3. The Cherubim
The visions of the cherubim and living creatures all seem to have Angelic associations, many of which are detailed elsewhere (1). One of the clearest is that the cherubim were to keep "the way" to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), whereas the keeping of the way is later said to be in the control of Angels- e. g. in Gen. 18:19 the Angels decide Abraham will keep "the way of the Lord", implying they were the ones guarding it; and in Ex. 32:8 the Angel talking with Moses on Sinai comments "They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them" (see too Dt. 9:10,12). Thus in Gen. 6:12 "God looked (the Angels are God's eyes) upon the earth, and. . . all flesh had corrupted His way". Further connections between Angels and the flood are found in Chapter 7.
John Thomas(2) highlights the fact that God is described as being fundamentally light (1 Jn. 1:5), Spirit (John 4:24) and a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). These three elements figure strongly in the cherubim visions. The Angels are very closely connected with light, Spirit and fire, leading to the conclusion that God is very largely manifested through the Angels. It is emphasized that the cherubim have wings. The Angel that lead Israel through the wilderness is likened to a bird with large protecting wings, similar to the idea of the cherubim: "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead them" (the work of the wilderness Angel); Dt. 32:11,12.
The cherubim seem to represent God's system of manifestation remaining fundamentally the same in different times. Thus in Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 there appear to be different beings sitting upon a central throne, surrounded by various arrangements of Angels. The "living creatures" of Ez. 1 are the cherubim of the similar vision of Ez. 10. On the heads of the living creatures was a firmament with the throne on it. Ez. 1:4,5 says that the creatures came out of the midst of the amber, whilst Rev. 4 says they were from the midst of the throne, thus suggesting that the creatures were still very close to the throne, although apparently beneath it in Ez. 1. The cloud, brightness and amber of Ez. 1:4 therefore equates with the throne in the midst of the cherubim in the other visions.
Notice the Angelic language in Ezekiel 1:
- v. 4 "a whirlwind. . . a great cloud"- the Angels will be revealed in a cloud (the Shekinah glory?) at the second coming. Note too how Job's satan Angel (see Chapter 9) was also manifested in a whirlwind.
- "A fire"- God "maketh His Angels. . a flame of fire".
- "A brightness was about it. . . out of the midst of the fire". The language of this verse is reminiscent of the Angelic manifestation on Sinai.
The four wings of the creatures point to them being Angels- Angels are spoken of as 'flying ' in Dan. 9:21. The creatures running and returning would relate well to the notion of Angels literally travelling to and fro in God's service, as made specific in Jacob's ladder vision. The firmament with a rainbowed throne upon it on the heads of the living creatures indicates that the same system of God manifestation occurs at different levels- with Israel, both natural and spiritual, and in the organization of Heaven itself. This concept is a key to understanding the cherubim visions- that each vision can be interpreted with reference to God manifestation through both human and Heavenly beings. The layout of the tabernacle was a "pattern of things in the (literal) Heavens" (Heb. 9:23). In the wilderness journey, the ark was covered in the tabernacle by the various layers of the tent detailed in Ex. 26:1-6: sea cows' skins, red rams skins, goats hair, blue, purple, scarlet and linen. These would form a kind of rainbow over the ark, and above that there was the Angel in the pillar of cloud or fire. This "pattern of things in the Heavens" replicated the visions of a throne (the ark) over-arched by a rainbow and the glory of God.
The mercy seat- or throne- was surrounded by the four cherubim, and between these a mighty Angel dwelt. The four cherubic wings over the ark equate with the four wings of the Ez. 1 cherubim; however, we must digress to show how the ark was covered by four cherubic wings. On two of the walls of the Most Holy were cherub wings, which met in the middle, over the ark. This in turn had two cherub wings overshadowing it, thus making a total of four wings over it. Relevant passages are 1 Kings 6:27; 8:6-8.
That the throne of God is represented by the ark of the covenant is shown by comparing Rev. 11:19 and 4:1-5:
"The temple of God was opened in Heaven"
"A door was opened in Heaven"
"There was seen in the temple the ark of His testament"
"A throne was set in Heaven, and one sat on the throne. . . there
was a rainbow round about the throne".
"There were lightnings, and voices and thunderings"
"Out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices"
The throne in Rev. 4 was surrounded by cherubim, as was the "throne" of the ark of the covenant.
We are going to suggest that there was one mighty Angel, perhaps the one representative of Jesus (see Chapter 12), who physically dwelt between the cherubim. The four cherubim covered the ark, over which dwelt an Angel; Ps. 99:1,7 therefore describes the Angel as dwelling between the cherubim: "The Lord reigneth. . He sitteth between the cherubims. . . He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: they kept His testimonies, and the ordinance that He gave them". These latter things were all done by the Angel. Also relevant is Ps. 68:17,18: "The chariots of God are. . . thousands of Angels; the Lord is among them, as in. . . the Holy place". One Angel, which dwelt in the Holy Place, was therefore central to those thousands of others. See too Is. 37:16,17 on this. Similarly, Isaiah saw "the King, the Lord of Hosts (Angels) sitting between the cherubim" (Is. 6:5). The phrase 'living God' may mean 'the God of the living ones', and would therefore describe this mighty Angel- it is linked with "the Lord of Hosts" (Angels) in Jer. 23:36 and the Angel that dwelt in the temple (Ps. 42:2).
This Angel would have manifested the supreme presence of God Himself in the midst of the cherubim visions. The association between the living creatures and the rainbow leads to the speculation that the 'rainbowed Angel', "a mighty Angel" of Rev. 10:1, was the same powerful Angel surrounded by the four living creatures/ cherubim. That these were four specific Angels separate from the other Angels is suggested by Rev. 15:7: "One of the four beasts gave unto the seven Angels seven golden vials. . "; in Rev. 7:11 the Angels stand around the beasts, and in 5:12 they are closer to God's throne than the other Angels. Are these "the first princes" (Angels) of Dan. 10:13?
David and the Cherubim
Almost as a footnote, it is worth showing how David's description of how the cherubim acted in his life in 2 Sam. 22 is full of Angelic language:
v. 2 "My rock"- an Angel (Gen. 49:24)
v. 3 "My shield"- the Angel who made the promises to Abraham (Gen. 15:1)
v. 3 "My saviour"- as the Holy Spirit Angel was to Israel (Is. 63:8-10)
v. 7 "He did hear my voice out of His temple, and my cry did enter into His ears"- the language of Angelic limitation regarding the Angel who dwelt in the temple.
v. 9 "fire"- God makes His Angels a flame of fire (Ps. 104:3,4).
v. 10 "came down " - God manifest in the Angels, as at Sodom and Babel.
v. 11 "a cherub. . did fly. . wings of wind". Gabriel could "fly swiftly"; the Angels are made "spirits"- winds.
v. 12 "darkness. . thick clouds"- the Angel dwelt over the darkness of the Most Holy and in the pillar of cloud; cp. the scene during the Angelic manifestation at Sinai.
v. 15 "arrows. . . lightning"- Angel cherubim language
v. 16 "the blast of the breath (spirit) of His nostrils". God's spirit is manifested through Angels.
v. 17 "He sent from above, He took me"- the physical movement of the Angels from Heaven to earth to obey God's word (see Chapter 6)
v. 25 "Before His eyes"- Angels
v. 37 "Thou hast enlarged my steps. . so that my feet did not slip"- the Angel keeping David from sinning?
23:1 "God of Jacob"- an Angel
23:3 "the rock of Israel" (an Angel) inspired David- which is the work of Angels (see Chapter 8).
(1) See J. Allfree The Cherubim (Mansfield: Bible Study Publications, 1986).
(2) John Thomas, Elpis Israel p. 151 (Birmingham: C. M. P. A. , 1979 ed. ).