The book of Ezekiel is all about God's condemnation of Israel's worship of foreign gods. It mentions that they worshiped the gods of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Chaldeans and more and God would punish them for it.
The interesting thing is that when Ezekiel has visions, they are full of the imagery of these foreign gods. For instance let's start with this one:
Ezekiel 9:3-6 (NIV):
Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, "Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it."
As I listened, he said to the others, "Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark.
Compare that to the description of the Babylonian god that Nebuchadnezzar was named after:
Nabu is accorded the office of patron of the scribes, taking over from the Sumerian goddess Nisaba. His symbols are the clay writing tablet with the writing stylus.His power over human existence is immense, because Nabu engraves the destiny of each person, as the Gods have decided, on the tablets of sacred record. Thus, he has the power to increase or diminish, at will, the length of human life.
In this vision Nabu is used to represent Nebuchadnezzar to show how God would punish Israel and the surrounding nations. He chose this king because
Ezekiel 29:20 (NIV):
I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Interesting. Maybe this king worshiped the God of Israel as well as his own gods? That makes sense in a mix and match polytheist society.
Of course this isn't the only vision of angels Ezekiel had. There's also the vision of the Chariot of God which is full of the symbols of other gods:
Ezekiel 1:4-18, 22-28 (NIV):
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
Let's break it down to its components, in the order given:
Windstorm, flashes of lightning, sounds of thunder
Four creatures each with the body of a man, with hands, 4 wings, 4 faces and the feet of a calf
Intersecting whirling wheels beside them , with their rims covered in eyes
A man – from the waist up he looked like glowing hot metal,from the waist down, fire
It said in Ezekiel 1:28 (NIV):
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
So the chariot is an attribute of God, not God Himself.
So what does this vision signify? Could it really be an amalgamation of gods of the ancient world? Let's go with this theory and see what turns up.
First there's the windstorm, lightning and thunder. There were many storm gods in the ancient world, one of which was Baal. Wikipedia says this about him:
The word Baal (pronounced ba-al) meant "lord" in Phoenician and was the term used in the Old Testament to refer to any Canaanite god. (The Canaanites were cousins of the Hebrews and of the Phoenicians). The name Baal originally referred to several local deities, but by the 14th century B.C. was taken to mean the lord of the universe, according to the Ugarit tablets. Baal (also known as El) had a number of other titles such as "the son of Dagan". Baal also bears the titles "Rider of the Clouds," "Almighty," and "Lord of the Earth." He was the god of the thunderstorm, the most vigorous and aggressive of the gods, the one on whom mortals most immediately depend. Baal (Hadad to Phoenicians, Hammon to Carthaginians) was believed to reside on Mount Zaphon, north of Ugarit in Phoenicia, and is usually depicted holding a thunderbolt.
Baal is mentioned throughout the Bible, so it could very well signify him. Other candidates are the Roman gods Jupiter or Summanus or the Greek god Zeus.
Now to the difficult matter of the creatures. The gods were often symbolized by animals. Here lion, eagle and ox are mentioned. What is an ox? It's a castrated bull. Thus their heads would look alike.
My first thought was that it could be symbolic of the heads of the gods different countries. For instance:
Man =Marduk supreme god of the Babylonians
lion-Maahes protector god of Egypt associated with the pharaohs
bull= Ashur ruling bull of heaven of Assyria
eagle=Zeus head of Greek gods and/or Jupiter head of Roman gods
Of course they could represent other gods. For instance:
The lion could represent the Egyptian gods Sekhmet, or Bastet, or Nergal, the head of the Babylonian netherworld gods.
The bull could also be the Egyptian god Apis, the Greek god Dionysus , who also appeared as a calf, and even the supreme Canaanite god Eli/Il.
The eagle could be Nisroch the Assyrian god of agriculture mentioned in 2 Kings 19:37 and Isa. 37:38.
The man's face could belong to the Greek god Adonis, or any number of gods who didn't have an animal representation.
The vision mentions and expanse, which I'm guessing might mean sky, seeing as that is how Genesis defines the word. There were many sky gods:
Ouranos/Uranus and Zeus/Jupiter (Greek/Roman mythology)
Shu, Nut, Horus (Egyptian mythology)
the Phoenician Ēl's father was called sky.
It could be any one of these but if you look at Zeus , he has many symbols that match the vision.Wikipedia says:
He is the King of the Gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak.
So I'm thinking this is definitely him.
There are other gods who have multiple symbols as well.
Beelshamên, or Baal-Shamin (Syrian Semitic), was a supreme deity and the sky god of pre-Islamic Palmyra in ancient Syria. His attributes are the eagle and the lightning bolt. "Beel" is also equivalent to the Semitic Baal and Bel, meaning "Lord", and was an ancient name for Enlil and Marduk.
Sandan was the Anatolian (Hittite) lion god during the Classical period. He used to be represented in association with a horned lion, and often resided inside a pyre surmounted by an eagle.
Zu, also known as Anzu and Imdugud, in Persian and Sumerian, is a lesser divinity of Akkadian mythology. Both Zu and Siris are seen as massive birds who can breathe fire and water, although Zu is alternately seen as a lion-headed eagle (cf: The Griffin).
Then there is Chronus:
In Greek mythology, Chronos in pre-Socratic philosophical works is said to be the personification of time. Chronos was imagined as an incorporeal god. Serpentine in form, with three heads—that of a man, a bull, and a lion. He was depicted in Greco-Roman mosaics as a man turning the Zodiac Wheel.
Which might explain the wheel next to each creature. But it mentions a wheel intersecting another wheel. The only other wheel associated with a god that I could find is the wheel of Fortune, belonging to Fortuna, a Roman deity who personified luck and fate. Those two do go together quite well. Unfortunately the earliest reference to this is only 55 BC so maybe there is another ancient wheel out there that I don't know about.
So let's move on to the throne:
Ezekiel 1:26 (NIV):
Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire.
Believe it or not, there is an Egyptian goddess who was the personification of a throne:
Isis (also spelled Aset) - goddess of magical power and healing, "She of the Throne" who was represented as the throne, also later as the wife of Osiris and as the protector of the dead.
Then there's the image of a man:
Ezekiel 1:26-27 (NIV):
high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire;
Compare that to Talos, an ancient Greek god:
In the Cretan tales incorporated into Greek mythology, Tálos (Greek Τάλως; Latin Talus) or Tálon (Greek Τάλων) was a giant man of bronze. In the Byzantine encyclopedia The Suda, Talos is said, when the Sardinians did not wish to release him to Minos, to have heated himself red-hot by jumping into a fire and to have clasped them in his embrace.
The similarity is striking.
Then comes the brilliant light which must be a representation of a sun god. Ra was an Egyptian sun god who was too important to have been left out. It must have been him.
Finally, there is the rainbow, which was personified by the Greek goddess Iris. She was a messenger god who linked gods to humanity.
So altogether we have an amalgamation of dozens of symbols of gods all put together in one vision. Possibly all these symbols represent types of gods- ie the Chariot represents all bull gods, all lion gods, all thunder gods, all sky gods, all sun gods, and all gods made of metal forged by fire. Or maybe it is meant generally to represent all the gods of the ancient world- with the eagle covering all bird gods, the bull representing all domesticated animal gods, the lion representing all wild animal gods etc. It was literally meant to be a Chariot of the gods.
So why might a God against polytheism choose to present Himself to Ezekiel this way? Well, the gods I mentioned above generally have titles. For instance
Marduk is normally referred to as Bel "Lord", also bel rabim "great lord", bêl bêlim "lord of lords", ab-kal ilâni bêl terêti "leader of the gods", aklu bêl terieti "the wise, lord of oracles", muballit mîte "reviver of the dead", etc.
Ashur: Epithets include bêlu rabû "great lord", ab ilâni "father of gods", šadû rabû "great mountain"
Baal, El, the Ruler of the Universe, Son of Dagan, Rider of the Clouds, Almighty, Lord of the Earth (similar to Greek Zeus or Roman Jupiter)
God Himself is mentioned as the rider of the clouds in Psalm 68:4 (NIV):
Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds —
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.
So maybe the chariot was just referencing the titles of the gods that everyone knew about, and saying that God was all of these and more. Remember the vision was of God's Glory. These titles glorify God. So that makes sense.
Judaism is well aware of the many names of God in the Old Testament. Among them you'll find the names of other gods. For instance:
"might, strength, power" "strong Controller" or Sovereign
Ugaritic term for god
The word El appears in other northwest Semitic languages such as Phoenician and Aramaic.
Lord, master, or owner
The singular form is Adoni, "my lord".This was used by the Phoenicians for the god Tammuz and is the origin of the Greek name Adonis.
"He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)",
The word is identical to the usual plural of el meaning gods or magistrates, and is cognate to the 'lhm found in Ugaritic, where it is used for the pantheon of Canaanite Gods, the children of El.
Supreme, Most High
The Phoenicians used what appears to be a similar name for God.
Fruitfulness, or mountain dweller or the destroyer or from an Amorite city called Shaddai
These have been tentatively identified with the ŝedim of Deuteronomy 34:17 and Psalm 106:37-38, who are Canaanite deities.
"the God of Hosts”
The Latin spelling Sabaoth combined with the large, golden vine motif over the door on the Herodian Temple (built by the Idumean Herod the Great) led to identification by Romans with the god Sabazius.
The name Sabaoth is also associated with a demi-god in the gnostic Nag Hammadi Text; he is the son of Yaltabaoth.
And so on.
So the theory isn't that far fetched. Of course there's the popular notion that maybe it was a spacecraft that Ezekiel saw. The wheels do seem to be mechanical. I would like to buy this theory, except the creatures mentioned are described as living things. Living things wouldn't survive very long in space. Also, would you waste time talking to the natives if the guy in the cockpit was on fire? That alone convinces me that this was no spaceship.
I got the picture from http://namesake.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/ezekiel-vs.jpg
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