Cherubim were everywhere in the tabernacle—no matter where you were you couldn’t escape their presence. If you stood in the holy place as the priests did, they were woven into its curtains (26:1). If you were passing from the holy place into the holy of holies as only the high priest could on the Day of Atonement, they were woven into the curtain separating the holy place from the most holy place (26:31). Once inside the holy of holies, you would see two cherubim on opposite ends of the cover of the ark of the covenant with their wings spread, staring down at the cover (25:17-20). It was there between the cherubim that Yahweh said he would meet with Israel and give them His commands (25:22).
Cherubim were many things, but they represented the other worldliness of God that we call His holiness. God is not like us—He is holy. He is what we aren’t. The world He inhabits is holy (see the vision Isaiah has in Isaiah 6 or John has in Revelation 4).
When we enter into God’s presence, we enter into another world that is unlike ours. The high priest entered only after having blood sprinkled upon him. We enter through the blood of Jesus. Our prayers come before God in Jesus’ name because “hallowed” is His name (i.e., nature – Matthew 6:9). In all of this, the majestic wholeness of God is being contrasted with our fragmentation due to sin. When we become casual about God and make Him a projection of our wants and desires, we become a casualty.
But because He is holy, God desires to merge His world into ours. That is why we are to pray that “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10). This is why God has always made provision for man to draw near to him despite his sinfulness. As Karl Barth so eloquently noted, “He does not will to be God for Himself nor as God to be alone with Himself. He wills as God to be for us and with us who are not God.”
God is for us and wants to be with us! That’s one of the overarching messages we are to see in the sections on the tabernacle in Exodus. When we read of all of the details involved in building the tabernacles, the minutiae concerning the priests’ clothing or all of the intricacies of the sacrificial system, rather than getting paralysis from analysis we are to understand them as emphasizing the truth that spanning the gulf between man and God was no small thing. All of these complexities point to the task that God would ultimately take on Himself through His son Jesus.
The relationship we have with God is one of holy intimacy. It is neither casual nor cold and formalistic. It is a healthy balance of realness and reverence. The same writer who tells us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16), also says, “let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire” (12:28-29). Fundamental to walking is balance. Fundamental to our walk as followers of Jesus is the balance of holy intimacy.