By Charles H. Welch
The cherubim do not figure in Paul’s ministry except for one reference, which but introduces them only to dismiss them with the comment ‘of which we cannot now speak particularly’ (Heb. 9:5). The passage in the epistle to the Hebrews, referring back as it does to the tabernacle, is the only occurrence of ‘cherubim’ in the New Testament. These symbolic creatures however, are mentioned again, but they are referred to in the A.V. as ‘beasts’ in the book of the Revelation. This is a pity, because, there is ‘the beast’ the great dictator of the time of the end who justly merits that name and this rightly translates the Greek word therion which means ‘a wild beast’ as in Mark 1:13 and Acts 10:12. The other word translated ‘beast’ in the Revelation is zoon ‘the living creature’ (Rev. 4:6,7,8 etc.) and refers back to Ezekiel 10:20, where the four, four-faced living creatures are already described in Ezekiel 1:5-10.
It is a mistake to speak of cherubims, as the Hebrew ending ‘im’ is itself the sign of the plural. The first occurrence of cherubim in Scripture is in Genesis 3, and its relation to the tragic story of that chapter, and its correspondence with the serpent, can be seen in the structure of that chapter.
Here is the pledge of Paradise restored, placed at the gate of the garden, upon the fall of man and his expulsion from Eden. It is to be noted moreover, that the word ‘placed’ in Genesis 3:24 is the Hebrew shaken which means ‘to dwell’, and with the prefix mi (mishkan) it becomes ‘tabernacle’. For example:
The cherubim meet us again in Exodus, in the tabernacle, in the book
of Kings in the temple, in Ezekiel associated with the departing and returning
glory of the Lord from Jerusalem, and finally under the title, ‘the four
living creatures’ in the book of the Revelation, where the primeval promise
of Genesis 3 reaches its fulfilment, but only so by reason of the atonement
prefigured by the ark and the mercy seat. There is, however, more than
this to be noted, for in Ezekiel 28 we meet with the title cherubim once
again in a context that demands careful attention. The appearances therefore
of the term ‘cherub’ and ‘cherubim’ in Ezekiel are as follows:
The anointed cherub of Ezekiel 28 is an extraordinary figure. Its relation
to the rest of the prophecy is manifest, and demands our close attention.
(Fuller notes than can be given here will be found in The
Berean Expositor, Vol. 15, pp. 181-191). In Ezekiel 26:19-21 the
prophet pronounces the doom of Tyre, which includes the words, ‘a terror
will I make thee, and thou shalt not be’, which words are practically
repeated of the anointed Cherub in chapter 28. This doom of Tyre is followed
by a lament or dirge which occupies chapter 28. Here we find further expressions
that are repeated in chapter 28 of the anointed cherub.
It is evident from these parallels that the fall of Tyre is used as
a type of another and greater fall. This is brought before us again in
chapter 28 itself by dividing the words of the prophet up under two heads:
The Prince of Tyre was so obsessed with his own wisdom, traffic and
riches, that he said: ‘I am God’. He was, however, ‘a man’ and was ‘slain’.
The King of Tyre, he too found his heart lifted up because of his beauty,
and corrupted his wisdom because of his brightness. He, however, was not
‘slain’, a ‘fire’ is to be brought forth from his midst, he shall be brought
to ashes, be a terror and never be any more. He is not said to be ‘a man’,
instead he is called ‘the anointed cherub that covereth’. Among other
things said of this ‘king’ is that he had been in ‘Eden the garden of
God’, and only two others are recorded as ever having been there, namely
Adam and Eve, the third being the Nachash,
‘the shining one, the serpent’ and the ‘cherubim’ (Gen. 3). With every
precious stone as his ‘veil’ and ‘covering’ he could well be called ‘the
shining one’ while the stones that are named resemble very closely both
the breast-plate worn by the high priest, and the twelve foundations of
the holy city. The additional words ‘anointed’ and ‘covereth’, ‘holy mountain’
and ‘profane’, all point to a being who had originally an office very
closely related to the worship of God. If we attempt to reduce these six
sets of Scripture to some sort of pattern we shall be made conscious of
some sort of gap or omission.
Everything works out with the fitness we have learned to associate with Bible structure (see STRUCTURE), and the self-same confidence that causes astronomers to seek a missing star, or the chemist to seek a missing element, and to find them, leads us to be certain that what is so evidently demanded by the structure of the word cherubim will be supplied. The first thing that we observe is that the cherub of Ezekiel 28 is called ‘the anointed’ (Heb. mimshach) a word derived from the Hebrew mashach which gives us the title ‘Messiah’, which is being interpreted ‘The Christ’ (John 1:41). The blasphemous aspirations of those in Ezekiel who prefigure this anointed cherub that fell, point the way to the completely opposite spirit manifested in the Saviour. For example, of the prince of Tyre it was written: ‘Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am God, I sit in the seat of God’, whereas the Saviour, Who originally in the form of God, and accounting it nothing to be grasped at to be on equality with God, nevertheless made Himself of no reputation, wherefore God hath highly exalted Him, and He is to be confessed as Lord, by the entire universe in that day.
The four gospels set forth the Saviour as King, Servant, Man and Son
of God, and from the earliest Christian times the four gospels have been
associated with the four faces of the cherubim.
We can therefore confidently fill in the gap indicated by the letter:
While we may have wished that Paul could have been permitted to speak of the cherubim ‘more particularly’ it is obviously for our good that nothing explicit was revealed. We must therefore accept this Divinely appointed limitation and be thankful for the glimpse of the conflict and purpose of the ages that the references to the cherubim supply. While much detailed information is lacking, the glorious triumph of the Redeemer stands out in all its unique excellence, and with it the assurance comes to us in great grace, that the goal of the ages shall be achieved.