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Ezekiel continues his tentative description of God. He qualifies everything he saw with the appearance of and as it were. Yet the main impression is a bright, shining, fiery figure.
And upward from what had the appearance of his loins: Upward from … his loins refers to the upper part of his body, from the waist up. Sometimes in the Bible the Hebrew word for loins refers to a person’s sexual organs, but the word actually refers to that part of the body between a person’s ribs and hips. The best translation for it here is the “waist.” Translators may render this clause as “Above what appeared like his waist.”
I saw as it were gleaming bronze: Gleaming bronze renders the same Hebrew word used in verse 4. See the comments there.
Like the appearance of fire enclosed round about: The Hebrew here is very puzzling. Literally it reads “like the appearance of fire [was] a house for it around about.” Scholars and translators are divided over the meaning of the last few words. Some think that the fire was surrounding the upper body of the figure like a sheath; for example, New Jerusalem Bible renders the first half of this verse as “I saw a brilliance like amber, like fire, radiating from what appeared to be the waist upwards.” Others think that the fire itself is enclosed and surrounded by something; for example, New English Bible and Revised English Bible render this clause as “like fire in a furnace.” This model makes very good sense. Anyone who has seen molten metal in a furnace knows how bright and fiery it is. This seems to be an appropriate description of the figure on the throne. The first half of this verse may be rendered “I saw what appeared to be the upper part of his body and it seemed to look like polished metal as if it were on fire in a furnace.”
And downward from what had the appearance of his loins refers to the lower part of his body, from the waist down. I saw as it were the appearance of fire means this part of his body was fiery, as if it were burning. Translators may render this whole sentence as “And from what appeared to be his waist down, it looked like fire.” The emphasis is on the brightness of what Ezekiel saw. This brightness is reinforced by the last clause: and there was brightness round about him, that is, “It shone all over with a bright light” (Good News Translation). This brightness was not just around the lower part of his body. It was either around the whole figure, or around the whole throne (so Revised Standard Version footnote with the pronoun “it”). Most translations take the pronoun him to refer to the figure itself, not to the throne.
A model for this verse is:
• And I looked at what seemed like the upper part of his body, and it was very bright, like glowing metal in the middle of a furnace. And what seemed like the lower part of his body, I saw that it was fiery, like it was burning. And he shone all over with a bright light.
Quoted with permission from Gross, Carl & Stine, Philip C. A Handbook on Ezekiel. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .