Ezekiel Saw the Wheel 

The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision in exile by the river Chebar:

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel

  • “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
  • “On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.
  • “Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. 
  • “Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. 
  • “Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.
  • “Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.
  • “The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings.
  • “Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
  • “As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.
  • “Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies.
  • “And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went.
  • “As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning.
  • “And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.
  • “Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces. 
  • “The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. 
  • “When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. 
  • “As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them. 
    When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. 
  • “Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, because there the spirit went; and the wheels were lifted together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 
  • “When those went, these went; when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up together with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
  • “The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads.
  • “And under the firmament their wings spread out straight, one toward another. Each one had two which covered one side, and each one had two which covered the other side of the body. 
  • “When they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a tumult like the noise of an army; and when they stood still, they let down their wings.
  • “A voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads; whenever they stood, they let down their wings.
  • “And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it.
  • “Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around.
  • “Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
  • (Ezekiel 1:1-28).

What does that mean? First of all, is it even possible to see God?

Seeing God Danger Zone
Moses Maimonides Baggage
Cosmogram The Illuminati

Seeing God

Can anyone see God? Doesn't the Bible say,

(No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18).

How Does God See?
Is the Question Legal?
Artists and Iconoclasts
What Will We See?

So we see why John Gill explains Ezekiel's vision as a pre-vision of Christ on His throne:

"And above the firmament that was over their heads,....

"The heads of the living creatures:

"was the likeness of a throne;

"a symbol of Christ's kingly power and authority, who is the person that sat upon it; as he is God, he is on the same throne with his Father; as Mediator, he is King of saints, and was so from eternity; he exercised his office before his incarnation; and as he was prophesied of as a King, he came as one, though little known, and his kingdom was not with observation; upon his ascension he was declared Lord and Christ; and will appear on a throne, when he shall come to judge the world, and particularly in the New Jerusalem church state: and this throne was

"as the appearance of a sapphire stone;

"which is a stone very clear and transparent; very hard, solid, and durable; very precious and excellent; and of an azure sky colour; denoting the clear manifestation of Christ's righteous judgments, in the ministration of his kingly office; the duration of his government; the excellency of it; and its heavenly nature and original:

"and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness of the appearance of a man above upon it;

"this was no other than Christ; who, though he was not really man before his incarnation, yet often appeared in the form of a man; and, through his incarnation, he was found in fashion as a man; and was really man, though not a mere man; nor was the person here designed; for that was the appearance and likeness of the glory of the Lord, Eze. 1:28; and this shows, that when Christ, as man, had done his work, he should sit down upon his throne above the firmament, being made higher than the heavens." (John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, Ezekiel 1:26).

Danger Zone

Ezekiel's vision, understood to portray a divine chariot-throne, is perceived in Rabbinic Judaism as very, very dangerous. Delightful, but dangerous:

"Forthwith, R. Eleazar b. ‘Arak began his exposition of the ‘work of the Chariot’, and fire came down from heaven and encompassed all the trees in the field; [thereupon] they all began to utter [divine] song." (Hagigha 14b).

Some people have lost their minds because of this chariot:

  • “Our Rabbis taught: Four men entered the ‘Garden’, namely, Ben ‘Azzai and Ben Zoma, Aher, and R. Akiba. R. Akiba said to them: When ye arrive at the stones of pure marble, say not, water, water! For it is said: He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes.
  • “Ben ‘Azzai cast a look and died. Of him Scripture says: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Ben Zoma looked and became demented.  Of him Scripture says: Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it. Aher mutilated the shoots. R. Akiba departed unhurt.”

  • (Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 14b).

Thriceholy Radio

Why, one must wonder, is this vision so dangerous? It's not like it's an isolated case. Seventy of the elders of Israel went up the mount to eat and drink with God:

"Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: and they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink." (Exodus 24:9-11).

And yet you never hear about that one, it's just the chariot. What is it with the chariot? People have wondered what it was. Philo Judaeus thought it was the heavens as a whole, which, according to the Ptolemaic system of astronomy to which he subscribed, moves with incredible rapidity to complete its daily rotation: ". . .for he [Moses] imagined to himself some other more ancient power, mounted upon the universe, like a charioteer, or like the pilot of a ship; for this power steers the whole common vessel of the world in which all things sail, and he bridles the course of the winged chariot, the entire heaven, exerting an independent and absolute sovereign authority." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things?, Chapter LX, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Delphi Complete Works of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 77) (Kindle Locations 11835-11837).) But to understand chariot mania, you really need to look at this man:

Moses Maimonides

Moses Maimonides explains it all to us. He wrote a book, the advertised topics of which are the two dangerous studies, the creation and the chariot.

"We have stated several times that it is our primary object in this treatise to expound, as far as possible, the Biblical account of the Creation (Ma'aseh bereshit) and the description of the Divine Chariot (Ma'aseh Mercabah) in a manner adapted to the training of those for whom this work is written." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 286).

For much of the book, the reader remains perplexed, because he does not really seem to be saying anything at all to the point. But then the reader gasps, because. . .he. . .explains. . .it!: "A second point is then made clear in this second description, namely, that the Ofannim [wheels] are spherical; for the prophet says, 'As for the Ofannim, it was cried unto them in my hearing, O sphere' (ver. 13)." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 291). See if you can visualize it; we have crystal-blue spheres, within spheres. They are not self-moving, the living creatures propel them along: "The Hayyot are the moving agents of the Ofannim." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 290). So the spheres are pushed along by the living creatures, but that's OK because even Kepler retained pusher-angels. They move right along: "Jonathan, the son of Uzziel, renders the phrase razo vashob thus: They move round the world and return at once, and are as swift as the appearance of lightning." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 288). Indeed, given their vast size, it was understood that the spheres moved with great rapidity. The epicycles are the spheres within spheres, "as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel" (p. 289). So what are we looking at?:

  • “It is necessary to call your attention to an idea expressed by Jonathan, the son of Uzziel. When he saw that the prophet says in reference to the Ofannim, 'It was cried unto them in my hearing, O gilgal' ('sphere') (X. 13), he assumed that by Ofannim the heavens are meant, and rendered Ofan by gilgal, 'sphere,' and Ofannim by gilgelaya, 'spheres.' I have no doubt that he found a confirmation of his opinion in the words of the prophet that the Ofannim were like unto the color of tarshish (ver. 16), a color ascribed to the heavens, as is well known. . .
  • “My opinion is that gilgal means originally 'anything rolling;' comp. 'And I will roll thee (vegilgaltika) down from the rocks' (Jer. li. 25). . .The poll of the head, being round, is therefore called gulgolet: and because everything round rolls easily, every spherical thing is called gilgal: also the heavens are called gilgallim on account of their spherical form. Thus our Sages use the phrase, 'It is a wheel (gilgal) that moves round the world': and a wooden ball, whether small or large is called gilgal. If so, the prophet merely intended by the words, 'As for the Ofanim, it is cried to them in my hearing, 'O sphere' (gilgal) to indicate the shape of the Ofannim, as nothing has been mentioned before respecting their form and shape. . .”

  • (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 292).

So what have we here? A picture of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, with God sitting enthroned right on top of it! This is what Jonathan claims Ezekiel saw by the river Chebar. Get it? Spheres within spheres, the wheel within a wheel? It's an orrery, a smaller-scale model of the system of the cosmos, set in motion by the hand of God. Wheels within wheels. . .epicycles anyone?  So if anyone asks you, where in the Bible do you find the Ptolemaic system described, you will know to answer: Ezekiel 1 and 10:

Except, as has been known since Copernicus, there ain't no spheres. So personally I don't buy it, in spite of its undeniable ingenuity. In the end, it is not all that helpful to load the encumbering baggage onto scripture of an obsolete system of astronomy. And it doesn't exactly match in any case. Why are there four living creatures, four wheels? For the Ptolemaic system, there ought to be eight; aren't the gnostics always rhapsodizing about the 'Ogdoad'? Or nine, if you count the outermost sphere separately. We have the sun and the  moon, the five planets known to antiquity, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and the sphere of the fixed stars (the rapid mover).

Back in the sixth century A.D., the non-conforming Christian Cosmas Indicopleustes had noticed that the Ptolemaic system is absent from the Christian scriptures. And indeed it is not found there, I would agree, whether that's from God's foresighted realization that the system is false, or for some other reason. There are three heavens known to scripture, not seven or eight:

"It is necessary for those who wish to be considered Christians to enquire into which of these eight or nine heavens Christ has ascended, and into which they themselves hope to  ascend, and what is the use of the other seven or eight heavens...And again tell me, ye who follow these men and yet wish to be Christians, into what place of the eight spheres, or of the ninth which is called by some the starless, hath Christ entered, or shall we ourselves enter?" (Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography, Book IV, p. 134-135)

Mohammed ibn Abdallah, who counts seven heavens, could tell you which Christ entered, but the Bible cannot, as there are not seven heavens known to the Bible, though God forbid we follow Cosmas into flat-earthism. So the original answer, that this structure is some sort of throne-chariot, remains alive. Alternative explanations of Ezekiel's wheel abound, including Elijah Muhammad's alarming vision of the "Mother Ship," poised to exterminate the white devil:

"The vision of Ezekiel's wheel in a wheel in the sky is true if carefully understood. There is a similar wheel in the sky today which very well answers the description of Ezekiel's vision. This wheel corresponds in a way with the sphere of spheres called the universe. . .The present wheel-shaped plane known as the Mother of Planes, is one-half mile of a half mile and is the largest mechanical man-made object in the sky. It is a small human planet made for the purpose of destroying the present world of the enemies of Allah. The cost to build such a plane is staggering! The finest brains were used to build it." (Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Black Man in America, Chapter 125).

While nodding to the older view that the wheel within a wheel is a picture of the universe, he militarizes it for his dark vision of race warfare. However, Ezekiel's imagery certainly also 'worked' for proponents of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, whether that was Ezekiel's intent or not. What is clear is that the Ptolemaic system was greatly admired in its hey-day. The gnostics adored it. It's time in the sun has long since passed, because, for good or for ill, there ain't no spheres.

It is a mystery to me why Spinoza got kicked out of the synagogue, when this man didn't:

"What I desired to state in this chapter is this: According to the hypothesis and theory accepted, it is God that gave will to dumb animals, freewill to the human being, and natural properties to everything; and as accidents originate in the redundancy of some natural force, as has been explained [by Aristotle] and are mostly the result of the combined action of nature, desire, and freewill: it can consequently be said of everything which is produced by any of these causes, that God commanded that it should be made, or said that it should be so. I will give you instances, and they will guide you in the interpretation of passages which I do not mention. As regards phenomena produced regularly by natural causes, such as the melting of the snow when the atmosphere becomes warm, the roaring of the sea when a storm rages, 'He sendeth his word and melteth them' (Ps. cxlvii. 18); 'And he saith, and a storm-wind riseth, and lifteth up its waves' (ibid. cvii. 25)." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, p. 284).

The Deists were religious enthusiasts compared to Maimonides. Moses Maimonides all but venerated Aristotle, who was of course a geocentrist. It is striking that there is one feature of Ezekiel's vision he doesn't even notice: the central fire. There is a central fire! See: "In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire. . ." (Ezekiel 1:13); "And a cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it. . ." (Ezekiel 10:7). Now, who was it that flourished in the sixth century B.C. whose astronomy incorporated a 'central fire'? Pythagoras! The obvious explanation for the central fire is heliocentrism, although some interpreters thought Pythagoras' central fire was something other than the sun. The presence of epicycles is not inconsistent with heliocentrism; Copernicus still had epicycles, they were not discarded until Kepler. Is it possible that Ezekiel saw an armillary sphere, built according to Pythagorean specifications, in the land of exile, and was then granted a vision of the God of Israel sitting enthroned atop this symbolic representation of the world? It's possible, but I doubt it. If not, then what is it? Good question.


One can well imagine the Jews must have had a bad case of colonial envy respecting Greek science. Make no mistake, Ptolemaic astronomy is a scientific theory with high predictive value; it is not mythology. However, there was a demand for the product; if you ask, Ptolemy can tell you where the planets were thirty years ago. And why would anybody need to know that? To cast horoscopes. In other words, to practice pagan divination.

After the Rabbis adopted the Ptolemaic system, we start to hear about the 'seven heavens,' which aren't Biblical, and we also hear the catch-phrase, 'God made the world in six days and ascended the throne.' The fact that, if you squint, you can see the Ptolemaic system, or at least a scale model of it, in Ezekiel's vision, made possible all kinds of things, like heavenly journeys and peregrinations not hitherto feasible, because the region had not yet been mapped. Unfortunately, the area was already densely populated. . .with pagan gods. The genial old sun was known as Helios, Hyperion, Apollo, Ra; Mars and Venus are an item; these are the 'powerful rulers.' Are they really?:


There exists a certain drawing of the universe called the Bakongo Cosmogram, which is a circle with a cross inscribed inside. Sometimes when they do plantation archaeology and dig up a wheel which seems to have had a cultic function, that's what they call it. As I understand it, this pictogram intends to describe the physical universe as well as the spiritual world, for example, the four elements, and the four stages of the sun's course. To the extent that it intends to describe the physical universe, one can't directly categorize it as paganism, any more than the Ptolemaic system of the universe is inherently pagan, though pagan accretions had certainly grown up around it by the time Moses Maimonides sought to mash it up with the Bible. To the extent that the Cosmogram aspires to portray the spiritual universe, or give promise of eternal life without need of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, that would be pagan, though. Any interpretation of Christianity that perceives the gospel as a continuation of pagan spirituality rather than a sharp break with it misses the point.

It would appear that when African slaves were brought to the new world and encountered Biblical religion, they saw meaning in some aspects of it, namely for example, Ezekiel's vision by the River Chebar, that have been more or less left by the wayside by modern evangelical religion. Like Moses Maimonides, they thought the vision was intended to be a microcosm, a scale-model view of the physical universe. Thus Ezekiel's wheel became a celebrated element of African Christian spirituality.

This interpretive strategy is perhaps not such a bad choice in itself, though four elements are a bit meager to do justice to nature. Many of the first generation in the Christian church probably also believed there were four elements, because that was a part of Greek natural science, including a fifth element, the quintessence, as a bonus. This natural science is outmoded though; we have added to the list of elements, taking away their simplicity perhaps, but our elements really are elements, as earth, air, fire, and water are not. Believing there are a hundred plus elements will not save you, nor will believing there are four condemn you to hell. That's just information on a different track, as is the Ptolemaic system.

While it is not helpful to try to revive a Biblical interpretation that depends on theories about nature that were abandoned long ago, these theories can remind us that the passage is there to be interpreted. What does it mean? We know that God is spirit, so He is not in need of furniture; and yet He maintains a loud, whirring perpetual motion machine, a chariot throne comprised of living creatures, mouthing continual praise. What is this apparatus for, what does it do? Is it a prayer aggregator, accumulating the praises of the saints? Is it, as Moses Maimonides and the African slaves suspected, coordinated with the activities of the physical universe, or is it something off by itself? Further investigation awaits.

The Illuminati

There, I've given away the great secret, what Ezekiel saw was a microcosm, a small-scale model of the great universe, featuring the spheres-within-spheres of the Ptolemaic system, each nestled sphere carrying its epicycle. Now the Illuminati and the Bilderbergers and such will probably come and assassinate me. Except I don't think he really did see any such thing, and 'galgal' doesn't mean sphere anyway.

One hears from the atheists that the Bible incorporates a flat-earth astronomy. Yet however earnestly sought for, such a thing is never found. They take bits and scraps like 'the ends of the earth' and try to make an astronomy out of them. Imagine the discoverer's delight that Ezekiel endorses Ptolemy, or rather the system to which Claudio Ptolemy's name has been attached since medieval times. There's no doubt this synthesis has been productive of heresy, which explains the Rabbis' anxiety. 'Aher,'— this man is called 'the Other,' for much the same reason as the scary people on the TV show 'Lost' were called 'The Others,'— may have become a Christian, who were called atheists, or may have become an atheist. The gnostics latched onto it; now that they had the road map, heavenly tourism became a destination. Keeping up with the Joneses was a big motivator, one suspects, and now the pagan hermetic heavenly pilgrims were going to have to shove over and get out of their way. The 'sefirot' of the Kabbalists is probably a Greek loan word, 'sphaera' or 'sphere.' All in all it is rather a lame explanation however.