The “thirtieth year” may have been the thirtieth year of Ezekiel’s life. It was on the fifth day of the fourth month (mid-June to mid-July) of this year that Ezekiel was among the exiles from the kingdom of Judah by the “river Chebar,” probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea. At this time, the “heavens” opened up to Ezekiel, and he “saw visions of God.” (1:1; see the Notes section.) The thirtieth year was also the “fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin,” which is commonly understood to have been the year 593 BCE. Ezekiel had been taken into exile along with Jehoiachin, members of the royal family, officials of the realm, warriors, and skilled craftsmen. (1:2; 2 Kings 24:12-15)
According to a cuneiform inscription (British Museum 21946), King Nebuchadnezzar “encamped against the city of Judah [Jerusalem]” and on the second day of the month Adar [mid-February to mid-March (the twelfth month)]” captured the city and seized the “king” (Jehoiachin). This would mean that the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile was about four years later. It was then that Ezekiel’s service as a prophet began, and it continued at least until the twenty-seventh year of this exile or about twenty-two years. (29:17) Aside from the name “Buzi,” nothing else is known about Ezekiel’s father. Like his contemporary Jeremiah who served as a prophet in the kingdom of Judah, Ezekiel was a priest. It was by the river Chebar (probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea) that Ezekiel received a “word” or message from YHWH. The “hand of YHWH” came upon him, indicating that he had become the chosen prophet under his power or control. In the Targum, the reference is to the “spirit of prophecy from before the Lord.” (1:3)
Ezekiel observed a powerful wind coming from the north. He apparently saw a huge cloud drawing nearer. Within this cloud, a fire was flickering or flashing (literally, “taking hold of itself”), and a bright glow surrounded the cloud. In the midst of this cloud and the fire, Ezekiel saw what appeared to him something like electrum, an alloy of gold and silver that gleamed brightly. (1:4)
Apparently as the cloud came closer, Ezekiel saw the “likeness of four living beings.” Their basic form was like that of a man (an earthling), but there were other features that differed significantly from that of a human. (1:5) Each one of the living beings had “four faces” and “four wings.” (1:6) Their legs were straight. Unlike the human leg that has a knee, the legs of the living beings apparently were like straight pillars, and the feet were round like those of the hooves of a calf. Equipped with wings, they did not need legs and feet like those of humans for walking or running. The living beings could fly or glide. According to the Septuagint, their feet “were winged.” The living beings gleamed like burnished copper or bronze. (1:7) Under the wings, there apparently were arms with hands that looked like those of a man. One hand would have been on each of the four sides of the living being. Therefore, when Ezekiel looked directly at the face on a specific side, he would have seen a hand on the right and the left. Each of the living beings had the same set of faces and wings. (1:8; see the Notes section.) The wings that extended above the faces of the living beings joined or touched those of the other living beings. (Compare 1:11.) With a face on each of their four sides, the living beings could move forward in any direction without having to turn. (1:9; see the Notes section.)
Apparently the face that Ezekiel saw directly looking in his direction was that of a man. To the right of this face was that of a lion and to the left that of a bull. Behind the face of the man was that of an eagle. If the face of a man represented the noble qualities humans possess, the other faces could represent features in which humans do not excel — strength (bull, Proverbs 14:4), boldness or fearlessness (lion, 2 Samuel 17:10; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 28:1), and speed (eagle, Habakkuk 1:8). (1:10)
After again referring to the “faces” of the living beings, the verse continues with a comment about the wings. One set of two wings spread out above the face of each living being and touched or joined those of the other living beings. The other set of two wings covered their bodies. Ezekiel was able to see the legs, suggesting that the upper part of the body of each living being was covered. (1:11)
The spirit controlled the movement of the four living beings, probably meaning that all of them went straight forward in unison, apparently as the spirit of God impelled them. Their having a face on each side made it possible for them to go forward without having to turn. (1:12)
The appearance of the living beings resembled “burning coals of fire” or fire from burning coals. According to the Septuagint, an “appearance like burning coals of fire” was “in the midst of the living beings.” “Among the living beings, something that had the “appearance of torches” moved to and fro. The fire was radiant, and “lightning went forth from the fire.” (1:13)
The living beings seemingly moved rapidly, darting back and forth “like the appearance of lightning” or like lightning flashes. (1:14; see the Notes section.)
Near the four faces of each of the four living beings, Ezekiel saw a large wheel, the bottom part of which touched the “earth” or the ground. (1:15) All four wheels were of identical construction, with a wheel within a wheel, and they gleamed like topaz (tarshísh; transliterated as tharsis in LXX), a transparent or translucent gemstone. The words “the wheel within the wheel” could mean that each of the four wheels was intersected at right angles with another wheel. A number of modern translations are specific in expressing this basic meaning regarding the wheels. “Each wheel had a second wheel turning crosswise within it.” (NLT) “Each wheel was exactly the same and had a second wheel that cut through the middle of it.” (CEV) “Each had another wheel intersecting it at right angles.” (TEV) (1:16; see the Notes section.) Such a design of the wheels would have facilitated movement in any one of four directions without having to turn. A number of modern translations are more specific in their renderings than is the Hebrew text and convey different meanings. “As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went.” (NIV) “The wheels could move in any of the four directions.” (TEV) “When they moved in any of the four directions they never swerved from their course.” (REB) “The beings could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved.” (NLT) (1:17)
Seemingly, the rims at the top of the large wheels were so high above the ground that they appeared terrifying to Ezekiel, and all four rims were covered with “eyes” all around. This suggests that the rotation of the wheels was purposeful as if they were seeing every detail of the area being traversed. (1:18; see the Notes section.) The living beings and the wheels moved in perfect unison. Whenever the living beings moved, the wheels moved beside them; and whenever the “living beings rose from the earth [or the land], the wheels rose.” (1:19) The “spirit,” apparently God’s spirit, animated everything, making fully coordinated movement possible. Wherever the spirit went or directed, the living being would go, and the wheels would rise along with them. This was because the spirit that was “in the living beings,” guiding, controlling, or directing them, was also the animating power in the wheels. (1:20; see the Notes section.) The feature regarding unified movement and its source is repeated. When the living beings went, the wheels would go. When the living beings stood, the wheels would stand. When the living beings rose, the wheels would rise along with them. This was because the “spirit of the living beings” was “in the wheels,” animating them. (1:21)
Ezekiel saw what looked like an “expanse,” firmament, or platform that was spread out “over the heads of the living beings,” and this expanse had the appearance of “dreadful,” awesome, or dazzling “ice,” probably meaning that it was as bright as ice when reflecting sunlight. The Septuagint indicates that the firmament looked like “crystal.” (1:22)
Under the “expanse” or platform, two wings of each living being were “straight” or stretched out above their heads. The position of each straight or outstretched wing is referred to as a “woman to her sister,” probably meaning that the tip of each outstretched wing touched the outstretched wing of the living being in the closest proximity. According to the Septuagint, the outstretched wings were “flapping” one to the other. The other set of two wings served to cover much of the body of each living being. (1:23)
To Ezekiel, the moving wings of the living beings sounded like “many waters,” likely resembling the roar of waves crashing against the shore. The sound was also like the voice of the Almighty, probably meaning thunder, and like the noise of a large military force. When not moving, the living beings let down their wings, apparently folding them against their sides. (1:24)
Ezekiel heard a sound from above the “expanse” or platform that was over the heads of the living beings. The Hebrew text repeats the words about their letting down their wings, but this repetition is not included in the Septuagint. (1:25)
Above the “expanse” or platform over the heads of the living beings, there was what looked like a throne fashioned from “sapphire,” a transparent or translucent precious stone that probably was deep blue in color. The Septuagint refers to the throne as being on the sapphire platform. Seated on the throne was one whose likeness was the appearance of a man. (1:26)
From the waist up of the one seated on the throne, Ezekiel saw what appeared to him like the glow of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver that gleamed brightly, and like flames of fire all around. The appearance of the seated one from his waist downward was like flames of fire and surrounding brightness. (1:27) Ezekiel also saw what looked like a rainbow (“the bow that is in the cloud on a day of the rain”) and brightness all around the seated figure. Possibly this brightness glowed like the colors of the rainbow and formed a bow around the one seated on the throne. Ezekiel recognized the appearance to be the “likeness of the glory of YHWH.” Apparently filled with reverential fear, he dropped to his knees and bowed low, with his face touching the ground. He then heard the voice of the one seated on the throne speaking directly to him. (1:28)
According to the Targum, the “thirtieth year” mentioned in verse 1 started counting from the time in the reign of King Josiah when Hilkiah the high priest found the book of the Torah in the temple.
The Targum makes a distinction in verse 8 between the living beings and the cherubs. It says that the “hands” were used to take burning coals from among the cherubs and to give these coals to the seraphs. The seraphs then sprinkled the coals on the place of the wicked ones, to annihilate the sinners who transgressed God’s word.
In verse 9, the Septuagint does not mention “wings.” It indicates that the faces of the four living beings did not turn when they were moving. They moved in the direction of the focus of a specific face.
The wording in verse 14 is not in the Septuagint.
In verse 16, the Hebrew word tarshísh may designate topaz, but this is not certain. Common renderings in translations are “topaz” and “chrysolite.”
Verse 18 of the Septuagint rendering contains no reference to fear or terror in connection with the rims of the wheels.
The opening words of verse 20 in the Septuagint are, “Wherever the cloud was, there the spirit [was ready] to go.”