The Vision of the Chariot-Throne


It was five years after being taken captive, probably in the summer of 594 b.c., that Ezekiel was initiated into the prophetic office. Then “the inward change took place which brought him into Jehovah’s counsel, and disclosed to him the outlines of his future work, and endowed him with the courage to stand forth amongst his people as the spokesman of Jehovah”. His description of the vision that he then beheld is, first, general; he saw a whirlwind and a great cloud coming from the north with a luminous splendour encircling it, 1. 4. Afterwards, he describes the particulars of the vision. In many respects, the description is similar to others of this nature found in the Scriptures (see Dan. 7; Rev. 4). How often there is a totally inadequate appreciation of the rich symbolism employed here by the gracious Spirit of God. The vision of the heavenly throne is too often treated as a mystery rather than a manifestation. Yet with reverent enquiry we may seek to understand its meaning. One has rightly said, “The materials of the vision are supplied from the storehouse of nature; by these we ascend to nature’s God”.

The Direction of the Chariot-Throne.

“And I looked and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north”, v. 4. Although the prophet is in Chaldea beholding the vision, the view is often held that “the north” indicates the quarter from which the judgment would come upon Judea, Jerusalem and the temple by the Chaldeans. The prophet, it is reasoned, is given to see the judgment coming as from the view point of his native land. There are at least two reasons for adopting a more comprehensive view. First, this same vision is seen later at the return of the glory to the temple, “the visions were like the vision that I saw by the river of Chebar”, 43. 3. This is Jehovah returning in salvation and blessing for His people. Secondly, the north was felt by the Jews and other peoples as the peculiar seat of power; see Isaiah 14. 13; Psalm 48. 2. This idea of supremacy of power being associated with the north suggests that the theophany here refers to God as He is in Himself and in His nature, and not exclusively in the character of Judge about to strike. Jehovah is the triumphant Sovereign, irresistible in His movements, and in complete control of events relating to both Israel and the nations surrounding them. This great fact, now communicated to the prophet, stimulated his faith in the following days of divine judgment upon Israel.

The Description of the Chariot-Throne.

The Cherubim. These heavenly beings (called “cherubim” in 10. 15) are symbolically described, “And every one had four faces … As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle”, 1. 6, 10. These faces taken together are an expression of full life. “Man is exalted above creatures; the eagle is exalted among birds; the ox is exalted among domestic animals, and the lion is exalted among wild beasts”. In man intelligence is at its highest level, in the lion strength at its greatest, in the ox service at its meekest, and in the eagle movement at its swiftest. This range of activity is comprehensive and expresses ideal life. The outstretched wings of each cherub form one side of the square. The wings are coupled together on each side and thus denote swiftness of action. The feet were “like the sole of a calf’s foot”, v. 7, and had the appearance of burnished brass. Micah called upon the daughter of Zion to a course of conquest in similar figurative language, “Arise and thresh … and I will make thy hoofs brass”, Micah 4. 13. Threshing was done by the kine trampling the sheaves on the threshing floor; firmness of purpose is symbolized. The hands are “the hands of a man”, Ezek. 1. 8, indicating full capacity and aptitude for service. “And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went”, v. 12. The undeviating course that they took left the prophet in no doubt as to the character of his own service. Similarly we are to keep a straight course in the execution of divine commands; the development of a moral influence and equipoise in the ministry of truth is dependent on this. Extremes are due to defective exaggerations.

Who are the living creatures that Ezekiel saw by the river Chebar? It is clear that they possess certain moral attributes of Deity. Elsewhere, they are distinguished from angels (see Rev. 4), and are, therefore, of a different order. The symbolical description of them, varying in the different passages of Scripture in which they are found, emphasises their personality. We suggest that they are heavenly beings who are especially linked with God’s creative and redemptive power. Divine sovereign authority is expressed through them relative to earth. This, perhaps, is the reason for the constant association of the cherubim with man and creation. Small as the earth is in comparison with the known creation, it is the crown thereof, and the special sphere of the revelation of the glory of God. The high interest that the cherubim show in the welfare of the whole creation is due to their mediative activity and responsibility before the throne of God for this sphere.

The Wheels, These were beryl in colour and crosswise in position, v. 16. They were set at right angles to each other like the equator and meridian on a globe of the earth. They were not all situated in one plane. This mechanical complexity, impossible for man to make, is symbolical of the events on earth being in relationship with the will of God in heaven. The wheels reaching up to heaven and down to earth, vv. 15, 18, declare the universal rule of God; “Whatever the revolutions or changes among men, all is wittingly guided where it might be least expected”. Their being “full of eyes”, v. 18, means everything is seen simultaneously. The power of the throne therefore is not aimless, but operates in knowledge and wisdom. One spirit animates the whole (see v. 20), propelling the chariot-throne in its movements. These various details in some degree set forth the omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence of God.

The Firmament. The pavement or platform over the heads of the cherubim was as “the colour of the terrible crystal” or “transparent as ice”, v. 22 Newberry marg. No dark clouds intervene here, all is dazzling brightness and splendour, expressing the divine glory of purity and holiness. Although free from earthly imperfections, the cherubim cover their bodies with two of their wings when the Almighty speaks (see v. 24), in token of the reverence due from the creature to the Creator, who is thus manifested as “glorious in holiness”.

The Throne. Above the pavement, the prophet sees the “likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone”, v. 26. The oft-repeated words “likeness”, “appearance” are used by him out of great reverence for the manifestation, and with a deep consciousness of his own limitations of perception. The heavenly blue of this sapphire; “the appearance of fire round about within it” of searching holiness; the surrounding “bow that is in the cloud”, a token of covenant-mercy, all combine to set forth the nature of divine authority.

The Director of the Chariot-Throne.

The God whom Ezekiel saw was in the form of a man, v. 26. “Deeply significant is the form of this manifestation. Here is no angel conveying God’s message to men, but the glory of the Lord Himself, and when we remember how in fulness of time ‘the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father)’, John 1. 14, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, we recognise in the vision the prophetic annunciation of the holy incarnation”. Another has said, “The Supreme who directed all was revealed in the appearance of a man, and so to men. His attributes here made known are governmental, and applied by instruments of earth according to a providence which overlooks nothing. There is no finer refutation of heathen darkness or of Jewish narrowness than this symbolical representation of the divine ways with Israel”.

What Purpose does the Vision Serve?

The form of theophany is such that concentration of mind and heart are necessary to understand its significance. Even then one becomes aware that the essential aspects of truth concerning the Deity are beyond human comprehension.

(i) The vision was a preparation of Ezekiel for the ministry that he was called upon to fulfil. He said, “when I saw it, I fell upon my face”, 1. 28; then God said unto him, “stand upon thy feet”, 2. 1. A. B. Davidson comments on this with force, “He is bidden stand on his feet. Not paralysis before Him is desired by God, but reasonable service. The prophet’s falling down was natural, yet a condition unfit for God’s purposes, and not desired by Him to continue. Those whom He calls to service are His fellow-workers, who may look upon His face. It is man erect in his manhood, with whom God may have fellowship, and with whom He will speak”. An echo of this is heard in the conversion-story of Saul of Tarsus, “rise, and stand upon thy feet”, Acts 26. 16. This is the kind of experience that snaps the chains that bind the heart to earth. For Ezekiel, the theophany was the criterion of holiness, and we are not left to wonder why he could not tolerate anything that compromised the corresponding practice.

(ii) Further, relative to Israel, the vision supplied the explanation of their downfall. Jehovah was well able to protect His own chosen city. No human hand could wrest from Him the reins of government. But Israel, having disowned Jehovah, is left to reap the solemn issues of disobedience. Knowing this, the faith of the prophet did not collapse when the city and the temple fell. Before the judgment came, the prophet knew the operation of the hand of God behind it. (iii) Finally, the vision gives emphasis to the universal, essential sovereignty of Jehovah. The little we have observed in the description of the heavenly chariot is enough to convince us of a power and authority that has control of all things. There is no part of the universe outside the range of God’s government. Does He fill heaven and earth? Let us not judge God’s dealings because we do not now see their scope and purpose. Convulsions may come, and the sin of man may increase, but victory is sure; “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth”, Rev. 19. 6.