The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.Concerning the Cherubims
This chapter is a varied representation of the vision disclosed in the first chapter; including, indeed, two new points, but still practically being the first vision as contemplated from another point of view. The two chapters may be regarded as in a sense binocular: looking through both of them we seem to see the real vision, so far as human sense can apprehend it. What is this variety of the same vision but a repetition of what occurs constantly in human life? Is it not always the same things that we look at? Are there in reality two things to be observed? Is it the object that changes, or the point of view? Is it the revelation or the atmosphere that undergoes modification? Is the landscape the same on cloudy days as in the full tide of summer sunshine? Yet the land abides; the trees, the towns, the gardens, the rivers are all the same, yet not the same by reason of the varying light which plays upon them, giving distinctness and shadow, new accent and proportion, according to a mysterious operation not yet fully comprehended. It is the same with theology, or with theologies! thoughts, such as God, Man, Salvation, Destiny: there is a central quantity which abides the same and unchangeable, and yet in all practical effect that central quantity seems to be continually changing; what we have to accept is the doctrine that it is not the central quantity that changes, but the conditions, the atmospheric density, the degree of light, and innumerable other circumstances which constitute the medium through which all our observations are taken. What is today but a repetition cf yesterday? To-day has of course brought its own light, its own temperature, its own immediate appeals; yet the two days are not dissimilar, they are indeed continuous; in very truth they are the same day, though we have divided them with a black line which we call night What is this summer but a repetition of the summer of last year? Yet this summer has its own flowers and fruits, its own birds, its own aspect of glory; still there is but one summer in all time,—a day of warmth and beauty and tenderness, a day of revelation and mystery and fructification, a day which seems to shadow forth somewhat of the brightness and meaning of eternity. So with all beauty, so with all childhood, so with everything that grows. The difference is in the external, not in the internal; in the outward and visible leaf, not in the inward and invisible root. This is the very glory of providence; in it there is no monotony or mere repetition or tediousness; the providential sovereignty abides, but all the events through which it expresses itself continually change their light, their shadow, their agony, their tragedy. He therefore who studies providence studies a book that is always the same, yet never the same. The student of providence never wearies. He sees differences that are minute, but being microscopic are not the less important. We lose much by studying only great broad lines of historical movement: he is the truest historian who can lead us to see the finest lines of human thought, purpose, and action, and who afterwards can combine these into massive philosophies and laws.
Ezekiel saw a "sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne." So in all the world's tumult, revolution, and tempestuous politics and wars, we ought to be able to see over and above the whole the outline of a throne. The meaning is that the misrule, the fury, the rush of elements, is far below the point of sovereignty, and is under the continual vigilance and rule of a supreme Power. "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." So early as the Book of Exodus we were made aware of a rulership enthroned in glory: "They saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness." Yet the prophet is very careful in his statement, not speaking as one who had seen the fulness of the glory or the vastness of the magnitude of the throne; he speaks of "the appearance of the likeness of a throne,"—that is to say, it was an outline, a shadow, a hint, something projected by an object infinitely greater than itself, a shadow that might have come down from infinite heights. It is thus that we see God in nature, in providence, and in all human life—"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him"; "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." It is given to the spiritually minded to see these outlines of sovereignty. Not always do they come upon the vision as distinct images, but the events themselves are actually shaped as into the outline of a throne; the events are from one point of view sundered and scattered and unrelated, yet as time elapses they are brought together by an invisible hand, and set up in expressive unity, so clearly indeed that the only image which will represent their new relation is the image of a throne filled with majesty. Blessed be God, this throne is not always to be a distant and dazzling object; there is a way by which men may share the glory and security of that throne—"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with my Father in his throne." Are we not all called to rulership? Are not the saints to judge the world? Is not all our toil, if rightly accepted and sanctified, to end in glory, honour, and immortality? These are questions which should cheer the heart amid all the rush of events, the turmoil of history, the tempest and fury of revolution.
In the second verse we have one new point varying the chapter from the opening vision:—
"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, and scatter them over the city." (Ezekiel 10:2)
A wonderful thing it is that fire burns and does not burn! Here is a man clothed with linen who goes in between the wheels, and fills his very hand with coals of fire: they do not burn him; he handles them with impunity; and yet when he scatters them over the city the whole metropolis burns to destruction. The elements are one thing in the hand of their Creator, and another when thrown in an act of judgment upon creation. The gospel is either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death; fire either becomes a summer to warm, or a conflagration to destroy; fire is either servant or master—as servant, a friend; as master, a destroyer. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In the twelfth verse we read concerning the cherubims that "their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had." Here is an image of vigilance. God has been called "All eye." This is the terrible pain of living, that there is no privacy, no solitude, no possibility of a man getting absolutely with himself and by himself. Wherever we are we are in public. We can indeed exclude the vulgar public, the common herd, the thoughtless multitude; a plain deal door can shut out that kind of world: but what can shut out the beings who do the will of Heaven, and who are full of eyes, their very chariot wheels being luminous with eyes, everything round about them looking at us critically, penetratingly, judicially? We live unwisely when we suppose that we are not being superintended, observed, criticised, and judged. "Thou God seest me"; "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth." What Ezekiel saw in vision John also saw: "In the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.... And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within." All this must be taken as symbolic of vigilance and criticism. We need not regard this aspect of divine providence as alarming. The aspect will be to us what we are to it. Faithful servants are encouraged by the remembrance of the fact that the taskmaster's eye is upon them; unfaithful servants will regard the action of that eye as a judgment. Thus God is to us what we are to God. If we are humble, he is gracious; if we are froward, he is haughty; if we are sinful, he is angry; if we are prayerful, he is condescending and sympathetic. Let the wicked man tremble when he hears that the whole horizon is starred with gleaming eyes that are looking him through and through; but let the good man rejoice that all heaven is one eye looking upon him with complacency, watching all his action that it may come to joy, reward, rest, and higher power of service in the generations yet to dawn. Whilst on the one hand we have an image of vigilance, we have in the fourteenth verse an image of manifoldness: "Every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle."
We have read that one face was like the face of an ox. It has been suggested that in the Syriac tongue the word "cherub" is derived from a word which signifies drawing the plough, which was considered the proper work of the ox. All these, however, may be but fanciful interpretations. The great doctrine is that the providence of God is manifold, and the ministry of God is also manifold, and that his Church should not have one aspect but many, looking in all directions, typifying all states of life and emotion, and providing for all the varying necessities of life and time and progress. The first face was that of a cherub, expressive of knowledge, wisdom, largeness of mind, omniscience; the second face was the face of a man, expressive of brotherhood, sympathy, relationship, so that the face could be approached, and all the powers and elements which it typified could be implored, reasoned with, appealed to; the third was the face of a lion, expressive of courage, determination, aggressiveness, strength; the fourth was the face of an eagle, expressive of loftiness, fearlessness, enterprise, holy ambition. This is to be the image of the Church. It is to know, to sympathise, to express strength, and to represent invincible determination and magnificent enterprise.
Now the prophet realises the vision in its inter-relations:—
"When the cherubims went, the wheels went by them: and when the cherubims lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also turned not from beside them. When they stood, these stood; and when they were lifted up, these lifted up themselves also: for the spirit of the living creature was in them" (Ezekiel 10:16-17).
The inspiration was common; all forces, actions, ministries, are after all in the hands of one sovereign. If the universe is an infinite machine, part is related to part with infinite skill, and the weight of the whole is as nothing, because of the ease with which the entire body moves: we have the action of wheels, representing smoothness; the action of wings, representing swiftness; combined action, representing unity; and the whole moving with such regularity, spontaneity, and completeness as to represent a living creature. Wheels move, wings fly, place is changed, yet it is possible amid all this mutability to realise the blessedness of permanence. The living creature is greater than the machine which he moves; that living creature we do not see, but we are sure of his presence because of the action which is patent to our vision.
The second new point is in the abandonment of the temple, related in Ezekiel 10:18-19 :—
"Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims. And the cherubims lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord's house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above."
A fearful picture is this when looked at in the light of its spiritual significance. The sun may be darkened, the moon may be turned into blood, the stable earth may be shaken and blown about like a withered leaf: say not tomorrow shall be as this day and more abundant, because we hold all our privileges conditionally; the very glory of the Lord may be ashamed of the Lord's house, and may flee from it as from a polluted body. The cherubim do not rest with us because of our being necessary to their happiness; they only abide with us because of the good we are willing to receive from them: we do not honour God; God honours us. When did the Lord so communicate himself to any being as to deprive himself of any part of his sovereignty? God has not given anything that he cannot take away again. The gifts and calling of God are undoubtedly without repentance, so long as we receive and appropriate them with willing hands and grateful hearts; but he will not suffer his gifts to die with our death, or to remain with us when we have forsaken him, merely for the sake of preserving his literal word. Understand clearly, deeply, and once for all, that God only gives us life that we may live; he only gives us honour that we may reflect it, and use it for the good of others; he only causes his light to abide with us so long as it can be made useful to our own education and to the assistance and comfort of others. When the Church is unfaithful, God will abandon her altars. No matter how glorious the house we have built for him, if our lives be not more glorious still we may write "Ichabod" upon the temple doors, for the Lord hath fled away from us. No man can guarantee the continuity of his own genius. We have no unchangeable hold on our own life; what we have we have conditionally, we hold as trustees, and only as we are faithful can we rely upon the continued custody of the divinest blessings. Genius may fade, riches may flee, health may decay, and all outward things may become to us as the image of so many reproaches and rebukes, and even life itself may wither and die. This power of withdrawal on the part of God is a power we may not have sufficiently considered. We awake in the morning and expect to find everything as it was yesterday, when, lo! God may have visited us in the night-time, and taken away from us everything that made life a blessing and a hope. God never does this arbitrarily; when this is done there is a great moral reason below it and behind it: God acts by certain well-declared and unchangeable laws, every one of which we can read for ourselves; and we well know that obedience leads to blessedness, and disobedience leads to unrest and self-contempt. How unwilling is God to withdraw from his house! How loath he is to lift himself up from any mind that he may abandon that mind to its own devices, which hasten it swiftly to destruction! God lingers with us, communes with us, intercedes with us, asks us, Why will ye die? How good he is, and tender; how patient and longsuffering! What is the meaning of all this? Can our poor life be of consequence to him? Yes; he holds every one of us as of great value. He has made nothing that is insignificant; he looks upon each life as necessary to the completeness of his kingdom, and the fulness of his music. When one of us goes astray the Lord comes after the lost one with a shepherd's tender care. Hear the word of the Lord—so grand, so pathetic, so tearful: "Turn ye, turn ye! why will ye die?" "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." On the other hand, remember this solemn word, that the glory of the Lord may lift up itself and flee away, and leave poor human, sinful, impenitent life to enter into the mystery of judgment and penalty.