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Ezekiel 1:19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

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    Possible duplicate or overlap with Ezekiel's Vision of the Living Creatures and the Wheels.
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 25 '20 at 8:28
  • This is a question of spiritual interpretation, rather than merely a question of language and text. The theme is throughout scripture and my own understanding is that it is a matter of Deity being manifest in humanity, He dwelleth the cherubim, being repeated a number of times (without a preposition in the original). It took me a whole book to express the details, so I shall not venture further, here.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 25 '20 at 9:29
  • This is a good question with an almost impossible answer.
    – Dottard
    Nov 25 '20 at 9:36
  • A four saucer squadron, flying in perfect formation, could be what the Bible passage in question refers to. popularmechanics.com/flight/a23001/jumbo-jets-formation. In the bird world this is called “murmuration”. Nov 25 '20 at 23:01
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This is an interesting question. This entire chapter is a highly cryptic chapter in which Ezekiel intended the reader to read the Hebrew text outload several times. Because of the nature of this passage it is really difficult to translate, and will always lose meaning. Sometimes the translators ignore some critical words because of the complexity of the passage.

To begin I shall discuss what is meaning of the word רוח or spirit throughout the passage. I would highly recommend in cryptic passages, like this one, to read them several times because sometimes an interesting meaning pops out.

The first mention of the רוח (spirit) is in the passage is: "וְאִ֛ישׁ אֶל־עֵ֥בֶר פָּנָ֖יו יֵלֵ֑כוּ אֶ֣ל אֲשֶׁר֩ יִֽהְיֶה־שָׁ֨מָּה הָר֤וּחַ לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ יֵלֵ֔כוּ לֹ֥א יִסַּ֖בּוּ בְּלֶכְתָּֽן׃" "And each one of them, would go in the direction of its faces where יהיה שמה הרוח ללכת they would go there. They would not turn when they moved" (Ezekiel 1:12). The important phrase I left untranslated for further explanation. In this passage the word רוח/spirit is not used alone, rather it is accompanied by the word ללכת which means to go. Thus רוח ללכת means "the spirit to go." A literal word-by-word translation of the "יהיה שמה הרוח ללכת" is "wherever the 'spirit to go' is." Thus it this Hebrew seems to be implying that this is not really a spirit, more of something compelling them to go somewhere. This first verse is crucial to understanding what is meant by רוח/spirit throughout the rest of this chapter.

The verse is as follows "עַ֣ל אֲשֶׁר֩ יִֽהְיֶה־שָּׁ֨ם הָר֤וּחַ לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ יֵלֵ֔כוּ שָׁ֥מָּה הָר֖וּחַ לָלֶ֑כֶת וְהָאוֹפַנִּ֗ים יִנָּשְׂאוּ֙ לְעֻמָּתָ֔ם כִּ֛י ר֥וּחַ הַחַיָּ֖ה בָּאוֹפַנִּֽים׃" "Wherever the 'spirit to go' would go, they would go there. The 'spirit to go' was there. And the wheels too would go with them because רוח החיה באופנים." (Ezekiel 1:20). Again, I left the important phrase untranslated for further discussion. For translating the words רוח ללכת, I used the word-by-word translation as discussed earlier. When we get to the phrase רוח החיה באופנים (the spirit of the creature was in the wheels), this is talking about the same "spirit to go." Thus this passage means "the same 'spirit to go' in the animals was also in the wheels."

As this רוח is "what compels the creatures," we see that a more accurate English translation would be: "Wherever the creatures were compelled to go, they would go, and the wheels would go along with them, for the wheels were compelled by the same thing as the creatures." This chapter is highly cryptic, and unfortunately, as such many translations unintentionally fail to understand the intended meaning of the passage.

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Personally, I do not know if the vision seen by Ezekiel was intended to be literal or highly symbolic. I am inclined to the former because a similar scene is described in other places - the throne of YHWH surrounded by Cherubim (Eze 10:1) such as: Ps 99:1.

Further, the Ark of the Covenant was clearly intended as a symbol of God's throne because it is often described thus. Heb 9:5, Ex 25:19-22, 37:8, 9, Num 7:89, etc - the throne between the (gold) cherubim.

In any case, it is obvious that Ezekiel struggled to describe in human language what he was seeing! It was so unlike anything to which he could compare it.

The phrase, "spirit of the living creatures" could refer to their own spirit but this is unlikely as then there would be four separate spirits. "Spirit" is always singular in this passage and stands (linguistically) alone in v20. However, "living beings" in the Hebrew is singular emphasizing the fact that the four beings act as one.

Thus, it appears more likely that the "Spirit" of the four living beings was in fact, the Spirit of God that impelled them, because we are told,

Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise alongside them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

Having said all of this, we are dealing with a very difficult passage whose meaning is far from clear. Ellicott appears to reach a similar conclusion:

The object of Ezekiel 1:19-21 is by every repetition and variety of expression to represent “the living creatures” and “the wheels” as one, animated by one spirit, and moved by one impulse. The word is the same throughout, and there was no “spirit of life” in the wheels independent of that of the living creatures. All formed together one strange, symbolic whole.

The mention in Ezekiel 1:19-21 of the wheels being “lifted up from the earth” simultaneously with the living creatures is not in opposition to the symbolism already explained, of the wheels resting upon the earth. That was to show that God’s purposes are carried out as He wills in this world. This brings out, in addition, the perfect harmony of these purposes, whether relating to earth or to heaven.

Barnes offers this comment:

Whithersoever the spirit of the four living creatures was to go, the wheels went - there was the spirit of the wheels to go. All four creatures together with their wheels are here called "the living creature," because they formed a whole, one in motion, and in will, for one spirit was in them.

Matthew Poole is more definitive:

Whithersoever the spirit; either the will and inclination of the living creatures, or rather the Spirit of God which moved the living creatures, gave them motion and guided it; these angels in their ministry punctually observed both the impulse and the conduct of God’s Spirit. ...

Thither was their spirit to go; the inclination and will of the wheels concurred with the spirit of the living creatures, so that there was a hearty accord between those superior and inferior causes, they agreed in the same design. ...

For the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels; one and the same spirit was in both the wheels and living creatures, and so the same inclination and motion too.

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