Elden J. Watson
I have recently been contemplating the Plan of Salvation, and in particular the role of the spirit world in that plan. As I understand it our eternal existence began at our spirit birth to our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother.
There is not a person here to-day but what is a son or a daughter of that Being. In the spirit world their spirits were first begotten and brought forth, and they lived there with their parents for ages before they came here. This, perhaps, is hard for many to believe, but it is the greatest nonsense in the world not to believe it. If you do not believe it, cease to call Him Father; and when you pray, pray to some other character. [BY, 8 February 1857, CD 3:1226]
When sufficient spirits had been born an eternal plan was presented by which we would be able to progress. It was in our pre-mortal existence that "one that was like unto God" said: "We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell." (Abr 3:24)
Brigham Young indicated that this earth was built expressly for us to inhabit.
This is our home, built expressly for us by the Father of our spirits, who is the Father, maker, framer and producer of these mortal bodies that we now inherit, and which go back to mother earth. When the spirit leaves them they are lifeless; and when the mother feels life come to her infant it is the spirit entering the body preparatory to the immortal existence. [BY, 19 Jul 1874, CD 5:3047]
He explained further that
All the spirits organized to come to this world will be upon this Earth, and round about it, and attached to it forever and forever without end, they [are] on it, in it, around about it, either in the body or out of the body. Good spirits and bad spirits are attached to this world until they receive their final destination. A great many think that when they die their spirits go to the sun or to the moon or to some of the starry worlds; our spirits are brought forth in the spirit, in the spirit world to inhabit this Earth, to take tabernacles and dwell on this Earth; they belong to it, and will be on it, and round about it from this time hence forth and forever. [BY, 23 Sep 1852, CD 1:587]
Joseph Smith, in answering a question gave a similar response indicating that those who minister to the inhabitants of this earth are only those who belong to it.
In answer to the question – Is not the reckoning of God's time, angel's time, prophet's time, and man's time, according to the planet on which they reside? I answer, Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it. [JS, 2 Apr 1842, D&C 130:4-5]
The question often arises, Where is the spirit world? Brigham Young gives a very clear explanation:
When you lay down this tabernacle, where are you going? Into the spiritual world. Are you going into Abraham's bosom. No, not any where nigh there, but into the spirit world. Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they both inhabit one kingdom? Yes, they do. Do they go to the sun? No. Do they go beyond the boundaries of this organized earth? No, they do not. They are brought forth upon this earth, for the express purpose of inhabiting it to all eternity. Where else are you going? No where else, only as you may be permitted. [BY, 22 June 1856, CD 2:1131]
So this earth was created expressly for us to inhabit. It is worth briefly examining where the earth was created. Brigham Young states that this earth was near Kolob when it was created.
This earth is our home, it was framed expressly for the habitation of those who are faithful to God, and who prove themselves worthy to inherit the earth when the Lord shall have sanctified, purified and glorified it and brought it back into his presence, from which it fell far into space. Ask the astronomer how far we are from the nearest of those heavenly bodies that are called the fixed stars. Can he count the miles? It would be a task for him to tell us the distance. When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man was placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven. [BY, 19 Jul 1874, CD 5:3046]
This earthly ball, this little opaque substance thrown off into space, is only a speck in the great universe; and when it is celestialized it will go back into the presence of God, where it was first framed. [BY 13 Jul 1862, CD 4:2038]
And it appears that we were quite happy about it. The Lord enquired of Job:
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? [Job 38:5-7]
It would seem from these comments that we came here upon this earth willingly, or it could even be said, enthusiastically. Apparently, however, there were those spirit children of God who did not come willingly.
It is written in the book of Revelation: "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil, and satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels with him." [BY, 3 Jun 1866, CD 4:2332 citing Rev 12:9]
When Christ spoke of seeing Satan fall like lightning from heaven it would have been before the fall of Adam so the earth would have still been near to the throne of God where it was created.
And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. [Luke 10:19]
I initially thought that Christ would have been in heaven, watching from that vantage point as Satan was cast out onto the earth. Later I decided that it was more probable that Christ was himself on the earth from where he saw Satan and his angels fall.
As the plan of salvation progressed, Adam and Eve were begotten physically on the earth and were then placed in the Garden of Eden where Satan tempted them to disobey the command of God by partaking of the forbidden fruit. By partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve instigated what we speak of as the fall of man. Brigham Young taught that the fall was not instantaneous, but took place over an extended period of time.
When father Adam transgressed the law he did not fall at once from the presence of the Lord but spake face to face with him a long time afterwards. Men continued to sin and degenerate from generation to generation until they had got so far from the Lord that a veil of darkness sprang up between them so that men could no longer speak with the Lord, save it were through a Prophet. During this time the earth and all creation groaned in sin, and enmity increased, and the lives of men and beasts decreased. For this cause the Son of God descended below all things that he might reach every man and that he might return to the Father and have power over all things. [BY, 26 Apr 1846, CD 1:136-137]
And when man fell—though that was designed in the economy, there was nothing about it mysterious or unknown to the Gods, they understood it all, it was all planned—but when man fell, the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system, and the sun became our light. When the Lord said—"Let there be light," there was light, for the earth was brought near the sun that it might, reflect upon it so as to give us light by day, and the moon to give us light by night. This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father, and it will dwell there, and these intelligent beings that I am looking at, if they live worthy of it, will dwell upon this earth. [BY, 19 Jul 1874, CD 5:3046]
We are frequently told that if we are rightous we will be able to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father, but the question arises: when did we leave His presence? The impression I have felt over many years is that we left His presence at our birth, but after reading Brigham Young's comments on the subject I find that it is more likely that we all left the presence of our Heavenly Father at the same time, the time of the fall of Adam. There are several indications that all of those spirits who were to receive physical bodies by being born upon this earth were in the spirit world on this earth when it fell. We know that Satan and his angels were here on this earth when it fell from the presence of God.
the Devil reigns on the earth, and has held dominion on it for thousands of years. That reign we have to break and cast him out, with the help of God; but we cannot do it at once. Thousands of temptations assail, and you make a miss here and a slip there, and say that you have not lived up to all the knowledge you have. True; but often it is a marvel to me that you have lived up to so much as you have, considering the power of the enemy upon the earth. Few that have ever lived have fully understood that power. I do not fully comprehend the awful power and influence Satan has upon the earth, but I understand enough to know that it is a marvel that the Latter-day Saints are so good as they are. [BY, 6 Jun 1860, CD 3:1595]
How about the rest of us? Were our spirits also on this earth in the spirit world when it fled from the presence of God? If so, then we have also been on this earth for thousands of years. And when children are born they arrive from the spirit world instead of being transported across millions of miles of space, at a current rate of more than 4 births per second, or 250 births per minute. Brigham Young says that when we return to the spirit world it will be just as natural to us as this world is to us.
If you ever do join the church, my counsel is wherein you can mend your life do, and seek to the Lord to have the light of His Spirit. Pure and holy principles and organizations can only endure. The spirit world will be just as natural to us when we are there as this world is to us. [BY, 4 Nov 1859, CD 3:1523]
And why will it be perfectly natural to us? Because we have lived there for over 6 thousand years. We will literally be going home.
Some, who understand more or less of the principles of the Gospel, appear to be a trifle discouraged. Such do not think more of the life to come than they do of the present life. When the breath leaves the body, your life has not become extinct; your life is still in existence. And when you are in the spirit world. everything there will appear as natural as things now do. Spirits will be familiar with spirits in the spirit world—will converse, behold, and exercise every variety of communication one with another as familiarly and naturally as while here in tabernacles. There, as here, all things will be natural, and you will understand them as you now understand natural things. [BY, 1 Sep 1859, CD 3:1496]
When I get through my work here, my body will have the privilege to rest; and I understand where my spirit will go, and who will be my associates in the spirit world.
We have more friends behind the vail than on this side, and they will hail us more joyfully than you were ever welcomed by your parents and friends in this world; and you will rejoice more when you meet them than you ever rejoiced to see a friend in this life; [BY, 31 Jul 1859, CD 3:1492]
Are there any indications in scripture that this is the case? I can think of a few citations that support this view. Alma says that when we die we are taken "home."
11 Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection--Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. [Alma 40:11]
Also, at the death of Christ when he stepped through the veil into the spirit world he was met by numerous old testament prophets and righteous saints, but many of the modern prophets and saints were also there, and they had not yet been born:
The Prophet Joseph Smith, and my father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work, including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead, were also in the spirit world. [D&C 138:53-54.]
There are interesting scriptures which relate to two types of spirits who are in the spirit world. The scriptures speak of Seraphim and of Cherubim. Seraphim are mentioned in 2Ne 16:2 and 16:6 which are quoting Isaiah 6:2 and 6:6 where the word is mistranslated as seraphims seeing as the word seraphim is already plural. In D&C 109:79 the word appears as seraphs.
Orson Pratt writes about the classification of angels:
Into how many grand divisions may the angels be divided?
They may be divided into four grand divisions as follows: –
First spirits or angels, who have never been incorporated with flesh and bones.
Second, spirits or angels, embodied in a mortal tabernacle.
Third, spirits or angels disembolodied, but waiting for the resurrection
And Fourth, spirits or angels, embodied in an immortal tabernacle.
[Watson, The Orson Pratt Journals pp 282-283]
Then in looking for places to categorize Seraphim and Cherubim, we need to look at where they most reasonably fit into these four grand divisions. Neither the second nor the fourth divisions fit very well at all. So it seems reasonable to suggest that seraphim and cherubim are either spirits who have never been incorporated with flesh and bones or those spirits who are now disembodied and awaiting the resurrection.
Clarke's commentary on Isaiah 6:2 says this about seraphim.
Above it stood the seraphim - שרפים seraphim, from שרף seraph, to burn. He saw says Kimchi, the angels as flames of fire, that the depravity of that generation might be exhibited, which was worthy of being totally burnt up.
And Smith's bible dictionary has the following:
Seraphim. (burning, glowing). An order of celestial beings, whom Isaiah beheld in vision, standing above Jehovah, as he sat upon his throne. Isa 6:2.
In trying to better understand, I note that Joseph Smith said this:
Spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory. Angels have advanced further, their light and glory being tabernacled; and hence they appear in bodily shape. The spirits of just men are made ministering servants to those who are sealed unto life eternal, and it is through them that the sealing power comes down. Patriarch Adams is now one of the spirits of the just men made perfect; and, if revealed now, must be revealed in fire; and the glory could not be endured. Jesus showed Himself to His disciples, and they thought it was His spirit, and they were afraid to approach His spirit. Angels have advanced higher in knowledge and power than spirits. [JS, 9 Oct 1843, TPJS 325]
As I understand this, spirits of just men made perfect do not have a physical body and hence cannot shield their glory. If they appear they must appear in fire and glory. This fits well with the definition of seraphim.
At the funeral of James Adams, Joseph Smith had this to say about the spirits of just men who have died:
The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith. [JS, 9 October 1843, TPJS 326]
It would therefore appear that seraphim are the spirits of just men who have died, and they reside in the spirit world until the time of their resurrection.
The word Cherub in one of its several forms appears in the Old Testament a total of 68 times, in the New Testament once, in the Book of Moses once, and in the Book of Mormon three times. Of particular interest to me is that Cherubim and a flaming sword were placed to guard the way to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit. A Cherub is generally depicted in art forms as a baby, but with wings, and it comes to my mind that a Cherub might well be an unborn spirit, prior to its receiving a mortal body by birth. Cherubim would have been placed to guard the way to the garden of Eden because at that time there were no Seraphim: no one had yet died.
I suggest that Cherubim are the spirits of the yet unborn just as Seraphim are the spirits of just men who have died.
I have found a few statements by Brigham Young which which indicate to me that these unborn spirits reside in the spirit world prior to their birth. I emphasize the words which lead me to believe that is what he meant.
Will you think of this? If you will I will let the matter rest for the present you will excuse me if I continue a little further the subject of marriage. It is a matter that I have said little about until last evening and to day, besides I am no matchmaker; But if you knew now that there is a thousand souls in the Spirit world, the children of our Father in heaven that are waiting, longing, desiring, anxious to come here to this Continent, and those Spirits have had the promise of coming here in 1867 and 68, but you will not put yourselves in circumstances to prepare them tabernacles, then they must go into the State New York or somewhere else and take tabernacles of parents who are opposed to the truth, and who will teach their children to fight the Gospel of Jesus, rebel against every holy principle revealed from heaven, until they become wicked, ungodly, devilish. When you take this view of the case, I ask, is there any responsibility resting on the people here? There is. [BY, 25 Aug 1867, CD 4:2484]
There is no sin attached to little children, they are innocent, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." Let children then have the privileges of the Gospel so far as they can enjoy them. They ought to be dearer to us than all earthly objects from the fact that they are innocent, they can associate with heavenly beings, they have a right there they came from there, and if they are called to leave this world they return to the society of holy beings like themselves in the spirit world. [BY, 30 Nov 1862, CD 4:2082]
Let us honor God, and prepare to embrace our Father and the family connection we were associated with at the time we left the spirit-world to come here, and to be more familiar with them when we leave this world than we now are with one another. [BY, 5 Aug 1860, CD 3:1628]
Cherubim in the Old Testament
Investigating scriptural usages of the word cherubim leads us to some interesting thoughts.
The word cherub itself is in Hebrew krub. The root krb is nowhere found in Biblical Hebrew, but in classical Arabic it usually has the meaning of "be near, approach." This is of some interest to us because r and l are frequently interchanged between Hebrew and related languages.
In response to a question I asked, John Tvedtnes responded as follows:
L and R (and sometimes N) are what are called "liquids." They are frequently confused in languages, but more especially when words from one language are being cited in another. E.g., Egyptians used their letter R to transliterate both L and R from Hebrew/Canaanite. Sometimes, they wrote L as R+N to distinguish it from R. The letters are not completely interchangeable in Hebrew, however, though they may have been in earlier days. Thus, we have BN as "son" in Hebrew, while in Aramaic it is BR. Cf. also BR' and BNH, both "build, construct." The interchangeability is thought to have been more likely in very early (pre-biblical) Hebrew. In the Book of Abraham, we have word-plays on KoLob ("dog") and QaRob ("near"), where Kolob is "nearest" the residence of God. [personal correspondance, email, Wed, Nov 14, 2012]
We read in the book of Abraham "And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest." [Abr 3:3] It would appear that the Hebrew klb (kolob) may have the meaning of "near unto" or "approaching."
The word cherub appears in the old testament a total of 21 times, both in the King James and in the Inspired Revision. The plural cherubim however never appears in the King James old testament but is replaced by the grammatically incorrect cherubims. This has been corrected 56 times in the Inspired Revision and two additional references to cherubim have been made in headers. Most of these references provide little or no information about cherubim, but there are a few verses which provide particularly interesting insights. We will examine some of these King James Bible references.
The first Old Testament reference to cherubim occurs in Genesis 3:24
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Margaret Barker has an interesting statement about this verse which she takes from The Palestinian Targum: " ‘And he cast forth the man and made the glory of the Shekinah to dwell from the beginning to the east of the garden of Eden between the two cherubim’ (Targum Neofiti to Gen. 3.24). She then adds the comment ‘'Shekinah is related to the word for tabernacle and means the divine presence. This implies that the Lord himself guarded the gate in Eden. (Margaret Barker, The Gate of Heaven, p 144 and note)
It appears probable that the flaming sword represents the justice of God. This has some support in 1Nephi 12:18 which in our present edition of the Book of Mormon reads:
And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God, of whom the Holy Ghost beareth record, from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.
However, Royal Skousen points out that the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon reads a little differently. It says: "yea, even the sword of the Justice of the Eternal God.." (Royal Skousen, "Some textual changes for a Scholarly Study of the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 51:4, 102-103.) Similarly, Alma asks, why God did not "let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?" (Alma 26:19). In fact, both times that Alma specifically mentions the flaming sword which was placed to guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden, a discussion of justice and mercy immediately follows. (see Alma 12:21 and Alma 42:2-3.)
Continuing our discussion of Cherubim, Exodus 25 instructs Moses how to build the cherubim which are to be placed on either side of the mercy seat in the tabernacle. Exodus 26 further instructs Moses to weave cherubim into the artwork of the veil of the tabernacle.
In 1Kings 6:23-27 and also in 2 Chr 3:7-14 we are told that in the holy of holies the figures representing the cherubim were each just over 18 feet tall (10 cubits), and each had a total wingspan of 10 cubits which means that the wings of the two cherubim, wingtips touching in the middle, spanned the total width of the chamber which was 20 cubits wide. The cherubim were depicted approximately three times the size of a large man. Analogous to the depictions of cherubim woven into the artwork of Moses' tabernacle, Solomon had depictions of cherubim carved into the walls of the temple. Open flowers and cherubim, alternating with palm trees were carved into the walls of the temple both inside and out, and these were even carved into the olive wood of the doors of the temple. (see 1Kings 6:29-35). Ezekiel gives us the additional information that the cherubim decorating the walls each had two faces, the face of a man in one direction and the face of a young lion in the other direction. (Ezekiel 41:18-19)
In 1 Samuel 4:4 we are introduced to an interesting phrase speaking of the Lord dwelling between the cherubims, which appears 7 times in some very similar verses.
1Sa 4:4 "the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth [between] the cherubims"
2Sa 6:2 "the LORD of hosts that dwelleth [between] the cherubims."
2Ki 19:15 "O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest [between] the cherubims"
1Chr 13:6 "God the LORD, that dwelleth [between] the cherubims"
Ps 80:1 "thou that dwellest [between] the cherubims"
Ps 99:1 "THE LORD reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth [between] the cherubims;
Isa 37:16 "O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest [between] the cherubims"
I note that the word "between" in every instance appears in italics in the King James Bible. This means that the word "between" does not appear in the original Hebrew, but was in each case inserted to make the English more readable. None of these verses are in the context of the two cherubim on either side of the mercy seat in the tabernacle or the temple, and the Lord certainly did not dwell (live) on the mercy seat between these two figures. I suggest that a better choice than "between" would be "with" or "amongst." And why would the Lord dwell with the cherubim? Because he was one of them. At that time he had not yet received his mortal body by being born.
It is interesting that this concept is not new. During April Conference of 1852, what we now refer to as the old tabernacle was dedicated by President Willard Richards, second counsellor to President Brigham Young. The dedicatory prayer he offered began as follows:
Great and all wise God, our Heavenly Father, who dwelleth amid the cherubims, and art clothed in light as with a garment, ... [ Deseret News Weekly 2:46, 4/17/1852 p 2]
Another verse of special interest is in 2 Samuel 22:11. The context is that of a song which David addressed to Yahweh after he had been delivered from his enemies. An almost identical version of the song appears as Psalm 18.
On the question which of the two versions is the more original, the following opinion seems probable: "The text in the Psalter appears to have been subjected to a literary revision at a later date, in which peculiar forms, which were possiblly 'licences of popular usage' have been replaced by the forms in ordinary use; unusual constructions simplified; archaisms and obscure expressions explained. If this view is correct, the text in Samuel best preserves the original features of the poem" (K.). [Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, The Soncino Books of the Bible, The Psalms p 43.]
The poetic nature of the poem is better demonsrated in the Jerusalem Bible translation, a portion of which follows
2 Samuel 22:7-11
In the nature of Hebrew poetry each verse is a couplet, in which the statement made in a is repeated in different words in b. The verse or couplet which mentions a cherub and which is of particular interest to us is 2 Sa 22:11
And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly:
and he was seen upon the wings of the wind.
In paring the repetition, I pair
And he rode upon with And he was seen upon
and did fly with the wings of
the wind with a cherub.
What makes this verse particularly interesting is that the word translated "wind" is ruach, which also translates as "spirit." Joseph Smith made some comments about the same word:
The 7th verse of 2nd chapter of Genesis ought to read-God breathed into Adam his spirit [i.e. Adam's spirit] or breath of life; but when the word "rauch" applies to Eve, it should be translated lives. [TPJS 301]
It therefore seems that the word cherub might well correlate with the word "spirit," and in particular that spirit which enters and animates a human body.
There are other Old Testament scriptures which discuss cherubim, particularly Ezekiel's vision which is recorded in Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 10, but they are cryptic. I feel that it has been adequately demonstrated that cherubim are the spirits of the unborn and seraphim are the spirits of those righteous who have lived and died, so I will give my explanation of a portion of Ezekiel's vision in a manner which supports those concepts. There are literally hundreds of different interpretations of Ezekiel’s vision on the internet, none of which seem satisfactory to me, so here is my interpretation.
Ezekiel's father Buzi, and perhaps even Ezekiel himself, had been a priest in the temple at Jerusalem before Ezekiel was carried away captive into Babylon approximately 571 B.C. He says he was living among the exiles when one day near the river Chebar he saw a glorious vision and he was commissioned by the hand of Jehovah. It began with a great cloud billowing out of the north with flashes of lightning and a great brilliance and fire out of the middle of the cloud. From the center of this fire emerged what Ezekiel calls a likeness or an image (demuth) of four living creatures who were in human shape and whose legs and even the soles of their feet shone like polished brass.
In discussing the visions of Daniel and John the Revelator, Joseph Smith explained that there is a difference between an actual beast and the image or likeness of a beast in the revelations.
There is a grand distinction between the actual meaning of the Prophets and the Present translation. The Prophets do not declare that the[y] saw a beast or beasts, but that the[y] saw the image or figure of a beast. They did not see an actual bear or Lion but the images or figures of those beasts. The translation should have been rendered "image" instead of "beast" in every instance where beasts are mentioned by the Prophets. But John saw the actual beast in heaven, to show to John and to the inhabitants that that being did actually exist there. When the Prophets speak of seeing beasts in their visions, they saw the images; the types to represent certain things and at the same time they received the interpretation as to what those images or types were designed to represent. I make this broad declaration, that where God ever gives a vision of an image, or beast or figure of any kind he always holds himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in them it. (Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith: p 185)
So Ezekiel did not see living creatures, but a likeness or image of living creaures which are types designed to represent certain things. The trick is to understand what the figures represent, which must be determined by Ezekiel's description of the creatures. He says that each of these creatures had four faces: a man's face in front, the face of a lion to the right, the face of an ox to the left, and the face of an eagle behind. I suggest that these four faces represent four classes of beings. The face of a man represents the class of human beings, the face of the lion represents the class of wild animals, the face of the ox represents the class of domesticated animals and the face of an eagle represents the class of fowl.
It is worth noting that in Hebrew domesticated animals are generally differentiated from wild animals. For example in the creation, on the fifth day, God created both "cattle" (behemah) which word represents all domesticated animals "and beasts of the earth" (wechayetho-eretz) which represents all wild animals (see Hertz, Pentateuch and Haftoras, commentary on Ge 1:24; see also BDR pp 96-97)
These images of four living creatures each had four wings. The lower pair they used to cover their bodies, and the upper pair were extended upward and outward so that the tips of their wings touched the tips of the wings of the adjecent living creature. This indicates that the images of four living creatures formed a square, or more appropriately a cube, with the human faces outward, the eagle faces inward, and the wings extended and touching at the corners. In chapter 10 Ezekiel identifies these similitudes of living creatures as cherubim.
As Margaret Barker points out, the shape of the holy of Holies, both in Moses’ Tabernacle and in the temple with which Ezekiel was familar, was a perfect cube. In the temple this cube was 20 cubits by 20 cubits by 20 cubits.
The temple building was divided into three areas: at the eastern end was a porch, ten cubits deep, then the hekal, the great hall, which was 40 cubits deep, and finally, at the western end, the debir, the holy of holies which was a perfect cube of 20 cubits (1 Kgs 6.20). This perfect cube is important for understanding Revelation 21.16, where the entire heavenly city becomes one great holy of holies for the redeemed, the new high priesthood, and is therefore described as a perfect cube. (Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ p. 13.)
I suggest that the particular formation of the cherubim into a cube was to identify this vision to Ezekiel as a temple vision, related to the Holy of Holies. Note that not only were cherubim engraven on the walls of the temple, but they were also embroidered on the veil which separated the Holy of Holies (debir) from the great hall (hekal). There were therefore similitudes of cherubim represented on each of the four sides of the Holy of Holies. Here the cherubim form the four sides of the cube, hence an apt representation of the Holy of Holies.
Of particular intrest to us is the wheel, which stood beside the four cherubim, and which Ezekiel describes as a wheel within a wheel, which I interpret as consentric rings, which he calls a wheel. And the rings, or rims of these wheels were full of eyes all around. The King James Bible translation of Ezekiel 10:12 would indicate that it was both the cherubim and the wheels which were full of eyes, but others explain that it was only the wheels which were so described:
but Rashi and Kimchi explain that they do not refer to the cherubim but to the various parts of the wheels; that is to say, the whole of the wheels was full of eyes. Accordingly backs means rings or fellowes (as in i.18) and hands are the axles. (see the Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, The Soncino Books of the Bible, Ezekiel p. 53 n. 12.)
Margaret Barker gives “points of light” as an alternative translation for “eyes” in Ezekiel 1 and 10, and in another place provides a possible interpretation of the eyes in Ezekiel 10:12.
Ezekiel saw a figure on the throne above the firmament, but underneath the firmament he saw the four living ones and something fiery in their midst. The main mover in this vision was the Spirit, and where she went, the ‘wheels’ went. These rings were brilliant and full of points of light (‘eyes’) They were a wheel within a wheel, concentric rings of light. (Barker, “The Temple Roots of the Liturgy,” p. 11. See http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/TempleRootsofChristianLiturgy.pdf)
Some of Ezekiel’s description of the Living One is beyond recovery. One verse (Ezek. 10.12) seems to describe ‘all flesh’, in the sense of ‘all created things’ as in the LORD providing for ‘all flesh’ (Ps. 136.25) or ‘all flesh’ perishing if the Spirit was withdrawn (Job. 34.15). The LORD made a covenant with ‘all flesh’ (Gen. 9.16). ‘All flesh’ together with (?)backs, hands and wings were (?)within the rings full of ‘eyes’. Later texts, which preserved the older temple lore, show that ‘the spirits of all things’ were believed to have been created on Day One, and so it is not impossible that this was the original meaning of these curious words. (Barker, The Great High Priest p. 290)
The words translated ‘all their body’ kl bsrm, v.12, are opaque. The same expression elsewhere however (without the ‘their’) means ‘all flesh’ in the sense of ‘all created beings’. Thus the LORD provides food for ‘all flesh’ (Ps. 136.25) and without the Spirit, ‘all flesh’ would perish (Job 34.15), suggesting in the latter case that the Spirit is the continual source of life for ‘all flesh’ (also Lev. 17.14; Num. 18.15; Joel 2.28). Could this mean that ‘all creatures’ were somehow present in the fiery vision, and the Living Creature was itself/herself the Source of Life or perhaps the vessel in which all life was held? (Barker, The Great High Priest p. 172)
With all of this as background, I suggest that the concentric rings of Ezekiel’s vision represent the earth and the spirit world, which are actually concentric spheres, but what better way to depict them than concentric rings. The eyes or points of light are “all created beings,” men, animals and fowl. I suggest that the movement of these created beings spoken of is done between the rings, that is from one ring to the other. When a living creature moves from the spirit world to the physical world he is moving forward, it is an advancement, a progression. When that creature returns to the spirit world that movement is also an advancement and a progression. Hence, no matter which direction the creature moves it is moving forward. This movement between the rings is done at the direction of the Holy Spirit, and the spirit of each living creature is in the rings. The vision appears to be a portion of the plan of salvation as presented to Ezekiel while an exile by the river Chebar. With these concepts in mind Ezekiel’s use of the word cherubim in his writings is consistent.
The Spirit World and the Plan of Salvation
Returning now to the theme of the role played by the spirit world in the plan of salvation, Brigham Young made a few remarks which to me indicate that when the time comes that we return to live with our Heavenly Father, we will all return together as this earth returns to the vicinity of Kolob where it was created.
by and by this earth will be purified, will be baptized with fire as it was with water and it will be purified and cleansed from all sin, it will be baptized by the power of God, and be prepared for the habitation of the saints, and those that live their religion, those who choose the words of eternal life will have the privilege of living upon this earth when it is prepared to be taken back into the presence of the father and the Son. At the time of the fall when men transgressed the earth fell, where from? from the presence of the father and the son. How far did it go? That is unbeknown to me, but millions and millions of miles. The earth was taken from the place where it was first formed and organized, and will again be taken back into the presence of the father and the son, and will be become like a sea of glass as John saw it in Vision, and the saints will dwell upon it. [BY, 14 Jul 1861, CD 3:1886]
The earth itself will be celestialized and will become a celestial kingdom for all those privileged to dwell upon it.
And this world, so benighted at present, and so lightly esteemed by infidels, as observed by brother Clements, when it becomes celestialized, it will be like the sun, and be prepared for the habitation of the Saints, and be brought back into the presence of the Father and the Son. It will not then be an opaque body as it now is, but it will be like the stars of the firmament, full of light and glory: it will be a body of light. John compared it, in its celestialized state, to a sea of glass. [BY, 5 Jun 1859, CD 3:1469]
Only those who attain the celestial kingdom will be privileged to receive an inheritance on the celestialized (resurrected) earth, but they may not be the only ones who will dwell there. In speaking of the power of the sealing covenant, Joseph Smith said:
A measure of this sealing is to confirm upon their head in common with Elijah the doctrine of election or the covenant with Abraham – which when a Father & mother of a family have entered into [,] their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal wherewith the Parents have been sealed. And this is the Oath of God unto our Father Abraham and this doctrine shall stand forever. [Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, p 241.]
I understand this to mean that when a couple receive an inheritance upon the celestialized earth, their children who were either born in the covenant or were sealed to them will be privileged to live with those parents in the celestial kingdom even if they did not themselves receive a celestial inheritance. Brigham Young went a little further in stating that those who enter the celestial kingdom will be able to gather around them both families and friends, and he said that his statement can be called revelation:
When you go into the celestial kingdom, you will have your resurrected bodies, and you will gather around you your families, and friends, and be associated with them there, as here. We are now mortal; there we shall be immortal; this difference will exist, and it is all the difference. Mortality is a perfect similitude, pattern, or emblem of the celestial kingdom, only the one is mortal life, and the other is life in immortality. Can you who own extensive farms work them with your own hands? No; but you have to hire help. Ask the woman who has thirty or forty of a family under her care, if she with her own hands, can do the work necessary to be done in such a family. She cannot do it without procuring help; she obtains servants to assist her. The extensive farmer has around him his associates, who are not capable of themselves of gathering around them property so as to be independent, so they are dependent on the man who knows how to direct, and increase from the elements the riches of this life, and he hires them, and pays them their wages, to help him to do the work necessary to improve every foot of his farm or inheritance. You will find the same thing in the celestial world, among the kingdoms of our Father in heaven. ... You may put that down as revelation, and have brother George write it. [BY April 6, 1854, CD 2:770]
Few people realize that Brigham Young had a personal experience with the spirit world. He actually died and then returned to life during his stay at Winter Quarters while preparing for the pioneer trip to the Salt Lake valley. He spoke of this to the Winter Quarter High Council on Sunday, February 28, 1847 as follows:
Another subject which I wanted to speak of is this. On Wednesday morning I was taken ill and it has been asked if I had a vision. I was taken so suddenly sick just as I was getting out of my bed that I could not go out. I tried to return to the bed again but could not even get back. As to how I felt no one can tell how I felt until he dies and goes through the vail and when he does that he can then tell how I felt. All that I know is what my wife said. She said that I said I had been where Joseph and Hyrum is and again I said that it is hard coming to life again. But I know that I went to the world of spirits but what I saw I know not for the vision went away from me as a dream which you lose when you awake.
The next day I had a dream. I dreamed that I saw Joseph sitting in a room in the southwest corner near a bright window he sat in a chair with his feet both on the lower round.
I took him by the hand and kissed him on both cheeks and wanted to know why we could not be together as we once was. He said that it was all right that we should not be together yet. We must be separated for a season. I said it was hard to be separated from him.
He said it was all right and put his feet down on the floor. Now all you who know how he looks when he used to give council knows all about it. I told him that the Latter-Day Saints was very anxious to know about the law of adoption and the sealing power and he desired a word of council from him. Joseph said -- do you be sure and tell the people one thing. Do you be sure and tell the brethren that it is all important from them to keep the spirit of the Lord. To keep the quiet spirit of Jesus and he explained how the spirit of the Lord reflected on the spirit of man and sets him to pondering on any subject, and how to know the spirit of the Lord from the spirit of the enemy. The mind of man must be opened to receive all spirits in order to be prepared to receive the Spirit of the Lord otherwise it might be barred so as not to receive the Spirit of the Lord, which always brings peace and makes one happy, and takes away every other spirit. When the small still voice speaks always receive it and if the people will do these things when they come up to the Father, all will be as in the beginning and every person stand as at the first. He saw how we were organized before we took Tabernacles and every man will be restored to what he had been and all will be satisfied.
I turned away and saw Joseph was in the age [edge] of the light but where I had to go was as midnight darkness. He said I must go back so I went back in the darkness. I know we ought to be good and honest man and women. Will the brethren let us go and prepare a place that's where we are they may be also. I feel very week since I died. I want you to remember my dream, for I know it is a vision of God and was revealed through the spirit of Joseph. [BY February 28, 1847, CD 1:190-191]
President Brigham Young had only this to say about those who will not live in the celestial kingdom of God.
A great many think that when they die their spirits go to the sun or to the moon or to some of the starry worlds; our spirits are brought forth in the spirit, in the spirit world to inhabit this Earth, to take tabernacles and dwell on this Earth; they belong to it, and will be on it, and round about it from this time hence forth and forever. Those who are made partakers of the bliss and happiness to receive crowns in the Celestial Kingdom will have this Earth for their possession. And what will become of the others? I do not know anything more about it. [BY, 23 September 1852, CD 1:587]