“And when I looked, behold the four wheels by the cherubims, one wheel by one cherub, and another wheel by another cherub: and the appearance of the wheels was as the colour of a beryl stone. And as for their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel.” — Ezekiel 10:9-10
As I read the description in our text of the amazing wheels the prophet Ezekiel saw in his vision, I thought of the most unusual wheel I have ever seen. In 2014, a group of us flew to Kawasaki, Japan, to attend our church’s fiftieth anniversary celebration. Looking out the airplane window during our final descent over Tokyo Bay, we noticed a strange structure below us: a long bridge that started on the far side of the bay and ended in the middle of a tiny island. As the plane passed overhead, we wondered where the many cars traveling across the bridge went.
We learned the answer a few days later when we visited the island: the cars go into an underground tunnel! The long bridge is the above-ground part of the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line, a four-lane highway connecting Kawasaki with Kisarazu City. At the island, the highway goes into a nearly six-mile-long tunnel that lies underneath Tokyo Bay — the fourth longest underwater tunnel in the world.
The building that takes up most of the manmade island has restaurants, kiosks, exhibits, and areas on the fourth and fifth floors that offer spectacular views of the Tokyo waterfront. However, the most memorable sight for us that afternoon was what looked at first like an enormous, round piece of abstract art. More than 1,200 cutter bits of ultra-hard alloy studded the sphere’s surface, which was 14.4 meters in diameter. Signs posted nearby identified it as the drill bit of one of eight tunnel-boring machines that carved out the underwater tunnel. You can be sure we all posed for pictures underneath the “teeth” of that gigantic wheel-like cutter head!
As fascinating as that gigantic wheel was, the wheel in the midst of a wheel that Ezekiel saw must have been far more awesome. After all, it was designed by God himself ! Each wheel seemingly was two wheels in one, with one set inside the other at right angles, enabling the whole wheel assembly to move instantly in any direction without having to turn. There was close coordination between the wheels and the living creatures (cherubim), which guided the motions. Together, the wheels and cherubim could represent characteristics of God’s divine nature: the mobility of the wheels inferring His omnipresence and constant activity, and the elevated position relating to His omniscience.
No matter how we interpret the symbolism of Ezekiel’s vision, without question it displayed the majesty and glory of God. Although Ezekiel and the people of Judah were living in exile in Babylon, this no doubt was a vivid reminder to them that God was still on His throne, working, moving, and in full control of every situation.
The lesson for us today is that God still moves in the affairs of individuals and nations to fulfill His own unseen plan. In the wonderful variety of God’s dealings with human beings, there is perfect harmony. He is always working, always aware, never wrong, and never late in fulfilling His divine purpose. What a comfort that is to those whose trust is in Him!
In chapter 10, the vision of chapters 8-9 is continued. Ezekiel saw again much of what he had seen in the vision described in chapter 1, although additional details are given. In this chapter, he identified the living creatures described in Ezekiel 1:5-14 as cherubim. Once again, he saw the likeness of a throne and a firmament above it, and the moving wheels within wheels that carried God’s glory. Ezekiel also saw coals scattered over the city and the glory of God departing from the Temple.
The instructions in verse 2 were for the “man clothed with linen” who had marked the faithful few in Jerusalem to scoop up coals into the hollow of his cupped hands. The scattering of the coals represented God’s judgment falling upon Jerusalem. The city would suffer from famine and disease before ultimately being entirely burned by Nebuchadnezzar’s army.
Verses 3-5 are parenthetical, relating what Ezekiel saw before the man in linen went to the cherubim to collect the coals. The cloud of the glory of the Lord filled the Temple, but it was on the move, pausing as it was about to leave the Temple. In the ancient Hebrew, the “right side” (verse 3) would be the direction of the right hand when facing east. Thus, the glory of God was on the south side of the “house” — the Temple — opposite to where the abominations were being committed.
In verses 7-8, one of the cherubs reached into the fire between the four cherubim to gather the coals requested by the man clothed in linen, and Ezekiel observed that the cherub had a hand at the end of his wing.
Verses 9-22 provide details regarding the cherubim, the wheels, the “spirit of the living creature” that directed them, and the operation of the whole as the transporter of God’s glory. In verse 13, the four wheels were identified by the Hebrew word ophan, derived from a root word meaning “to revolve.” In the cry “O wheel,” the word galgal is used, meaning “whirl” and referring to the whole wheel mechanism. The general impression conveyed is that of constant activity and motion, and free movement with no chaos or disorder.
Verse 14 describes the four faces of the cherubim as being those of a cherub, a man, a lion, and an eagle. It is not known why Ezekiel used the word cherub to denote the face associated earlier with the ox (see Ezekiel 1:10). That cherub reached for the coals with his face turned in the direction of Ezekiel.
The “living creature” of verse 15 refers to the life within the chariot as a whole — the living cherubim as well as the living Spirit directing the movement of the wheels. Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord move even further from the Holy of Holies, to the eastern gate of the Temple compound. “Stood” in verses 18 and 19 indicates waiting with an attitude of steadfastness and constancy.
II. The condemnation of Judah and Jerusalem
B. The transgression and fall of Jerusalem
3. The vision of the coals of fire (10:1-22)
a. The instruction to the man clothed in linen (10:1-2)
b. The movement of God’s glory to the threshold (10:3-5)
c. The action of the cherub (10:6-8)
d. The description of the cherubim (10:9-17)
e. The movement of God’s glory to the east gate (10:18-19)
f. The identification of the cherubim (10:20-22)
Ezekiel’s vision was an indicator of God’s majesty and power, and a reminder to us that He was and is constantly aware and involved in the affairs of this world.