************ Sermon on Genesis 3:24 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 9, 2011
Remember what we looked at last week as we were called to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Supper? We looked at the execution of God's judgment upon Adam and Eve because they fell into sin. God announced that man could not stay in the Garden of Eden because
(Gen 3:22) "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
Remember the two things God did? First, God "banished" man from the Garden; God "drove the man out" of the Garden. This means spiritual death because man was banished from God and God's Tree of Life. I mentioned that you and I are also spiritually dead because, like Adam, we are also outside of the Garden. We are "dead in transgressions and sins" and "objects of wrath" (Eph 2:1,3). Our minds are darkened, our wills are enslaved, our hearts are stone cold dead toward our Creator.
After God drove the man out He kept the man out. That is the second thing God did. How did God do this?
(Gen 3:24) After [God] drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday, I want to spend some time looking at the cherubim used by God to keep the man out of the Garden.
I Cherubim at the Gate to the Garden
A Who are the cherubim of our text and what are they doing? They are a class of angels known as cherubs. Art from the Middle Ages and cartoons today depicts cherubs as winged babies sitting on puffy white clouds playing harps. But what Scripture is talking about are not weak, harmless, peaceful creatures.
Notice also the use of the plural – not cherub but cherubim. In other words, our text has more than one cherub in mind. For sure there are at least two of them and probably there are more than two guarding the way to the Tree of Life. Our Sunday School papers are wrong when they picture just one angel at the entrance to the Garden.
It is Ezekiel who gives us the best description of the cherubim. The cherubim have 4 faces each: the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. They also have 4 wings each. From head to toe they are covered with eyes. In apocalyptic literature, the eyes are a symbol of intelligence. To be covered with eyes means high intelligence. These are omniscient beings who see all things and know all things. In the case of the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 & 10, their intelligence is focused on God. Nothing about God – His being, His character, His deeds, His plans, His worship – escapes their notice. They are totally focused on God.
In the book of Revelation the cherubim are called "living creatures" (cf Ezek 10:15,20 which identifies the living creatures with the cherubim). They are the mightiest of angels and they are the closest of all the angels to the throne of God. From our study of the Revelation, do you remember all the circles that surround heaven's throne? In the outside circle is every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea. The next circle is the crystal sea. Next comes the tens of thousands of angels. Next comes the twenty-four elders. Then the four living creatures. Then the emerald rainbow. And finally, at the very center, is the throne of Almighty God and the Lamb (Rev 4).
Do you remember what the four living creatures keep singing day and night? We sang the same words this morning: "Holy, holy, holy" (Rev 4:8). The cherubim are preoccupied with the holiness of God. God's holiness is constantly on their minds and on their lips. They worship and praise God for His holiness.
The cherubim not only worship and praise God, but they lead the twenty-four elders and all the other angels and every creature in heaven and on earth and under the sea in singing praises to God and the Lamb (Rev 4 & 5). When we think cherubim we need to think the worship of God. Which is why depictions of the cherubim were found all over Israel's places of worship: on the curtains and veil of the Tabernacle (Ex 26:1,31); on the veil, doors, and walls of the Temple (2 Chron 3:14; 1 Kings 6:32.35; 2 Chron 3:7); and on the stands of bronze in the Temple (1 Kings 7:29,36).
B Notice what the cherubim are doing in our text: God placed them on the east side of the Garden of Eden "to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen 3:24). These highest and mightiest of all the angels of God stand guard over the Tree of Life.
So they can do this, notice what God does – God arms the cherubim with "a flaming sword flashing back and forth" (Gen 3:24). This is not the only time we see this sword in the Bible. It is an angel armed with this sword that scared Balaam's donkey (Num 22:23). It is an angel armed with this sword that reassured General Joshua the night before the battle of Jericho (Josh 5:13). When David wrongfully counted the people of Israel, it was an angel of the Lord armed with this sword who killed 70,000 men of Israel (1 Chron 21:15). This is the sword of vengeance and judgment.
Now, don't forget, the cherubim are witnesses to the awesome majesty, power, and holiness of God. The cherubim, don't forget, are preoccupied with the holiness and worship of God. But, they were also witnesses to how mankind had insulted the majesty, power, and holiness of God. So, you can imagine how appalled they must have been when they saw man despise the Word and majesty of God. They watched with shock as Adam and Eve listened to the lies of Satan. They watched with grief as the human race fell into sin and by this sin called the holy God a liar. So, the cherubim took their place at the entrance to the Garden of Eden as avengers of God's holiness and majesty. They stand there as stern proof that mankind was no longer fit to walk with God and talk with God. They stand there as scary confirmation that sinful, fallen man must not be allowed to eat from the Tree of Life and, therefore, live forever.
The cherubim guarding the entry to the Garden of Eden are put there to show us the hopelessness and the helplessness of any attempt on the part of man to regain life by his own efforts. Unless the holiness of God can be upheld, unless the flaming sword of vengeance can be satisfied, it is vain for mankind even to hope of returning. The cherubim make certain that man, instead of eating from the Tree, works by the sweat of his brow and, in the end, dies and returns to dust (cf Gen 3:19).
II Cherubim on the Mercy Seat
A On this Lord's Supper Sunday I want to point out to you the very next place in Scripture where we find the cherubim after we see them guarding the entrance to the Garden. I would like to ask you to turn with me in Scripture to the book of Exodus:
(Ex 25:17-22) "Make an atonement cover of pure gold – two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. (18) And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. (19) Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. (20) The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. (21) Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. (22) There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites."Where are the cherubim? On the "atonement cover" – what is called the "mercy seat" in other Bible translations. Which, in turn, is the lid of the ark of the covenant. The place of the cherubim has changed. No longer do they stand at Eden's gate barring man's approach to God and to life; instead, they stand over the atonement cover. There they face one another with wings stretched out and upward to the point where they almost touched one another at the top. No longer are they connected with the flaming sword; instead, they are connected with the place of mercy and grace.
Now, let me ask you a question about Old Testament times: Where did God live on earth? Where did God's people meet with God? "That's easy," you might say. "God lived in Jerusalem, in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies, in the ark of the covenant." Is that what you think? If so, you are wrong. Look at Exodus 25:22. According to this verse God lived – are you ready for this – God lived between the two cherubim; God didn't live in the ark; God lived between the two cherubim overshadowing the lid of the ark. Which is why the book of Hebrews call them the "cherubim of the Glory" (Heb 9:5). It was from there that God spoke to Moses. It was from there that God gave instructions for the children of Israel (Ex 25:22).
B Verse 17 tells us God commanded that the atonement cover be made of pure gold. It had a greater value than all the other furniture in the Tabernacle. All the furniture in the outer court of the Tabernacle was made of bronze. In the Holy Place, only the lampstand was made of pure gold, but it was much smaller than the ark. All the other furniture was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. But the atonement cover, together with the cherubim, were made of one piece of solid gold. At today's gold prices of around $1400 per ounce, the worth of the atonement cover was enormous.
The value of the atonement cover, however, did not come from the worth of its gold. The value came from the blood that was placed upon it. One day of the year, on the Day of Atonement, blood from a sacrificial lamb would be sprinkled upon the atonement cover by the high priest. That blood, only a few moments earlier, had been sacrificed on the bronze altar. That blood had been shed for the sins of the people. The sins of the people had been confessed over the head of an animal and it would be killed in the place of the people. The people had committed the sin; they deserved to die because of their sin. Instead, the animal was slain. The blood of that animal was then carried by the high priest into the holiest part of the Tabernacle – the Holy of Holies. The high priest would then sprinkle the blood between the cherubim on the atonement cover.
C Did you notice where the cherubim are looking? They are "looking toward the cover" (Ex 25:20). But they are not looking at the gold. They are looking at the shed blood that was sprinkled on the atonement cover. Why?
Follow me as I describe the layout. In the ark of the covenant are the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the Law. On top of the ark is the atonement cover. On top of the atonement cover is the sprinkled blood. Looking down upon the blood are the cherubim of the Glory. And living between the cherubim is God Almighty.
So, when the holy God looks down from His place between the cherubim to the Law in the ark, what does He see? He sees the blood. God sees the Law through the shed blood of the innocent animal sacrificed on behalf of the sinful people. God sees the Law broken by His people through the sprinkled blood on the atonement cover.
The cherubim are a constant reminder that God looks at His sinful people through the blood of an innocent victim. The cherubim are a constant reminder that God Himself provided a way for His people to once again come into His presence and eat, eventually, from the Tree of Life. The cherubim are a constant reminder that God Himself covers over the sins of His people with blood. But isn't that the point of the cross – that God covers over the sins of His people with the blood of His one and only Son?
The cherubim look down upon the blood. Because it is there that propitiation has taken place. Because it is there that God's anger against our sin has been removed. Because it is there that our sins have been covered.
The cherubim look down upon the blood. Because thanks to the blood, we can again come into the presence of God and again have access to the Tree of Life.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we are given two quick glances at the cherubim. Through them God keeps sinful man out of His presence in the Garden. And, between them God sees the blood of atonement so that man can once again come into His presence and take, eat, and live forever.
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