Notes on Ezekiel's Cherub Part Seven: Fourfold Vision
Ezekiel describes the Cherub as having four faces and four wings. What exactly these four aspects represent is never stated clearly, but the subject offers a bountiful source of meditation. Here is one idea: each of the four faces may correspond to a different realm of nature—lion (wild), ox (domestic), eagle (air), man (man). And in fact, each of these four animals is lord over its realm—the lion is king of beasts, the ox is the mightiest of the domestic creatures, the eagle is king of the air, and man has dominion over them all by virtue of his intellect. What is important, beyond any specific ideas attached to each of the animal faces, is the fact that there are four of them, each unique, and each presumably facing in one of the four cardinal directions (as in Genesis).
In the divine Man, these four natures, at variance with one another, work together in unity. Like the energy produced from the opposing winds in the whirlwind, these four spirits whirl about one another to create a massive energy of coordinated opposition. No one of the four natures is supreme—rather, it is the space between them that renders spiritual vitality possible. If the lion, for example, were to gain ascendancy over the other three, the balance would be thrown off, and the creature would dissolve itself into chaos. All four are necessary and must be kept whirling against one another within their limits, creating a spinning order like a gyroscope. The four wings emphasize this motion, and the importance of their unity (they are “joined one to another”) is also pointed out. Further, Ezekiel describes wheels covered with eyes which roll along with the Cherubim, stating that “the spirit of the cherubim was in the wheels.” The wheel is elaborated as having a “wheel in the middle of a wheel.” This suggests, once more, the idea of coordinated opposition as the wheels spin, one within the other. Together, the faces, wings and wheels suggest a whirlwind motion, echoing the previous verses. This is the nature of spirituality—a constantly striving, opposing, changing, twirling nature, never at rest and never off balance. The life of the flying spirit can never hold still—to stop moving would be death and spiritual entropy. Ceaseless mobility is required—the root of repentance is to change, and we must continually transform and keep in motion for our spirits to live. This is why the LORD issues the ultimatum: repent or die. That is simply how our spirits are structured—the LORD is not threatening to kill us; rather, he is pleading with us to save ourselves by protean metamorphoses from the relentless decay of the cold, entropic, universe.
The feet of the Cherub are straight and hooved, offering a balancing vision to the frenetic energy of the four faces/wings. The feet sparkle like “burnished brass” and when the Cherubim move, they go “straight forward.” The whirling spiritual energies are channeled into disciplined, purposeful, controlled movements.
The appearance of the Cherubim is described as “like burning coals of fire,” and like “lamps.” The fire goes up and down in the midst of the creatures, rather like the purifying fire infolding itself, which I previously touched on. And again, it is in between the creatures that we find the fire. The Cherubim are filled with bright spiritual fire, which burns against the ashes of the universe of death. Victor Hugo, who later published a volume of poetry entitled The Four Winds of the Spirit, partook of some of Ezekiel's prophetic spirit when he expressed this concept with passionate clarity:
Well have I filled my drinking cup; you dash Your wings at it, yet none of it is gone. My spirit has more fire than you have ash And more love than you have oblivion!
Ezekiel’s vision is of a being in perpetual motion, animated by coordinated opposition, seething with inner fire, and governed by brazen discipline. Ezekiel’s fourfold Cherub is his image of the Human Form Divine.