13. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
13. Et similitudo animalium aspectus eorum tanquam carbones ignis ardentis, tanquam aspectus lampadum discurrens inter animalia, et splendor igni, et ex igne egrediebatur fulgur.
As I said yesterday, something divine ought to shine forth in this vision, because God set forth the face of a man and of an ox, of an eagle and of a lion, and in this he accommodates himself to the stupidity of the people, as I have said, and also to the capacity of the Prophet, because, as we are men, we cannot penetrate beyond the sky. God therefore bore in mind his Prophet, and all the pious, while, at the same time, he wished indirectly to reprove the people's sluggishness. At the same time, if the face of a man had not been different from common forms, the vision had not excited such admiration in the mind of the Prophet. Hence something heavenly ought to be mixed with the earthly figures. This is the reason why the living creatures were like burning fire. Now we begin to understand what this difference means; as when God appeared to Moses, if there had been nothing wonderful in it, Moses would not have thought that he was called by God, but he acknowledged God in the bush, because he saw that the bush was on fire and yet not consumed. (Exodus 3:2, 3.) Then he began to be aroused, and to reflect within himself, that a divine vision was presented to him. The same is to be diligently observed in this place. And hence we gather, how humanely, nay, how indulgently, God deals with us. For, as on his part, he sees how small is our comprehension, so he descends to us: hence the faces of the living creatures, the stature of their body, and what we have formerly mentioned. Now, however, since he sees us torpid upon the ground, and lying there, as it were idle, so he raises us up: this is the meaning of what Ezekiel now says, viz., the appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals. And since coals taken out of the fire sometimes die out, he says the coals were burning. The Prophet would of necessity be moved when he saw that. the living creatures were not really such, that is, when he saw in the form of the animals something celestial, and exceeding the standard of nature, and even the senses of man: and this also ]s profitable to the rest of man.-kind. For when we read this vision we acknowledge what the Prophet narrates to be so evident, that God shines forth in it, and does not suffer his Prophet to doubt. Hence his teaching, which is marked by such certain proofs, is better confirmed to us. In the meantime, it is desirable to impress upon the memory what we said yesterday, that there is something terrific in this vision, since the people were hardened against all threats, nay, even blows themselves. For God had already inflicted severe judgments, not only on the kingdom of Israel, but on the city itself, and the whole land of Judah. Even the captives were champing their bits and roaring, because driven into exile, and, in the meantime, those who remained in the city thought that they were treated nobly. Wherefore such was their security, that it was necessary to put terrors before them, as we shall see a little while afterwards. And it is also said, the fire burned before God, where he not only wishes his own glory to be beheld by us, but where he wishes to strike fear, as he did at the promulgation of the law. (Exodus 19:20) And David, in the 18th Psalm, narrates that God appeared to him in this way when he was preserved by him: (Psalm 18:8-15:) doubtless he understands that God unfolded his formidable power against the unbelieving. So also in this place, he says, the appearance of the living creatures was like fiery and burning coals, and then he adds another image, that they were like lamps, which some explain as firebrands or burnt wood. But another opinion is more general, and more approved by me. The Prophet now expresses the form of the fire more dearly, viz., that the coals were like lamps. For lamps send out their brightness to a distance, and seem to scatter their rays in every direction, like the sun when it shines through the serene air. On the whole, the Prophet means, that the fire was not obscure but full of sparks, and shows that rays were diffused like lighted lamps. Afterwards he says, they walked between the living creatures. The Prophet sees, as it were, a fiery form amidst the living creatures themselves. Thus God wished to show the vigor of his own spirit in all actions, that we should not measure it in our manner, according to the depravity which is innate with us. For when we discourse concerning the works of God, we conceive what our reason comprehends, and we wish in some way to affix in our minds an image of God. But God shows, that when he works there is a wonderful vigor, as if fire were moving to and fro. Hence that vigor is incomprehensible to us.
Afterwards he says, The fire was bright, and lightning issued from it. This would affect the Prophet's mind, when he saw fire glittering in an unaccustomed manner. We know that fire is often bright, especially when flame is added; but the Prophet here intends something very uncommon, as if he had said that the fire is not like that arising from lighted wood, but that it was resplendent, whence we may readily collect that God here sets before us his visible glory: and for the same reason he says, lightning issued from the fire. Hence arises the splendor just mentioned, since lightning is mingled with the fire. But we know that lightning cannot be beheld without fear; for in a moment the air seems inflamed, just as if God would in some way or other absorb the world: hence the appearance of lightning is always terrible to us. He was unwilling, indeed, that his Prophet should be frightened, except as far as was needful to humble him. But, as I stated at the beginning, this vision was not offered to the Prophet for his private use, but that it might be useful to the whole people. Meanwhile the Prophet, as he was but human, had need of this preparation, that he might be humbled. For we always attribute something to pride, which renders our senses obtuse, so as to be incapable of the glory of God. Therefore when God wishes to become familiarly known to us, he strips us of all pride and all security: lastly, humility is the beginning of true intelligence. Now we understand why lightning issued from the fire: he afterwards confirms this.
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