Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Advent Angels 4

Day 4: Warrior Angels

Angels in the Bible are not always gentle, like the ones on the Christmas cards. Angels are sometimes described as armies of God. The next set of readings take us into darker territory with the angels.

After Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which they had been forbidden to do, God exiles them from the Garden of Eden, so that they will not also eat from the tree of life, which would enable them to live forever. It is dangerous, says this story, for human beings to have power without the limits that a finite life puts on us all. Even the most brutal dictator cannot hold power forever. To prevent human beings getting access to immortality, God stations cherubim at the gates, and a sword “flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Cherubim are a specific sort of angelic being, in Hebrew thought, and are nothing like the baby faced “cherubs” of popular art (more properly called “putti”, which are actually based on depictions of the Roman God Eros, the son of Venus, the goddess of love.) In the Bible, cherubim, the plural of cherub, are rather fearsome winged creatures, their name probably derived from the Akkadian “karibu”, also called "lamassu". These were the huge guardian figures often sculpted at the entrances of Assyrian temples. Often they had the bodies of animals or humans. You can see some examples at the British Museum.

In the Old Testament, we also find cherubim carved above the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple, the box in which the Ten Commandments were kept, their wings touching over the “mercy seat”. (1 Kings 6.23-28). Their presence emphasized the holiness of this place, which symbolised God’s presence with the people of Israel.

·         Do you think it would be good if we could live our earthly lives forever, or is there a blessing in the limits placed on us by death?
·         Why do you think we have “tamed” angels by portraying them as chubby toddlers or gentle, glowing, ethereal spirits?

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