a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

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.

We must first consider the intention of this Vision. I have no doubt but that God wished first to invest his servant with authority, and then to inspire the people with terror. When therefore a formidable form of God is here described, it. ought first to be referred to reverence for the teaching conveyed; for, as we have remarked before, and shall further observe as we proceed, the Prophet’s duty lay among a hard-hearted and rebellious people; their arrogance required to be subdued, for otherwise the Prophet had spoken to the deaf. But God had another end in view. An analogy or resemblance is to be held between this vision and the Prophet’s doctrine. This is one object. Then as to the vision itself, some understand by the four animals the four seasons of the year, and think that the power of God in the government of the whole world is here celebrated. But that sense is far-fetched. Some think that the four virtues are represented — because, as they say, the image of justice is conspicuous in man, that of prudence in the eagle, of fortitude in the lion, of endurance in the ox. Yet although this is a shrewd conjecture it has no solidity. Some take the contrary view, and think that four passions are here intended, viz. fear and hope, sorrow and joy. Some think that three faculties of the mind are denoted. For in the soul, τὸ λόγικον, is the seat of reason; θύμικον, that of the passions; ἐπιθυμήτικον, that of the lusts; and συντέρεσις that of the conscience. But these guesses are also puerile. It was formerly the received opinion, that under this figure were depicted the four Evangelists: they think Matthew was compared to a man, because he begins with the generation of Christ; Mark to a lion, because he begins at the preaching of John; Luke to an ox, because he begins his narrative by mentioning the priesthood; and John to an eagle, because he penetrates, as it were, to the secrets of heaven. But in this fiction there is no stability, for it would all vanish if it were to be properly examined. Some think it a description of the glow of God in the Church, and that the animals are here to be taken for the perfect who have already made greater progress in faith, and the wheels for the weak and undisciplined. But they afterwards heap together many trifles, which it is better to bury at once, and not take up our time ill refuting them. All these, then, I reject; and now we must see what the Prophet really does mean. I have already said, that it was the Almighty’s plan, when he gave commands to his Prophet so to honor him, that his doctrine should not be open to contempt. But the special reason which I touched upon must be considered — viz.: that God shortly points out by this symbol, for what purpose he sends his Prophet. For the visions have as great a likeness to the doctrine as possible. For this reason, in my opinion, Ezekiel says, behold! a whirlwind came out of the north The people had already experienced the vengeance of God, Mien he had used first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to chastise them. Jeconiah, as we have seen, had gone into voluntary exile. The Jews thought that they would still have a quiet home in their city and country, and laughed at the simplicity of those who had so quickly gone into exile. The Prophet therefore says, that he saw a stormy wind from the north This rush of the wind or tempest ought to be referred to the judgment of God: for he wished to strike terror into the Jews, that they should not grow torpid in their security. After he has spoken concerning the storm or tempest, he adds — I saw four living creatures and four wheels connected together, to signify that their motion had not originated from chance but from God. These two things ought to be joined together, viz.: that the storm sprang up out of the north, and that God, the author of the storm, was beheld upon his throne. But in the meanwhile, that God’s majesty might the Jews, he says — I saw four living creatures and four wheels connected together By the four living’ creatures he understands cherubim: and we have no need of any other explanation, for he explains it so in chapter 10., when he saw God in the temple, the four living creatures were under his feet, and he says they are cherubim. Now we must see why four animals are here enumerated, when two cherubim only embraced the Ark of the Covenant; and next, why he describes four heads to each: for if he wished to accommodate his language to the rites of the Sanctuary, why did he not place two cherubim, with which God was content? (Exodus 20:18;) for he seems here to depart from the command of God himself: (Numbers 7:89) now, four heads and round feet, do not suit the two cherubim by whom the Ark of the Covenant was surrounded. But the solution is at hand: the Prophet so alludes to the Sanctuary, or, at the same time, to bend his discourse to the rudeness of the people. For their religion had become so obsolete, and their contempt of the law so great., that the Jews were ignorant of the use of tie Sanctuary; then they so worshipped God as if he were at a distance from them, and entirely rejected his providential care over human affairs. Here, then, we see how gross was their stupor, so that though often stricken, they never were aroused. Because the Jews were thus completely torpid, it became needful to propose to them a new form, and so the Prophet chooses half of it from the Sanctuary itself, and assumes the other half, as it was required for so rude a people; although he did not manufacture anything out of his own mind, for I am now speaking of the counsel of the Holy Spirit. God was, therefore, unwilling to drive the Jews away from the sanctuary, for that was the foundation of all right understanding of truth, but because he saw that the legal form was not sufficient, he therefore added a new supply, and as he gave each cherub four heads, so he wished their number to be four.

With regard to their number, I doubt not that God wished to teach us that his influence is diffused through all regions of the world, for we know the world to be divided into four parts; and that the people might know that God’s providence rules everywhere throughout the world, four cherubim were set up. Here also it is convenient to repeat, that angels were represented by cherubim and seraphim: for those who are called cherubim here and in Ezekiel 10, are called seraphim in Isaiah 6:2; and we know that angels are called principalities and powers, (Ephesians 3:10,) and are rendered conspicuous by these titles, while Scripture calls them the very hands of God himself. (Colossians 1:16.) Since, therefore, God works by angels, and uses them as ministers of his power, then when angels are brought forward, there the providence of God is conspicuous, and his power in the government of the world. This, then, is the reason why not two cherubim only were placed before the Prophet’s eyes, but four: because God’s providence ought to be evident in earthly things, for the people then imagined that God was confined to heaven; hence the Prophet teaches not only that he reigns in heaven, but that he rules over earthly affairs. And for this reason, and with this end, he extends his power over the four quarters of the globe. Why, then, has each animal four heads? I answer, that by this, angelic virtue is proved to reside in all the animals. Yet a part is put for the whole, because God by his angels works not only in man and other animals, but throughout creation; and because inanimate things have no motion in themselves, as God wished to instruct a rude and dull people, he sets before them the image of all things under that of animals. With reference, then, to living creatures, man holds the first place, because he was formed after the image of God, and the lion reigns over the wild-beasts, but the ox, because he is most useful, represents all domestic animals, or, as they are usually called, tame animals. Since the eagle is a royal bird, all birds are comprehended under this word; and here I am not fabricating allegories, but only explaining the literal sense; for it seems to me sufficiently plain, that God signifies angelic inspiration by the four cherubim, and extends it to the four regions of the earth. Now:, as it is equally clear that no creature moves by itself, but that all motions are by the secret, instinct of God, therefore each cherub has four heads, as if it were said that angels administer God’s empire not in one part of the world only, but everywhere; and next, that all creatures are so impelled as if they were joined together with angels themselves. The Prophet then ascribes four heads to each, because if we can trust our eyes when observing the manner in which God governs the world, that angelic virtue will appear in every motion: it is then, in fact, just as if angels had the heads of all animals: that is, comprehended within themselves openly and conspicuously all elements and all parts of the world; — thus much concerning the four heads.

As to the four wheels, I do not doubt their signifying those changes which we commonly call revolutions: for we see the world continually changing and putting on, as it were, new faces, each being represented by a fresh revolution of the wheel, effected by either its own or by some external impulse. Since, then, there exists no fixed condition of the world, but continual changes are discerned, the Prophet joins the wheels to the angels, as if he would assert that no changes occur by chance, but depend upon some agency, viz., that of angels; not that they move things by their inherent power, but because they are, as we have said, God’s hands. And because these changes are really contortions, the Prophet says, I saw wheel within wheel; for the course of things is not continuous, but when God begins to do anything, he seems, as we shall again perceive, to recede: then many things mutually concur, whence the Stoics fancied that fate arose from what they called a connection of causes. But God here teaches his people far otherwise, viz., that the changes of the world are so connected together, that all motion depends upon the angels, whom he guides according to his will. Hence the wheels are said to be full of eyes. I think that God opposed this form of the wheels to the foolish opinion of men, because men fancy Fortune blind, and that all things roll on in a kind of turbulent confusion. God, then, when he compares the changes which happen in the world to wheels, calls them “full of eyes,” to show that nothing is done with rashness or through the blind impulse of fortune. This imagination surely arises from our blindness: we are blind in the midst of light, and therefore when God works, we think that he turns all things upside down; and because we dare not utter such gross blasphemy against him, we say that Fortune acts without consideration, but in the meantime we transfer the empire of God to Fortune itself. Seneca tells a story of a jester belonging to his wife’s father, who, when he lost the use of his eyes through old age, exclaimed that he had done nothing to deserve being cast into darkness — for he thought that the sun no longer gave light to the world; but the blindness was in himself. This is our condition: we are blind, as I have already said, and yet we wish to throw the cause of our blindness upon God himself; and because we do not dare openly to bring a charge against him, we impose upon him the name of fortune; and for this reason the Prophet says the wheels have eyes.

We now understand the scope of the vision, and we must next approach its several parts. After he has said, a wind sprung up from the north, and a great cloud, he adds, there was also a fire folding round itself Moses, in the ninth chapter of Exodus, (Exodus 9:24,) uses the same word when he speaks of the storm which he caused in Egypt. There was fire en-folded or entwined, and the splendor of fire. Some shrewdly expound this splendor of the fire, as if God’s judgments were not obscure, but exposed to the eyes of all. I cannot agree in this meaning, nor do I think it correct. Here the majesty of God is described to us according to the usual scriptural method. He says, the fire was splendid in its circuit, and then there was as it were the appearance of “Hasmal” in the midst of the fire Many think Hasreal to be an angel or an unknown phantom, but, in my opinion, without reason, for Hasmal seems to me a color. Jerome, following the Greek, uses the word electrum, but surprises me by saying that it is more precious than gold or silver; for electrum is composed of gold, with a fifth part of it silver, hence, as it does not; exceed them both in value, Jerome was mistaken. But whether it was electrum or any remarkable color, it so clearly portrayed to the Prophet the majesty of God, that he ought to be wrapt in admiration, although the vision was not offered for his sake personally, but, as I have said before, for the Church at large. The color differed from that of fire, that the Prophet might understand that the fire was heavenly, and, as a symbol of God’s glory, had a form unlike that of common fire. Now follows:

I have already explained why God showed four angels to his Prophet under the form of four animals. It was necessary to turn a little aside from the sanctuary, since the whole legal worship was obnoxious to the profane. God therefore descends, as it were, from heaven, and appears familiarly on earth, as if he would say that he reigned not only above among his angels, but that he exercised his power here, because angels are engaged on earth, and are connected with all regions of the globe; and the conclusion is, that God’s providence is everywhere diffused. He says, these animals have the likeness of a man, which does not seem in accordance with the rest of the context. He will immediately say that each animal had four heads, then that their feet were round or like those of a calf, as some interpret it: but here he says they have the form of a man, and the solution is, that the first feet are like those of a man, although in some respects different; nor is it doubtful that cherubim were beheld by the Prophet as angels of God. Wings also do not suit human nature, but he means, that they had the usual human stature: although they are not entirely like human beings, yet there is much likeness in their general appearance: and now we understand why it is said that the likeness was human

He now comes to the heads and wings themselves. Many suppose that each animal had four heads, and then that four appearances belonged to each head; others extend the wings much further, because they assign four wings to each of the four heads, and others even sixteen; but this does not seem in accordance with the Prophet’s words. He simply says each had four heads, and then four wings. The wings and the heads correspond; but one animal was endowed with only four heads, and so I do not think that it had more than four wings, which will again be evident from the context. He adds afterwards —

This seems added by way of explanation. Since Ezekiel has spoken of their human form, he adds that their feet were straight, although he calls them round or like those of a calf. I refer the straightness not to the feet only but also to the legs. It is therefore just as if he had said that these animals stood as men do. For we differ from the brutes, who look down towards the ground. As the poet appositely remarks, when he commends the singular favor which God has conferred upon man,

Man looks aloft, and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies. 2828     Os homini sublime, etc.Ovid Metam. 1 Dryden.

The Prophet now signifies the same thing, when he says that the animals had straight feet. He asserts that they had not anything akin to brutes, but rather to the appearance or likeness of man. He says that their feet were round, and this seems to indicate their agility or the variety of their movements, as if he had said that their feet were not confined, to any one direction, but wherever God impels them they move easily, since their feet are round. If any of us wishes to turn either to the right or the left, he will feel himself to be contending with nature, if he attempt at the same time to walk backwards; if however his feet were round, or of the form of calves’ feet, he could easily move in any direction. Agility of this kind then seems pointed at in the animals. As to the sparks which shone like polished brass or steel, we know that this similitude often occurs in Scripture, for whenever God wishes to render his servants attentive, he proposes new figures which may excite their admiration. This very thing happened to our Prophet, because if the usual fleshy color had appeared in these animals, this perhaps would have been neglected: even the Prophet had not considered the meaning of the vision with sufficient attention. But when he saw the glistening thighs and sparks shining in every direction, as if from polished steel, then he was compelled to apply his mind more attentively to this vision, Now, therefore, we see why he says that the appearance of the legs was like polished steel, and that sparks glittered on them

Now the Prophet says: hands were under their wings Since hands are the principal instruments of action, we know that all actions are often denoted by this word: whence hands, either pure or defiled, signify the works of men either clean or unclean. When the Prophet says that the animals were endowed with hands, he signifies that they were ready for the performance of any duty enjoined upon them: for he who is without hands lies useless, and cannot execute any work. Therefore that the Prophet may express angelic vigor, he says that they had hands. This also refers to their human figure, but hands denote something peculiar: namely, that they have such agility that they can execute every commandment of God. For he says: they were under their wings, by which words he signifies, that the angels have no motions in themselves, so that they cannot be carried where they please, except they are divinely impelled, and their every action guided by the will of God. For without doubt by wings, as in this place so in others, we must understand something more than human, Since therefore the wings, with which the animals are clothed, signify nothing else but the secret instinct of God, it follows, that hands hidden under the wings denote nothing else than that angels do not move, as we say, intrinsically, but are impelled from without, namely, by the power of God himself: hence they are not carried about rashly hither and thither, but all their actions are governed by God, since he bends and directs them whithersoever he pleases. This is the reason why the Prophet says that he saw hands on the animals, and then that those hands were under their wings He repeats again, they had faces, and four wings to them The use of the phrase four sides is worthy of notice, just as if he had said that the animals have the power of acting equally in all directions, not that they had four hands each, although at first sight this may appear to be the meaning of the words on four sides, or in each corner, but it simply means that the hands so appeared on the animals, that they were ready for action whensoever God wishes to impel these animals. Now follows —

He says the wings were conjoined, which he soon more clearly explains: for he will say that the wings were joined together, and that two were so extended that they clothed or ruled the whole body: but here he touches shortly upon what he will soon treat more at length. Their wings then were so joined together that one touched the other: and afterwards he adds, they so went forward that they did not return; and he seems to contradict himself when he afterwards says the animals ran like lightning and then returned: but these two things are not inconsistent, for he will soon add the explanation: namely, that the animals so go forward that they proceed in a perpetual course towards their own end or goal, but it does not follow that they afterwards rest there. Therefore when the animals proceed, they do not turn aside in either one direction or another, nor do they turn back, but go straight on in their destined course afterwards, like lightning, yet they have different meetings: and what this means we have no time to explain now, but must defer it till tomorrow.

He now comes down to the faces or countenances of the living creatures themselves. The face is properly used with reference to the whole body, but the Prophet only means the countenance. He says therefore that there was on the right as it were the face of a man and of a lion, and on the left, the face of an ox and of an eagle We explained yesterday why four heads and as many faces are ascribed to the angels of God, because so great was the dullness of the people, that they did not acknowledge the providence of God over all parts of the world. For we know that they were so intoxicated with foolish confidence, that they wished to hold God shut up as it were within a prison: for their temple was as it were God’s prison. Hence the Prophet shows how the providence of God shines over other parts of the world. But since there is vigor in animals, so for brevity’s sake he puts four remarkable species of animals. Yet one question remains, and that a difficult one, for in Ezekiel 10:14, he puts a cherub for an ox. Some think, or at least reply, that it appeared at a distance the face of an ox, but nearer it was that of a cherub. All see that this is a sophistry, and because they cannot otherwise escape the difficulty, they have imagined that fiction, which has no firmness in it. Others think that cherub and ox are identical; but this may be refuted from many places, for cherubim have not the heads of oxen, as all very well know. I therefore have no doubt there was some difference in the second vision, when God appeared to his own Prophet in the Temple. It is called the same vision on account of the likeness, but it does not follow that all particulars were exactly the same. Nor ought this conjecture to be rejected, because when God made himself known to his servant in Chaldea, as I have said before, he wished to reprove the sloth of the people by this multiform image; but when he appeared a second time in the Temple, there it was something more divine. Hence therefore the variety, because each animal then bore the face of a cherub instead of that of an ox. Therefore, besides the stature of the whole body, there was a remarkable feature whence the Prophet could more easily and familiarly recognize these living-creatures to be cherubim or angels. This reason also seems to explain why God showed to his Prophet a form which approached more nearly to that of the sanctuary, and to the two cherubim who surrounded the ark. Besides, some think that the heads were so arranged, that the man’s head should look towards the east, and the opposite head towards the west. But it is scarcely to be doubted that the four faces had the same aspect, and turned their eyes in the same direction, there being on the right the two forms which we have mentioned of a man and a lion, and on the left, those of an ox and an eagle. Afterwards follows —

He says, that the faces as well as the wings were extended, because the four faces proceeded from one body. Here then the Prophet says, that they are not united together, so that a fourfold form could be seen on one head: there was the form of a man, and then that of a lion, as in one glass various forms sometimes appear, but each answers to its own original. So also the reader might mistake here, as if different faces belonged to the same head: hence the Prophet says, they were stretched forth or divided from above. Here he points out a diversity of heads, and as to the wings, he says they were extended, and, at the same time, shows the manner, viz., two joined or bound together, so that each animal was bound to its neighbor. The four living creatures were united by their wings: this the Prophet means; and as to the other wings, he says that they covered their bodies, and so we see some likeness between this vision and that vouchsafed to Isaiah, which he relates in his chap. 6. The reason why the rings were joined together upwards is sufficiently clear; because God has such different motions, and so agitates the earth, that the things which seem to be conflicting are most in unison. The joining, then, was upwards, that is, with respect to God himself, because on earth there often appears dreadful confusion, and the works of God, as far as we can understand them, appear mutually discordant: but whoever raises his eyes to heaven will see the greatest harmony between those things which have the appearance of opposition below — that is, as long as we remain upon earth, and in the present state of the world.

Here the Prophet repeats, that the movement of the living creatures was in each case directed towards, or in the direction of its face: and he will say the same again: nor is this repetition superfluous, since, as we said yesterday and must repeat again, mankind can scarcely’ be induced to ascribe glory to the wisdom of God. For we are so stupid, that we think that God mingles all things inconsiderately, as if he were in the dark. Since, therefore, the actions of God appear to us distorted, it is needful to repeat this clause, viz., that angels proceed straight forward, that is, are constrained to obedience. For the son who wishes to imitate his father, and the servant his master, is often agitated and at a loss what to do. Since then, something always appears confused in creatures, the Prophet diligently enforces that angels proceed in the direction of their face, that is, they tend at once to their goal, and decline neither to one side or the other. What he announces with regard to angels, ought to be referred to God himself; because his intention was not to extol angelic wisdom, but he sets them before us as God’s ministers, that we may perceive here one of the fundamental principles of our faith, viz., that God so regulates his actions, that nothing is with him either distorted or uncontrolled.

He adds, wheresoever there was spirit for proceeding, they proceeded 3636     This rendering seems most in accordance with Calvin’s Interpretation, and is evidently better than Newcome’s, “whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went.” The French reads, “selon que l’esprit estoit pour cheminer, ils cheminoyent.” — Ed. Spirit is here used in the sense of mind or will: we know that it is often put metaphorically for wind, and also for the human soul, but here the will ought to be understood, and so the Prophet alludes to that very motion by which angels are borne along when God uses their assistance. Since, therefore, the vigor and swiftness of angels is so great that they fly like the wind, the Prophet seems to allude to this likeness. And what David says in the 104th Psalm, “God makes the winds his ministers,” the Apostle, in the first chapter of the Hebrews, aptly applies to the angels themselves. This analogy then, will stand very well, viz., that the angels proceeded wherever their will bore them; and yet by this word the Prophet points out that secret motion by which God bends his angels as he pleases. In the meantime, he confirms what we have lately seen, that angels are not rashly driven in every direction, but have a definite end, because God, who is the fountain of all wisdom, works through their means. He says again, they so proceed as not to return, that is, that they do not deviate from their course, for he afterwards says, they do turn backwards. But it is easy to reconcile these statements, because it only signifies that their course was not abrupt. While, therefore, they are proceeding in one direction, they go forward until they finish their allotted space, and then they return like lightning. For God does not so fit his angels for one single work, and that they should rest ever afterwards, but daily, nay, every moment, he exercises them in obedience. Since, then, the angels are continually occupied, it is not wonderful that the Prophet says, that they go and return, and yet not return, which is explained by their not receding until they have discharged their duty. Lastly, this vision has no other meaning than to inform the Prophet that God does not desert his works in the middle of their course, as he says in Psalm 138:8. Since, therefore, in the works of God, there is nothing unfinished or mutilated, the angels go forward, and finish their allotted space till the goal: they afterwards return like lightning, as he will shortly say. It follows: —

As I said yesterday, something divine ought to shine forth in this vision, because God set forth the face of a man and of an ox, of an eagle and of a lion, and in this he accommodates himself to the stupidity of the people, as I have said, and also to the capacity of the Prophet, because, as we are men, we cannot penetrate beyond the sky. God therefore bore in mind his Prophet, and all the pious, while, at the same time, he wished indirectly to reprove the people’s sluggishness. At the same time, if the face of a man had not been different from common forms, the vision had not excited such admiration in the mind of the Prophet. Hence something heavenly ought to be mixed with the earthly figures. This is the reason why the living creatures were like burning fire Now we begin to understand what this difference means; as when God appeared to Moses, if there had been nothing wonderful in it, Moses would not have thought that he was called by God, but he acknowledged God in the bush, because he saw that the bush was on fire and yet not consumed. (Exodus 3:2, 3.) Then he began to be aroused, and to reflect within himself, that a divine vision was presented to him. The same is to be diligently observed in this place. And hence we gather, how humanely, nay, how indulgently, God deals with us. For, as on his part, he sees how small is our comprehension, so he descends to us: hence the faces of the living creatures, the stature of their body, and what we have formerly mentioned. Now, however, since he sees us torpid upon the ground, and lying there, as it were idle, so he raises us up: this is the meaning of what Ezekiel now says, viz., the appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals. And since coals taken out of the fire sometimes die out, he says the coals were burning. The Prophet would of necessity be moved when he saw that. the living creatures were not really such, that is, when he saw in the form of the animals something celestial, and exceeding the standard of nature, and even the senses of man: and this also ]s profitable to the rest of man.-kind. For when we read this vision we acknowledge what the Prophet narrates to be so evident, that God shines forth in it, and does not suffer his Prophet to doubt. Hence his teaching, which is marked by such certain proofs, is better confirmed to us. In the meantime, it is desirable to impress upon the memory what we said yesterday, that there is something terrific in this vision, since the people were hardened against all threats, nay, even blows themselves. For God had already inflicted severe judgments, not only on the kingdom of Israel, but on the city itself, and the whole land of Judah. Even the captives were champing their bits and roaring, because driven into exile, and, in the meantime, those who remained in the city thought that they were treated nobly. Wherefore such was their security, that it was necessary to put terrors before them, as we shall see a little while afterwards. And it is also said, the fire burned before God, where he not only wishes his own glory to be beheld by us, but where he wishes to strike fear, as he did at the promulgation of the law. (Exodus 19:20) And David, in the 18th Psalm, narrates that God appeared to him in this way when he was preserved by him: (Psalm 18:8-15:) doubtless he understands that God unfolded his formidable power against the unbelieving. So also in this place, he says, the appearance of the living creatures was like fiery and burning coals, and then he adds another image, that they were like lamps, which some explain as firebrands or burnt wood. But another opinion is more general, and more approved by me. The Prophet now expresses the form of the fire more dearly, viz., that the coals were like lamps For lamps send out their brightness to a distance, and seem to scatter their rays in every direction, like the sun when it shines through the serene air. On the whole, the Prophet means, that the fire was not obscure but full of sparks, and shows that rays were diffused like lighted lamps. Afterwards he says, they walked between the living creatures The Prophet sees, as it were, a fiery form amidst the living creatures themselves. Thus God wished to show the vigor of his own spirit in all actions, that we should not measure it in our manner, according to the depravity which is innate with us. For when we discourse concerning the works of God, we conceive what our reason comprehends, and we wish in some way to affix in our minds an image of God. But God shows, that when he works there is a wonderful vigor, as if fire were moving to and fro. Hence that vigor is incomprehensible to us.

Afterwards he says, The fire was bright, and lightning issued from it This would affect the Prophet’s mind, when he saw fire glittering in an unaccustomed manner. We know that fire is often bright, especially when flame is added; but the Prophet here intends something very uncommon, as if he had said that the fire is not like that arising from lighted wood, but that it was resplendent, whence we may readily collect that God here sets before us his visible glory: and for the same reason he says, lightning issued from the fire Hence arises the splendor just mentioned, since lightning is mingled with the fire. But we know that lightning cannot be beheld without fear; for in a moment the air seems inflamed, just as if God would in some way or other absorb the world: hence the appearance of lightning is always terrible to us. He was unwilling, indeed, that his Prophet should be frightened, except as far as was needful to humble him. But, as I stated at the beginning, this vision was not offered to the Prophet for his private use, but that it might be useful to the whole people. Meanwhile the Prophet, as he was but human, had need of this preparation, that he might be humbled. For we always attribute something to pride, which renders our senses obtuse, so as to be incapable of the glory of God. Therefore when God wishes to become familiarly known to us, he strips us of all pride and all security: lastly, humility is the beginning of true intelligence. Now we understand why lightning issued from the fire: he afterwards confirms this.

Here the Prophet explains more clearly what would otherwise be obscure. He says that the living creatures ran, and returned like lightning: by which words he doubtless signifies their amazing swiftness. For lightning (as Christ uses that comparison when he speaks of his own Advent — Matthew 24:27) goes forth from one part of the world and penetrates instantly to the opposite. Since, then, the swiftness of lightning is so great that it reaches in a moment through the immensity of heaven, for this reason the Prophet says, the living creatures ran, and returned like lightning: as if he had said, in whatever direction God wishes to impel them, they were ready to obey; as we have formerly said, angels are at hand to obey the commands of God: but we cannot comprehend the extreme swiftness of their course, unless by this comparison of lightning. Now we see how well these two things agree, that they did return and yet did not: they did not return until they had arrived, as I have already said, at the goal, because, although many hindrances occur, yet God breaks through them, so that they never interrupt his actions. The devil, indeed, by his obstacles, endeavors to compel God to recede; but here the Prophet shows that when God determines anything, the angels are ready to govern the world, and that they have so much vigor in them, that they go on constantly to the end, as far as God inspires them with his own power. Afterwards it follows —

VIEWNAME is study