“The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.” — Exodus 25:20
In Hebrew, the word for love is ahava, which comes from the root word, hav, “to give.” In Judaism, to love is to give. Giving to others forms the connection that enables us to love one another. Join us this month, as we offer a devotional series exploring the Jewish perspective on love.
One of the most important elements of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments and the first Torah scroll written by Moses. It was beautifully made, covered in gold inside and out. But what was the purpose of the cherubim – the two child-faced angels – that were placed on top of the Ark? Were they merely decorative? Or did they serve a purpose as well?
Scripture dictated that these two cherubim “are to face each other.” According to Jewish tradition, one cherub represented God and the other represented the children of Israel. The Talmud describes how when the Israelites would ascend to the Temple on the prescribed festival days, the priests would roll up the curtain in front of the cherubim so that the people could see them. The two cherubim would be intertwined in an embrace and the priests would announce: “Behold your fondness before the Lord!” The cherubim were a concrete illustration of God’s love for His people.
However, the cherubim did not always demonstrate God’s affection. They also displayed His dissatisfaction. The cherubim were a gauge of God’s relationship with the children of Israel. When the people acted appropriately, the cherubim faced each other and embraced. But when the Israelites rebelled against God, the cherubim turned away from each other.
Interestingly, while we would assume that after the Temple was destroyed because of the people’s sins the cherubim would be facing away from each other in a demonstration of God’s anger, that’s not what happened. Tradition teaches that when the Romans entered the Holy of Holies as the Temple burned, they found the cherubim embracing.
How is this possible? Clearly God was unhappy with His people if He let the Temple be burned and the people sent into exile. The Jewish sages explain the message of the embracing angels: Even as God punishes us, He loves us.
Just as a parent punishes a child out of love, so, too, does God give us His “tough love.” When parents punish a child, they pray that the child will learn and grow from the experience. Their hope is that the child will gain wisdom and understanding that will protect him or her from harm in the future. Similarly, our heavenly Father often places challenges in our way that feel like painful retribution, but that are actually God’s ways of teaching us how to change and grow so that we may be spared from future sorrows.
Next time it seems like God is making life tough, picture the two embracing angels and remember – God is hugging and loving us, even as He corrects us. As King David wrote, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Download our complimentary Bible study, “The Life of Ruth,” to learn more about this courageous young foreigner, whose love and devotion to the God of Israel led to unexpected blessings.