Upon the “expanse,” firmament, or platform that was over the heads of the cherubs (or the four living beings), Ezekiel saw something that, in appearance, resembled a sapphire stone, a transparent or translucent precious stone that probably was deep blue in color, and the object looked like a throne (10:1; compare 1:22, 26.)
Apparently the one seated on the object that resembled a throne instructed the man dressed in linen (in the “robe” [LXX]) to go in between the wheelwork (or the wheels), beneath the cherubs. From between the cherubs, he was to take “coals of fire” or fiery coals. After filling the hollows of both hands with these coals, the man dressed in linen clothing was to toss them “over the city,” Jerusalem. Ezekiel saw him going in to obtain the coals. (10:2) When the man went in, the cherubs were standing to the “right of the house” or temple, and a “cloud,” a manifestation of YHWH’s presence, filled the inner court. The right side of the temple would have been the south side, and a number of modern translations so render the text. “Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple.” (NIV) “The cherubim were standing at the south end of the Temple.” (NLT) “The creatures were standing to the south of the Temple.” (TEV) “The winged creatures were standing south of the temple.” (CEV) If, however, the right side of the temple is viewed as being in relation to the right of the man as he entered, this would have been the north side of the temple, where Ezekiel had earlier seen the cherubs before the “glory of the God of Israel” moved from above them to the threshold of the temple. Therefore, if the right side denotes the south side of the temple, this would indicate that the cherubs went to the south side, but the account makes no mention of any movement on their part. (10:3; see 8:3, 4; 9:3.)
There appears to be a repetition of what was earlier said in verse 3 of chapter 9. The “glory of YHWH” had moved from above the cherubs to the “threshold of the house” or temple. This resulted in gradually filling the temple with the “cloud” (“dense cloud” [Targum]) and the court came to be filled with the “brightness of the glory of YHWH.” (10:4) The sound of the beating wings of the cherubs (the four living beings) could be heard clear to the outer court of the temple. This loud sound was “like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks,” probably meaning that it was as loud as thunder. In a powerful way, the sound would have called attention to YHWH’s presence at the temple to execute punitive judgment. (10:5)
At this time the Almighty commanded the man dressed in linen clothing to “take fire” (or fiery coals [10:2]) “from between the wheelwork, from between the cherubs.” Ezekiel saw the man go in and then to stand beside one of the wheels. (10:6) One of the four cherubs reached out with his hand to the fire between them, took “fire” from it, and put the fire or fiery coals into the hands of the man dressed in linen clothing (the “holy robe” [LXX]). With the “fire” or fiery coals in his hands, the man departed. (10:7) Ezekiel saw what appeared to be the form of a man’s hand (men’s hands [LXX]) under the wings of the cherubs. (10:8) He also saw a wheel beside each one of the four cherubs, and it looked to him that the wheels gleamed “like topaz” (tarshísh [“like the appearance of a carbuncle stone” [LXX]), a transparent or translucent gemstone. (10:9; see the Notes section.) All four wheels looked the same. 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 one had another wheel which intersected it at right angles.” (TEV) (10:10)
If the reference is to the four wheels, they are either described as going on their “four sides” or rims or as moving in four directions. When changing directions, the wheels did so without turning. They would move in the direction that the heads of all four living beings or cherubs were facing. Numerous modern translations are more specific in their renderings than is the Hebrew text and vary in applying the words of this verse either to the wheels or to the cherubs. “As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went.” (NIV) “They could move in any direction without turning. The wheels moved together whenever the creatures moved.” (CEV) “When they moved, they went in any of the four directions without veering as they moved; in whatever direction the first cherub faced, the others followed without veering as they went.” (NAB, revised edition) “When the cherubim moved in any of the four directions, they never swerved from their course; they went straight on in the direction in which their heads were turned, never swerving.” (REB) “The cherubs could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved.” (NLT) (10:11)
“All their flesh” or the whole body of each cherub, their backs, hands, wings, and the wheels beside them were “full of eyes all around,” indicating that they could see clearly everywhere they would be going. Each of the four cherubs had one of the four wheels alongside. (10:12) In his hearing (literally, “in my ears”), Ezekiel heard the wheels being called “wheelwork” (ha-galgal, possibly denoting “whirling wheels” [gelgel (LXX), a transliteration of the Hebrew expression]). (10:13)
Each one of the four cherbus had four faces — the first face, the face of a cherub; the second face, the face of a man; the third face, the face of a lion, and the fourth face, the face 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 — power (cherub), boldness or fearlessness (lion, 2 Samuel 17:10; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 28:1), and speed (eagle, Habakkuk 1:8). According to the earlier description of the four living beings or cherubs, the face of the cherub was the face of a bull. (10:14; compare 1:10 and see the Notes section.) Earlier, “by the river Chebar,” probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea, Ezekiel had seen the same four living beings or cherubs. At this later time, he saw them rise skyward. (10:15)
The cherubs and the wheels functioned in perfect harmony. Whenever the cherubs moved, the wheels went right along with them. When the cherubs lifted up their wings to rise above the earth or ground, the wheels did not change direction away from them but moved alongside them. (10:16) When the cherubs stood still, the wheels remained motionless. When the cherubs rose, the wheels rose with them. This was because the same “spirit” (God’s spirit [the “spirit of life” [LXX]) that was in the cherubs or that motivated them was in the wheels. (10:17)
The “glory of YHWH,” the impressive brilliance of his presence, moved from the “threshold of the house” or temple and then came to stand still over the four cherubs. This suggested that YHWH had abandoned the temple and that it would not continue to exist. (10:18; see 1:25-28.) Ezekiel saw the cherubs lift up their wings and rise from the “earth” or ground. As they rose, the wheels went along with them. The cherubs, with the wheels alongside them, stopped at the eastern entrance of the gate of the house or temple of YHWH, and the “glory of the God of Israel” was above them. (10:19)
The four living beings were the same ones Ezekiel had seen beneath the “glory of the God of Israel” (the brilliant manifestation of God’s presence) by the river Chebar, probably one of the major canals in ancient Chaldea. Apparently on the basis of their position beneath the “glory of the God of Israel,” Ezekiel recognized that the four living beings were cherubs. (10:20; compare 1:1, 26-28 and Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2.) Each one of the four living beings had four faces, and each one had four (eight [LXX]) wings. Underneath their wings, Ezekiel saw the resemblance of a man’s hands. (10:21) The likeness of the faces of the four living beings were same faces he had seen by the river Chebar. These living beings or cherubs moved straight ahead in the direction in which they faced. (10:22)
This chapter includes descriptions that are provided in greater detail in chapter 1.
In verse 9, the Hebrew word tarshísh may designate topaz, but this is not certain. Common renderings in translations are “topaz” and “chrysolite.”
The words of verse 14 are missing in the oldest extant manuscripts of the Septuagint. In the Hebrew text, the face of the cherub is in the first position. Ezekiel 1:10, however, refers to the face of the man first, the face of the lion second, and the face of the bull third.