Excerpt from The Four Banners of Israel by Ron Wallace:
" According to rabbinical tradition, the standard of Judah bore the figure of a lion, that of Reuben the likeness of a man or of a man’s head, that of Ephraim the figure of anox, and that of Dan the figure of an eagle; so that the four living creatures united in the cherubic forms described by Ezekiel were represented upon these four standards.7
Jewish tradition says the “four standards” under which Israel encamped in the wilderness, to the east, Judah, to the north, Dan, to the west, Ephraim, to the south, Reuben, were respectively a lion, an eagle, an ox, and a man, while in the midst was the tabernacle containing the Shekinah symbol of the Divine Presence." Source: here
These images were also the representations on the four faces of the living creatures in both Ezek. 1:5, 10 and Rev. 4:6-7. Excerpt from my post "The Signs of Revelation - Part IV: The Throne Scene ..." "
4. Four living creatures – Rev. 4:6, 8, 9; 5:6, 8, 11, 14; 6:1, 6; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4
The KJV translates these as “beasts,” which is a meaning given in Strong’s, but which is not the context of these scriptures. These are of a completely different office and nature than of the predator beasts of chapters 13 – 20. These are the living creatures who are the agents of God, with the characteristics of God as described in Ez. chap. 1, and are correctly translated so in Young’s Literal Translation of the above verses.
” and before the throne [is] a sea of glass like to crystal, and in the midst of the throne, and round the throne, [are] four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind; 7 and the first living creature [is] like a lion, and the second living creature [is] like a calf, and the third living creature hath the face as a man, and the fourth living creature [is] like an eagle flying.” (YLT)
Compare with Ezekiel’s description:
Ez. 1:5, 10;
“ And out of its midst [is] a likeness of four living creatures, and this [is] their appearance; a likeness of man [is] to them,” ….. “10 As to the likeness of their faces, the face of a man, and the face of a lion, toward the right [are] to them four, and the face of an ox on the left [are] to them four, and the face of an eagle [are] to them four.” (YLT)
These are the same which Ezekiel identifies as the cherubim of Ez. 1:15, 20:
”15And the cherubs are lifted up, it [is] the living creature that I saw by the river Chebar.“…..20It [is] the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Chebar, and I know that they are cherubs.”
Isa. 6:2 calls them “seraphim:”
” Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” (KJV)
These are burning ones symbolizing judgment of God. God’s fury is fire (Ex. 3:2; Psa 21:9; Nah.1:6; Heb 12:29), and these have a burning flame described in Ez. 1:13 as coals of fire, and burning lamps going up and down their bodies. Isaiah sees them with six wings, whereas Ezekiel sees four wings and four faces. They fly where God wills them to go (Ez. 1:12, 20). They hand out coals of fire, which are the judgments from God (Is. 6:6; Ez. 10:2, 7)
See Ez. 10:2,
“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.” (KJV)
They are represented in the wilderness tabernacle over the mercy seat in the holy of holies (Ex. 25: 18-20), which is a representation of the throne of God.
“And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.” (KJV)
And we go back to Gen. 3:24,
“ 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.”
They are guardians, agents / angels of God, bearing his chariot in Ezekiel, and constantly doing the will of the Almighty.
Ezekiel saw them with each having four faces. Faces are aspects, appearances, what they look like to others who see them. These living creatures were beside God at His throne, and surrounded Christ. They reflected the appearance and image of Christ.
Christ is the King of Kings (1 Tim. 6:15), the lion is a symbol of kingship. Christ was the sacrifice for all who will call upon Him; the ox, or calf was one of the animals frequently sacrificed under the old law. Christ became a man to be able to perfect all of us in Him, which is the representation of a man’s face on the living creatures. Christ’s judgment is swift and certain; the aspect / face of the eagle; possibly also reflecting sovereignty and deity.
According to Hebrew tradition, their faces represented the tribes of Israel around the tabernacle; the lion that of Judah, with Issachar and Zabulon on the east of the camp; the ox / calf that of Ephraim on the west side, with Manasseh and Benjamin; the man was the emblem of Reuben, who was camped on the south with Gad and Simeon; and the eagle that of Dan, encamped on the north with Asher and Naphtali.
This view is secondary to the higher symbolism that reflects the nature of Christ. However, it is interesting that the armies God usually used to bring judgment against Israel most often came from the north. The eagle was the emblem of swift, swooping justice, and being on the north side of the camp might have indicated the direction of God’s judgment. (Isa. 14:31; Jer. 4:6; 6:22; Jer. 50:9; Ez. 1:4; 26:7; etc.).
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