When God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, he placed cherubim and a flaming sword to keep the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). The Bible tells us very little about these symbols that were set to guard the way to the tree of life. Cherubim are commonly known as symbols for angels, or heavenly beings. But what is the flaming sword? What is its meaning?
Fortunately, God has given us the Book of Mormon, which has an extensive vision of the tree of life, which might help us understand what the flaming sword might mean. Bruce Webster has an excellent post over at Adventures in Mormonism about the potential symbolism of the flaming sword. Taking into account a possible typographical error in the text as discovered by Royal Skousen, Bruce says:
Combining Nephi’s descriptions of his (and Lehi’s) vision of the Tree of Life, we have ‘the justice of God’ represented as both a sword and a flaming fire — combined, a flaming sword — and in both cases keeping the Tree of Life from those who choose the world (the ‘great and spacious building’) instead of coming to the Tree of Life on God’s terms. . . .
What is perhaps more interesting is that we get through this vision an interpretation of the ‘flaming sword’ mentioned in Genesis — the justice of God, which prevents us in our willful state from approaching the Tree of Life. What the rest of Nephi’s vision tells us is that it is the love and condescension of God that gives us a path (’strait and narrow’) and a guide (’a rod of iron’) by which we can come and partake of the Tree of Life and thus enter back into God’s presence.
Andrew Miller also has some good commentary about this.
Bi Cheng Yi
Personally, I always considered Flaming Swords to be like the Cherubim, as in a specific class or type of angel.
Thus God is saying let Cherubim and a Flaming Sword guard…is akin to saying let the Police and Army guard the way…
Just my 2 cents. Nice blog btw…wish you went a little more in depth for each entry though. Other than that 4 stars. Nice collection of content.
Thanks Bi Cheng Yi. Have you read many entries? I get in very deep on certain subjects, and shallower on others. It just depends on the subject, and the time I have.
The Cherubim are what Brigham Young taught, “the angels who stand as sentinels” guarding the way “to the presence of the Father.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:31; also Discourses of Brigham Young, Compiled by John A. Widtsoe,. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978) p. 416; Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), p. 302.)
Excellent read. I found the same thing in my studies on the flaming sword. As for the comment on the Cherubim, keep researching. God is not preventing you from getting to the tree of life, but inviting you. A study of the ark of the covenant reveals the cherubim covering the mercy seat. We see cherubim coming with messages of the lords mercy to God’s children. The Cherubim is Mercy. Hence Justice and Mercy guard the way of the tree of life. The Atonement provided the mercy we need, and satisfies the demands of justice to get back to the tree of life. Alma 42 is the definitive discourse on the matter.
Thank you, all, for the wonderfully insightful contributions. And Brent. . . you pulled it all together. Epiphany!
It is interesting who is asked to put the flaming sword and cheribum in place. He who represents judgement (flaming sword) and He who represents atonement and mercy (cherubim). He who will lead the way, teach the way, guide the way and judge who enters. God the Father speaks symbolically.
Note the final etymological link “Karibu = one who blesses”. Cherubim is a late 14th Century Latin term derived from very early written languages.
Etymology of Cherub (plural Cherubim) late 14c. as an order of angels, from Late Latin cherub, from Greek cheroub, from Hebrew kerubh (plural kerubhim) “winged angel,” perhaps related to Akkadian karubu “to bless,” karibu “one who blesses,” an epithet of the bull-colossus. Old English had cerubin, from the Greek plural.
Cherubim is perhaps the one/ones who blesses/bless (Christ or Godhead) who holds the sword (Justice) which is flaming (flaming is sometimes associted with purification, or the priesthood). Christ guards the way, represents mercy through the atonement, but requires justice through obedience to the commandments and acceptance of ordinances through the power of the priesthood. In the Scriptures, God the Father asks Christ to Place the Cherubim and Flaming Sword to Guard the Way. Christ then completes this task himself.
Accept Chirst (the one who blesses) and take his name upon you, be purified through repentance and obedience to satisfy justice (flaming sword) and be given mercy, provide the signs and tokens received through ordinances representing your knowlege of the fullness of the priesthood (flame), be admited by Christ through the veil to the Celestial Kingdom (tree of life/fruit).
Just my imperfect personal thoughts as I have pondered during temple work and studied on my own. All Temple Symbolism (signs, tokens, names, alter, veil, garments, robes, priesthood, markings, covenants) ultimately points to Christ. He is the way and he guards it, he judges, he accepts our offerings and bestows eteranal life. Angels (Cherubim) may be given his authority, by him, to act in his behalf and serve the roll of guardian and test our knowledge before being admitted to Christ’s presence. But we must be judged by Christ before partaking of the fruit. Therefore, he is the only guardian that can allow us to partake of the fruit of the tree of life.
All of the above comments are good,especially Jon and Sarah’s. Let us look at the elements.
The cherebim, in Hebrew, im indicates plural, therefore many messengers as guards of the said tree of life;
they have a mission, they also could represent the authorized servants of God and Christ,be they angels or the
holders of the Priesthood.
The Sword, check out Hebrews 4:12, the Word of God is shown by many symbols in Scripture, one of which is
the double edged sword. Which divides the soul and spirit,and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart.thus
it is another symbol for the Gospel itself. Another symbol for the Word of God is the Rod of Iron,see 1 Nephi.
The Flames coming from the Sword, try them representing the glory of God, which is represented by the Prophets as being consuming fire.Heb. 12:29. Also let me point to the fact of the Elohim dwelling in everlasting
burnings; the sword is not of the earth, rather, it is divine. Separating man (Adam) for a time from the Tree of
Life, which he can return to on condition of repentance and living the Gospel,partaking of the ordinances,etc.
The flaming sword may be the dawn of the Iron Age. The influential anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan
emphasized that the discovery of iron metallurgy was the most transformative advance from barbarism
to civilization. The earliest source of metallic iron was from meteorites (smelting of iron ore came later.)
The earliest iron artifacts discovered are iron beads made from meteorite fragments, extracted from
Iranian graves at least 6000 years old (and, coincidentally, “east of Eden” if Eden was located in the
Fertile Crescent.) Iron meteorite beads, when heated, may have been used as precursors to branding irons.
The turning of the flaming sword in every direction is the give-away clue. Meteor showers arrive in
parallel trajectories, but parallax make these fiery paths appear to emerge from one point in the sky
but in all directions!
It is interesting that someone has mentioned cherubim being mercy compared to the flaming sword being justice. In Lehi’s vision, a man in a white robe seems to bring Lehi close to a field with the tree of life in it (1 Ne. 8:5-10). The man could be a cherub helping Lehi to the Garden of Eden and to the path that leads to the tree of life. He is guarding the way, but is also helping Lehi get to where Lehi wants to go. If you have the right authority and go through the front door, guards can be very nice and helpful (I think of the man at the recommend desk in the temple). Lehi has entered the path by the gate, which is baptism (2 Ne. 31:17), and not by jumping across the gulf. And he has the right authority. That is he has taken upon himself the name of Jesus Christ (Mosiah 5:8).
Cherubim are placed to protect the “Mercy Seat.” Perhaps the presentation accessible from the URL will give further insight to the significance thereof. “Did not our hearts burn within us?” (The Road to Emmaus)
For years I wondered why there was only one flaming sword, but many cherubim. I was told once that a flaming sword was a term to mean a rallying point, a place in battle hoisted so those involved would know the place of command. In this scripture I suppose the sword would not be actually aflame, but as it would be placed there by Jehovah alight with His power. The cherubim are servant of God sent to protect, guard and keep the way. The fact there is a “way” suggests it was always intended that man should return to God’s presence, which the tree of life signifies. As servants of God, the Cherubim are messengers (heavenly or terrestrial) sent to teach, direct and encourage all who are drawn by the heavenly light of the flaming sword, which represents Christ who was lifted upon the cross to draw all men to Him. The temple, then is our modern-day metaphore for the Tree of Life.