Ezekiel 1:18 & 22 – Awesome, Dreadful, Terrible

I was just reading Ezekiel 1 and these two verses, 18 and 22 really stood out to me. The reason being, they both use the word “awesome” in the NIV. This word is used 34 times in the entire NIV translation, all of these times are in the Old Testament. These two verses particularly stood out to me though because the word “awesome” is used without a direct reference to God as most of the other usages are.

Ezekiel 1:18 NIV

Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.

Ezekiel 1:22 NIV

Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome.

The usage is such that something has been described and then it is added that it is also “awesome”. I looked it up in the KJV to see what an earlier English translation put it as.

Ezekiel 1:18 KJV

As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.

Ezekiel 1:22 KJV

And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.

In the KJV the words used are different, verse 18 is “dreadful”, and verse 22 is “terrible”. Both of these words have similar meanings to “awesome”, these words all convey the idea that it is unbelievable and shocking, but “dreadful” and “terrible” both suggest fear and that it is something bad. “Awesome” on the other hand doesn’t necessarily imply fear or a negative connotation.

Dictionary.com defines them as:

Awesome

adjective

  1. inspiring awe: an awesome sight.
  2. showing or characterized by awe.
  3. Slang. very impressive: That new white convertible is totally awesome.

Dreadful

adjective

  1. causing great dread, fear, or terror; terrible: a dreadful storm.
  2. inspiring awe or reverence.
  3. extremely bad, unpleasant, or ugly: dreadful cooking; a dreadful hat.

Terrible

adjective

  1. distressing; severe: a terrible winter.
  2. extremely bad; horrible: terrible coffee; a terrible movie.
  3. exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.
  4. formidably great: a terrible responsibility.

Thesaurus.com also lists them as synonyms for each other. So it’s obvious their meanings are related, however by definition, “dreadful” and “terrible” suggest fear and negativity as they are based on “dread” and “terror”. If you are suggesting something is bad, you are much more likely to say “that was terribly bad” or “that was dreadfully bad” than “that was awesomely bad”.

So I wanted to know more, what did these words actually come from? Why did they change them in the NIV when much of the rest of the sentences of these verses remain the same?

I loaded up E-Sword’s Hebrew Old Testament with Strongs dictionary. I’m certainly no expert in Hebrew, but from what I can tell, Strong’s dictionary indicates most of the Hebrew words used translate pretty clearly to those used in the KJV and NIV translations. The two key words I’m looking at in these verses though are:

Verse 18 – “yir’âh” – Strong’s dictionary reference H3374

Pronunciation: yir-aw’

Fear (also used as infinitive); morally reverence: –  X dreadful, X exceedingly, fear (-fulness).

Verse 22 – “yârê’ ” Strong’s dictionary reference H3372

Pronunciation: yaw-ray’

A primitive root; to fear; morally to revere; causatively to frighten: – affright, be (make) afraid, dread (-ful), (put in) fear (-ful, -fully, -ing). (be had in) reverence (-end), X see, terrible (act, -ness, thing).

So these two words both have similar meanings. To my understanding, the word used in v18 translated as “dreadful” in the KJV means the literal feelings of fear and reverence, so when Ezekiel saw this vision, either the eyes in the wheel were fearful and reverent of the Lord, or Ezekiel felt fear and reverence (I’d say probably both). The word used in v22 translated as “terrible” in the KJV means to fear, to cause reverence, essentially, Ezekiel is saying when he saw the expanse it made him fearful and reverent.

To me, this raises the question, does “awesome” adequately describe this? “Awesome” suggests awe, fear and reverence could definitely be translated into awe. Fear and reverence are often used together, the term “fear God” to me means to revere and respect God, so it makes sense that the same words can mean both fear and reverence. “Awesome” definitely conveys the message, but I think it’s slang usage dulls the real meaning somewhat. It didn’t fully click to me just how much Ezekiel was trying to convey until I realised that “dreadful” and “terrible” were used in place of “awesome” in the KJV. I’ve read this passage before, but it really hit me then just how impressive this vision must have been and it gave me a better idea of how fearfully reverent Ezekiel must have felt in front of this monstrous thing that showed great fear and reverence to the Lord, and how fearfully reverent he is telling everyone they should be.

If I’ve misunderstood Strong’s dictionary meaning of these words, please correct me, like I said, I’m no expert.