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The Vision of the Chariot


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

By these words the Prophet signifies that God appeared so visible under the form of man that the splendor dazzled his eyes. For if the appearance of Christ was such that the Prophet could consider each part separately, as when I behold a man, I not only cast my eyes upon his form from head to foot, but I consider of what kind his eyes are, and also his sides, and what his stature is, whether tall or short.

When we look at men or trees, a glance is sufficient for distinguishing their several parts. But if we wish to cast our eyes upon the sun, they are immediately made dim, for the brightness of the sun is so great that it dazzles us. Then if our eyes cannot bear the light of the sun, how can the glance of our mind penetrate even to God, and comprehend the whole of his glory? This then is the Prophet’s object when he says, I saw as it were the color of amber. We have said that some interpreters understand an angel here, but in my judgment, their view is erroneous: hence I reject it, for I have no doubt that color is meant, and what sort of color. As to Jerome’s version, electrum, I leave it doubtful: as to his saying that it is more precious than gold and silver, this is foolish, because it is composed of both metals. But then its color was remarkable, because it not only attracted the eyes of the Prophet but dazzled them with its splendor, so that he acknowledged it as celestial and divine. Therefore he adds, there was as it were the appearance of fire within, which we have previously explained, and that, too, round about it The fire was apparent, so that the Prophet might understand that there were some marks of the glory of God; and at the same time, that he might perceive, as we shall see at last, this vision to be otherwise useless unless he restrained himself within due limits: because when the majesty of God meets us on the way, it can destroy the angels themselves. What therefore would become of us? But God suits himself to our capacities, so that visions should be useful to us only when we avoid pride and are not carried away by foolish and bold curiosity. He says then, the fire appeared upwards and downwards, that is above and below his loins, and the fire was brilliant round about Afterwards he adds —

The Prophet now adds, that the likeness of a celestial bow was presented to him, which profane men call his, and imagine that she performs the commands of the gods, and especially of Juno. But Scripture calls it the bow of God, not because it was created after the Deluge, as many falsely suppose, but because God wished to stir up our hope with that symbol, as often as thick vapors cloud the heavens. For we seem as if drowned under those waters of the heavens. God therefore wished to meet our distrust, when he wished the bow in the heavens to be a testimony and pledge of his favor, because it is said by Moses, I will put my bow in the heavens. (Genesis 9:13.) Now some distort this as if the bow was not in existence before: but there is no doubt that God wished to inscribe a testimony of his favor on a thing by no means in accordance with it, as he freely uses all creatures according to his will. The bow in the heavens is often a sign of continued rain, and seems as if it attracted the shower. Since then its very aspect may cause terror, God says in opposition to this feeling, as often as the bow appears, it is clearly determined that. the earth is now safe from a deluge. But the opinion of those who consider it in this place a testimony of favor does not seem to me proved, for the whole vision is opposed to it. This is indeed plausible that a bow appeared because God now wished to show himself propitious to his servant, just as they interpret that verse in the fourth chapter of Revelations, (Revelation 4:3,) when John saw the throne of God surrounded by a bow, because God was reconciled to the world by Christ. As far as this passage is concerned, I do not dispute it, but to interpret it so here would be altogether out of place, because the whole of this vision was formidable, as I said at the beginning. Thus to mingle contrary things would pervert the whole order of the vision.

What, then, is the object of this bow in the heavens? We have said that heaven appeared to the Prophet as he ascended by degrees to comprehend the glory of God, because the marks of deity are more conspicuous in heaven than on earth. For if we look back upon what we have formerly explained, God is never without witness, as Paul says, (Acts 14:17,) but yet his majesty shines clearer in the heavens. But when the bow appears, a new reason occurs for magnifying the glory of God. For in the bow we have the image of deity more clearly expressed, whilst we reflect on the magnificent workmanship of heaven, and whilst we turn our eyes round to all the stars and planets. In this way, I allow, God compels us to admire his glory, but the bow presents an addition not to be despised, as if God would add something to the; bare aspect of heaven. Now therefore we see why the Prophet saw a celestial bow, — that he might be more and more affected when God presented such signal appearances to his view, and that he might be more induced to contemplate his glory. Hence what interpreters bring forward about a symbol of reconciliation is altogether out of place.

I saw, says he, the form of a bow which is placed, or which is in the cloud on a rainy day. If any one should ask if those colors are without substance, it is certain that colors arise from the rays of the sun on a hollow cloud, as philosophers teach. Therefore when the Prophet says, a bow appears on a rainy day, he simply means, exists or appears in the midst; not that the colors have any substance, as I have just said, but the rays of the sun, whilst they are mutually reflected on the hollow cloud, occasion the manifold variety. Afterwards he adds again, like the appearance of brightness round about Again the Prophet confesses that his eyes were blinded, because he could not bear such great splendor. And God manifests himself familiarly to all his servants, yet so as not to foster our curiosity, to which mankind are ‘far too inclined. God then wished to manifest himself as far as it was useful, but not so far as the desire of mankind — which is always immoderate — would carry them. Since mankind so eagerly strain themselves that they easily become weakened, we must remark what the Prophet inculcates a second time, namely, that the appearance of brightness was seen round about Of what sort, then, was that brightness? Why, such as to blind the Prophet’s eyes, and to render him conscious of his weakness, so that he should not desire to know more than was lawful, but submit himself humbly to God.

At length he says, this was a vision of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah, and by these words confirms what I have said before, that the glory, of God was so beheld by the Prophet, that God did not appear as he really is, but as far as he can be beheld by mortal man. For if the angels tremble at God’s glory, if they vail themselves with their wings, what should we do who creep upon this earth? We must hold, then, that as often as the Prophets and holy fathers saw God, they saw as it were the likeness or aspect of the glory of God, but not the glory itself, for they were not fit for it; for this would be to measure with the palm of our hands a hundred thousand heavens, and earths, and worlds. For God is infinite; and when the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, how can our minds comprehend him? But although God has never appeared in his immeasurable glory, and has never manifested himself as he really exists, yet we must nevertheless hold that he has so appeared as to leave no doubt in the minds of his servants as to their knowing that they have seen God. And this is the purport of those phrases which sometimes appear difficult. I have seen God face to face, says Jacob. (Genesis 32:30.) But was he so foolish as to think that he saw God like a mortal? by no means; but that appearance convinced him of its certainty, as if he had said that no specter by which he could be deceived was presented to his view; for the devil deludes us unless we are attentive and cautious. Therefore Jacob here distinguishes the vision which he enjoyed from all prodigies in which profane nations delighted. Familiar knowledge, then, is the meaning of seeing face to face. At the same time, as I have said, God never gave the Fathers a sight of himself except according to their capacity. He always had respect to their faculties, and this is the meaning of the phrase, this was a vision of the splendor of Jehovah’s glory. Since, then, it is certain that Christ was beheld by him, he is Jehovah, that is, Eternal God; and although he is distinct from the person of the Father, yet he is entirely God, for the Father is in him: for the essence cannot be divided without impiety, although the persons must be distinguished. The rest I shall put off till tomorrow.

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