The Cherubim and the Seraphim
Revelation 1:9; 4:1-3, 6-8
The divine resources are infinite-precious truth indeed, and this is known to faith. By nature we all look upon what is outward (1 Sam. 16:7) but the apostle reminds us that the things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). Job therefore can say, "I know that Thou canst do every thing" (Job 42:2). Paul also could say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). These are words to weigh. But both Job and Paul had to pass through various exercises and much suffering before they made these bold affirmations of faith. Job is the one who pictures Israel's future history before the nation is brought into millennial blessing, and Paul is the model Christian, as well as Jew "born out of due time." The simple formula therefore is always true. God's resources are infinite, but the schooling of God, and faith's apprehension of the fact, is antecedent to learning the lesson.
In the present article we would like to look at three saints who found themselves in difficult situations, and to whom the Lord graciously made known aspects of His government. In each case the disclosure made a deep impression on them for their encouragement. The first of these was an old man, John on Patmos. The second was Ezekiel, a young man at the river Chebar. The third was the prophet Isaiah early in his ministry. Let us consider them in turn.
John was an exile, away from Father's house and the many mansions of which he had written in John 14. He is the one who gives us the last word concerning the departure and apostasy of Christendom, foretold by himself and other New Testament writers. He also tells us of God's ultimate purpose in blessing. His personal circumstances were anything but comfortable-"your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus" (Rev. 1:9, J.N.D. Trans.). Such an one "became in the Spirit on the Lord's day," set free from all that would hinder his reception of the divine mind.
For the moment we limit ourselves to the prophetic glimpse given him of the history of the Christian testimony in responsibility closing with Laodicea, the door shut and our precious Lord outside. To John was granted to see a door opened in heaven and to hear a voice like a trumpet saying, "Come up hither." Further, being in the Spirit, he entered in and wrote what he saw. Chapter 4 of the Revelation is sometimes called the chapter of the throne, and chapter 5 the chapter of the book. They are chapters which introduce the things which must shortly come to pass.
We limit ourselves at this time to the throne, that fitting symbol of the divine administration. Need we say our God has always had things under control? Faith knows it well! Even the Gentile monarchs had to learn that "the heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:26. See also verses 32 and 37). Up to the present time, however, that rule has been secret and hidden. Very soon it will be manifest. And when that day comes (very soon we do believe) there will be certain accompaniments, as Revelation 4 plainly declares. Let us be quite sure we get the message clearly and distinctly. "Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy (God's) throne" (Psa. 89:14). The four living creatures (v. 6, J.N.D. Trans.) are clearly connected with the judicial and governmental authority of the throne and we shall see that the same functions are connected with the cherubim and the seraphim. Briefly stated, the cherubim seem directly connected with God's righteousness and the seraphim with God's holiness.
For the moment we would notice that the angels are not referred to in chapter 4 but are separately distinguished in chapter 5. It is fair to assume that the four living creatures therefore include the activity of angels as the following chapters in the Book of Revelation plainly show. It is necessary to remember that the activities of the cherubim have already been indicated in Scripture, in two very significant passages. In Genesis 3:22-24, when sin entered the world, man was driven out of the garden and God in His wisdom and grace placed "cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." How terrible it would have been if sinful man had been allowed to live for ever in a world marked by sin and death and peopled by men with a nature that hates God! Thankful we are to be "driven out" and preserved from such misery! Like Job we also "would not live alway" in our present conditions (Job 7:16). The second reference to the cherubim is in Exodus 25:17-22. Readers will recall that in that chapter we have the most perfect type of our blessed Lord, an inanimate one, the Ark. Made of shittim wood (setting forth His incorruptible, perfect Manhood) and overlaid without and within with pure gold (His proper Deity), the Ark had within it the two tables of stone, reminding us of His divine ability to maintain and establish God's will in both heaven and earth. Upon the Ark was the Mercy Seat made of pure gold, and at its two ends, two cherubim also made of gold, beaten work, "of the mercy seat" i.e. forming part of it. These two cherubim stretched forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat, their faces toward one another and looking toward the mercy seat. On that mercy seat once a year, on the day of atonement (Lev. 16), blood from the sin offering was carried into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled once upon, and seven times before that mercy seat. The eyes of the cherubim therefore in this Scripture are not looking outward, as they will be in a coming day-the day when God's judgments are in the earth.
At the present time their eyes are inward, toward the blood, and God is speaking to the world in grace. He can do so righteously because of the efficacy of Christ's finished work-the blood which lays the foundation for all blessing (1 John 1:7). We do well to recall at all times that there is no single Christian blessing today which is not administered by and through Christ in glory:- Remission of sins (Acts 2:36-38); Salvation (Acts 4:11-12); Justification (Acts 13:38-39); Peace with God and access (Rom. 5:1-2). The list can be greatly lengthened. We boast and joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have received the reconciliation (Rom. 5:10).
It is helpful to see these features of the cherubim (and the seraphim later) in connection with the four living creatures in the Book of Revelation. John, as the last of the writers of the New Testament, was living at a time when first love was being left and the state of world (Christian or otherwise) already called for judgment. John tells us of things which "must (d e i ) shortly come to pass." It is a great thing to know that God has all the resources necessary to accomplish His own gracious designs, but it is even more wonderful that the saint can be in restful conditions to contemplate this divine programme. In Revelation 1:17, in the light of the glory of the Son of Man-in judicial character-John fell at His feet as dead. But Christ's hand was laid upon him and well known words sounded in his ears, "Fear not." From this vantage point, fully persuaded that God was for him and not against him, he is capacitated to take in the most complete and exact details of God's interventions both as to the world in judgment and the saints in blessing.
It is precisely here that the cherubim and the seraphim, as seen in the four living creatures, come into action. The cherubim as we have seen, seem more particularly connected with God's righteousness, and the seraphim with God's holiness (see Isaiah 6:3). Righteousness seems to be the prominent thought in Revelation chapter 6 to 11:18. Here God is dealing with the nations and political issues are prominent. The judgments come under the heading of seals and trumpets. But in the section 11:19 to 19 Israel, the trinity of evil, Babylon the harlot,-in other words the religious element, is more prominent, and judgments proceed not from the throne but from the temple. (See 14:15, 17; 15:5-8; 16:1 and 16:17 where both are mentioned). To repeat, it is not God's righteousness that is here so much emphasised but God's holiness, and consequently we get the more severe and more intensive judgments seen in the vials or bowls (J.N.D. Trans.), and the final intervention is by the Lord Himself from heaven (ch. 19:11). It is after the scene is cleared in judgment and Satan consigned to the bottomless pit that we have the detailed description of the one thousand years reign of the Lord with His saints, and ultimately the eternal state.
To all these details we can only make reference very briefly. Our purpose rather is to emphasise the divine ability to carry out His purpose precisely according to the clear testimony of Scripture. In Revelation 4 we have the throne, and One that sits upon it-God Himself. In chapter 5 we have the book, a lion and a lamb, one capable of carrying every aspect of divine purpose to fruition. What encouragement for John! What encouragement for us! The cherubim and the seraphim are only part of the divine resource, but when the Lord arises from His Father's throne who can withstand Him? Well may we rejoice.
The Cherubim and the Seraphim (2)
Ezekiel 1:1-12, 24, 26
(Continued from page 21)
Our earlier meditation concerned an old man, John, on the isle of Patmos, and the visions given to him, recorded in the Book of Revelation, were not only an encouragement for him but for ourselves also. He, like ourselves, was told of things which "must shortly come to pass." The present study concerns a young man, also in difficult circumstances. It seems he was one of the captives carried away by Nebuchadnezzar in the deportation of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:11-16) and was thus contemporary with Jeremiah and Daniel. His prophecy begins in the 5th year of this captivity and therefore precedes the final sack of Jerusalem under Zedekiah which came about 12 years later. His service was to show why it was necessary to deal severely with Israel for their sins, and it is evident that his condemnations are much more severe than Jeremiah's. On the other hand his prophecies of future glory as seen in Ezekiel 40-48 are also much more complete than Jeremiah's. To fulfil this ministry he was granted this most amazing vision in the opening chapter. His name means "the strength of God," and how he needed (and we also need) that kind of strength!
A simple reading of Ezekiel 1 may seem to present insurmountable difficulties. The message comes to us in the language of prophetic symbol, and we have to interpret the symbols in the way Scripture uses them elsewhere. Without pretending to explain every detail, a great deal thus becomes clear as we patiently go down the verses. We notice the heavens were opened, exactly as in Revelation 4. Instead of being occupied with, and distracted by, external circumstances, he lifts up his eyes and sees what God is doing, and what an encouragement this is at all times (2 Cor. 4:18)! Thus he sees visions of God, precisely as did John in Revelation 4 and 5. Then the prophet sees, as we shall see, the divine resources which are more than adequate to bring to pass all God's gracious designs. There is blessing, but also judgment upon every element contrary to God's righteousness and holiness. We read the "word of the Lord came expressly upon him." As a priest his normal service was to minister to the Lord. Now, in this special situation, the Lord ministered to him in precisely the same way as He ministers to us in our day. The word of the Lord "came alive" to him in a very special way, a new revelation. We do not need any new revelation today but we do need to get the real gain of what has already been laid up for us in the precious pages of God's holy Word. And finally the hand of the Lord was upon him as was the case with John in Revelation 1:17. This touch of power and love enabled both John and Ezekiel, with attentive hearts and minds, to hear and communicate the Lord's mind for His people.
As we proceed in the chapter it is possible to get some aspects of the passage quite clearly. Ezekiel saw a whirlwind coming out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself. When we recall that Ezekiel prophesied about 5 years before the final downfall of Jerusalem it is evident the Lord was speaking about the forthcoming invasion of the Babylonians. The prophet explains that it was the hand of God which was moving them. Our God is a consuming fire and God was to deal with the sins of the nation in a very complete way, the city overwhelmed, the temple destroyed, and the glory of God to depart. reluctantly, but nevertheless absolutely. From this time God's seat was to be removed from Jerusalem and we have the commencement historically of the times of the Gentiles. How painful this must have been for those divinely taught who knew that the children of Israel were God's chosen people! Little wonder we find expressions of the deepest feeling in the three contemporary prophets of this time, Jeremiah with his Lamentations, Daniel with his tears, and Ezekiel with his terrible denunciations! We notice that in this vision the fire infolds itself, infolding in contrast with unfolding. Presently God's judgments in Ezekiel's (and indeed in our own) day will be unfolded for all to see and what devastations will He accomplish in this poor world! But in the meantime God's secret is with them that fear Him (Psa. 25:14). Surely, says the prophet Amos (3:7), the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets. Judgment however is God's strange work (Isa. 28:21) and the judgments here, as after, are anticipatory of final blessing. Jeremiah speaks of this particularly in Jeremiah 31:31-34 in connection with the New Covenant, and also in his prophecies relative to the 70 years captivity in Babylon (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10), promises which Daniel laid hold upon in Daniel chapter 9 verse 2. Ezekiel looks forward to final blessing, especially in chapters 40 to 48, with the building and function of the Millennial temple. The promise of chapter 43:1-5, fulfilled in Psalm 24:7-10, could perhaps be mentioned in this regard. But there is something even more wonderful in this passage upon which we must now dwell. Present chastisements and future glory are themselves tremendous considerations, but is there no support and encouragement for faith in the meantime? Indeed there is, and it is found in the four living creatures, the cherubim. These are the executors of God's government, and the detail is complementary to the picture already given in Revelation 4. It is to be remembered that God's gracious designs, as well as the programme of chastisement and judgment, is to be accomplished in a warfare not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the universal lords of this darkness, against spiritual (power) of wickedness in the heavenlies (Eph. 6:12). The faces of these creatures, in picture language, tell us of the divine resource. Man speaks of intelligence and wisdom, the lion of strength (it turneth not aside for any), the ox of patient continuance till the work is done, and the eagle of speed in movement. When we bring in such divine resources it is easy to see how easily the battle is won. To quote the thought of another, God can out-think, out-do, out-last and out-manoeuvre every device of the adversary, and we can readily understand how these living creatures went "straight forward," they "turned not when they went." Our God is quietly and effectively moving on to His clearly stated conclusion. Furthermore, the various details which are given in this chapter not only inspire the soul with the awfulness of having to do with God, bringing terror indeed for all who oppose, but also bring courage and comfort to those who know their God. For, as we draw to the close of this chapter, the connection of this chapter with our meditations in chapter 4 of Revelation is clearly stated. Above the heads of the living creatures was a firmament, described here as the colour of the terrible crystal, possibly a reminder of Exodus 24:10. Above the firmament was a throne (v. 26) certainly a reminder of the throne of Revelation 4. Finally, upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness of the appearance of a Man above upon it, and I think we all know who that sets forth, the One who at the present moment is waiting and who presently will come as King of kings and Lord of lords with universal dominion.
Perhaps this is enough for the moment. The object in the present article is to understand the impact of this vision upon the young man Ezekiel, in difficult circumstances, and entrusted with a difficult mission. We can feel sympathetic with him and also find comfort as we find ourselves in somewhat similar circumstances, perilous times indeed, and awaiting our soon coming Lord.
The Cherubim and the Seraphim (3)
In the two previous articles we considered a little the cherubim as a matter of encouragement for John, an old man on Patmos, and then in connection with Ezekiel, a young man, a captive in the hands of the Babylonians. We shall now consider Isaiah at the outset of his ministry. He was given what we may call an evangelical commission. His very name means "the salvation of Jehovah." In the sixth chapter he was given a sight of the Lord and of the seraphim, and that sight prepared him for his service.
In our earlier meditations we observed that the cherubim speak of God's power in government, and they may be called the executors of divine righteousness. The seraphim stand rather in relation to God's nature, and may be called the guardians of His holiness. The word seraphim only occurs here in Scripture but it is a cognate word. Seraph is of frequent occurrence and it means "to burn." Our God is a consuming fire and we find seraph for example in connection with the sin and trespass offerings which were "wholly consumed" on the altar, whereas the burnt offerings and peace offerings "ascended to God as a sweet smelling savour." It is therefore easy to understand what an awe-inspiring experience it was for Isaiah when he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filling the temple. It is at this point we read, "Above it stood the seraphims," and details are given. "Holy, holy, holy," is their cry, "the whole earth is full of His glory," and, "the house was filled with smoke," a reminder perhaps of Revelation 15:8 when the temple, in vision, was filled with the smoke of judgment and "no man was able to enter into the temple." Again we say, a solemn sight indeed, and its effect upon Isaiah was profound. The words of another seem best to describe his experience: "The hidden chambers of his heart were flung open, its secret springs of action were revealed, and the deep foundations of his character were laid bare." Well might he say, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."
Some may say that this is appropriate for Isaiah, and for his day, but while this is true we ourselves can profit from this experience. John 12:41 would encourage us to approach the story with reverence because we are plainly told Isaiah "saw His glory, and spake of Him." And who is He in the context of John 12:41? Well we know it, Jesus our Lord, King of kings, and Lord of lords, and more beside!
We have said that Isaiah is the evangelical prophet, and so he is. He brings the word of salvation to God's people, first to show them their true condition before God, and then to show them God's remedy in Christ. "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people" (Isa. 40:1). And how? By the presentation of Jehovah's servant, in the four servant songs as they are called-Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:4-9; 50:4-9 and 52:13-53:12, a wonderful story indeed. God's love for His earthly people, quite inexplicable (Deut. 7:7), is very real nevertheless, reaching down to the lowest depths (Isa. 53), and carrying them to the highest heights as is plainly shown in the closing chapters of Isaiah's prophecy. But if Isaiah is to bring this weighty message to the nation, Isaiah must be in accord with his message. And this is precisely where his commission in the sixth chapter becomes so interesting and important for us.
In the evangelical eighth chapter of Acts, where the Ethiopian eunuch was converted, we find 3 people going out of sight. First Simon the magician goes out of sight in judgment (vv. 18-23), then the eunuch goes out of sight in baptism (v. 38) and finally Philip the evangelist is caught away (v. 39) and the eunuch saw him no more. He went on his way rejoicing, in figure seeing "no man, save Jesus only." If God intervenes on behalf of His beloved people, He will not share His glory with another, and Isaiah must also go out of sight. This is the great lesson of self-judgment, and Isaiah and all others must learn this lesson too. It is when the prophet takes his true position before God in nothingness, we get the divine activity seen in the seraphim, the live coal, the altar, the tongs and finally the touching of Isaiah's lips. All this was necessary! In the fifth chapter woes were pronounced by Isaiah on others, a comparatively easy thing to do, and sometimes quite attractive to the flesh. To pronounce woes on self is quite a different matter, difficult and unacceptable to the flesh, but it is the essential prelude to successful service. Job (ch. 42), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:28), Daniel (chs. 9 and 10), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9), John (Rev. 1:17), and many more, ancient and modern, have trodden this path, and needless to say, they map out the path for our feet also, if we are to be of any use in the testimony. Nor should we overlook that Isaiah's commission was not an easy one, or just for a day or so. Understandably he asked, "Lord, how long?" "Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate. But. a tenth. shall return." This is one of the first mentions, we suppose, to a remnant in days of departure. Is not the relevance of this abundantly plain for the day in which we live? Is it necessary to rehearse the sad departure from God even in our days, in the course of our own lifetimes? And what of the future? Isaiah was told that a remnant of his people would remain, and we too in our day can lift up our prayer for the remnant that is left! (Isa. 37:4). Our hope surely lies in walking in the steps of Isaiah so clearly delineated. As the hymn writer has written: "Him exalting, self abasing, This is victory."
We conclude this short series of articles with a brief recapitulation of the ground covered. Cherubim and seraphim have been our subject, cherubim the universal executors of God's righteous government, and the seraphim the adequate guardians of God's supreme holiness. Three worthies were brought into immediate contact with what they represent. The old man John and the young man Ezekiel were encouraged, and Isaiah the prophet was commissioned. May we all profit from their experiences and confront the closing days of the church's history on earth with unbounded confidence in the God of infinite resources. Amen.