Saturday, October 18, 2014

II Chronicles 3

II Chronicles 3:13 is talking about statues of cherubim in King Solomon’s temple.  V. 13 states in the King James Version: “The wings of these cherubims spread themselves forth twenty cubits: and they stood on their feet, and their faces were inward.”  As I look at the Masoretic Text on my Bibleworks, I see that what the KJV translates as “inward” is literally “to the house.”  The faces of these cherubim were towards the house.

There is actually debate about what this passage means.  Matthew Henry says that the faces of the cherubim were towards the Ark and they were not looking at whomever entered the sanctuary.  Henry draws from this the practical lesson that we should worship with angels rather than worshiping angels.  We, like the angels, should worship, serve, and direct our attention towards God.  According to this interpretation, the angels are not directing attention towards themselves by looking at us (or, rather, whomever enters the sanctuary), but they are looking at the Ark.  Others, however, maintain that the faces of the cherubim indeed were facing outward towards the sanctuary rather than the ark, such that one who entered the sanctuary would see the faces of the cherubim looking right at him.  “To the house” here is taken to mean “towards the sanctuary.”  Why would the cherubim face outwards toward the sanctuary?  Because they are guarding it, as the cherubim guarded the Garden of Eden (IVP Bible Background Commentary).

Then some go the route of compromise: they say that the faces of the cherubim are positioned between the ark and the sanctuary.  They are facing somewhere in between, according to this interpretation!

An issue that troubles some of the rabbis is that the cherubim of the ark of the covenant actually face each other, according to Exodus 25:20, and so they think there is an apparent contradiction between that and II Chronicles 3:13.  A couple of Christian commentators astutely note that this is not a problem at all.  The cherubim of the ark who face each other are different from the cherubim of II Chronicles 3:13, who are further above the ark.  Still, some rabbis attempt to come up with a harmonization.  The harmonization is that the cherubim face each other when Israel is obedient, and away from each other when Israel is disobedient.  Notes that I have read say that this is because, when the cherubim face one another, that indicates harmony between them.  When they face away from each other, that indicates alienation and love that is not requited.

Okay, but then my question would be how Israel was disobedient when Solomon was building the Temple, which is what II Chronicles 3:13 is about.  Some scholars have argued that, in I Kings, Solomon’s path towards sin was occurring in the early years of his reign, when he brutally rose to the throne, made some of the Israelites into servants, and intermarried with foreign women.  But many scholars say that the Chronicler, unlike I Kings, does not have this perspective but rather idealizes Solomon.  Maybe that is the case.  Still, I think back to II Chronicles 1:17, which depicts Solomon as a horse and chariot broker for other nations.  God repeatedly affirms that Solomon is to be a man of peace, which is why God is allowing Solomon but not David to build the Temple.  Yet, here Solomon is, being a broker for other nations’ wars.  Could that be the Chronicler’s irony?  Or maybe the Chronicler thinks that Solomon being a war-broker is a positive thing: Solomon does not have to worry about Israel’s security during his reign of peace, so he can turn his attention to helping other nations fight their battles, while bringing profit to Israel.

Meanwhile, was Israel at peace or obedient to God when the cherubim of the Ark faced each other, at the construction of the ark in the time of Moses?  Well, not always.  Israel rebelled often.  But maybe the rabbis would say that the cherubim faced away from each other during such times.

I think that Matthew Henry and the rabbis offer decent homiletical lessons.  Still, in terms of the cherubim in II Chronicles 3:13, I think they were facing the sanctuary, and that they were doing so as decorative guards.  This would highlight the majesty of God.

2 comments:

  1. oh, those tricky cheribim! I figure they'd get terribly bored looking the same direction all the time, so different people catch them looking different ways.

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  2. Yeah, they are tricky!

    I should be writing my review of your book today. I was planning to on Saturday night, but I got to bed too late after watching the first two Back to the Future movies!

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