Cherubims & Seraphims
[Hello, saints! Below are the notes from tonight's message on Cherubims & Seraphims, which is part of Pastor Joel's new Angelology series. Enjoy! PTL!]
Tonight, we’re going to look at the Seraphims in Isaiah 6. We talked last week about Cherubims. We made the case that they’re angels and the highest class of angels in all the heavenly host, and we looked at their most grand appearance in Ezek. 1. I didn’t mention this last week, but I think it’s likely that the 4 beasts in Rev. 4 are Cherubims, too. You remember the Cherubims in Ezek. 1 had 4 faces on each side of their heads and the 4 faces they had was - that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. So when you consider the 4 beasts in Rev. 4, they each had one face, but each face was that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. That’s more than coincidental. They also had 6 wings whereas the Cherubs in Ezek. 1 had 4 wings, but the Cherubs on the Ark of the Covenant only had 1 face and 2 wings. I suspect that we are to just take away from all of this that Cherubims differ widely in appearance, both in number of faces and number of wings, but they are all of the same class of angels. So I don’t see any reason why the 4 beasts could not be Cherubims. Last week, Sharon McEntee brought up Dan. 7:9-10, which references His throne, and His wheels as burning fire and then mentions in vs. 10 how thousands upon thousands ministered unto Him. I wouldn’t fight with anyone on this, but I think it’s also likely that those are reference to Cherubims, because of their nearness to the Lord and His throne. A lot of books suggested that there are only 4 Cherubims but I think there are thousands and thousands of them. This is also why I think the 4 beasts in Rev. 4 may be Cherubims because of their nearness to the throne as well.
Remember how we quoted Psa 104:3 that the Lord “maketh the clouds his chariot” and pointed out that the because the Lord rode upon a Cherub as His chariot, “clouds” may be a symbolic reference to hosts of Cherubims? I also think it may be possible that when Paul says in 1Th 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, that may not necessarily mean literal clouds but that we will be in the midst of hosts of Cherubims in the second heaven. We also talked last week about the Cherubims in relation to the symbolic wheels covered with eyeballs and that the purpose in Ezekiel’s vision was to show that behind the events that take place on earth are the operations of supernatural powers in heaven, which is awe-inspiring and designed to make you feel that way. Before the Lord appears, He 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, and all of that was impressed upon Ezekiel so he would be in that proper mindset of awe and reverence when the Lord spoke and He would take seriously His calling. So the manner in which the Cherubims were used to make these awe-inspiring impressions upon Ezekiel and all of us before the Lord appeared, is the same tactic that would be used by Seraphims in Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6. What were the Seraphims exactly? There is only one reference to them here in Isaiah 6.
First, some background about Isaiah.
Isaiah the book has 66 chapters, just as there are 66 books in the Bible. Just as the Bible is divided into 39 books of the OT and 27 in the NT, so too Isa. is divided structurally into the first 39 and last 27 chapters. In the opening verse, he writes, Isa 1:1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. This chronology of kings in Judah tells us that he lived in the 8th century before Christ. The time span of those kings meant his ministry lasted roughly 70 years. I loved what Gaebelein would write. “What Peter says as to the contents of the writings of the prophets of God is more true of Isaiah than of any of the other prophetic books except the Psalms. ‘The Suffering of Christ and the glory that should follow.’ Isaiah's message reveals the Redeemer and King of Israel. He is the ‘Holy One of Israel’ mentioned by this title twenty-five times. The Redeemer of Israel is Jehovah the Creator. He announced His virgin birth, the child to be born of the virgin, the Son given, and reveals the titles of that Son (9:6). He describes Him in His lowliness, His tenderness, His miracles, as the servant of Jehovah, and above all as the sin-bearer in that wonderful fifty-third chapter. But how much more Isaiah was permitted to reveal of His glory. He pictures in prophetic vision that kingdom which is yet to come, and which will come with the return of our Saviour-Lord.”
There are two great sections of prophecy. The first, chapters 1-39, contains the earlier prophecies. Chapters 40-66 the later prophecies. In the earlier prophecies, we have in view the Assyrian invasion. Then, in the later prophecies we have the Babylonian captivity in view. He also predicts the return of the remnant and the final glory of the kingdom with the coming arrival of the King.
So what we’re about to read involves prophecies involving the fall of the nation of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians. In chapter 5, Isaiah sings a song to his well-beloved Jehovah over His lament of what’s become of His vineyard. He says, "My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes.” He says, “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" God did everything right with the care He put into His vineyard. Yet was all in vain. The result was only degenerate trees and worthless fruit.
So who were the degenerate trees and worthless fruit? His people. God had established Israel in the most favorable position. He separated them to Himself. He crowned them with favors. He vouchsafed not only protection but every means of blessing if they obeyed His Word, and He says, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" So terrible was the case against Israel and Judah, that God challenges them to judge between Him and His vineyard. There was no more doubt of the goodness shown to Israel than of their obligation to yield fruit for God. But their obligation produced no fruit. And so, Isaiah writes in v 5, “And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard” He says, “I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste…” Then, Isaiah goes through 6 woes, which he expands upon throughout 1st 39 chapters. But with every judgment and every woe, the Lord always had His hand stretched out to them in offer of reconciliation but they consistently spurned His love.
In Isaiah 6, we have the Lord’s calling, just as we saw last week in Ezekiel 1 in which the Lord impresses upon the prophet with the use of these Seraphims some very significant, meaningful, spiritual imagery, which impresses upon Him not only reverence to God for all that He is but also the importance of His calling.
Isa 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Let’s stop. What is that train? The word “train” here seems to signify the skirt of a garment, or a robe. Here it is evidently designed as a representation of a large, flowing kingly robe, so vast that this robe flows all the way down His throne and fills all the most holy part of the temple. Isn’t that amazing? Have you ever visualized the Lord Jesus Christ sitting upon a throne with this giant garment that flows all the way down and into the Temple of the Lord? It would seem this train or this enormous flowing robe had to be indicative of His very grandeur and power. Picture this. Seeing the Messiah sitting on a throne as a king; clothed in a large, loose, flowing robe, and this robe is enormous flowing all that way down into the Temple of the Lord! And He’s surrounded by his ministering spirits. The purpose of this vision was not only to impress the prophet with a sense of the holiness of God, but also with this robe to give additional weight to His kingly and priestly authority and the enormous responsibility to carry out the commission he’s about to receive.
Isa 6:2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. Isa 6:3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. Isa 6:4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Isa 6:5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Isa 6:6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: Isa 6:7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Isa 6:8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. Isa 6:9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 6:10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. 6:11 Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, 6:12 And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. 6:13 But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
Isa 6:2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. First, he says, Above it stood the seraphims. Above what? The end of vs. 1 said, …his train filled the temple. Then we get, Above it stood the seraphims. Some suggested that the Seraphims were above the throne. That’s not what these verses say. They were above the temple, not God Himself, nor the throne of God. The temple does not exist on a higher plane than the Lord. Remember how Isaiah said in vs. 1 that His throne was high and lifted up. Nothing is higher than the Lord Jesus Christ, not the temple or any of His heavenly host.
The word for Seraphims in the Hebrew, saw-rawf, essentially means “burning” or “burning ones.” Bullinger makes the point that the Hebrew word, saw-rawf, was used to describe other creatures, like the “fiery serpents” in Numbers 21. The word “fiery” was saw-rawf. So this word could be used as an adjective and also a noun. It was interesting to me that the dispensational writers of the 19th century saw no difference between the Seraphims and the Cherubims. 20th century dispensational writers were careful to make a distinction. It’s certainly possible that they may be cousins, but I tend to agree with the old-school 19th century dispensational writers for a variety of reasons. Although Isaiah doesn’t describe their appearance as burning, the Seraphims are called burning ones just as Ezekiel describes the appearance of Cherubims as “like burning coals of fire.” These Seraphims have six wings and one face, just like the 4 “beasts” in Rev. 4. Even though they’re called “beasts” remember how similar they were in appearance to the Cherubims. They each had one face, but each face was that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, whereas the Cherubims in Ezekiel 1 each had 4 faces, which was also that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The beasts in Rev. 4 had six wings whereas the Cherubims only had 4, but we know that the Cherubims on the Ark of the Covenant had one face and two wings. Cherubims are not defined by number of wings. If it’s possible that a Cherubim could have 2 wings or 4 wings, then wouldn’t it also be possible for them to have 6 wings, too? How can the beasts not be connected to the Cherubims if they have the same types of faces even if they only have one face? So if the beasts in Rev. 4 have 6 wings and 1 face, and they may be connected to Cherubims, and we have the burning ones here in Isaiah 6 having 6 wings and 1 face, then is it possible that these burning ones are also Cherubims? I think it is possible not only because of appearance but also because of their nearness to the throne of God and because of their interaction with the altar to bring the live coal to Isaiah. Remember how the writer of Hebrews wrote in Heb 9:5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat. Because of their interaction with the altar and the mercyseat, it would seem very likely to me that burning ones may very well be used to describe the Cherubims like “beasts” in Rev. 4.
We also have here, “with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly”. What does it mean “with twain?” Twain means two or double. So with two wings he covered his face, and with two wings he covered his feet, and with two wings he did fly… Can you imagine that?
Why did each of those Seraphims cover their faces and feet? There was also a similar description about the Cherubims in Eze 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. The Cherubims covered their bodies whereas the Seraphims covered their faces and their feet. Why? A lot of people would point out that to cover the face and feet in this manner is a natural expression of reverence. I would suggest that there’s more to it than that. These Seraphims and Cherubims covering their faces and their bodies expressed their feelings of fear and reverence being in the presence of the majesty of the pureness of the Lord’s holiness, that in His presence, the power of His holiness is so overwhelming, even these holy Seraphims felt the need to cover themselves up. This is why they were crying out Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. Their praises to God explains why they were covering themselves up. They were not only crying this out continually, but they were also crying out praise of His holiness so loudly that vs. 4 tells us that the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried. Each voice was loud enough in its praise of the holiness of God, that it literally shook the threshold, the pillars, of the entire Temple of the Lord upon the Holy Mountain of God in Heaven! Just imagine that! Here’s a question. Why does it say him instead of them? If they’re all crying together, then why does the verse say the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried? They weren’t praising Him together. They each took turns to praise Him. Vs. 3 says “And one cried unto another”. They cried to each other in alternate responses. When the Temple shook, it wasn’t all their voices crying out together. That Temple shook at the loudness of each individual Seraphim! Imagine that! Again, there is a similarity here between the Seraphims and the Cherubims in terms of loudness of sound. You remember last week that 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? Here in Isaiah 6 we have emphasized the loudness of each voice that’s praising God being so extraordinarily loud that it actually shook the very foundations of the Temple of the Lord atop the Holy Mountain of God. This speaks to His worthiness to be praised. Nothing loud enough nor praising Him for all eternity would ever come close to giving God the amount of praise He is legitimately worthy to receive. The loudness also speaks to the fact that these Seraphims must also be as massive in scale as the Cherubims in order to praise God so loudly that each voice can shake the pillars of the Temple of God. How big must these angels be? How tall are we talking here? Miles and miles... Again, this is another indication to me that the Seraphims may very well be one and the same as the Cherubims.
But back to those loud words of praise. You may recall that the 4 beasts in Rev. 4:8 are also crying out something similar in His throne room. “The four beasts rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” Why do they sing of His holiness? Their praise of His holiness instills in us fear and reverence for who He is as much as it gives us comfort. I loved what Matthew Henry said, “for power, without purity to guide it, would be a terror to mankind.” If the Lord wasn’t pure in His holiness, we would all have reason to sorrow every day, but His holiness is cause for celebration and praise, as well as awe and reverence for who He is. So the Seraphims and the beasts in the throne room are all continually praising Him, or perhaps singing, about His holiness, and to get back to my point earlier about why they were covering themselves, I would suggest that these Seraphims covered themselves because of His holiness. One cannot understate the intensity of power being in the presence of His holiness. And these prostrations of the Seraphims were designed to create an enormous impression upon Isaiah and upon us. If these powerful, pure, holy Seraphims showed such reverence in the presence of God with such awe and veneration and they felt the need to cover themselves because of the pureness of His holiness, should not we, unclean and sinful creatures, show Him even more reverence than they? The Apostle John wrote of this moment in his gospel book, making the point that Isaiah had prophesied of the inevitable unbelief of the people during the Lord’s earthly ministry. Then John wrote in Joh 12:41. He said, These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. And what is the glory of the Lord? Is it the light that He dwells in which no man can approach unto? I think that light may be a visual manifestation of the power that exists in the glory of His holiness, which is why no man can approach unto it. It’s not like flesh melting if it were to try to approach the sun. It’s that nothing unclean could actually survive being in the presence of the power of His pure holiness. You would need to be as righteous as Christ and given a heavenly body to survive being in the presence of His natural state in Heaven. And these Seraphims defined His glory when they were crying out Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. His glory is His holiness. This is why they continually praise His holiness, because His holiness is the pre-eminent, crowning attribute of His divine nature. This is why we are all sinners. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We’ve fallen short of His crowning glory, which is His holiness.
So these Seraphims cover their faces with two wings and their feet with two wings, and many pointed out that by covering their feet they were essentially covering their whole bodies just like the Cherubims. All of this spectacle was designed to prepare the way of the Lord, to demand Isaiah’s attention in awe and reverence for who He is, especially the pureness of His holiness, and to take seriously His calling. It’s only natural to emphasize the pureness of the Lord’s holiness before He carries out judgment, because that judgment upon Israel was as righteous and holy and God Himself. The point about His holiness, the point about the brilliant pureness of His holiness, which is why the Seraphims covered themselves and sang of His holiness, those points were not lost on Isaiah. He understood his unworthiness. He said in Isa 6:5 Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. I would take this to mean nothing more than, I am a sinner. I am unclean just for being in the presence of sin amongst His people, all of which makes me not only unworthy to stand before Him but also worthy of death just for being in the presence of His holiness. One person pointed out “a right view of the holiness of God will lead to a right view of sin.” Of course, I can’t help but think of what the Lord told Moses in Exo 33:20 when he wanted to see His face. The Lord said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. Why? Because nothing unclean can survive in the presence of the power of His holiness, which is His glory.
In response to all of this, Isaiah says, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. And in verse 6, we read, Isa 6:6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: Isa 6:7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Just imagine this moment. You see the Lord exalted high up upon His throne with a garment of some kind that flows all the way down and into the Temple. You have each Seraphim praising God for His holiness, which is so loud it shakes the very Temple of Lord. And this massive angel, grabs tongs, a live coal, and flies over to you. You’re standing in front of this angel, this burning one, with its six massive wings, and he is so enormous, it’s like standing in front of a skyscraper. You can’t see the top of that angel! And this giant angel being bends down to touch your mouth with that live coal. And that deep booming voice, the same voice that was praising God so loudly it actually shook the Temple of the Lord, that same voice, speaks to you, and says, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Can you even imagine experiencing something like that? You would never ever forget that moment.
One question I asked on the podcast today was “Why a live coal?” First, Cliff Matthews, pointed out I think, today on the podcast pointed out Eze 10:2 another vision involving Cherubims, And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims... Notice the connection between the Cherubims and the live coals of fire between them just as we have this connection with the Seraphims, the burning ones, able to actually take the live coals of fire from the altar, which again, I think indicates that Cherubims and Seraphims are the same. Second, notice how these Seraphim were ministering for Isaiah. Remember how God defined in Heb. 1:14 the function of angels as ministering spirits, who are sent… to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. So these Seraphims ministered for him by delivering and applying that live coal upon his mouth to purge him from sin. They did for him what he could not do for himself. Second, did you notice that the Temple of the Lord on the Holy Mountain of God in Heaven is not mere decoration? It is active. There are live coals. The coals were taken off the altar, and we know the significance of the altar to the nation of Israel. The altar involved sacrifices for the atoning of sin. Some suggested that if the temple on the earth was a mere shadow of the temple in Heaven, then perhaps the sacrifices on Earth may also be mirrored in Heaven, which had sealed in Heaven forever the atoning work of that sacrifice accomplished on the Earth. Or some other service is being carried out in the temple, which has not been revealed to us. On the surface, we can look at this live coal as merely an instrument of purification. A means to purge someone from sin, which I know is stating the obvious, and yet, I couldn’t help but notice that this means of purification is so precious, this coal is so precious, that they use tongs to pick up and deliver that live coal. Why is that? It’s not like the burning ones are going to be burned by touching a live coal if they themselves are already burning. Personally, I couldn’t help but wonder if they needed tongs because they’re so big and the coal is so small, it’s like us using tweezers to pick up a piece of dust. Some suggest that this live coal was simply symbolic of Christ whose future sacrifice would purge all His people of their sin. When it comes to something burning used in a process of purification, I can’t help but think of an old purification process that involved the red heifer in Numbers 19. In that process, the heifer was to be wholly burnt. The priest was to cast into the fire, while it was burning, cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet, that the ashes of these might be mingled with the ashes of the heifer for the sake of purification. That was all designed to typify the extreme sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, both in soul and body, as a sacrifice for sin. The ashes of the heifer expressed the effect of the consuming judgment of God on Christ because of sin. The ashes vividly expressed in a type the consuming judgment of God. In no other sacrifice was this more fully carried out than in the burning of the red heifer. So a live burning coal would convey many of those same ideas as a symbol of Christ. The live coal used to purge Isaiah of sin would foreshadow the extreme sufferings and the consuming judgment of God on Christ because of sin. And yet, that coal, just like the sacrificial system under the Mosaic law, was a sign that the guilt of Isaiah’s sin was removed by God’s kindness, God’s pardoning mercy towards him, by the renewing power of grace to willingly purge him of sin to make him worthy to stand before Him in love, which would mean that nothing could hinder Isaiah from being accepted of God in His presence along with all those holy angels. Nor could he be hindered from being called by God as a messenger to the people of Israel. And yet, we cannot forget what the Seraphims taught by their example in this vision. Even after we’re purged of sin, even after God has made us worthy to be in His presence, we must still prostrate ourselves before Him in awe and reverence for who He is, for the brilliant pureness of His holiness, which is His crowning glory and which we, like the Seraphims, must always worship.
A quote from Charles Henry MackIntosh: “First, the substance; secondly, the style of the action recorded. The substance is the thing that was done; the style is the way of doing it. The prophet had been led to see himself in the light which came from the throne of God. This was a serious moment. It could not possibly be otherwise. It is deeply solemn to be brought to the discovery of what we are in the presence of God. When so brought, nothing but divine provision can meet our need, nothing but a divine object can satisfy the heart. Had Isaiah seen only the throne, his condition would have been hopeless. But there was the altar as well, and here lay the secret of life and salvation for him as for every other convicted and self-destroyed sinner. If the throne had its claims, the altar had its provision. The one stood over against the other — two prominent figures in this most sublime vision, two grand realities in the glorious economy of divine grace. The light of the throne revealed the sinner's guilt; the grace of the altar removed it. Most assuredly, nothing else could have done for Isaiah, nothing else for the reader. It must be this in every case. The measure may vary, but the great fact is always the same. ‘Woe is me!’ and ‘This hath touched thy lips’ must go together. The former is the effect of the throne; the latter, the fruit of the altar. The former is the need created; the latter is the object revealed. Nothing can be more simple, nothing more blessed. It is only the One who creates the need who can unfold the object to meet it; the former He does by the action of truth; the latter by the provision of grace. ‘This hath touched thy lips.’ Mark the words, reader! Note them carefully. See that you understand their force, their meaning and their application to yourself. ‘This’ — what is it? It is the provision — the rich, ample, perfect provision of divine grace. It has wrapped up in its comprehensive folds all a poor guilty, hell-deserving, broken-hearted sinner can need to meet his guilt and ruin. It is not anything from within, but something from without. It is not a process, it is not an exercise, it is not a feeling; it is a divine provision to meet the sinner's deepest need, to remove his guilt, to hush his fears, to save his soul. All was contained in that mysterious ‘live coal from off the altar.’”