a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

1. Living Creatures and Glory of God

Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 2In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, 3The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him. 4And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. 5Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. 6And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. 7And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. 8And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. 9Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. 10As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. 11Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. 12And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. 13As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.

15Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. 16The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. 17When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. 18As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. 19And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. 20Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. 21When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. 22And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. 23And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies. 24And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings. 25And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.

26And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. 27And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. 28As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.

There is some obscurity in the words, but it may be easily removed if we remark the two ways of covering; for those wings which tended upwards covered the living’ creatures themselves- that is, their faces, but the other wings, which were joined to their bodies, covered the body itself. Some think that there is a repetition here, and say that the two wings which cover the face and those which cover the body are the same. But this seems to me absurd. I have no doubt but that what we saw before is repeated, namely, that each living creature was covered with four wings, comprising the two which were raised upwards, and the two which were so joined that each living creature was connected with another. That was one form of covering: but another was by letting the wings fall which covered the whole body. On the whole, the Prophet adds nothing new, but impresses what he had said before. It follows —

When the Prophet says, he heard the voice of wings, it is an explanation of his former teaching, when he said that the wings followed the course of the living creatures, and stood, unless when they were drawn by the living creatures: this he now expresses more clearly by the word voice We know that, precepts are expressed by the voice, and this is the means of human intercourse, so that he who bears sway proclaims by the voice what he wishes to be done. Since therefore what we have previously said was obscure — that the wheels were moved by the living creatures — therefore the Prophet says there was a voice in the motion of the wings He had said this before, and he now repeats that the living creatures sometimes rested and let fall their wings. When the wings were thus let fall there was no motion in the wheels; but as the wheels obey the motions of the living creatures, he says the wings were vocal; not that the wheels were endued with ears or could hear any commands. But the Prophet could not otherwise express what I have just said: viz., that heaven and earth are full of angelic motion, unless he said that in such motion there was something like a voice, as he said that whatever happens obeys God’s will. But this obedience cannot be conceived unless a voice go before it. Now therefore we see the Prophet weaving his own discourse, and by a new form of speech expressing and confirming what we formerly saw — that the wheels were mowed by the living creatures, because in the wings themselves a voice was heard, he adds, it was as it were a voice many or mighty waters We know that a great noise arises from the overflow of art impetuous river. Nothing is more terrible than its sound, for it is something like a crash which seems to threaten the breaking up of the whole earth, and this vehemence the Prophet now expresses. He adds, a voice of God It will be harsh to explain this of God himself, to whom although the phrase is often attributed, yet we know that it is done metaphorically. But there ought to be some external likeness which may show the Prophet what was not visible of itself. But that cannot suit the phrase, “the voice of God,” unless we understand it as in Psalm 29:5, 6, 9, concerning thunder: the voice of God shakes the cedars and the mountains, and makes the animals miscarry in the woods. Here David calls thunder the voice of God, but I know not whether this metaphor is suitable to the present place. Nor yet if we could take the word of God in another sense, could it mean anything but thunder. Others translate שדי, shedi, brave or violent, which suits tolerably well, unless a general form of speech is not sufficiently fitted to this place. For those images of things ought to be set before the mind of the Prophet that tend to raise it upwards. Besides, if he had said simply the voice of a strong or violent man, it would imply but little, so I dare not reject the meaning — thunder; and if this exposition is unsatisfactory to any one, yet the meaning will still be a loud and terrific voice, because Scripture calls cedars and mountains, cedars and mountains of God, on account of their superior excellence. (Psalm 80:11; Psalm 36:6.)

He says, when they walked, because there was no other motion, for he said that the wings of the animals were let fall while they stood. Then it was not necessary for earthly things to be agitated, unless when the inspiration goes forward in the living creatures, that is the angels. He adds, the voice of speech Here Ezekiel proceeds further, asserting the voice to be articulate. True, inanimate things cannot hear a voice, but as I have said, he wished to represent the obedience in the wheels to be such as if they had been taught, and God had eloquently and articulately commanded what he wished to be done; or as if the wheels had spoken intelligibly, so that the wheels might not afterwards roll round rashly, but in accordance with a received command. He says, as it were the voice of armies And the simile is to be diligently noticed, because in an army, in consequence of the multitude, one can scarcely notice another with the view of promoting union, and yet military discipline requires this. 5151     The French Translation rather amplifies than accurately renders this sentence. Therefore, in camps there is great clamor and confusion, yet each accommodates himself to others, and so order is preserved. The Prophet therefore signifies, that although infinitely numerous events meet together, yet nothing is left without guidance, because God governs all earthly motions with much better skill than a general, though endued with singular foresight, rules his army. We see therefore what the Spirit intends by this part of the vision, when he compares the things that are carried on in the world to mighty forces; for he says that such reason was displayed among this multitude, that although their clamors are tumultuous, yet all things are mutually suited to each other. Again he says, when they stood they let down their wings This question may be asked, how can the living creatures rest when God is always at work: as also Christ says, My Father and I work even to this day? (John 5:17.) Since therefore the power of God is never at rest, what can the resting of the living creatures mean? for God works by angels as we have seen: if they rest, God has his periods of repose, which is absurd. But when the Prophet says they rested, he wishes to mark the variety of human events. For sometimes they are so tranquil, that we think God is taking some repose, and is completely at rest in heaven: not that he ever ceases, but because we do not perceive the agitations, which plainly show his virtue to consist in motion and in action. Therefore the Prophet here wishes only to denote variety; not that we ought to imagine God to rest at any time or his angels to repose, but because he does not always work in the same equable manner.

Is a former lecture we said, that the Prophet, while magnifying the glory of God, spoke of the firmament, because human minds cannot penetrate to so great a height, unless by degrees. On this account, the Prophet described to us the expansion of the heavens. He now adds, there was a likeness of a throne above the firmament, and the likeness of a man sat on the throne. He mentions the steps in order by saying, above the expansion was the throne, and above the thone a man For he repeats what he had formerly said about the expansion of the heavens. And as God consulted his infirmity, so he now accommodates his discourse to the measure of our capacity. It is worthy of observation that he says, he saw the likeness of an appearance. Hence we gather, that it was not the true heavens which he beheld, nor was it a throne formed of any material substance, nor was it a real and natural body of a man. This also the Prophet clearly expresses, lest any one should imagine that there is anything visible in God, and, like the fanatics, should suppose him to be corporeal; so from this passage any one might ignorantly collect, that God can be seen by the eye, confined within place and be seated as a man. Lest these imaginings should creep into men’s minds, the Prophet here testifies, that it was not a human body nor any material throne which he saw, but that these forms and appearances only were presented to him. Let not any one think that the Prophet is vainly prolix in matters sufficiently clear.

He says, above the expansion, which was above the head of the living creatures We have already explained why he treats of the heads of the living creatures — namely, because the former vision ought all to be referred to God himself. He now adds, the expansion, because we cannot ascend from the living creatures to God without some assistance. Hence the firmament is brought before us, so that we may arrive at the loftiness of God by degrees. The phrase, the likeness of a sapphire stone, is used to show that figures only were apparent to the Prophet: and this is the meaning of the likeness of a throne. For we know that heretics formerly disturbed the Church by their folly, who thought God to have a human form like ourselves, and also a throne on which he sits. Hence the Holy Spirit, that he may meet such comments, says, that the Prophet did not see a material throne, but only the likeness of one. But this is chiefly needful in mentioning the figure of a man: ‘for this and similar passages, having been erroneously explained by those who assigned a human form to the Almighty, have given occasion to the error that God is corporeal and circumscribed within a defined space, and they proceeded to that pitch of fury, that they rushed in troops and wished to stone all those who opposed their impiety. The Prophet, therefore, says here, that he saw, as it were, the likeness of a human appearance One noun ought to suffice, but because we are so prone to vague and erroneous opinions, he joins the word “appearance” to “likeness.” We see, then, that whatever the ancient heretics fabricated about the visible form of God is excluded by the clearest language.

It is now asked, Why God put on the form of a man in this vision as well as in other similar ones? I willingly embrace the opinion of those fathers who say that this is the prelude to that mystery which was afterwards displayed to the world, and which Paul magnificently extols when he exclaims —

“Great is this mystery — God is manifest in the flesh.”
(1 Timothy 3:16.)

The view of Jerome is harsh, who applies these words to the Father himself. For we know that the Father was never clad in human flesh. If he had simply said, that God is here represented, there would have been no absurdity; let all mention of persons be removed, and then it is true enough that the man seated on the throne was God. The Prophet also at the end of the chapter bears witness to this, when he says, this was the likeness of God’s glory, (Ezekiel 1:28:) for he uses the name Jehovah, by which the eternity and primary essence of God is expressed. It is quite tolerable that God should be represented by this figure, but what John says in his chapter 12 (John 12:41,) must be added, that when Isaiah saw God sitting on his throne, he saw the glory of Christ, and spoke concerning him. Hence what I have already cited from the ancients completely agrees with this, that as often as God appeared under the form of man, an obscure glimpse was afforded of the mystery which was at length manifested in the person of Christ. In the meantime we must entirely avoid the dreams of Servetus, who is easily refuted by the words of the Prophet. For he contends that this likeness was really a man, and then that Christ was a figurative Son, because God was visibly composed, as he said, of three uncreated elements.

These are most detestable blasphemies, and unworthy of refutation, yet because that impious blasphemer fascinated many vain persons, who suffered the deserved punishment of their foolish curiosity, it is useful just to touch on their errors in passing. He imagines, then, that Christ was the visible God from the creation of the world, and in this way he interprets him to be the image of God. He does not acknowledge the Father as a person, but says, the Father was the invisible God, but that Christ is both the Father’s image and also a person. He now says, he was composed of three uncreated elements. If he had said of three elements only, Christ had not been God, but he fancies for himself elements called into being which have their origin in the essence of God; these elements, he says, were so disposed as to have the form of man, so that he does not say that Christ appeared only in human form, but he says, that Christ was a man figured in that. divine essence. At length he says, that Christ was made man of the seed of Abraham, because to these three elements a fourth was added, which he allows to be created: so he says Christ was man, because he imagines a mass concocted in some confused manner out of that visible deity and of the seed of Abraham. Christ then, according to him, was man for a time, because that visible deity was mingled with flesh, he next adds, that the flesh of Christ was absorbed by the Deity; and so God was made man not by union but by confusion; and then he says, that the man was deified, and that Christ’s flesh became of the same essence with God: and hence, that he is no longer man. Hence he derides us, who teach that we cannot be partakers of Christ unless we ascend by faith into heaven, because he feigns his body to be everywhere and immense. How can this be? He is deified, says he, and hence retains no trace of human nature. We now see what monstrous things this impostor fabricated. But our Prophet dispels such clouds when he says — then appeared the likeness of the appearance of a man.

Daniel describes to us the throne of God more distinctly, who (Daniel 7:9 and following) brings forward The Ancient of Days as wearing- the figure of a man. There God is placed on the highest summit: next Christ the Mediator is joined to him: and Daniel says he was brought to the Ancient of Days, because as Christ descends from the Father, so he was received into his glory, and now the greatest sway and power has been given to him, as we are there taught at length. But, with reference to this passage, it ought to suffice us, that the Prophet saw God only in the person of Christ, because what is said of the likeness of a man cannot be transferred to either the Father or the Spirit: for neither the Father nor the Spirit was. ever manifested in flesh, but God was manifested to us in flesh when Christ appeared, in whom resides the fullness of the Divinity. In Philippians 2:7, Paul says that Christ was made in man’s likeness; and that in form and habit he appeared man, but in another sense: for he does not make a figurative Christ, nor does he treat professedly of the essence of Christ’s body, but he informs us, that such was his condition when he came down to us. He says, that he was humbled, so that he differed in nothing from the human species: and even the word μόρφη is used by Paul, which distinguishes essence from species. Now, therefore, we hold the view of Paul, who says, that Christ was found in fashion as a man, because he was outcast and despised in our flesh. But in this place the Holy Spirit teaches otherwise, viz., that Christ now appeared in the form of man, though not yet made man. If any one should now ask, whence this body was taken, the reply is at hand: the body was not created as to substance, but this form was created for the time. For God, as is well known, sometimes gives his angels bodies, which afterwards vanish away. But there was another reason for this vision, because Christ did not appear in the form of man, that he might taste food as the angels did, (Genesis 19:2, 3) but only that he might accommodate himself to the capacity of the Prophet.

The sum of the whole then is this: the likeness of body was only in appearance, as the Prophet says, but not in essence. Hence we collect, that when mention is made of God the whole essence is understood, which is common to the Son and the Holy Spirit with the Father: for under the name Jehovah it is absurd to understand Christ only. It follows, then, that the whole essence of God is here comprehended. At the same time, when the persons are mutually compared, the phrase, “in the form of man,” belongs solely to Christ. The whole Deity, then, appeared to his Prophet, and that too in the form of a man, but yet neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit appeared, because the persons begin to be considered when the peculiar property of Christ is shown forth. We are compelled to remark this, because fanatics now spread a new error, as if Christ and the Holy Spirit were distinct Deities from the Father. A certain impostor, named George Blandrata of Piedmont, once came among us under the character of a physician, and concealed his impiety as long as he could, but when he found himself detected he fled to Poland, and infected the whole of that region with his poison. He is unworthy of mention, but because he wished to acquire a name by his blasphemies, he has become, forsooth, as famous as he desired. Since, then, this error is widely circulated, and the whole of Poland is infected with this diabolical delirium, as I have said, those who are less exercised in Scripture ought to fortify themselves lest they fall into those snares. They imagine that Christ is indeed God, but not that God whom Moses and the Prophets celebrate; and although God is often mentioned in the Law and the Prophets, yet they restrict this to the Father alone: they allow, indeed, Christ to be God, but when pressed closer, they say that he is God in essence, 5353    Deum essentiatum. Deus factitius.” — Orig. Dieu essentie. Dieu qui a este fait.” — Fr. to whom the Father has communicated his essence, as it were, by transfusion; so, according to these, he is only a fictitious God, because he is not the same God with the Father. They think their impiety is established as often as the Father is simply called God: but the solution is easy, that a comparison is then made between the Father and the Son. In John 3, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son: true, the Father is here called God, but, on the other hand, the Son is added: so it is not to be wondered at that the original Deity is placed in the highest position. At other times, when there is no comparison between one person and another, then the whole Deity, which is common to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is one and simple, is denoted. Lastly, when the persons do not come into consideration, there is no relation of one to the other, but when the persons are considered, then the mark of relation between them arises, so that the Father is put first, and then the Son and Holy Spirit, each in its own order.

I shall not collect the universal testimony of Scripture, because it is sufficient just to put the finger on these foul errors, lest any of the unskillful should be caught by such snares. When Paul says, (1 Timothy 3:16,) that God was manifest in the flesh, surely he does not speak of any secondary or adventitious essence. For the essence of God is one: therefore the whole Deity was manifest in the flesh, as also Christ says, I am in the Father and the Father in me; (John 14:10, 11;) and in other places he teaches, that the whole fullness of Deity resides in Christ. Hence we collect, that the essence of God ought not to be torn, as if one part could be with Christ, and another with the Father. So that when John, in his Canonical Epistle, (1 John 5:20,) says, that Christ is truly God: This is the true God, he says, and life eternal — surely the blasphemy will not be tolerated if men should say that the true God is any other than the Father. Concerning whom then can this be predicted, except the only God? If this is transferred from the Father he will cease to be God. If, therefore, Christ is truly God, it follows, that his essence is the same as the Father’s. So that when Paul says, that the Church was purchased with the blood of God, (Acts 20:28,) surely the name of God is placed there simply and without addition. When that impostor restricts the name of God to the Father, how will this agree with the opinion of Paul? God, he says, redeemed the Church with his own blood: if this were so, we ought to understand that God of glory who was from eternity and whom Moses and the Prophets celebrate. Now therefore, we understand how Christ appeared as to person in human form, and yet the whole Deity appeared. That Christ appeared can be clearly shown from that twelfth chapter of John which I have quoted. (John 12:41.) That the whole Deity appeared both Isaiah and Ezekiel plainly testify. I saw Jehovah seated on his throne. (Isaiah 6:1.) Who is that Jehovah unless the God of Israel, concerning whom Moses formerly pronounced, Thy God, O Israel, is one God, (Deuteronomy 6:4.) How then does John transfer this to Christ? why, with regard to person. We see then how well all these things harmonize, because the whole Deity appeared in the perfection of his glow, and of his immense essence, and yet appeared in the person of Christ alone, because neither the Father nor the Spirit were ever clothed in human flesh.

I have dwelt a little longer on this doctrine, because there are many who are not versed in the writings of the Fathers, and cannot easily satisfy themselves, and these are knotty points; yet I have endeavored so to clear up a matter which seems obscure and perplexing, as shortly as possible, that any one of moderate capacity and judgment can easily understand what I have said. At the same time, I shall not proceed with what I could skillfully bring forward on the point;. Nothing is more useful in such matters than wisdom tempered with sobriety and discretion. God appeared under a visible form to his servant: could Ezekiel on that account do as scholastic theologians do — philosophize with subtility concerning God’s essence, and know no end or moderation in their dispute! by no means, but he restrained himself within fixed bounds. Paul was caught up even to the third heavens, (2 Corinthians 12:4,) but he says, that he heard unspeakable things which he was not permitted to explain. So, therefore, let us be content with sound doctrine, which can sufficiently fortify us against all the snares of the devil. For this reason he says, upon the throne was the likeness as of the appearance of a man upon it.

VIEWNAME is study