Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth.
Who and what were they? We regard them as types of redeemed humanity, and designed to prefigure and promise that redemption. In proof, consider -
I. THE VARIOUS REFERENCES TO THEM IN THE SCRIPTURES.
1. In connection with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. (Genesis 3:24.) This passage tells but little of the nature of these exalted beings, only that they were held fit to occupy the place where only perfect righteousness could dwell. But neither their form, number, nor service are revealed to us. But inasmuch as the word "place" signifies rather "to place in a tabernacle," it seems as if the spot (see Genesis 4:14-16) where God had placed them had become a sort of local tabernacle, and was called "the presence of the Lord," and so for a long time remained, probably until the Deluge. Thus the idea of the cherubim seems to have become familiar to the Jews. Bezaleel, when he was bidden make cherubim for the ark of the covenant, knew exactly what he was to do (Exodus 31:2; Exodus 25:18, etc.). There must, therefore, have been some tradition concerning these mysterious beings, though that tradition is almost entirely lost to us. But we cannot but believe that our unhappy first parents, as they looked upon the cherubim, must have had some idea as to what they meant, and, like the first promise made to the woman of her seed that should bruise the serpent's head, so these mysterious beings would convey to their minds a gleam of bright, blessed hope, that restoration to what they had lost was destined for them, and that, though not now, yet in the future, they should again find themselves amid that favour and joy and righteousness from all which their sin had cast them out.
2. In the construction of the ark of testimony. (See Exodus 25:18, etc.) Now, at first sight this seems as if it was a contradiction of the command not to "make any graven image, nor any likeness," etc. (Exodus 20.). But that command had reference to the making of such likenesses for the purpose of worship, as did the Egyptians, who paid to such things religious honour. But this Israel was not to do; nevertheless, they might and did make these cherubim, on the ark, woven in the curtains, and all about the tabernacle and temple. They were not representations of God, or of angels, or of anything upon earth, but, as we believe, of the spiritual character and condition of humanity when redeemed. Then:
3. The cherubim are told of in Ezekiel Ezekiel 1:10, and in ch. Ezekiel 10., where a description is given of them, but such as is impossible of pictorial representation. They were, when represented as in the tabernacle, but sacred hieroglyphs, symbols, not of earthly or heavenly bodies, but of spiritual realities. Then:
4. In Revelation 4 the "four living ones" told of there (not "beasts," as our most unfortunate translation gives it) are again the cherubim.
II. WHAT THEY REPRESENT. We have already said that we take them as symbols of redeemed man.
1. They represent humanity, not the elemental forces of nature. This has been affirmed from Psalm 18:10; Psalm 104:4, etc. Hence the air, fire, winds, have been regarded as the cherubim. But if so, how can they be called "living ones"? The blind forces of nature have no "life" in them. But the cherubim have. And it is the life of humanity.
2. The creature representation tells of character. The ox (see Ezekiel and Revelation) tells of patient meekness, readiness for sacrifice or for toil, accustomed to the yoke - the character our Lord tells of, and exemplified, when he said (Matthew 11.), "Take my yoke upon you." The lion, symbol of nobleness of nature, of courage and might. Hence Christ is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." The eagle tells of the swift, strong, upward-soaring spirit that mounts heavenward, Godward. Man, the chief of all creatures, in whom all these excellences combine.
3. Of perfect man. For the cherubim are in the presence of God, but standing on the mercy seat; hence they tell of man redeemed by the blood of Christ, and ever there, abiding always. Amid such God loves to dwell.
III. THEIR TEACHING FOR US.
1. The infinite compassion of God. See the depths of distress in which they were to whom these visions were given. But then God thus came to them with hope, and so with help. It is his blessed way.
2. We may be as the cherubim, shall be, if "in Christ." That is, we shall be perfect, holy, blessed, because dwelling forever in God's presence. - S.C.
"I will praise Thee." That is the note that is too commonly silent in our religious life. We rarely gather together for the supremely exhilarating business of praise. In the Psalm is a man who sets himself to the business of praise, as though he were about to engage in a great matter. He sets about it with undivided attention — "with my whole heart." The word "heart" is a spacious word. It includes all the interior things, all the central things; when a man comes to praise, will, intellect, and imagination must all be active. He must bring to the ministry of praise the worship of his feelings. Come will, and make my praise forceful. Come intellect, and make it enlightened. Come feeling, and make it affectionate. In the words, "I will sow forth," is suggested that he will score it as with a mark, he will not allow it to slip by unrecorded. He will keep a journal of mercies. He will not only register the "marvellous works," he will publish them. The word is suggestive not only of a notebook, but of a proclamation. "I will rejoice," the word is suggestive of the exulting bubbling of the spring. The two words, "glad," "rejoice," together give us the image of the leaping waters with the sunshine on them. And such is always the joy of the Lord. It is fresh as the spring, and warm and cheering as the sunlight.
Thou hast put all things under his feet, etc.
If the lower creation were not too insignificant or worthless to contribute to the glory of Jesus, they cannot be deemed too insignificant for Him to care for, and for us to protect and honour. We know it is said of His saints that "he that toucheth them, toucheth the apple of His eye." In other words, He feels what is done to His people as sensitively as if it had been done to Himself. And, of course, while there is a sense in which, using human language, He must be jealous of them, as He is in regard to no other (they being emphatically the fruit of the travail of His soul), yet if all creatures have been intrusted to His sovereignty, and are the subjects of His sway, He must regard any wanton injustice or cruelty inflicted on the meanest and the lowliest as an unwarranted aggression on what the old divines call His "rectorial rights." It may seem to some an unnecessary straining of the subject: that it would be better to rest and vindicate it on principles of ordinary benevolence. It is well, indeed, that we can take up the lower ground too, and, for those who would scorn the appeal to gospel motive, address ourselves to the claims and sympathies of our common humanity. But I do confess it seems to me that this theme secures a far more commanding demonstration when we see the lower animals, whose oppression we are called to denounce, placed under the especial care and authority of the Redeemer; that as the living creatures were brought one by one to the first Adam to be named and placed under his protection, so the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, who is to restore in every respect what the other forfeited, has had among the "all things put under His feet," "all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, and the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea." Though the members of the lowlier creation are represented in the text as subjected to the rule of Christ, they have been subordinated by Him to the care of man. To man, as high priest of creation, they have been made over at once for his use, and to secure his protection and kindness. In thus consigning them to his custody, this great Lord of nature has given significant intimation of the treatment He Himself designs them to receive at the hands of their deputed governor. He has manifested on every side a desire for the happiness of His creatures. Pain is in no instance the law or condition of their being. The sport of the insect, the carol of the lark, the gambols of the quadruped, the gush of summer song in the groves and woods, all read the design and intention of a bountiful, beneficent, and benevolent Ruler. And if man, therefore, abuse his delegated authority, and instead of the merciful guardian and friend of the helpless, become the rigorous tyrant and torturer, does he not thereby set himself up in guilty defiance of the purposes of the Almighty, and do what he can to abridge the happiness he was commissioned to provide and promote? We shall proceed to enforce, from a few brief considerations, the duty of abstaining from the infliction of pain on the inferior creation, and their paramount claims on man's sympathy, protection, and kindness. Let us advert, at the outset, to a lurking and widely accepted fallacy with regard to the lower animals having a comparative insensibility to pain. That they are capable of a certain amount of suffering none dare dispute, but we question if there be not at the root of much of that reckless torture of which they are the subjects, an impression that their wild and untamed habits of life and their iron frames make them proof against the physical anguish of which the human being is susceptible. I would ask what in anatomy, what in physiology is there to bear out such an hypothesis? How can I more befittingly stun up this subject than by a closing reference and reply? Some have ventured to assert that the lower animals, being infinitely beneath us in the scale of being, are unfit subjects and objects for any such special and exceptional tenderness as that for which we plead. I ask, Where should we have been at this moment if this were a recognised and universally-acted-upon law in the government of God — that a being, because superior in the scale of existence, should refuse to bestow regard or interest on those who are some degrees beneath him? Is not the whole scheme of redemption one marvellous display of the condescension and kindness of one Being to those immeasurably below Him? Man's condescension to the lower animals! What is this in comparison with God's regardfulness of man? The former is but the attention and kindness of one creature to another, both springing from earth, both hastening to dissolution. But the kindness of God to the human offspring is that of the Infinite to the finite, Almightiness to nothingness, Deity to dust! Oh, if God, the great God Almighty, thus visits the guilty with tenderness, shall we visit the innocent and unoffending with cruelty and oppression? when He has thrown the shield of His merciful, but unmerited, protection over us, shall we thus requite His kindness by acting toward the humbler creatures of His hands with contempt and disdainful neglect? No! as we behold His kingdom stretching downwards from the pinnacles of glory to every living thing in the habitable parts of the earth, where from the beginning His delights have been, let us recognise the beauty and profound meaning of that magnificent vision which burst on the prophet by the river Chebar — significant exposition of the Mediator's sovereignty: the four fold resemblances or images of creature forms, of which only one was human, and the other three of the lower animals — the lion, the ox, and the eagle; while over all, in the sapphire firmament, we read, was "the likeness as the appearance of a man." It was the very truth and language of our text embodied and symbolised: the all-glorious and glorified Mediator presiding over the Kingdom of Providence, and demonstrating in the most extensive sense "His Kingdom ruleth over all"! Seeing, then, that all creatures thus wait upon Him, that He gives them their meat in due season, let the topic of our meditation (pleading, and pleading all the more earnestly for those who cannot plead for themselves) receive the loftiest enforcement by joining in with the loyal ascription of the Psalmist — "Thou hast put all things under his feet."
This Psalm is stamped with a worldwide breadth; it is of no nation, it is of all time; it shines with a light transcending that of mere human genius. We are brought face to face with these three — nature, man, and God. Here is no picture drawn from nature. This description — "Thou hast put all things under his feet" — does not, as a matter of fact, describe man's present position on the globe. All things are not put under him. He does not reign over nature, he wrestles with nature. The Psalmist is not using here the language of prophetic inspiration. He is looking back to the primitive glory, the primeval character of man as it is written upon the very first page of this book. The Bible grasps so firmly the unseen future, just because it plants its foot so strongly upon the past. Human nature did not crawl up from sentient slime; man was born with the likeness of his Father shining out from his very countenance, able to converse with God, and to render intelligent and loving obedience to God. Turn to the New Testament Scriptures. A new light, a new glory, suddenly breaks forth from them. "We see Jesus...crowned with glory and honour." In Scripture there is but one Divine right, and that is God's own right. "His Kingdom ruleth over all." This authority is the inherent, eternal right of God in the very nature of things. Is it impossible to transfer it? Is it conceivable that the Almighty God should give His glory to another? Jesus said, "All authority is given to Me in heaven and in earth." In the days of His humiliation, our Saviour constantly exercised four kinds of authority — the authority to forgive sin; the authority to declare truth; the authority to rule nature; and the authority, over human hearts and consciences — the claim of universal and absolute obedience and faith. These four are in close and inseparable moral unity.
I will praise Thee, O Lord.
In the Septuagint, this Psalm refers to the death of the Divine Son, and recites His victory over death, the grave, and all our foes.
I. THERE IS A PREDOMINANT NOTE OF PRAISE. (Vers. 1-5, 11, 12, 14.) Let us not praise with a divided, but a whole heart. It is incited by recounting all God's works. Let memory heap fuel on the altar of praise.
II. THERE IS AN ASSERTION OF TRUST. (Vers. 7-12, 18.) The oppressed, the humble, the needy, and the poor have strong encouragement. Calamity drives them to God, and so they come to know Him, and then the more they trust Him. Doubt is born of ignorance. Leave God to vindicate you; He will not forget.
III. THERE IS A PETITION FOR FURTHER HELP. (Vers. 13, 19, 20.) What a contrast between the gates of death (ver. 13), and the gates of the Holy City (ver. 14)! See Haman as illustrating ver. 15. He who lifts the righteous, hurls down the wicked. It is a sin to forget God (ver. 17).
()We should praise God more, and thank Him more often for His ceaseless goodness. How can we forget His countless benefits? Dean Alford said, "It seems to me that five minutes of real thanksgiving for the love of our dear Saviour is worth a year of hard reasoning on the hidden parts of our redemption." Of the last days of the Venerable , his disciple wrote, "He was much troubled with shortness of breath, yet without pain, before the day of our Lord's resurrection, that is, for about a fortnight, and thus he afterwards passed his life cheerful and rejoicing, giving thanks to Almighty God every day and night, nay, every hour, till the day of our Lord's ascension. He also passed all the night awake in joy and thanksgiving, unless a short sleep prevented it, in which case he no sooner awoke than he presently repeated his wonted exercises, and ceased not to give thanks to God with uplifted hands. I declare with truth that I have never seen with my eyes, or heard with my ears, any man so earnest in giving thanks to the living God."
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