Introduction to Ezekiel
Ezekiel and Daniel, the last among the so-called Major Prophets, were the only two prophets of the exile. Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was a priest called also by God as a prophet. He had been taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar along with king Jehoiachin and ten thousand of the leaders and skilled craftsmen of Judah (II Kings 24:8-17).
Except for occasional visions of the corruption in the temple back at Jerusalem, shortly before the final destruction of the city and the temple under Nebuchadnezzar’s third and final invasion of Judah, Ezekiel’s entire ministry was in Babylonia. Thus, his early prophecies warn of the coming destruction, while his later chapters speak of the future restoration of Israel and the future millennial temple. Some of his central chapters deal with prophecies of judgment on other nations besides Judah. It is in connection with the prophecy against Tyre that one of the most important revelations of the fall of Satan was given (Ezekiel 28:11-19).
Much of Ezekiel—like Jeremiah—consists of verbatim quotations from God Himself. The introduction to the various quotes (“The word of the LORD came unto me, saying”—or equivalent) occurs some sixty times in Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah, and may well have known him and been instructed by him before the exile. Both were priests and had the same deep dedication to God and His word.
Further, it should be noted that, even though Ezekiel’s direct ministry had always been only to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the southern kingdom (the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom had been carried away into Assyria over a century before, after more than two centuries of deep apostasy), many of his prophecies envision the reunion of Judah and Israel (Ezekiel 34, 36, 37) and their restoration to the worship of the true God when Messiah comes to establish His kingdom on earth.
1:1 thirtieth year. Ezekiel had just been invested fully as a priest on his thirtieth birthday (see Numbers 4), the age at which priests could begin their ministry, when he began to receive God’s Word.
1:1 among the captives. Ezekiel had been carried captive to Babylon when he was twenty-five years old, along with King Jehoiachin (Ezekiel 1:2).
1:1 Chebar. The river Chebar, where Ezekiel saw the Lord, in the land of the Chaldees, was probably a navigable canal, near the city of Nippur, along which a number of the Jewish exiles had been settled by the Babylonians.
1:5 living creatures. These living creatures are later identified as the cherubs, or cherubim (Ezekiel 9:3; 10:15; etc.), who were mentioned first of all as the mighty angelic beings placed by God at the gate of the garden of Eden, to guard it after the expulsion of Adam and Eve. They seem always to be associated with the presence of God. Two images of the cherubim were made to cover the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant, where God would meet with Moses (Exodus 25:18).
1:10 face of a man. For the fourfold face of the cherubim, compare the similar description of the four “beasts” of Revelation 4:7, indicating the latter are the same beings as these. It may also be significant that the four “faces” (man, lion, ox, eagle) correspond both to the four highest orders of terrestrial life (humans, beasts of the earth, cattle, fowls of the air) and also the fourfold depiction of their Creator in the gospels (as perfect man in Luke; king—as a lion—in Matthew; servant—like an ox—in Mark; and God—in the heavens, like an eagle—in John).
1:20 in the wheels. A bizarre modern interpretation of the cherubim has been to identify them with flying saucers, or alien spacecraft of some kind. The cherubim, however, are living spirits, always associated directly with the presence of the Creator of heaven and earth; they are mighty angels, probably the highest of the angelic hierarchy.
1:22 the firmament. “Firmament” (Hebrew raqia) is defined by God as “heaven” (Genesis 1:8); the word basically means “expanse,” although some critics have tried to argue that it implies a “firm” boundary of some kind. In modern scientific terminology, it could well be translated simply “space.” Thus there are three “firmaments” or “heavens” mentioned in the Bible, atmospheric space (Genesis 1:20), stellar space (Genesis 1:17), and the third heaven (II Corinthians 12:2), where God’s throne is. This third heaven is the particular firmament mentioned in this passage.
1:26 appearance of a man. The divine throne was above the “space” above the cherubim, and there God—who cannot be seen in His fulness by mortal man—allowed Himself to be seen, not as a man but in “the likeness as the appearance of a man,” in order to convey his Word to Ezekiel, the young priest/prophet.
1:28 the bow. The rainbow is mentioned in only four circumstances in Scripture, all associated with God exercising mercy in a time of great judgment. The first is after the Flood (Genesis 9:13), the others at the beginning and middle of the coming period of great tribulation (Revelation 4:3; 10:1).
1:28 fell upon my face. Even though God was not seen in His full glory (note I Timothy 6:16), Ezekiel could only fall upon his face when he saw “the appearance of the likeness” of His glory. Thus also did Job react, and Daniel, and John (Job 42:6; Daniel 10:8; Revelation 1:17).