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Who Are “the Living Creatures With Four Faces”?

Who Are “the Living Creatures With Four Faces”?


FOCUS: The living creatures and what we learn from a study of them

1, 2. Why did Jehovah, at times, use visual aids when conveying truths to his servants on earth?

IMAGINE a family with small children sitting around their kitchen table studying the Bible. To help the children understand a Scriptural truth, the father shows them some simple drawings. The children’s smiles and animated comments indicate that the father is succeeding. By adding pictures to his words, he helps his children to grasp teachings about Jehovah that otherwise would be beyond their level of understanding.

2 Similarly, Jehovah has used visual aids to help his human children gain insight into unseen realities that they would not grasp otherwise. For example, to explain profound truths about himself, Jehovah showed Ezekiel a vision filled with striking images. In the preceding chapter of this publication, we considered one such image. Let us now focus on one specific part of that impressive vision and see how understanding its meaning can help us to draw closer to Jehovah.

“I Saw . . . What Looked Like Four Living Creatures”

3. (a) According to Ezekiel 1:4, 5, what did Ezekiel see in vision? (See opening picture.) (b) What do you note about Ezekiel’s way of recording his impressions?

3 Read Ezekiel 1:4, 5. Ezekiel describes “what looked like four living creatures” with angelic, human, and animal features. Notice how precisely Ezekiel recorded his impression, stating that he saw “what looked like” living creatures. As you read the entire vision found in Ezekiel chapter 1, you will note that the prophet repeatedly used such expressions as “looked like,” “was like,” “resembled.” (Ezek. 1:13, 24, 26) Clearly, Ezekiel realized that he saw mere likenesses, or images, of invisible realities that exist in heaven.

4. (a) What effect did the vision have on Ezekiel? (b) What did Ezekiel no doubt know about cherubs?

4 Ezekiel must have been awestruck by the vision’s sights and sounds. The appearance of the four living creatures was like “burning coals of fire.” Their fast movements resembled “flashes of lightning.” Their wings sounded “like a sound of rushing waters” and their movements, “like the sound of an army.” (Ezek. 1:13, 14, 24-28; see the box “I Was Watching the Living Creatures.”) In a later vision, Ezekiel identified these four living creatures as “cherubs,” or mighty angelic creatures. (Ezek. 10:2) Having been raised in a priestly family, Ezekiel no doubt knew that cherubs are closely associated with God’s presence and serve as His attendants.​—1 Chron. 28:18; Ps. 18:10.

“Each One Had Four Faces”

5. (a) How did the cherubs and their four faces reflect the greatness of Jehovah’s might and glory? (b) Why does this part of the vision remind us of the meaning of God’s name? (See footnote.)

5 Read Ezekiel 1:6, 10. Ezekiel also noted that each cherub had four faces​—a face of a man, a lion, a bull, and an eagle. Seeing these four faces must have made a deep impression on Ezekiel about the surpassing greatness of Jehovah’s might and glory. Why so? Significantly, each face belonged to a creature that embodies majesty, strength, and mightiness. The lion is a majestic wild animal, the bull an impressive domestic animal, the eagle a mighty bird, and man the crowning achievement of God’s earthly creation, the ruler of all other creatures on earth. (Ps. 8:4-6) Nevertheless, in this vision, Ezekiel saw that all four mighty representatives of creation, as depicted by the four faces of each cherub, were situated below the throne of Jehovah, who is the Supreme Sovereign over all. What a fitting way to illustrate that Jehovah can use his creation to accomplish his purpose! * Indeed, as the psalmist declares about Jehovah, “His majesty is above earth and heaven.”​—Ps. 148:13.

What do the four living creatures and their four faces reveal about Jehovah’s might, glory, and attributes? (See paragraphs 5, 13)

6. What might have helped Ezekiel to understand what the four faces further represent?

6 After some time had passed and Ezekiel had reflected on what he had seen, he may have recalled that God’s servants who lived before his time had used animals in comparisons. For instance, the patriarch Jacob had compared his son Judah to a lion and his son Benjamin to a wolf. (Gen. 49:9, 27) Why? Because the lion and the wolf picture characteristics, or attributes, that would stand out in these men’s personalities. So with such examples from Moses’ inspired writings in mind, Ezekiel may well have concluded that the cherubs’ faces also pictured outstanding qualities or attributes. But which attributes?

Attributes Belonging to Jehovah and His Heavenly Family

7, 8. What attributes are often associated with the four faces of the cherubs?

7 With what characteristics did Bible writers who lived before Ezekiel’s time associate the lion, the eagle, and the bull? Note these Bible phrases: “The courageous man whose heart is like that of a lion.” (2 Sam. 17:10; Prov. 28:1) “An eagle flies upward,” and “its eyes look far into the distance.” (Job 39:27, 29) “The power of a bull yields an abundant harvest.” (Prov. 14:4) Based on such scriptures, the lion’s face pictures courageous justice; the eagle’s face, far-seeing wisdom; the bull’s face, irresistible power, as has often been stated in our publications.

8 But what about “the face of a man”? (Ezek. 10:14) It must refer to a quality that could be portrayed, not by any animal, but by humans, who are made in God’s image. (Gen. 1:27) That quality​—on earth, unique to humans—​is highlighted by God’s commands: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart” and “you must love your fellow man as yourself.” (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18) When we obey these commands by showing unselfish love, we reflect Jehovah’s own love. As the apostle John wrote, “we love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:8, 19) Hence, “the face of a man” represents love.

9. To whom do the attributes associated with the cherubs’ faces belong?

9 To whom do these attributes belong? Since the faces belong to the cherubs, the attributes belong to all whom the visionary cherubs represent​—Jehovah’s heavenly family of loyal spirit creatures. (Rev. 5:11) Moreover, as Jehovah is the Source of the cherubs’ life, he is also the Source of their attributes. (Ps. 36:9) Thus, the cherubs’ faces picture attributes belonging to Jehovah himself. (Job 37:23; Ps. 99:4; Prov. 2:6; Mic. 7:18) What are a few ways in which Jehovah shows these outstanding attributes?

10, 11. What are some ways that we are benefiting from expressions of Jehovah’s four cardinal attributes?

10 Justice. As the God who “loves justice,” Jehovah “treats none with partiality.” (Ps. 37:28; Deut. 10:17) Thus, the opportunity to become and remain his servants and to receive eternal blessings is open to all of us regardless of our social standing or background. Wisdom. As the God who “is wise in heart,” Jehovah has provided a book full of “practical wisdom.” (Job 9:4; Prov. 2:7) Applying the Bible’s wise counsel helps us to deal with life’s day-to-day challenges and to live meaningful lives. Power. As the God who is “great in power,” Jehovah uses his holy spirit to give us “power beyond what is normal.” This strengthens us to cope with whatever severe and painful trials we may face.​—Nah. 1:3; 2 Cor. 4:7; Ps. 46:1.

11 Love. As the God “abundant in loyal love,” Jehovah never abandons his faithful worshippers. (Ps. 103:8; 2 Sam. 22:26) Thus, even if we are saddened because ill health or advanced age prevents us from doing as much in Jehovah’s service as before, we draw comfort from knowing that Jehovah remembers the labors of love we have rendered to him in the past. (Heb. 6:10) Clearly, we already greatly benefit from Jehovah’s expressions of justice, wisdom, power, and love, and we will continue to benefit from these four cardinal attributes in times to come.

12. What should we keep in mind about our ability to understand Jehovah’s qualities?

12 Of course, we should keep in mind that what we as humans are able to understand about Jehovah’s qualities amounts to “just the fringes of his ways.” (Job 26:14) “Understanding the Almighty is beyond our reach,” for “his greatness is unsearchable.” (Job 37:23; Ps. 145:3) Hence, we realize that Jehovah’s qualities cannot be numbered or put into categories. (Read Romans 11:33, 34.) In fact, Ezekiel’s vision itself reveals that God’s attributes are not limited in number or in scope. (Ps. 139:17, 18) What aspect of the vision highlights that important truth?

“Four Faces . . . Four Wings . . . Four Sides”

13, 14. What do the four faces of the cherubs represent, and why can we draw that conclusion?

13 Ezekiel saw in vision that each of the cherubs had, not one, but four faces. What does that indicate? Recall that in God’s Word, the number four is often used to represent that which is fully rounded out, all embracing, or complete. (Isa. 11:12; Matt. 24:31; Rev. 7:1) Significantly, in this particular vision, Ezekiel mentions the number four no less than 11 times! (Ezek. 1:5-18) What, then, can we conclude? Just as the four cherubs represent all other loyal spirit creatures, so the four faces of the cherubs when viewed together stand for, or embrace, all the attributes that Jehovah possesses. *

14 To illustrate how the meaning of the cherubs’ four faces may include more than just four qualities, consider as a comparison what takes place with the four wheels in this vision. Each wheel is impressive, but when the four wheels are viewed together, they form more than four impressive individual wheels​—they are the foundation on which the chariot rests. In a similar way, when the four faces are viewed together, they form more than four impressive individual attributes​—they are the foundation of Jehovah’s awe-inspiring personality.

Jehovah Is Close to All His Loyal Servants

15. What heartening truth did Ezekiel learn through the first vision he received?

15 Through this first vision, Ezekiel learned a vital and heartening truth about his relationship with Jehovah. What was it? That truth is indicated in the opening words of the prophet’s book. After stating that he was “in the land of the Chaldeans,” Ezekiel, speaking about his own experience, added: “There the hand of Jehovah came upon him.” (Ezek. 1:3) Note that Ezekiel stated that he received the vision, not in Jerusalem, but there​—in Babylon. * So, what did that fact reveal to Ezekiel? This: Although he was a lowly exile who had been separated from Jerusalem and its temple, he had not been separated from Jehovah and His worship. Jehovah’s appearing to Ezekiel in Babylon demonstrated that rendering pure worship to God did not depend on location or position. Instead, it depended on Ezekiel’s heart condition and his desire to serve Jehovah.

16. (a) What comforting assurance can we draw from Ezekiel’s vision? (b) What moves you to serve Jehovah with all your heart?

16 Why is the truth that Ezekiel learned of great comfort to us today? It assures us that when we serve Jehovah wholeheartedly, he remains close to us no matter where we may live, how distressed we may feel, or under what circumstances in life we may find ourselves. (Ps. 25:14; Acts 17:27) Jehovah, moved by his abundant loyal love for each of his servants, does not quickly give up on us. (Ex. 34:6) Therefore, we are never beyond the reach of Jehovah’s loyal love. (Ps. 100:5; Rom. 8:35-39) Furthermore, this impressive vision of Jehovah’s holiness and his surpassing might reminds us that Jehovah is worthy of receiving our worship. (Rev. 4:9-11) Indeed, how thankful we are that Jehovah used such visions as aids to help us understand some important truths about himself and his attributes! Gaining deeper insight into Jehovah’s appealing attributes draws us closer to him and moves us to praise and serve him with all our heart and all our strength.​—Luke 10:27.

We are never beyond the reach of Jehovah’s loyal love (See paragraph 16)

17. What questions will we consider in the following chapters?

17 Sadly, though, in Ezekiel’s day, pure worship was defiled. How did that come about? How did Jehovah react? And what significance do those ancient events have for us today? These questions will be considered in the following chapters.

^ par. 5 Ezekiel’s description of these creatures reminds us of God’s name, Jehovah, which we understand to mean “He Causes to Become.” As one aspect of that name reveals, Jehovah can cause his creation to become whatever is needed to accomplish his purpose.​—See Appendix A4 in the New World Translation.

^ par. 13 Through the years, our publications have considered some 50 different attributes of Jehovah.​—See the Watch Tower Publications Index under “Jehovah,” subheading “Qualities by Name.”

^ par. 15 The single word “there,” notes one Bible commentator, “captures the amazement of the moment more than any other. . . . God is there in Babylon! What comfort!”