George C. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The Cherubim in the East Gate—Genesis 3:24
It is of the greatest importance carefully to notice the text here in Genesis 3:24b what the Holy Spirit tells us concerning God’s placing these Cherubim at the east gate with their flaming swords. The text reads as follows:
“. . . . and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden the Cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”
There are a few facets in the entire section here, which we have thus far discussed which need to be repeated. We must not lose sight of the preponderant fact that the name of “Jehovah God” appears repeatedly in this section (Gen. 3:22-24). Also here, at the time of the fall, God appears to Adam and Eve as JEHOVAH, the Covenant God. He is the God who gives His great promise (Gen. 3:9-17). He is the God who is not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob (Heb. 11:16; Ex. 3:6; Matt. 22:32; John 14:2;Rev. 21:2). This is the Jehovah God who dwells between the Cherubim (Ps. 80:1; Ps. 99:1; Is. 37:16).
We must not ever lose from our sight the new legal and spiritual status quo in which Adam and Eve had already been placed by God in the great promise of the victory in the Seed, the Head over all things, the Christ, who is the firstborn of all creatures, as He is the firstborn out of the dead (Col. 1:18). At this point Adam had already in faith renamed his wife (ishah) with the new name and position in the church: Eve, mother of the living (Gen. 3:20). Were they not already under the blood of the sacrificial animal with whose skins the shame of their nakedness was covered (Gen. 3:21)? Adam stands on a cursed earth, which had been subjected to vanity in hope of being delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of adoption, who in the Spirit will cry Abba Father (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5)!
Equally important it is that we keep in focus the Scriptural teaching of the presence of the Cherubim, who are the keepers, protectors of the holy place of God. The righteousness and the holiness of God’s command to Adam both before the fall as recorded inGenesis 2:17, as well as the holiness of God’s promise made to Adam after the fall, as stated in Genesis 3:15, must be protected. In both instances God’s Word must stand as yea and amen to the glory of God the Father. Cherubim, too, are ministering “spirits” sent out for those who will inherit salvation. When we attempt to gain a total view of the Scriptural teaching concerning the class of angels called “Cherubim” we will need to see them in their office, as identified inHebrews 1:14.
There has been much written concerning the nature and office of the cherubic angels in the history of the New Testament church. Biblical scholars nearly all agree that a mere study of the etymology of the Hebrew term (name) is of little or no avail to tell us much concerning the office of these angelic beings. Certainly the name is not a name of any one angel as seems to be the case with the two names Gabriel and Michael. However, even here it is doubtful whether these are anything like our surnames. There is something very elusive and mysterious about these ministering spirits. For “spirits” they are. When they do appear to men they come accommodating themselves to our world of sight and hearing. Yet withal they remain spirits. Understandably, therefore, the name “cherubim” tells us very little about these heavenly beings around the throne, whose wings cover the mercy-seat.
Still there are some very clear-cut matters which we may enumerate when we consider the keepers of the holy-place of God, the place where God comes to dwell among men. Here we receive a glimpse of these angelic beings in their liturgical service in the temple of God. Primarily the Old Testament Scriptures speak of the Cherubim. In the New Testament Scriptures we read only once of the Cherubim by this name. That is in Hebrews 9:5. It must be remembered, however, that even here we are dealing with a reference to the Cherubim as they overshadowed the mercy-seat in the most holy place in the Old Testament “worldly” temple. The only other passage in the New Testament where the Cherubim are mentioned is in Revelation 4:6. Here these angelic spirits are called “living creatures” in the Greek. The term is “zooa.” The KJV translates this term as “beasts”. The Holland language translates the Greek name “zooa” by the noun “dieren” in distinction from “beest”. This is a very happy distinction which the KJV fails to observe in its translating both times as “beast”, when it is the Greek noun “zooa” or “theerion”. Compare Revelation 4:6 and Revelation 13:2, 11.
At any rate we must study the Old Testament revelation of these Cherubim in order to gain some conception of these Cherubim at the east gate of the garden of Eden!
For in the Old Testament we see a gradual unfolding of the fulfillment of the promise, the great promise of God to be fulfilled in the death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God at God’s right hand.
There are certain great truths in the Bible which we must carefully consider in connection with the presence of the Cherubim in the holy place of God. These lines of Scripture we may not arbitrarily draw, but we must carefully trace the architectural lines of the Builder and Maker who is God alone. He is Jehovah God! God’s plan and design we must study as He builds his temple in Jesus Christ, who is the great temple-builder. He builds His temple in Christ’s dying the accursed death on the cross and in raising him again the third day from the dead (John 2:19; Matt. 26:61; Matt. 27:40; Acts 6:14). Thus we do cling to the pattern of sound doctrine when we thus consider the Biblical description of the office of the angels.
Surely the truth of the exaltedness of the Christ over all things angelic hosts is clearly set forth in Hebrews 1:3-14. Nowhere in all the Old Testament Scriptures is such glory and honor ascribed to the angels, be they Cherubim or Seraphim, as is accorded to the Son of God, whose throne is forever and ever. To no angel has it ever been said: “thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” (Heb. 1:5; Ps. 2:7). No angel became flesh in order to suffer and die and to conquer death and hell for all the elect saints of God. There is a great distance between the glory given to the eternal Son, and the glory which of the Cherubim. Indeed they are called the Cherubim of glory in Hebrews 9:5. They are not even sharers in the glory of grace revealed in the mercy-seat within the veil; they areprotectors of this holiness.
When we read of “glory,” this seems to refer to the majesty of Jehovah God. This heavenly majesty of God is signified in the ark of the mercy-seat. Where these Cherubim appear we see a revelation of God’s throne in His relationship to God’s church and toward all things in heaven and in hell.
We ought to notice the following line of revelational development.
The first manifestation of the Cherubim in history is already a part, a beginning of the history of the salvation. It is already interwoven with the strands of what the Dutch call “Heilsgeschiedenis”. It is part and parcel of the work of him who is the Alpha and the Omega of our salvation in Christ, the Lamb. Wherefore these Cherubim are not placed within the garden of Eden itself, but they are placed outside at the east gate of the garden of Eden. They are there to prevent anyone to attempt to reverse the history of salvation; no one may ever attempt to return to the tree of life. The only way to return to God is through the blood of atonement. And that means justice must be satisfied, and the way into the holy place must be openly manifested first on the cross. Here the veil will be rent forever, so that no Cherubim will ever be mandated to keep the way of the tree of life in the heavenly paradise where God will forever tabernacle with men.
There is a “not yet” in history of salvation. All our salvation has been predetermined by the Lord. God does proclaim the end from the beginning when he gives His promise to Adam and Eve concerning the wonderful triumph of the Seed of the woman over the seed of the Serpent. But all is not yet fulfilled. God never tells everything, but when he tells us as much as we need to know He never deceives us, nor confuses us. In the “not yet” of God there is the promise of certain fulfillment. There is a sure basis for a living, eternal hope in this “not yet” of fulfillment.
Permit us to point out three stages in this gradual unfolding of this promised salvation.
1. There were the cherubim spoken of here in Genesis 3:24. Here we do not yet see them hovering over the mercy-seat.
2. There were the two cherubim, silent witnesses of the typical, Old Testament sacrifices in the tabernacle of Moses and in Solomon’s temple services on the great day of atonement, when the blood of the sacrifices were sprinkled upon the mercy-seat (Lev. 16:15-19).
3. There were also the Cherubim (living creatures) spoken of as they symbolize the entering in of the glory of the LORD into a temple yet to be built. This temple was already a parabolic indication of a better temple to come. In this temple nothing impure would ever be anymore. This is really the temple which is built by Christ, and into this temple the believers both of the Jews and of the Gentiles would enter to dwell forever more. No Cherubim will deter or forbid the entrance of any of the blood-washed sinners. No flaming fire shall devour those who are to be constituted a holy temple in the Lord (Ezekiel 43:6-9).
The east gate shall be the entrance of the glory of Jehovah into the temple. And the glory of the LORD will fill the house of God forever. Of this house God says, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever,” (Ezekiel 43:7).
Here the house of Israel shall no more defile the Lord’s holy name, neither will they nor their kings defile God’s house by their whoredoms. Here they will put away their whoredoms forever.
Yes, Jehovah shall dwell with them forever in the glory of his grace.
Truly it shall be said: Jehovah is there (Ezekiel 48:35).