Overview: Our commentators begin with the place of Ezekiel’s prophesy in relationship to Jeremiah, highlighting specifically the role Ezekiel was to play for God. Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, tempers his harsh judgments against the people with promises of Christ’s kingdom and the heavenly Jerusalem. Moreover, Ezekiel proved a real comfort to Jeremiah, who now had a companion in speaking the things of God. Finally, some comment is made about the reading restrictions historically placed on parts of Ezekiel among Jews and the various difficulties to be encountered in the book.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Johannes Oecolampadius: In the order of the books of the prophets, Ezekiel follows Jeremiah. They both have the same argument and both flourished at the same time. Jeremiah was older and preceded Ezekiel into the office of prophet. Jeremiah preached in Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylon. They both corroborated each other’s prophecy. Ezekiel was taken to Babylon at the time of Jeconiah. Commentary on the Prophet Ezekiel.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Martin Luther: Ezekiel, like Daniel and many more, along with King Jeconiah, went willingly into captivity in Babylon, following the counsel of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah constantly advised that the people should surrender to the king of Babylon—and thus live; they should not resist—or they would be destroyed (Jeremiah 21). Now when the people arrived in Babylon, as Jeremiah shows in chapter 24, they became impatient and regretted beyond measure that they submitted. For they saw that those who stayed in Jerusalem and had not surrendered still possessed the city and everything else, and hoped to make Jeremiah a liar and to defend themselves against the king of Babylon and remain in their own land.
In Jerusalem the false prophets helped this notion along by constantly consoling the people that their city would not be captured, and that Jeremiah was a lying heretic. Along with this (as it usually does) went the fact that those at Jerusalem boasted that they were holding honestly and firmly to God and fatherland. They claimed that the others who had surrendered had deserted God and fatherland and were thus faithless traitors who were unable to trust or hope in God, but had gone over to the enemy because of the vile talking of Jeremiah, the liar. This hurt and embittered greatly those who had surrendered to Babylon, and their captivity became a double one. O how many a hefty curse they must have wished on Jeremiah, whom they had followed and who had led them astray so miserably!
For this reason God raised up in Babylon this prophet Ezekiel, to encourage the captives and to prophesy against the false prophets at Jerusalem, as well as to substantiate the word of Jeremiah. Ezekiel does this thoroughly; he prophesies much harder and far more than Jeremiah that Jerusalem shall be destroyed and the people perish, along with the king and princes. Yet he promises also that the captives shall return home to the land of Judah. This is the most important thing that Ezekiel did in his time; he deals with this matter down to chapter twenty-five.
After that, to chapter thirty-four, he extends his prophecy also to all the other lands round about, which the king of Babylon was to afflict. There follow in addition four chapters [34-37] on the spirit and kingdom of Christ, and after that on the last tyrant in Christ’s kingdom, Gog and Magog [38-39]. At the end Jerusalem is rebuilt, and Ezekiel encourages the people to believe that they shall go home again [40-48]. Yet in the Spirit he means the eternal city, the heavenly Jerusalem, of which the Apocalypse also speaks [Rev 21]. Preface to the Prophet Ezekiel.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel. John Calvin: Before I proceed any farther, I will briefly consider the themes that Ezekiel discusses. He has almost everything in common with Jeremiah, as we have said, but especially this: that he announces final destruction to the people, because they were not holding back from piling evil deed upon evil deed, thereby inciting the vengeance of God more and more. Therefore, he threatens them, and not just once, because the hard-heartedness of the people was so great, that to utter the threats of God only three or four times would not be enough, unless he were to repeat them incessantly.
Yet Ezekiel also shows the reasons why God decided to deal with his people so severely, certainly because they were so polluted with many superstitions, because they were deceitful, greedy, merciless, filled with crime, given to extravagance, and depraved by lust. All these things are listed by our prophet, to show that the vengeance of God is not too severe, since the people continued to reach the greatest godlessness and to amass a great pile of evil deeds...
The prophets demonstrate the guilt of the people with no other intention than to stir them to repentance, if only they would believe it is possible for those who are estranged from God to be reconciled to him. Accordingly this is the reason why whenever our prophet, as well as Jeremiah, rebukes the people, he tempers the severity of correction by weaving in promises...
But after chapter 40 he deals more richly and extensively with the rebuilding of the temple and the city. According to this declaration he announces a new position of the people, royal authority would flourish and the priesthood would recover its former excellence. For the rest of the book he will explain the remarkable kindnesses of God, which were to be hoped for after the close of the seventy years. Here it is useful to remember what we observed in the case of Jeremiah. While the false prophets were promising the people a return after three or five years, the true prophets were proclaiming what would really happen, so the people might submit themselves patiently to God, enduring his just corrections, not discouraged by the duration of years. Ezekiel i.
Difficulty of Ezekiel. Matthew Meade: It must be said of this prophecy, as was said of Paul’s epistles, that there are some things in them hard to be understood, full of obscurity and difficulty, which made Jerome say, there is in this book a sea of Scripture so deep and a labyrinth of the mysteries of God so difficult, and therefore as the reading of the beginning of Genesis and the book of Canticles was forbidden to the Jews (as Jerome says) until they were thirty years of age, so was the beginning and ending of this prophecy.
There are in it dark visions hard to be unfolded, uncertain chronologies difficult to be found out, mystical parables hard to be opened and many enigmatic hieroglyphics not easily understood. Such as the portrait tile (Ezek 4), the removing of the household baggage (Ezek 12), the useless vine branch (Ezek 15), the two eagles and a vine (Ezek 17), the boiling pot (Ezek 24), the dry bones (Ezek 37), and the like. But among all of them none has more darkness and difficulty attending it than of the wheel and cherubim mentioned in the first and tenth chapters. The Vision of the Wheels.
Who Should Read Ezekiel? Martin Luther: St. Jerome and others write that it was, and still is, forbidden among the Jews for anyone under thirty years of age to read the first and last parts of the Prophet Ezekiel [1:4-28; 40:2-48:35] and the first chapter of Genesis. To be sure, there was no need of this prohibition among the Jews, for Isaiah [29:11-12] prophesies that the entire Holy Scriptures are sealed and closed to the unbelieving Jews. St. Paul says as much in 2 Corinthians 8:14-16, that the veil of Moses remains over the Scriptures, so long as they do not believe in Christ. A New Preface to the Prophet Ezekiel.
The Need For Ezekiel. John Calvin: Now we must consider God’s purpose for selecting Ezekiel as his prophet. For thirty-five years Jeremiah had not ceased to cry out, but with little success. Therefore, seeing that the prophet, Jeremiah, had worn himself out, God wanted to give him a helper. And it was certainly no small relief, when Jeremiah, who was in Jerusalem, learned that the Holy Spirit was speaking harmoniously through another mouth. Indeed in this way the truth of his teaching was confirmed... Still this was his bitter duty, to announce loudly and continually for thirty-five years to the deaf, actually even to the insane. Therefore, to minister to his servant, God gave him an companion, who would teach the Babylonians the same things, which Jeremiah had not stopped proclaiming to Jerusalem... But the usefulness of his teaching spread much further, since those in Jerusalem were compelled to listen to the prophecies Ezekiel spoke to the Chaldeans. When they understood that these prophecies agreed with Jeremiah’s, they could not but at least ask why this was so. Indeed it is not normal for one prophet in Jerusalem, another in Chaldea, to proclaim their prophecies as if with one voice, like two singers harmonizing. Truly it is not possible to ask for a more pleasant or well-composed melody than what was found between these two servants of God. Ezekiel 1.
1:1-28 THE LIVING CREATURES AND THE GLORY OF THE LORD
1In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.[a] 2On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), 3the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
4As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.[b] 5And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, 6but each 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 one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.
15Now 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.[c] 16As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17When they went, they went in any of their four directions[d] without turning as they went. 18And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures[e] was in the wheels. 21When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.
26And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire;[f] and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him.[g] 28Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Overview: Our commentators begin this lengthy and difficult chapter by considering the identity of Ezekiel and his location in Babylon. Attention is also given to the peculiar beginning of the book, which is often overlooked by translators and commentators. After one difficulty comes another. What is meant by “in the thirtieth year”? Some suggest that the date proceeds from a jubilee; others reckon it from the discovery of the Law by Josiah.
Although a review of historical opinion is given on who the four living creatures are, our commentators agree that they are to be understood as four angels or cherubim. Less agreement is found with the four wheels. Some understand this generally as representing change; some see the four parts of the world represented; and others, understanding the whole prophecy to be about the kingdom of Christ, suggest that the four wheels, pointing to the New Testament, represent the Word of God, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the office of the keys. Finally, all the commentators are agreed that Ezekiel beheld the person of Christ, the very Son of God.
Two general meanings of the vision are put forward by our commentators. For some, it is a vision about the sovereignty of God; he alone directs all things to his glory. For others, it is a vision about Christ and his kingdom; here great agreement exists between Ezekiel and Jeremiah 31.