In today’s Running Toward the Goal podcast, recorded on the road with apologies for the quality, I discuss Ezekiel 1:28. I thought that as additional reference I’d provide my discussion of these terms from my college paper originally written in 1979. This is unchanged from the original form. (This extract is an appendix to the original paper. The full paper is here.)
The Uses of ;eyn, demuth and mar’eh in Ezekiel 1
In the textual comments (see note p on verse 13) I made an emendation of the text in which I stated that a scribe, reading the chapter and seeing demuth used in verse 13 would tend to wish to correct it to mar’eh as more appropriate to the context of the verse. As the King James Version uniformly translates each of the three words above with English words which are essentially similar, it is necessary to demonstrate that this use is indeed correct. The KJV has translated them as color, likeness, and appearance respectively.
;eyn appears four times in the chapter, Holladay suggests simply “look” or “appearance”, but Eichrodt (OTL) suggests “sparkle”. Elsewhere, gleam is suggested. The latter seem most appropriate in the context here, In verses 4 and 27 the Chashmal gleams, In verse 7 the polished bronze. In verse 16 the wheels, probably of a translucent or transparent color gleam. So gleaming or sparkling here appears to be the best translation.
demuth appears 9 times. We have the demuth of the four living creatures who have the demuth of a man. Their faces have the demuth of various creatures. The demuth of a vault is above the creatures’ heads. The sapphire stone resolves itself into the of a throne. Upon the demuth of a throne is the demuth of the appearance of a man. Finally the glory of God is said to have demuth. The only one of these which is neutral is verse 28, “the form of the glory of Yahweh”, although even here reference is being made to the form which was on the throne. Holladay suggests form as a translation for demuth. It appears to be the best translation in this chapter.
Lastly we have mar’eh which appears 11 times. It is used as a general reference to the four creatures, immediately followed by the statement that they had the form of a man, four faces, four wings, etc. In verse l3 there is the mar’eh of lightning, which does not have “form” as such. In verse l4 we have the mar’eh of lightning again. The mar’eh of the wheels was as the sparkle of tarshish, etc. The mar’eh of the wheels was as if a wheel were within a wheel. Ezekiel sees the mar’eh of sapphire which resolves itself into the form of a throne. There is the form of the mar’eh of a man, and the mar’eh of fire, the mar’eh of a rainbow, and the mar’eh of a gleaming. In only one of these cases would “form” be an appropriate translation. That is verse 16, with regard to the wheels.
In verse 13, however, the situation is reversed. The “coals of fire burning like lightning” could hardly be described as having “form”. The scribe, seeing Ezekiel’s normal use of the words could easily have added mar’eh in the margin to indicate that this would be a better word to employ here.
This is a follow-up to my post Information or Conversation, and it would probably be a good idea to read that entry first.
One element of God’s method of revealing himself to people is that he chooses specific people to accomplish specific missions. I want to look at the time of the exile, and three of God’s messengers, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Now there will be those who accept a later date for Daniel and will question my using him in this part of the story. Let me simply state that I do believe that the stories of Daniel, though not likely the entire book, date from the time of the exile,were later written down and collected in what we now have as the Aramaic portions of Daniel. For more discussion see Dating the Book of Daniel.
At the time of the exile there were three distinct situations, three distinct groups of people to whom God needed to communicate his message. The first was the people of Judah who were rapidly heading toward exile and destruction. The second group was those who were already exiled and living in Babylon. The third was the Babylonian court, both the Babylonian king and officials for whom God had a mission, but also the exiles who were living in a state of privelege and facing the temptation to compromise away their faith.
The inhabitants of Judah were living in a dreamworld of security, based on the belief that the presence of the temple, and thus God’s presence, protected Jerusalem no matter what. The exiles in Babylon generally felt abandoned by God and either waited expectantly for their soon return or began to simply give up. At the same time the king of Babylon took the view that he was favored of the gods because of his successes, and those who lived in his court faced the constant danger of compromise of their principles in order to gain power and favor and even permanence in their new situation. Any of these attitudes presented a barrier to God’s plan.
God’s response was not merely to protect the facts. The facts were that the exile would be long but temporary, and that in the end the people would return. Jerusalem would be destroyed, but it would be rebuilt. Nebuchadnezzar was a great king and conqueror, but he also was limited and temporary and the way to success for the Jewish young people who found themselves there was faithfulness, not compromise. But even if they suffered for their faithfulness, the consequences of compromise would be even deeper.
Those were the facts, but God still needed messengers. None of the audiences actually wanted to listen, but there were ways to make things clear.
For Judah, there was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Not only one who could speak the message, but one who could weep the message, whose very life symbolized God’s love for Judah and his unwillingness to give up his people. God’s sorrow was expressed in the form of a prophet who spoke, suffered, cried, and was ignored, but who never gave up, who kept speaking until there was nothing left.
Ezekiel was himself an exile, capable of understanding the situation of the exiles. His inaugural vision (Ezekiel 1) reassured Ezekiel that God was still with the exiles, that in spite of judgment there was hope. The message became a part of Ezekiel. But the presentation was different from that of Jeremiah. Ezekiel was not allowed to mourn his own wife’s death (Ezekiel 24:15-27). Both his visions and his methods of expression were powerful and creative.
Daniel was one tempted to compromise in the court of the king. He had every opportunity to go over to the side of the winner, and to accept Nebuchadnezzar as the once and always king of the world. But he stood quietly for God and for faithfulness to his message.
Three messengers with similar messages, but different audiences, and different means to present that message–God involved in the daily activities of human beings, a microcosm of God acting in the flesh.