Could you explain the reference in the book of Ezekiel chapter one about the “wheel within a wheel”? Some say that this is an allusion to ancient visitors to the Earth in “flying saucers.”
In recent times a few radical sensationalists have contended that centuries ago Earth was visited by space beings from distant planets. It has been alleged that evidence for such a notion is to be found not only in the archaeological records and monuments of antiquity but that the Bible also contains allusions to such.
For instance, in the book, Chariots of the Gods (and the subsequent movie of the same title), Swiss author Erich von Daniken contended that Ezekiel 1 contains a biblical description of flying saucers visiting earth from outer space. However, careful study of this chapter thoroughly refutes von Daniken’s absurd theory.
The prophet Ezekiel was one of the captives of the Babylonian conquest in 606 B.C. As the book opens, it is the thirtieth year (probably the thirtieth year of his own life) and the prophet is in Babylon by the river Chebar. The “heavens were opened” and, the prophet declares, “I saw visions of God.”
As the dramatic scenes began to unfold, Ezekiel saw the likeness of four living creatures. They were similar in appearance to men, except that they had four faces—one like a man, one like a lion, one like an ox, and one like an eagle (v. 10).
They had hands like men, but feet as calves (vv. 7-8); and each creature had four wings—two of which covered the body (v. 11) and two of which stretched upward supporting “the likeness of a firmament” (vv. 22-23). Their appearance also was like burning coals of fire and their movements appeared as flashes of lightening (vv. 13-14).
Beneath these four living creatures were four wheels. Each wheel was fashioned as “a wheel within a wheel” and it could move in four directions without turning. Moreover, the rims of the wheels were “full of eyes” (vv. 15-18).
Above all of this was a throne upon which sat one who had the “appearance of a man” and who was surrounded by a fiery and glorious brightness (vv. 26-28).
Overpowered by the spectacle, Ezekiel fell upon his face.
The Meaning of the Vision
Before discussing the actual elements of these scenes, several preliminary observations are in order.
Visions of God—Not UFOs
Rather than relating to mysterious outer-space UFOs, these visions were breathtaking glimpses of the glory of Almighty God. Indeed, verses one and twenty-eight stand like guardian sentinels at the beginning and end of the chapter to prevent fanatical speculation as to the meaning of the narrative.
In the first verse, the prophet says:
“I saw visions of God.”
In the final verse he concludes:
“This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah.”
Ezekiel Saw Visions
These scenes are identified as visions. This biblical term may refer to purely oral communications (Habakkuk 2:2, 3) or it can denote the written record of a divine revelation (Nahum 1:1).
In this instance, there is a miraculous audio-visual phenomenon through which divine truth was made known to the prophet. (Compare the account of the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9.)
Visions were frequently connected with the revelation of God in ancient times.
“Hear now my words: if there be a prophet among you, I Jehovah will make myself known unto him in a vision” (Numbers 12:6; cf. Hebrews 1:1).
Visions Are Meant To Be Symbolic
The narrative is highly symbolic, as evidenced by the repeated use of “appearance” (fourteen times) and “likeness” (ten times). The things he saw were meant to represent divine truth and were not mere physical phenomena.
The Visions Were Preparatory
Finally, it should be noted that this vision of Deity—similar to Isaiah’s (6:1-8) and also to the apostle John’s (Revelation 1:9-20)—doubtless was to prepare the prophet for the great truths he would receive in the ministry for which he had been chosen (cf. 2:2ff).
The Four Living Creatures
The four living creatures were not space people from some remote planet; rather, they are identified as heavenly cherubim! Note Ezekiel’s own explanation:
“And the cherubim mounted up; this is the living creature that I saw by the river Chebar” (10:15, 20).
Cherubim were an order of angelic beings in Jehovah’s service. For example, they were used by the Lord to guard the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve’s transgression (Genesis 3:24). Cherubim figures were mounted on opposite ends of the mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant within the most holy place of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:22).
In Ezekiel’s vision, each cherub had four faces—man, lion, ox, and eagle. Jewish tradition interpreted this as follows:
Man is exalted among creatures; the eagle is exalted among birds, the ox is exalted among domestic animals; the lion is exalted among the wild beasts: and all of them have received dominion, and greatness has been given them, yet they are stationed below the chariot of the Holy One (Midrash Rabbah Shemoth, No. 23, on Exodus 15:1).
This is doubtless a symbolic representation of Jehovah’s supremacy and sovereignty over the entire creation! There is not the remotest connection with space aliens.
The wheels are described as a “wheel within a wheel.” To identify these as flying saucers is, quite frankly, absurd! The truth is, the cherubim with these under-girding wheels represented a heavenly chariot, upon which was the throne of Jehovah God (cf. 1 Chronicles 28:18, where the cherubim are described as the Lord’s chariot). The wheels are simply a component of the chariot vision.
This celestial chariot could move along the earth by its wheels or be borne aloft by the cherubim wings (v. 21), thus showing that Jehovah is “the God of heaven and the God of the earth” (Genesis 24:3).
The wheel-within-a-wheel motif conveys the image of two wheels blended together at right angles, thus enabling the chariot to move in all four directions without turning. The Almighty is present throughout the entire universe!
“Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith Jehovah” (Jeremiah 23:24).
It is important to note further that these multi-directional wheels are “full of eyes round about” (v. 18), emphasizing the ever-watchfulness of our all-seeing Creator.
“The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).
The Throne of God
Above the cherubim, and supported by their wings, was an awesome, crystal-like “firmament.” Beyond this was the “likeness of a throne” (vv. 22-23). Upon the throne was a “likeness with the appearance of a man” bathed in a brilliance “as it were glowing metal,” and over him a rainbow-like hue of brightness (vv. 26-28).
The identity of this personage is not a matter of speculation.
“This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah” (v. 28).
The Bible is its own best commentary. This chapter clearly is a marvelous portrayal of the majesty of Almighty God. How our hearts leap as we, through the inspired pen of Ezekiel, are permitted to view such glorious scenes.
Let us, therefore, exalt and serve well our maker—and interpret his Scriptures sensibly.