ON THE CHERUBIM.
THE Visions recorded in the first and tenth chapters of this Prophet have received much illustration, and yet remain involved in great obscurity. It seems desirable to supply some information, even at the risk of being tedious and minute. The living creatures of the first chapter are called in the ninth and tenth -- cherubim. The derivation of the word is a point of some importance. Castell, in his elaborate Lex. Hept., connects it with the Chaldee root krv, kereb, signifying |to plough,| and quotes Ezekiel 1:10, where |an ox| occurs, |a strong animal, of great labor, especially in ploughing; and being used for the expiation of sins, becomes a type of Christ, who is there perhaps to be understood; for as the ox is the leader of the herd, so Christ is the head of the faithful.| Josephus says they were animals never seen by any one. (Antiq., lib.3. chapter 6, and lib.8 chapter 2.) The Arabic root of the same three letters, kereb, signifies anxiety and oppressive labor, anxit animum, invertit aratio terram; while the cognate forms of the Syriac signify ploughing and laborious effort. |The most probable,| says Gesenius, |among the many derivations of this word which have been proposed, is that from the Syriac, potens magnus fortis.| Professor Lee writes, in evident despair, |It would be idle to offer anything on the etymology: nothing satisfactory having yet been discovered. Castell, Simonis, Gesenius, etc., may be consulted by those who wish to see what has been said on this subject.| The cherubic form has been fully portrayed by our Commentator; and by engravings in the Cyclopcedia of Biblical Literature we are enabled to compare Egyptian and Persian winged symbols with those of the Hebrews. A sculptured bas-relief of a winged human figure as it existed before the time of Moses, and placed by the Egyptians over their sacred arcs, is worthy of comparison with the descriptions of Scripture. The Persian bas-relief at Moung-Aub, is a human figure arrayed in an embroidered robe, |with such quadruple wings as the vision of Ezekiel ascribes to the cherubim, with the addition of ample horns, the well-known symbols of regal power.| The opinions of divines relative to their design and signification are very diversified. Among the ancients Philo supposed them to signify the two hemispheres, the flaming sword showing the motion of the planets, and the lion and the man being Leo and Aquarius, the signs of the Zodiac. Irenaeus (Adv. Heres.3:11) treats them as emblems of the four elements, the four quarters of the globe, the four gospels, and the four covenants. Tertullian (Apolog. cap.47.) referred them to the torrid zone, while Justin Martyr treats Ezekiel's figures as relating to Nebuchadnezzar eating grass like the ox, with his hand like a lion's, and his nails like the claws of a bird, (Quaest. et Respons.44, page 325, edit. Heidelbergae, 1593;) and that they were consolatory to the captive Israelites by setting before them the prospect of their own return, and their oppressor's downfall. The analogy to the four gospels, as presented to us by Irenaeus, is peculiarly ingenious, and worthy of perusal. Spencer, in his Ritual Observances of the Hebrews, has ingeniously explained their form and description. (Lib.3. Dissert.5 cap.3. and 4 section 2.) Grotius considers them to represent |the properties of God, and his actions towards his people,| (Annot. in Vet. Test.;) and Doederlin, while conceding the praise of ingenuity to the conjectures of his author, yet treats his speculations as the abortion rather than the legitimate offspring of a luxuriant fancy. (Vogel's edit. Grot. continued by Doeder., volume 2 page 247.) Further information as to the views of ancient writers has been collected by Rosenmuller, on Ezekiel 1:10, edit. see. Lipsiae, 1826. The translation of Houbigant may be consulted, and Spencer on the Laws and Ritual of the Hebrews, lib.3. Dissert.5, chapter 1, and folk The various readings on which different translations are founded are rendered very accessible to the English reader by the simple and comprehensive notes of Archbishop Newcome.
It is interesting to observe the way in which the learned Jesuit Maldonatus comments on this first: chapter. He interprets the four visions separately first, the tempest; next, the figure of the four animals; the third, the form of the wheels; and the fourth, the firmament., and the man sitting on the throne. He objects to the allegorical interpretation of Origen and in school, and considers that the tempest signifies the calamities which the Chaldaeans caused to the Jews and their city. By the whirlwind, the nearness of the calamities is pointed out; and by the north wind, its rapidity and destructive force. Some, he says, refer it to Babylon, making it symbolize the manners of the Chaldaeans, which were rough and boisterous. The great cloud seems to him to signify the army of the king of Babylon; and the fire, his wrath and fury: the surrounding brightness is an indication of the divine majesty, and the amber color is an image of God himself. Jerome takes the amber as a symbol of pity, since amber has an attractive power, and by placing it in connection with the army of the king of Babylon, it implies that God directed every event concerning the captivity. Gregory and others interpret the amber of Christ.
The Second Vision he considers more difficult; he first gives the views of other interpreters, and then brings forward his own formed divino beneficio, meditando, legendo, orando. Origen (Hom.1. in Ezekiel) takes the four living creatures for the four affections of man's nature: the man representing the reasoning faculty, the lion the inflammable passions, the ox concupiscence, and the eagle, as it soars upwards, the divine spirit, within us. St. Ambrose (Lib.3. de virinibus) refers them to prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. Jerome and Gregory understand them of the four evangelists; and the details respecting the wheels, the wings, and the sparks of fire, are consistently interpreted. Catina Syrius refers them to the camp of Israel in the desert: the face of a man meaning all Israel, that of a lion the tribe of Judea, that of an ox the tribe of Levi, and that of an eagle God looking down from above, and taking vengeance on the people. Theodoret (Comment. in loc.) considers them to represent the majesty and glory of God resident in these cherubim. It appears that in his day the opinion of Jerome was most popular; and it was necessary to give many reasons why the four evangelists were not signified by this vision. Philosophical interpreters also existed, no unworthy predecessors of the German rationalists. They supposed all things indiscriminately signified by these representatives of animated nature, while some preferred the changes of the events of providence to the manifestations of external nature. His own opinion he records as follows: that the cherubim represent four heathen kingdoms, Chaldean, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Tyrian. He supposes them placed under the firmament, and under the sapphire throne, to indicate the supreme power of the Almighty over all things. The wings are the human guards by which kings protect themselves; the hands represent human industry, strength, and labor; the fire indicates the Spirit of God in kings; and the various motions forwards and backwards show the changes in governments and the perturbations of empires, all under the control of a supreme governor. This scheme is well fortified by passages of Scripture, and has the merit of great exactness and ingenuity.
We now turn to a very different interpreter -- Oecolampadius. His comments of this chapter is essentially spiritual. He sees in it a representation of God judging the world through Christ. The great truths of revelation he sees obscurely shadowed forth under carnal and Jewish images; and he is anxious to point out the spiritual reign of Christ as promulgated by these outward and visible representations of God's glory. He refers these visions, first of all, to the Jews and their captivity; but he claims for them the office of tangibly illustrating the abiding glory of the universal assembly of the faithful. |The universal Church,| he says, |has three parts' first, its head is Hasmal, represented as an old man seated on a throne next, animals, the just or living members, are those more perfect in the Church, adorned with a variety of gifts' the wheels are the weaker and more ordinary members, which belong to the body, and form the common herd of believers, who belong to the more solid parts of the Church, since they are under the influence of the same Spirit, although they have not attained that fullness of which St. Paul speaks, and have not drunk into the peculiar and interior spirit of the Gospel.| He then confesses the great difficulty of ascertaining the correct interpretation' he rejects all Jewish comments, and approves of the spiritualizing method of referring it to the coming kingdom of Christ. The whirlwind, for instance, he asserts to be a figure of the devastation which preceded Christ's first coming, and shall also signalize his second advent- the great cloud expresses God's judgments on the world, and the fire the process of trial through which all things are to pass. Hasmal he regards as the name of an angel or fiery living one speaking, and blames Jerome for following the Septuagint, and translating it electrum.
This spiritually-minded reformer has furnished a valuable exposition of the mystery contained in the vision recorded in the tenth chapter, which is worthy of notice. The likeness of a man upon the throne he assumes to be our Savior, whose reign is supreme |in the consciences of his elect.| Most properly is he called Hasmal, |quod de eo admirabunda taciturnitate, et per cogitationes arcanas magnifica loquamur, opus dei in illo admirantes.| The cherubim are beneath him, because he is adored by angels, and has spirits for his messengers and attendants. The firmament, he says, is grace offered through Christ, which strengthens the hearts of the elect by being infused with in them. The living creatures, their wheels and machinery for motion, represent the progress of the Church, suffering as yet under corruption, but waiting and groaning for the redemption of the body. In each living creature all qualities are bound together; for the four faces represent the spiritual endowments of advancing Christians; the same animal is a man in judgment, a lion in patient endurance, a calf in usefulness and guileless sincerity, and an eagle in prompt and cheerful obedience to its lord the wings are faith and divine love, which veil the face, which is conscience, and of this there are four kinds corresponding Lo the human, the leonine, the infantile, and the aquiline appearances. |It is the property of a good conscience to by raised upwards towards God when confirmed in grace, and, forgetful of thing's past to be more and more anxious to reach the firmament of grace.| The hands under each wing represent those good works by which living faith and active love manifest their divine power; while the wheels signify the inferior members of the Church, who, though not attaining to the same righteous standard, are animated by a similar spirit. The feet being straight and equable, and turning easily and constantly in all directions, are said to signify the messengers of God proclaiming' his salvation throughout the world, and |bearing| all things to all men, that they may bring many profitably to Christ.| The sound produced by the motion of the wings means the fame of salvation arriving at, distant regions; and when the Prophet hears the voice exhorting the wheels, it seems to him to say, |O wheels, follow with alacrity the spirit of the living creature within you; let; nothing; delay you; let nothing tear you from the fourfold figure, which is the body of Christ; for if you cleave to this, even in its lowest part, you shall be raised up together with it.| The motion of each animal, in the direction of its face, signifies every Christian acting according to his conscience; and although there are differences of gifts, and each exercises his own independently, yet all follow one common leader, being animated by a common spirit. Thus the companion of Zuingle spiritualizes the passage with much consistency and at great length, affording a singular example of the method of throwing the light of matured Christian experience upon a scene so exclusively Jewish. To enable us to decide whether the view of Calvin or Ecolampadius is the correct one, we must state some general principles, which will be found in the following section.