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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary

- Ezekiel

by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg

The Author’s Preface

THERE are two kinds of commentaries on Holy Scripture—those that are more adapted for perusal, and those that are more suitable for reference. Both are necessary, and it would not be desirable that either should exclude the other. The present work belongs to the former class. The progress in it is rapid, and the whole is designed to give the reader a clear view of the reality of Ezekiel, and in this grand prophetical figure to bring before his mind at the same time the nature of prophecy in general.

The time is no longer distant when every pastor worthy of his calling will make it a rule of life to read his chapter daily, as in the original text of the New Testament, so also in that of the Old Testament. The exposition of Scripture must meet such a laudable custom, which is formed even in education. There is a want of such expositions of the books of the Old Testament, as truly correspond with the requirements of the clerical office. The author has here earnestly aimed at this object. How far he has succeeded it is not for him to judge, but for those for whom he has written. It will depend very much on this, whether he has succeeded in edifying without going out of his proper sphere by the introduction of ascetic considerations.

The present work, however, is not designed solely for the clergy. It will also meet the desire awakening among the educated laity to penetrate more deeply into Scripture. There are many who would rather take from the first than the second hand, whom the annotated Bibles do not satisfy, the authors of which cannot do otherwise than repeat in a convenient form what others have said before them. The text is here so arranged throughout, that it presents no difficulties or hindrances to those who are not acquainted with the original language of Scripture. Everything verbal is referred to the notes, and even in these is treated only so far as the Lexicon and Grammar do not suffice.

The author has throughout compared Luther’s version with his own. Though the time has not come for an improvement of this imperishable work, yet it appears not unsuitable even now to gather stones for a building fitted for better times, for which much more may certainly be done by individual labour than by commissions.

Ezekiel prophesied in a time of great decision, in a time of the “iniquity of the end,” in which sin was ripe, and with it punishment. He is exactly the prophet for our times. Whosoever penetrates into him will be deeply stirred by his earnestness, and will feel himself impelled to exert all his powers, that the crisis on which we have entered may be brought to a prosperous issue. At the same time, however. if it should please God to bring great sifting judgments upon us, to pull down what He has built up, and to root out what He has planted, we may gain from Him an immoveable confidence in the final victory of the kingdom of God, who kills and makes alive, wounds and heals, and who, after He has sent the darkest cloud, at length remembers His covenant, and displays His shining bow.

[It is only necessary to add to the Author’s Preface, that mere citations from Luther’s version are omitted, as not necessary for the English reader, and that the two parts of the original work are here combined, so that the reader has the whole Commentary on Ezekiel, with the Appendix, in one volume. The theologian may not agree with every opinion advanced in this volume; but he will find it one of the freshest and most edifying productions of the esteemed author.—TR.]


EZEKIEL, carried into exile in the captivity of Jehoiachin, seven years after the beginning of the Chaldean bondage, eleven years before the destruction of the city, appeared there as prophet in the fifth year after his captivity, in the thirtieth year of his life (ch. Ezekiel 1:1). The latest date which we find in the superscriptions of his prophecies is the twenty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin (ch. Ezekiel 29:17), so that the historically ascertained period of the prophet’s activity embraced twenty-two years. It was shown that the prophet had precisely in that period a definite occasion for the collection of his prophecies.

The prophecies contained in the present collection, like those of the contemporary Daniel, are all provided with chronological superscriptions. These are in all twelve, of which six belong to native prophecies, and six to prophecies against foreign nations,—[ Ezekiel 16:1, Ezekiel 29:1, Ezekiel 29:17, Ezekiel 31:1, Ezekiel 32:1, Ezekiel 32:17. The collection falls into two main parts,—prophecies before and prophecies after the destruction of Jerusalem. That we may not, with some, make the prophecies against foreign nations in ch. Ezekiel 15:1 to Ezekiel 32:32 a special main part, that they are rather to be considered an appendix to the prophecies before the destruction, is manifest: 1. Because the beginning of these predictions in Ezekiel 25 is connected with the last native prophecy before the destruction in one chronologically determined section; 2. Because the section ch. Ezekiel 33:1-20 forms the literary close to ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 32:32; and with special reference to the main portion, ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 24:27, gives some nota benes concerning the whole previous literary activity of Ezekiel.

The essential character of the first part is threatening; that of the second, promise.

The starting-point of the first main part is a great anti-Chaldaic coalition, and the danger connected with it of the people failing to discern the signs of the times.

The first main part contains four groups of native prophecies— ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 7:27, Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 19:14, Ezekiel 20:1 to Ezekiel 23:49, and Ezekiel 24—in regular chronological sequence. The first dates from the fifth year of Jehoiachin, a time when the formation of the coalition began to fill men’s minds with joyful hopes; the last from the tenth day of the tenth month in the ninth year of Jehoiachin,—the fatal day of the opening of the siege of Jerusalem, which put an end to the hopes founded on the coalition.

The mission of the prophet in these four groups is to make clear to the people the import of the great Chaldean catastrophe, and to bring them to understand the day of their visitation, and escape the miserable fate of those who are severely afflicted, without gaining the peaceable fruit of righteousness. To the book of the works no less than to the book of the words of God we may apply the saying, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” It was the great privilege of the people of God, that such an interpretation always went along with the doings of God. The prophet leads the people to discover in the coming event a long reckoning of God,—the visitation of a guilt that goes back to the very origin of the people. He makes every effort to bring the people to acknowledge the depth of their corruption, which alone could account for their sufferings, and thus not send them far from their God, but connect them closely with Him. The destined event, thus recognised in its necessity, had to be represented as inevitable. The prophet is inexhaustible in the denunciation of the foolish hopes of the people, before whose eyes he portrays the future calamity as if it were already present, as indeed the roots of it in reality were; inexhaustible also in the destruction of the false views concerning the source of the approaching suffering, and the beating down of the craftiness of the natural man, who in the deep indwelling antipathy to repentance makes every effort to cast the blame on God. He deals annihilating blows to those who led the people away from the way of repentance, and flattered them with foolish hopes. The radiant point in these discourses is the grand survey of the whole past development of Israel in ch. Ezekiel 23, which places before our eyes the figure of a people such as they ought not to be, and the result of which is, that the judgment is inevitable. Few sections of Scripture call so powerfully as these for earnest self-examination.

At the close of ch. Ezekiel 24 the prophet announces that native predictions will now be silent, until with the execution of the judgment a new beginning for the prophetic activity be given. The servant is silent in the beginning of the practical discourse of the Master Himself, for the understanding of which sufficient provision has been made. But with the previous ending of native prophecy is connected the beginning of the prophet’s activity in regard to foreign nations. This connection is shown by this, that the beginning of this activity is included in the same section with the closing prophecy conceirning Judah. The prophecies against foreign nations have the special aim to shed a fuller light on the judgment on Judah announced in the native prophecies, and already beginning its course. They give the answer to the natural question, Lord, but what of these? ( John 21:21.) They are all directed against the nations of the anti-Chaldaic coalition, and the executors of the judgments are in them all the Chaldean monarchy. Judah was first to drink the cup (ch. Ezekiel 21:18 f.). God sanctified Himself first on those who were near Him ( Leviticus 10:3); the judgment began at the house of God. It appeared as if the people of the covenant must alone suffer among all the members of the coalition. The scorn of these confederates themselves was poured out on the people of Jehovah (ch. Ezekiel 25:3, Ezekiel 25:6, Ezekiel 26:2); indeed, they made common cause in part with the Chaldeans, and sought to derive advantage from the misfortune of Judah (ch. Ezekiel 35:10). The prophet portrays before the eyes the judgment which in his time will fall upon them. He turns the heart of the people to their God when he points out that for the heathen the judgment has an annihilating character; whereas Israel rises from it to a more glorious state. Thus these predictions against foreign nations appear as the transition from the first part to the second—the comforting and promising part.

Of the foreign nations there are seven, divided into four and three—four neighbouring nations and three world-powers, the last Egypt, which had formed the centre of the coalition; so that there is thus a progress from the less to the greater.

On this side and on that side of the prophecies against foreign nations the arrangement is strictly chronological. There occurs no prophecy which is not chronologically determined; and all prophecies so determined stand in regular order. In the external predictions also the chronological prevails. But a certain deviation must be allowed, otherwise things intimately connected must have been separated. The prophecies are here arranged according to the nations, so that, for ex., all those referring to Egypt come together. Among the prophecies referring to Egypt, that in ch. Ezekiel 29:17 goes before the one in ch. Ezekiel 31:1, which belongs to an earlier period, because it stands in a close relation with the foregoing (ch. Ezekiel 29:1), and resumes it at a time when its fulfilment was close at hand. Although the main body of the external prophecies belong to the time before the term, given in ch. Ezekiel 33:21, of the recommencement of the home prophecies, yet the date of some external prophecies precedes that in ch. Ezekiel 33:21 (ch. Ezekiel 32:1, Ezekiel 32:17), because the external prophecies forming a connected cycle should not be separated from one another, and because the following cycle of home prophecies also should meet with no interruption.

The first part contains in all a decade of prophecies—four native and six foreign. At the close of the first part in ch. Ezekiel 33:1-20 follows, in vers. Ezekiel 33:21-22, the historical introduction to the discourses of the second period; in vers. Ezekiel 33:23-33, the warning and admonishing preparation for the new message,—the mediation, as it were, between it and the first part. With ch. Ezekiel 34 begins the communication of the comforting message. From this forward the prophet is as inexhaustible in comforting as he was before in threatening. The dangerous foe was now despair, as it was before false confidence. Common to the comforting and to the threatening discourses is the pictorial character; the viewing of that which is not as if it were, a result of dependence on God, in whose nature salvation as well as judgment is founded. The comfort is in this first group unfolded in seven paragraphs. In the first discourse (ch. Ezekiel 24) the prophet meets in a soothing manner the grief for the loss of civil government, and places before the eyes of his hearers and readers the bright form of the glorified David, in whom the civil government of the future will culminate. In the second (ch. Ezekiel 25) he portrays the desolation of Seir. The light of Israel is relieved by the shade of Edom, who here represents the nations, who, in their hatred of the kingdom of God, are not fit for it, but are ripe for destruction. The third discourse (ch. Ezekiel 36:1-15) relieves the pain occasioned by the desolation of the holy land. The fourth (ch. Ezekiel 36:16-38) lays down the name of God as the pledge of salvation. The fifth announces the restoration of Israel as a covenant people ch. ( Ezekiel 37:1-14); the sixth, as a brotherly people (vers. Ezekiel 37:15-28). The seventh (ch. Ezekiel 38, Ezekiel 39) represents the renovated people as victorious in every conflict.

The second principal part has only two dates (ch. Ezekiel 33:21 and ch. Ezekiel 40:1), and thus presents only two sections, which increase the ten of the first part to twelve. In the great closing picture in ch. Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 48:35, the prophet portrays in detail the recovery of all that was lost, in fulfilment of the words of the psalmist, “He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken;” and points in the midst of it, in ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, to the great progress of the kingdom of God in the future.

In the picture of the future drawn by the prophet, the following are the principal traits. Vain is every attempt of the people to avert the threatening misfortune. They must drain to the bottom the cup of the divine wrath (ch. Ezekiel 21:26). Egypt, the power on which their hopes chiefly rest, proves a broken reed: the time of its political importance is for ever gone. But what earth denies, heaven will grant in its own time. After the people have attained to repentance, wrath is followed by grace; all that is lost—the temple, with its priests and worship, the city, the land—is restored. Yet not this alone: the future brings an enhancement of salvation. The people receive a rich treasure of forgiveness of sins (ch. Ezekiel 36:25, Ezekiel 37:23); the Lord takes away the heart of stone, and gives them a heart of flesh ( Ezekiel 11:19); He awakens them by His quickening breath from spiritual death (ch. Ezekiel 37). The centre of all graces is an exalted descendant of David, who will spring from His family when reduced and wholly deprived of the sovereignty, and connect the high-priestly with the kingly office (ch. Ezekiel 21:27, Ezekiel 34:11-31). The blessing is so potent that it extends also to the heathen, who will join themselves to Israel in the time of salvation. According to ch. Ezekiel 34:26, “the environs of his hill” will be partakers of it with Israel; according to ch. Ezekiel 17:22-24, the descendant of David, at first small and inconsiderable, is raised to the sovereignty of the world; according to ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, the waters of the Dead Sea of the world are healed by the stream from the sanctuary. This great revolution of things, however, will give the old covenant people no cause for self-exaltation; it will rather tend to their deep humiliation. They find salvation only through the redeeming mercy of God in common with the heathen world, sunk deep in sin, to whom they are become like, as in sin, so in punishment (ch. Ezekiel 16:53-63). And then in the future, along with grace, which is only for the willing, comes also judgment. The prophet announces in ch. Ezekiel 5:4 a second annihilating judgment, which after the Chaldean will come upon the people restored by the grace of God,—a fire which will devour the people as such, and leave only an election of them which participates in the blessings of salvation.

The name of the prophet denotes one in relation to whom God is strong (p. 5), who speaks not out of his own heart, but is moved and determined by a supernatural power. The verification of this name we have in the prophecies before us. That which the Lord said to Peter applies to him, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but the Father in heaven.” None of His words have fallen to the ground. The whole course of history has verified His word in ch. Ezekiel 33:33: “They shall know that a prophet was in the midst of them.”

Appendix—The Cherubim [338]

[338] From the Ev. Kirchenzeitung (Evangelical Church Gazette), 1866.


WHAT Christian should not feel a desire to know the nature of the cherubim? When we sing the Ambrosian anthem, we dwell with special emotion of heart on the words: “The cherubim and seraphim, and all angels, serve Him.” As long as the nature of the cherubim is concealed from us, a whole series of scriptural passages is inaccessible to us. The cherubim occur in the Old Testament no less than eighty-five times. They meet us in the very first pages of revelation: the cherubim and the flame of the blazing sword repel the parents of our race from the tree of life. In the tabernacle and in the temple of Solomon the cherubim receive an important place. The grand visions of Ezekiel in ch. Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 10, even on a superficial examination, awakening the anticipation of a glorious meaning, and presenting a fulness of earnest warning and comfort, are sealed to us, if we have not learned the nature of the cherubim. In the Psalms God appears enthroned on the cherubim, as the firm ground for the confidence of His people; and whosoever will be a partaker of this confidence, must before all know what the cherubim are to signify. Even in the New Testament the holy enigma of the cherubim meets us. John, in the Revelation, sees in the midst of the throne, and about the throne, four beasts full of eyes before and behind, that had no rest day and night, saying. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty.

The right knowledge of the cherubim, however, has a special interest for our own times. The opposition therein existing has its last root in the proper foundations of this knowledge. All questions that now move the heart most deeply go back to the one, whether the first article in our Confession of Faith be true or not. Whosoever is at home in this article, into which he has entered in heart and life, to him the other two give no trouble; and whosoever shrinks from these, thereby shows that he has not yet truly received the first article into his heart, even though he may have confessed it with his mouth. Janet, in his work On the Materialism of our Time in Germany [339] says: “Two fundamentally different views of the world and of nature prevail at present. According to the one, the world is only a descending series of causes and effects; something exists from all eternity with certain original properties. From these properties spring phenomena; from the combination of these phenomena arise new phenomena, which on their part give existence to others, and so on without end. There are undesigned and unforeseen wild movements and leaps, which, thanks to the co-operation of a boundless term, have carried on the world as we now see it to-day. According to the other, the world is an organic and living being that developes itself according to an idea, and raises itself gradually to the completion of a nature eternally inaccessible in its infinite perfection. Each of these steps is conditioned not only by that which precedes it, but also by that which follows it. Each step is designed for progress by the effect which it must introduce. Thus we see nature ascend from dead matter to life, and from life to feeling and thought. According to this view, nature is no longer a kind of play, in which all things are due to accident, whereby an effect is brought out somewhere: it has a plan, a reason, an idea. It is not a kind of improvisation, where each speaks, and thence arises an apparent discourse: it is a real poem, a drama directed by wisdom, where all the threads of the action, however intricate they may be, unite to a definite end. It is an ascending series of means and ends. A first thought has selected and directed. Among the endlessly varied tendencies in which the world was involved by the unconscious and irregular impulse of mechanical causes, one tendency has prevailed over all. As a horse turned from his path, and urged by a blind rage into a bold course, may strike into a thousand different ways, but when held back and guided by a strong and wary hand, takes only the one which leads to the end; so blind nature, held fast from her origin under the yoke of an incomprehensible will, and guided by a concealed master, ever advances, step by step, with a movement full of grandeur and dignity, to the ideal whose influence rules and animates it. The idea guides the all: it is in the beginning, in the middle, at the end; and nothing arises that is devoid of the idea.” In the chief conflict of our times, which, recognised in its significance, makes the oppositions of churches and confessions, important though they may be, ever appear as subordinate, the cherubim, understood in their true nature, give not only a firm hold for the thoughts, but at the same time fill the imagination with a holy image, which, once gained, ever enlightens anew, and precludes the opposite destructive views from all access to the mind.

[339] Translated, with introduction and notes, by Fr, v. Reichlin-Meldegg, with a preface by Fichte, Leipzig 1866.

It is, however, of the first importance to ascertain the true nature of the cherubim. That this is no easy matter, is manifest from the wide diversity of opinions on the subject. The sacred Scripture nowhere gives us a direct explanation of the nature of the cherubim. The key to this matter we have in Genesis 3. There the cherubim meets us in the history of the first man. We learn from this, that the revelation beginning with Abraham found them already existing,—that they do not originally belong to the department of revelation, but to that of natural religion,—that they are an image in which the piety of the primeval world represents the nature of surrounding things. As we have nowhere an intelligent account of the nature of the cherubim, and this is rather presupposed to be already known, we must endeavour to discover it from the scattered hints that have come down to us; and this is a difficult task.

That antiquity was not successful in determining the nature of the cherubim, that it diverged into all manner of conjectures, is explained mainly by the tendency of the older theology to conceive everything in a dogmatic and realistic way, from its incapacity to recognise a poetic element in Scripture,—its misunderstanding of the truth, that it is the problem of Scripture not merely to furnish the understanding with right thoughts, but also the imagination with holy images.

This error, which is the more difficult to remove, because many think to secure their faith by a crude literal apprehension, continues in many forms to the present day. It robs very many of an insight into that which is contained in Scripture, and deprives them, especially in the closing book of the Scripture, where the poetic imagery stands out in so bold relief, of the blessing of a deeper penetration into its meaning.

One thing must be held fast before all, if we go into the definition of the nature of the cherubim, that only that definition can be correct which equally suits all the passages of Scripture in which it occurs, from the first to the last book. Whoever has marked the wonderful unity of Scripture, must be antecedently certain that views which ascribe to the cherubim now this and now that import, thereby pass sentence on themselves. In the present state of scriptural knowledge, a view like that expressed by Herder in the Spirit of Hebrew Poetry—namely, “In the oldest legend it was an awe-inspiring, miraculous creature; in the tabernacle, a dead work of art; in the Psalms and poems, a figure; in the prophetic vision, finally, a heavenly creature, bearer of the glory of God”—would be an anachronism, a late birth from the time of rationalism, that had no conception of the unity of the spirit pervading holy Scripture. When Dr. Riehm, in his treatise on the cherubim, assumes that in the Revelation, in which the cherub appears as the combination of the creatures of God, the original and genuine meaning is obscured, he thereby gives us to understand that he has not been able to discover the original and genuine meaning. That he, with his preconceived opinion, has suffered shipwreck in the Revelation, might have induced him to retrace his steps.

Velthusen, in a small treatise on the cherubim, of the year 1764, first came on the right track in defining the nature of the cherubim, though still doubtful and uncertain. “Perhaps,” says he (p. 21), “it is merely notified that there is no kind of living creature which the Most High does not employ for His purposes, as well as lifeless nature; and no animal, cither rational or irrational, tame or wild, flying or walking on the earth, is excluded from His sway. The figure would then refer to the chief dogma of the Jewish religion, and would be directly opposed to all idolatry, especially to the Egyptian worship of irrational animals, and in particular to the worship of oxen or calves, to which the Israelites so soon showed a leaning.”

The merit of having first fully established this view belongs to Bähr in the Symbolism of the Mosaic Worship, and in the treatise on the temple of Solomon. “The beings of whom the cherub is composed,” says he, “belong to those creatures of the visible world that form the upmost and highest of its three kingdoms—the kingdom of organic life; and in this kingdom, again, they belong to the highest class, to that which has warm blood, and therefore the highest physical life; and in this class they are again the highest. The cherub is far from being a figure of God Himself; on the contrary, its essential character is to be a creature: it is a figure of the creature in its highest stage—an ideal creature. The living powers distributed in the visible creation to the highest creatures are combined and idealized in it.” “The whole creation is combined in it as in a point in one being; it represents in so far also the whole creation, and stands naturally of all the creatures nearest to God: only God is above it. The cherub, as creation individualized, is at the same time the being in which the glory of God manifests itself. Hence it appears as the throne of God itself, or in the closest connection with the throne: where Jehovah in His majesty and glory reveals Himself, there the cherub also appears.”

This view in the main is alone correct; only it is to be remarked, that the cherubim represent first not the creature in general, but only the animated creation on the earth. Yet this is regarded as the apex of all created things on earth, so that the remainder is in some measure represented by it, and is appended to the animated creation as an accessory, and all the more because it has been created for its sake. But we must not include the heavenly creature: He that sits on the cherubim, and the God of hosts, are co-ordinate expressions; by the hosts are meant the heavenly creatures.

The cherubim never occur alone—always in connection with God. The formation of the symbol has arisen not from the motive of the consideration of nature as such, but from the motive of piety. In the consideration of the multitude of visible creatures the mind may easily distract itself, and dwell on the individual—now on this, now on that, “Whilst they move and search among the works of God, they are caught by the sight, because that which is seen is beautiful,” says the author of the Wisdom of Solomon (ch. Ws 13:7). The pious mind, therefore, protesting against such distraction and such service of the creature ( Romans 1:15), comprehends all visible multiplicity in an ideal unity, and places this unity absolutely under God, who by His creative Spirit is the foundation of this unity. This representation has for piety a profound significance. If we look to God, who sits above the cherubim, we are filled with adoring reverence for Him, who is so wonderful in His works, with the heartfelt desire to do the will of this God, whose is the earth and the fulness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein ( Psalms 24:1), with the dread of calling down upon us the wrath of the God of the spirits of all flesh, with joyful courage in the face of the world, with an absolute refusal to make concessions to it, with a holy contempt for its foolish pursuits, with invincible strength under its persecutions, with the consciousness that it cannot move hand or foot without the influence of God; that in the last resort we have to do, not with it, but with God; that it concerns us to come to terms, not with it, but with God by true repentance; that He visits us through it; and that an endless fulness of means are at His command to help us, when His visitation has attained its end.

If we consider attentively the God who sits above the cherubim, we are filled with deep contempt, holy wrath, and strong pity at the sight of the theory, now so wide-spread, of a degraded, half-brutalized generation. “No power without matter,” so runs the theory;” no matter without power. A power ruling over matter is a senseless thought. Power is the property of matter, and inseparable from it. The idea of an absolute creative power, which is distinct from matter, creates it, regulates it according to certain absolute laws, is a pure abstraction.” We know, on the contrary, that power is the original principle; that the Spirit, who proceeds from Him who sits above the cherubim, gives to everything its existence; that in Him it lives, and moves, and is. Sabaoth and cherubim—that is our watchword in the face of such error.

The original generation of men with its cherubim, however, not merely raises a protest against the false science of our day, but turns with friendly consent to that which is found in it of true science. There are here two important points of agreement. First, that the living creature, as it is represented by the cherubim, forms a distinct department of the terrestrial creation. And next, that exactly in this department the creative power of God displays itself most gloriously; that of it in a special manner the word of the apostle holds good, “The invisible things of God, His eternal power and Godhead, we see and know in His works.” Janet says in regard to this: “Let us hold by the chief facts, which hitherto have supported a distinction not to be effaced between dead or inorganic and living matter. The first and weightiest of these facts is the harmonious unity of the living and organic being; it is, to make use of an expression of Kant, the correlation of the parts to the whole.” “Organic bodies,” says the great physiologist Müller (Joh. Müller, Physiol, v. i. p. 17), “not only differ from inorganic in the mode in which their elements are combined; but the constant activity which works in the living organic matter, acts according to the laws of a rational plan in conformity with an end, because the parts are adapted to the end of the whole: and this it is exactly that marks the organism.” Kant says: “The reason of the kind of existence in each part of a living body is contained in the whole, whereas in the dead mass each part bears it in itself.” Joh. Müller, quoted by Janet, says further: “The harmony of the members necessary to the whole (in the organism) subsists not without the influence of a power (‘the Spirit of the living’ in Ezekiel 1:20-21), that works also through the whole, and depends not on the several members, and this power exists before the harmonious members of the whole are joined together: they are first formed in the development of the embryo by the power of the germ. In a piece of mechanism constructed for a given end—for example, a clock—the whole thus adjusted may exhibit an action proceeding from the co-operation of the several parts, which are set in motion by a cause; but organic beings subsist not merely by an accidental combination of these elements, but produce the organs necessary for the whole by their own power out of the organic matter. This productive power, acting in conformity with reason, displays itself in each animal according to strict laws, as the nature of each animal requires: it is already present in the germ, before the later parts of the whole are distinctly present; and it is that which actually produces the members that belong to the idea of the whole.”

Even a Moleschott, constrained by the power of the truth, must acknowledge, in p. 57 of the Treatise on the Unity of Life, that “the unity of life arises from the deep and universal dependence that concatenates all functions with one another, from the internal and necessary co-operation of the several parts to a given end, which constantly affects all parts of the body from one point, from that most expressive bond operating by symmetry, by freedom, by inviolable and intrinsic utility, that has produced from the noun the ideal adjective “organic,” by which we ascribe order, connection, harmony, freedom of movement—in short, capacity of life—to every creation of the human spirit, to languages, to laws, to art, and to every branch of science.” On which Reichlin-Meldegg remarks: “The whole is certainly not derived from the favourite principle of material change.” Moleschott himself is compelled to declare (p. 37), that “the secret animating the spirit of the naturalist”—the God who sits above the cherubim, and penetrates them with His Spirit—” has not vanished away.”

The cherubim, the ideal combination of the multiplicity of living things—this assumption is antecedently the less doubtful, as the holy Scripture expressly intimates that we have here before us not simply realities—that we must distinguish between phenomenon and thing, between the thought and its dress, and thus decidedly opposes the realistic tendencies of those who deal with holy Scripture just as if they had a compend of theology before them. Ezekiel says, in ch. Ezekiel 1:5: “And out of the midst thereof (saw I) the likeness of four living creatures.” On this Theodoret remarks: “He says not simply that he has seen four animals, but only a likeness of four animals; so that it is obvious that the divine prophets saw not the very essences of the invisible things, but only certain likenesses and patterns, which were shown to them according to the requirements of the great Giver.”


The time of mere assertion in the exposition of holy Scripture is past, although many are unwilling to observe this. It is necessary, therefore, in regard to the cherubim, to prove that they are the ideal concentration of the animal kingdom; and on this proof we will now enter.

In regard to the name cherubim, men have given way to manifold “conjectures; and the end has been, that they have despaired of any interpretation. The cause of this despaired of lies in the incorrect definition of the nature of the cherubim. As soon as we recognise in the cherub the ideal unity of the animal creation, the interpretation follows of itself. It means, “as a multitude”—the concentration of all multiplicity on earth into a unity. We have the commentary in Ezekiel 1:24: “And I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters, as the voice of the Almighty in their going, the voice of a roaring like the voice of a host. Here is developed before us the “like many.” [340]

[340] Text: Analogous is Kabul, “as nothing,” the name of the district which Solomon gave to Hiram, 1 Kings 9:13 (Ewald and Thenius). The כ enters into the composition of the proper name; and so this may stand m the plural, and with the article. By the origin of the proper name is explained the tendency to use the singular along with the plural, as Psalms 18:11, Ezekiel 9:3. That the כ belongs not to the root, is, as Abenezra says on Exodus 25:18, the old Jewish tradition, and has also remained, according to Abenezra, who combats this view, the usual Jewish assumption “Hanc traditionem,” says Buxtorf, Exercitationes, p. 100, “fere omnes neoterici Judaei amplectuntur.” In their conception of the second e ement of the proper name the Jewish expositors deviate from the correct view, which did not agree with their preconceived opinion that the cherubun are angels. They explain, “as youths.” But we can show, that even at an earlier period these two elements were conceived with at least verbal correctness. Theodoret often repeats the remark, that the word rendered into Gr eek signifies the multitude of knowledge—on Ezekiel 1:22; Ezekiel 10:1, and at the close of ch. 10: πλῆ?ωος and πλή?ρης always recur in him We cannot pursue this explanation further. According to Philo, in the Life of Moses, b. iii. P. 668, the name of the cherubim s ignifies much knowledge and science The word yields the muchness: the man infected with knowledge adds of himself the knowledge.

The designation, “the living,” takes the place of a second proper name of the cherubim. The idea of the living creature is already fixed by the first chapter of the first book of Moses, There the living creature is only on the earth, including the water and the sky. According to Genesis 2:7, the living creature has a twofold source, the earthly material and the quickening breath of God. According to Genesis 9:16, “every living creature, all flesh which is upon the earth,” the idea of the living creature is covered by that of the (animated) flesh, which belongs only to the earth. Now, the circumstance that the cherubim are called living creatures, might in itself be only a designation of the genus to which they belong—only express that they, like many other things, are living creatures. Even according to this view, a series of hypotheses would be excluded by the fact that the cherubim are to be sought among the number of living creatures. To these the angels in particular do not belong, who have been reckoned among the cherubim, according to the assumption very widely spread among Jews and Christians, and first thoroughly contravened by Vitringa. The remark of Theodoret, “The angels are living creatures no less than men—the latter mortal, the former immortal;” and likewise that of Keil, “The cherubim, as living creatures, take the highest place in the realm of spirits,”—are contrary to the usage of speech, in which the living always denotes the animated earthly creation, in opposition to the lifeless. But we must not stop at this point. The fact that the designation of the cherubim as living creatures takes exactly the place of the proper name—as in Revelation the name cherubim does not occur, they are only designated as living creatures—shows that by this designation their nature must be fully expressed, that the genus does not exist beyond them, but is completely represented by them. All doubt, however, is removed by this, that the singular designation, “the living creature,” alternates with that of the cherubim as living creatures ( Ezekiel 1:20-21, “The spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels;” Ezekiel 10:15, “And the cherubim were lifted up;” Ezekiel 10:20, “This is the living creature that I saw by the river of Chebar”). This singular designation shows that in the cherubim the whole genus of the living on earth, man and beast, is represented.

On the cherubim, further, the signature of the number four is impressed in the strongest manner. Four animals appear in Ezekiel and in Revelation. In the former still further play is given to the number four: the four animals have each four faces and four wings. This number four in itself points to the earth. The number four always appears in the Old Testament as the signature of the earth. We have four classes of living creatures on the earth besides man, in Genesis 7:21, Genesis 7:23: “All flesh, that moves upon the earth, in fowl, and in cattle, and in wild beast, and in creeping thing, that creepeth upon the earth.” In Psalms 148, the creatures who shall praise God on the earth are four times four. In particular is to be compared Psalms 148:10, “wild beasts and all cattle, the creeping thing and winged fowl.” The number four thus constrains us to remain on the earth, and does not at all permit us, for ex., to think of the angels belonging to heaven. We are led, however, still farther, when we take a nearer view of the four animals of which the cherub is composed. Only on the assumption that the cherub is the concentration of all that lives on the earth, can this composition be referred to a rational ground. The four animals appear as the representatives of the four classes of the animal world. An old Jewish saying runs thus: “Four are the highest in the creation,—the lion among the beasts, the ox among the cattle, the eagle among the fowls, and man above all; but God is the highest of all.” Here we have briefly and well the explanation of the phrase, He that sitteth above the cherubim. That the ox comes actually into consideration as the representative of the cattle, appears from this, that, on purpose to preclude other interpretations, the calf is twice put in its place, in which those properties of the ox, which the other interpretations have in view, are not at all present ( Ezekiel 1:7; Revelation 4:7). And that the eagle is designed to represent the class of birds, appears from the same passage in Revelation, “And the fourth beast was like unto a flying eagle,” where the epithet of the eagle can have no other end.

Of importance is also the position which man takes in the composition of the cherubim. It is quite that which we should antecedently expect, if the cherubim are the representation of all that lives on the earth. According to the position which is assigned to man among the living creatures in the Mosaic history of the creation, in the symbolic representation of the animal world, no mere co-ordination of man with the other kinds of living creatures could take place: the human type must preponderate in the presentation of the living. Quite so we find it in the cherubim. In the cherubs in the tabernacle and the temple of Solomon all is human, as it appears, except the wings: all the rest of the animal world must be contented with this one symbolic representation, which is taken from that class which in the history of the creation opens the series of living things, as man closes it. In Ezekiel, ch. Ezekiel 1, the human face is towards the east. This is, in the Old Testament, the front and chief quarter. Right and left are the lion and the ox; behind, the eagle, which, according to what has been remarked, takes also the last, place in Genesis. The creation proceeds from the lower to the higher. First fish (which is here left out of account, as belonging to the lower stage of life), and fowl, and last man. According to Ezekiel 1:5, the human form is further predominant in the cherubim, and this is very emphatically exhibited at the very beginning of their description. From man, who according to Genesis 1 is the crown of the animal creation, as the only bearer of the divine likeness, the lord of the whole remaining creation, they have the upright walk, the hands, and other peculiarities.

That the cherubs represent the animal kingdom in a concentrated form appears also from this, that according to 1 Kings 7:29, in the temple of Solomon, lions, kine, and cherubim were figured on the bases of the lavers for the purifying of the sacrificial flesh. This fact shows, on the one hand, that the cherubim of Solomon did not bear the faces of the lion and the ox, like those of Ezekiel. This is only explained then, when we find that in the cherubim of Solomon, externally viewed, only man, and the class of birds that are at the other extreme, were represented,—man in the whole figure, the birds only in the wings, the design of which to represent the flying clearly appears, especially from this passage. Josephus, who at his own hand adds the eagle, and Züllig, who thought that the eagle had only been left out “from inadvertence,” overlooked the fact that the eagle could not be introduced, because the bird had its representation already in the very form of the cherubim. But on the other hand also, the addition of the lion and the ox, with which Dr. Riehm knows not what to do, to the cherubim, shows that they must stand to these in an internal relation; and such only finds place when the cherubim represent the animal world. Then the lions and oxen come in at their side, completing and explaining, inasmuch as they represent those classes of animals which had found no express representation in the cherubim themselves, though implied in them. Züllig rightly remarks, that the grouping together of the cherubs with the lions and the oxen presupposes the thought that the whole animal kingdom falls into those four classes designated by the noblest of every kind. Not merely on the ark and the walls of the temple, but on the other furniture of it, was the signature of the Almighty Lord of nature impressed. Israel was to be constantly reminded that his God is not a god, but God absolutely, possessed of infinite power to bless and to punish, the only One in the whole universe who is worthy to be feared and loved, and certainly with all the heart, with all the soul, and with all the powers. Hand in hand with the absoluteness of His power goes the requirement of absolute devotion to Him. The God of the spirits of all flesh desires an undivided heart. All other things depend absolutely on Him: it is therefore unreasonable to divide the heart between Him and these others; and because unreasonable, wicked; and because wicked, the object of the divine resentment.

Only when the cherub represents the animal world can we explain also the grouping of it with palms and flowers. According to 1 Kings 6:29, all the walls in the temple of Solomon bore “round about in carved work, cherubim, and palms, and open flowers.” It is clear as light that the cherubim must be placed under the same point of view with the palms and flowers. If we suppose, with Bähr, that the palms and flowers are in general symbols of salvation,—that the adorning with flowers denotes the state of the richest fulness of life, of prosperity and happiness,—we violently sever the flowers from the cherubim, with which they are inseparably connected. Ezekiel says, in the description of the new temple, in ch. Ezekiel 41:18-19, Ezekiel 41:25: “And there were made cherubim and palms, and a palm between cherub and cherub; and the cherub had two faces. And the face of a man toward the palm on this side, and the face of a lion toward the palm on that side; they were made on the whole house round about. And there were made on the doors of the temple cherubim and palms, like as they were made on the walls.” The inseparable connection between the cherubs and the palms appears here still more strongly than in the temple of Solomon,—namely in this, that the faces of the cherubs look towards the palms. We cannot therefore regard as correct the opinion of Dr. Kliefoth, that “the palms remind us of the feast of tabernacles, and the cherub-figures are signs of the presence of God, who has His dwelling here.” Thus the cherubs and palms fall quite asunder. There is only one way of explaining the connection of the cherubs with the palms and flowers. The cherubs are first a representation of the living; but at the same time, as the living forms the crown of the whole earthly creation, this also is represented by it. The addition of the palms and flowers serves to indicate this more comprehensive meaning, and to show that the living forms no counterpart to the rest of nature, but rather represents this also. Next to the animal creation, the vegetable kingdom is the most glorious revelation of the creative power of God. In modern science it is connected with the animal kingdom, under the head of the organic creation. But the vegetable kingdom cannot be better represented than by the palms and flowers. According to Celsius, the palm is called by the Arabs “the blessed tree.” Libanius says of it: “The palm raises itself on high, and removes itself as far as possible from the earth. It hastens as it were towards heaven, and cannot bear to remain on earth, though sprung from it.” Celsius carries out the thought: “Palms and men are similar in many respects.” Linné called the palms “the princes of the vegetable kingdom;” Humboldt, “the noblest of plants, to which the nations ever assign the prize of beauty.” As the animal life culminates in man, lion, ox, and eagle, so the vegetable life in the palms and flowers. Herbs and trees are the two halves of the vegetable kingdom in the history of the creation: the tripartition of the vegetable kingdom, which some expositors have there assumed, rests on a false explanation. The herb culminates in the flower; the king of the trees is the palm. We have a commentary on the grouping of the palms with the cherubim in Psalms 148 In this psalm, the design of which is to raise the children of God to gladness, by pointing to the supremacy of the Almighty God over nature, “mountains and all hills, fruit-trees and all cedars” (ver. Psalms 148:9), praise the Lord; “beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged fowl” (ver. Psalms 148:10); and men with kings at the head, in ver. Psalms 148:11 f.; and thence down to the smallest, praise Him. As the objects quoted in ver. Psalms 148:10 f., as speaking proofs of the omnipotence of God, correspond to the cherubim, so do the fruit-trees and all cedars to the palms and flowers. The cedars and palms contend for the rank of being “the trees of God” ( Psalms 104:16, Psalms 80:11).

That the cherubs represent the living creatures on earth, and in general the terrestrial creation, is borne out by the relation in which they stand in Ezekiel to the “vault.” It is said, Ezekiel 1:22, “And there was a likeness over the heads of the living creature as a vault, as the look of the crystal the terrible (the awe-inspiring, imposing, glorious), stretched out over their heads above.” This vault is the place of the throne of God. In ver. Ezekiel 1:26 it is said, “And above the vault that was over their head, in appearance as a sapphire-stone, the likeness of a throne, and upon the likeness of a throne one like the appearance of a man.” There can be no doubt that the vault is a type of the heavens; for in the representation of the universe, as it is given in this majestic vision, the heavens cannot be wanting, and so much the less as it appears in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament as absolutely the most important part of creation, while the earth in reference to it occupies a lower place. The vault is, moreover, according to Genesis 1, the vault of heaven. The heaven appears as the place of the throne of God elsewhere in a great number of passages; for ex. Isaiah 66:1, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” “Stretched out:” this is the usual designation of the relation in which the heaven stands to the earth; as, for instance, Isaiah (in ch. Isaiah 40:22) says, “Who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” To the comparison with “the crystal the terrible “corresponds that which Daniel (ch. Daniel 12:3) says of the sublime splendour of the vault of heaven. If it is certain on these grounds that the vault means the heavens, the cherubim under the vault can only represent the terrestrial creation; for heaven and earth are usually joined together in the Old Testament as the two spheres of the glorification of God. On that which is here presented to the prophet in a figure—above all, the Lord, under Him the vault, and under the vault the cherubim—Isaiah in ch. Isaiah 42:5 gives the commentary: “Thus saith the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, that spread forth the earth and its products, that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.” As Ezekiel presents Him who sits above the vault and the cherubim as a terror to the secure sinners, who expected to be able to attain salvation without repentance, and shows them that there is no refuge for them in the whole universe; so Isaiah points out Him who stretches out the heavens and spreads forth the earth, as the security for the poor worm Jacob, that he shall not abide in death, but be raised to a glorious life, and attain to the supremacy of the world. In the whole universe is no power that can injure him, and all powers that rule in the universe stand absolutely at the disposal of Him who will achieve the salvation of Zion.

It is also of decisive import, that He who sits on the cherubim is often joined with the God of hosts, the God whom sun, moon, and stars obey, which appear in holy Scripture not as mere flickering luminaries, but as the “powers of heaven,” that far surpass the earth in glory. The whole earthly sphere only stands worthily beside the heavenly sphere of God’s omnipotence, being represented by the cherubim, the concentration of the living, in which the whole earthly creation culminates. The 80th Psalm, which expresses the grief of Judah for the captivity of the ten tribes, and entreats God to make an end of the desolation of His vine, begins with the words, “Thou Shepherd of Israel, give ear; Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock, that sittest above the cherubim, shine forth.” He turns first to the love and pastoral faithfulness of God, and then to His omnipotence, to which the whole terrestrial creation, with all its power, is subject. The second strophe begins with the words, “O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt Thou burn against the prayer of Thy people? “Here the Lord of the heavenly powers appears beside the Lord of the earthly. In 1 Samuel 4:4 it is said: “And the people sent to Shiloh, and brought thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who sitteth on the cherubim.” The author has already in view the sad catastrophe which he has to relate in the sequel, the taking of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines. In view of this, he makes it prominent that the ark of the covenant is the sanctuary of the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth, so that the loss of it cannot arise from the impotence of the God of Israel, but from the sins of the people, whom God condemned by His righteous judgment to the loss of their sanctuary. According to 2 Samuel 6:2, David goes with all the people to bring up the ark of God, on which is named the name of the Lord of hosts, who sitteth on the cherubim. The words imply that the undertaking was a sublime one, with which a new epoch began for the people of God. He who made His entrance anew among them was not one among the many, was the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. We have the elucidation of the two names Jehovah Zebaoth and Sitting on the cherubim in Psalms 148. There praise the Lord, first, from the heavens and the heights, all His angels, all His hosts, sun, and moon, and all the stars of light; then from the earth, beasts and all cattle, the creeping thing and all winged fowl, the kings of the earth and all peoples, young men and maidens, old men and children. The practical result is this: “He exalteth the horn of His people, the praise of all His saints, the children of Israel, a people near unto Him. Hallelujah.” The church is preserved as sure as God Almighty reigns in heaven and on earth; no power there prevails that had not its origin in Him, and by Him is given and taken.

This also leads to the given interpretation, that He who sitteth on the cherubim is often joined with the name Elohim, which designates the God of Israel as the Deity absolutely, the possessor of all the fulness of the Godhead—for instance, in 1 Samuel 4:4 and Psalms 80—and also with other designations of true deity and absolute omnipotence. Hezekiah, when he was extremely oppressed by Assyria, at that time the concentration of the world-power, prays ( 2 Kings 19:15), “O Lord God of Israel, who sittest on the cherubim. Thou art God alone over all the kingdoms of the earth; Thou hast made heaven and earth. Let all the kingdoms of the earth know that Thou, Lord, art God alone.” The sitting of God over the cherubim appears as the immediate security that the world-power can have no advantage over the people of God, and as running parallel with God’s being over all the kingdoms of the earth, and with the creating of heaven and earth, which is secondary to it, as well as with His being God alone. No other interpretation of the cherubim is sufficient to explain this fact. In none is the idea of omnipotence, and especially of sovereignty over the earth, given simply along with sitting above the cherubim; in none is the sitting above the cherubim absolutely equivalent to God alone, and the Creator of heaven and earth.

David says, in the description of the all-powerful interposition of God against his foes ( Psalms 18:10), “He rode upon a cherub, and flew, and soared upon the wings of the wind.” Elsewhere God usually sits on the cherubim, here He rides upon them. The explanation of this is, that the Almighty Sovereign of the earth, from whose hand no one can deliver, who is able to save whom He will save, even him that is sunk in the lowest depth of misery, and can destroy whom He will, even the mightiest, is here found in action. As sure as God sits, so surely He also rides. The sitting denotes the constant relation, the moving the particular operation of this relation. If God be the Lord of the whole earthly creation, He must also give practical effect to this lordship for the salvation of His own, and for the destruction of His foes. What principally concerns us, however, in this place, and forms an important contribution to the discovery of the nature of the cherubim, is the connection of the cherubim with the wind. This connection is explained only where we perceive in the cherubim the representation of that which lives. The wind represents the power of nature. The Lord of all that lives is at the same time He who “gives way, course, path to clouds, air, and winds.” Whosoever has Him for a friend, need not despair though the bands of hell surround him, and the cords of death overpower him. His God sends out of the height, and fetches him, and draws him out of many waters.

Hand in hand with the grouping together of cherub and wind, in Psalms 18, goes the fact that in Ezekiel under and along with the cherubim appear four wheels. By these wheels are the powers of nature designated, which serve God no less than the living creatures. The point of comparison is the weight. Joh. Heermann expresses the thought that finds its picturesque expression in the wheels in the song, “Ah, God, how dreadful is thy wrath,” thus:


“Thou art the Lord and God alone,

Whom thunder, lightning, wind obey,

Whom all things are compelled to own,

And do His will without delay.


Lord, where is any like to Thee,

In heaven above or earth below?

Who hath a realm so great and free,

That all must reverence to Him show?”

The proof that the wheels are the powers of nature, in addition to the joining of the cherub with the wind in Psalms 18, is found in Ezekiel 10:13, where the prophet expressly declares concerning the import of the wheels, “The wheels, they were called, the whirlwind in mine ear.” With this Isaiah 5:28 is to be compared. As there the wheels in the war-chariots of the world-power sent by God for the punishment of His rebellious people are compared with the whirlwind, so here inversely the whirlwind, representing the powers equal to it in weight, appears under the figure of the wheels. Ezekiel 10:6 affords a further proof of this. There the fire with which the ungodly Jerusalem shall be burned is taken from between the wheels, and certainly from the cherub, who hands it to the angel. Jerusalem was to be burned by men, otherwise than Sodom and Gomorrah. But their activity is only subordinate, being directed by God. They take the fire from between the wheels; and the angel stands behind and above them, who performs the work of burning. These are quite clear and certain grounds, which leave no doubt concerning the import of the wheels. To the wheels of Ezekiel correspond in Psalms 148:8, fire, hail, snow, and vapour, stormy wind fulfilling His word, which there appear along with the living creatures on the earth as the practical praise of God, as the security of the victory of His church. How the powers of nature serve God along with the cherubim, the history of Job shows: of the four catastrophes there, two are effected by human instruments, so that they belong to the department of the cherubim, and two by the powers of nature—the fire of God and the wind. The word of the Psalmist also (Psalms 104) serves to elucidate the symbol of the wheels: “Who maketh the clouds His chariot, who walketh upon the wings of the wind; who maketh the winds His angels, and a flaming fire His ministers.” Here the clouds appear as the chariot of God, because He leads them whither He will; the winds are obedient to Him as their Master, as the horses to their earthly driver. The application to the relations of the people of God is this: He who gives a way, course, and path to the clouds, air, and winds, will also find a way where thy foot may go. “Whither the spirit was to go,” it is said ( Ezekiel 1:20) of the cherubim, “thither they went, and the wheels lifted themselves equally with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.” The creature and the powers of nature work equally for the end appointed by God, for salvation or for destruction, because both are equally dependent on the Spirit of God moving them; so that we have nowhere to do properly with man or beast, fire or storm, but always with their Lord, who summons and sets them in motion. The unity of the Spirit in the beasts and in the wheels points to this, that in consequence of their equal dependence on God, they both with one accord obey the will of God, be it for blessing or for punishment, as in the destruction of Jerusalem the Chaldeans and the fire co-operated.

Only, if the cherubim are the concentration of all that lives, can it be explained that they, as well as the wheels, are all covered with eyes in Ezekiel and in Revelation. In Ezekiel 1:8 it is said that the felloes of the wheels connected with the cherubs were full of eyes. This is to show that the powers of nature, notwithstanding their apparent wild irregularity, are under the guidance of Divine Providence. The wind appears to go whither it will; but, in truth, it has no independent will: a secret hidden power binds all its movements according to a wise design. “The eyes,” remarks Hitzig, “are on the outside of the felloes, not the inside: naturally, for they are to look outwards into the world and on the way, not turned inwards, to regard the spokes and the axle.” The place in which the eyes are set shows that the powers of nature, in their action on the world and their relation to man, are not subject to a blind chance, but are guided by deliberate counsel—that reason is in them, because above them. While the passage now discussed refers only to the wheels, it is said in ch. Ezekiel 10:12 of the cherubim themselves, “And their whole flesh, and their backs, and their hands, were full of eyes round about.” And in Revelation 4:6 it is said, “And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts, full of eyes before and behind.” The thought expressed by the symbol of the eyes in the cherubim, the Psalmist enunciates in the words ( Psalms 104:24), “How manifold are thy works, O Lord !” (the cherub is the being that represents the multiplicity of the works of God; ) “in wisdom hast Thou made them all.” And this thought lies at the root of that which is said in Proverbs 8:22-31 concerning the constructive wisdom of God. In the living creation rules no chance, but everywhere law, order, design: it is not a monstrum horrendum ingens cui lumen ademtum, as the modern materialists teach, who place themselves on a parallel with the apes, from which they derive the origin of the human race; but all in it is guided by intelligence. This belongs not to the creatures, but to God, who has created them in wisdom, and in wisdom guides and directs them. The whole living creation is penetrated by the spirit; and where the spirit is, there is also reason, end, design. For the spirit is the spirit of the personal intelligence. The whole living creation has its origin in God, and therefore bears the seal of intelligence in its being and in its working. The worm in the dust has no less the signature of the eye than man. That this is the import of the eyes, is shown by Zechariah 3:9, according to which seven eyes are directed to the one foundation-stone of the temple that was then to be built anew: the thought can be nothing else than this, that the building of the temple was under the special guidance of Divine Providence. Further ( Zechariah 4:10), the seven eyes of the Lord, which pervade the whole earth, preside over the building of the temple. The eyes here are the powers of God, which work not blindly, but are the radiations of His providence. These eyes penetrate the whole earth, to counteract the dangers from every quarter to the kingdom of God, and from all sides to gather help. According to Revelation 5:6, the Lamb has seven eyes as well as seven horns, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. Horns and eyes denote here the whole fulness of divine power and intelligence with which Christ is endowed for the destruction of His foes and the salvation of His own. If the eyes are so conceived as the symbol of intelligence, which does not perhaps dwell in the cherubim, but is developed in them, this explains also the connection in which ( Revelation 4:8) the eyes of the cherubim stand with their song of praise. This forms, accordingly, the elucidation to the eyes. It is there said, “And around and within they are full of eyes, and have no rest day and night, and say. Holy, holy, holy is God the Lord, the Almighty.” The expression already employed, around (before) and within (behind) they are full of eyes, would be an unnecessary repetition, if it did not stand in close connection with the following; and because they are a living actual testimony to the wisdom and glory of God, they unceasingly proclaim by their very presence that which is holy.

The cherubim are full of eyes, in accordance with which modern science, so far as it really deserves the name of science, and is not a secretion of “evil beasts, slow bellies,” acknowledges that nature appears throughout as a work of intellect—that the stamp of providence is impressed upon it. The celebrated naturalist of Petersburg, Karl von Baer, in the treatise, What View of Animated Nature is the Correct One? Berlin, 1862, calls “the processes of life” ideas of creation: he finds in the natural instinct of the insect-world “something original, not proceeding from the constitution of the body, but standing above it,” Instinct is to him “an emanation from the universe, and not from the bodily relations. The intelligence, which lies at the root of it, is not the intelligence of the beasts, but a necessity which a higher intelligence has laid upon them.” He cites, among other examples, the life-process of the gnat, which begins its life in the water and closes it in the air. While it places itself on a leaf floating on the water, or an overhanging blade of grass, it lets its eggs fall into the water, because the newly-formed germ must begin its existence in the water. Here we cannot think of a prescience of the gnat, and yet it acts in the given case quite as if the future fate of the brood were known to it. It shuns the water as long as it has no need of it; it seeks it when it becomes necessary for the future germ. The sainted Schubert has already referred to many similar facts in the Mirror of Nature, which has not, we think, obtained the circulation it deserves. Professor Fichte says, in the preface to the German translation of Janet’s Treatise on Materialism, “The spirit of materialism and the spirit of natural philosophy are diametrically opposed; they stand essentially in irreconcilable contradiction. That which animates all natural philosophy, which fills it with ever new enthusiasm, is the never actually disappointed confidence, that there is reason in things; that an intrinsic harmony and an intelligent mutual adaptation embraces the whole as well as the parts of nature; in short, that that great principle never and nowhere denies itself, which speculation has designated as ‘immanent teleology,’ the internal design and omnipresent reason in things. And that which natural philosophy actually finds, which it most emphatically proves and brings to be admitted without question, is only the perpetual confirmation of this great thought. It is, according to its proper spirit, an uninterrupted worship of God, a rational and intelligent glorification of that inexhaustible wisdom which reveals itself in nature. The materialistic view is by no means a protest merely against a philosophical or religious theory, but against the whole finding of experience—against the constitution of the universe itself. The creation must have been different, if materialism was to be right. And so we say with confidence, if it should ever be accounted the true and all-sufficient conception of the world, then would the last memory of the great results of natural philosophy vanish, and scientific barbarism would make good its entrance.” These are golden words; and if the author had spoken no other than these, he would deserve to have lived. He has thereby fulfilled the highest task assigned to science: “I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker” ( Job 36:3). Hence may those learn to be ashamed of themselves, who, like C. Vogt, are full of eyes round about, and yet cannot see,—who thus divest themselves of the high privilege of men, to acknowledge Him whose seal is impressed upon all nature.

The cherub signifies that which lives on earth: only by acknowledging this is the joining of the cherub with the elders in Revelation explained. The elders are there the representatives of the church. If they are purely ideal beings, an ideal element will also be present in the cherubs that are joined with them; and those will be astray who simply see in them real beings. In ch. Revelation 14:3, the community of the completed saints on the heavenly Zion sing the new song “before the throne, and before the four beasts and the elders.” The ground on which the four beasts are here joined with the elders we learn from ver. Revelation 14:4, where it is said of the elect in their heavenly perfection, “These are bought out of men, to be first-fruits unto God and the Lamb.” The four beasts, or more exactly, the “four living creatures,” have their culminating point in man; and the glorification of the human race is here solemnized in the glory of the elect. In the similar scene, ch. Revelation 7:9-17, in which the believers in Christ are brought before us in the heavenly glory which awaits them, the elders go before the four beasts, after whom they were placed in ch. Revelation 4. Where the elders stand before, they come into view as the party immediately concerned. On the contrary, the four beasts have a claim to the first place, because they represent the genus, while the elders form only a species of that genus. There the one condition is satisfied, here the other. No less clear and transparent, according to our view, is the connection of the elders and the four beasts in ch. Revelation 19:4. Here the twenty-four elders and the four beasts fall down and worship God, who sits on the throne, saying. Amen; Hallelujah. The starting-point, the great deed of God, which calls forth the worship and praise, is the overthrow of the great whore. Along with the representatives of the church, over which the bloody persecution of the Roman empire, represented by the adulterous woman, has passed, the representatives also of the animal creation on earth offer their thanks for the redemption of the earth, which, according to ver. Revelation 19:2, it had corrupted by its whoredom, its crafty hypocritical policy. Not merely the church, but all mankind, trodden under foot, is interested in the overthrow of imperial Rome.

Only if the cherubs are the combination of that which lives on earth, is explained their interest in the judgments on the earth in Revelation. On the opening of the first four seals, in ch. Revelation 6, the seer each time hears one of the four say, with a voice of thunder, “Come and see.” The beasts announce the different phenomena of the judgment, because they are the representatives of the living on the earth, on which the judgments shall fall. In ch. Revelation 6:6 it is further said: “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny, and hurt not the oil and the wine.” The voice sounds “in the midst of the four beasts,” because this news concerns them. The cherubim accordingly represent beings who are concerned in the thriving of wheat and barley, oil and wine—who must suffer want in years of famine. On this must all other views of the cherubim suffer shipwreck; for ex., that of the creative powers of God, of the angels, of the four evangelists, of the officers in the church. In ch. Revelation 15:7, one of the four beasts gives to the seven angels seven golden cups full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever. The earthly creature of God on whom the judgments fall, by this act acknowledges their righteousness. It says with downcast head, We receive what we have deserved.

Only by the view in question is explained also the fact, that the cherubim appear so regularly under the throne of God, and indeed in circumstances where it is either intended to give comfort to the church in the face of the seemingly omnipotent world, and to assure it of the certainty of the victory over the world, as in Revelation 4, or where it is designed to oppose the blindness of the degenerate sons of the church, who expected to be able to escape the vengeance of their angry God, as in Ezekiel. The cherubim under the throne, which indicate that God is the God of the spirits of all flesh, equally oppose the despair and the security of the church.

Finally, the only plausible one among the other various conceptions of the cherubim—the only one, also, which possesses a wide popularity, and an existence so tenacious, that it is ever turning up anew, that which takes them to be angels—suffers shipwreck on Revelation 5:11, “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts, and the elders: and their number was ten thousand times ten thousand;” and on Revelation 7:11, “And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their face, and worshipped God.” The diversity of the beasts from the angels is here clear as the sun. The myriads of angels, all angels, form the environs of the circle, in which, with the throne and the twenty-four elders, the four beasts also are found. Further, the department of the cherubim is always sharply defined by that of the angels. The cherubim never perform the part of messengers, of the “spirits who are sent to minister” ( Hebrews 1:14), of “the mighty in strength, who do the commandments of God, hearkening unto the voice of His word” ( Psalms 103:20). Their business is only to be under the throne of God—to set forth His omnipotence—to thank and praise God, because their presence is the actual praise of God, in accordance with Psalms 103:22, “Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion;” as, according to Psalms 19, the heavens declare the glory of God, of which they are a speaking proof; and then, on account of His benefits, which He bestows upon His creatures on earth; finally, to be active in the representation of the judgments which fall upon the earth. On the whole, only few words are put into their mouth, in proof that speaking is not their proper business; that it is only granted them for the interpretation of the practical speech, which is implied in their very presence.

Our task, to demonstrate the correct interpretation of the symbol of the cherubim, is completed. It remains now to examine more particularly some of the principal passages in which the cherubim are mentioned.


We turn our eye first to the properly fundamental passage, Genesis 3:24, “And He drove out the man, and placed at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the flame of the flashing sword, to keep the way to the tree of life.”

The thought that most obviously meets us here, in accordance with the original state of the human race, that is pictured as it were before our eyes, is, that by the wrathful omnipotence of God men found themselves wholly excluded from the life which should have been the reward of their true obedience.

The wrath of God is figured by the flashing sword. We may not assign the sword to the cherubs. For it is not said, with the flame (Luther has freely translated, the cherubim with a naked hewing sword), but, and the flame. The sword appears as a second power along with the cherubim. A sword would not indeed suit the many cherubim. And then the cherubim have never and nowhere anything to do with the sword. They are in themselves quite unconcerned with the divine wrath, which is represented by the sword. Under other circumstances, if man were not fallen, they would appear themselves friendly in a friendly circle, as the cherubim on the ark of the covenant already show. As bearer of the sword we have, according to all parallel passages, much more to think of God or His angel, who carries on all His relations with the human race. In the books of Moses himself, it is God who says ( Deuteronomy 32:41), “If I whet the flash of my sword, and my hand take hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and requite them that hate me.” With drawn sword the angel of the Lord appears to Balaam, and also to David when he sinned in numbering the people ( 1 Chronicles 21:16). Also in Joshua 5:13, Isaiah 34:5, the sword belongs to God and His angel. If, then, the sword is to be placed in the closest relation with God, the same holds good in regard to the cherubim. According to the analogy of all other passages, we shall have to think of God as sitting upon them, as appearing above them; and so much the more, because the cherubim are never employed on any mission like the angels. The seeming independence of the cherubim, as of the sword, is only put forward, in order that these points in the whole phenomenon might engage the attention of the first men—namely, the wrath of God and His omnipotence, which are sufficient to show that every attempt to reach that which is prohibited is foolish and vain. “He placed the cherubim and the sword,” then, is as much as to say. He that sitteth on the cherubim, and beareth the sword, shut him out. “To place” occurs elsewhere in the sense of setting up ( Joshua 18:1), and is of abiding significance. He set up, not without or beside Himself, but Himself appearing over them. In point of fact, the setting up of the cherubim still takes place after every sin. The conscience calls to the sinner, that he is wholly excluded by the wrath of God from access to salvation. A whole swarm of false views meets us in this passage. The cherubim are not “guardians of paradise” nor “executors of judgment:” they do not serve to exhibit “the majestic presence of God in the attitude of wrath,” with which the cherubim have nothing whatever to do, and which is represented here by the sword alone. Much less still may we say that the garden is given to the cherubs for a dwelling-place: in that case the same must also hold good of the sword. We have here no “mythic being” before us, no “griffin,” but the presentation of an eternally true thought in pictorial form, in the spirit of the olden time, in which the thought of itself took flesh and blood. This is the truth in one of the many unfortunate hypotheses concerning the second and third chapters of Genesis, which regarded the contents of this chapter as an attempt to translate a hieroglyphic picture into words.

Turn we now to the cherubim over the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle. The state of things as it is represented in Exodus 26:16 f. is this. In the ark of the covenant is laid the “testimony,” externally represented by the two tables of the law. Over the testimony is the “mercy-seat,” externally represented by the lid of the ark. Over the mercy-seat rise two cherubim, in close connection with it, externally represented by this, that they are formed of the same mass of gold of which the mercy-seat is made, and, as it were, grow out of it. The cherubs stand on the two ends of the mercy-seat. The faces of the two are directed towards one another. They look down on the mercy-seat. The mercy-seat is covered by their outstretched wings. Over the cherubim sits the Lord, and thence communicates to Moses all His orders to the people.

The following is the exposition of these facts. The foundation of the covenant of God with Israel is the testimony, the revelation of the will of God to Israel. This is a great grace which the Lord has bestowed on His people, and in them on the church of all times, that they should possess in His word a light on their paths, as the Psalmist sings: “He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation, and His judgments they have not known. Hallelujah.” And as Moses himself says ( Deuteronomy 4:8): “And what nation is so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” If with this boon they are true—if they endeavour with all their heart to fulfil His commands, they have in the mercy-seat the pledge of the forgiveness of their sins of infirmity, or as Philo expresses himself, of the “gracious power of God.” This is the second great benefit. From the second arises a third: from the propitiation comes forth the protection of the cherubim, who with their faces cast a friendly look on the mercy-seat and the ransomed people, and cover it with their protecting wings. To those who love God, and are loved of Him, must all things work for the best: the creatures go with their Creator. If the people of God only have Him on their side, the whole creation stands in a friendly relation to them.

We have still some points to discuss more fully.

In reference to the form of the cherub, Züllig remarks: “According to Exodus 25:20, the faces of the two cherubs were directed to the lid of the ark of the covenant. Had they been the cherubs of Ezekiel, they could only have had one of their four faces in this direction, while the three other faces must have looked towards the three other opposite points. Hence each of these must have had only one face, while those had four.” The cherubs of the ark of the covenant had human forms and faces; and the three other classes of living things must have been contented with the representation by the wings taken from the birds, which in the history of the creation form the beginning of the animal world, as man forms the close. These wings had the double purpose,—above, to form the throne of God; beneath, to overshadow the mercy-seat.

Why do the cherubim appear over the ark of the covenant? In general they belonged to it, because it was of the deepest moment to indicate that the God of Israel was at the same time God absolutely, which is so emphatically and designedly held forth in the books of Moses from the very first chapter, that the temple is dedicated to the God of the spirits of all flesh, who is almighty to save those who keep His commandments, and to destroy those who transgress them. For the same purpose, cherubim were to be woven in the inner curtains or hangings of the tabernacle, according to Exodus 26:1. What special significance the cherubim had here in connection with the whole of the ark, we have already pointed out. This significance is in the first place comforting. In the background, however, stands along with this a warning and deterring one. If the church be not in earnest regarding the foundation of the whole—the testimony, the revelation of the divine will; if she turns the great grace, that she knows the will of her Lord, into lasciviousness; if she has in her mouth only the commandments, which are to be kept and obeyed, in order to boast of them, and judge others by them (Romans 2),—the mercy-seat forthwith loses its significance; the protective power of the cherubim, which is inseparably connected with it, at the same time comes to an end; their friendly face turns into a terrible one; the majesty of the offended God sitting above them arms them for the punishment of His unfaithful people.

The further question. Why are the cherubim of one piece with the mercy-seat? is answered by that which has been already remarked. The fact points to this, that the protection which the cherubim secure comes from the propitiation.

That the faces of the cherubim are directed to one another, is indicative of the mutual harmony of the creatures, which rests on their common relation to the Lord, whose spirit rules in them.

That the face of the cherubim is directed to the mercy-seat, points to this, that grace is the most adorable secret. The passage in 1 Peter 1:12, which refers to the angels who have nothing to do with the cherubim, has been without reason connected with this; but the face turned inwards is a sign of the friendly disposition which the creature entertains towards the community reconciled to God ( Psalms 34:16), as the averted or concealed face is so often the sign of a hostile disposition. As the cherubs, and in them the Lord who sits above them, here look to the mercy-seat, so in Psalms 74:20, in a time of heavy oppression to the commonwealth, the Lord is entreated by it to “look unto the covenant.” Thus regarded, the direction of the faces of the cherubim to the mercy-seat is in harmony with the fact that they cover it with their wings, and both facts come under the same point of view.

It cannot be doubted that this covering of the mercy-seat is a symbol of the protection which the cherubim secure to the redeemed community. The covering is often used of a protecting covert; for example, Psalms 140:8, “Thou coverest my head in the day of battle;” and the wings are often the figure of protection, as in Psalms 36:8, “How excellent is Thy goodness, O God! and the children of men trust in the shadow of Thy wings;” and Psalms 61:5, “I will abide in Thy tents for ever; I will trust in the covert of Thy wings.” But it is quite decisive, that in Ezekiel 28:14, according to the connection, “the covering “must necessarily be the protecting cherub. Hence, so much the more light falls on the covering of the cherubs in the sanctuary, as the prophet has borrowed the figure from this, and expressly alludes to it. The thought which lies at the root of the symbolic representation, that the creature goes along with the Creator, that the community reconciled to its God enjoys the protection of the creature, we find often expressed in the Old Testament. Thus it is said, Leviticus 26:3 f., “If ye walk in my statutes (the right relation to the testimony, as the condition of sharing in the propitiation), ... I will rid evil beasts out of the land, and the sword (of man, the apex of the animal world) shall not pass through your land.” In contrast with this, it is said in vers. Leviticus 26:22, Leviticus 26:25, of those who violate the testimony, and thereby exclude themselves from a part in the propitiation: “And I will send against you the beast of the field; and it will rob you, and destroy your cattle, and diminish you; and your ways shall lie waste. And I will bring upon you a sword, avenging the quarrel of my covenant” (the propitiation, which can never be idle, acquires now a destructive import); “and ye shall be given into the hand of the enemy.” In Hosea 2:20 it is said of the people when awakened to repentance: “And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping thing of the ground; and bow, sword, and battle I will break out of the land.” Here we have a fourfold array of the “living” creature, which the Lord makes friendly to His renewed people: from the irrational the prophet rises to man. Also in Ezekiel 34:25 f. peace with the creatures follows peace with God: “And I will make with them a covenant of peace; and I will rid the evil beasts out of the land, and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. And they shall be no more a prey to the heathen, and the beasts of the land shall not devour them, and none shall make them afraid.” The “beasts of the land” appear not seldom also in human form. By the lions, one of the faces of the cherubs in Ezekiel, are often designated the wickedness and tyranny of the heathen; for ex., in Isaiah 35:9. In Nebuchadnezzar, man, lion, and eagle are presented at the same time. The four world-powers appear in Daniel not without design in the form of four beasts. And in Isaiah 56:9 the beasts of the field are the heathen, whom the Lord sends over His degenerate people. Schiller also sings, “The women became hyenas.” The limits which the original order of creation has placed between man and beast may be destroyed by the degeneracy of man.

The cherubs in the temple of Solomon demand, on the whole, no special treatment. The same applies to them as to the cherubs in the tabernacle. Solomon’s formative activity was here confined within narrow limits. What was communicated to Moses by revelation, he was obliged in the main only to repeat. Only a few single points here claim our attention.

To the smaller cherubic figures immediately over the ark Solomon added ( 1 Kings 6:23 f.) “in his temple two others ten cubits high, of olive tree, carved and overlaid with gold, which stood near the ark with outstretched wings. Their outstretched wings formed a second higher covering over the ark” (Züllig). That the wings of these cherubim extended from one wall of the most holy place to the other, signified the completeness of the protection which God secures to His people by means of His creatures.

According to 1 Chronicles 28:18, David gives to Solomon the gold “for the pattern of the chariot, the cherubim, that spread out their wings, and cover the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” The cherubim do not here draw a chariot, but they are themselves the chariot; as also in Jesus Sirach, in ch. Sir_49:8 , the cherubim-chariot is the chariot that consists of the cherubim themselves; and in Psalms 18:11 God rides on the cherub. The relation of God to His living creatures resembles that of the driver to his chariot, which takes its direction absolutely from him. God is the absolutely guiding principle in His creatures and for His creatures: this is the thought which lies at the root of the designation of the cherubim by the chariot.

When once the figure of the chariot used by David in Psalms 18 was naturalized, it was easy to add to the chariot also wheels. We have seen before, that these wheels, at the same time under and near or beside the cherubim, not absolutely subordinate to them, but co-ordinate with them, represent in Ezekiel the powers of nature, which are directed by the Lord of creation no less than the living; creatures in harmony with them. The proper source of this sensible representation is not, however, to be sought in Ezekiel. Vitringa has clearly shown that it goes back to Solomon; and those who will now deny this are either ignorant of his argument, or have not duly appreciated it. In the place of the single laver for cleansing the sacrificial flesh, which Moses ( Exodus 30:28) placed before the tabernacle, between it and the altar of burnt-offering, entered in the temple of Solomon, along with the brazen seas, ten lavers, which Hiram the artisan constructed by command of Solomon. The description of these lavers is extremely brief; it occupies only a single verse. On the other hand, no vessel of the temple has the author of the book of Kings described so fully as the bases of these lavers: he devotes to them no less than twelve verses ( 1 Kings 7:28-39). This at once indicates to us, that these bases must have a deeper positive import; and it will not disturb us that these bases, together with the lavers resting on them, externally considered, had only a very subordinate position: for what was represented in the part belonged to the whole; and to represent it precisely here was natural, as only here, in these newly introduced vessels, was freer scope given for holy art, whereas in the more important vessels it was necessary to copy the patterns of Moses. Now on these bases were figured lions, oxen, cherubim, and palm trees. This indicates that the temple was dedicated to the Lord of the whole organic creation. “The figure,” says Velthusen, “announced the presence of the only true supreme Lord of all nature, and thereby distinguished this building consecrated to Him, where He was worshipped, and had promised graciously to receive offering and prayer, from all idolatrous temples.” Under the bases are four wheels. That these must have a symbolic meaning is clear, not only from the analogy of the significant figures on the bases, and from the comparison of Ezekiel, where even as here the wheels connected with the cherubim, and taking the lower place in relation to them, on clear and certain grounds, denote the powers of nature; but it lies in the nature of the thing, as there is here no practical end which the wheels might serve. It has been supposed that the wheels were to make the bases with the lavers easily moveable. But they occupied a fixed place, as is expressly said in 1 Kings 7:39; and motion is not to be thought of.

We will conclude with the discussion of the grand vision of the cherubim in Ezekiel. But first, we will take a glance at the passing mention of the cherub in Ezekiel 28:14. The prophet, in the prediction against the king of Tyre, here says to him, “Thou art an anointed cherub, that covereth.” As the cherub comprehends the multiplicity of the creatures in a unity, so the king the multiplicity of his people. The nature of the kingly office can scarcely be more aptly designated than by the name cherub. Jeremiah, in Lamentations 4:20, calls the king of Israel the life-breath of his people, so that they live and die with him. Further, the king, like the cherub, is a concentration of productive nature. Bähr rightly says: “The accompanying description of the wisdom, beauty, perfection, might, grandeur, and glory of this king, shows clearly that the designation of cherub was applied to him, because he was on the highest stage of created life. All that this creation has of grandeur and glory was united in him, as in the cherub.” The king calls himself God. The prophet accords to Him a position similar to that of an anointed cherub; but because he went beyond this position which was granted him by God, who had anointed him and endowed him with gifts by His Spirit, it is wrested from him by God, and he sinks into absolute nullity. The cherub is more exactly described as “the covering.” The article points to the well-known covering cherub in the sanctuary, and specially to Exodus 25:20. As the cherub in the sanctuary covers the ark, and in particular the mercy-seat, in token of the protection which, in consequence of the operation of God who rules over him, he secures to the covenant people, so is the king of Tyre the protector of his state, with all the nations that are subject to him. But as in the cherub the protective power only comes directly from him, but ultimately from the power of God that animates him, so also the king of Tyre has only by the grace of God the power to cover; and as he has made himself unworthy of this grace, the power has been lost. Much confusion is introduced by extending further the comparison with the cherub, which is limited singly and alone to the words quoted: thus, for example, B. Bähr remarks, “Here the king of Tyre is figuratively called a covering cherub; and it is said of him, In Eden, in the garden of God, thou didst dwell;” and Riehm, “The king of Tyre is compared with the cherub that dwells on the mount of God, and walks in the midst of the stones of fire.” The expression, “In Eden, the garden of God, wast thou,” in ver. Ezekiel 28:13—in a situation glorious like that of the first man in paradise—and also the following one on the comparison with the cherub, in ver. Ezekiel 28:14, “On the mount of God wast thou in the midst of the stones of fire,” that formed around thee a protecting wall, so that thou, under the mighty protection of God, mightest protect thy subjects, stand in no near relation to the cherub, but depict the glory of the king of Tyre under another figure. He resembles in this his glory, (1) the first man in paradise, (2) the cherub, and (3) one who on a high hill is surrounded by walls of fire.

We now turn to the sublime vision of the cherubim, which opens the prophecies of Ezekiel.

The historical starting-point of this vision lies in the false hopes which had at that time seized the minds of those who remained in Jerusalem with Zedekiah at their head. A spirit of infatuation had fallen on the people. They cast the prophecies of Jeremiah to the wind, which announced the approaching completion of the judgment by the Chaldeans. Confiding in the confederacy with the Egyptian power, which must at that time have taken a lofty flight, they hoped soon to be able to free themselves altogether from the Chaldean supremacy. These hopes also were spread among the exiles, as the letter addressed to them by Jeremiah (ch. Jeremiah 29) shows. He therein warns them, “Let not the prophets that are among you deceive you, and hearken not to your dreams, for they prophesy falsely to you in my name.” Soon, it was thought, will a return to their country be opened up; and to this thought was joined the other—namely, to work together for it. These illusions and excitements, which prevented the people from entering with sincerity on the path of repentance pointed out by God, Ezekiel was to oppose. This opposition was made first by the vision of the cherubim, the real import of which Grotius thus briefly and well defines: “After the long-suffering of God, all tended towards vengeance.” The following discourses of the prophet are related to this opening vision as the commentary to the text.

Parallel with the vision of the cherubim in Ezekiel is the seething-pot coming from the north, which, according to Jeremiah 1:13, is shown to his senior colleague in office on his call, with the added elucidation, “Out of the north the evil will be opened upon all the inhabitants of the land. For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms towards the north; and they shall come, and set every one his throne before the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.” The vision of Ezekiel serves to uphold and confirm that older vision against the assaults of the time. It opposes the wrath of the Almighty to all hopes of salvation. We have here at the same time the counterpart of that first appearance of the cherubim in paradise. As there, God appearing above the cherubim with the flaming sword excludes from the tree of life; so here, God appearing above the cherubim interposes between the people and salvation, and cuts off all access of the people to it.

The picture begins in ch. Ezekiel 1:4 with the words, “And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and enfolded fire, and a brightness about it, and out of the midst of it as the look of chasmal, out of the midst of the fire.” That the appearance has a threatening character, appears from the connection of the three chief figures for wrath, judgment, and punishment,—the storm, the cloud, and the fire, the more precise description of which as enfolded, fire gathered into a ball, borrowed from Exodus 9:24, indicates that the same energy of the punitive righteousness of God which was once in ancient times displayed on the Egyptians, will now once more direct itself against the chosen people of God, who have turned the grace of God into lasciviousness, of that God who in earnest warning has said to them, “The Lord thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Out of the midst of the fire appears to the prophet, as the look of chasmal, the figure of God. Chasmal denotes here the essence of the personality of God, the holiness, that is, the infinite glory, the absolute pre-eminence above all creation, His incomparableness, His perfection. The “splendour” parallel to it in ch. Ezekiel 8:2 leaves no doubt that it denotes something of the clearest brightness. “Out of the midst of the fire:” this makes the soul shake in its inmost depth. It is dreadful to have for a foe the fountain of all salvation. All hope is thereby cast down. There is no one in heaven or on earth who can deliver from His hand. And yet the matter has also a cheering side. It is better to fall into the hands of God than into those of man—better to have to do with God than with the terrible Chaldeans. If He is angry, and indeed with an anger “which burns unto the lowest hell, and consumes the land with its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains” ( Deuteronomy 32:22), yet is there ever in Him a background of compassion, and indeed of a compassion that is as great as Himself, the infinity of which is an emanation of His holiness; and salvation will follow on repentance.

The further description of the vision, as it is given from ver. Ezekiel 1:5, presents the following points. First, under the high throne on which God sits in human form like a glorious king, appears the cloud, the type of the heavens, the incorporation of the name Zebaoth, with which the Lord is so often designated as the Almighty Ruler of heaven. The description of the cloud is very brief, because the powers of heaven are not immediately concerned in the present matter. So much the more full is the description of those points in the vision, which present God as the Lord of the works and powers of nature. For the Lord wished to summon these for the punishment of His unfaithful people. The Chaldeans, the representatives of the living creatures, composed of man, lion, ox, and eagle ( Daniel 7:4), were to take Jerusalem, and it was to be burned with fire. The living creatures are represented by the cherubim, which in this connection admit of only the one explanation—God sends the creature against His backsliding people. The powers of nature are denoted by the wheels. It is quite an irrelevant question, in what way the wheels were connected with the cherubim. It suffices for the figure of the chariot that the cherubim took the upper place, and the wheels, under which figure the powers of nature are represented, on account of their weight and energy, the lower. All is easy and obvious to thought. We have before us an inspired ideal form, much too ethereal for either painting or sculpture to master. “The appearance of the wheels and their work was as the look of the chrysolite:” this points to the glory of the powers of nature. “A wheel was in the middle of a wheel:” in every wheel a wheel was inserted. “To their four sides they went in going:” this indicates that the powers of nature are absolutely at the disposal of God—that He can use them where He will, and send them whither He will. That the felloes of the wheels are full of eyes, is a sign that the powers of nature do not work blindly, but are directed by Providence. That the spirit of the living creature is in the wheels, shows that one and the same divine power is active in the living creatures and in the powers of nature, so that they work harmoniously for the end appointed of God. In the repetition of the vision of the cherubim in Ezekiel 10, the cherub stretches forth its hand, takes the fire, with which Jerusalem is to be burned, out of the midst of the wheels, and hands it over to Him that is clothed in linen, the angel of the Lord, who has received from Him that sits on the throne the command to burn Jerusalem. By this it is indicated that the activity of the Chaldeans in the burning of the city, figured by the action of the cherub, is altogether subordinate; that the burning of Jerusalem in the main is to be no otherwise regarded than that of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which there was no human cooperation. The fire is found under the throne of God, is an element created by Him; and the cherub hands it only at the command of God to the angel from whom the proper action proceeds. In Ezekiel 11:22 it is said, “The cherubim flapped their wings, and the wheels moved beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.” Kliefoth rightly observes that it is merely said “the wheels,” whereas it is said “their wings.” This proves that the wheels, although they followed the movement of the cherubim, do not belong to the cherubim. Those who do not wish in the cherubim to distinguish between the idea and its dress, are brought into a dilemma by the wheels. Velthusen rightly maintains, that “the wheels are so connected with the cherubim, and make with them so much one figure, that they stand, go, and rise with these animals, without being able to separate the one from the other; so that he who holds the cherubim to be not a mere figurative appearance, must regard the wheels and throne at the same time as things actually existing in nature, of which the Most High makes use in His advent. The Jews perceived this, and therefore regarded the wheels as a peculiar kind of angels.”

It will be necessary to distinguish, in the grand representation of the universe in Ezekiel, between that which belongs to the constantly identical being, and that which specially refers to the present circumstances—to the work of wrath, which is now to be executed on the degenerate covenant people. This distinction makes itself known even in Him who sits upon the throne. According to ch. Ezekiel 1:27, the appearance of God below the loins was as the look of fire, which is enclosed around, a concentrated fire, and above as shining brass. The shining brass denotes the “wrathful glow of His judicial and vindictive function,” which is now significant, though in general it has only subordinate importance. But the same distinction meets us also in the cherubim. Here there is special reference to present circumstances in “the feet sparkling as the look of glowing brass,” in ch. Ezekiel 1:7, with which they will destroy everything that resists. Vers. Ezekiel 1:13-14 likewise refer to the present mission, “And the likeness of the living creatures was as coals of fire: they burn like torches. The fire goes in between the living creatures, and the fire is bright, and out of the fire goes lightning. And the living creatures ran hither and thither, as the appearance of a flash.” The animals can scarcely await the time when they are to fulfil their mission as the ministers of the divine vengeance. This is the temporary element in the delineation of the cherubim in Ezekiel; as in the first appearance of the cherubim in paradise, the connection with the flashing sword was only a temporary and separable one. In other circumstances all would bear a more serene and friendly aspect. In the repetition of the delineation of the cherubim in Revelation, where God appearing above the cherubim comes forward on behalf of His church, all that points to anger, punishment, and destruction is removed.

But though the appearance is so severe and threatening, yet the friendly element is not wanting here. According to ch. Ezekiel 1:27-28, the whole of the appearance is surrounded with a brightness: “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.” Grotius has rightly perceived the real import of the figure: “The divine judgments, however severe, shall not obliterate the memory of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The rainbow since Genesis 9 is unchangeably consecrated to be the symbol of mercy returning after wrath. Although in us there is much sin, in God there is much more grace: thus the lovely form of the rainbow exclaims to the church affrighted by the terrible cloud (ver. Ezekiel 1:4), and trembling on account of her sins. To her alone belong the sayings, “I kill, and I make alive;” and, “He woundeth and bindeth up; He smiteth, and His hands heal;” whereas the clouds are common to her with the world. The vision of the rainbow has been gloriously fulfilled, since after the Chaldean destruction, first the joyful return took place, and then the tidings were heard, “Behold, I announce to you great joy, for to you is born this day a Saviour.” And it will be fulfilled even to the end of the days. “If it come to pass that I bring a cloud over the earth, my bow shall be seen in the cloud:” this is the perpetual privilege which is conferred on the church of God on the earth. If we lay this to heart, the clouds will not make us afraid, but fill us with joyful hope. The denser they are, the more gloriously will the rainbow shine.

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