Turning of the Cherubim

I was mentored in spiritual dream interpretation for five years. For many years, I taught courses and mentored many people in how to interpret dreams. I qualify dream interpretation with the word “spiritual”, as I always want to make room for God to be present and to speak. Interpretations belong to God (Gen 40:8).

I love understanding the patterns and richness that come through contemplating what a symbol might mean in scripture or a dream (1 Cor 2:14).

The scriptures are full of symbols. One look at the description of the tabernacles should convince you that is true.

Recently, I came across the idea that the wings of a cherubim are a symbol of God’s glory. Let’s look and see if that fits.

One important principle in understanding scripture and dream interpretation is that of context. At the same time, it does not negate the place for a sanctified imagination.

Exodus 25:20 (NASB) “The cherubim shall have [their] wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be [turned] toward the mercy seat.

In context, the tabernacle was to be built according to these instructions as a shadow of the heavenly one.

Let’s look at some interesting and intriguing symbols and language around this text.

1) Cherubim

Let’s first use our sanctified imagination regarding the cherubim. While they are formed in beaten gold, we discover that this is a limited representation. In Solomon’s temple for example, the cherubim were 15 feet tall and their combined wingspan filled the entire 30 foot room (1 Kings 6)!

They are the same as the four living creatures (ref Ezekiel 10) in the following passage:

Ezekiel 1:5-11 (HCSB)
5 The form of four living creatures came from it. And this was their appearance: They had human form,
6 but each of them had four faces and four wings.
7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the hooves of a calf, sparkling like the gleam of polished bronze.
8 They had human hands under their wings on their four sides. All four of them had faces and wings.
9 Their wings were touching. The creatures did not turn as they moved; each one went straight ahead.
10 The form of each of their faces was that of a man, and each of the four had the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left, and the face of an eagle.
11 That is what their faces were like. Their wings were spread upward; each had two wings touching that of another and two wings covering its body.

We get the basic idea that one pair of wings would be used as a covering, and the other pair of wings would be used to glorify the presence of God.

While the word origin of cherub is unclear, possible word origins from other ancient languages suggest that the word means to be gracious to, to bless, and to make great and mighty.

2) The number two

Numbers have meaning in scripture. Why are there two cherubim and not some other number like three? In context, two cherubim suggests the number of witness. A requirement of Mosaic law says let every fact be established by two or more witnesses (Deut 19:15). The cherubim are bearing witness to the presence of God.

3) The mercy seat

The mercy seat is a single Hebrew word kapporeth, meaning mercy seat of or place of atonement. Under the Mosaic covenant, a high priest would sprinkle this seat 7 times on the annual day of atonement for the forgiveness of sins and reconciling God with His people. The number seven was used to signify fullness in scripture. Under the new covenant of Jesus, His own blood was used to atone for or cover the mercy seat once and for all eternity (see the book of Hebrews). We are reconciled with God through acceptance of His gracious sacrifice.

The first interesting question is why the mercy seat would be covered. The Hebrew root is calak (translated covering), which also means to hedge or screen. In the Hebrew, the form of the word calak is the plural calakim, suggesting that there are multiple wings forming that hedge.

I would suggest to you that how God transacts mercy with you is very personal and intimate. It is not for anyone else to see.

4) The face

In the text, the cherubim are facing towards each other. Why is that important?

In a Hebraic understanding, the face of God is analogous with God’s favor.

When Adam fell into sin, the face of the cherubim faced outwards, forming a hedge of protection guarding against anyone being able to get back into Eden (Gen 3). In Exodus and subsequent tabernacle depictions, they are not facing the door as a guard, but are facing the mercy seat. The text indicates they are facing each other, but that imagination leaves God out of the picture. They are facing God and protecting an altar of mercy. The cherubim are witnesses of God’s mercy transacted in the presence of God.

Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

5) Wings

Wings are represented by the word Kanaphim in Hebrew, which also refers to the edge of a garment (tzi-tzi of a prayer shawl).

A Hebraic way of thinking is looking at the function of a symbol. What do wings usually do? They cause one to ascend higher. In this case, though I would suggest that the function of the wings are to glorify God.

The Hebrew word for upward in our text is ma’al which has the context of higher.

The wings stretched upward reminds me of praise as hands lifted high to glorify the one who is in their midst and above them.

Isaiah reflects on this in his declaration, that it’s God who is enthroned by the cherubim.

Isa 37:16
16 LORD of Hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are God — You alone — of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth.

Hebrews 9:5 (NLT)
Above the Ark were the cherubim of divine glory, whose wings stretched out over the Ark’s cover, the place of atonement.

Their role is to glorify the LORD.

So, what does this mean to me? In His presence you can find mercy. In His presence you can find rest and healing for your souls.

I would encourage you to use your sanctified imagination to find yourself receiving God’s mercy. Just you and God in the presence of His cherubim and covered in the wings of mercy. Imagine yourself seated on the mercy seat. The blood of Jesus shed for you has made a way for you to be forgiven, accepted, at peace, and made whole.