41. THE CHERUBIM.
It is hopeless to arrive at the meaning of the Cherubim from
etymology. Only by the usage of the whole of Scripture can
we form an approximately true idea.
Their description is twice given (Ezek. 1:5-14; 10:20; and Rev.
By a process of elimination we arrive at the fact that they are a celestial
order of spirit-beings, and we can form no more notion of them than we
can of other heavenly orders which are named, but not explained, and for
the want of better words are called "Thrones," "Dominions," "Principalities,"
They are to be distinguished from the symbolic figures of them, which
were made to represent them.
Negatively, we may note :
- That they cannot be the Godhead, or Divine in their nature,
for (1) likeness of any kind was strictly forbidden (Deut. 4:15, 16, &c.);
and (2) the Godhead is distinguished from them by being mentioned at the
- Though heavenly, or celestial and spiritual in their nature
and character, they are distinguished from the angels (who, as their
name implies, were spirits used as messengers). Compare Rev.
5:8, 11 and 7:11, where, first the cherubim offer worship, and then
the angels. They must therefore be real spirit-beings, for they could
hardly be represented emblematically and really in the same verse.
Moreover, they are never dismissed on errands as angels are, and are never
seen apart from the Throne.
- They cannot be merely symbols, for, though symbolic
and emblematic representations of them were allowed to be made, they themselves
are not symbolic, or we should have symbolic symbols of symbols, and no
reality at all.
- They cannot be a symbol of the "Church" or any portion of redeemed
humanity, for they are distinguished from them in Rev. 5:9, 10, according
to the best readings of the most ancient MSS. and critical Greek texts,
where the "us" of v. 9 should be omitted, and the "us" and "we"
of v. 10 should be "them" and "they." Compare also Rev. 7:9-11.
- For the same reason they cannot be symbols of "the four gospels"
or books of any kind, for the cherubim are ministers associated with wrath;
and call for the judgment plagues. See Rev. 6 and 15:7. Moreover,
there is no connection between these and the presence of the cherubim in
Eden, in the Tabernacle, in the Temple, and the Throne of God.
Positively, we may note :
- That the three root letters of kerub,
= b, are the root letters of the word KaRaB, which reappear in our GRiP,
GRaB, GRiPe, GRasP. In a passive sense the notion would be that of
holding something in safe keeping : and, as a matter of fact,
the symbolic representation of them were held fast to the mercy-seat, being
made out of the same piece of gold (Ex. 25:18, 23).
- In Gen. 3:24 they were placed to KEEP (or guard) the
way to the tree of life, and preserve the hope of re-genesis for
a ruined creation (cp. Gen. 2:15, where we have the word "keep" in this
- Their presence on the mercy-seat binds this hope with atonement,
and with Israel.
- On the vail the hope is bound up with the coming of the Christ
in incarnation and redemption.
- They are four in number, and four is the number of Creation
(see. Ap. 10).
- They are represented by the symbolic heads of the four great
divisions of animate creation : the lion (of wild beasts), the ox
(of tame beasts), the eagle (of birds), man (of humanity).
- They are beneath the Throne, for the earth is Jehovah's
- Their song, when they speak, is of creation (Rev. 4:11),
and is in connection with the earth.
Redemption is a "new song" for them, relating to others.
- We conclude therefore, that the cherubim are celestial
or real spirit-beings, associated in some way with the embodiment of creation's
hope as expressed in Rom. 8:19-23. The emblematic representations
made of them connect that hope with "the hope of Israel" and associate
it with the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, and the rent vail (Heb. 10:10,20.)
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