Reading: 2 Kings 2:19-22; Gen. 3:22-24; Ex. 25:18, 37:7; Rev 22:1-4.
Although it may be very elementary, it is nevertheless of the greatest importance that all the Lord's people should know and have in their hearts quite clearly and definitely what it is we as the Lord's people are here for.
Were we to ask the majority of Christians why they are here on the earth as Christians, the answer would be, "To serve the Lord", or something to that effect. I have no doubt whatever that it is true. But it is only a part of the truth, and it is a relative part at that; that is, it is related to something else, and apart from that something else, it will lack what is essential to its effectiveness. We are here on this earth as the Lord's people for something more than that, and the 'more' includes that. It can be put in very simple form, but the simplicity of the form does not mean that it is a simple thing. It is this: We are here to learn Christ.
The relation of working for the Lord, or service for the Lord, to learning Christ is this: that the best way to learn Christ is actively, and that we learn more of Christ along practical and active lines than we do along other lines. But we must be very careful what we mean when we say practical and active lines. A great many of the Lord's people fail to grow and increase in the knowledge of Christ because they do not use what they already have. They pile up their theoretical knowledge, which is never translated into experiential knowledge because they do not put it into operation; they do not work with it in everyday life.
As the Lord enables, we are going to be occupied with the inclusive thing and this relative thing for a little while. The inclusive thing is:
In one's own heart there is no doubt or question whatsoever but that that is the purpose for which we are here. Everything, without a minute exception, as to the whole range and realm of our relationship with God is bound up in His Son, Jesus Christ. We can know nothing of God outside of Him, and there is everything that ever we shall need to know of God in Christ for service, for living, and for everything else in time and in eternity. Therefore our primary business is to learn Christ, to know Christ.
If He is the Antitype of which the Land of Promise was the type, then He will need to be dug into to discover the wealth, the riches, all those excellencies represented by the gold, silver, brass, iron, and much more. He is a fulness which will be yielded up through all coming ages. We have to begin to know Christ now, and that is our business.
All service begins with bringing men to know Christ, and it goes on. It is not as though when once a soul has been brought to know Christ in relation to sin and salvation, that that soul knows Christ. Our service will ever go on in bringing others into a fuller knowledge of Christ.
Having said that, which is a very far-reaching, comprehensive thing, we must come to some definite, specific line of application and procedure in relation to knowing Christ. And that is at least suggested or introduced by the passages which we have mentioned, beginning in chapter 3 of the book of Genesis. We must note the two things which characterised the two lines of Scripture.
The first line has to do with the cherubim. Right through the Bible the cherubim occupy a place. We have not referred to all the references, but have taken links in the chain. The other line was the tree of Life, the living trees by the living water; the river of Life; the tree of Life which is in the Paradise of God. Those two lines represent a spiritual history; they represent Christ.
The Significance of the Cherubim
The significance of the cherubim is not easy to understand. It is capable of getting you into realms of mystery. There are many Scriptures concerning the cherubim, firstly at the gate of the Garden, to guard the way of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24); then as upon the ark, the mercy seat (Ex. 25:18, 37:7); then upon the veil of the tabernacle, wrought in the very fabric (Ex. 26:1); then in the prophecy of Isaiah 6:2,6 (here called "seraphim", but I think little doubt exists that they are the same as the cherubim); then in the prophecy of Ezekiel, occupying such a large place (Ezekiel 10:4-5,8, 19-20, 47:7-8); then, passing right over to the book of the Revelation 5:6,8-14, 19:4, 22:1-4, where the name is not used but undoubtedly, from the descriptions in both the Old and New Testament, it is the same representation, the living ones.
Here a correction must be made. In the Authorised Version a very unfortunate word is used: "beasts". There is no warrant whatsoever for translating the word as "beasts". And when "living creatures" is used it is still imperfect; it gets nearer the reality, but is not quite correct. The Greek word is one word, "zoa". "Living ones" is the best translation we can get. "Zoe" is "Life", that specific, peculiar kind of life. It is the word used concerning the Life which Christ gives, the eternal Life, "aionian zoe". "Zoa" is the plural, "livings", or "living ones".
When we have read all that the Scripture has to say about the cherubim, we can, I think without any fear, gather it all up and say that the cherubim are a symbolic embodiment of the spiritual features of Christ in incarnation, and of the church in the good of His redemption. If you take the statement and sit down with it, and go to the Scriptures with it, you will see how that is borne out.
Think of the form the cherubim took, the fourfold representation: the face of a man, of a lion, an ox and an eagle. The lion, monarchy; the ox, service; the eagle, heavenly mystery; the man, representation of God, "Son of Man". It is not difficult to see those four spiritual features in Christ. He is Sovereign, "the government shall be upon his shoulders"; the authority in heaven and on earth is given unto Him as Son of Man. The service and the sacrifice are perfectly patent. So the heavenly mystery, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Then the Son of Man, the Prophet Who speaks for God and represents God on the earth. There is the form of the cherubim.
Do you notice that the living ones, the cherubim, and the four and twenty elders go together, and they all worship the Lamb; they all enter in spirit into the meaning of redemption? These are not angels, or super-angels. Angels do not know the glories of redemption; they cannot sing the song of the Lamb. The four and twenty elders are representative of the whole triumphant host, singing the song of the Lamb, and the living ones with them falling down and worshipping Him that sits on the throne, and the Lamb.
It would take hours to cover the whole ground of this twofold representation. Here is Christ in incarnation, Son of Man, and the company of the redeemed, joined in one. The cherubim include both. The cherubim are the embodiment of all those spiritual features of Christ in incarnation, and represent the church in the good of redemption. The very name "cherubim" is indicative. While it is the plural of cherub, it goes beyond that, and the name means a multitude. Surely that is significant when you bring it over to the book of the Revelation and read of the ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, with the cherubim and the living ones.
The Question of Life
The whole question in view in every case where the cherubim are seen is the question of Life: Life which is eternal, incorruptible, death-conquering. We begin again in Genesis 3, where they were placed to guard the way of the tree of Life. It is a question of Life, the question of who shall live with this Life, and who shall serve God in the power of this endless Life.
Note that Life and service go together from the beginning. Adam was called to be God's fellow-worker, God commissioned him concerning the creation to be a worker together with Him, in fellowship with Him, in relation to the whole creation. When Adam sinned his vocation broke down, his fellow-workmanship with God came to an end, and his life on earth was put under a strict limitation, with that particular, peculiar Life (represented by the tree of Life), being shut off from him. This meant that this man could never have fellowship with God in this work.
You come to the tabernacle, the veil, the mercy seat and the cherubim. We know quite well that no one dare pass through that veil into the place of that mercy seat without dying, apart from specifically prescribed grounds; and when those grounds are prescribed by the Lord, the termination of the prescription is "lest he die". To turn that round the other way, if he is going to overcome death by going through there, there are grounds which he must observe, otherwise his life and his service will be terminated.
The cherubim are the custodians of Life which sinful man cannot touch. This Life is in His Son. This Life is in His church. Let sinful man on any other ground than that prescribed by God touch the work of God, the things of God or handle what belongs to God, and disaster will overtake him.
Come to Ezekiel. You know the historic setting of the prophecies of Ezekiel. Again the cherubim are associated with, inseparably bound up with, Life; the wheels, the wings, the spirit in the wheels, and the cherubim one with the wheels, and the wheels one with the cherubim, so that when the cherubim spread their wings and were lifted up the wheels also were lifted up, and when they went forward the wheels did not depart from them. They are one. It is Life. It is all a question of Life. When you look at the Lord's people in Ezekiel's day you see only death. The Lord through His servant, the prophet, is seeking to bring before His people the meaning of Life, the way of Life, and deliverance from death. That is all we can say about it.
We pass to the book of the Revelation, where the very name given to them is enough - the livings, the living ones; the emphasis upon Life is given: the living ones. Why could they not have been called by some other name, a proper name? No, it is the whole question of Life. Ezekiel's river and trees on either side and the Paradise of God with the tree of Life and the river of water of Life, all show that it is a question of Life.
Now let us note one or two things. If the cherubim are a representation of Christ, or an embodiment of the spiritual principles of Christ incarnate, and the question of Life is inseparably bound up with the cherubim, then this is all a setting forth of the great fact clearly stated many times in the New Testament, that this Life is inseparable from Christ. This Life is in Christ, can only be had in Christ, and that on the ground of redemption; redemption because the flaming sword has lighted upon a Substitute for sinful man, judgment has come upon that which was laid under the curse.
See Elisha removing from the spring of the waters that which was in the nature of a curse (2 Kings 2:19-22). It worked out to the falling of the fruit before ever it got ripe, everything miscarrying, and never coming through to completeness. That is the mark of the curse.
In the book of the Revelation, when you come into the presence of that which is for the health of the nations, this living water, this tree of Life, it is Christ, and the curse is gone. That is redemption unto Life, Life which has conquered death, Life which is incorruptible and cannot be overcome of death. This is in Christ only, but it is in Christ.
We come to the outworking of this Life. What is the innermost feature of this Life? What is its essential quality? If Elisha stands again to illustrate, it is that which does not fall, fail, come short, or end in imperfection, but it is that which goes right through, ever through, never touched by death, and always increasing in perfection. It is an energy which persists indefinitely, and produces that which is always an expression of the fulness of God. "Trees yielding their fruit every month". That is an extraordinary tree! A tree whose leaf is never turning colour, and never fades or falls, but is always green! This is set forth to represent and express something more than nature. It is all there to proclaim the essential quality of this Life. Fruit every month! That means continuous fruitfulness, not in season and out of season, but always in season, continuous fruit; continuous freshness, greenness, with no sign of autumn, but always in full verdure. It is the essential quality of this Life.
Link that with service. Come back to Adam as a fellow-worker with God and see the change in the nature of his work after his sin and fall. The work, like himself, becomes at once touched with death; all the marks of death, arrest and limitation are there, with nothing coming through to perfection or completeness. Why are the cherubim there? Surely to say so clearly, in the light of all the rest of Scripture, that the work of God must be done by the Life of God, and unless it is, it falls under death, it comes short, and it does not go on. It gets to a certain point of development, and there it ends and fades. Only that life which is on the basis of God's own Life, and only that work which is done on the basis of God's own Life, goes through to perfection, to fulness, and keeps on and ever on.
Christ embodies that Life, "I am He that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev. 1:18), "unto the ages of the ages" (R.V.M.). He is the Tree of Life. To those who believe He has given that Life, eternal Life, Life to go on. But He has also made it the basis of fellowship with Him in the great eternal purposes of God which do not belong to any one period, any one day or generation, but are eternal, coming out from eternity, going straight on through time, and pouring themselves out in the great ocean of a future eternity. His life is the basis of our relationship and of our service.
We turn to the other side for a moment by way of warning. We have referred to this Life as the energy, that which energises men in their living and in their serving, and everything depends in the long run upon what it is that is energising us in living and in serving; whether it is our own natural life upon which we are drawing, and which we are directing into spiritual things and the things of God, either to live or to work: or whether it is His own divine Life. It makes all the difference.
Cain is a great example. He directed his own energy, his natural life, into that which he expected God to accept. What happened? He came up against a blank wall, he found that when he had expended his energy, working with his brain and with his hands, and had brought the result of his own energy and its fruit to God, there was no way through, the door was closed. Cain became a historic tragedy. His very name is not pleasant to hear. He is one of those monuments in the course of history who, seeking to satisfy God, offer something acceptable to God on the basis of their own natural life, and the pages of Holy Writ are strewn with the tragic results of attempting to do that. Even Abraham has left a terrible expression of the tragedy of doing that: Hagar and Ishmael! What a tragedy! You cannot kill that sort of thing; it is a living death. You cannot exterminate it. When Abraham turned to realise something for God, something divine, to realise some divinely given vision, fulfil some divinely given promise, to enter into God's mind by his own natural energy, his own natural life, Ishmael was the result. God has felt it worthwhile to allow the thing to remain on record, even with an Abraham. You might think of Abraham, the friend of God, so full of faith, so faithful, so sacrificing, so utter for God, and say, "Oh, surely in kindness, in generosity, God would have wiped that thing out of the story!" God has thought it worthwhile to let it be known that even in the case of an Abraham, turning aside to realise divine ends by natural life, is a costly thing in its outcome. It stops short. It never gets through to God's end.
Take Moses. What faithfulness! What devotion! What sacrifice! What suffering through many years! And then just one act out of his own strength, his own passion... Sometimes, in some cases, it comes out through the mind - thinking, reasoning, planning, scheming, devising - the intellectual side of man, energised by his natural life. Sometimes it comes out through the heart, the passions, the emotions. Moses, after all, says: "Hear now, ye rebels; shall we bring you forth water out of this rock?" As a result God said he should not enter the land. Hear His servant plead with Him! "Let me go over, I pray thee". Then God said, "Speak no more unto Me of this matter." Then it was put in the Book that in all successive generations the story would be told by parents to their children how this great man, with all his sacrifice, endurance and suffering, had failed once like that, and God had not let him go over. The children would say to the parents as the story was told, "But is not that very hard and cruel of God? That seems very unkind and terrible!" Ah, yes! But disobedience to God is a very awful thing! You can never tell how awful disobedience to God is! That is how God regards it, and then the children would learn the meaning of obedience and disobedience.
What was the problem in principle? It was a rising up in his own natural life in jealousy for God. God says, "No! I do not want your natural life to be jealous for Me! It can get nowhere! It lies under a curse! It is a fruitless thing! It is a barren thing! You must not bring that into this realm; this realm is holy!" We could take more illustrations from the Word, but we will leave it there.
It may be you have some history on the matter. If I look at the things outstanding in my own life which cause me shame, regret, and sorrow of heart, things which I saw only led to distress and to suffering (not fruitful suffering), those were the things which resulted when I made up my mind that I was going to do something, or go somewhere, and I set myself to realise it; I determined and I put my hand to it to bring it about. It may have been something that God wanted or it may not have been. The question for the moment is not as to whether it was God's will or not. The question is: Was it God's way, on God's basis? Or was it the strength of natural life? If we want something very badly it is surprising how we can manoeuvre and negotiate. Something cunning seems to come up somewhere to get that, to bring it about, and then it is all dressed up in language about the Lord, and the Lord's will, and having been given a vision, and so on, and all the time there has been a manipulating to bring it about. There is a determination, an arrest, deadlock, hold-up, and postponement, and very often a need to return to that very point with months, perhaps years, lost, and begin on a basis other than that.
No! This life of ours cannot produce God's thoughts or purposes, and it cannot do God's works. It cannot be the energy by which the ends of God are reached. The Word of God from Genesis onwards makes that perfectly clear, whether in the case of Adam, or Cain, or Abraham, or Moses, or Paul. "Lest I should be exalted above measure... there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me", was God's precaution against Paul the natural man in his natural life! All that Paul ever had to say about weakness, and the necessity for it, infirmity and its values, was said out of having learned the lesson that God's work is best done by God's Life, not ours.
Smiting of Self
There is a smiting to be done somewhere. Cain was smitten; Moses was smitten; Paul (in that realm) was smitten. In another class Ananias and Sapphira projected themselves with their own thoughts, the working of their own minds, into the holy things of God, and were smitten. There is a custodian - the cherubim - "lest he die". Our life, sinful and cursed at its very spring, being projected into the things of God is bound sooner or later to come up against that smiting, that flame. To put it in another way, it is bound to come up against the Cross of Christ.
You and I are bound to come up against that at some time or other. It is not a question as to whether we have accepted our crucifixion with Christ. It is a matter of the fact, and not our acceptance. Do you think that God lets us off because we have not accepted? No! The acceptance is on the ground of our recognition of the great fact. Not to have accepted, not even to have seen it, does not mean that we are going to finally escape. We come under the law of the Cross, whether we understand the Cross or not. But God is very patient and very gracious. At some time or other we come into deep exercise about our life; we are not growing very much, we have gone so far and do not seem to have got any farther. We are putting a tremendous lot of labour in, and pouring ourselves out, but the spiritual effectiveness and real value is very small. What is the matter? Some of us have been there, and we have gone to the Lord, and asked what is the matter, and the Lord has taken us to Romans 6 and that has cleared up everything. The Lord has shown us the fact of the Cross, where the natural life was, by Him, forever set aside as the life of man in relation to God. His risen Life is the Life for the believer, and that Life goes on, there is no miscarriage, no stopping short, no failing, it goes on and on.
The way of the fulness of Life, after all, is the way of the Cross. So many of the Lord's people have thought that the Cross is a way of continuous death, nullifying, neutralising, ending, and winding up. Yes, but only in one realm. Anybody who talks about the Cross of Christ and never enlarges and increases spiritually has an altogether wrong apprehension of the Cross. The Cross is intended to release us from ourselves and our limitations out into Him, the Christ of God, the Man in fulness, to bring us into that fellowship which is the fellowship of members of Christ's body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all. That is what the Cross is for. Until we recognise that the Cross represents the end of our natural life as the energy of our being - mind, heart and will - and that the Life which is in Christ alone is now the energy for our entire being in relation to God for life and service, we do not begin to live and grow. Until we get there we are bound to know arrest.
This is a life of faith. These spiritual things cannot be reported in the newspapers. Real spiritual growth and real spiritual fruit in service is not a thing that you can always write down and show to others; it is something out of sight, it is something heavenly. I cannot put my spiritual growth in the last ten years before your eyes for you to look at. You might be able to recognise some measure of spiritual growth, but you will never be able to judge of what that is to the full in its value. And then in connection with work and service, there may be nothing to be seen and yet it may be tremendous before God. Take Christ on the cross. What can be seen when He is there as to His service and His life work? What is the value of His life on the earth when He is on the cross, and all the crowds have gone, and the intimate circle have dispersed? There is a value in heaven which it will take all eternity to exhaust. The value of that was seen by spiritual intelligences.
Look at Paul at the end of his life: in prison, all Asia turned away from him and left practically alone, perhaps more isolated than any other man on the earth in his day, more ostracised, more slandered and misrepresented, with more enemies than any other man; a lonely man at the end of a life poured out for God. What is the good of it all? What is the spiritual value of that? After centuries we know the spiritual value of Paul's life. But looking at the man as the world looks at things, what is the value of it? It is a life of faith. The man who comes along with his own energy in work for God can build up great things that he can put in the papers, tabulate, advertise, and present to the world as the result of his efforts. Eternity will reveal just how much of real, abiding spiritual value there is. This law governs whether we like it or not and whether we will accept it or not. The law is clear, and only that which is the product of the Life of the risen Lord will abide eternally.
For the Lord's people this is a life of faith. "Therefore the world knows us not", says John, "because it knew Him not." The Lord give us a heavenly standard of values, heavenly ways of estimating, and grace to abandon ourselves at any cost to living and serving by His Life. Though on earth there may not be a great deal to show for it, that Life does count; it is a mighty thing, it is an imperishable, incorruptible, indispensable Life, it goes on, and it bears fruit.