XVII. The Execution
24. ּ kerûb in Aramaic: "carve, plow" ; Persian: "grip, grasp." This word occurs about eighty-seven times in the Hebrew scriptures; in sixty of which it refers to carved or embroidered figures; in twenty-two to the living being in the vision of Ezekiel Ezek. 10; in two figuratively to the king of Tyre Ezekiel 28:14, Ezekiel 28:16; in two to a being on which the Lord is poetically described as riding II Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:11; and in the present passage unequivocally to real and well-known beings. The root is not otherwise extant in Hebrew proper. But from the class of actions to which it refers, and from a review of the statements of Scripture concerning these creatures, we are led to the following conclusions:
First. The cherubim are real creatures, and not mere symbols. In the narrative of the fall they are introduced as real into the scenes of reality. Their existence is assumed as known; for God is said to place or station the cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden. The representation of a cherub too in vision, as part of a symbolic figure, implies a corresponding reality Ezekiel 10:14. A symbol itself points to a reality.
Second. They are afterward described as "living creatures," especially in the visions of Ezekiel Ezekiel 1:10. This seems to arise, not from their standing at the highest stage of life, which the term does not denote, but from the members of the various animals, which enter into their variously-described figure. Among these appear the faces of the man, the lion, the ox, and the eagle, of which a cherubic form had one, two or four Exodus 25:20; Ezekiel 41:18; Ezekiel 1:16. They had, besides, wings, in number two or four Exodus 25:20; I Kings 6:27; Ezekiel 1:6. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides Ezekiel 1:8; Ezekiel 10:8. Ezekiel also describes their feet as being straight, and having the sole like that of a calf. They sometimes appear too with their bodies, hands, wings, and even accompanying wheels full of eyes Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12. The variety in the figuration of the cherubim is owing to the variety of aspects in which they stand, and of offices or services they have to perform in the varying posture of affairs. This figuration is evidently symbolic. For the real being has not a varying number or order of its constituent parts in the same stage of its existence, though it may be readily represented by a diversity of symbols, according to the diversity of the circumstances in which it appears, and of operations it has to perform. The figuration is merely intended to shadow forth its nature and office in sensible forms to those who have not entered the spiritual world.
Third. The cherubim are intelligent beings. This is indicated by their form, movement, and conduct. In their visible appearance the human form predominates: "They had the likeness of a man" Ezekiel 1:5. The human face is in front, and has therefore the principal place. The "hands of a man" determine the erect posture, and therefore the human form of the body. The parts of other animal forms are only accessory, and serve to mark the possession of qualities which are not prominent in man. The lion indicates the active and destructive powers; the ox, the patient and productive; the eagle denotes rapid motion, with which the wings coincide, and quick sight with which the many eyes accord; and the man signifies reason, which rationalizes all these otherwise physical qualities.
The four faces indicate powers of observation that sweep the whole horizon. The straight feet, with soles like those of a calf, mark an elasticity of step appertaining only to beings unaffected by the force of gravitation. Their motion, "straight forward," combined with the four faces, and the wheel within a wheel going according to its quarters, points to a capacity of moving in any direction without turning by the mere impulse of the will. The intelligence of their conduct will appear from the nature of the duties they have to discharge.
Fourth. Their special office seems to be "intellectual and potential" rather than moral. They have to do with the physical more than the moral aspect of being. Hence, they stand related, on the one side, to God, as 'ĕlohı̂ym , "the Everlasting, the God of omnipotence;" and, on the other, to the universe of created things, in its material, animal, and intellectual departments, and to the general administration of the divine will in this comprehensive sphere. The radical meanings of the terms "carve, plow, grasp," point to the potential. The hand symbolizes intelligent agency. The multiplicity of eyes denotes many-sided intelligence. The number four is evidently normal and characteristic. It marks their relation to the cosmos - universe of system of created things.
Fifth. Their place of ministry is about the throne, and in the presence of the Almighty. Accordingly, where he manifests himself in a stated place, and with all the solemnity of a court, there they generally appear.
Sixth. Their special functions correspond with these indications of their nature and place. They are stationed at the east of the garden of Eden, where God had condescended to walk with man before his fall, and where he still lingers on earth to hold communion with man, for the purpose of mercy, and their business is to keep the way of the tree of life. They are figured in the most holy place, which was appropriated to the divine presence, and constructed after the pattern seen in the mount. They stand on the mercy-seat, where God sits to rule his people, and they look down with intelligent wonder on the mysteries of redemption. In the vision of the likeness of the glory of God vouchsafed to Ezekiel, they appear under the expanse on which rests the throne of God, and beside the wheels which move as they move. And when God is represented as in movement for the execution of his judgments, the physical elements and the spiritual essences are alike described as the vehicles of his irresistible progress Psalms 18:11. All these movements are mysteries to us, while we are in a world of sense. We cannot comprehend the relation of the spiritual and the physical. But of this we may be assured, that material things are at bottom centers of multiform forces, or fixed springs of power, to which the Everlasting Potentate has given a local habitation and a name, and therefore cognate with spiritual beings of free power, and consequently manageable by them.
Seventh. The cherubim seem to be officially distinct from angels or messengers who go upon special errands to a distance from the presence-chamber of the Almighty. It is possible that they are also to be distinguished in function from the seraphim and the living beings of the Apocalypse, who like them appear among the attendants in the court of heaven.
Here we enter upon the record of the steps taken to carry into effect the forfeiture of life by man, consequent upon his willful transgression of the divine command.
As one of us. - This is another indication of the plurality in unity which is evidently inherent in the Eternal Spirit. It is still more significant than the expression of concert in the creation of man, as it cannot be explained by anything short of a personal distinction.
Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil. - We are now prepared to understand the nature of the two trees which were in the midst of the garden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil effected a change, not in the physical constitution of man, but in his mental experience - in his knowledge of good and evil. There do not appear to have been any seeds of death - any poisonous or malignant power in the tree. "The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and likely to the eyes," as well as a tree to be desired to make one wise. Neither does it appear that the virtue of making wise on the particular point of moral distinctions lay in the digestion of its fruit when received into the stomach. The natural effect of food is on the body, not on the understanding. The moral effect lay rather in the conduct of man in regard to the tree, as a thing prohibited. The result of his conduct, whether in the way of obedience or disobedience to the divine command, was to be the knowledge of good and evil. If man had obeyed, he would have come to this knowledge in a legitimate way. For he would have perceived that distrust of God and disobedience to his will, as they were externally presented to his view in the suggestions of the tempter, were evil; and that confidence and obedience, internally experienced in himself in defiance of such suggestions, were good. And this was the germ of the knowledge of good and evil. But, by disregarding the express injunction of his Maker with respect to this tree, he attained to the knowledge of good and evil in an unlawful and fatal way. He learned immediately that he himself was the guilty party, whereas, before, he was free from guilt; and thus became aware, in his own person and to his own condemnation, of good and evil, as distinct and opposite qualities.
This view of the tree is in accordance with all the intimations of Scripture. First. The terms in which it is prohibited are, "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat; for in the day thou eatest of it, die surely shalt thou." Here it is important to mark the consequence which is pointed out as flowing from the eating of it. It is not, Thou shalt know good and evil by any physical virtue of the tree, a process by which knowledge comes not at all; but, "Thou shalt surely die." Now, this is not any physical result of the fruit being received into the system, since man did not die for centuries after, but a penal result, in fact, the awful sanction of that divine command by which man' s probation was to be accomplished. Second. The points brought out by the serpent are to the same effect. He suggests that God had not given permission to eat of every tree of the garden.
There was some reserve. This reserve is an injury to man, which he makes out by denying that death is the consequence of eating of the tree reserved, and asserting that special benefits, such as the opening of the eyes, and being as God in knowing good and evil, would follow. In both of these statements there is equivocation. Death is not indeed the natural, but it is the legal consequence of disobedience. The eyes of them both were opened, and they became like God in knowing good and evil; but, in both instances, to their own shame and confusion, instead of their glory and honor. They saw that they were "naked," and they were "ashamed" and "afraid." They knew good and evil; but they knew the evil to be present with them, and the good to have departed from them. Third. The interview of God with the culprits is also in keeping with the same view. The question to the man is, "Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee not to eat?" Mark the tenor of this question. It is not, Hast thou eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? but, "of which I commanded thee not to eat;" by which it is indicated that, not the physical character of the tree, but the moral character of the action, is the point of the interrogatory.
The tree, then, was the ordained occasion of man' s becoming as God in knowing good and evil. He had now reached the second, or experimental lesson in morals. When God gave him the theoretical lesson in the command, he expected that the practical one would follow. He now says, "Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." In the style of his word he notes the result, without marking the disobedience of man as the means. This is understood from the circumstances. Man is therefore guilty, and the law must be vindicated.
Hence, it is added, "Lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever." This sentence is completed by an act, not a word, as we shall see in the next verse. Measures must be taken to prevent his access to this tree, now that he has incurred the penalty of death.
From this sentence it follows that the tree of life must have had some virtue by which the human frame was to be kept free from the decrepitude of age, or the decay that terminates in death. Its name, the tree of life, accords with this conclusion. Only on such a ground could exclusion from it be made the penalty of disobedience, and the occasion of death. Thus, also may we meet and answer all the difficulties which physiology presents to the immortality of unfallen man. We have it on record that there was an herbal virtue in paradise capable of counteracting the effects of the wear and tear of the animal frame. This confirms our account of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Death, which, it is to be remembered, is, to a moral and responsible being, in a comprehensive sense, exclusion from the blessings of conscious existence, and pre-eminently from that of the divine complacence, was not the physical effect of its fruit being eaten, but the penal consequence of a forbidden act. And this consequence is brought about by a special judicial process, recorded in the next verse:
The two trees stand related to one another in a way that touches the very center of man' s moral being. "Do this and live" is the fundamental dictum of the moral law. Its implied counterpart is, "If thou do it not, thou shalt die." The act of disobedience is evidently decisive for the whole conduct, character, and relation to God. It therefore necessarily forfeits that life which consists in the favor of God and all consequent blessings. The two trees correspond with the condition and the benefit in this essential covenant of law. The one is the test of man' s obedience, or disobedience; the other, the benefit which is retained by obedience and lost by disobedience. Man fails in obedience, and loses the blessing. Hence, forth both the legal and the beneficial parts of the covenant must come from a higher source to all that are saved. Christ bestows both the one and the other by his obedience and by his Spirit. In the old form of the covenant of grace, the Passover typifies the one, and circumcision the other; in the new, the Lord' s Supper and baptism have a similar import. These all, from first to last, betoken the two essential parts of salvation, redemption, and regeneration. This is a clear example of the unity and constancy which prevail in the works of God.
It is evident that the idea of immortality is familiar to the early chapters of Genesis. The primeval command itself implies it. Mortality, moreover, applies to the ׁ nephesh , the organic living body; not to the particles of matter in that body, nor to the ׁ nı̂shmat chayı̂ym , "breath of life" which came from God. It means not annihilation, but dissolution. Still further, the first part of death is exclusion from the tree of life, which takes place on the very day of disobedience. This indicates its nature. It is not annihilation of the spiritual essence, which does not in fact take place, but the withdrawal from it of the blessings and enjoyments in communion with God of which it is capable. And, lastly, the whole tenor of the narrative is, that death is a penalty for transgression; whereas annihilation is not a penalty, but a release from the doom of perdition. Accordingly, the tempter is not annihilated, but left to bear his doom; and so man' s existence is perpetuated under partial privation - the emblem and earnest of that death which consists in the total privation of life. Death is, no doubt, in its primary meaning, the dissolution of the living body. But even in the execution of the primeval sentence it begins to expand into that compass of meaning which all the great primitives of the scriptural language sooner or later express. Earth, sky, good, evil, life, and death are striking specimens of this elasticity of signification. Hence, we perceive that the germs of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul lie even in these primeval documents. And more we could not expect, unless we were to concentrate the whole fullness of revelation on this subject into its opening pages.
In consequence of man' s disobedience the tree of life is withdrawn from the reach of man as a forfeited boon, and the dissolution of the present life allowed to take place according to the laws of nature, still remaining in force in regard to other animated beings; aided, indeed, and accelerated in their operation, by the sinful abuse of human passions. And thus the expression, "in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt die," receives its simple application. It is a conditional sentence, pronounced antecedently as a warning to the responsible party. On the very day of transgression it becomes legally valid against him, and the first step toward its regular execution in the ordinary course of things is taken. This step is his exclusion from the tree of life. This is effected by sending man out of the garden into the common, to until the soil whence he was taken.
So he drove out the man. - This expresses the banishment of man from the garden as a judicial act. While he is left to the fruits of his labor for the means of subsistence until his return to the dust, his access to the source of perpetual life and vigor is effectually barred by a guard stationed east of the garden, where was no doubt its only entrance, consisting of the cherubim and the flame of a sword waving in all directions. The flaming sword is the visible form of the sword of justice, repelling the transgressors from the seat and source of happiness and life. The cherubim, who are here mentioned as well-known objects, whose figure does not require description, are the ministers of the divine presence and judgment - of his presence which was not entirely withdrawn from man; and of his judgment, by which he was excluded from the garden of delight.
There is unspeakable mercy here in every respect for the erring race. This present life in the flesh was now tainted with sin, and impregnated with the seeds of the curse, about to spring forth into an awful growth of moral and physical evil. It is not worth preserving for itself. It is not in any way desirable that such a dark confusion of life and death in one nature should be perpetuated. Hence, there is mercy as well as judgment in the exclusion of man from that tree which could have only continued the carnal, earthly, sensual and even devilish state of his being. Let it remain for a season, until it be seen whether the seed of spiritual life will come to birth and growth, and then let death come and put a final end to the old man.
Still further, God does not annihilate the garden or its tree of life. Annihilation does not seem to be his way. It is not the way of that omniscient One who sees the end from the beginning, of that infinite Wisdom that can devise and create a self-working, self-adjusting universe of things and events. On the other hand, he sets his cherubim to keep the way of the tree of life. This paradise, then, and its tree of life are in safe keeping. They are in reserve for those who will become entitled to them after an intervening period of trial and victory, and they will reappear in all their pristine glory and in all their beautiful adaptedness to the high-born and new-born perfection of man. The slough of that serpent nature which has been infused into man will fall off, at least from the chosen number who take refuge in the mercy of God; and in all the freshness and freedom of a heaven-born nature will they enter into all the originally congenial enjoyments that were shadowed forth in their pristine bloom in that first scene of human bliss.
We have now gone over the prelude to the history of man. It consists of three distinct events: the absolute creation of the heavens and the earth, contained in one verse; the last creation, in which man himself came into being, embracing the remainder of the first chapter; and the history of the first pair to the fall, recorded in the second and third chapters. The first two fall into one, and reveal the invisible everlasting Elohim coming forth out of the depths of his inscrutable eternity, and manifesting himself to man in the new character of Yahweh, the author and perpetuator of a universe of being, and pre-eminently of man, a type and specimen of the rational order of beings. Whenever moral agents come into existence, and wherever they come into contact, there must be law, covenant, or compact. Hence, the command is laid upon man as the essential prerequisite to his moral deportment; and Yahweh appears further as the vindicator of law, the keeper of covenant, the performer of promise.
Man, being instructed by him in the fundamental principle of all law, namely, the right of the Creator over the creature, and the independence of each creature in relation to every other, takes the first step in moral conduct. But it is a false one, violating this first law of nature and of God in both its parts. "Thus, by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin." Hence, the prospect of man' s future history is clouded, and it cannot be darker than it afterward turns out to be. But still it is tinged even in its early dawn with some rays of heavenly hope. The Lord God has held out signals of mercy to the tempted and fallen pair. The woman and the man have not been slow to acknowledge this, and to show symptoms of returning faith and repentance. And though they have been shut out of the garden, yet that region of bliss and its tree of life are not swept out of existence, but, in the boundless mercy of God, reserved in safe keeping for those who shall become heirs of glory, honor, and immortality.
Let it be observed that we here stand on the broad ground of our common humanity. From this wide circumference Scripture never recedes. Even when it recounts the fortunes of a single individual, family, or nation, its eye and its interest extend to the whole race; and it only dwells on the narrower circle of men and things as the potential spring of nascent, growing, and eternal life and blessing to the whole race. Let us endeavor to do justice to this ancient record, in the calm and constant grandeur and catholicity of its revelations concerning the ways of God with man.
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