|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
9:1-5 The apostle shows to the Hebrews the typical reference of their ceremonies to Christ. The tabernacle was a movable temple, shadowing forth the unsettled state of the church upon earth, and the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. The typical meaning of these things has been shown in former remarks, and the ordinances and articles of the Mosaic covenant point out Christ as our Light, and as the Bread of life to our souls; and remind us of his Divine Person, his holy priesthood, perfect righteousness, and all-prevailing intercession. Thus was the Lord Jesus Christ, all and in all, from the beginning. And as interpreted by the gospel, these things are a glorious representation of the wisdom of God, and confirm faith in Him who was prefigured by them.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And over it the cherubim of glory,.... Or "glorious cherubim", where the Shechinah, or divine glory, dwelt, Psalm 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 (u); 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 (w) and Josephus (x) say, they were winged fowls; but the generality of the Jewish writers take them for angels (y); and some of them say they were destroying angels, or noxious spirits (z), which is not probable; but why angels should be so called, and what was their appearance, there are different opinions. Jerom says (a) the word signifies a multitude of knowledge; and indeed Philo the Jew (b) observes, that the Greeks would interpret the Hebrew word, much knowledge and understanding; and another Jewish writer (c) 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" (d), because that angels have appeared in the form of young men. So in the Talmud (e) it is asked,
"what does cherub signify?" says R. Abhu, "as a young man", for so in Babylon they call a young man ''
Some think that the word "cherub" is the same with "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, Psalm 18:10 to which may be added, that Ezekiel's vision of the "cherubim" is frequently, by the Jews (f), called "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 "Carab", which in the Syriac and Arabic languages signifies "to plough", and so in the Talmud (g); 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. 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 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 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, Psalm 18:10 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 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. 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 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 (h); and the Jews frequently speak of , "the mystery of the cherubim" (i): 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, signifies "a covering": nor is our English word in sound very different from it; and it was so called, as Kimchi (k) 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 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. 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".
(u) Targum Jon. &. Hieros. in Genesis 3.24. (w) De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 668. (x) Antiqu. l. 3. c. 6. sect. 5. (y) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 21. fol. 19. 1. & Mattanot Cehunah in ib. Aben Ezra in Genesis 3.24. (z) Jarchi & Baal Hatturim in loc. (a) Ep. Paulino, Tom. III. fol. 3. F. (b) Ut supra. (De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 668.) (c) R. Samuel Tzartzah, Sepher Meker Chayim, fol. 8. 3.((d) Zohar in Gen. fol. 122. 3. & Imre Binah in ib. Aben Ezra in Genesis 3.24. Kimchi Sepher Shorash. in rad. & R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 58. 2.((e) T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 13. 2. & Succa, fol. 5. 2.((f) T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 14. 2.((g) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 32. 2. Bava Kama, fol. 96. 2.((h) De Cherubim, p. 112. de Profugis, p. 465. & de Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 669. (i) Zohar in Gen. fol. 99. 1. & 122. 4. (k) Sopher Shorash. rad.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. over it—over "the ark of the covenant."
cherubim—representing the ruling powers by which God acts in the moral and natural world. (See on Eze 1:6; Eze 10:1). Hence sometimes they answer to the ministering angels; but mostly to the elect redeemed, by whom God shall hereafter rule the world and set forth His manifold wisdom: redeemed humanity, combining in, and with itself, the highest forms of subordinate creaturely life; not angels. They stand on the mercy seat, and on that ground become the habitation of God, from which His glory is to shine upon the world. They expressly say, Re 5:8-10, "Thou hast redeemed us." They are there distinguished from the angels, and associated with the elders. They were of one piece with the mercy seat, even as the Church is one with Christ: their sole standing is on the blood-sprinkled mercy seat; they gaze down at it as the redeemed shall for ever; they are "the habitation of God through the Spirit."
of glory—The cherubim were bearers of the divine glory, whence, perhaps, they derive their name. The Shekinah, or cloud of glory, in which Jehovah appeared between the cherubim over the mercy seat, the lid of the ark, is doubtless the reference. Tholuck thinks the twelve loaves of the showbread represent the twelve tribes of the nation, presented as a community before God consecrated to Him (just as in the Lord's Supper believers, the spiritual Israel, all partaking of the one bread, and becoming one bread and one body, present themselves before the Lord as consecrated to Him, 1Co 10:16, 17); the oil and light, the pure knowledge of the Lord, in which the covenant people are to shine (the seven (lights), implying perfection); the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God's kingdom in the old covenant, and representing God dwelling among His own; the ten commandments in the ark, the law as the basis of union between God and man; the mercy seat covering the law and sprinkled with the blood of atonement for the collective sin of the people, God's mercy [in Christ] stronger than the law; the cherubim, the personified [redeemed] creation, looking down on the mercy seat, where God's mercy, and God's law, are set forth as the basis of creation.
mercy seat—Greek, "the propitiatory": the golden cover of the ark, on which was sprinkled the blood of the propitiatory sacrifice on the day of atonement; the footstool of Jehovah, the meeting place of Him and His people.
we cannot—conveniently: besides what met the eye in the sanctuary, there were spiritual realities symbolized which it would take too long to discuss in detail, our chief subject at present being the priesthood and the sacrifices. "Which" refers not merely to the cherubim, but to all the contents of the sanctuary enumerated in Heb 9:2-5.
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