The prophet is very exact in making and recording his observations concerning this vision. And here we have,
I. The notice he took of the wheels, Ezek. 1:15-21. The glory of God appears not only in the splendour of his retinue in the upper world, but in the steadiness of his government here in this lower world. Having seen how God does according to his will in the armies of heaven, let us now see how he does according to it among the inhabitants of the earth; for there, on the earth, the prophet saw the wheels, Ezek. 1:15. As he beheld the living creatures, and was contemplating the glory of that vision and receiving instruction from it, this other vision presented itself to his view. Note, Those who make a good use of the discoveries God has favoured them with may expect further discoveries; for to him that hath shall be given. We are sometimes tempted to think there is nothing glorious but what is in the upper world, whereas, could we with an eye of faith discern the beauty of Providence and the wisdom, power, and goodness, which shine in the administration of that kingdom, we should see, and say, Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth and acts like himself. There are many things in this vision which give us some light concerning the divine Providence. 1. The dispensations of Providence are compared to wheels, either the wheels of a chariot, in which the conqueror rides in triumph, or rather the wheels of a clock or watch, which all contribute to the regular motion of the machine. We read of the course or wheel of nature (Jas. 3:6), which is here set before us as under the direction of the God of nature. Wheels, though they move not of themselves, as the living creatures do, are yet made movable and are almost continually kept in action. Providence, represented by these wheels, produces changes; sometimes one spoke of the wheel is uppermost and sometimes another; but the motion of the wheel on its own axletree, like that of the orbs above, is very regular and steady. The motion of the wheels is circular; by the revolutions of Providence things are brought to the same posture and pass which they were in formerly; for the thing that is is that which has been, and there is no new thing under the sun, Eccl. 1:9, 10. 2. The wheel is said to be by the living creatures, who attended it to direct its motion; for the angels are employed as the ministers of God’s providence, and have a greater hand in directing the motions of second causes to serve the divine purpose than we think they have. Such a close connexion is there between the living creatures and the wheels that they moved and rested together. Were angels busily employed? Men were busily employed as instruments in their hand, whether of mercy or judgment, though they themselves were not aware of it. Or, Are men active to compass their designs? Angels at the same time are acting to control and overrule them. This is much insisted on here (Ezek. 1:19): When the living creatures went, to bring about any business, the wheels went by them; when God has work to do by the ministry of angels second causes are all found, or made, ready to concur in it; and (Ezek. 1:21) when those stood these stood; when the angels had done their work the second causes had done theirs. If the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, were elevated to any service above the common course of nature and out of the ordinary road (as suppose in the working of miracles, the dividing of the water, the standing still of the sun), the wheels, contrary to their own natural tendency, which is towards the earth, move in concert with them, and are lifted up over against them; this is thrice mentioned, Ezek. 1:19-21. Note, All inferior creatures are, and move, and act, as the Creator, by the ministration of angels, directs and influences them. Visible effects are managed and governed by invisible causes. The reason given of this is because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels; the same wisdom, power, and holiness of God, the same will and counsel of his, that guides and governs the angels and all their performances, does, by them, order and dispose of all the motions of the creatures in this lower world and the events and issues of them. God is the soul of the world, and animates the whole, both that above and that beneath, so that they move in perfect harmony, as the upper and lower parts of the natural body do, so that whithersoever the Spirit is to go (whatever God wills and purposes to be done and brought to pass) thither their spirit is to go; that is, the angels, knowingly and designedly, set themselves to bring it about. And their spirit is in the wheels, which are therefore lifted up over against them; that is, both the powers of nature and the wills of men are all made to serve the intention, which they infallibly and irresistibly effect, though perhaps they mean not so, neither doth their heart think so, Isa. 10:7; Mic. 4:11, 12. Thus, though the will of God’s precept be not done on earth as it is done in heaven, yet the will of his purpose and counsel is, and shall be. 3. The wheel is said to have four faces, looking four several ways (Ezek. 1:15), denoting that the providence of God exerts itself in all parts of the world, east, west, north, and south, and extends itself to the remotest corners of it. Look which way you will upon the wheel of Providence, and it has a face towards you, a beautiful one, which you may admire the features and complexion of; it looks upon you as ready to speak to you, if you be but ready to hear the voice of it; like a well-drawn picture, it has an eye upon all that have an eye upon it. The wheel had so four faces that it had in it four wheels, which went upon their four sides, Ezek. 1:17. At first Ezekiel saw it as one wheel (Ezek. 1:15), one sphere; but afterwards he saw it was four, but they four had one likeness (Ezek. 1:16); not only they were like one another, but they were as if they had been one. This intimates, (1.) That one event of providence is like another; what happens to us is that which is common to men and what we are not to think strange. (2.) That various events have a tendency to the same issue and concur to answer the same intention. 4. Their appearance and their work are said to be like the colour of a beryl (Ezek. 1:16), the colour of Tarshish (so the word is), that is, of the sea; the beryl is of that colour, sea-green; blue Neptune we call it. The nature of things in this world is like that of the sea, which is in a continual flux and yet there is a constant coherence and succession of its parts. There is a chain of events which is always drawing one way or other. The sea ebbs and flows, so does Providence in its disposals, but always in the stated appointed times and measures. The sea looks blue, as the air does, because of the shortness and feebleness of our sight, which can see but a little way of either; to that colour therefore are the appearance and work of Providence fitly compared, because we cannot find out that which God does from the beginning to the end, Eccl. 3:11. We see but parts of his ways (Job 26:14), and all beyond looks blue, which gives us to understand no more concerning it but that in truth we know it not; it is far above out of our sight. 5. Their appearance and their work are likewise said to be as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. Observe here again, Their appearance to the prophet is designed to set forth what their work really is. Men’s appearance and their work often differ, but the appearance of God’s providence and its work agree; if they seem to differ, it is through our ignorance and mistake. Now both were as a wheel in a wheel, a less wheel moved by a greater. We pretend not to give a mathematical description of it. The meaning is that the disposals of Providence seem to us intricate, perplexed, and unaccountable, and yet that they will appear in the issue to have been all wisely ordered for the best; so that though what God does we know not now, yet we shall know hereafter, John 13:7. 6. The motion of these wheels, like that of the living creatures, was steady, regular, and constant: They returned not when they went (Ezek. 1:17), because they never went amiss, nor otherwise than they should do. God, in his providence, takes his work before him, and he will have it forward; and it is going on even when it seems to us to be going backward. They went as the Spirit directed them, and therefore returned not. We should not have occasion to return back as we have, and to undo that by repentance which we have done amiss, and to do it over again, if we were but led by the Spirit and followed his direction. The Spirit of life (so some read it) was in the wheels, which carried them on with ease and evenness, and then they returned not when they went. 7. The rings, or rims, of the wheels were so high that they were dreadful, Ezek. 1:18. They were of a vast circumference, so that when they were reared, and put in motion, the prophet was even afraid to look upon them. Note, The vast compass of God’s thought, and the vast reach of his design, are really astonishing; when we go about to describe the circle of Providence we are struck with amazement and are even swallowed up. O the height and depth of God’s councils! The consideration of them should strike an awe upon us. 8. They were full of eyes round about. This circumstance of the vision is most surprising of all, and yet most significant, plainly denoting that the motions of Providence are all directed by infinite wisdom. The issues of things are not determined by a blind fortune, but by those eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the earth, and are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. Note, It is a great satisfaction to us, and ought to be so, that, though we cannot account for the springs and tendencies of events, yet they are all under the cognizance and direction of an all-wise all-seeing God.
II. The notice he took of the firmament above over the heads of the living creatures. When he saw the living creatures moving, and the wheels by them, he looked up, as it is proper for us to do when we observe the various motions of providence in this lower world; looking up, he saw the firmament stretched forth over the heads of the living creatures, Ezek. 1:22. What is done on earth is done under the heaven (as the scripture often speaks), under its inspection and influence. Observe, 1. What he saw: The firmament was as the colour of the terrible crystal, truly glorious, but terribly so; the vastness and brightness of it put the prophet into an amazement and struck him with an awful reverence. The terrible ice, or frost (so it may be read), the colour of snow congealed, or as mountains of ice in the northern seas, which are very frightful. Daring sinners ask, Can God judge through the dark cloud? Job 22:13. But that which we take to be a dark cloud is to him transparent as crystal, through which, from the place of his habitation, he looks upon all the inhabitants of the earth, Ps. 33:14. Under the firmament he saw the wings of the living creatures erect, Ezek. 1:23. When they pleased they used them either for flight or for covering. God is on high, above the firmament; the angels are under the firmament, which denotes their subjection to God’s dominion and their readiness to fly on his errands in the open firmament of heaven, and to serve him unanimously. 2. What he heard. (1.) He heard the noise of the angels’ wings, Ezek. 1:24. Bees and other insects make a great noise with the vibration of their wings; here the angels do so, to awaken the attention of the prophet to that which God was about to say to him from the firmament, Ezek. 1:25. Angels, by the providences they are employed in, sound God’s alarms to the children of men and stir them up to hear his voice; for that is it that cries in the city and is heard and understood by the men of wisdom. The noise of their wings was loud and terrible, as the noise of great waters (like the rout or roaring of the sea), and as the noise of a host, the noise of war; but it was articulate and intelligible, and did not give an uncertain sound; for it was the voice of speech; nay, it was as the voice of the Almighty, for God, by his providences, speaks once, yea, twice, if we could by perceive it, Job 33:14. The Lord’s voice cries, Mic. 6:9. (2.) He heard a voice from the firmament, from him that sits upon the throne there, Ezek. 1:25. When the angels moved they made a noise with their wings; but, when with that they had roused a careless world, they stood still, and let down their wings, that there might be a profound silence, and so God’s voice might be the better heard. The voice of Providence is designed to open men’s ears to the voice of the word, to do the office of the crier, who with a loud voice charges silence while the judge passes sentence. He that has ears to hear, let him hear. Note, Noises on earth should awaken our attention to the voice from the firmament; for how shall we escape if we turn away from him that speaks from heaven!