November 1st, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 9; Exodus 25:18
11-1-59 7:30 p.m.
Now, the sermon tonight was a part of the sermon this morning, but I could not begin to encompass it in thirty minutes so I broke it up. And the sermon this morning was on The Mercy Seat, and a part of the mercy seat was the cherubim – an integral part of it – beaten out of the same solid gold, an extension of it on either end: the cherubim [Exodus 25:17-20].
And we’re going to read in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Exodus: Exodus 25, Exodus 25:17-22 – Exodus, chapter 25, verse 17 through verse 22; Exodus 25, verse 17; Genesis, Exodus – the second book in the Bible – chapter 25, 17 through 22. Now, together:
And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.
And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them in the two ends of the mercy seat.
And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end; even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.
And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.
And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark, and in the ark thou shalt put the Testimony that I shall give thee.
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
All of you who have looked at this King James Version will notice it that they spell it here "cherubims" – "s, cherubims." That was a mistake that came through the Greek translation in the Septuagint. The Greek word is kerub, kerub. In the singular, you make a "ch" out of it – "cherub." The Greek word is kerub; and the plural, the Hebrew word, is cherub; and the plural in the Hebrew is "im," like you’d had a seraph – a seraph, plural "seraphim" [Isaiah 6:2], the "Nephilim" [Genesis 6:4].
Now, cherub, cherubim: in the Septuagint, the translators got the idea that cherubim was singular. I do not know why. So in the English King James version, when they used the word "cherubim" and made it plural, they put an "s" on it.
It is already plural. The singular is "cherub," kerub; the plural is "cherubim," and to put an "s" on the plural is redundant. It is superfluous. And in all the other translations, that mistake has been corrected. The only place you’ll find "cherubims" is in the King James Version of the Bible, and the "s" ought to be struck off. It is a "cherub." It is the "cherubim,""i" – "im, im." "And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them in the two ends of the mercy seat" [Exodus 25:18].
Beyond the veil was this ark of the covenant [Exodus 26:33-34] which epitomized, which summarized, the entire tabernacle which revealed the grace of God in Jesus. And the most important of all of the pieces, whether we include the brazen altar [Exodus 27:1-3]and the brazen laver in the court [Exodus 30:17-19], or the seven-branch lampstand [Exodus 25:31-37], the golden table of showbread [Exodus 25:23-30], or the golden altar of prayer [Exodus 30:1-10], or the veil [Exodus 26:31-34]or the ark [Exodus 25:10-22] – the most important of all of the pieces of the tabernacle was the mercy seat [Exodus 25:17-22]: placed above the ark containing the Ten Commandments of God upon which was placed – was sprinkled, was poured – the blood of atonement, and, on either end of the mercy seat, the cherubim with their wings overshadowing it, looking full down upon the blood of the covenant.
The cherubim appear often in the Word of God, and for us even to begin a presentation of the cherubim as they are presented in the Bible would be to take hours of theological discussion. Just as a running glance, as an introduction, I’m going to follow through the Bible for just a few moments picking out some of the passages wherein these heavenly creations appear.
In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis:
Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken.
So God drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
That’s the first appearance of these divinely, heavenly, flaming, burning creations: guarding the way of the entrance in the Garden of Eden, to the tree of life, lest the man eat thereof and live forever [Genesis 3:22].
The second time they appear is in the passage that you have read [Exodus 25:17-22]. They were beaten out of the pure gold, overarching with their wings the propitiatory.
The next time they appear is in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Exodus [Exodus 26:1], and they are woven into the fabric of the veil [Exodus 26:31]. Whether the entrance was the court [Exodus 27:16] or the entrance was the door [Exodus 26:1] or the entrance was the veil [Exodus 26:31], into all three, made out of blue and purple and scarlet and divinely white linen, there was woven into the fabric of the curtain itself, of the veil itself, the figures of the cherubim.
In the beautiful Temple that Solomon made [2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1] and covered it – all places exposed covered with pure and solid gold [2 Chronicles 3:3-10] – within the oracle, he made two cherubim of great stature [2 Chronicles 3:10], and their wings spread through the oracle: this one on this side and this one on the other side [2 Chronicles 3:11-13]. The tip of their wings touched the walls on either side, and the inside of their wings, overshadowing, made the throne of God. And underneath the shadow of the wings of the cherubim, the ark of the covenant was placed in the Temple of Solomon [2 Chronicles 5:2-7].
In the eighteenth Psalm, David’s Psalm – a praise to God over His deliverance from death at the hands of Saul – he speaks of God: "God bowed the heavens, and came down and darkness was under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind" [Psalm 18:9-10]. There the cherub is referred to as bearing up the throne of God.
In the eightieth chapter of the Psalms, the first verse: "O Shepherd of Israel, Thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth!" [Psalm 80:1] And in the ninety-ninth Psalm: "The Lord reigneth . . . He sitteth between the cherubim . . ." [Psalm 99:1]
In the Book of Ezekiel, there is a vast, long passage to begin with in the book and in the ninth and the tenth chapters that describe in great detail the cherubim. Now, I want to pause there and point out something to you about what they look like. Josephus says in the eighth book of his Antiquities [Antiquities of the Jews, by Josephus, 93-94 CE] the third chapter, in the third paragraph, Josephus says that there were no cherubim in the Temple of Herod because, he says, it had gone out of memory what the scriptural cherubim looked like. No man, he says, could even conjecture what the cherubim looked like.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? As much as they are referred to in the Bible, and as many times as they are described in the Bible – where they were placed, how they did, and what they were – yet at no place in the Word of God were those cherubim described in how they looked. That cherub, or cherubim, that guarded the way of the tree of life [Genesis 3:24], the cherubim on either side of the ark on top of the mercy seat [Exodus 25:18-20] – in no place in the Mosaic record is there any description of these heavenly creatures.
Now when you come to the first chapter of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 1:4-26], the ninth chapter of Ezekiel, and the tenth chapter of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 10:1-22], you have long and detailed descriptions of the cherubim; and you find the same thing in the forty-second chapter of Ezekiel, and you find the same thing in the fourth and the fifth chapters of the Revelation [Revelation 4:6-11, 5:11-14]. But these that you find in Ezekiel and in the Revelation are not descriptions of the exact appearance of the cherub himself, but they are, rather, a collection of symbols that is a trial, a seeking, to portray those glorious, incomparable creatures who bear up the throne of God.
For example, in Ezekiel, the cherub will have four wings [Ezekiel 1:6]. In Revelation, the cherub will have six wings [Revelation 4:8]. In the scriptural presentation on the Bible, he has two wings in the Mosaic similitude. In the Mosaic description, he has one face. Here in Ezekiel, he has four faces [Ezekiel 1:6, 10:14]. In the Revelation, each one of the four he describes has a different kind of a face [Revelation 4:7]. So when we come to Ezekiel and to the Revelation, what they see are symbols of the great, mighty power and service and presence of this divine order of creation. They have great strength, so they use the figure of an ox [Revelation 4:7]. They have great swiftness in serving God, so they use the similitude of an eagle [Ezekiel 10:14; Revelation 4:7]. They have great sympathy with mankind; they are in the similitude of a man [Ezekiel 10:8, 14; Revelation 4:7].They have marvelous courage and power to execute the Word of God; they’re in the similitude of a lion [Ezekiel 10:14; Revelation 4:7]. But that does not mean the cherub itself looked like an ox or a lion or a man or these other appearances they use as symbols. They are describing the character of the heavenly creature himself.
Now, these cherubim, and – for an instance, may I read out of Ezekiel?
And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal . . .
And under the firmament were their wings straight, one toward another . . .
And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty . . .
And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.
And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round within them,from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. "And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of One that spake" [Ezekiel 1:28]. Then in the ninth chapter, he described the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, holding up the throne of God [Ezekiel 9:3]. And in the tenth: "I looked and behold, in the firmament there was above the head of the cherubim, there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne" [Ezekiel 10:1] holding up the throne of God. And they are described there:
The cherubim stood on the right side of the house . . .
Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory.
And the sound of the cherubim wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when He speaketh.
Then you have a description of that ideal temple that Ezekiel describes that he saw in heaven. And inside of that temple, it is decorated with a cherub and a palm tree – a cherub and a palm tree [Ezekiel 41:18-20, 25-26].
Then last of all – and hastily – in the fourth chapter of the Revelation, the apostle John sees them before the throne – always before the throne: "And before the throne there was a sea of glass, like unto crystal; in the midst of the throne and round about the throne were four" [Revelation 4:6]. And here is another. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why those men in 1611 chose to translate zōa as "beasts." The Greek word for beast is thēria – beast, a thēria, an animal, a beast – thēria. The word John uses here is zōa. Your word "zoology" comes from it: zōa, life.
"In the midst of the throne and round about the throne were four zōa" – four living, quickened, flaming servants, creatures, angels, cherubim of God [Revelation 4:6]. "And the first zōa was like a lion, the second like a calf, the third like a man, the fourth like a flying eagle" [Revelation 4:6-7]. And the four zōa, the four living ones, Ezekiel called those living ones "cherubim."
And the four cherubim had each of them six wings, full of eyes within, resting not day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty . . ."
And when those zōa, those living creatures –
those cherubim –
give glory and honor and thanks to Him that sits on the throne, wholiveth forever and ever,
The four and twenty elders representing the church of Jesus fall down and worship Him . . . saying:
"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive honor and glory and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they were and are made."
And those cherubim in glory, they sing a new song:"Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain and hast redeemed . . ."
[Revelation 4:8-11; 5:9]
Now, here again is a translation that is not correct. The way you have it translated in the King James version, they sing: "For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, and hast madeus unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth" [Revelation 5:9-10].
A cherub could not sing that. The cherubim could not sing that. They have never been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, nor are they out of the families of the earth, nor are they going to reign as kings in the earth. They are servants of the throne of God.
This is the correct translation of that: "And they sing – those cherubim sing a new song saying – ‘Thou art worthy, for Thou wast slain and hast redeemed man to God, by Thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them unto our God kings and priests; and they shall reign on the earth’" [Revelation 5:9-10]. That is the song of songs of the cherubim in glory.
Now just for a moment, I want to say a word about what they represent and what they are. The cherubim who stand in the presence of God, who day and night cry, "Holy, holy, holy," who do His bidding, who bear up the throne of the Almighty, who bear up God and God’s universe, they are always – they are always the representatives of the judgment and justice of God and the mercy and forgiveness of God: both of them together, always both of them there together in the presence of the cherubim.
You find it here when they first appear: "And God drove the man out; and He set the cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, with a flaming sword" [Genesis 3:24]. You could translate that "with the Shekinah burning and glory of the presence of God, to keep the way of the tree of life." There they are both the representatives of the judgment and the justice of God with a flaming sword guarding the way of the tree of life. The man is expelled, driven out, and the cherubim stand there to implement the decree of God that the man shall die [Genesis 2:16-17, 3:22-24]. He’s driven out from the presence of the Almighty and out of the garden of paradise.
But he also is an instrument of God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness for he guards the tree of life not against the man but for the man lest, God says, "the man put forth his hand and partake of the tree of life and live forever" [Genesis 3:22]confirmed in this body of death. In the Revelation, one of the curses that falls upon mankind is this: "That they shall seek death and not be able to find it" [Revelation 9:6].Death is a blessing, God says. For a man to be confirmed forever in this body of age and senility and disease and weakness would be to be cursed above all things a man could imagine.
What if a man could never die and he fell into the arms of cancer and he fell into the arms of terrible disease? And all eternity that is to come, he would be confined and confirmed to live in a body of death and decay and disease and senility. If you ever have somebody whom you love to be stricken down, and they linger and linger and do not die, and in pain and in agony, with their mind gone and their bodies senile and decrepit, you’ll understand what it means when Paul says: "To die is a gain." [Philippians 1:21]
"Lest," says God, "the man reach forth his hands and partake of the tree of life and live forever" [Genesis 3:22] confirmed in the body of death. The cherubim, in mercy, were placed at the Garden of Eden that the man might inherit the spiritual kingdom of God, a better body in the resurrection, a better fellowship, a better home. There, at the east side of the Garden of Eden, the Shekinah glory of God burn – translated in one place here "the flaming sword" [Genesis 3:24].
There, the cherubim on either side, and there they made their offerings unto God. There they came and sacrificed to the Lord, and there the Lord communed with them from between the cherubim, on the east side of the Garden of Eden – the identical and exact thing that you find in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Exodus [Exodus 25:10-22].
There they are again [Exodus 25:10-22]: the avengers of God, the judgment of God, above the ark of the covenant guarding the moral government and the throne of God. And yet there they are still again, in mercy and in forgiveness, looking full upon the propitiatory, upon the mercy seat and the blood of atonement and the forgiveness. And they are signs of the keeping government of God expressed in His moral law. They are signs, also, of the forgiving mercy of God in the blood that is sacrificed, the life that is forfeit, poured out before God as an atonement for our sins – the cherubim above the moral commandments of God which we have broken and looking upon the blood of atonement that covers our sins away.
What can wash away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
[from "Nothing but the Blood," by Robert Lowry, 1876]
The dying thief rejoiced to see the fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.
[from"There is A Fountain Filled With Blood," by William Cowper, 1772]
The covering of all of our transgressions and our guilt. And that’s the same thing you find in their song in the Revelation: "And they sang a new song, ‘O glory to God,’ say the cherubim. ‘Glory to Jesus, the Lamb,’ they sing, ‘For Thou wast slain and has redeemed men to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them unto our God kings and priests; and they shall reign on the earth" [from Revelation 5:9-10].
The cherubim from heaven looked down from glory, from the throne of God Himself, and they sang and rejoiced. When somebody comes under the blood, when somebody bows at the propitiatory, when atonement is made and sins are covered, the cherubim sing: "Worthy is the Lamb. Glory to the Son of God making His children kings and priests some day in the earth" [from Revelation 5:9-10].
Why, the thought is overwhelming that God should look down and that His ministering angels, the cherubim, should look down. And when a soul is saved and somebody comes into the faith and covering atonement and sacrifice of Jesus, they lift up their voices in praise to the Lamb that saves us from our sins and presents us someday, someday, as kings and priests over this earth [Revelation 5:10] without spot and without blemish [Ephesians 5:25-28]in the sight of the great God and our Savior.
Oh, the mercy of God and the goodness of God beyond all ways to speak of it or sing of it or describe it or portray it – the love and mercy of God that has reached down, even to me, to you, and makes appeal in the name of His Son, our Savior, here tonight, here tonight, and reaches even unto you.
While we sing this song of appeal, an invitation, in this balcony round, somebody you, give his heart tonight to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? On this lower floor, somebody you, trusting Jesus as Savior, "Preacher, tonight I give my heart in faith and in trust to the Lord, and here I come. Here I am." Would you make it now? A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, as God shall open the way, as the Holy Spirit shall speak the word, would you come tonight? "Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus," or, "pastor, we’re putting our lives with you in the fellowship of this glorious church." Would you make it now? Would you make it tonight? On the first note of the first stanza, coming down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and to the front, "Here we are, preacher, and here we come," while we stand and while we sing.