The Living Creatures (Cherubim) In Ezekiel 1 and 10

It was in the thirtieth year on the fifth day of the fourth month that Ezekiel saw visions of God. The heavens were opened and the word of God came to him. And he looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire catching itself, and about it was a brightness, as the color of amber, issuing out of the midst of the fire. Looking more closely, the prophet saw four living creatures—the cherubim of the book of Genesis and of the book of the Revelations—whose likeness came also from the midst of the fire. It is these creatures that form the subject of this essay. Let us present what may be collected from the Scriptures on this subject—arranging our remarks under the following divisions:

1. The descriptors of the structure of these creatures.

2. The names applied to them.

3. The position assigned to them.

4. Their function.

1. As to the first point, we find nothing definite in the Old Testament Scriptures until we come to the book of Ezekiel. “And this,” says the prophet, “was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet (the original: straight foot); and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the lift side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus was their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning” (Ez. 1:5-14).

The main features of this word-picture stand out clearly. What we discern is four living creatures, of strange composite structure. Their general appearance is human. They are winged; and each has four heads—that of a man, lion, ox, and eagle. Each has two legs, which are straight, i.e., without joints, without back and front, smooth and symmetrical; and their feet are those of a calf. The wings of all—those which are stretched upward—are so joined one to another, that all move straight forward with remarkable coherence. There being four faces to each creature, all quarters of the earth are facing them, whether they go backward or forward, to the right or to the left. Hence, they turn not when they go, and everyone goes straight forward. The upper pairs of wings form a square. The lower pairs are without connection and with these the creatures cover their bodies in order to show their holy fear and reverence. They are led by the Spirit—the life-breath of God—which dwells in -them (whither the spirit was to go, they went). Issuing out of the midst of the fiery core of the great cloud, their appearance is in themselves like kindled coals of fire burning and breaking forth in lightning. They form, do these creatures, the very kernel of the fiery cloud.

Vss. 15-21 form a passage that sets forth the second vision of the prophet—the vision of the four wheels. These wheels are associated with the living creatures of the first vision so closely that they may be said to belong to the very structure of these creatures. “Now as I beheld the living creatures,” so the prophet continues, “behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the color of beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. And as for their rims—the rims of the wheels—they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rims were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was the spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

The living creatures, forming as they do the kernel of the fire-cloud, are directly suspended between heaven and earth. But being destined for this earth, they are associated with wheels. Thus the impression as a whole is that of a kind of vehicle, in which the Lord takes the place of the charioteer, and the living creatures the place of the chariot. The wheel, which is lowermost, as is usual in a chariot, is to be thought of as being on the earth. That mention is made first of one wheel and then of four is because the four are conceived of together as forming a unity. They correspond to the four front sides, the human faces of the creatures and round them form a square. All four have one sort of shape. Each consists of two wheels, which intersect each other at right angles. This construction has the effect (vs. 17) that they can go in all four directions without turning. Vs. 18 concludes their description. Great height characterizes the rims of the wheels. These rims are full of eyes. Mention is made in vs. 17 of the movement of the wheels by themselves; now in vs. 19 their relation to the creatures is spoken of in detail. The wheels stand beside the creatures, but when the latter move, the former must of themselves follow the impulse, whither the spirit of the creatures went, just thither went the spirit of the wheels. This simultaneous movement is based on there being one spirit. The eyes in the wheels correspond to the faces in the living creatures and both are to be understood in connection with the spirit as indicative of life. As the creatures themselves, so the wheels—they are things not inanimate but living.

The Bible contains still other descriptions of these “living creatures” (Cherubim) as to form and appearance. Ezek. 41:18, “And every cherub had two faces.” Ezek. 10:12 “And their whole body and their back and their hands and their wings and their wheels were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had.” Rev. 4:7, 8, “And around the throne were four living creatures (beasts in the translation, but incorrectly so) full of eyes before and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion. And the second like a calf, and the third had the face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within.”

Thus the structure of these creatures varies at least as exhibited in the vision. As seen by Ezekiel in his first vision (chapter 1) they are represented as having each four faces and four wings while in the description subsequently given by him in chapter 10, mention is made of only two faces appearing in each. Again, if John and Ezekiel discern four creatures of composite structure, the former sees each creature as having not four faces but a face after one of the four types. The number of wings belonging to each is also different—not four but six. Finally, in Ezekiel’s first vision the eyes appear only in the wheels connected with the cherubs, “while in Revelation the creatures themselves appear full of eyes, as they also do in Ezekiel 10:12.” There is thus a diversity in regard to the particular form. But they are alike in two respects: Their predominating appearance is that of a man—a man’s body, posture, and hands. “The other point of agreement is their composite structure—with this form of a man predominating but combined with other animal forms—those namely, of the lion, and the eagle.”

As to these creatures’ names, nothing certain has been established regarding the original meaning of the term Cherub. There is another name, however, first applied to them by Ezekiel and the only name given them in Revelations. This expression is “the living ones,” or, “the living creatures”. In Ezekiel and Revelation it occurs over and over and therefore must be taken as bespeaking the symbolical character of the Cherubim. It presents them to view as imbued with life. The thought thus imparted agrees with all that is known of them from the Scriptures. They are incessantly active. They rest neither day nor night saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was and is and is to come (Rev. 4:8). Their movements are characterized by marvelous speed. Their running and returning is quick even as the flash of lightning. They are replete with life in its highest state of power, courage, true wisdom and knowledge. For they are full of eyes and the eye is the symbol of life that is light.

The position of the cherubim must be noticed in this connection. In Gen. 3:24, they are placed by |God, after the ejection of man from the garden of Eden, at the east thereof together with the flaming sword “to keep the way of the tree of life”. In the Tabernacle there were two cherubic figures of solid gold upon the mercy-seat with wings outstretched above and with faces toward each other and toward the mercy-seat. This seat, bordered by the cherubim and covered by their wings, was the throne of God. “There”, said He to Moses, “will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment to the children of Israel.” In obedience to the command of God, there were also cherubic figures woven into the texture of the inner curtain of the tabernacle and the veil.

We must attend more closely in this connection to the vision of Ezekiel in Ezek. 1. The entire chapter is taken up with this vision, formed of three distinct parts, the first two of which have already been explained. There comes a whirlwind out of the north, bringing a great cloud, the interior of which is formed of a brisk fire that spreads its brightness round about. Out of the intensive fire of the cloud there are formed the four living creatures—the cherubim. This is the first part of the vision (vss. 4-14). By the living creatures are four wheels that bring the whole in connection with the earth. The description of the appearance of the wheels and of the behavior of the wheels and the cherubim, into union with the wheels by the spirit, form the second part of the vision (vss. 15-22). The whole is now completed in the vision of the Heavenly Enthroned One (vss. 22-28), the culminating point of the theophany.

“And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creatures was as the color of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two which covered on that side, their bodies. And when they went I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood they let down their wings. And there was a voice from the firmament which was over their heads, when they stood, and let down their wings. And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face. . . .”

Let us get the features of this word-picture clearly before our eye. There is the likeness of a firmament upon the heads of the living creatures. It is not heaven—the deep, blue sky above our heads—but something like it. This something—stretched forth over the heads of the cherubim—is fearful in its dazzling clearness and purity. It incites awe by its splendor, in which that of the Creator is reflected. Under it are eight of the sixteen wings with which the cherubim collectively are equipped,—straight, raised aloft. With the remaining wings they cover their bodies. The tip of the wings, raised aloft, reach to the firmament, not for support and for this reason, that the wings make a loud noise, and are therefore in motion, when the creatures are in flight and further because when they stand, they let down their wings—the ones serving for flight. The prophet now describes also what he hears, to wit, the voice of their wings in their going. The comparison is a threefold one: (1) of the voice of many waters, (2) of the voice of the Almighty, which may mean the thunder; (3) of the voice of a host. The prophet now directs our gaze even higher. When, i.e., as often as, there comes a voice from the firmament which is over their heads, the cherubim at the hearing of it, cease their motion and let down their wings. They thus come to rest and are submissively silent before the living God, as soon as His voice—the voice that comes from the firmament is His—is heard. Above the firmament, that is over the heads of the cherubim, is the likeness of a throne. It is the throne of God. If beneath it is fire and lightning—all that is terrifying—the throne itself is bright and pure, heaven-like blue. Upon the likeness of the throne is the likeness as the appearance of a man above it, the lower part of whose body is like fire, which produces a reflection round itself, and the reflection has the appearance of a rainbow. “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” Thus the glowing likeness of the man upon the throne, the fire and its reflection, is the face of the triune Jehovah, i.e., the visible manifestation of all His goodness—the face of Jehovah, here again the prefiguration of Christ’s human nature. Such is the vision in its entirety.

We can now make a statement regarding the position of the cherubim. It is near and even in (Revelation 5) the throne of God.

(to be continued)