As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings. Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord . When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28
I have trans-located across the country over the last several days so I have had several days to pray and chew on this passage. I am not sure I understand it any better than the first time I read it. This passage continues the description of Ezekiel’s first vision. This part of the description makes it clear that the four-faced creatures are not the presence of God, but merely accompany God’s presence.
The descriptions here are as perplexing as the beginning of the vision I reflected on July 22nd. The addition here is what sounds like something mechanical or at least very non-animal like — the rotating wheels that accompany the four-faced creatures. As I have read and reread this passage I find myself reading it from two very different perspectives: 1) as a scientist trying to put these creatures and objects into a logical context; and 2) as a follower of Christ trying to understand the spiritual symbolism that Ezekiel is describing that defies, and perhaps transcends, natural physical laws. Unifying these two very different perspectives was part of the motivation for starting this blog. Perhaps by reflecting on these two very different perspectives and postures separately it will become more clear to what extent they are compatible or complimentary.
First the scientific point of view. The four-faced creatures are something outside my experience and outside the realm of most observable science. The closest thing I can think of would be a genetic mutation or perhaps a robotic device designed to look like a four-faced humanoid creature. It is interesting that the author seems to go to some effort to make it clear that the descriptions here are the way things appeared. This implies that the author may intend them to be understood metaphorically or perhaps metaphysically. More on this to follow.
Each creature was accompanied by a “wheel”. Each wheel was identical and sparkled like topaz. Topaz is a silicate mineral with aluminium and fluorine (Al2SiO4(F,OH)2). It is typically honey- or amber-colored, but it can be almost any color. To be honest the the description of the wheels sparkling like topaz sounds like the lights on many of the Hollywood depictions of spacecraft. The form of the wheels was a “wheel intersecting a wheel”. Two objects immediately came to my mind when I read this: 1) the worm-hole device in the movie “Contact”; and 2) a gyroscope.
The wheels seem to move with the creatures in one of four directions, perhaps the four directions of the compass or the axes on a gyroscope? The wheels did not change direction as the creatures moved. This sounds very much like the way a gyroscope behaves and functions as I understand them. The rims of the wheels were full of “eyes” perhaps another allusion to lights scattered around the rim? The description then get more confusing. The “spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels”. I have not idea what this means. It sounds almost as if the wheels were in some sense projecting a virtual presence like an avatar, but I will not pretend to understand this reference from a physical perspective.
Above the creatures and the wheels was a “vault”. The vault was also “sparkling like crystal” which implies to me lighting of some sort emanating from something larger than the creatures and the wheels. The creatures had wings that were moving. The wings made a sound “like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army”. This sounds to me very much like the loud sound a propulsion device for a space vessel might make, at least the way Hollywood has depicted them. In the vault is a what looks like a throne the color of lapis Lazuli. This is an interesting detail from a geologist’s perspective. Lapis Lazuli looks to me like a night sky full of stars or perhaps a stormy sky mixed with clouds and sun. It definitely has an other-worldly appearance.
Above the throne was something that had a figure that looked like a man. This “man” from his waist up “looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him”. The light around this “man” was like a rainbow, emanating from no one location and filling the space around him. Then Ezekiel reveals that this “man” is “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord”. So it is a manifestation of God on earth, or at least in the vision of Ezekiel. Ezekiel responds as I think most would — he “fell facedown” and listened. So that is my take on this vision from a scientific and purely logical perspective. Now lets me come at it from a metaphorical and spiritual perspective.
So the creatures with four faces would seem to suggest spiritual beings with different natures. This is consistent with my understanding of God’s complex “nature” that allows Him to be both the Lion and the Lamb at the same time. The meaning of the intersecting wheels from a spiritual perspective is less clear. Perhaps these could symbolize planets and the their orbits around the sun? I do not know. If one were to go with that idea then the creatures would be a bit like the planetary guardians described by C. S. Lewis in his science fiction story “Out of a Silent Planet”. In this book the main character, Ransom, is taken to Mars and discovers that a spiritual being called “Oyarsa” is the guardian spirit of Malacandra (the planet Mars). These guardians would be similar to what many think of as angels. This is the closest thing I can think of to what is being described here with the creatures and the wheels.
Clearly the creatures and the wheels are subject to something “above” them which is different. This “Man” resides in a vault and is “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord”. I take this to mean the God that rules all angels and humans. This awe-inspiring view of God makes Him seem huge and unapproachable. I am thankful that God chose to extend His arm so that we could know Him in a different way — a more personal way. What is amazing to think about is that the same unquenchable fire that Ezekiel sees here became flesh and dwelt among us. No wonder so many people were drawn to Him and some feared Him.
Phew that was hard — class IV rapids for sure. I am sure as I continue my float through Ezekiel I will encounter other rapids that will be equally challenging, but all this whitewater helps me to learn about the River.
Prayer: God this vision is both confusing and amazing. Help us to approach You with the same wonder and awe that Ezekiel experienced.