Meditations from Ezekiel: 4. The Nature of Cherubim
Ezek 1:10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.
We are, we must remember, considering a vision and we have already noted that the things Ezekiel sees are beyond his understanding and experience and so the most common word he uses to describe what he sees is ‘like’. But it is a prophetic vision and prophecy either simply declares the glory and greatness of the Lord or it declares His intentions. Moreover prophecy often declares the truth in picture or symbolic form and so when we come to the things before us now, we have to ask, what is this picture or this part of the picture seeking to convey to us?
Pictures of Cherubim: We are considering these ‘four living creatures’ who take up so much of chapter 1 and we have noted that Ezek 10:1,2 identifies these four living creatures as cherubim, i.e. angels, but the descriptions here are nothing like those that we would normally attribute to angels. So let’s suggest that what we have here in this vision is a prophetic picture conveying truths about these ‘angels’. So what do we see?
The description starts, “In appearance their form was that of a man.” (v.5) That is an easy starting place because that is the image we normally have of angels, they come in human form. Yet the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve.” (Heb 1:14) Even as God is Spirit, so angels are actually ministering spirits from heaven who, when sent to earth to serve the purposes of God, come in human form. It continues, “but each of them had four faces and four wings.” (v.6) More is said about both their faces and their wings in a moment so we’ll leave the comment.
Their Legs & Feet: “Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze.” Straight legs identify them with human beings who, although we have knee joints, transport ourselves mostly straightly and straight usually denotes directness or purpose and it is true that angels go with purpose of God. When they serve God they are always purposeful. But then this symbolic, prophetic picture shows feet of a calf. Malachi once prophesied, “you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Mal 4:2) Those who live on a farm with animals will testify to the calves who, when let loose from the pen, often prance around. They have an agility, an ability to be light footed, they are secure on their feet. But their feet also “gleamed like burnished bronze.” Burnished bronze speaks of strength and hardness. These beings can go anywhere without fear of what they tread on. To summarise, these creatures, these angels, move with God’s purpose, move with lightness and agility and are able to go anywhere. It is that simple.
Their Wings: Reference to their wings is spread out through the chapter so let’s group all the references together: “each of them had … four wings…..” (v.6) Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another….” (v.8,9) Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body…. (v.11) ….. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body…. (v.23)
Now when we look at birds, wings speak of movement, of flight, and associated with these verses we also find, “Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved…. (v.9)… Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went….. (v.12) When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.” (v.24) So their wings show us that these are not merely stationary guards but they are creatures of great movement: “The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning,” (v.14) and one might suggest from what we have learnt earlier that they go quickly to perform the will of God for the sake of the elect and their movement is quick and immediate. Note in verse 11, they go “Wherever the spirit would go.” They go as the Spirit leads.
Their Faces: We now come to the really strange aspects of these pictures. “Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces.” (v.10,11) OK, remember, it is just a symbolic prophetic picture. What do each of these animals suggest to us? Man = humanity. A lion = strength and a ruler (king of the jungle). An Ox = service & work (an Ox is a beast of burden used to pull ploughs, carts etc.) An Eagle = revelation (an eagle soars high and sees all.) The face of the man (their humanity) predominates because it is at ‘the front’ so, as we’ve already learnt, they go to do the will of God for humanity but in so doing they go with the strength rule and authority of God (Lion), they go to serve (Ox), and they go with revelation (Eagle). Isn’t it simple and straight forward! As long as you remember it is simply a symbolic prophetic picture.
Why? So why is it like this? Well perhaps we might suggest that God does not share his pearls with swine (Mt 7:6) and so understanding of these things will only be given to those who seek Him and really seek to know what He says. Many people will see the words and turn away confused. That’s why Jesus said he would teach in parables (read Mt 13:10-17) You bothered to read this far. Be blessed!