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After the man clothed in linen returned with word that all the righteous in the city had been marked to be spared from the slaughter, Ezekiel saw the likeness of a throne of lapis lazuli (a beautiful precious stone) above the vault that was over the heads of the cherubim. God said to the man clothed in linen,

“Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.”

The cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man clothed in linen went into the wheels. A cloud filled the inner court. The glory of God rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of God. The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court (like the voice of God when he speaks).

Amiens Cathedral (1218-1269) Quatrefoil 13 Upper - Ezekiel's vision of a wheel rotating within another wheelAfter God told the man in linen to take fire from among the wheels, the man went in and stood beside a wheel. One of the cherubim reached out his hand (under the wings of the cherubim could be seen what looked like human hands) to the fire and took some of it. He put it into the hands of the man in linen who took it and went out.

Ezekiel saw four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each of the cherubim. The wheels sparkled like topaz. The four wheels looked alike, each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel or a wheel within a wheel. As they moved, they could go in in any direction the cherubim faced. The wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction their heads faced without turning as they went. Their entire bodies, including backs, hands, and wings, were full of eyes as where the four wheels. Ezekiel heard the wheels being called “the whirling wheels”.

Each of the cherubim had four faces: one of a cherub, the second of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. Then the cherubim rose upward. These were the living creatures Ezekiel saw by the Kebar River.

When the cherubim moved, the wheels beside them moved and when the cherubim spread their wings to fly from the ground, the wheels did not leave their side. When the cherubim stood still, the wheels also stood still and when the cherubim rose, the wheels rose with them because the spirit of the living creatures was in them.

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Then the glory of God departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house – and the glory of God of Israel was above them.

These were the living creatures Ezekiel had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River and he now realized they were cherubim. Each had four faces and four wings and under their wings was what looked like human hands. Their faces had the same appearance as those he had seen by the Kebar River. Each one went straight ahead.

What the story means to us today

An act of purification – and judgement – is described by Ezekiel

Ezekiel’s description of the event paints the picture of a bizarre occurrence. However, we must realize that Ezekiel may not have understood the mechanisms he was witnessing and described them the best he could.

As Ezekiel watched the inexplicable event unravel, the man in linen takes coals from the cherubim and pours them on the city. The symbolism is clear – it is an act of purification – and judgement.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Burning embers as a means of purification

God instructs the man in linen to take coals (fire) from the throne-chariot of the cherubim and pour them about the city. Throughout the Old Testament, coal and fire are symbolic of purification. The coals carried by the man in linen represent judgement of the disobedient Israelites.

Movement about the temple

The route God took through the Great TempleThe verses tell us that “the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple” and “a cloud filled the inner court”. Then the glory of God “moved to the threshold of the temple and the temple was filled with the cloud while the court was filled with his radiance.” Since we have detailed maps of the temple, we can visualize how the participants moved about the structure. The cherubim throne-chariot is in the inner courtyard to the south of the temple. God moves to the temple door and from there, fills the temple and the courts with his presence.

Ezekiel’s recognition of the cherubim

Cherubim (the plural of cherub) are mentioned throughout the Bible (more than 90 times in the Old Testament). While classified among the angels, what they are is uncertain. The Hebrew word bears no English equivalent but probably means something like “a divine being associated with a sanctuary”. Similar entities are also described in Egyptian and Mesopotamian religious documents and art. In fact, Egyptian Sphinxes may portray them most accurately.

In Genesis 3:24, cherubim are placed by God to guard the garden of Eden. They are described in various verses in the Bible as bearers of the throne and attendants of God. Ezekiel mentioned them in Ezekiel 1:4 where he identified them as the “living creatures” he saw by the Kabar River. It appears as if Ezekiel now recognizes that the living creatures are indeed cherubim. In Ezekiel’s context (and as mentioned in several biblical verses), they are described as “throne bearers”.

The spirit of the living creatures propels the vehicle

Ezekiel's vision includes a wheel within a wheel - Artist unknownEzekiel says:

“When the cherubim moved, the wheels beside them moved, and when the cherubim spread their wings to rise from the ground, the wheels did not move from their side. When the cherubim stood still, the wheels stood still, and when they rose up, the wheels rose up with them for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

What did Ezekiel mean by “spirit of the Cherubim” being in the wheels? Ezekiel is likely saying that the movement of the wheels had no apparent navigation component. The wheels (aka vehicle) were guided by the Cherubim’s thoughts of which direction they wanted to go. The wheels’ movement was inherently synchronized with the cherubim.

The change in Ezekiel’s description of the living creatures/cherubim

Here Ezekiel says the cherubim had four faces: one of a cherub, the second of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. Earlier, in Ezekiel 1:10, he said “each of the four had the face of a human being and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox. Each also had the face of an eagle.” Notice the slight difference in the description of the faces.

Here Ezekiel omits the face of an ox and replaces it with that of a “cherub”. The text makes it clear that Ezekiel identified the cherubim seen here as the living creatures he described in Chapter 1. It may be that the faces of a cherub and an ox were synonymous. Also note that in verse 20, Ezekiel says “I realized that they were cherubim”. In earlier verses, Ezekiel may have misidentified one of the creature’s faces and corrected his assessment in verse 20.

Regardless, neither explanation introduces a significant difference in the overall narrative of events.

The departure of God from the Temple

In Ezekiel 9:3 and Ezekiel 10:4, we began to see God positioning himself for departure from the Temple as he moves to the temple’s entrance. In these verses, God leaves the temple and assumes his place on the cherubim throne-chariot. God’s “glory” has left the Temple.

God had warned the Israelites multiple times that he would depart from them if they failed to follow his directives (see Deuteronomy 31:17 and Hosea 9:12 for examples). In later verses, Ezekiel will see God return to the people once the nation of Israel has been cleansed.

God and the cherubim leave the temple and stop at the entrance to the east gate

Ezekiel says that the cherubim rose from the earth and stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the temple as God hovered above them. The eastern gate or “golden gate” is significant. For Muslims, it is the site of the last judgement. For Jews it is the site of the last judgement and the place where the messiah will reenter the city. For Christians, it is where Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives and where Jesus told them he would return in the same manner he departed.

Were the cherubim aliens and the “wheels” an alien spaceship?

Some have proposed that Ezekiel’s description of God and angels sound much like a description of aliens and their spaceship. Most biblical commentaries fail to discuss the various elements of Ezekiel’s vision in detail – and for good reason. Nobody can boldly interpret what Ezekiel saw just as we have no concrete concept of what God and angels truly are. Rather than forming a conceptual image in your mind, it is best to focus on the description Ezekiel provided and accept that Ezekiel was describing something he could not fathom and something that possibly could have been symbolic rather than a literal description of events. It is simply not possible to accurately, and with certainty, form a clear picture of what Ezekiel witnessed.

Notes on Biblical translation

The sovereign God

Ezekiel says the sound of the wings of the cherubim was like the sound of the “sovereign God” when he speaks. The original Hebrew word “El Shaddai” has been translated variously as “sovereign God”, “God almighty”, and “all powerful”. Interestingly, the word’s varied derivations and root make it appear to be related to wilderness, mountain, or powerful.

Bible Text

17th century French coin depicting Ezekiel's wheelNIV

10 I looked, and I saw the likeness of a throne of lapis lazuli above the vault that was over the heads of the cherubim. 2 The LORD said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” And as I watched, he went in.

3 Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. 4 Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD. 5 The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.

6 When the LORD commanded the man in linen, “Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim,” the man went in and stood beside a wheel. 7 Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took up some of it and put it into the hands of the man in linen, who took it and went out. 8 (Under the wings of the cherubim could be seen what looked like human hands.)

9 I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like topaz. 10 As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 11 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. 12 Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. 13 I heard the wheels being called “the whirling wheels.” 14 Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a human being, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

15 Then the cherubim rose upward. These were the living creatures I had seen by the Kebar River. 16 When the cherubim moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the cherubim spread their wings to rise from the ground, the wheels did not leave their side. 17 When the cherubim stood still, they also stood still; and when the cherubim rose, they rose with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in them.

18 Then the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. 19 While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the LORD’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.

20 These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River, and I realized that they were cherubim. 21 Each had four faces and four wings, and under their wings was what looked like human hands. 22 Their faces had the same appearance as those I had seen by the Kebar River. Each one went straight ahead.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

10:1 As I watched, I saw on the platform above the top of the cherubim something like a sapphire, resembling the shape of a throne, appearing above them. 10:2 The LORD said to the man dressed in linen, “Go between the wheelwork underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” He went as I watched.

10:3 (The cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court.) 10:4 Then the glory of the LORD arose from the cherub and moved to the threshold of the temple. The temple was filled with the cloud while the court was filled with the brightness of the LORD’s glory. 10:5 The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard from the outer court, like the sound of the sovereign God when he speaks.

10:6 When the LORD commanded the man dressed in linen, “Take fire from within the wheelwork, from among the cherubim,” the man went in and stood by one of the wheels. 10:7 Then one of the cherubim stretched out his hand toward the fire which was among the cherubim. He took some and put it into the hands of the man dressed in linen, who took it and left. 10:8 (The cherubim appeared to have the form of human hands under their wings.)

10:9 As I watched, I noticed four wheels by the cherubim, one wheel beside each cherub; the wheels gleamed like jasper. 10:10 As for their appearance, all four of them looked the same, something like a wheel within a wheel. 10:11 When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions they faced without turning as they moved; in the direction the head would turn they would follow without turning as they moved, 10:12 along with their entire bodies, their backs, their hands, and their wings. The wheels of the four of them were full of eyes all around. 10:13 As for their wheels, they were called “the wheelwork” as I listened. 10:14 Each of the cherubim had four faces: The first was the face of a cherub, the second that of a man, the third that of a lion, and the fourth that of an eagle.

10:15 The cherubim rose up; these were the living beings I saw at the Kebar River. 10:16 When the cherubim moved, the wheels moved beside them; when the cherubim spread their wings to rise from the ground, the wheels did not move from their side. 10:17 When the cherubim stood still, the wheels stood still, and when they rose up, the wheels rose up with them, for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels.

10:18 Then the glory of the LORD moved away from the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. 10:19 The cherubim spread their wings, and they rose up from the earth while I watched (when they went the wheels went alongside them). They stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the LORD’s temple as the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.

10:20 These were the living creatures which I saw at the Kebar River underneath the God of Israel; I knew that they were cherubim.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

Ezekiel's wheel intersecting a wheel - Artist unknownNew King James Version

10 And I looked, and there in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim, there appeared something like a sapphire stone, having the appearance of the likeness of a throne. 2 Then He spoke to the man clothed with linen, and said, “Go in among the wheels, under the cherub, fill your hands with coals of fire from among the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” And he went in as I watched.

3 Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and the cloud filled the inner court. 4 Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and paused over the threshold of the temple; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD’s glory. 5 And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even in the outer court, like the voice of Almighty God when He speaks.

6 Then it happened, when He commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, “Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim,” that he went in and stood beside the wheels. 7 And the cherub stretched out his hand from among the cherubim to the fire that was among the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed with linen, who took it and went out. 8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under their wings.

9 And when I looked, there were four wheels by the cherubim, one wheel by one cherub and another wheel by each other cherub; the wheels appeared to have the color of a beryl stone. 10 As for their appearance, all four looked alike—as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. 11 When they went, they went toward any of their four directions; they did not turn aside when they went, but followed in the direction the head was facing. They did not turn aside when they went. 12 And their whole body, with their back, their hands, their wings, and the wheels that the four had, were full of eyes all around. 13 As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, “Wheel.”

14 Each one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, the second face the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. 15 And the cherubim were lifted up. This was the living creature I saw by the River Chebar. 16 When the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them; and when the cherubim lifted their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also did not turn from beside them. 17 When the cherubim stood still, the wheels stood still, and when one was lifted up, the other lifted itself up, for the spirit of the living creature was in them.

18 Then the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight. When they went out, the wheels were beside them; and they stood at the door of the east gate of the LORD’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.

20 This is the living creature I saw under the God of Israel by the River Chebar, and I knew they were cherubim.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

Ezekiel's cherubim and wheels seen in his visionThe Message

1 10 When I next looked, oh! Above the dome over the heads of the cherubim-angels was what looked like a throne, sky-blue, like a sapphire!

2–5 GOD said to the man dressed in linen, “Enter the place of the wheels under the cherubim-angels. Fill your hands with burning coals from beneath the cherubim and scatter them over the city.”

I watched as he entered. The cherubim were standing on the south side of the Temple when the man entered. A cloud filled the inside courtyard. Then the Glory of GOD ascended from the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the Temple. The cloud filled the Temple. Court and Temple were both filled with the blazing presence of the Glory of GOD. And the sound! The wings of the cherubim were audible all the way to the outer court—the sound of the voice was like The Strong God in thunder.

6–8 When GOD commanded the man dressed in linen, “Take fire from among the wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel. One of the cherubim reached into the fire, took some coals, and put them in the hands of the man dressed in linen. He took them and went out. Something that looked like a human hand could be seen under the wings of the cherubim.

9–13 And then I saw four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub. The wheels radiating were sparkling like diamonds in the sun. All four wheels looked alike, each like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved, they went in any of the four directions but in a perfectly straight line. Where the cherubim went, the wheels went straight ahead. The cherubim were full of eyes in their backs, hands, and wings. The wheels likewise were full of eyes. I heard the wheels called “wheels within wheels.”

14 Each of the cherubim had four faces: the first, of an angel; the second, a human; the third, a lion; the fourth, an eagle.

15–17 Then the cherubim ascended. They were the same living creatures I had seen at the Kebar River. When the cherubim moved, the wheels beside them moved. When the cherubim spread their wings to take off from the ground, the wheels stayed right with them. When the cherubim stopped, the wheels stopped. When the cherubim rose, the wheels rose, because the spirit of the living creatures was also in the wheels.

18–19 Then the Glory of GOD left the Temple entrance and hovered over the cherubim. I watched as the cherubim spread their wings and left the ground, the wheels right with them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the Temple. The Glory of the God of Israel was above them.

20–22 These were the same living creatures I had seen previously beneath the God of Israel at the Kebar River. I recognized them as cherubim.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

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King James Version

10 Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. 2 And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight. 3 Now the cherubims stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. 4 Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of nthe brightness of the LORD’s glory. 5 And the sound of the cherubims’ wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh. 6 And it came to pass, that when he had commanded the man clothed with linen, saying, Take fire from between the wheels, from between the cherubims; then he went in, and stood beside the wheels. 7 And one cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubims unto the fire that was between the cherubims, and took thereof, and put it into the hands of him that was clothed with linen: who took it, and went out.

8 And there appeared in the cherubims the form of a man’s hand under their wings. 9 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. 10 And as for their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel. 11 When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went. 12 And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had. 13 As for the wheels, it was cried unto them in my hearing, O wheel. 14 And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. 15 And the cherubims were lifted up. This is the living creature that I saw by the river of Chebar. 16 And when the cherubims went, the wheels went by them: and when the cherubims lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also turned not from beside them. 17 When they stood, these stood; and when they were lifted up, these lifted up themselves also: for the spirit of the living creature was in them.

18 Then the glory of the LORD departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims. 19 And the cherubims lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the LORD’s house; and jthe glory of the God of Israel was over them above. 20 This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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