Living Creatures These, as presented in Ezekiel 1-10, and Revelation 4 sq., are identical with the cherubim. Besides the general resemblance in form, position, and service, we have, Eze 10:20: "I knew that they were the cherubim." Ezekiel, being a priest, was familiar with these symbolical forms. The living ones present some variations from the cherubim, but not greater than appear in the cherubim themselves. The discussion of their forms and probable uses has already been given, and is not here resumed. SEE CHERUB. They are taken up here to give a more careful attention to their symbolical utility. The importance of these symbols is manifest, 1, in the very minute description of them; 2, in the fact that they do in some way pervade the entire period of grace, from the expulsion of Adam till, in the apocalyptic vision, we arrive at the gates of the city, having a right to the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God — such a right as man in innocence never attained. They were placed first at the front of the garden of Eden; renewed in the tabernacle; extended in the Temple; resumed in the visions of Ezekiel; incorporated in the book of Psalms; and in the prospective history of Revelation they are left with us till the end of the world. The seraphim of Isaiah (ch. 6) appear in all respects to be the same; though differing in name and in position, they perform the same service. Even the idolatrous images, the teraphim, were probably an unwarranted and superstitious imitation of the figures at the east of Eden. True, there are periods when they are under a cloud, e.g. from the Deluge till the erecting of the tabernacle; still, we dare not say they were extinct, for before the tabernacle was built in the wilderness we read of another, called the tabernacle of the congregation (Ex 33:7-11). There is much mystery about them, and many mistakes occur among expositors in relation to them.
1. They are not angels, nor do they represent the peculiar ministry of angels.
(a) The Scriptures know no such orders as angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim; the orders of angelic nature are described as thrones, dominions, principalities, powers (Col 1:16).
(b) Angelic power would have been a very ineffectual agency for offsetting the sword of flame, and was not needed to wield that sword which turns on its own axis.
(c) The living ones are distinguished from angels in Re 15:7.
(d) They join the elders in the new song, "Hast redeemed uts to God by thy blood," etc. (Re 5:9).
(e) Angels take but a small part in the direct administration of grace; they rather point the inquirer, and furnish assistance to the administrator (Ac 10:3; Re 1:1; 1Ch 21:18; Ac 12:7).
2. Nothing vindictive or judicial belongs to them.
(a) There is no need of such power; the sword and the fire embody the whole power of justice.
(b) We never find them executing judgment, though they concur in it when executed.
(c) They warn of danger from divine justice (Isa 6:3-5).
(d) They call attention to justice (Re 6:1,3,5,7).
(e) They deliver the commission to those who execute it (Eze 10:2,7; Re 15:7).
(f) They join in celebrating the triumph over the victims of judgment (Re 19:4). Very different is their function in the administration of grace; there they make application of the remedy to the very spot (Isa 6:6-7).
3. They are not devoid of human sympathy.
(a) They have the face of a man.
(b) They have the hands of a man under their wings (Eze 1:8).
(c) When the prophet was alarmed ("undone"), one of them brought him instant relief-just such relief as he felt in need of.
(d) The throne which they bear has a man above upon it (Eze 1:26).
(e) In Re 4:6, we find them in the midst of the same throne, and round about it.
(f) They associate with the elders in sympathy with the one hundred and forty-four thousand who sing the new song (Re 14:3), and with the Church in celebrating the overthrow of her enemies (Re 19:4). They thus abound in the sympathies of a redeemed humanity.
(I.) In general terms they represent mercy, as contradistinguished from justice.
1. They are distinct from the sword, as already shown. If, in Eze 1:6, they seem to be evolved out of the fire, this is no more than we have already in the first promise, where the death of death is our life; and in Ps 135:10 sq.
2. They were united to the ἱλαστήριον, the mercy-seat itself.
3. They belong to the holy of holies, both the larger figures of olive-tree, and the smaller of pure gold; but this chamber was a type of heaven (Heb 9:24).
4. Other cherubic emblems were wrought on the inner curtains of the tabernacle, and inner walls of the Temple, both Solomon's and Ezekiel's (1Ki 6:29; Eze 41:18-20). All is mercy inside of the Temple.
5. The like figures were made on the washstands of the Temple, interspersed with lions and oxen (1Ki 7:29; "lions and palm-trees," verse 36; comp. Eph 5:26; Tit 3:5).
6. The firmament over their heads, with its throne and man upon it (Eze 1:26-27, combines Ex 24:10 with Re 1:15).
7. The iris surrounding all this glory of the Lord puts on the finish to that institution where mercy rejoices against judgment (Eze 1:28).
(II.) They seem to represent mercy in its dispensation, so to speak — in its instrumentalities, with all their interesting and happy varieties. While the sword — the whole power of justice, deters man from entering the earthly paradise; drives men away in their wickedness; awakes against the Shepherd; torments enemies in the second death; on the contrary, the living ones represent the entire administration of mercy (Eze 1:12: "Whither the spirit was to go, they went;" verse 20: "Thither was their spirit to go"). Whether an organized Church, an open Bible, an altar, or a temple; whether patriarchs or prophets, priests or presbyters; apostles, John the Baptist, or Christ himself; evangelists, pastors, or teachers; whether angelic messengers, or little children, be the instrumentalities in dispensing the grace of God, the qualities of cherubim are, and ought to be, the characteristics with which they are imbued: the courage and power of the lion; the patience and perseverance of the ox; the sublimity, rapidity, and penetration of the eagle; with the sympathetic love and prudent forecast of our own humanity; each one full of eyes, within and without (Eph 4:16). In this view they do, as it were, bring God near to men.
(III.) The cherubim, in this dispensation of mercy, bring out prominently the idea of the throne of God the throne of grace (Eze 1:26: "Likeness of a throne"). In Ps 99:1, "The Lord reigneth" is parallel with "inhabiting the cherubim." Both in the tabernacle and Temple the Shekinah was between the two cherubim, which seemed to constitute, with the lid of the ark, the very throne itself, according to Ex 25:22, and Eze 43:7. In the versions of Ezekiel, the chertubim seem to support the throne; in Isa 6:2, and Re 4:6-9, they appear as attendants. To the English reader the seraphim might seem to be above the throne, but the original places them above the Temple, in which position they may still be below the throne, for the skirts of his robe flow down and fill the holy house.
(IV.) The idea of carrying the throne, or bearing royalty in his throne from one place to another, brings us to the acme of the whole cherubic system — "the chariot of the Lord." The key-note of this is given in 1Ch 28:18: " Gold for the pattern of the chariot.... the cherubim that spread out their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord;" compare Ps 18:10: "He rode upon a cherub;" and Hab 3:8,13,15. These figures constituted a "moving throne." SEE CREATURE.