John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

14 (Ezekiel 10:14)

Verse 14

Now Ezekiel descends to the animals themselves, which he now pronounces to be cherubim, yet under another form than that in the sanctuary. We said in the first chapter why he saw four cherubim since only two surrounded the ark of the covenant. This variation may seem absurd, for God was accustomed to accommodate his visions to the forms of the law, that he might hold the people in the simplicity of the law. But the reason which I brought forward in the first chapter is by no means to be rejected, because in truth so great was the grossness and rudeness of the people, that it was necessary to bend aside from the first and genuine institution. God had been content with two cherubim, and in that number doubtless he represented all angels; but he was surrounded on the right hand and on the left that he might show the people that he could never be wanting in power to bring them help. Now the Jews were so stupified that they shut up God in heaven, because scarcely any recognition of his providence then remained, as we have already seen. Since, therefore, the Jews thus excluded God from the government of the world, he was obliged to use a new form, different from that of the law, that they might really perceive that God’s government extended over the four quarters of the world. And there is no doubt that by the four living creatures God reminded them that nothing took place in the world without his control. But when the world is described, its four quarters or regions are put.

Now, therefore, we understand why the Prophet saw not two cherubim only but four: the same reason for difference in the form of the cherubim is also added. For the cherubim were like winged boys: but the Prophet says, that each of the living creatures was furnished with four heads. This was doubtless an assistance towards rousing’ the people from their torpor, because the Jews could not otherwise understand the meaning and the force of the angelic inspiration by which God governs the whole world: hence after four living creatures had been presented before the Prophet, four heads were also given to each living creature, namely, the head of an ox, of a man, of a lion, and of an eagle We said in the first chapter, that by these heads all living creatures were represented to us: for although trees, and the sea, and rivers, and herbs, and the air, and stars, and sun, are parts of the universe, yet in living beings there is some nearer approach to God, and some clearer display of his energy: for there is motion in a man, in an ox, in an eagle, and in a lion. These animals comprehend within themselves all parts of the universe by that figure of speech by which a part represents the whole. Meanwhile since angels are living creatures we must observe in what sense God attributes to angels themselves the head of a lion, an eagle, and a man: for this seems but little in accordance with their nature. But he could not better express the inseparable connection which exists in the motion of angels and all creatures. We have said, that angels are not called the powers (221) of God in vain: now when a lion either roars or exercises its strength, it seems to move by its own strength, so also it may be said of other animals. But God here says, that the living creatures are in some sense parts of the angels though not of the same substance, for this is not to be understood of similarity of nature but. of effect. We are to understand, therefore, that while men move about and discharge their duties, they apply themselves in different directions to the objects of their pursuit, and so also do wild beasts; yet there are angelic motions underneath, so that neither men nor animals move themselves, but their whole vigor depends on a secret inspiration.

A difficult question remains, namely, why Ezekiel says here that the first head was that of a cherub, while in the first chapter he said it was that of an ox. (Ezekiel 10:10.) Some escape the difficulty by saying that it appeared at a distance like an ox, but a nearer inspection showed it to be a cherub, But this is too forced, so that I have no doubt that there is some difference in the vision; nor does what he afterwards adds, that this was the living creature which he saw at the river Chebar, oppose this; for he calls anything which is like another, and has the same object, the same thing. Paul says their fathers in the desert ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Corinthians 10:3.) But we know how different was the symbol manna, and the water flowing from the rock, from the sacred Supper which Christ left for us; but as I have already said, since there is an affinity between the sacred symbols, they are to be referred to the same scope. Thus Paul says, the same drink and the same food, and Ezekiel says, it was the same living creature. Meanwhile, there is nothing out of place in our saying that the vision is slightly changed, For when God opened himself at first, the Prophet was on profane ground, now the vision is added more in the form of the sanctuary, because he was seized by the Spirit, that he might see the abominations by which the Jews had stained the temple, as already stated. When therefore the face of an ox was presented to the Prophet, near the river Chebar, that he might now understand that they were angels, or living’ cherubs, and that the four heads may not distract him, the face of a cherub is presented to him; so that, being admonished by this sign, he may determine that each living creature is nothing else than an angel or cherub, although it differs from the received form, of which God had proposed to Moses an example on the mount.

We now understand why God turned aside from the course prescribed in his law, when he offered this vision to his Prophet; because, in truth, the people had so degenerated from all sense of piety, that they could not be taught by the simple plan or rule of the law, but had need of gross remembrancers. This is one explanation. Then again four living creatures are employed, that God may signify that his energy is diffused through the whole universe. Then, again, four heads are assigned to each living creature, that we may know that no part of the world is free from his providence, and from that secret inspiration which is efficacious through angels. Then as to the last clause, where the face of an ox appeared to the Prophet before, now he beholds that of a cherub, that he may understand that these living creatures are nothing else than angels; but the reason why God endues his angels with a new form, is because the slothfulness of the people was so great, that they did not recognize what they ought to have been familiar with, for it was not God’s fault that they had not imbibed the doctrine of piety from their earliest childhood. Now it follows —

- John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible