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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Ezekiel 1

Verses 1-3

The Heavens Are Opened

The book begins with “now it came about” (Eze 1:1). This emphasizes an activity, the action of God. Before saying what comes about, what God is doing, there is a time indication. [NOTE In the book 13 accurate time indications occur: Eze 1:1-3; Eze 8:1; Eze 20:1; Eze 24:1; Eze 26:1; Eze 29:1; Eze 29:17; Eze 30:20; Eze 31:1; Eze 32:1; Eze 32:17; Eze 33:21; Eze 40:1.] This is the dating of Ezekiel’s calling as a prophet. It is an indeterminate time reference: “In the thirtieth year, on the fifth [day] of the fourth month.” It does not say, for example, that it is the thirtieth year of a king. This time indication has been explained in several ways. The simplest, most obvious explanation is that “the thirtieth year” refers to Ezekiel’s age.

This statement is supported by the fact that thirty years is an age at which a person may begin priestly service (Num 4:1-3; 23). Ezekiel belongs to a priestly family (Eze 1:3). However, he is not in Jerusalem to exercise the special privilege of priestly service in the temple there, but in exile outside the land.

That must have been a special test for him. From everything we know about him, we see his close relationship with God. For such a person strongly the wish expressed by the sons of Korah lives: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand [outside]. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psa 84:10). God has other plans for him, however: He appoints him a prophet.

Then we are informed of the place of action. The writer of the book says that he is “by the river Chebar among the exiles”. Eze 1:3 clarifies that the river Chebar is “in the land of the Chaldeans”. The use of the word “I” makes it clear that the writer of the book is none other than the prophet who is shown the visions: Ezekiel.

Ezekiel is there, by the river Chebar, “among the exiles”. So he is there along with other exiles. He may be a priest, but his fate and his circumstances are no different as a result. He shares in the consequences of the total unfaithfulness of the people. God does not put special protection around faithful believers when it comes to discipline that He brings upon the whole. What He does do in those circumstances is to connect faithful believers more and more to Himself. He helps them not to succumb and uses them as a testimony to their neighbors, to believers and unbelievers alike.

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the year in which Ezekiel turned thirty – if the assumption is correct that this is his age – in Babylon “the heavens were opened” to him (cf. Mt 3:16; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11; Rev 4:1; Rev 19:11) and he sees “visions of God”. His eye is opened to what natural man cannot see. The invisible world becomes visible to him so that he can see what is happening there.

The thirtieth year corresponds to “the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile” (Eze 1:2). Thus, it is also the fifth year of Ezekiel’s exile. Jehoiachin was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after a reign of only three months and ten days (2Chr 36:9-10). This is the deportation that took place around 597 BC.

When Ezekiel has been in exile for five years, on the once more accurately dated day – “the fifth of the month” (Eze 1:1-2) – “the word of the LORD” comes “expressly” to him (Eze 1:3). As he is shown visions of God, the LORD speaks to him in clear, unmistakable language. What he is told underscores that what he sees in the visions is reality and not imagination. Also, the source of Ezekiel’s service is unequivocally established. He has no input at all in his calling. The visions come from God Almighty (Eze 1:1). It is the word “of the LORD”, the name of God in connection with man and especially with His people.

The word comes “to Ezekiel”. Here he mentions his name for the first time, after speaking of “I” twice in Eze 1:1. Further in this book his name is only mentioned in Ezekiel 24 (Eze 24:24). Ezekiel – in accordance with the meaning of his name – experiences the power of God through the Spirit in a special way during his ministry.

Ezekiel is “the priest, son of Buzi”. Nothing is known of Buzi (means “despised”, “scorned”) but only what is written here of him, which is his name and his service. Here we see that Ezekiel belongs to a lineage of priests, as did his contemporary Jeremiah (Jer 1:1). Therein undoubtedly lies the reason for the central role of Jerusalem and all that has to do with the temple and the sacrificial service in his book. He is a priest at heart.

While Ezekiel is “in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar … the hand of the LORD” comes upon him. The land of the Chaldeans is the region surrounding Babylon. The Chaldeans are the core of the Babylonian empire. In the foreign land, the hand of the LORD comes upon him to introduce him into His thoughts. He is seized by that hand and thus comes under the power and influence of the Spirit of God (Eze 3:14; 22; Eze 8:1; Eze 33:22; Eze 37:1; Eze 40:1). Thus he becomes an instrument for communicating the truth of God and is kept from communicating his own thoughts. The hand of the Lord can also be upon someone in judgment (Acts 13:11).

It must have been a great encouragement to Ezekiel, after being in Babylon for such a long time, to get a glimpse into and a word from heaven. He would never have expected that either, familiar as he is with the idea that God dwells in the temple in Jerusalem. He is far away from that place. But God is not bound to place and time and makes Himself known to everyone whose heart goes out to Him. He gives Ezekiel insight into His work, which continues despite the unfaithfulness of His people. Through this, Ezekiel learns to rise above the circumstances of the moment and see things that happen on earth from God’s perspective.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to the vision Ezekiel sees of the glory of the LORD (Eze 1:28; cf. Isa 6:1-3). This vision is also referred to in Ezekiel 10-11 (Eze 10:1-22; Eze 11:22-24). The prophet attempts to describe this vision by which his ministry as prophet is inaugurated. The words he uses to describe what he sees make it clear that a full description is beyond the capabilities of human language.

Verses 4-14

The Living Beings

The visions describe the glory of the LORD on His throne. A throne is the center of government, meaning that Ezekiel sees the LORD in His government. The throne is shaped like a chariot, so we can speak of the throne chariot of God. Human words fall short of describing God and His government. Hence, Ezekiel always makes comparisons that he precedes with expressions such as “something like” or “the form of” or “figures resembling”. Even the comparison remains vague. It is impossible for people to fully describe the glory of the eternal, infinite God.

God rides on His throne chariot through history. He holds history in His hand, both that of His people and that of Babylon and every other nation. If the throne chariot is so glorious, how great is the glory of Him Who sits on it. No power can stop that chariot. God’s Spirit determines the way.

The description begins with the government of God to show Ezekiel and us that God is above everything and that He never loses control of events. Everything is in His hands, even though we, who often look only “under the sun” (Ecc 1:9), are sometimes overcome by doubt and fear. This awareness can comfort anyone who is in difficult circumstances.

The first thing Ezekiel sees when the heavens are opened is a storm wind coming from the north (Eze 1:4). The storm wind from the north is the symbol of the suffering that enemies from the north bring upon Israel (cf. Jer 1:14), but they do so as a judgment that comes from God (Eze 13:11-13). Through the storm He speaks to His people (Psa 50:3).

Because the storm comes from God, it is not just a judgmental storm wind. There is also “a great cloud”, indicating the glory of the LORD. He is present in the judgment. Although there is fire of judgment flashing coming from it continually, there is “a bright light” around it. That bright light is caused by something reminiscent of “glowing metal in the midst of the fire” (cf. Eze 1:27; Eze 8:2).

The scene shows that judgment comes from the north from God, that it emanates from Him. The enemy serves God’s plan and can do nothing but only what God wants. The “bright light around it” shows that God sets the limit of judgment. He does not tempt beyond what can be endured (1Cor 10:13).

The phrase “glowing metal” occurs two more times in the Old Testament, both times in this book (Eze 1:27; Eze 8:2). It is the description of a characteristic of Him Who sits on the throne and rules, exercising utterly pure, unyielding judgment. Fire is a picture of God’s judgment. Fire consumes everything that is not in accordance with God’s righteousness. In judgment, His righteousness shines forth.

We see in the description besides various features or attributes of God also that the one comes forth from the other. The fact that the brilliance of precious metal comes from the midst of fire can also be applied to the believer. God wants to work in the lives of His own so that His features become visible in them. In this context we can say that He wants to make His own as precious metal, as people who reflect His image. For this purpose He controls everything. He works to remove from our lives everything that covers up that brilliance (Heb 12:10; 1Pet 1:6-7).

Then in the midst of the fire “figures resembling four living beings” are seen (Eze 1:5; Rev 4:6-9; Rev 5:6-11; 14; Rev 6:1-7; Rev 7:11; Rev 14:3; Rev 15:7; Rev 19:4). These are cherubim (Eze 10:15; 19), which are mighty beings whose mission is to watch over the holiness, majesty and dominion of God (cf. Gen 3:24; Psa 99:1; Heb 9:5).

The general sight of the living beings is that they have “human form”. This shows, on the one hand, that God’s government is carried out by a Man, the Son of Man (Jn 5:27). On the other hand, God's government is focused on man and He does what is appropriate for man so that he will meet His purpose. The Son, Who became Man, has perfectly answered what God asks of man. For us, human beings, this is a great grace. We may know that we are governed by the living God Who, as Man, cannot come closer to us.

Two developments can be seen in our time that deprive man of his humanity. The first development is the ‘dehumanization’ of man, that is, man’s behavior becomes more and more bestial and more and more mechanical. The second development is that the computer is made more and more ‘human’. God has shown us the value man has to Him by becoming Man in Christ. He also shows the value of man in the judgment He executes on him.

Each of the living beings has “four faces” (Eze 1:6). In humans, the “face” is the main part of the body, for by it one can recognize each other as individuals. In addition, one can often read feelings from certain facial expressions (Gen 31:2). In the “four faces” that each of the four living beings has, God shows in what way He rules and what His purposes with it are.

Each of them also has “four wings”. By “wings” we can think of freedom of movement. Birds use their wings to move apart from and above the earth. Wings speak of the fact that God’s action is exalted and cannot be stopped by anything on earth. Wings show that the living beings can come into God’s presence (cf. Exo 19:4). They also speak of protection, safety, security (Psa 91:4; Rev 12:14; Rth 2:12).

“Their legs were straight feet”, meaning that their walk or the path they take to uphold God’s justice is never winding, but – unlike man’s walk – always straight (Eze 1:7). No one can deflect Him from His purpose. “Their feet were like a calf’s hoof” refer to the perseverance (of which the calf is a symbol) with which God goes His way.

The “burnished bronze” speaks of God’s justice. This can be inferred from the history of the judgment on Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16. The rebels perish by the fire of God’s judgment, but the bronze censers are not consumed by it (Num 16:36-39). Thus, God’s righteousness withstands His judgments. His judgments are always just, and when He judges, His glory shines and glitters.

“Under their wings”, which they have “on their four sides”, that is, toward all directions, are “human hands” (Eze 1:8). Hands refer to working, doing something. They are “human hands” here, by which we see that their quick actions take place in a way that is usual for humans. It may also mean that they are using people to perform their service.

Then “the faces and wings” are described in more detail. The description applies “of all four”. That it is said “their wings touched one another” (Eze 1:9), seems to indicate that they form a circle, as we do when four people stand hand in hand, forming a circle. It shows that they are a unity. They also show this unity in the way they go. Without turning, they go “each … straight forward”. This shows that God’s government continues and that He does not go back on things once they are carried out. Nor does He ever need to go back on anything or take anything back, for His government is always perfect. To that acknowledgment we will always come (cf. Eze 14:22-23).

The face of the living beings has four features (Eze 1:10; cf. Rev 4:7). These four features correspond to the four groups of living beings God creates in Genesis 1: man, wild animals, cattle, and winged birds.

1. The first feature of the face is that it has the form of “the face of a man”. Man was created in the image and likeness of God (Psa 8:5-8). The living beings have the form of a man (Eze 1:5), hands of a man (Eze 1:6) and here we read that their face resembles the face of a man.

2. The next feature is that the face of the living beings when viewed “on the right” resemble “the face of a lion”. The Old Testament draws the lion as an animal full of strength (2Sam 1:23) and with a brave heart (2Sam 17:10). He terrifies with his roar and he tears apart his opponents (Psa 22:13).

3. The third feature is that their face, when viewed “on the left”, resembles “the face of a bull [or: ox, Darby Translation]”. The ox is characterized by horns and cloven hooves (cf. Eze 1:7). The people use the ox to carry burdens and in plowing. The ox knows its owner (Isa 1:3). When cattle are enumerated, the ox is usually mentioned first (Deu 22:10; Jdg 6:4; 1Sam 12:3; Isa 32:20) as the most valuable animal on the farm.

4. Finally, “all four” have “the face of an eagle”. The eagle speaks of speed (2Sam 1:23; Job 9:26; Jer 4:13; Lam 4:19) and the ability to soar to heaven (Job 39:27; Isa 40:31). The eagle has sharp vision (Job 39:29).

It is worth mentioning what is said about the four living beings in an old rabbinic commentary, the so-called Midrash (several commentaries cite this remark):

1. Man is exalted above all creatures.
2. The lion is exalted above all wild animals.
3. The ox is exalted above all cattle.
4. The eagle is exalted above all birds.

It emphasizes that all created things, however exalted among their like, are subject to God.

We also see these four features in the four descriptions we have of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels.
1. The lion points to the King of Whom Matthew writes.
2. The ox reminds us of the persevering service, which we see in the Lord Jesus as the true Servant of Whom Mark writes.
3. The face of a man corresponds to the perfect Man Who is presented to us by Luke.
4. Finally, the eagle is the symbol of the Son of God Who came from heaven to explain the Father to us and Who will come to judge. The evangelist John presents Him to us in this way in his Gospel.

“Their wings were spread out above” (Eze 1:11), which means that they are willing and ready to receive their commands from heaven. They carry out those commands in unity, which is presented in the two wings touching another being. There is an undisturbed cooperation. In carrying out their work, they cover their bodies with two wings, for it is not about them, but about their work.

When they go, each goes straight forward (Eze 1:12). They go a straight way, straight to the set goal. In their going they are led by “the Spirit”. Wherever He wants to go, that is where they go. Any independent action is foreign to them. Therefore, they go without turning, they do not need to turn when they go. They go the right way and do the right things. They do not have to ‘recalculate’ their route at any point. Nor is there anything they have to revise because they would have done it wrong.

In the preceding Eze 1:4-12, the bearers of the throne, the cherubim, have been described. In Eze 1:13-14 follows a description of what characterizes them. Those characteristics make it clear that the throne is a throne of judgment (cf. Dan 7:9-10). Their form is not that of lovely angels, but it “looked like burning coals of fire, like torches” (Eze 1:13). This fire goes “darting back and forth among” them, indicating the movability of judgment by which the threat emanating from them is intensified.

The fire has two characteristics. It is “bright”, and “lightning” is “flashing” from it. The light glow reveals everything; nothing can be hidden. The lightning judges everything that has been made public by the light glow. The judgment takes place in full light and with the inimitable speed and unpredictability of flashing.

The living beings themselves also run “to and fro like bolts of lightning” (Eze 1:14). In addition to moving straight forward, the living beings move with the speed and capriciousness of lightning. Humans have no grasp of this, but are consumed by it if they do not bow down to God’s government.

Verses 15-21

The Wheels and Their Movement

After the wings, the wheels of the living beings are now described. The wings are for the heaven, the wheels for the earth. Every living being has “one wheel on the earth beside” him (Eze 1:15). The wheels connect the throne chariot to the earth. A wheel indicates that the throne of God is not static, but dynamic. There is no standstill. Everything is in motion and progress, moving toward God’s purpose.

The wheels are “on the earth”. This means that God is making His way on earth. He determines the course of history and events. He is the One Who was and is, and also the One Who is to come, in which we see His acting (Rev 1:8).

The wheels point to the rotation of time, with the rotation done by God. God is the acting God. He created heaven and earth, but then did not leave them to themselves. He has been continually upholding creation since its creation “by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3). In the word “upholding” there is movement. He upholds and brings the creation to His purpose.

The wheels shine “like sparkling beryl” (Eze 1:16). A beryl is a precious stone. It is the first stone of the fourth row of precious stones on the high priest’s breastplate (Exo 28:20; Exo 39:13). This brings to mind the Gospel of John, the fourth gospel. In it we see the heavenly Man, God the Son, on earth. The color of the beryl is blue-green.

Ezekiel sees “the appearance of the wheels”, a view, but also their “workmanship” how they were made, the construction, the composition. It is “as if one wheel were within another” wheel. As a result, it sometimes seems that the wheels are running against each other. It can seem that way in our lives, too, at times. But the wheels interlock like the wheels of a clock, in which there are also cogs that turn in opposite directions, yet they cooperate to make the hands move forward. So it is with the ways of God. They always interlock and never interfere with each other, but always work together to achieve God’s purpose in history and also in our lives.

The wheels of God’s throne can go in all directions, but they do not turn (Eze 1:17). That they can go in all directions does not mean that there is arbitrariness or, as we say, that something can still go in all directions, with which we say we are uncertain about its course. This is not the case with God. He determines the way and knows no limitations in His actions. He knows the best way for everyone and everything and that through time. Time is also in His hands. We see an impressive example of God’s government throughout Joseph’s history (Genesis 37-50). Everything that happened to Joseph was so governed by God in order to accomplish His purpose with him. It is the same way in our lives.

When God acts, He never has to go back on it (Num 23:19a). His work is always perfect, “for all His ways are just” (Deu 32:4a). We see an illustration of this in the chariots of the nations that cannot go where they want to go because they are “between the two mountains” of “bronze” (Zec 6:1). This means that God determines the course of those chariots.

We cannot check out God in this. His ways are “lofty” (Eze 1:18), as the sky. His way is in the sanctuary in heaven and therefore higher than our ways (cf. Isa 55:9). When we see this, God’s ways are “awesome” to us, that is, they inspire in us fear or awe of Him. This is also right and proper. We feel our futility in the light of His sovereignty and glory.

Furthermore, we see that “the rims of all four” of the wheels are “full of eyes round about”. This indicates that God’s government is not carried out blindly or depends on coincidences, but that God performs all His governmental acts with insight. He knows how to perfectly connect all His actions with each other so that He gets where He wants to go. This also applies to all the actions of all people and all nations. He is omniscient, and His eyes roam the whole earth to act according to His wisdom for the benefit of His own (2Chr 16:9a; Pro 15:3).

The wheels are inseparable from the living beings (Eze 1:19). It is not the wheels that determine the way, but the living beings. The wheels are the means by which the living beings move. The living beings that bear God’s throne determine the way. The wheels point to the way that God’s government is going. Sometimes the chariot of God’s government is lifted from the earth. This indicates that there are times when God withdraws and leaves man to himself (Isa 18:4; Hos 5:15), but without losing control of the earth in the slightest degree. He remains hovering above it, as it were.

The living beings are governed by the Spirit of God (Eze 1:20). The Spirit is the active Person. Through Him, God and Christ do everything. We see this from the very beginning of the Bible (Gen 1:2). The Spirit works in the living beings, who go where the Spirit wants them to go. There is no reluctance or hesitation. Everything is certain.

Once again the unity of the living beings and the wheels is emphasized (Eze 1:21). Both go or stand still. We also see this complete unity between the living beings and the wheels when the living beings rise from the earth, for then the wheels rise “close beside them”. This is because the Spirit not only governs the living beings, but also the wheels. Everything in the government of God, everything concerning the throne of God, is perfectly harmonious because the Spirit of God directs everything. All means are at His disposal and He determines which ones He uses and when.

Verses 22-25

Under the Expanse

Then Ezekiel sees above the heads of the living beings a kind of an expanse (Eze 1:22). That expanse recalls the second day of creation, when God made the expanse (Gen 1:6-8). We can think of this expanse as the celestial expanse visible to us. Its brilliance reminds Ezekiel of “the awesome gleam of crystal” (cf. Rev 4:6a; Rev 22:1). It sparkles and shines and is transparent and solid. It is an overwhelming sight of God’s firm government over the whole earth, in which there is nothing that defiles. Water can be defiled, but nothing can affect the purity and brilliance of crystal.

Again Ezekiel describes the wings of the living beings (Eze 1:23), which are here brought into direct connection with this expanse. The wheels are not mentioned, for we are close to heaven, where the government has its origin. The wings are stretched out “straight, one toward the other”; they are straight, as are the legs and way they go (Eze 1:7; 12). This shows that all God’s ways in heaven and His ways on earth are straight. God’s government over the angels in heaven is just as straight as His government over men on earth.

In addition to having their wings stretched out straight, one toward the other, they also cover their bodies with them. They work harmoniously together to uphold God’s law. In covering themselves “on the one side and on the other”, we see that they are forgetting themselves both as to their future (“one side” or “before”) and as to their past (“the other” side or “behind”) (cf. Isa 6:2).

In the previous verses Ezekiel has seen certain things, but now he also hears something (Eze 1:24). When the living beings use their wings to go, it sounds “like the sound of abundant waters” (cf. Eze 43:2), in which “the voice of the Almighty” resounds (cf. Rev 1:15b). His voice sounds like thunder (Job 37:4; Psa 29:3-4). The sound is reminiscent of “tumult”, hubbub, and of “the sound of an army camp”. All of these comparisons that Ezekiel uses to describe what he hears are in keeping with the whole description of God’s government.

Ezekiel hears the sound as long as the living beings are going and thus using their wings. When they stand still, they do not use their wings and drop them. Then it becomes silent. The living beings stand at rest, ready to receive and carry out the next command.

In the silence, a voice is heard from above the expanse (Eze 1:25). Once more the attitude of calm of the living beings is pointed out, by which the silence has come. This attitude of rest and silence and also reverence is important to be able to listen to the voice that is now going to speak.

Verses 26-28

Above the Expanse

In these verses we are taken even higher. We are now “above the expanse” (Eze 1:26). Before Ezekiel hears the voice speak, he sees something above the expanse that is above the heads of the living beings. He has already been vague in describing everything he has seen, but now he becomes even vaguer. Again and again the words “something resembling” or “in appearance” or “the appearance of the likeness” recur. What and Who he sees is God on the throne of His glory. But how could a human being fully perceive and describe that?

The first thing Ezekiel should think of when he sees above the expanse is “something …, like lapis lazuli in appearance”. Lapis lazuli or sapphire stone [Hebrew: eben-sappir] is a precious, transparent blue gemstone. It is one of the most precious gemstones. The color blue is so characteristic of this stone that in the past all blue stones were called ‘sapphire’. The sapphire is the second stone of the second row of precious stones on the high priest’s breastplate (Exo 28:18; Exo 39:11). The blue sapphire is an allusion to heavenly things. This brilliant blue color radiates from “something resembling a throne”. On what resembles a throne, he perceives “a figure with the appearance of a man”. When God appears, it is in the form of a Man.

Here we see that the world is ruled by a Man in glory. From what Ezekiel saw only vaguely, we know the reality. We know that the Father gave the Lord Jesus, as Man, authority to execute judgment (Jn 5:27; Acts 17:31), and that He has been given “all authority … in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). He is the Son of Man to Whom all things are subject, although we do not see that at this time. But we see Him in heaven, crowned with honor and glory (Heb 2:8b-9)!

His government is reminiscent of “glowing metal” (Eze 1:27). All iniquity He will destroy with the fire of judgment that comes from Him. His whole stature, “of His loins and upward” and “of His loins and downward” looks “like fire; and [there was] a radiance around Him”. He is the Man Who is in connection with heaven (“His loins and upward”) and makes His way on earth (“His loins and downward”) in righteousness. The loins represent the strength needed to walk. In Ezekiel, He goes His way in judgment, just as He once went His way on earth in grace and humiliation.

The vision ends not with the appearance of Christ as Judge of the whole earth, but with “the appearance of the rainbow” (Eze 1:28). This impressively points to God’s grace that is present even in the execution of His righteous judgments (Gen 9:12-17; Rev 4:3). He in wrath remembers mercy (Hab 3:2). This is a great comfort to us when, in God’s governing ways with us, we go through great trials. God’s government for His own is always mixed with mercy. Always Christ will fulfill His promise that He will be with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

Then it dawns on Ezekiel that “the appearance of the likeness” is that “of the glory of the LORD”. The sight of the glory of God in judgment and mercy makes him fall on his face. We see such a reaction with Daniel and John (Dan 8:17; Dan 10:8-9; Rev 1:17). It is hoped that we too will know moments when, overwhelmed by the greatness and majesty of God, we fall on our faces and worship Him.

In that attitude of awe and worship, God can speak to Ezekiel – and to us as well. Until now he has only heard sound; now he hears a voice speaking words he can understand. God’s speaking is evidence that He is interfering with us.

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.