JSB has quite an interesting introduction to Ezekiel. His prophecies all came after he had been exiled to Babylon with King Jehoiachin, so this book offers a unique perspective on the Israelite nation at a time of great distress, when the Davidic kingship had been overthrown and the Temple destroyed, and from a distant land. God’s promises to maintain kings in the line of David and meet with His people in the Temple appeared to be withdrawn. The JSB editors note that the prophet does not foresee God restoring the Israelites to their homeland on the basis of divine grace or due to their repentance or prayers; rather, He will restore His nation out of concern for His holy name, “which the House of Israel has caused to be profaned among the nations to which they have come.” Indeed, God will save His people not for or because of them, but in spite of them and for His own good purposes.
Interestingly, the JSB claims that authorship of this book is by and large undisputed: Except for a few minor additions or annotations, most modern scholars agree that Ezekiel himself wrote the whole of the text.
The JPS Tanakh translation of ch. 1 provides some insights to the vision that I had not noticed, or had been obscured, in other translations. V. 7 states that the legs of each creature “were [fused into] a single rigid leg, and the feet of each were like a single calf’s hoof.” Ezekiel makes much of the idea that the creatures do not turn when they move; this translation makes clear that this stems from the fact that they have faces on all sides, and so do not need to turn to see where they are going. Vv. 13-14 clearly distinguish the creatures from the fire/torches moving between them. Lightning issues from the moving fire, and something that looked like flares dashed to and fro among the creatures.
Typical English translations of this text describe the wheels associated with the creatures as “a wheel within a wheel.” Here, this is changed to “the appearance and structure of each was as of two wheels cutting through each other,” presumably at right angles to each other so that the creatures can move on these wheels in any direction without turning.
All of this turns out to be the four wheels of a chariot upon which the divine presence rides. (Though the editors point out in two separate places that the word ‘chariot’ is never used in the text.) This the editors take to symbolize the mobility of God: He is not bound to the Temple in Jerusalem which is about to be destroyed, but goes in any direction he chooses, fore, back, left, right, up, down, without turning, and at the whim of His Spirit. He has left His Temple, and is not beholden to the rebellious people who forsook His presence.
Where all other translations with which I am familiar use the phrase “son of man” in reference to Ezekiel, this translation uses the word “mortal,” as in 2:1, “And He said to me, “O mortal, stand up on your feet that I may speak to you.” The JSB make much of the fact that four times in three verses (1:28 – 2:2) Ezekiel mentions that he hears God as a human voice. We also see God changing the name of “the people of Israel” to “that nation of rebels.”
Considering the accommodation of God’s message coming to Ezekiel as a human voice, I find it interesting that 2:9 doesn’t directly connect the hand holding the scroll with the divine presence: “As I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me, holding a written scroll.” It seems even that the hand and scroll just appeared, “As I looked, there was…” In the following verse “He unrolled it before me…” suggesting that God unrolled it, and even that all of this was an anthropomorphism of God, or even a theophany – God manifesting Himself bodily.