So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.(Genesis 3:24)
We come to the final verse of this momentous chapter of the Bible. By now, the LORD has indicted the guilty couple, along with the serpent, and pronounced a judgment upon the serpent. Within that condemnation of the serpent, was a promise of salvation for the man, his wife and their descendants.
The man and his wife also received the Divine sentence upon them. The Lord’s pronouncement is given. Toil, frustration, futility and sorrow would be their lot, until death. Then Adam and Eve were stripped of the fig coverings which they had made for themselves. The Lord slew an animal as a substitute for the sinners, taking its fleece to make for them a covering.
Finally they were evicted from the garden of delight. The transgressors were driven out by the LORD, they could no longer stay where God has originally placed them. They would now have to make themselves a home in the hostile, sin cursed world.
But as one of our commenters noted, God set cherubim at the east end of the garden to “keep the way to the Tree of life”. This too, like the earliest gospel of the seed of the woman, and the animal covering, and the name of Eve, is a hopeful development. God assures us by this act, that there is yet a way to the Tree of Life, all is not lost.
Cherubim are set by the Lord to guard the way to the Tree of life. These terrible, holy creatures show up at other places in the scripture; transporting the pavement on which the throne of God is set, in Ezekiel’s vision, sitting on either side of the very throne of God on the lid of the Ark of the covenant, and ceaselessly worshipping God in John’s vision in Revelation.
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.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. And he went in in my sight. Now the cherubims stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD’s glory.And the sound of the cherubims’ wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh.(Ezekiel 10:1-5)
Cherubim are evidently assigned to be guardians of God’s glory, keeping away the sinners who would presume to enter heedlessly into the Divine presence. God preserved the way to the tree of life, but no one would be able to access it among the unworthy sinners of the fallen race of Adam.
Thus the figures of the Cherubim were woven into the very curtain which separated The Holy Place from the outer court, and the Holy of Holies from the inner court.
“Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker.(Exodus 26:31)
In Solomon’s temple, not only were Cherubim woven into curtains, and golden ones sitting on the very lid of the mercy-seat, but two 15 ft Cherubims of Olive wood were carved, and overlaid with gold, and set in the holy place.
And within the oracle he made two cherubims of olive tree, each ten cubits high.(I Kings 6:23)
The Holy place of the Tabernacle and temple are widely believed to be God ordained models of the garden of Eden. The Ark of God’s presence in the Holy of Holies being the true Tree of Life. The sanctuary , a model of the garden itself, with the candelabra (Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil) Shining upon the show bread,(Christ, the valid knowledge), and the altar of incense for true worship.
But the Cherubim keep men away from the glory of God. They remind us continually that none can draw near, for “all have sinned and continually come short of the Glory of God”! The curtains are drawn, the Cherubim on the curtains continually reinforce the separation, that sinful man is cut off, he cannot draw near, the way to the Tree of life is closed.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;(Matthew 27:50-51)
What import this brings to the familiar detail of the crucifixion story, that when Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom”! Could it be? Has the Way to the Tree of life been now opened to us? Have the Cherubim been enabled to step aside and let the believing sinner draw near to God?
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.(Hebrews 10:19-22)
The Cherubim appear again in John’s Revelation, for all things in Genesis have their resolution in Revelation. They appear in all of their holy awfulness, but this time not as an opposition to men, but in harmony with the redeemed sons of Adam, worshipping the LORD and the Lamb who by his own blood has purchased us.
And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.(Revelation 5:8-10)
As I said earlier, the last word of this solemn, grave chapter of the Bible, is not death, but life. In spite of man’s sin and failure, God’s mercy triumph’s, there is a way back to the tree of Life, there is a “seed of the woman” who has come, the blood of Jesus does indeed cleanse us from all sin! Hallelujah!