four heads and four wings to each living creature, lest the Jews should scoffingly deride it as an empty specter and delusion of the Prophet, because he thought he saw what had no existence. For this reason he inculcates more frequently what. was sufficiently clear by itself had the Jews been docile and obedient. It follows —
22. And the likeness of their faces was the same faces which I saw by the river of Chebar, their appearances and themselves: they went every one straight forward.
22. Et similitude facierum ipsis, facies quam videram super fluvium Chebar, aspectus eorum et ipsa 225 quisque 226 ad 227 faciem suam proficiscebatur.
He pursues the same sentiment, that nothing was obscure or perplexed in this vision, since all things were mutually suitable. For the remembrance of the vision which he had received remained in the Prophet’s mind: but now when he is hurried into the temple, he recognizes the same God and the same forms as those to which he had been accustomed. We see then how he meets their perverseness, who had otherwise boasted that he had offered them only his own fictions without any truth in them. Hence he restrains this petulance, and shows that God had certainly appeared to him, and that too a second time. Since he now says that each living creature went, forward in the direction of its face, it is not doubtful that this refers to their actions. Hence he points out that angels did not wander in their course as a person usually does who looks this way and that, or deserts the path, or turns to the right hand or the left. The Prophet therefore says, that the living creatures proceeded so that each was intent on its own end or scope: because if the motion of the angels had been turbulent, they had not been the servants of God. Finally, the Prophet signifies that the angels were not only alert and prepared for obedience, but were at the same time arranged and formed after a fixed rule, so that they did not in the slightest degree turn aside from. the command and direction of God 228 It now follows —
Or “enter.” — Calvin.
“Of the wheels.” — Calvin.
That is, “lighted coal.” — Calvin.
“To my eyes.” — Calvin.
That is, “while he was entering.” — Calvin.
That is, “which was above the cherub.” — Calvin.
“Above the threshold of the temple.” — Calvin.
“Into his hands.” — Calvin.
That is, “the appearance of each was the same.” — Calvin.
“Going forward.” — Calvin
Compare Milton here: —
“Wheel within wheel indrawn,
Itself instinct with spirit.” — Par. Lost, 6:751.
“Virtutes.” — Lat. “Vertus de Dieu.” — Fr. An important word, lint not very easily translatable by a single English word. — Tr.
Or, “near them.” — Calvin.
The Latin is, “merus est fucus:” the French, “mats ce n’est que toute tromperie:” Anglice, “all trash.” — Tr.
This is, “four apiece.” — Calvin.
“The living creatures or cherubs themselves.” — Calvin.
“Cherub.” — Calvin
“Towards.” — Calvin.
The explanation which Calvin gives of the meaning of these singular Disclosures is indeed very adverse to our modern ideas of those physical laws by which the Almighty governs the universe; and they will not perhaps be easily adopted by those who have been inspired with the philosophy of Bacon and Newton. The reader of Calvin may with satisfaction con-suit C. B. Michaelis’ Sylloge Comment. Theol., edited by D. T. Pott, volume 5, and following; Lightfoot’s Description of the Temple, volume 1; and Jahn’s Bibl. Archoeolog., volume 2, sec. 187, and following.
The learned Commentary on Ezekiel and Explanations of his Visions, by Hieron. Pradus and Joan. Bapt. Villalpandus, two Jesuits, published at Rome in 1596 and 1604, by the permission of their superiors, illustrates this tenth chapter very copiously, and displays great diligence, erudition, and accuracy. Another valuable exegetical exposition of this chapter is given by OEcolampadius in his Comment. in omn. libr. Prophet., edit. 1558; he occupies eighteen folio pages with an elaborate comment under the title “Expositio mysterii quod hac visione adumbratur,” in which he sees Christus dominus glorioe and gratia est firmamentum justitioe Christi The discussion of the Cherubim is very complete, though it may be well to consult the article in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopedia on the word “Cherub.” Rosenmuller, in his valuable Scholia, makes constant use of the Arable and Syriac versions, quotes fully from the Greek. of Theodoret, and diligently compares the Hebrew Codices of Kennicott and De Rossi, as well as the Greek texts of the Roman Codex, the Complutensian, and the Alexandrine. With such adminicula the reader of these Lectures on Ezekiel will have sufficient data for forming a correct judgment on the merits of Calvin’s interpretation.