Tonight, we’re going to dive deep into what the writer of Hebrews called, “the Cherubims of glory” (Heb. 9:5). Rather than do any introductory comments, I’m just going to hit the ground running and let you experience for yourself the Cherubims in all their glory in what is perhaps one of the most epic visions in all the Bible, the single greatest revelation of what is perhaps the most striking, the most powerful, the most prestigious, the most elite class of all angels in all of God’s heavenly host. Some have called Ezekiel “the Patmos-seer of the OT,” because Ezekiel’s visions are no less extraordinary than John’s in Revelation.
1:1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar [keb-awr], that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 1:2In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity,1:3 The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.
So let’s set the stage to Ezekiel. Long story short – this is eleven years before the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon. That was the event that would cause Jeremiah to weep so bitterly. That was the event that would cause Isaiah to sing a song to his well-beloved Jehovah over His lament of what’s become of His precious vineyard. But Babylon wouldn’t capture and destroy Israel and Judah in one fell swoop. This happened piecemeal over the course of years. Before Babylon would destroy Jerusalem, Babylon would capture thousands of Jews and resettle them into camps, which is recounted in 2 Kings 24. And this is where Ezekiel begins. He’s already been captured. He’s in a camp by the river Chebar, now called the Khabur River, which still exists in Syria. And it’s there that Nebuchadnezzar had basically started a colony of captives.
In chapter 3:15, we learn that the name of the colony is Tel-abib. Two passages tell us Ezekiel had his own house (3:24, 8:1). We also learn that he was married. The last half of Ezekiel 24 tells of the death of his beloved wife, and the Lord told him he could not mourn her loss. He was to use his lack of mourning as an opportunity to teach the people about the Lord’s lack of mourning over the dissolution of the union between Him and His people. There are three visions in Ezekiel. The first vision, which covers the first three chapters, is God’s calling of Ezekiel to serve Him, to warn the people and the false prophets of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and also why God’s judgment was upon them. The second vision, which covers chapters 8-11, is about the destruction of Jerusalem. And in the third vision, from chapters 40-48, Ezekiel sees the new temple and the city of the future, the kingdom of God here on Earth, and the glory of God returning and abiding with His people forever. Tonight, we’re focusing on Ezekiel’s first vision in which the Lord calls him to service and what first takes center stage are the Cherubims of glory. Now we won’t be reading the word “Cherubim” in this chapter, but later, in chapter 10, Ezekiel would confirm that what he saw were Cherubims. He would write in Eze 10:20 This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims.
Eze 1:4 And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
So we have this storm, this whirlwind coming out of the north. Why the north? Because Babylon would descend upon Jerusalem from the north. Even Jeremiah would write, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land (Jer. 1:14). We have in the core of this whirlwind the color of amber, like the intensity of heat found in molten metal, like a mixture of glory and fire, raw destructive power from within. Shooting out was fire infolding itself. Infolding is a “wrapping up,” a “clasping.” We have fire catching itself. Some tried to describe this as rings of fire, or wheels of fire, but I suspect this means that fire burst out from the whirlwind, in brilliant mushrooms of flame, and then folded back into the core of amber or doubled in upon themselves only to then burst out and return again. I wondered, “Of all the ways that God could show fire, why did He choose fire infolding itself?” Some suggest that there is meaning with this fire that’s infolding itself. If God wasn’t longsuffering with us about our sins and carried out immediate judgment for all sin, then we would all be consumed by the judgment of His wrath. So His wrath is kept at bay like fire infolding itself. If His wrath were not a fire infolding itself, none of us would exist. Thus, God is as a fire infolding itself in that His wrath never extinguishes but it’s always and fully within His control, kept at bay, because He’s longsuffering.
I have no doubt that this visual of the cloud, the glory, and the fire, had to have brought to Ezekiel’s mind the Lord’s first appearance to Moses atop mount Sinai, in which both the glory and the cloud abode upon the mount for six days until the Lord called Moses out of the cloud on the seventh day. Exo 24:17 would say that “the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” In other words, the Lord knows how to make an entrance. You come to Him in fear and reverence for who He is and in total subjection to His power and authority. Then, in vs. 5, the Cherubims appear...
Eze 1:5 Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.Eze 1:6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. Eze 1:7 And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. Eze 1:8 And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Eze 1:9 Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. 1:10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. 1:11 Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. 1:12 And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. 1:13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 1:14And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
There is much to be said about all of this. Notice first, in vs. 5, he twice says likeness: “…the likeness of four living creatures… the likeness of a man…” In fact, Ezekiel would use the word likeness 10 times in this chapter and for good reason. One of the arguments made to say that Cherubims are not angels is because they are called “living creatures” but that’s not what Ezekiel said. He only said the likeness of four living creatures. What he is describing to us is not the real thing but only a vision. They look like living creatures, but they are not, perhaps because he is seeing something that appears physical when, in fact, what he is seeing is most likely a spiritual being, which is why he’s careful to describe them as the likeness of four living creatures.
I was open to the idea that Cherubims may not be angels, and it is true that there is no verse identifying Cherubims as angels. But that’s not the end of the discussion. If you do a deep dive into the subject of Cherubims, you can’t help but notice a variety of associations between Cherubims and angels. You take, for example, how we read in vs. 5 that they had the likeness of a man. If Cherubims are angels, this would make perfect sense. They would have to be in the likeness of us because we are made a little lower than the angels. There would have to be a likeness between them and us. Consider 1:13. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. How can you not think of Heb 1:7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire? Where else in Scripture do you read about someone seeing an angel who has the appearance of a flame of fire? Only with the Cherubims and only in Ezekiel. Nowhere else. Some say Cherubims couldn’t be angels because they were never messengers, which isn’t true. Their presence guarding the Tree of Life conveyed a very strong message to Adam and Eve, didn’t it? Their symbolic presence upon the Ark of the Covenant and in the Holiest of Holies conveys strong messages to the priests, don’t they? Plus, the presence of the Cherubims in these visions of Ezekiel makes them some of the most profound messengers in all of Scripture. Also, consider the definition of the function of angels in Heb 1:14. Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? Angels are ministering spirits, who are sent… to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. Are not the Cherubims doing this very thing before Ezekiel? Are they not in this vision showing how they minister for Ezekiel and the people of Israel who shall be heirs of salvation? There is a distinction between ministering TO and ministering FOR. Everyonethinks angels were created to minister TO Israel, but they weren’t. They were created to minister FOR Israel. And we’ll discover in this vision with the giant wheels, that God’s essentially pulling back the curtain into the spiritual realm to illustrate the perfection of His heavenly government under the operation of His Cherubims by allowing Babylon to conquer Jerusalem. God allowed this because they not only deserved what’s coming but this chastening was also the only way to corporately turn all their hearts back to Him. And it is the Cherubims operating over the framework of God’s heavenly government that makes His judgment take place, which demonstrates to us how they must be angels, because in all of this, they are carrying out God’s will in their ministering FOR the people of Israel who shall be heirs of salvation.
There are other associations, too, that I couldn’t help but notice. I spent some time studying David’s song of deliverance after his war with the Philistines in 2 Sam. 22. He sings of the Lord in 2Sa 22:10 that He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet. 2Sa 22:11 And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind. I’m like, “What is going on here?” Then I noticed that David would say in Psa_68:17 The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels… So the chariots of God are thousands of angels. Then David would say in Psa 104:3 that the Lord “maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind…” Then consider how David said in 2Sa 22:11 and Psa 18:10 that he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. Consider the associations: Chariots are angels. He makes His clouds His chariots. The Lord rides a Cherub. So if the chariots of God are angels and He rides upon a Cherub, wouldn’t that make a Cherub an angel, because that Cherub was used as His chariot? And that verse in Psa 104:3 about the Lord making “the clouds his chariot…” wouldn’t “clouds” be a symbolic reference to hosts of Cherubs because “clouds” are a “covering” just as lucifer was the anointed Cherub that covereth? And the clouds are always transitory, just as Ezekiel described the Cherubims as constantly transitory. Remember how Ezekiel wrote in 1:14 And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. So you can’t help but take note of all these associations and consider that Cherubims must be angels.
Let’s first talk about how massive they are. Look at Eze 1:24 And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings. The Cherubims are so inconceivably massive, so gargantuan in size, that the sound of their wings when they flew was as loud as the voice of Almighty God Himself. How immense must these Cherubims be to have the use of their wings be as loud as the voice of Almighty God? What does that look like? How tall are we talking here? Miles and miles... Is it any wonder that David would say repeatedly that the Lord rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind? The Cherubims are so massive that when they flew, they became the wings of the wind. They created wind. They left a wake of jet streams behind them! When you consider this entire universe and all of creation, all things spiritual or physical, tell me, what is the most powerful creature God ever created? What creature could possibly surpass the Cherubims in terms of size, speed, and sheer force of strength? There is nothing that has ever existed more powerful than Cherubims. J. Sidlow Baxter would write about this first vision and say that we discover in this portrait of Cherubims, “strength, service, intelligence, spirituality, at their highest; fullness for capacity of service; undeviating prosecution of Divine will; absolute holiness; and uttermost swiftness of action.”
And we’re told in this vision here in Ezekiel 1, that there were 4 Cherubims with 4 faces and 4 wings and 4 hands. Do you think God is trying to impress upon Ezekiel the number 4? Why is that? What is the significance of the number 4? I remember people laughed when I tried to explain this once before. But it’s cool. In the Bible, the number 4 is very significant. In the Bible, 4 isn’t the result of 1+1+1+1 or 2+2. In the Bible, 4 is the result of 3+1. 4 denotes that which follows the revelation of God in the Trinity, namely, by His creative works. In other words, the Trinity is known by the things that are seen. For example, you look at a great mountain and you know instinctively the triune Godhead created it. Three plus one. The Trinity plus His creation by which God may be known to all. Plus, the number 4 carries the idea that the Trinity may be known in the world through His individual believers. God is operating through His individual saints so that He would be known in the world. Three plus one. That is certainly true in the age of grace. We often point out how we have the entire Godhead inside of us. We have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit inside of us. 1 Cor. 6:19 tells us that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you. Paul would say in Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me… and the Father is also inside of us. Paul would write in Eph 4:6 that there is One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. The entire Godhead resides inside of us. And thus, God may be known in the world through our individual testimonies. Three plus one. Finally, I’d say God is also known in the world through each Cherubim who carries out His will in the spiritual operation of His divine, heavenly government. Three plus one.
And we discover here also that they have 4 faces. Ezekiel writes, 1:10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. What’s the significance of the 4 faces? Bullinger called them “the four heads of animal creation: the lion, of wild beasts; the ox, of tame beasts; the eagle, of birds; and man, the head of all.” In Scripture, man is an intelligent, free-willed, independent thinking, moral agent, created in the image and likeness of God, just like the angels. In Scripture, the lion is the king of the beasts, the most powerful, daring, and impressive of all carnivorous animals, with a roaring voice that impresses as much as it instills fear in its prey. With the ox, there was no animal in the olden days of Israel that was held in higher esteem because of its patient labor. Israel’s success in farming depended upon the patient labor of the ox. The eagle, in Scripture, is known for its swiftness of flight (Deu_28:49; 2Sa_1:23), its mounting high in the air (Job_39:27), its strength (Psa_103:5), its setting its nest in high places (Jer_49:16), and with its great power of vision (Job_39:27-30).
So why do these 4 particular faces of heads over creation exist on the heads of these 4 Cherubims? I think the visual of the 4 faces on each head makes a statement about the Cherubims themselves and the depths of their ability to serve God. They are heads of the heavenly host just as man is the head of creation, just as the lion is the head of the untamed animal creation, just as the ox the head of the tamed animal creation, and just as the eagle the head of the birds. Plus, the Cherubims can serve God with the intelligence of man, with the daring power of strength of the lion, with the patient labor of the ox, and with the high swiftness of flight like the eagles. The 4 faces were designed to instill in us fear and awe in the awful greatness, the mighty power, and the exacting perfection of His will carried out by the Cherubims who are above the entire governmental operation of Heaven. Like the manner in which the Lord made His first appearance to Moses atop mount Sinai in which He instilled fear and reverence in light of His greatness and power before He called up Moses, so too, the Lord instills fear and reverence in light of, not just His greatness and power, but also in the awful greatness, the mighty power, and the exacting perfection of His will carried out by the Cherubims who are above His governmental operation of Heaven, which is a crucial point to make before Babylon destroys Jerusalem. Babylon isn’t conquering Jerusalem because Satan has won a battle. Or because there’s some kind of weakness or flaw in God’s heavenly government. This vision impresses upon us that Babylon is conquering Jerusalem because this is God’s will, and nothing and no one can stop God from carrying out His will through the awesome might of His heavenly host. Remember what Baxter wrote of the Cherubims? We see in them “strength, service, intelligence, spirituality, at their highest; fullness for capacity of service; undeviating prosecution of Divine will; absolute holiness; and uttermost swiftness of action.” What is true of the Cherubims is also true about God’s heavenly government, because the Cherubims are over His government.
Before we get into the wheels, notice Eze 1:17 When they went, they went upon their four sides: andthey turned not when they went. These angels never turned. They only moved forward. How is that possible? Because they have a face on each side of their heads. They had wings, front and back, and on each side, so that they could fly in any direction, and it was always forward because they were always facing one of four directions. On this subject, J. Sidlow Baxter would write, “Now how was it that the four living beings turned not when they went? It was because, having four faces, they each faced north, south, east, west, simultaneously, and therefore needed not to turn in any direction. Nor did they need to turn when they flew, for each had four wings, one on each of their four sides, so that they simply needed to use the appropriate pair of wings for any of the four directions, without any necessity to turn.” Isn’t that just amazing?