Celestial Symbolism of the Cherubim in Ezekiel’s Vision
This blog post is a response to a recent question from one of the online forums I participate in. Since this involves one of the more mysterious sections of Scripture concerning Ezekiel’s visions at the River Chebar, I thought it might bless some folks to hear a Biblical Astronomy perspective on Ezekiel’s vision. Lets begin with a view of Moses’ OT Tabernacle, to set the context from the earthly Tabernacle representing God’s actual heavenly Temple.
The eastern door to the Tabernacle represents the way, the truth, and the life, of John 14:6, which is embodied in Jesus Christ as the light of the world, and the door of the sheep, the Good Shepherd [Jn.10], the true way which leads unto life.
The truths of Jesus as the Shepherd are vividly seen in 3 Psalms 22, 23 and 24, showing the sufferings and glory of the Lord. As Prophet, the Good Shepherd gave his life not only for the sheep, but for the safe-keeping of all people who would come unto him [John 10:11]. As the High Priest and the Great Shepherd, he is the first, last and only door, the Alpha and Omega, which provides the way of access through his blood and resurrection [Heb. 13:20] unto life, into the true spiritual fellowship with our Heavenly Father. As the King and Chief Shepherd, his return will exhibit his final glory, coming as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, [I Pet. 5:4, Rev. 19:16].
Thus, like the eastern shepherd, Jesus Christ embodies Jehovah-Nissi: the redemptive name for God protecting His people, [Ps. 23:1].
The Door, or gate giving access to the holiest of all was covered by a veil in both the Temple and Tabernacle. The veil of the Tabernacle, which hung on four pillars, separated the holy of the holies, the central point of God’s presence among His people, from the holy place. Woven into the fabric of this linen veil, the Cherubim were depicted, a special class of angels who are always prominent in God’s throne-room. They are uniquely pictured as having four faces that correspond to the “four royal signs” of the zodiac, ruling the four-corners or celestial pillars of heaven, previously seen in Num. 24.
Figure 1. Hebrew Tabernacle Ground-plan
5 How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! 6 As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. 7 He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. 9 He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.
In verse 8 above the Hebrew word for “unicorn” is [reem] also found in the Song of Moses, where it refers not only to a single horn but two horns of a bull.
Figure 2. Taurus the Bull from Bayer’s Star Atlas  1.
Taurus the Bull is evident in Deuteronomy 33.
13 And of Joseph he said, Blessed of the LORD be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, 14 And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, 15 And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, 16 And for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren. 17 His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.
Here in Moses’ Song, he uses the same language found in Numbers 24 in the horns of the “reem” or “Unicorn,” as the KJV renders it. It is common knowledge that the popularly imagined unicorn, the mythical beast, is not pictured with more than one horn, but the Bull is. These Bull horns are identified with the sons of Joseph in verse 17. The Bull’s head is also one of the four heads of the Cherubim.
[Ezek. 1:5-6] 5 Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. 6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
According to Ezekiel the Cherubim each had four faces and four wings. Since angels operate as intermediaries between God and men we can see this symbolism in the Cherubim, first with their four wings at the four corners of heaven. They also had four hands of a man under each of their wings, depicting their service from God in heaven to men on Earth.
Figure 3. The four Heads and Wings of the Cherubim
There is another element of dominion seen in the Cherubim in it four faces. In Man who is created after God’s image, with the Lion we have the king of the non-domesticated animal kingdom. With the Bull as the king of domesticated animals, the Eagle as the king of the fowl of the air, [Gen.1 26-28]. As we can see from this picture above the Cherubim embody these four signs of the Hebrew Mazzaroth in the four Cardinal Directions.
Exodus 36 gives us details of the colors utilized in the veil of the Tabernacle depicting the Cherubim. Let’s consider some of this color symbolism in the services of the Tabernacle and Temple.
Exodus 36:35-36 And he made a veil of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen: with cherubims made he it of cunning work. And he made thereunto four pillars of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold: their hooks were of gold; and he cast for them four sockets of silver.
The veil hung from four pillars, representing the terrestrial number, and the earth’s orientation to the four Cardinal Directions and points of the compass. The symbolism of the number four is prominent in the imagery above, not only in the four pillars holding the Tabernacle’s veil, but also in the four colors of the Tabernacle shown in the veil. The four colors are blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. Blue represents peace, showing us the presence of God and is seen in the Son of God as the Prince of Peace. Purple represents royalty, and is seen in Christ the King of Kings. Scarlet or Red represents blood, and is seen in the Man Jesus Christ, the high priest offering the perfect sacrifice and sin offering of his own life for our redemption. The linen was White, symbolizing the purity and righteousness of the Servant of God. Thus the four colors of the Tabernacle collectively embody the four-fold ministry of Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, showing his dominion over all Creation. As we have seen, these four pillars correspond to the four Cardinal Directions, known as the equinox and Solstice seen on the ecliptic and Equator at the four-corners of the heavens.
Figure 4. The Four Celestial Signs at the four points of the Compass; Man, Eagle, Bull and Lion.
These four cardinal points correspond to the tribes, zodiacal signs and colors as follows:
Eagle/Aquila [replacing Scorpius below]
North/Scorpion/Scorpius/Dan/White (omitted in Num. 24, Ps. 75:3ff)
East/Lion/Leo/Judah/Purple. (Numbers 24:9)
South/Man/Aquarius/Reuben/Red. (Numbers 24:7)
West/Bull/Taurus/Ephraim & Manasseh/Blue (Numbers 24:8)
Figure 5. Aquila the Eagle above the Serpent-Serpens.
Ezekiel’s vision at the river Chebar describes these living creatures, specifically their four faces, matching the signs at the four Cardinal Directions of the heavens. As we have noted regarding the North, it was omitted for various reasons, one of which may have been due to the tribe Dan’s idolatry (Judges 18:30-31). Manasseh was added to replace Dan to maintain 12 tribes, but Dan’s exclusion was not only due to their idolatry, but also because this tribe led the ten northern tribes into idolatry. This is why in the four faces of the Cherubim, the serpent is replaced with the Eagle-Aquila the natural enemy of the serpent. We can see this in the graphic above with the decan Aquila pictured directly above the tail of the serpent-Serpens, held by Ophiuchus. This also explains why Ophiuchus, the serpent holder is not usually included in the 12 Signs of the Hebrew Zodiac.
In the North we find the face of the decan Aquila the Eagle [Ezek. 1:10], replacing that of his natural born enemy, the Scorpion/serpent, as is evident in the triple sign of the man Ophiuchus, as he wrestles Serpens the serpent, while stamping out the light of the star Antares, in the heart of Scorpius the scorpion. Ezekiel’s vision is recorded below.
The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him. 4And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. 5Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. 6And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. 7And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the color of burnished brass. 8And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. 9Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. 10As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.11 Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
Figure 6. Artist’s Rendition of Ezekiel’s vision at the River Chebar.
The matching of the faces of these four living creatures with the four signs at the cardinal points in Numbers 24, is worth a closer look. First, this correlation between the four Cardinal Directions of the horizon seems an obvious celestial reference, supported by the celestial wheels within wheels connected with the Cherubim, [Ezek. 1:16, 20-22, 10:1-22]. These wheels relate to the celestial structure of the ecliptic and the Equator, as one wheel is pictured within the other, and the points where they cross are the equinoxes. One Hebrew word for “wheel” in Ezekiel, [10:2, 10] is galgal [*H1534],2 a variation of Gilgal [*H1536],3 the “Hill of God,” [I Sam. 10:5] where Joshua set up an altar of twelve stones [Josh 4], one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The word galgal is also the root of our word “Galaxy,” showing a celestial application of these wheels even into the modern day. Similar to the stellar reference of the 12 precious stones of the High Priest’s breastplate, as symbols of the twelve signs of the zodiac, Joshua’s altar marked their entry into the promised land, which was first deeded to Abraham [Gen. 13:14-15]. God marked the end of the Israel’s sufferings in the wilderness even as He had marked their exit from Egypt, with a miracle of parting of the waters, both of the Red Sea and of the Jordan River. He also marked the beginning of Israel’s reign of kings both in the anointing of Saul, along with the first Passover in the Promised Land at Gilgal. Josh 5:9-10 has a figurative portrait of this initial Passover, as these “wheels of God’s justice” rolled over the heathen that stood in Israel’s way. The first Passover was a prophecy of Jesus Christ the King of Kings from the regal line of David, who would rule instead of Saul. Thus when we view the two phases of the return of the promised seed, first in his sufferings second in his glory, we can see the following division along the lines of Jesus’ ministry as seen in the four gospels:
He came as a man/Son of Man/Luke/Aquarius
He sacrificed his life/Servant/Mark/ Eagle for Scorpion
The Son coming in judgment/Son of God/John/Taurus
The Lion-king of Judah rending his prey/King/Matthew/Leo
Figure 7. MacDonald’s Conception of Ezekiel’s Vision [Ps. 18:6-19]
These four royal celestial signs or “Stars” forming the four faces of the Cherubim, have a long history. They are mentioned together in a Sumerian-Akkadian Cylinder Seal going back as far as 3150 BC. 5 These “Royal Stars” at the Cardinal Directions, represent implied archaeological evidence that knowledge of the entire zodiac existed in ancient Sumeria-Akkad, due to the symbolism of these four key stars relating to the entire zodiac. The celestial reference, to the stellar wheels within wheels linked with these Cherubim, [Ezek. 1:16, 20-22, 10:1-22], however goes even deeper. These wheels not only relate to the general celestial structure of the ecliptic and Equator, as one wheel is pictured within the other, with their points of crossing at the equinoxes, but the entire Hebrew Mazzaroth is pictured here. This not only includes the regular solar cycle where the Sun circles in the 12 signs of the zodiac for a month each, providing the 365-day calendar of the year, but also includes the Sun’s retrograde motion where the Sun rises at the vernal equinox in each of the 12 signs/tribes for 2160 years. Thus while the annual Solar cycle moves forward, the backwards or retrograde motion of the Sun, called the precession of the equinoxes, spends 2160 years in each sign of the Mazzaroth. This is the mystery of Ezekiel’s “wheel within the wheel,” with the simultaneous motion of these solar cyles, the longer of which is 25,920 years. Since Ezekiel was a contemporary of the Prophet Daniel who was the President and High Court “astrologer” for the kings of Babylon and Persia, they could have had opportunities to interact concerning the principles of Biblical Astronomy.
Figure 8. The Hebrew “wheel within a wheel” from Ezekiel’s vision. 6
As symbolic references to the four quarters of heaven, the 4 unified faces of these living creatures [Rev. 4:6] represent a composite of the celestial narrative, witnessing to the return of the promised redeemer, and his judgment on the assembly of the wicked.
The 22nd Psalm reveals more details of this evident celestial pattern, in the context of the Lord’s sacrifice, in Golgotha’s foreboding shadows. This is the record of the assembly of the wicked passing their depraved judgment on the Lord, as they orchestrated the events that surrounded Jesus’ crucifixion. But as his immanent return speeds towards us, the mighty conquering judge will execute his righteous verdict with everlasting consequences for the evil ones.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. [reem]
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
Figure 9. Idols at the four winds of heaven, from ancient Egypt shown with four heads and four wings.
In this Psalm, the wicked natures of those who brought about Jesus’ crucifixion are discernible in these obscene caricatures of the four winds of the host of heaven. These dark shadows of the Cherubim rejoiced in the Lord’s demise and death as they encircled him like dogs, ravening Lions and gaping bulls, embodying the idol masks of Astrology, as seen in some renditions from Egyptian idols above. This was the peak of the power of this wicked assembly, but their time is past and their doom is sure. As verse 14 above tells us: Christ was “poured out like water,” which depicts him in this celestial context as the man of Aquarius, who pours the living waters of the gift of holy spirit into the saints. This also agrees with aspects of the common Hallel, as the last words of Psalm 118 rang throughout the Temple, during the Feast of Tabernacles in the last days of Christ’s ministry. We find this Biblical record in John 7.
37In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) 40Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. 41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? 42 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? 43So there was a division among the people because of him. 44And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.
Thus Christ himself embodied the fulfillment of the rite in which the believers had just taken part during this feast, that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when these rivers of living water flowed from the twelve apostles, as they first spoke in tongues. The context of John 7 was the last and great day of the Feast of Tabernacles, revealing a deeper significance to the priestly ceremony involving the waters from the Pool of Siloam, which the priest retrieved in his golden pitcher. Alfred Edersheim enlightens us on these details:
“It was on that day, after the priest had returned from Siloam….and for the last time poured out the water to the base of the altar; that the Hallel had been sung to the sound of the flute, the people responding and worshiping as the priests three times drew the three-fold blasts from their silver trumpets– just when the interest of the people had been raised to the highest pitch, that from amidst the body of worshipers, who were waving towards the altar quite a forest of leafy branches as the last words of Psalm 118 were chanted-a voice was raised resounding through the Temple, startled the multitude, and carried fear and hatred to the hearts of their leaders. It was Jesus who stood and cried saying (the words of John 7:37-38). Then by faith in him should each one truly become like the Pool of Siloam, and from his inmost being rivers of living water flow….” 7 [emphasis mine]
All the resistance of the enemy, nor the stiff-necked leadership of Israel could stop the long prophesied and inevitable Will of God, from coming to pass. The authority of God’s only begotten Son is close to being fully realized, and the evil ones will reap the full judgment awaiting them. Psalm 22 illustrates this important element of the Hebrew cosmology, that was corrupted even further by idolatrous Israelites, who followed the examples of heathen star religions in Sun worship in the adoration of pantheons of celestial heroes, in mythos of ancient Astrology. This corruption degrades the truth and purity of the theme of eastern access, to the holy of the holies in the Temple and Tabernacle, replacing it with a form of man’s works, the basis of all false religion.
As we honor the Biblical Astronomy inherent in Ezekiel’s vision at the River Chebar, much astrological confusion falls away to reveal beautiful and sagacious Scriptural truths that prophesy of the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the truths we can adhere in honor to Him.
1. Picture credit Figure 2. Constellation Taurus from Bayer’s Star Atlas .
2. Strong’s Concordance, notes on H1534, James Strong
3. Ibid, notes on H1536.
4. Picture credit for MacDonald’s Concept of Ezekiel’s Vision.
5. The Sumerian World, Harriett Crawford.
6. Picture Credit [Jewishenclopedia.com]
7. The Temple, its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edershiem ppg. 222-223