Did you ever notice that there is one great Bible exception to the second of the 10 Commandments? You recall that it is the one that forbids the “making for yourself any graven image or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them…” Ex. 20:4-5 The great exception is found both in our readings today in 2 Chronicles, and frequently in the Book of Ezekiel (also currently in our readings). “What is it?”, you ask? Da da Daaa…The adornment of the tabernacle – and specifically for our consideration today – The Cherubim! Let’s delve together into this mysterious and fascinating topic.
The marvelous beings called “Cherubim” stood protectively over the ark of the covenant. However, these ethereal creatures make their first appearance in the Bible when they were placed as guardians of the way to the tree of life – after Adam and Eve chose to sin, rather than to obey God. (Genesis 3:24) They do not appear again until they are part of the rather matter-of-fact instructions for the ark of the covenant (and the construction of the Tabernacle) given by God to Moses in the Wilderness. There is no great fanfare with these descriptions, perhaps because these incredible beings were well-known in oral tradition from the time of Creation. Like those in the Garden, these beings depicted on the mercy seat are guarding against unholy intrusion and protecting a sacred and holy place of God’s presence (now in heaven rather than directly with men as was the case in the Garden). We find the Ark of the Covenant details about cherubim in Exodus 25 (among other places.) This chapter describes the ark with cherubim on top at either end with “their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another, the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat.” vv.19-20 Apparently the amazing craftsman, Bezalel, had direct inspiration from God as he designed these beautiful symbolic sculptures. Ex. 37:7-9 It was here “between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony” that God spoke to Moses “about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” Ex. 25:22
This is the same ark, with its Cherubim-covered mercy seat, that is now being enthroned (400+ years later) in a new temple supplied by King David and built by, his son, King Solomon. Here we find a second set of Cherubim to grace the Most Holy Place, commissioned by Solomon and overlaid with gold. These “stand on their feet” 10 cubits high (15 ft.), with sets of wings with 20 cubit (30 ft) wingspans touching both walls and each other’s wings. 1 Kings 6:23, 2 Chron 3:10-14 Cherubim are a repeated motif in the veil that is woven of “violet, purple, crimson and fine linen, and he worked cherubim in it.” v.14 The walls too, were carved with “cherubim on the walls” which were overlaid with gold. v.7 So we have a set of cherubim looking down at the ark from on top of the mercy seat. We have a magnificent larger set standing on the floor spreading “their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering over the ark and its poles.” 2 Chron 5:7-8 Cherubim sparkle on the walls. We have other multi-hued cherubim with their wings “flying” all around on the beautiful woven veil dividing the inner sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. We also have golden Cherubim flying across the olive wood entrance doors of the inner sanctuary. 1 Kings 6:32 They even adorned the bronze wheeled bases (“stands”) used for the10 water basins in the courtyard of the temple. 1 Kings 7:29, 36 Truly a plethora of cherubim gracefully flew throughout the Temple – with the most majestic of all towering over the Ark of the Covenant!
Other Bible passages give us further clues about the Cherubim. Ezekiel expands our understanding of these beings by telling us that they are “living beings” with heads and multiple faces. Ez. 10:14-15, 20 Their faces are thought to represent power and wisdom – in the forms of lion, man, ox and eagle. cp. Rev. 4:7 They are also associated with the movement of God – often depicted with “whirling wheels” next to them. Ez. 10:15, 20 They have close connotations with wind, light and fire. The Psalms describe them as “the wings of the wind” in a powerful storm, and as light “shining forth”. Ps. 18:10-14, 80:1, 99:1 In Ezekiel there is fire extracted from between Cherubim. Ezekiel 10:6-7 The pattern of the temple given by inspiration to David includes the “gold for the model of the chariot, even the Cherubim that spread out their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” 1 Chron. 28:18-19 The glory of God is always enthroned above this amazing heavenly chariot. cp. Is. 37:16, 1 Sam. 4:4 Cherubim-chariots may tie in to the chariot of fire that transported the prophet Elijah, as well as the great army of the Lord’s chariots that surrounded and miraculously delivered Elisha and the people of Dothan from the King of Aram. 2 Kings 2:11, 6:17
I encourage you to do your own in-depth study and meditation on these magnificent celestial beings. Until then, what are some lessons we can draw from our Bible exposure to these God-ministering spirits? They are elusive and infrequent in their appearance, but gravely important in the symbolism and message they send to our dispensation. You remember at the outset of this discussion I noted that these carvings and depictions in the tabernacle/Temple were the single exceptions to God’s condemnation of graven images. While God Himself is not depicted, He is always described as sitting on His throne above the Cherubim. They seem to be as close as we humans can get to the presence of the Living God. The necessary guardians/gateway/protectors for the most intimate place where God meets and communes with mortal, sinful men. In fact, they also seem to be the marvelous conveyance by which God moves between His dwelling Place in Heaven, and His contact with His Creation. His Living Chariots, if you will. And He wanted us to know about them. They represent His powerful movement between heaven and earth; between immortality and mortality. They play a key role in the intimacy He desires with His people – people of faith who hear His voice utter forth from between the Cherubim. They usher His glorious presence in with fire, wind and hovering, fluttering, sheltering wings. I found it interesting to discover in my exploration of this topic that even more elusive angelic beings – the Seraphim – stand above God calling out about His glory while the Cherubim are below Him, doing the same. Is. 6:2-3 And – equally wonderful to contemplate – the exalted Lord Jesus currently sits next to His Father – also surrounded by these spectacular beings!
And ultimately Jesus becomes the crux of this study. Because the way these beings filter the interaction between the Divine Presence – the voice and glory that hover above them – and the humans that approach, is by looking where? Not up to God Himself, as we might expect, but down, remember? Down at the mercy seat. Ex. 25:20 And the only interaction at that place was on the special Day of Atonement when individual and national sin was confessed and forgiven. A cloud of incense (representing the prayer of the saints) rises “to cover the mercy seat”. Rev. 5:8, Lev. 16:13 And that mercy seat is gold, in a room completely covered in gold – which represents refined faith. 1 Peter 1:7 And this is where God meets man. Between these hovering also golden beings as they all look to the blood sprinkled by the High Priest on and in front of the mercy seat of the ark of God’s unalterable covenant with man. Lev. 16:14-15, 33-34 A covenant to save – through the sacrifice of the unblemished Lamb of God who made life out of death possible for each one of us because His Father loved and he obeyed. Blood sprinkled, sins forgiven, reconciliation between God and man. The relationship of Eden restored – with the Cherubim no longer wielding a flaming sword to separate. Beautiful beyond words, isn’t it?
And why so many Cherubim in that holy place? Perhaps to remind us God moves powerfully and quickly on His living chariot to love and to save those who would meet with Him. Perhaps because He is always to be surrounded by beings who do His will and minister to His people. Heb. 1:14 Perhaps because they show us we must magnify His majesty, His holiness, His power and His glory. In Revelation we are told the Cherubim call out to give glory and honor and thanks, and they do not cease to say;
Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!
Sadly, over time, men did take these stories and descriptions and convert them into the false gods of nations like the Phoenicians, Babylonians and Assyrians who had winged lion and griffin-like idols they worshipped. Even the Israelites fell prey to breaking the second Commandment and worshipping the “creature rather than the Creator” as it says in Romans 1. As good Bible students, however,we do not “exchange the truth of God for a lie”. Rom 1:25 We know the origin of the cherubim. We know they were intended to emphasize the sacred place of God’s desire to dwell among men. And that being the case, the demand for beings that fill that place with movement, praise, glory, thanks, protection, light, wind, faith and forgiven sin is inherent in His nature, and in what He would desire such a holy place teach us. May we revere His Holiness as though we walk into this solemn and beautiful Holy of Holies each day with its lessons a deep part of our lives. Because, through Jesus’ blood, we too can commune with God at a seat of abundant mercy under the wings of mighty Cherubim, joining them and other angelic beings in the worshiping chorus:
Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed and were created.
I just so happened to be listening to the Sons of Korah singing this song as I was writing this treatise today. Hope you take the opportunity to enjoy their amazing composition of Psalm 99 as you think on these things: