Ezekiel 1

 

וַיְהִי בִּשְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה בָּרְבִיעִי בַּחֲמִשָּׁה לַחֹדֶשׁ וַאֲנִי בְתֹוךְ־הַגֹּולָה עַל־נְהַר־כְּבָר נִפְתְּחוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם   1:1 וָאֶרְאֶה מַרְאֹות אֱלֹהִים׃

Ezek. 1:1   Now it was in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the month's fifth day, when I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.

What is the reference year for the thirtieth year?  It is certainly not the thirtieth year of the Babylonian exile -- the next verse informs us that it isn’t.  The fifth year of Jehoiachin’s exile was presumably about six years before the Jewish exile.  So the beginning year of the 30 must have been 24 years before that.  So what happened then?  I’m hard put for an answer.  The sages explain that the reference year was the year the Torah was found in the Temple.  The prevalent idea is that was the last Jubilee year.  So it would be important to Ezekiel.  In addition, there appears at first glance to be a definite time warp here.  How could Ezekiel be by the river Chebar if the exile hadn’t started yet?  Also note that the river Chebar is not well identified.  Some believe it’s the Euphrates.  Others believe it’s the Nile.  If it were the Nile, that might explain why Ezekiel was already in exile.  He would have escaped to Egypt early on with  other Jews.  But it is not so.  We are informed in v. 1:3 below that he was in the land of the Chaldeans.  Then he was at either the Euphrates or the Tigris.  So perhaps he was one of those Jews who surrendered to the Chaldeans or was exiled early in the fight for Jerusalem.  I’m betting on that last likelihood.  In fact, it’s a sure bet:  We will learn in Chapter 33 that such is indeed the case.  Notice also that the fourth month is the month of Tammuz, the month in which the walls of Jerusalem were breached six years later.  Finally, take note of the fact that Ezekiel was among the Jewish exiles; he was not alone.  This I believe will be important in interpreting this chapter and at least the next three.

בַּחֲמִשָּׁה לַחֹדֶשׁ הִיא הַשָּׁנָה הַחֲמִישִׁית לְגָלוּת הַמֶּלֶךְ יֹויָכִין׃   1:2

Ezek. 1:2   On the month's fifth day -- it was the fifth year for the exile of king Jehoiachin –

                                                                                                        [Return to Ezek. 8:1]

הָיֹה הָיָה דְבַר־יְהוָה אֶל־יְחֶזְקֵאל בֶּן־בּוּזִי הַכֹּהֵן בְּאֶרֶץ כַּשְׂדִּים עַל־נְהַר־כְּבָר וַתְּהִי עָלָיו שָׁם   1:3

 יַד־יְהוָה׃

Ezek. 1:3   the word of the Lord expressly occurred to Ezekiel son of Buzi, the priest, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar, and the “hand” of the Lord was upon him there.

וָאֵרֶא וְהִנֵּה רוּחַ סְעָרָה בָּאָה מִן־הַצָּפֹון עָןָן גָּדֹול וְאֵשׁ מִתְלַקַּחַת וְנֹגַהּ לֹו סָבִיב וּמִתֹּוכָהּ כְּעֵין   1:4 הַחַשְׁמַל מִתֹּוךְ הָאֵשׁ׃

Ezek. 1:4   And I looked, and behold, a stormy wind came from the north, a great cloud and flashing fire, that had a brightness all around and from its midst, like the eye of amber, from the midst of the fire.

The first occurrence of the word midst in this verse is either of the wind, the fire, the cloud, or the brightness.  Fortunately in this case we are informed it was of the fire.

וּמִתֹּוכָהּ דְּמוּת אַרְבַּע חַיֹּות וְזֶה מַרְאֵיהֶן דְּמוּת אָדָם לָהֵנָּה׃   1:5

Ezek. 1:5   Then from its midst the likeness of four living things; and this was their appearance:  A likeness of a man was theirs,

The Hebrew word for living things is more usually translated as animals or beasts, and that may have been Ezekiel’s intention.

וְאַרְבָּעָה פָנִים לְאֶחָת וְאַרְבַּע כְּנָפַיִם לְאַחַת לָהֶם׃   1:6

Ezek. 1:6   and four faces were to each, and four wings to each for them,

וְרַגְלֵיהֶם רֶגֶל יְשָׁרָה וְכַף רַגְלֵיהֶם כְּכַף רֶגֶל עֵגֶל וְנֹצְצִים כְּעֵין נְחֹשֶׁת קָלָל׃   1:7

Ezek. 1:7   and their feet were of a straight foot, and the sole of their feet was like the sole of the foot of a calf, and sparkling like the gleam of polished brass,

What was it that was sparkling?  This participle is masculine plural.  And the only masculine plural noun so far is the four living things mentioned in v. 1:5.  So they were sparkling.  Many other translators have made the assumption that their feet were sparkling, but not so.  The noun feet is feminine.

וְיָדֹו) [וִידֵי] אָדָם מִתַּחַת כַּנְפֵיהֶם עַל אַרְבַּעַת רִבְעֵיהֶם וּפְנֵיהֶם וְכַנְפֵיהֶם לְאַרְבַּעְתָּם׃   1:8

Ezek. 1:8   and the hands were of a human from beneath their wings on four of their four sides, and their faces and their wings, for four of them;

So did they have four pairs of hands, one pair on each side?  More >>

חֹבְרֹת אִשָּׁה אֶל־אֲחֹותָהּ כַּנְפֵיהֶם לֹא־יִסַּבּוּ בְלֶכְתָּן אִישׁ אֶל־עֵבֶר פָּנָיו יֵלֵכוּ׃   1:9

Ezek. 1:9   their wings were coupled each to its sister; they would not turn about with their movement; they would move each to the opposite side of his face.

Now what is this verse referring to, and what is it saying? First, each pair of wings (on a side?) were coupled together.  I suppose that means they moved or flexed together.  The first pronoun they (in they would not turn) is masculine and the pronoun their (with their movement) is feminine. So this must mean that the four beings would not turn when their wings moved.  Finally, the second pronoun they (in they would move) is also masculine, so it must refer to the beings as well.  So the last phrase must say that each figure would move to the side of his face that was opposite the wings that moved.  How that could happen without the beings turning is beyond me, but I believe that’s what the verse says.  Oh!  Maybe the heads turned, not the beings.  That would make this verse more understandable.

וּדְמוּת פְּנֵיהֶם פְּנֵי אָדָם וּפְנֵי אַרְיֵה אֶל־הַיָּמִין לְאַרְבַּעְתָּם וּפְנֵי־שֹׁור מֵהַשְּׂמֹאול לְאַרְבַּעְתָּן   1:10               וּפְנֵי־נֶשֶׁר לְאַרְבַּעְתָּן׃

Ezek. 1:10   And the likeness of their faces was a human face, and a face of a lion to the right was for the four of them, and the face of an ox on the left was for the four of them, and the face of an eagle was for the four of them.

The three references denoted by them in this verse (as in the four of them) are a bit confusing, to say the least.  The first instance is masculine, apparently referring either to the faces (masculine) or the beings (masculine).  The last two are feminine, and must refer to the likeness (feminine) of the four faces.  So you see Ezekiel may be devious, but he seems to be accurate and precise so far with his antecedents.

וּפְנֵיהֶם וְכַנְפֵיהֶם פְּרֻדֹות מִלְמָעְלָה לְאִישׁ שְׁתַּיִם חֹבְרֹות אִישׁ וּשְׁתַּיִם מְכַסֹּות אֵת גְּוִיֹתֵיהֶנָה׃   1:11

Ezek. 1:11   So their faces; and their wings were separated from above for each; two were each coupled and two were covering their bodies,

This verse would appear to be straightforward.  However, there’s a glitch.  The last pronoun their and the noun bodies (in their bodies) are both feminine.  So the phrase must be referring to the two lower wings’ own bodies, not the beings’ bodies -- unless Ezekiel was trying to convey the concept that he was unsure of the beings’ gender, and occasionally referred to them in the feminine.

וְאִישׁ אֶל־עֵבֶר פָּנָיו יֵלֵכוּ אֶל אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה־שָׁמָּה הָרוּחַ לָלֶכֶת יֵלֵכוּ לֹא יִסַּבּוּ בְּלֶכְתָּן׃   1:12

Ezek. 1:12   and they would move each to the opposite side of his face; to where the wind would be moving, there they would move; they would not turn about with their movement.

Almost all the pronouns and many nouns in this verse are masculine (although the word for wind can be either masculine or feminine).  The only definitely feminine pronoun and noun are the last two words, their movement.  So this verse must refer first to the beings again and finally to the wings, partially repeating the statement made before in v. 1:9.  So it seems that everything was moving or swaying with the stormy wind, or maybe now it wasn’t so stormy.  By the way, although Ezekiel employs the word that can be translated as spirit in v. 1:4, he obviously means wind there.  And I believe he means wind here too.  But all the other translations I have access to also use spirit here in place of wind.  Why, I can’t figure out.

וּדְמוּת הַחַיֹּות מַרְאֵיהֶם כְּגַחֲלֵי־אֵשׁ בֹּעֲרֹות כְּמַרְאֵה הַלַּפִּדִים הִיא מִתְהַלֶּכֶת בֵּין הַחַיֹּות וְנֹגַהּ   1:13       לָאֵשׁ וּמִן־הָאֵשׁ יֹוצֵא בָרָק׃

Ezek. 1:13   And of the likeness of the living beings, their appearance was like coals of fire, burning like the appearance of torches; it was moving between the living beings, and there was brightness to the fire, and from the fire was being emitted lightning.

This verse raises only one question, to what does the pronoun it (feminine) refer?  Every noun before it is masculine, the only feminine noun comes after the word it, being brightness.  I suspect that Ezekiel was okay with referencing an antecedent that comes after its pronoun.  Maybe only if it’s in the same verse, though.

וְהַחַיֹּות רָצֹוא וָשֹׁוב כְּמַרְאֵה הַבָּזָק׃   1:14

Ezek. 1:14   So the living beings; it was flashing forth and returning like the appearance of lightning.

The pronoun it in this verse is not present in the Hebrew.  It’s implied by the term for flashing forth. which is masculine, so the verse must be referring to the fire, as mentioned in the last verse.

וָאֵרֶא הַחַיֹּות וְהִנֵּה אֹופַן אֶחָד בָּאָרֶץ אֵצֶל הַחַיֹּות לְאַרְבַּעַת פָּנָיו׃   1:15

Ezek. 1:15   As I observed the living beings, then behold, one wheel was on the ground beside the living beings for its four faces.

The wheel is masculine, four faces are feminine, the pronoun its is masculine, and so seems most likely to refer to the wheel.  It might, however, have been meant for each of the beings, which would be more accurate if Ezekiel had simply said beside each of the living beings.  Then the its could definitely refer to the living being.  Now I believe it does refer to the being, and this is the way Ezekiel chose to inform us of the fact.  So the verse means that each being had four wheels beside it, one before each of its faces.

מַרְאֵה הָאֹופַנִּים וּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם כְּעֵין תַּרְשִׁישׁ וּדְמוּת אֶחָד לְאַרְבַּעְתָּן וּמַרְאֵיהֶם וּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם כַּאֲשֶׁר   1:16          יִהְיֶה הָאֹופַן בְּתֹוךְ הָאֹופָן׃

Ezek. 1:16   The appearance of the wheels and their intricacies were like the gleam of topaz, and the likeness of one was for the four of them, and their appearances and their intricacies, as if this wheel were within that wheel.

This verse is not very clear.  What does one wheel within another mean?  Were they at right angles and of the same diameter, so each wheel could move at right angles without turning?  I don’t believe that is the case.  I believe what Ezekiel is telling us is that the wheels were identical as if they’d all come from the same mold.

                                                                                                                              [Return to Ezek. 10:10]

עַל־אַרְבַּעַת רִבְעֵיהֶן בְּלֶכְתָּם יֵלֵכוּ לֹא יִסַּבּוּ בְּלֶכְתָּן׃   1:17

Ezek. 1:17   Concerning four of their four sides, on their movement, they would move, not turn, with their movement.

Now this verse is a puzzle. The word their in their four sides is feminine, their in the first occurrence of their movement is masculine, the they in thje second occurrence of they would move (and implied in not turn) is masculine, and their in the final occurrence of their movement is feminine.  What can we make of this?   I’m guessing that the four sides either relate to the beings (who might be either gender) or to the wings, their movement refers to either the beings or the wheels, and their movement refers to the wings again as in v. 1:12.  There’s a possibility that the term for turn really means rotate.  Then the wheels would move without rotating.  Is this beginning to make sense to you?  If it is, you’re smarter than I am.

וְגַבֵּיהֶן וְגֹבַהּ לָהֶם וְיִרְאָה לָהֶם וְגַבֹּתָם מְלֵאֹת עֵינַיִם סָבִיב לְאַרְבַּעְתָּן׃   1:18

Ezek. 1:18   And their rims with their height and their fearsomeness! And their rims were full of eyes all around for the four of them.

Another puzzle!  But this one seems hard to reconcile with earlier verses.  The their in the first instance of their rims is feminine, their in their height and their fearsomeness are masculine, their in the second their rims is masculine, and them in the four of them is feminine.  Rims is masculine, height is masculine, fearsomeness is feminine, and eyes is feminine.  The first their doesn’t seem to have a viable antecedent unless it’s faces.  It may also be the beings, however, if we can accept that they are of either gender, and here they are treated as feminine.  The next two theirs have rims as their antecedent.  The their in the second their rims may refer to the wheels, and finally them in the four of them may refer to the beings again.  That’s the best I can do.

וּבְלֶכֶת הַחַיֹּות יֵלְכוּ הָאֹופַנִּים אֶצְלָם וּבְהִנָּשֵׂא הַחַיֹּות מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ יִנָּשְׂאוּ הָאֹופַנִּים׃   1:19

Ezek. 1:19   And with the movement of the living beings, the wheels near them would move, and with the raising of the living beings from the ground, the wheels would raise up.

The pronoun them is masculine and refers to the beings.  So at least here they, the beings, are definitely treated as masculine.

עַל אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה־שָּׁם הָרוּחַ לָלֶכֶת יֵלֵכוּ שָׁמָּה הָרוּחַ לָלֶכֶת וְהָאֹופַנִּים יִנָּשְׂאוּ לְעֻמָּתָם כִּי רוּחַ הַחַיָּה   1:20 בָּאֹופַנִּים׃

Ezek. 1:20   According to where the wind would happen to go, there they would go; there the wind was going and the wheels would raise up beside them, for the spirit of the being was in the wheels.

Here Ezekiel obviously means the word he’s used before for wind to be translated as spirit.  No mistake.

בְּלֶכְתָּם יֵלֵכוּ וּבְעָמְדָם יַעֲמֹדוּ וּבְהִנָּשְׂאָם מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ יִנָּשְׂאוּ הָאֹופַנִּים לְעֻמָּתָם כִּי רוּחַ הַחַיָּה   1:21        בָּאֹופַנִּים׃

Ezek. 1:21   With their moving, they would move, and with their standing, they would stand, and with their rising up from the ground, the wheels raised up close beside them, as if the spirit of a being was in the wheels.

This verse is pretty straightforward.  The easiest way to explain it is to replace the pronouns with their obvious antecedents:  With the beings’ moving, the wheels would move, and with the beings’ standing, the wheels would stand, and with the beings’ rising up from the ground, the wheels raised up close beside the beings, as if the spirit of a being was in the wheels.  This is an explicit and basically repetitive recap of the close interaction of the beings each with its four wheels.

וּדְמוּת עַל־רָאשֵׁי הַחַיָּה רָקִיעַ כְּעֵין הַקֶּרַח הַנֹּורָא נָטוּי עַל־רָאשֵׁיהֶם מִלְמָעְלָה׃   1:22

Ezek. 1:22   And over the heads of the being was the likeness of an extended expanse like the gleam of dreadful ice, spread out over their heads above.

וְתַחַת הָרָקִיעַ כַּנְפֵיהֶם יְשָׁרֹות אִשָּׁה אֶל־אֲחֹותָהּ לְאִישׁ שְׁתַּיִם מְכַסֹּות לָהֵנָּה וּלְאִישׁ שְׁתַּיִם   1:23         מְכַסֹּות לָהֵנָּה אֵת גְּוִיֹּתֵיהֶם׃

Ezek. 1:23   And under the expanse, their wings were upright, each by its sister; for each, the two were covering for these, and for the other, the two were covering for those, their bodies.

According to the genders of the pronouns, verbs, and nouns, this verse is saying the following:  The wings were upright and under the expanse, each of the beings’ bodies was covered by the pair of wings that covered their bodies as described in v. 1:11.

וָאֶשְׁמַע אֶת־קֹול כַּנְפֵיהֶם כְּקֹול מַיִם רַבִּים כְּקֹול־שַׁדַּי בְּלֶכְתָּם קֹול הֲמֻלָּה כְּקֹול מַחֲנֶה בְּעָמְדָם   1:24     תְּרַפֶּינָה כַנְפֵיהֶן׃

Ezek. 1:24   And I could hear the sound of their wings like the sound of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, on their movement, the sound of roaring, like the sound of an encamped host; with their standing, their wings would be lowered.

I believe this verse means that the beings were actually flying -- their wings were flapping at high speed.  Then when they stopped flying and stood still, their wings rested in a lowered position.

וַיְהִי־קֹול מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ אֲשֶׁר עַל־רֹאשָׁם בְּעָמְדָם תְּרַפֶּינָה כַנְפֵיהֶן׃   1:25

Ezek. 1:25   And there was a sound from the expanse that was over their heads with their standing; their wings would be lowered.

Other translators translate the word I translate as sound as voice, and it’s the beings lowering their wings at the end of the verse instead of the wings being lowered (the word I translate as would be lowered is plural and feminine, so it can’t be the beings lowering them).  Their translations seems to be a result of their interpreting this verse to imply that the beings landed and lowered their wings in obedience to the voice.  I don’t accept that interpretation.  I don’t accept the possibility that Ezekiel is referring to the voice of the Almighty in v. 1:24.  He said the sound was like the voice of the Almighty, comparing it to the roar of an encamped army.  He didn’t say that it was the voice of the Lord.  I can’t see from these two verses that Ezekiel intended to inform us that the Lord had spoken.  Ezekiel finally does hear the likeness of the Lord speak, but not until v. 1:28 below, and he doesn’t say there that it was a roar.  In the next chapter the Lord speaks plainly.

וּמִמַּעַל לָרָקִיעַ אֲשֶׁר עַל־רֹאשָׁם כְּמַרְאֵה אֶבֶן־סַפִּיר דְּמוּת כִּסֵּא וְעַל דְּמוּת הַכִּסֵּא דְּמוּת כְּמַרְאֵה   1:26 אָדָם עָלָיו מִלְמָעְלָה׃

Ezek. 1:26   And from above the expanse that was over their heads, the likeness of a throne was like the appearance of a sapphire stone, and on the likeness of the throne was the likeness like the appearance of a man on it from on high.

Ezekiel doesn’t seem to want to commit as to the actual appearance of what he saw.  He keeps using the words like, appearance, and likeness over and over again.  Either he couldn’t precisely describe what he was seeing, or he was actually dreaming this and couldn’t describe it better in his recollecting of it.  I personally believe he was dreaming all of this.  I will identify the other clues that led me to this belief as we encounter them.

                                                                                          [Return to Ezek. 2:9}           [Return to Ezek. 3:11]

וָאֵרֶא כְּעֵין חַשְׁמַל כְּמַרְאֵה־אֵשׁ בֵּית־לָהּ סָבִיב מִמַּרְאֵה מָתְנָיו וּלְמָעְלָה וּמִמַּרְאֵה מָתְנָיו וּלְמַטָּה   1:27 רָאִיתִי כְּמַרְאֵה־אֵשׁ וְנֹגַהּ לֹו סָבִיב׃

Ezek. 1:27   And I could see like the gleam of electrum, like the appearance of fire, an enclosure for it all around; from the appearance of his loins and above, and from the appearance of his loins and below, I saw like the appearance of fire, and its brightness was all around.

The pronoun translated as it in the phrase translated as an enclosure for it all around is feminine, and the only nearby feminine nouns are gleam in this verse and likeness and sapphire stone in the previous verse.  But gleam as the antecedent of it doesn’t make sense, because it is itself the thing like a gleam that is the enclosure.  So the antecedent must be the likeness or sapphire stone.  So I believe the pronoun relates to the likenesses of the throne and the man thing on it.  So the gleaming thing surrounded and enclosed the whole throne thing.  And the next part of the verse describes how the likeness of the gleaming thing appeared around the man thing.

כְּמַרְאֵה הַקֶּשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בֶעָןָן בְּיֹום הַגֶּשֶׁם כֵּן מַרְאֵה הַנֹּגַהּ סָבִיב הוּא מַרְאֵה דְּמוּת   1:28                 כְּבֹוד־יְהוָה וָאֶרְאֶה וָאֶפֹּל עַל־פָּנַי וָאֶשְׁמַע קֹול מְדַבֵּר׃

Ezek. 1:28   Like the appearance of the rainbow that might be in a cloud on a day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.  It was of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord; when I could see it, then I would fall on my face, and I could hear the sound of speaking.

The phraseology of this verse offers the next possible clue that Ezekiel is dreaming all this.

 

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