And over it the cherubim of glory
Or "glorious cherubim", where the Shechinah, or divine glory, dwelt, ( Psalms 80:1 ) . These were over the ark, and were in number two, as were the cherubim which God placed at the garden of Eden, ( Genesis 3:24 ) according to the opinion of the ancient Jews F21; and very likely these were made after the form of them. Some have thought them to be birds of a very terrible aspect, which were set there to deter Adam and Eve from coming to the tree of life; and both Philo F23 and Josephus F24 say, they were winged fowls; but the generality of the Jewish writers take them for angels F25; and some of them say they were destroying angels, or noxious spirits F26, which is not probable; but why angels should be so called, and what was their appearance, there are different opinions. Jerom says F1 the word signifies a multitude of knowledge; and indeed Philo the Jew F2 observes, that the Greeks would interpret the Hebrew word, much knowledge and understanding; and another Jewish writer F3 affirms, that the word "cherubim" is a name for separate intelligences, as if angels were so called from their great knowledge, and that the word is the same as "cerabbim", as "Rabbins", doctors, or teachers; but for the most part they interpret it, "as young men" F4, because that angels have appeared in the form of young men. So in the Talmud F5 it is asked,
``what does cherub signify?" says R. Abhu, (aybrk) , "as a young man", for so in Babylon they call a young man (aybr) .''Some think that the word "cherub" is the same with (bwkr) , "Recub", the letters transposed, which signifies "a chariot", because God is said to ride upon a "cherub" and the angels are called the chariots of the Lord, ( Psalms 18:10 ) ( 68:17 ) ( Zechariah 6:1 Zechariah 6:5 ) to which may be added, that Ezekiel's vision of the "cherubim" is frequently, by the Jews F6, called (hbkrm) , "Mercabah", or "the chariot"; and mention is made of the chariot of the cherubim, in ( 1 Chronicles 28:18 ) to which reference may be had in ( Habakkuk 3:8 ) though I rather think, with others, that the word is derived from (brk) , "Carab", which in the Syriac and Arabic languages signifies "to plough", and so in the Talmud F7; and a cherub took its name from hence, because of the ox, whose face it had, that being a creature made use of in ploughing; and that the face of an ox, and the face of a cherub, is the same, may easily be concluded from ( Ezekiel 1:10 ) ( 10:14 ) . And now because that Ezekiel's cherubim had four faces, the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle; and the "cherubim" in the temple were in the same form, as may be gathered from ( Ezekiel 41:18 Ezekiel 41:19 ) those that were placed at the garden of Eden may be thought to be in the same form also: and some of late have fancied, that they were an hieroglyphic of the trinity of persons in the Godhead, signified by the ox, the lion, and eagle; and of the incarnation of the Son of God, the face of a man being added to them; to support which notion it is further observed, that the word (Mybwrk) should be pronounced "ce-rubbim", and interpreted, "as the mighty ones". But it should be known, that the word is also used in the singular number, ( Psalms 18:10 ) ( Ezekiel 10:4 ) and every single cherub had these four faces, so that each of them must be a representative of the Trinity, and of the incarnate Saviour, of which only the word in the singular number can be used; and then it can only be said of it, "cerub", as "the mighty one" which observation greatly weakens what is brought to support the fancy: besides, if the cherubim were an emblem of a plurality of persons in the Godhead, they would rather be an emblem of a quaternity, and not of a trinity of persons, since each had four faces, and those distinct from each other; for the face of a man is as much a distinct face as any of the rest. Now the human nature of Christ is no distinct person, much less one in the Godhead; and besides is the inferior nature of Christ, whereas the face of the man, in the "cherubim", is superior to the rest, which are the faces of irrational animals. Moreover, this would give us a similitude of the divine Being, and of that in him which is most incomprehensible by us, the trinity of persons in the Godhead; and so an answer may be given to such questions, the sense of which suggests, that no answer can be returned to them, ( Isaiah 40:18 Isaiah 40:25 ) ( 46:5 ) and though the second Person often appeared in human form, and in the fulness of time became incarnate, and the Holy Ghost once descended as a dove, yet the Father's shape was never seen at any time, ( John 5:37 ) to which may be added, that this notion seems contrary to the second command, "thou shall not make unto thee any likeness of anything that is in heaven above", ( Exodus 20:4 ) for allowing that the cherubim at the garden of Eden were figures made by the Lord himself, it is not credible he should make such, he afterwards forbid others to make; besides, the "cherubim" in the tabernacle and temple were the same figures with those in Eden, as is owned; and these were ordered of God to be made by men, and therefore surely cannot be thought to be figures, emblems, and representations of God himself in his three divine persons; likewise the cherubim are not only distinguished from him, but instead of being figures of him, they are always represented as vehicles on which he sits or rides, ( Exodus 25:22 ) ( Psalms 80:1 ) ( 18:10 ) . Once more, it may deserve some little consideration, that the prince of Tyre, a type of antichrist, the man of sin, is called a "cherub", ( Ezekiel 28:14 Ezekiel 28:16 ) which surely cannot be in allusion to the divine Being, and the persons in the Godhead, but very well in allusion to angels, the sons of God, as civil magistrates, good and bad, are sometimes called. No doubt there was something signified by the "cherubim" in the tabernacle and temple; but that this should be the mystery of them, is not easy of belief. Philo the Jew makes the "cherubim" to signify the two powers of God, his creative and governing powers F8; and the Jews frequently speak of (Mybwrkd azr) , "the mystery of the cherubim" F9: the "cherubim" over the ark, here spoken of, are sometimes allegorized of the two Testaments, the Old and New; the matter of them being of gold may denote the excellency, purity, simplicity, and duration of them; their number is two, as were the "cherubim"; and as they were alike, and of one measure and size, this may intend the agreement between them; the doctrines, promises, prophecies, types, and figures of the Old Testament agree with the New; and the account that the one gives of the person and offices, and grace of Christ, agrees with the other; their situation and position, being placed at the two ends of the mercy seat, and looking towards it, may denote their being full of Christ, from one end to the other, and their pointing at him, and bearing witness to him; here God also reveals himself, as he did between the "cherubim"; and these are glorious as they were, full of glory, containing the glorious Gospel of the blessed God: though rather the "cherubim" on the mercy seat were symbols and representations of angels, since to these the Apostle Peter seems to allude, in ( 1 Peter 1:12 ) , their being made of gold may denote their excellency, purity, and simplicity; their being on the mercy seat shows their dependence on Christ, their confirmation by him, and ministration to him; their having wings, expresses their readiness to do his will; and their looking one to another, signifies their unity and concord among themselves; and their looking to the mercy seat, their inspection into the mysteries of grace; and their being over the ark, and God being in the midst of them, declares the presence of God with them, whose face they always behold; and as these "cherubim" of glory, they are very glorious creatures, and in the glory of them will Christ come a second time:
shadowing the mercy seat;
that is, with their wings, as in ( Exodus 25:20 ) which was typical of Christ; its name agrees with him, a mercy seat; for in him God shows himself merciful to his people; all the stores of mercy are laid up in him; the mission of him into this world is owing to the mercy of God; and the mercy of God was glorified by him in the redemption of his people; and he himself is the way through which they obtain and receive mercy; and he is also a merciful high priest to them: the Hebrew word for the mercy seat, (trwpk) , signifies "a covering": nor is our English word in sound very different from it; and it was so called, as Kimchi F11 observes, because it covered the ark: Christ is a covering to his people; their persons are clothed with his righteousness, and all their sins are covered by it; and they are secured from the curse and condemnation of the law, and wrath to come: the Septuagint interpreters render it by (ilasthrion) , the word used here by the Apostle Paul, in ( Romans 3:25 ) , there rendered "propitiation", and applied to Christ, who has made reconciliation for sin, and through whom God is propitious to his people. The matter, of which the mercy seat was made, was pure gold, denoting the excellency and preciousness of Christ; the make of it, in its length and breadth, was just the same with the ark, in which the two tables were, ( Exodus 25:10 Exodus 25:17 ) . Christ is the fulfilling end of the law, and exactly answers to all its requirements; his nature, to the holiness and spirituality of it; his righteousness, to all the obedience it commands; and his sufferings and death, to the penalty it enjoins: its situation above the ark shows that there is no mercy but in a way of righteousness, and that Christ stands between God and the law, and, by fulfilling it, covers all the transgressions of it; and being above it, is able to suppress all its accusations and charges: from off the mercy seat, God communed with his people; the way to communion with God is by Christ; the encouragement to go to God is from him; and the enjoyment of him is through him: on the day of atonement the mercy seat was sprinkled with blood, typical of the blood of Christ, whereby peace is made, and a way opened into the holiest of all:
of which we cannot now speak particularly;
not only of the mercy seat, but of all the things before mentioned; for the word "which" is in the plural number, and refers to all the preceding things; to discourse of which, largely and particularly, required more time than the apostle had, and must have exceeded the bounds of an epistle. The Ethiopic version renders it in the singular number; "of this".
F21 Targum Jon. &. Hieros. in Gen. iii. 24.
F23 De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 668.
F24 Antiqu. l. 3. c. 6. sect. 5.
F25 Bereshit Rabba, sect. 21. fol. 19. 1. & Mattanot Cehunah in ib. Aben Ezra in Gen iii. 24.
F26 Jarchi & Baal Hatturim in loc.
F1 Ep. Paulino, Tom. III. fol. 3. F.
F2 Ut supra. (De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 668.)
F3 R. Samuel Tzartzah, Sepher Meker Chayim, fol. 8. 3.
F4 Zohar in Gen. fol. 122. 3. & Imre Binah in ib. Aben Ezra in Gen. iii. 24. Kimchi Sepher Shorash. in rad. (bwrb) , & R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 58. 2.
F5 T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 13. 2. & Succa, fol. 5. 2.
F6 T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 14. 2.
F7 T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 32. 2. Bava Kama, fol. 96. 2.
F8 De Cherubim, p. 112. de Profugis, p. 465. & de Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 669.
F9 Zohar in Gen. fol. 99. 1. & 122. 4.
F11 Sopher Shorash. rad. (rpk) .