15 As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16 This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17 As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about [d] as the creatures went. 18 Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. 19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20 Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. EZEKIEL I.
IN meditating upon the Word of the Lord, we may observe that one of its features of perfection is, that its letter partakes of the genius of the age and place in which it was given. It not only embosoms Divine wisdom in every page, but it so enters into the spirit of the literature and circumstances of the period in which it was imparted, that it contains confirmations of its truth, which commend it more and more to the studious mind, the more it is examined. This characteristic illustrates and confirms to the thoughtful inquirer, the genuineness and the naturalness, so to speak, of each portion of the Bible. It is strikingly exhibited in the book before us, in several leading particulars.
Ezekiel prophesied in the land of, the Chaldeans, near Babylon, at the time when the Jews were suffering the seventy years’ captivity. He was commissioned to console the captives, who were now bowed down in penitence, to raise their hopes by consolation. He was to impart the promise of a return once more to their beloved country. They should build once more the temple, the centre of their best aspirations, and restore Jerusalem, their sacred city.
Now, at Nineveh and Babylon, the mythical genius of the people displayed itself in marvellous allegorical forms of sculpture and painting. If we look at their recovered monuments, now displayed so largely at the British Museum, and in many other national collections, we see winged men, winged animals, extraordinary compounds of men and animals, no doubt representing their conceptions of the intellectual and animal nature in the human mind, and their views of these, both in order and in struggle. In such representations they abounded.
Manifestly in this opening of the magnificent prophecy of Ezekiel, we have disclosed to us the very same things. There are the winged cherubim with their marvellous forms compounded of man and animal, There are the wings and the mysterious wheels. We have evidently the Word clothed with the Chaldean genius. It is the Divine Truth, as it were, incarnated in the wondrous representations of that age and country. The same peculiarity is observable in the fourth chapter. It was the custom of the Chaldeans to write and paint upon tiles of baked clay. When the prophet was commanded to represent the siege of Jerusalem, it is said, “Take a tile, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem.” It is not take a scroll or take a book, as we find in other parts of Scripture, but take a tile. The same characteristic is manifest in the thirty-seventh chapter, in the resurrection, which is represented as taking place in a valley of dry bones.
The Babylonish people in very ancient times were remarkable for their spiritual character. They had, however, at length sunk into an exceedingly carnal state and from worshipping the Lord, the Sun of heaven, the worship of the sun of the world became prevalent: from regarding the fire of love as the worthiest possession of spiritual life, they began to deem earthly fire as something sacred, and keep it perpetually burning. They had believed with the rest of the world in the resurrection of the spiritual body; they sank into the idea of the resurrection of the material body. The Jews had never held the latter doctrine before the captivity, and no traces of it appear in the books of Scripture revealed before that seventy years’ residence in Babylon. But now, Ezekiel uses the resurrection believed by the Babylonians as a symbol of the resurrection of the Jews as a nation, and their return to their own land. He gives us the meaning in verses 11 and 12, but he uses the figure. Of course, in the spiritual signification, it means what the apostle calls the resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; the regeneration of the soul and of the church. There is a similar figure used by Daniel in chapter xii. verse 2, evidently with the same signification, that is, the resurrection of the Jews from the dust of captivity, to national honourable existence again. Anywhere else, as in Greece, Rome, or India, where the people only thought of the resurrection of man, not of the scattered dust, such a figure would have been strange and outrageous; but in Babylon, where the resurrection of the flesh and bones had already obtained credence as a doctrine, the prophets who prophesied there could use it as a metaphor. Thus does the Word of God, enclosing in its bosom the infinite wisdom of the Most High, yet clothe itself with the language and ideas of those to whom it is given, that it may dwell among us.
Let us now turn to consider the vision which the prophet says he beheld. It was a vision full of hope and comfort. The heavens, he said, were opened to him, and he saw visions of God (verse 1). The poet says, “Heaven lies around us in our infancy,” and it is true. ” Their angels,” the Saviour declared “do always behold the face of our Father in the heavens.” But it is also true, that heaven, though invisible, is not very far from everyone of us: “He has given his angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways.” Ezekiel had not to go far to see the heavens opened. It needed only his own spiritual eyes to be opened, and he beheld the heavens, which were present like an inner atmosphere around him, though unseen. It is well for us, when we realize the truth which Jacob discovered in the wilderness—“Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not. This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
The prophet saw first, he informs us, a fire, with a glorious brightness, a fire ENFOLDING ITSELF. Out of this came the likeness of four living creatures, and wheels of a marvellous and magnificent construction. The living creatures had the general appearance of a man, but with the additional faces of an ox, a lion, and an eagle. Their substance was as if of fire and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot: that is, the hoof was divided. The wheels were wonderful in their grandeur. They seemed full of eyes (verse 18); and they were as “a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” (verse 16). The vision was a representation of the array of means arranged by Divine Providence for the regeneration and progress of the human race. The fire expresses the ardour of the Divine Love. The enfolding, or catching itself, means that the burning glow of the Divine Love often withholds the fervour of its affection from man, when required by a consideration for his eternal good. Divine Love has always eternal ends in view; and when these ends, would best be accomplished by hiding its holy ardours, and leaving a man to be chastened, yet purified and hallowed, by trouble, the fire restrains itself but mercy earnestly remembers us still.
A good parent does frequently the same thing. Love often the ages move, and by which each single soul advances; for truth lights the way, and gives the power to advance —truth, that is to say, impelled by love. The majesty of the Word is portrayed by the wheels being so high as to be dreadful (verse 18).
The four wheels, like the four gospels, represent the Divine Truth as applied to the internal man, and the external man, and the will and understanding in each. The “wheel in the wheel in the middle of a wheel” expresses the inner meaning of the ‘Word-the sprit—within the letter. The spiritual sense treating of heavenly things, and then of still higher—of the Divine-is always to the thoughtful mind “as a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” So, in nature, the laws of Divine Providence are higher and lower, and wonderfully through one end attaining another; through chastenings, troubles, and afflictions, evolving eternal good. Through earthly changes, unions, and separations, through afflictions and health, joy and sorrow, sunshine and shade, by things seen to things unseen, man proposing and God disposing, it is ever “as a wheel in the middle of a wheel.”
The wheels were said to be full of eyes; for truths impart to us the power to see. Each truth, when clearly understood, is as an eye placed in the mind, which perceives the good and the evil to which otherwise we should be blind. The eyes of the Lord, in this sense, are said to run to and fro in the earth. What a Divine gift the Word is shown to be, when we regard it as imparting to us powers to perceive on all subjects and on all sides, as full of eyes.
We shall now be prepared to apply the somewhat mysterious language of our text, When those—that is, the living creatures—went, these—the wheels—went; and when those stood, these stood and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them; for the spirit or life of the living creature was in the wheels. We have seen that the living creatures represent the affections of love, which are given to warm the heart. The wheels are the truths or the Word by which the soul makes progress. When the heart is warm the mind advances: when the heart is cold, the mind is slow—the progress stops. All advancement is by intervals of lively action and repose; indeed, we move by cycles. We commence a career in spiritual things with great vigour, and we are astonished and delighted as one bright state after another is realized, one bright lesson after another learned. We seem to be passing rapidly through a beautiful country, and our attainments and our enjoyments fill us with gratitude. We look round, and we look up, and bless the holy name of the All-Good for the heavenly career thus hopefully and joyously made. A change, however, comes over us. We more or less lose our first love. The spiritual spring and summer fade away into autumn and winter. We begin to feel cold. No longer do the gushing sentiments of a warm affection flow on, and give to all things the feeling of beauty and life. We are languid. We don’t read as we did. We don’t feel the same joy in worship which once filled us with interior delight. We are more conscious of faults than we were, and sometimes we have an unpleasant tendency to look more at the faults of others than at their excellencies. We often imagine that the persons and scenes around us are less excellent than they used to be. The impression has not entered our minds that the change is in ourselves. Yet so it really is. When the living creatures stood, the wheels stood. The affections are the motives,—the springs of progress. If we prayed to the Lord to warm us when we are cold, to impart more love, more charity, a holier glow of tenderness for others, and of affection for His Word and its truths, the fires would again flame out cheerfully, the wheels go merrily, and the chariot of progress would become for us, like the chariot of Elijah, a chariot of fire with horses of fire. When those stood, these stood, and when those went, these went—
Did we the sighs we vainly spend,
To heaven in supplications send;
Our cheerful song would oftener be,
Hear what the Lord hath done for me.
We read further: “And when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them.” The lifting up of the living creatures represented the exaltation of the affections. The affections are exalted, when we yearn to become heavenly-minded. The heavenly mind makes heaven. The spiritual affections express themselves in utterances like those of the Psalmist—“O send out Thy light and Thy truth; let them lead me, let them bring me to the mountain of Thy holiness, and to Thy tabernacles.” “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God? “. When we yearn for spiritual truths, the Word becomes to us spiritualized. We see things in it we never saw before, because we were not prepared to see them. The higher we go, the farther we see. The disciples of the Lord did not perceive their heavenly Father in Him, until they were prepared to see Him. The Jews only saw a splendid land in the hills and valleys of their country: the Christian by faith beholds a glorious heavenly Canaan. The carnal mind sees only earthly views in the Word. To the Egyptians, the protecting cloud was dark; to the Israelites, all brightness and splendour. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Oh that we could ever keep this in view, the state of our affections governs the state of the intellect. When the living creatures are lifted up, the wheels are lifted up over against them. Keep self low, and heaven high, and the confession of the soul would much oftener be that described by the prophet: “When I found Thy words, I did eat them, and they were the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” A good spiritual appetite makes a splendid feast. The Lord spreads a table before us in the Word; He anoints our head with oil, and our cup runs over. Blessed be His adorable name. Let us lift up the living affections of the heart, and the wheels of intellectual perception and progress will be lifted up over against them; for there is the closest correspondence between them. Love and truth answer to one another like heart and lungs. “The spirit of the living creature is in the wheels.”
We sometimes fail to perceive the love of our heavenly Father in every part of His Word; but it is there. Upon love to God and love to man, our Lord says, hang all the law and the prophets. In every atom of the world there is stored up fire; we call it latent heat. Coal is in reality embodied and embedded sunbeams, poured over the trees when growing, and fixed in their wondrous and beautiful organizations, to be called forth when required by the exigencies of human life and skill. So in every phrase of the Word, in every verse, Divine Love lies hidden,—“The life of the living creature is in the wheels.”
We sometimes see no life, but rather condemnation in the Word. “It is a savour of life unto life,” writes the apostle, “and a savour of death unto death.” But, in themselves, the words of the Lord Jesus are always, according to His own declaration, “spirit and life.” “My words, they are spirit and they are life.” Do we then fail to find in the blessed pages of Revelation the counsels of consolation, the food of everlasting life, the streams of Divine Wisdom and Love unspeakable from the eternal Living Fountain?’ Let us never forget that it is certainly there: “The life of the living creature is in the wheels.” Let us ask until it is given unto us, let us seek until we find, let us knock until it is opened.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)