There are lots of odd beings in the Bible, aren’t there? There are the Nephilim of Genesis 6 who some believe were the offspring of fallen angels that bred with human women (though others believe they are nothing more than depraved human beings). There are angels and archangels, giants and demons, and even a talking donkey. But of all the mysterious creatures, none have more captured my imagination than the cherubim.
The cherubim make their first appearance in the first book of the Bible and make their final appearance in the final book. From beginning to end, their function remains the same: To guard the presence of God. In Genesis they are assigned to the gate of the Garden of Eden to keep man from venturing back to the place of God’s presence. In Exodus they are in the tabernacle to warn people away from the Holy of Holies and on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant to guard the mercy seat—the place where God symbolically dwells. In 1 Kings they play the same role in the temple, while in Ezekiel and Revelation they guard the heavenly throne room of God. They are odd creatures, who have six wings, the faces of lions, oxen, men, and eagles, and an extraordinary number of eyes—John tells us they are “full of eyes all around and within” (Revelation 4:8). Since their task is one of watchfulness, the great number of eyes assures us of their vigilance—there is nothing that can sneak past them to inappropriately approach God.
These cherubim have mouths and speak. According to John, they constantly cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Many of us have heard and read this enough times that it may have lost some its wonder and significance. But as I contemplated their words last week, a whole new dimension stood out to me. It occurred that they say these words not only because they are objectively true, but also because they have proven true by long observation.
Of all the creatures God has created, the cherubim are nearest to the throne of God. From nearly the very beginning, they have been constantly in his presence, surrounding his throne. This means they see all that God ever does, they hear all that God ever says, they watch his every order being carried out. And still they proclaim, “This is the holiest, purest being there is. There is not the least trace of evil in him. His every action and his every word is pure and undefiled.”
The cherubim are real creatures, but they are also deeply symbolic. Their job is to guard the way to God. They stand between God and … and who? Imagine if those angelic beings were to tag along with you or me for a little while. Imagine if all those eyes were to focus on us for a week or even a day. How long do you think they would need to see our actions before they would begin to cry out, “Unholy, thin-skinned, perverted, hypocritical, sinful?” How many of our words would they need to hear before they would say, “Angry, impure, unjust, unfair.” It wouldn’t take long, would it? And it shows us that the cherubim stand between God and us! They guard God’s purity from our pollution. They keep sinful beings like you and me from approaching that sinless God.
What a glorious thing, then, that Christ, as our representative, was able to walk past those cherubim and to approach God (Revelation 5:7). What a glorious thing, then, to know that he ransomed a people—he ransomed us!—for God. What a glorious thing to know that through his death and resurrection he has made a way for us to once again be holy in the presence of this holy God.