Wings and Wheels

There are some parts of Scripture that are not easy to understand and may even seem to be of no value to us at all, but the claim that it makes for itself is that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable" and those that believe that will read every part with expectation. But what can such a passage as Ezekiel 1 teach us? It does appear at first to be a jumble of meaningless symbols. I certainly was not surprised when some time ago a young Christian said to me, "Its the wings and wheels that baffle me in that chapter, whatever do they mean?"

Well, these are figures that enter into our common everyday speech. We talk about the "flight of time" and "the wheels of fortune," and sometimes life seems so complicated that we talk of "wheels within wheels," just what Ezekiel saw in his vision. And it may be that to some, time and circumstances seem so completely out of gear that they conclude that they are the victims of blind chance. But these wings and wheels that Ezekiel saw were not blind or out of control, they were attached to living creatures that had great intelligence, moreover they were under very definite control as we shall see.

To consider Ezekiel for a moment his circumstances were not happy. He was an exile from his beloved land, a captive under a foreign tyrant, the wings and the wheels seemed all against him. We are not surprised that he noted the flight of time. Any one who has been far from home and hoping against hope for a speedy return can understand that. He is great on dates, he tells us the year, the month and the day on which he saw his first vision and heard the voice of God speaking to him, and he keeps it up, date after date he gives, and all with a purpose. God has His calendar, and events in the histories of nations and men must fit into it. He tells us also of the revolving wheels, he tells us of the overthrow of mighty empires, the power and glory of which seemed to make them invulnerable and everlasting. And if we had not Ezekiel's secret we might well say, Of what use can all this destruction be? Surely civilization will collapse entirely, and mankind will perish from the earth, but when we come to the end of his book we find instead of chaos the most wonderful order, a perfect system of government and a great and beautiful city the name of which is "The Lord is there." The Lord in full control. The wings and wheels move to some purpose, they go here and there, and turn and turn and overturn until He shall come whose right it is and He will establish His glorious kingdom in the earth. The Lord has spoken it and it must be so.

But how could these wings and wheels and the living creatures to which they were attached co-ordinate and work together to this great end? The answer is found in chapter 1:26. Above the firmament and above those wheels and wings there was a throne and upon it was the likeness as the appearance of a man, and His voice controlled all. It was a vision of a present great reality. There is a throne, it is the Father's throne, the supreme throne in the universe, and on that throne there is a Man, and that Man is Jesus. "Wherefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11) He has "set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and has put all things under His feet" (Eph. 1:21). The wings of time and the revolving wheels are all subject to Him, and at His word will they fly and move, and the great end in view is that the whole world of nations and men, and the wide universe of spiritual beings and forces should be brought into acknowledged and manifested subjection to Him.

When we understand this we are not disturbed though covenant are broken, and the League of Nations fails, and pacts and treaties are but as scraps of paper. The Man at God's right hand is in control and He will deal in eternal justice with all the unrighteousnesses of men. Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord." He sits above the water-floods and makes the wrath of men to praise Him. No dictator on earth is master of his own destiny. The wings of time move onward and the wheels turn and turn and the men of power and pride crash to their doom, it has ever been so, and it will be so finally, for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased. Chapter 28 of Ezekiel might well be headed, "Dictators Beware" for therein we read of the destruction of the greatest dictator that shall ever be, and the overthrow of the one who is behind the dictators and all the pride of men, Satan himself.

But to come to the individual life of those who have bowed down to the supremacy of the Lord and have committed themselves to Him. Are any such tempted to think that their circumstances are a hopeless tangle and have they a perpetual question in their souls? Do the times seem out of joint and the wheels always turning against them, and are they inclined to think, as those who do not know God think — that they are at the mercy of uncontrolled and fickle chance? Let such consider the fact that the Saviour is on the throne, above all the wings and wheels that perplex them. It all comes out so wonderfully in Romans 8, "It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." He has not forgotten you, nor the apparent tangles in your life. He cannot forget you, for you are graven on the palms of His hands. He is above all circumstances, and controls all the wings and wheels that have their part in your life, you may say, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to His purpose." There is the sound of the revolving wheels in those words, not a harsh, discordant, jarring sound, but harmonious with the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.

Faith and hope and patience must have their place in our souls in relation to this matter, or we may be tempted to say, like faithless Israel, "My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God" (Isa. 40:28). But confidence in the Lord will keep us right.

"I know whom I have believed," cried Paul, when his fortune seemed to have reached their very nadir, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). William Cowper, "the stricken deer," a man of strange experiences, got a gleam of heavenly light on the whole question when he wrote his famous hymn. Everyone who knows anything of Christian hymnary knows it, but I must repeat it here it fits in so well with my subject:

"God moves in a mysterious way
  His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps on the sea,
  And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
  Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
  And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
  The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
  In blessing on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
  But trust Him for His grace:
Behind a frowning providence
  He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast.
  Unfolding every hour:
The bud may have a bitter taste,
  But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
  And scan His works in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
  And He will make it plain."

It is remarkable how constantly in Ezekiel's prophecy the words occur, "They shall know that I am the Lord." The wheels and wings shall all bear witness to that, and His people, whether His ancient Israel, or the sheep of His "one flock" (John 10), shall own at last that "as for God His way is perfect," and though now there are "the sufferings of this present time, they are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). But our present confidence and peace, and quietness of heart all depend upon our seeing Jesus crowned with glory and honour on the throne, for now there is not "the appearance of a man" that Ezekiel saw but the reality of which his vision was the shadow. There is "the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain," … the glory of the Lord. "And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One that spoke" (Ezek. 1:28), and that voice is the voice of Him who laid His right hand on John in Patmos and said, "Fear not, I am the First and the Last: I am He that lives and was dead; and, behold I am alive for evermore. Amen; and have the keys of hell and death" (Rev. 1:17-18).