The question of the interpretation of the meaning of the “Chariot/Throne” in Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezek 1:4-28 and 10:1-22) is one of the most vexing, yet important topics in biblical exegesis, with significant implications for understanding the “temple theology” of ancient Israel. Probably the first thing to note is that Ezekiel never actually uses the term “chariot” (merkābāh) in his visionary texts in chapters 1 and 10, though the term became the traditional way to reference Ezekiel’s vision in later Jewish esoteric traditions.
In the next few weeks I will be examining some of the temple motifs found in this extraordinary and difficult vision. But I must begin with a caveat that my interpretations here will necessarily be somewhat speculative, as in fact, all interpretations of these passages must be, due to the esoteric nature and ambiguity of the text. Nonetheless, I will try to base my interpretation squarely on contextualized ancient evidence, both biblical and non-biblical, and to clearly indicate when I am stepping beyond the bounds of the evidence.
My plan is to examine each of the elements of Ezekiel’s vision in the order he describes them, and then to attempt to synthesize all of the elements into a coherent symbolic and systematic whole. Unfortunately, many of the commentaries spend a great deal of time telling us what Ezekiel says, but far less time telling us what Ezekiel means, which is a much more complex, difficult, and important question. Ezekiel’s vision is so far removed from the world-view of modern readers as to render it almost incomprehensible, especially to non-Hebrew readers. (On the other hand, the Hebrew often makes the text even more inscrutable.)