And before the throne there was a sea of glass like to crystal: and in the middle of the throne, and round about the throne…
In the midst... were four living ones full of eyes before and behind. There can scarce be a doubt that these mysterious beings are the same as in the Old Testament are called "cherubim." Who and what they were, and what they have to teach us, is an inquiry not without difficulty, but assuredly of much interest and profit. Let us, therefore -
I. REVIEW THE SCRIPTURE NOTICES OF THE CHERUBIM. They are mentioned in connection:
1. With the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. We read, "So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). Now, from this passage we learn but little as to the nature of these exalted beings - only that they were deemed worthy to occupy the place where alone perfect righteousness could dwell. But from the word rendered "to place," which signifies rather "to place in a tabernacle," and from expressions which we find in Revelation 14:14-16, it seems as if this "place" wherein God had appointed the cherubim had become a sort of local tabernacle, and was called "the presence of the Lord," from which Cain mourned that he was driven out; and so for a long time it remained, probably until the Deluge. For how else could the idea of the cherubim, so connected with that place, and apparently so familiar to the Jews, have continued in their minds? That it did so is shown by the fact that Bezaleel (Exodus 31.), when he was bidden make cherubim of gold for the ark of God, knew exactly what he was to do. Here, as at Eden, they were where sinful man could not approach. Then the next mention of them is:
2. In connection with the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:18-20). Such were the commands of him who, but a little while before, amid all the majesty and awe of Sinai, had commanded, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything," etc. (Exodus 20.). This command was engraven upon stone, and placed within that very ark of the covenant upon which the golden cherubim stood. And Solomon, too, with apparently the full concurrence of David and of the priests of the Lord, substituted for these cherubim, or else added to them, two others of colossal size, whose wings, stretching overhead, filled the most holy place in his new and gorgeous temple (1 Kings 6:23). Besides this, the figures of cherubim were multiplied in the varied forms of gold work and tapestry which were about the temple. Woven into curtains, placed as supports of the priests' laver at the entrance of the sanctuary, they were found on all sides, although they certainly seemed like plain contradiction and disobedience to the law which forbade the making of all such images. But we have no clear idea what they were like. We are told only of their wings, their faces, and their posture - not anything more. And the command against graven images helps us, I think, to understand partly what they were not. For that command contemplates only objects, regarded as sacred, which might be used as idols and for worship. And these cherubim fulfilled the very letter as well as the spirit of the Law. They were unlike "anything in heaven above," etc. If you seek to put together the various descriptions given of them in the Bible, you get an impossible combination, an unnatural union of bodily parts and organs, such as no known creature of God ever possessed. And still less were they designed to represent the supreme God. They were simply symbols divinely appointed, the meaning of which it is ours to discover. Then:
3. Isaiah's and Ezekiel's visions. (Isaiah 6.; Ezekiel 1:10.) Ezekiel describes certain "living ones" that he saw in vision. In Revelation 10. he sees again, but now in Jerusalem, these "living ones;" and he says, "This is the living one that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar, and I knew that they were the cherubim." And then he proceeds (Revelation 10.) to describe them. And:
4. In the vision of St. John. (Cf. Revelation 4:6-9.) With slight modifications, it is evident that we have the same mysterious beings referred to. Therefore inquire -
II. WHOM DO THEY REPRESENT? They are called "living ones," and therefore not the mere elemental forces of nature. This has been argued from Psalm 18:10, where it is written, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind." But the swiftness of movement attributed to these beings, their many wings, so that Ezekiel compares their going to "a flash of lightning," is sufficient to account for what we read in the psalm. But now, gathering together the scattered notices of them which we have reviewed, we learn:
1. They represent servants of God. Every passage that speaks of them shows this. In Eden; in the tabernacle and temple; in Isaiah's vision in the temple, and in Ezekiel's; so, too, in St. John's.
2. Chief ministers of God. See how near they are to him, standing to represent him or in closest attendance upon him.
3. But human, not merely creatural and sentient. From the creature forms, or rather countenances, ascribed to these "living ones," they have been regarded as representations of God's sentient creation (cf. homily on vers. 1-11). But they worship God; they join in the song, "Worthy is the Lamb;" they are in sympathy with God's servants here on earth, bearing golden censers "full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." So, then, as they are chosen and chief amongst the servants of God, so also are they human. But:
4. Holy also. These "living ones" represent, not humanity as we see it, but as it shall be in the presence of God by and by. Their position in Eden, where no sin might be, and in the most holy place, and in closest attendance upon the throne and upon him that sat upon it,—all prove how holy, how sinless, they must be. And:
5. Redeemed. They could only be where they are in consequence of redemption. We know that sinful man was not allowed to enter Eden, whence he had been driven out, nor the most holy place, nor the presence of God. Therefore something must have been done, in and upon and for them. Moreover, their song, "Worthy is the Lamb" (Revelation 5:12), and their standing on the mercy seat over the ark of the covenant - that mercy seat which was sprinkled with the blood of atonement - show that it is to redemption they, as we and all the saved, owe their all. And:
6. Perfected. See the creatural symbols, the lion, ox, etc. (cf. former homily), which tell of those qualities which go to make up the perfected character of the saints of God - courage and submission, aspiration and thought. Of such service and servants do the cherubim, these "living ones," tell.
III. THEIR MINISTRY TO MAN NOW. It is full of interest to observe the seasons when the visions of the cherubim were given. These occasions have all one common characteristic - they were when the way man had to take was very dark and drear. As when our first parents went forth from the blessed Eden to the thorns and thistles of the wilderness which was to be their future home. So, too, when "that great and terrible wilderness," amid which the Israel of God had to wearily wander for so many years. And when Isaiah was called to his ministry of sorrow because of his people's sin (Isaiah 6:9, 10). And Ezekiel, when in the sore captivity at Babylon he strove to comfort and cheer the hearts of his countrymen. And St. John saw them in the midst of the tribulations and persecutions which befell the Church of his day. So that the ministry of the cherubim seems to have been, besides all else that it was, a ministry of consolation to troubled and sorrowful men. To tell them what and where one day they should surely be, whatever their hard lot may be now; that they should be redeemed, holy, in the presence of God, serving him day and night in his temple - serving him, too, with perfect service, and he who "dwelt between the cherubim" should dwell among them forevermore. It was as a "Sursum corda" to the dejected, downcast children of God, bidding them be of good cheer and "hope in the Lord." And this is the purpose of this revelation still. - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.