Ezekiel's Wheels ?

Part One ( The Wheels of God's Throne )   (  Copyright 2009   G. Thomas Windsor  )  

 Ezekiel and the Throne with Wheels

Background:  During a time of exile in the kingdom of Babylon, the  Lord came to speak to His people.  God had been sending warnings through the prophets because a final invasion was coming upon those left in Jerusalem.  A very significant event was to happen: the destruction of the first temple.  The (southern) kingdom of David was coming to an end and the northern kingdom of Israel had already been vanquished. In this setting,  God was to reveal his throne.  This was a throne with wheels, first made known to Ezekiel.  In the beginning chapters of Ezekiel’s prophecy, we find the Lord commissioning him as a prophet and sending him to carry the message.  God is a God of self-revelation and was showing Himself to his servant in an awesome way.  The Lord was also to show His sovereignty, not only over his own, but over all nations.

Ezekiel, Chapter 1: 4 I looked, and behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with flashing lightning, and a brightness around it, and out of its midst as it were glowing metal, out of the midst of the fire. 5Out of its midst came the likeness of four living creatures. This was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. 6Everyone had four faces, and each one of them had four wings. 7Their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished brass. 8They had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and the four of them had their faces and their wings thus: 9their wings were joined one to another; they didn’t turn when they went; each one went straight forward. 10As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and the four of them had the face of a lion on the right side; and the four of them had the face of an ox on the left side; the four of them also had the face of an eagle. 11Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above. Two wings of each one touched another, and two covered their bodies. 12Each one went straight forward: where the spirit was to go, they went; they didn’t turn when they went. 13As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches: the fire went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14The living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. 15Now as I saw the living creatures, behold, one wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, for each of the four faces of it. 16The appearance of the wheels and their work was like a beryl: and the four of them had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17When they went, they went in their four directions: they didn’t turn when they went. 18As for their rims, they were high and dreadful; and the four of them had their rims full of eyes all around. 19When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. 20Wherever the spirit was to go, they went; there was the spirit to go: and the wheels were lifted up beside them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. 21When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up beside them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. 22Over the head of the living creature there was the likeness of an expanse, like the awesome crystal to look on, stretched forth over their heads above. 23Under the expanse were their wings straight, the one toward the other: each one had two which covered on this side, and every one had two which covered on that side, their bodies. 24When they went, I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a noise of tumult like the noise of an army: when they stood, they let down their wings. 25There was a voice above the expanse that was over their heads: when they stood, they let down their wings. 26Above the expanse that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and on the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man on it above. 27I saw as it were glowing metal, as the appearance of fire within it all around, from the appearance of his waist and upward; and from the appearance of his waist and downward I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28As the appearance of the rainbow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke (Web Version).

 In the introduction of the book, the prophet Ezekiel states he had visions of God.  Ezekiel begins relating what he saw with the phrase "The heavens were opened and I saw visions of God " (v.1).  It is the Lord who opened a window in order for the prophet to see.  Obviously this imagery of heavenly realities describes something very different from what is normally seen in the natural world.  Ezekiel used the closest words he knew to describe these things.  God himself is allowing the prophet to behold his dwelling.      
The Storm Cloud:  He wrote "a whirlwind came out of the north" (v. 4).  In the distance he saw an immense storm cloud, a whirlwind with lightning flashing like fire.  This storm has relevance, for often in the Old Testament the Lord would appear and manifest himself in a cloud or a storm:  "a meteorological theophany."
Note: The closest comparable O.T. account of God being "seen " is found in the book of Exodus. In that passage Moses went up to mount Sinai. The Lord visited him in a glory cloud of fire and with thunder and lightning.  God's awesome voice made the mountain tremble (Ex. 24).  One ancient historian, Josephus,  wrote that Moses actually saw the throne and the cherubim.   (Josephus , Antiquities  3.6.5. )   
Four Living Creatures: This cloud is described in increasing detail as the vision progresses. It is as if the lens is zooming in and showing more and more of the detail as unfolding before the eyes of the prophet.  Initially, out of the storm cloud, the prophet sees In the center of this, Ezekiel sees what looks like four living creatures---four strange creatures with different faces and multiple wings.  Their appearance is in the form of men, but each have four faces and wings.  Each have the face of a man, an eagle, a lion, and an ox (respectively).  These creatures move about and have wheels beside each of them.  They are identified as the cherubim (Ezek.10:21).  We further read that the glory of the Lord (in human form) is enthroned upon them.  
Cherubim were historically thought of as God’s personal attendants as well, as angelic beings and bearers and guardians of God's throne. They were at the place separating the holy from the unholy (as on the curtain and doors of the temple).  These were like the cherubim that were modeled both in the temple at Jerusalem and at the Tent of the Tabernacle.  (We will examine more about the cherubim in a later section).  Ezekiel, as a priest, would have been familiar with temple worship and thus was privileged to behold a manifestation of God's presence, like those who saw it at the Tent of Meeting.          

Descriptions of the wheels: Ezekiel went on to describe that beside each of the living creatures was a wheel following every movement of the living creatures:  "Their appearance was like coals of fire; like torches... fire moved back and forth from among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it."  The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.  
The wheels touched the ground and each was like a "wheel within a  wheel" (v-17-21) The wheels of the cherubim were said to be "high and awesome,”or dreadful (v. 18). There was something about them that invoked  fear. We also note that the cherubim and the wheels were full of eyes all around.  Other passages in the Bible have related this as a spiritual reference to God's omniscience and his Spirit (Prov.15:3, 2 Chron.16:9, Zech 4:10).   Various commentators have noted that this a case in which the eyes may reflect divine attributes such as omniscience.            

The Unity: The cherubim and the wheels appear to be bound together in a unity.  As the cherubim move, rise and stand still, so do the wheels.  Practically every characteristic of the two are the same.  Both are full of eyes. The fire between the cherubim is between the wheels.  The sound of the wings is like the sound of the wheels, described as "like the voice of God Almighty" (v-24). This suggests another divine attribute: His personal nature.   We also read that the creatures move "like a tumult of an army..." The Lord is often referred to as "the Lord of hosts " which means Lord of the angelic armies of heaven.  Thus, a military comparison is introduced.            

Visual Description of the Throne: Finally, over the heads of the living creatures there is the likeness of a firmament or dome shining like crystal.  The thunderous sound the prophet hears is like the voice of the Almighty.  He wrote: "Then I looked, and behold, on the firmament that was covering  the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in form resembling a throne;  and  seated above this was a likeness as it were of a human form.  And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming  bronze, like  the  appearance  of  fire enclosed round about ... Like the appearance of a bow that is in a cloud ... such  was  the  appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon My face, and I heard the voice of one speaking." (v-26-28)     
It is helpful to try to get a mental picture of what is occurring in these passages.  Images convey meanings.  When the words of Scripture were penned, they had a purpose for all time (both for then and now).  In these glorious visions the Lord was seen enthroned upon the cherubim, and beside them were the wheels. All three together comprise the manifestation of the glory of the Lord.  What is being portrayed is a throne of fire coming out of the storm and upon this throne is the Glory of God on some sort of moving  platform. This throne comes down out of heaven and the wheels make  contact, "touching the earth" (v-15).  The Lord could have had Ezekiel simply see an ornate stationary throne, yet here a dynamic "mobile " throne (a sort of vehicle) is seen.  It is helpful to note that the Lord is spoken of in other biblical passages as "enthroned upon the cherubim" and in Psalm 18 and others as riding upon a cherub.

Note: Winged angel. Cherubs, as depicted in the OT, ... They are pictured as winged creatures (Exod.25:20; 37:9; 1 Kgs. 6:24-27; Ezek.10:8,19) and serve as the very throne of God when the ark of the covenant is in view (Ps. 80:1; 99:1; see Num. 7:89; 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kgs. 19:15.) The picture of the Lord seated on the cherubs suggests they might be used by him as a vehicle, a function they carry out in Ezek. 1:22-28 (the “living creatures” mentioned here are identified as cherubs in Ezek. 10:20.) In Ps. 18:10 the image of a cherub serves to personify the wind (see the next line of the psalm).    (Net Bible notes )

 "Chariot of the Cherubim" model:  So what do we make of what is portrayed in the text? Let's start with the ancient Hebrew understanding, as this historic background is helpful.  The ancient Hebrews thought of the cherubim as forming a "chariot throne." The cherubim  (living creatures) were viewed as forming the "vehicle "upon which God rode in the heavens.
    Note: In the early days of Israel's history the cherubim became the divine chariot, the bearer of the throne of Yhwh in its progress through the worlds (I Sam. iv. 4; II Sam. vi. 2; I Chron. xiii. 6). ... At an earlier period the cherubim were the living chariot of the theophanic God, possibly identical with the storm-winds (Ps. xviii. 11; II Sam. xxii. 11: "And he rode upon a cherub and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind ".)    Jewish Encylopedia.com   "Cherub" ,  pg. 13
This is evidenced by the description of the two huge models of the cherubim that were in the temple at Jerusalem.  They were called "the chariot of the cherubim” in the text and thought by some to have had wheels.   1 Chron. 28: 18: "And for the altar of incense refined gold by weight; and gold for the pattern of the chariot  [Hebrew, merkabah] of the cherubim, that spread out their wings, and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD  (KJV).
In the book of Hebrews we are told that the "cherubim of Glory" are part of the "copy of the heavenly things"  (Heb. 9:5,23)  With this New Testament interpretation of the Old, the earthly temple and tabernacle were shadows; a type of the heavenly realities.   
The Chariot Throne:  At this point let's examine more of this less known, though important, concept. In the Old Testament, the imagery of God as "riding" a chariot comprised a way that the people of that time could understand the Lord as a great King.  This is perhaps different from our modern western ‘medieval’ view of a king.  In ancient times a king typically rode in a splendid chariot, and a chariot was also a symbol of military strength (2Chron. 35:24, Jer.17:25, 22:4).  Also, the king typically rode forth to face his enemies (2 Kings 8:21).    

Many commentators have traditionally pointed out that the ancient Jewish understanding of what Ezekiel beheld was the Merkabah, the Hebrew (literal meaning) for the Lord’s chariot-throne. There is historical evidence for this and internal biblical support as well. In the Greek Septuagint a variant rendering from the Hebrew text in Ezekiel 43:3 reads: "and the vision of the chariot that I saw was like the one that I saw by the river of Chebar"   (this referencing the cherubim and the throne in earlier chapters).  In Habakkuk 3, we read in reference to the Lord:  "that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation" (Hab. 3:8,  KJV). In the Jewish rabbinic interpretation (Midrashim) of Psalm 68:18 it states:  "Twenty-two thousand chariots descended at Sinai, and each of them looked like the chariot (Merkabah) that Ezekiel saw.” There are also historic writings (extra-biblical) that indicate the common understanding of that time.  In the apocryphal writing of Ecclesiasticus is a quotation: "It was Ezekiel who saw the vision of glory, which God showed him above the chariot of the cherubim"  (Sirach 49:8 NRSV).   It is also interesting to note that Irenius, an early church father, described one of the titles of the Lord as the "Charioteer of the Chariot."    In the Dead Sea scrolls we read: "In the vision Ezekiel saw the gleam of the Chariot (Merkavah) and the four Living Creatures" 

 Note:  (Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, F. Martinez)  (4Q385 frag. 4:5-6 )   (Irenius Against Heresies- book 5)   An early Gnostic Christian text: the "Hypostases of the Archons"  refers to   "…the four-faced chariot of the cherubim."     
Representations: Once we understand this important context, it assists our understanding of other passages.  Yet the Old Testament chariot imagery shouldn't be confused with pagan concepts of their deities, which are but counterfeits or distortions of the true concept.  This doesn't answer the question as to the meaning of the wheels specifically, but it does help with some context and a framework. Also, it should be stated here that all the descriptions of the throne and cherubim wheels, etc., are only representations.  God certainly doesn't literally ride a throne with wheels. However the cherubim are actual angelic beings and He is enthroned upon them in the vision. God doesn't inhabit a physical location or a seat.  These are simply distant approximations of heavenly realities for our finite minds.    

Understanding the Metaphor (the similitude of heaven?):
In the first chapter of Ezekiel, the words, "the likeness, the appearance of," occur frequently.  Sometimes they are three steps removed from the true heavenly realities.  In Ezekiel 1:28 we read “...such was the appearance  of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”   To get to the answers mentioned above involves a step on the part of the reader of thinking beyond the natural world. These are things related from God's Spirit.  It also requires us to abandon stereotypical, popular views of the heavenly realm and examine it afresh, objectively from a biblico-prophetic view. The prophet related what he was given to see in the form of similes.  A simile is a comparison to illustrate something, often using "like" or "as." A metaphor is a figure of speech by which one word is analogous to another, usually in the form of images.  Moving on to chapter two, the message from God's Spirit  comes from the Lord upon the throne. He speaks to the prophet and commissions him to speak to the Israelites.  "And he said to me 'Son of man, Stand upon your feet and I will speak to you.  ...I send you to the people of Israel, to a rebellious house... And you shall speak my words to them whether they hear or refuse to hear'"  (Chap. 2:3).    This is a message from the throne of God. The prophet is overwhelmed by the Lord's glory, emboldened by His Spirit, and then compelled to deliver a message to the people.  The Lord is speaking to them in a foreign land.  

God allowed some glimpses of his glorious throne and when this happened, it was a sign that God was about to do something very significant in the history of his people. Ezekiel's vision contains some of the sternest words God ever voiced to Israel and also contains an appeal for repentance.  Yet, out of grace He did not leave them abandoned and He offered them promises of restoration in the latter chapters of Ezekiel.  God's Spirit entered the prophet and empowered him to proclaim His Word. (v. 22).  In the first eight chapters the prophet speaks words of warning as the Lord pleads and admonishes his people, seemingly to no avail.
In the ninth and tenth chapters we read of a further vision of this throne which adds to the understanding of the wheels: "Then I looked, and see, in the expanse that was over the head of the cherubim there appeared above them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. 2He spoke to the man clothed in linen, and said, Go in between the whirling wheels, even under the cherub, and fill both your hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city. He went in as I watched. 3Now the cherubim stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. 4The glory of Yahweh mounted up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of Yahweh’s glory. 5The sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of God Almighty when he speaks. 6It came to pass, when he commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim, that he went in, and stood beside a wheel. 7The cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took of it, and put it into the hands of him who was clothed in linen, who took it and went out. 8There appeared in the cherubim the form of a man’s hand under their wings. 9I looked, and behold, four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside one cherub, and another wheel beside another cherub; and the appearance of the wheels was like a beryl stone. 10As for their appearance, the four of them had one likeness, like a wheel within a wheel. 11When they went, they went in their four directions: they didn’t turn as they went, but to the place where the head looked they followed it; they didn’t turn as they went. 12Their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes all around, even the wheels that the four of them had. 13As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels "  (WEB).

The Glory departs and Judgment comes:  The Lord by His Spirit had exposed the hearts of these leaders of men  (Ezek. 8:6,12) the "princes of the sanctuary." At the holiest place in God's sanctuary was an image that provoked jealousy, an abomination that brought a desolation to God's house. (v. 5).  In all the passages in Ezekiel we have a great contrast between God's holiness and pure glory visiting a people steeped in stubbornness and  idolatry.  Contrast provides clarity, because by the one we can see the other clearer.  God "sees" and the record is kept in the heavenly realm and written down. Some are headed to judgment and others are marked off for deliverance and a great separation occurs of those who would receive temporal retribution (chapter 9:3,4).  After persistently turning from God and remaining in unbelief, the people reached a point where no remedy was left. God, from his righteous throne, decreed that Jerusalem was to go up in flames and be given over to the sword, as history affirms (chap. 10:2).
 Ezekiel is overwhelmed by the judgments, and he envisions an end of mercy as wrath is poured out.  He is deeply troubled and he cries out,  "Ah, Sovereign  Lord, will you destroy all who remain in Israel ...?” (Ezek. 9:8).  The wonder of and fascination with the glorious vision of the throne is now replaced with a deep sorrow and a fear of God. Finally, God's Spirit leaves his habitation (the temple) because of wickedness (Ezek. 10:18).   He was abandoning his House and the manifestation of glory (the throne-chariot) to ascend and depart. Thus, the vision closes.       

The Meaning of the Wheels? (a beginning point):  Historically, many  have assigned a symbolic meaning as relating to God's overarching sovereignty, divine providence,  or omniscience.  This was one of the views advanced by the early church fathers, and seems to have been the prevailing interpretation of the reformers. It is also often re-quoted by various  commentaries today.  In addition, some see the wheels as representations of the ministers of the gospels or churches.  Some see cycles of nature or perhaps astronomical phenomenon. Some have even viewed the wheels historically as separate angelic beings called the "Ophanim."  Yet, as we shall see, there is more evidence that the wheels are to be viewed in a metaphoric sense.        
  The problem with many traditional interpretations is that there is  little internal evidence given, as derived from the text itself. We certainly do see God's providence and sovereignty in these Ezekiel passages, yet we also can observe these biblical themes in the dozens of other passages about the throne that don't mention the wheels at all.  Another interpreter asserts that the wheels are speaking of God's kingdom; and, still another, thinks it speaks of God's power, etc. Admittedly, many of these things could be hypothesized from the passages. But it has become an arbitrary guessing game.  Also, how do the proposed interpretations of the so-called "Ezekiel’s wheels" fit into the wheels of the throne described in Daniel's vision? That is the only other direct reference to "fiery" wheels of the throne.        

 I believe we must begin with things that are exclusive and specific to these passages concerning the wheels.   As we shall see, the Scripture lays it forth and makes it known.   Also, the interpretation should be harmonious with the whole counsel of God’s Word. In our quest to understand this mystery, let us start with some primary observations as we examine  what  is happening in the passages.  Later more detail will be assessed to see how many of the things observed in these passages (and others) might be linked together.
"The spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels."  In Ezekiel 1 we read that the "spirit" of the living creatures was within the very wheels.   As noted in the Hebrew, the word "Ruach" can  mean wind or spirit.   The wheels contained the same spirit as the cherubim.  The phrase is repeated in the text as a point of emphasis. This appears to be communicating an active, living phenomena. The cherubim were led by the Spirit (Ezek. 1:20,21; 10:17) It is the spirit of living creatures (their nature) that is animating the wheels. Here the line between animate beings and inanimate objects is blurred. The  "Spirit" is associated with life, whereas "wheels"  are typically inanimate objects. This is similar to the text in Zechariah where inanimate chariots represented  "the winds" or "Spirits of heaven" (Zech. 6:5).  As noted earlier, they move in unity and share attributes. The chariot Ezekiel  beheld was a living chariot made up of the cherubim.

"Fire from among the Wheels": The angelic servant is told in a prophetic sense to "take fire from among the wheels" and scatter it over Jerusalem which had turned to idolatry. The fire from wheels in Ezekiel, chapter 10, comprised the source of what was to happen to the city.  It was the fire which formed an aspect of the great judgments of God poured out.  Historically, the city was burnt with fire, though this certainly had implications beyond the physical (2Kg. 25:9).  The word fire in Scripture often also refers to a judgment or spiritual purging or purifying (Ps. 21:9; 78:21; 79:5; Isa.4:4; 30:30; Jer.6:29; Amos 7:4; Nahum 1:6).  In a related way, the cherubim and the angels take part in God's acts of judgment in other passages (Gen. 3:24; Ps. 18:8-10; Rev. 6:1-7, 7:1).  This would also  be compatible  with  the broader concept of the  Lord’s  "chariots of fire" in Scripture, executing temporal punishment as shown in Isaiah 66:15. In Daniel's vision (as will be explored later), there is also the fire of judgment relating to the fiery wheels of the throne consuming the adversaries of the Lord (Dan. 7:9). In light of these things, it is understandable why the prophet, upon viewing the wheels, described them as having an awesome or fearful appearance  (See Ezek. 1:18).
Worship from among the Wheels: In the third chapter, Ezekiel is again lifted up by the Spirit of the Lord.  He hears a sound---the sound of the wings of the cherubim and the sound of the wheels.  He hears it in this expression: "May the glory of the Lord be praised in his dwelling place"  (v. 12).  The sound of their wings and the wheels were also said to be like "the sound of the voice of the Almighty when he speaks," like a rumbling or rushing sound (v. 13).  The sound from the cherubim and the wheels (similar to the rush of a mighty wind in Acts 2) seems to bring forth praise to God.  It is not that they are described as voicing this, but perhaps by their very nature they produce some spiritually harmonic sound.  Historically, it was understood that worship surrounded the chariot-throne and the wheels.

Note:  Dead Sea Scrolls "Divine Chariot Throne" text: "The cherubim bless the image of the Throne-Chariot above the firmament, and they praise the majesty of the fiery firmament beneath the seat of his glory. And between the turning wheels,  angels of holiness come and go..."
We can see that these cherubim are associated with giving praise and glory to God. It is part of their nature, for they are beings of worship as other Scriptures attest (See Rev.4:8).
The "Whirling" Wheels: Another observation concerning the meaning of the wheels (in chapter 10) is in what the wheels themselves are called.  Verse 13 states, "As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels" (WEB).    Ezekiel heard them being called the "whirling  wheels." Here the Scripture itself (a literal reading) is telling us what they are like. The wheels (owphan in the Hebrew) were called the whirling wheels (galgal).  In the verse, two Hebrew  words  for  wheels  are used as  follows: 1-Owphan, 2-Galgal. The latter also means "whirlwind" or “swirling chaff" in a rapid rotation.  The adjective is very helpful as we shall later see. We also note the meaning of the words "spirit” and  "wheels" being in a common association with the wind. The words for wheel as noted earlier also can mean the whirlwind. In addition, the living creatures and the throne of Glory itself came out of a stormy whirlwind  (a metaphor for judgment in other passages). There is a meteorological element in the imagery.  

Note:  v. 13 - O wheel "rather, 'they were called, whirling,' that is, they were most rapid in their revolutions ... or, better, 'It was cried unto them, The whirling' ... galgal here used for 'wheel,' is different from owphan, the simple word for 'wheel.' galgal is the whole wheelwork machinery with its whirlwind-like rotation. (J.F.B. Commentary)

As a sidenote, the first time we see cherubim referenced in the Bible they are described as with a "flaming of a whirling  sword" (Gen. 3.24), and “turning round and round."  In the literal Hebrew (like a wheel) it is a threatening judgment.  Note:  Ft.4 tn Heb. “the flame of the sword that turns round and round.” (Net Bible notes).      

A Summary of some Important  Clues:

1)    The historic understanding that the vision was of a  "throne-chariot" (how it would have been understood at that time) helps give a context of understanding. The chariot represented royal power and the exercising of the king’s authority. Thus if we investigate the broader concept of the "chariot and chariots of the Lord" we can expect to find further answers.   
2)     There is a close connection to the wheels of the cherubim  (they form a unity).  The cherubim are associated with sheltering God's holiness and, thus, the meaning of the wheels should relate to this.  God's throne came down from heaven and the wheels touched the earth.  The wheels are at the place of contact (holy and the unholy) as is in the nature of the cherubim.
3)      We are told in the text that the sound of the wheels (and the wings of the cherubim) were  like "the voice of the Almighty" and the sound is associated  with worship, the  praise of God's awesomeness and glory.
4)     The fire from wheels represented the source of what was to happen to Jerusalem. The judgments of God came forth from the wheels.   Also, the awesome and fearful appearance of the wheels was noted.   This gives evidence that the meaning of the wheels relates to the judgments of God
5)     a. The living creatures and the throne of Glory came out of the great massive cloud (the whirlwind.) The Lord manifested himself in this  storm theophany.  The cherubim in other passages are also identified with the storm winds.     
b. The wheels are called  in the text "the whirling wheels." The  Hebrew  word  for  wheel  "galgal"  can mean the  whirlwind.
c. The "spirit" of the living creatures was in the wheels. The Hebrew word "Ruach" can mean spirit or wind, the wind often being a metaphor for the Spirit. There is the meteorological element in this imagery. All of these three points give evidence that the meaning of the wheels has something to do with the Spirit of God (another clue).

Final thoughts:  God revealed his throne to the prophet. We read of angelic creatures and an awesome vision that comes out of a whirlwind---a  theophany out of the cloud, out of the fire.  In this context, at the beginning of Ezekiel, the prophet is overwhelmed  by the Lord's glory and emboldened by His spirit to deliver  a message. He declares to the people the Lord's great  judgments. Ezekiel, the priest, then sees a  manifestation of living cherubim, and the throne of glory---not an ark carried by four priests with golden cherubim models upon it, but an incredible glimpse into the true heavenly realities, seeing and hearing things (barely describable) that few have ever experienced.  He witnessed the four living, heavenly throne bearers, the cherubim of Glory with the mysterious wheels beside them. This is the culmination and the climax of the entire vision, a revealing of God's nature and form upon  the   throne, the personification of the Lord's Glory.  This is One whose radiance and person is so incredible that even a distant approximation of Him is awesome, thus how beyond human imagination must the true heavenly manifestation be?  

We shall now examine this further in the next chapter when we open Daniel's vision of the throne:  "I saw until thrones were placed, and one who was ancient of days sat: his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels burning fire"  (Dan. 7:9).   

Chapter 2  
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