By the late Dr. F.B. Meyer
"And over it the cherubims of glory overshadowing the mercyseat." HEBREWS 9:5
We should have been glad indeed if the eloquent writer of this epistle had felt at liberty to speak more particularly of these sacred mysteries. To have heard them expounded by his burning words would have been a high privilege. But as this has not been granted to us, we may at least look to the divine Spirit for a torch to light our way for some few steps into this labyrinth of sacred imagery.
We never forget that the ark and its contents, the tabernacle or temple and its equipment, were emblematic and typical of the things in the heavens, and through them we aspire toward the heavenly things themselves. Probably these would be all too bright for mortal eyes, and therefore the opaque medium was requisite. Thus we view an eclipse through smoked glass. From the photograph of a planet's transit across the sun's disk we can more perfectly discern the nature of the sun itself, as would be impossible with the naked eye.
The cherubim must be distinguished from the seraphim. The cherubim are associated with the redeeming love, the seraphim with the burning holiness, of God. We meet the cherubim first at the gates of Eden, where, with drawn sword, they keep the way to the tree of life. This was a beneficent and loving errand, else man had hopelessly added to his sin and doom. "The Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also the tree of life, and eat, and live forever, the Lord God drove out the man: and he placed at the east of the garden cherubim, and a flaming sword, to keep the way of the tree of life.
After centuries had passed, the cherubim appear again, modeled in gold, of a piece with the golden lid of the ark, bending over the mercyseat, as though to penetrate the mysteries that were hidden in its types-the slabs of the law beneath, the golden lid encrusted with blood because sprinkled on successive days of atonement, and between their bending forms the mild and holy light of the Shekinah. Thus, in afterdays, the saints were wont to appeal to God as one who dwelt between the cherubim, and urged Him to shine forth, to stir up His strength and come to the deliverance of His people.
When Solomon built the temple he added to this typology, following the plan given him by David, his father, who received it from the spirit of God. In addition to the bending forms over the ark, he made two figures of erect cherubim, whose wings stretched from one wall to the other of the holy place, as though to ward off all danger, and shield such as came there for shelter and succor. It is to these that the inspired writer here makes reference. He says that the mercyseat was shadowed by the wings of the cherubim-of the two that bent low toward it, and of the two that stood erect with outspread pinions.
They were cherubim of glory. Ezekiel descants much on the glories of the cherubim. He tells us how closely they were identified with the throne of God on the one hand, and with the wheel of nature on the other. They bore upon their wings the firmament on which the throne rested; their movements regulated the revolutions, the rise and fall of the wheels that so vividly portray the course of nature.
The cherubim are surely embodiments of the divine nature in its goings forth to save and bless men. Of their four faces one is as a man, betokening the intelligence and benignity with which God regards us; a second is a calf, representing the patience with which God toils on our behalf and bears with our failures; a third is a lion, suggesting the royal strength of the Lion of the tribe of Judah; a fourth is an eagle, reminding us of that dominion over the prince of the power of the air, of that majestic indifference to storm, of that strong parental care which bears its young on its untiring wing, each of which has its correlative in the nature of God.
Cherubim of glory! Theirs is the glory of close association with the divine nature, of identification with the divine attributes, of intelligent co-operation with the divine will. Their every movement is harmonious with the loving purposes of the divine heart. "They excel in strength, hearkening to the voice of his word." They excel in majesty and beauty. To any one of them might be addressed the words of Ezekiel, "Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect beauty. Every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created."
O glorious cherubim! would that we were fair as ye are, as devoted, as full of the love of God! Yet ye are but servants of our King, our Brother, the immortal Lover of our spirits, while we are His heirs and joint-heirs. He is not ashamed to call us brethren; nay, the spirit of the Son is in our hearts, crying to your God and ours, "Abba, Father." Some day, in the excellent glory, we may see your beauteous forms; but in the meantime, ye speak to us of all the love of our Father's heart, for ye are His ministers, sent forth to minister to His children, and to act as their convoy to His home.
Shadowing. Whatever the cherubim be, they set forth the divine energy and attribute as they canopy and overshadow believing souls. Frequently, therefore, in Scripture, we are reminded of the protection which is afforded by the outspread wings of the Shekinah. Boaz congratulated Ruth that she had come to trust under the wings of Jehovah. David prayed that he might be kept as the apple of God's eye, and hidden under the shadow of His wings; he extolled that excellent loving-kindness beneath the shadow of whose wings the children of men might put their trust; and how many have adopted his glad outburst, "Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice!" Among the tenderest words of Him who spake as man never spake were the yearning expressions of His desire that He might have been allowed to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chickens beneath her wing. Ah, yearning heart of Christ, how oft hast thou been disappointed since!
Bunyan says that the hen has four different calls to her brood: one when twilight begins to darken toward night; another when she has come across some dainty for their food; another of danger, when the hawk is hovering in the air; and yet another of yearning desire. It is thus that He calls, in whose nature every kind of love has its origin and fount. Whatever is meant by the wing of the mother-bird-warmth, shelter, tenderness, the nearness of love-all is realized and gathered up in the symbol of the overshadowing wing of the cherubim of glory. Come to the mercyseat, and thou shalt find thyself under the wing of the attributes of God, sworn and pledged to help thee. "As birds flying" the Lord will defend thee. The very being of God will be interposed between all that threatens and thy cowering heart. His thought, His patience, His strength, His supremacy, these are His cherubim, these thy defense and aid, these the overshadowing wing.
The mercy-seat. We must get there, aye, and live there, if we would dwell beneath the covert of the overshadowing wing of the attributes of God, of which the cherubim are emblems and embodiments. Let us see how to reach it, as we trace the steps of the high priest on the day of atonement.
Clad in simple white, linen tunic, linen turban, linen girdle, he went alone through the holy place, and approached the curtain of separation, embroidered with cherubic figures. His first act on passing through the veil was to swing to and fro the golden censer, filling the apartment with its sweet fragrance and veiling films of smoke; next he sprinkled the blood of the bullock, purchased for himself and his sons, seven times before and upon the golden lid; and, as the blood made peace and guaranteed his welcome, he looked up and saw those strong, noble forms gleaming through the wreaths of smoke, and knew that their wings, spread over his head, were emblematic of the love that yearned over him and his, and of the strength pledged to his defense.
Retiring from the sacred shrine, the knife flashed in the sun as he plunged it in the goat, which represented the offering for the people. He caught its flowing blood in the golden vessel, and proceeded to do with it as with the bullock's. In that moment, in him as their representative, all Israel, just then massed without, stood before God, was accepted by virtue of the blood that was shed, and sheltered safely under the shadowing wings of the cherubim. It must have seemed to the pious Hebrew as though His people were at rest and in safety beneath the sheltering love of Jehovah, guaranteeing their safety from all attacks of men and devils.
The type needs no words to elaborate its meaning. We must take up our abode in the most holy place if we would dwell under the shadowing wing of God. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
It is a delightful thought that whatever was symbolized by the holy of holies, whatever is its correlative and analogue in the nature of God, is ours, not to enter for a transient yearly visit, but to become our home and abiding-place. The veil has been rent, the separation between us and the innermost fellowship with God is abolished, the way into the holiest has been made through the blood of Jesus, we are free to enter thither with all boldness, we are invited to live there forevermore.
This is the position of every believer to-day in the purpose of God, and by right of union with the great High Priest; but let us never rest till it is ours also in happy and blessed realization. In other words, we must by faith claim, and by faith maintain, our portion in the innermost place, face to face with the uncreated light, which we do not dread, because the blood speaks peace; and we are, therefore, under the wing of God-His angels ministering; His attributes defending; His love, in which fatherhood and motherhood blend, brooding and fond.
Are you fleeing from the justice of a broken law? Get to the mercy-seat; there the wings of incarnate love wait to protect you.
Are you cowering before the threatening storm of care, trouble, soul-anguish? Make for the secret place of the tabernacles of the Most High; there you shall find refuge under the wing of God's peace, that passeth all understanding.
Are you surrounded by the strife of tongues? Flee from the windy storm and tempest to that serene hiding-place, where the cherub wing is a strong defense against the breaking storm.
Are you menaced by the assaults of the great enemy of souls? He is no match for the least of God's angels, who is representative of the divine kingdom and power and glory. Shelter, then, beneath the wing of that God who makes His angels swift as winds, His ministers pure as flames of fire. Better still, put the love and grace of God between your soul and everything.