The Four Living Creatures

Revelation 4 — The Four Living Creatures

Revelation is full of allusions to the OT.[10] Some have similar wording, while some use similar ideas.[11] At times John uses the Septuagint, at other times he refers to the Hebrew text.[12] Some studies point to the overall influence of the Septuagint, but it is hard to come to a conclusion, “given John’s penchant for paraphrase and the likelihood that he often worked from memory.”[13] Revelation is “a book designed to be read in constant intertextual relationship with the Old Testament.”[14] It is like a tapestry.[15]

Revelation is apocalyptic in nature. Apocalyptic literature flourished between 200 BCE and 100 CE. It was characterised by a disclosure of the heavenly world, often through an otherworldly intermediary, carrying a promise of divine intervention, a righting of wrongs and the setting up of a new world. “The great cosmic forces that lie behind the turmoil of history are portrayed by vivid and often bizarre symbols. Visions abound.”[16] It is eschatological, dualistic, and deterministic. Apocalyptists are normally pessimistic about the present age, but in Revelation there is a true optimism, for John knows that the victory of Christ—the Alpha and the Omega.

Fee gives this analysis of the structure of an apocalypse: “…regarding their form, the apocalyptists were recording dreams and visions…their language, especially their imagery, was deliberately cryptic and symbolic…[their structure] tends to be formally stylized, which often includes the symbolic use of numbers.”[17] “Metaphors and similes are the scaffolding for John’s symbolic world…The strange is made familiar by similes and metaphors—only to make the familiar seem strange again.”[18] This symbolism can have a number of possible interpretations. Beale reverses the dictum: “interpret literally unless you are forced to interpret symbolically,” holding that we should: “interpret symbolically unless you are forced to interpret literally,”[19] but he notes that their meaning is often found in the context of the OT references which may be behind them.

A real visionary experience lies behind the work, but the apocalypse is not “a simple transcript of that experience.”[20] Wolfson comments that the study of such texts “should not be reduced to mere exegesis devoid of any experimental component; on the contrary, one must assume that the visions and revelatory experiences recorded in the apocalypses are not simply literary forms but reflect actual experiences deriving from divine inspiration… exegesis of recorded visions leads to revelation of God.”[21]

John’s experience of being “in the Spirit” is often replicated in the communities to which he speaks (Rev 2:7, 11, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).[22] “In addition to being people of the OT, the text suggests that the readers are people of the Spirit as well.”[23] In Jewish literature the Spirit of God is the agent of visionary experience. John hopes that his audience will be more reliant on the Spirit in the face of persecution.

 

 

 

Chapter 4[24]

Chapter 4 is a vision[25] of heaven.[26] John hears a voice like a trumpet (as in Rev 1:8 and Exod 19). He is transported in a visionary journey through an open door.[27] Immediately[28] he is “in the spirit” (cf. Rev 1:10). He saw a throne[29] and (one)[30] sitting[31] there, likened[32] to precious stones. A rainbow encircles. There are twenty-four elders[33] with white garments and crowns of gold. From the throne comes[34] flashes of lightning and thunder. Seven lamps are burning—these are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne is a sea of glass like[35] crystal. Four living creatures[36]—like a lion, an ox, a human[37] face, and a flying eagle, all covered in eyes, with six wings—are the closest to the throne. Ceaselessly[38] they cry out: holy, holy, holy[39]—expressing the Tetragrammaton.[40] The twenty-four elders fall down in response, casting their crowns before the one who lives forever, giving thanks, praising the creator of the universe.

 

 

A Rainbow Encircles

Rev 4:3 καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ὅμοιος ὁράσει λίθῳ ἰάσπιδι καὶ σαρδίῳ, καὶ ἶρις κυκλόθεν τοῦ θρόνου ὅμοιος ὁράσει σμαραγδίνῳ. (“And the (one) sitting had the appearance of (a) precious gem—jasper or carnelian, and a rainbow encircled the throne like/in appearance (an) emerald”).[41] These precious stones, which are also referred to Rev 21:10–11, 18–23, “are part of the depiction of the new creation, and the rainbow is the first revelatory sign of the new creation that emerged after the Noahic flood.”[42] The rainbow around the throne signifies the faithfulness of God to creation.[43] Barth comments, “is it not obligatory, in respect of the brightness of this form which resembles the rainbow, to think of Ge.9:12ff, where the rainbow is described as the sign of the covenant between God and all living things, of the covenant with Noah which then becomes the presupposition of the covenant of Sinai and Golgotha?”[44] Aune discusses the symbolism of the circle: “The cosmic symbolism of the circle[45] is reflected in the encircling rainbow ‘round’ the throne (v. 3),[46] then the four living creatures or cherubim encircling the throne (v. 6), then the circle of the twenty-four elders (v. 4), all encircled by an innumerable multitude of angels (5:11)”[47]—and the encircling continues still further: “becoming fully universal, when ‘every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them’ praise God and the Lamb together.”[48]

 

 

Four Living Creatures

Rev 4:6b ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ κύκλῳ τοῦ θρόνου τέσσαρα ζῷα (“in the middle of the throne, that is, encircling the throne, were four living creatures”).[49] The throne is the focal point—both here and in Revelation as a whole. “Throne” is used 41 times in the book, 17 times in chs. 4–5, and “the one who sits on the throne” appears 11 times. Harris thinks that there are three concentric circles of heavenly beings in relation to the throne: “the outer circle: angels (5:11), the intermediate circle: elders (5:6), the inner circle: living creatures (4:6)”[50] The living creatures are therefore closest to God’s presence.[51]

The following phrase gives a description of their eyes: γέμοντα ὀφθαλμῶν ἔμπροσθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν (“full of eyes in front and in back”; 4:6c). This is further explained two verses later: ἔχων ἀνὰ πτέρυγας ἕξ, κυκλόθεν καὶ ἔσωθεν γέμουσιν ὀφθαλμῶν (“each with six wings, around and within were full of eyes”; 4:8b). Here are some commentators’ suggestions about the meaning of the eyes: “The multitude of eyes in the living being signifies divine omniscience, signifying that they are God’s agents.”[52] “Their exceptional vision enables them to see completely the holiness, omnipotence, and eternal nature of the one seated upon the throne.”[53] “The descriptions suggest that they see in all directions and keep watch continuously, like the ‘sleepless ones who guard the throne of his glory’ (1 En.71:7).”[54] “In light of Rev.5:6, 8ff. the living beings must also be seen as servants of the Lamb…Their knowing eyes search the earth, and they execute punishments only on those who truly deserve them.”[55] The multiple eyes indicate “the vast superiority of the living creatures to any earthly creatures.”[56]

The verse in-between describes the forms of the living creatures: καὶ τὸ ζῷον τὸ πρῶτον ὅμοιον λέοντι, καὶ τὸ δεύτερον ζῷον ὅμοιον μόσχῳ, καὶ τὸ τρίτον ζῷον ἔχων τὸ πρόσωπον ὡς ἀνθρώπου, καὶ τὸ τέταρτον ζῷον ὅμοιον ἀετῷ πετομένῳ (“And the first living creature was like (a) lion, and the second living creature was like (an) ox, and the third living creature had the face like (a) man, and the fourth living creature like (an) eagle flying”; 4:5).

The early church identified these four creatures with four Gospels.[57] The Eastern Church has thought that each creature represents one of the four elements. Later commentators have thought that the four creatures were “astrological symbols, whose eyes represented stars.”[58] The most promising interpretation is that they are “heavenly representatives of the created order, who call every living thing to worship the Creator.”[59] This is view held many modern commentators,[60] and it is shared by many later rabbinic commentators (regarding the four living creatures in Ezekiel).[61]

Two examples: A third century BCE Jewish exegetical tradition describes the four faces: “The lion is king of beasts, the ox kings of animals, the eagle king of birds; humankind exalts himself over them. God exalts himself over them all.”[62] The Coptic and Ethiopic churches saw them as offering prayer on behalf of creation: “He with a man’s form maketh supplication on behalf of the children of men, he with the lion’s form maketh supplication on behalf of the beasts, he with the bull’s form maketh supplication on behalf of cattle, and he with the eagle’s form maketh supplication on behalf of the birds.”[63]

“The four creatures show that in the proper order of things, all creation glorifies the Creator. The praises they offer surge outwards, until the elders, the angels, and every creature of heaven, earth, and the sea is caught up in praising God. Only then do the creatures say ‘amen.’”[64] These living creatures are not symbols of creation—when John refers to creatures of the natural word he does so by name (5:13). The next verse (v. 14) has them appear again, saying ‘amen’ to what every creature on earth and the sea had said. They act as “representatives of the world of earthly creatures…They act as priests of creation, offering continuous praise to God in the heavenly sanctuary on behalf of all creatures.”[65]

These four living beings are part of an ancient tradition, dating back at least to Ezekiel. First Enoch, a second century BCE apocalyptic work, speaks of “a lofty throne—its appearance was like crystal and its wheels like the shining sun, and (I heard?) the voice of the cherubim.”[66] The Qumran community continues this: “…the chariots of his debir [sanctuary] raise together, and his cherubim and ofanim [wheels] bless wonderfully […] the chiefs of the structure of the gods. And they praise him in his holy debir.”[67] Merkavah mysticism, prevalent from 100 BCE to 1000 CE, was based upon Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot (Ezekiel 1). The Hekhalot literature, a collection of 47 manuscripts from the High Middle Ages and numerous early medieval fragments of these texts, describe these ascents and angelic encounters. James Davila comments: “The connection between Psalm 68 and Ezekiel’s vision is attested in the Second Temple period in the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint) of Ezekiel and in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice from Qumran.”[68]

 

Their praise

Rev 4:8–11: καὶ ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς λέγοντες · Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος κύριος, ὁ θεός, ὁ παντοκράτωρ, ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος. καὶ ὅταν δώσουσιν τὰ ζῷα δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ εὐχαριστίαν τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ, τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, πεσοῦνται οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι ἐνώπιον τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου, καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, καὶ βαλοῦσιν τοὺς στεφάνους αὐτῶν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου, λέγοντες Ἄξιος εἶ, ὁ κύριος καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν, λαβεῖν τὴν δόξαν καὶ τὴν τιμὴν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν, ὅτι σὺ ἔκτισας τὰ πάντα, καὶ διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου ἦσαν καὶ ἐκτίσθησαν.[69]

Rev 4:8–11: “and never resting day or night saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord, the God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one seated on the throne the (one who) lives for time and time. The twenty four elders fall down before the (One) seated on the throne, and worship the (One who) lives for time to time, and they cast their crowns before the throne, saying – Worthy are you the Lord and the God to receive the glory and the honour and the power, for you created (the) all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.”

 

These hymns sum up the point of this chapter: the Creator should be honoured and glorified. The four living creatures, who are at the center of the worship, seem to represent creation in its larger sense: “the visible and invisible powers that surround us, the world in all its strangeness.”[70] They are performing the pre-ordained function of creation. Look closely at verse 11 “…you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” This is an unusual verse—it seems to be saying the same thing (as in the style of Hebrew poetry), but subtly it says something different:[71] God is worthy of praise because he is the Creator, he also worthy of praise because he is the Creator: “there exists the cosmos in all its boundless energy, diversity, and fullness—an extraordinary mystery we can never fathom.”[72]

 

 

Ezekiel’s visions

Ezekiel was a significant influence on John in the writing of Revelation—130 allusions have been identified in a recent study.[73] Beale, who believes that Daniel is the main OT source for chs. 4–5, acknowledges that Ezekiel is the primary one in ch. 4.[74] John refers to Ezekiel in different ways: “citations, allusions on the level of sentences or entire verses…, parallel theological texts, and overall structure.[75] Revelation, however, is not a midrash on Ezekiel and no word or metaphor has the same meaning when used within a different circumstance.[76] “We are certainly dealing with a ‘creative’ appropriation and some would say a ‘subversive’ one.”[77] John abbreviates, simplifies and clarifies the text of Ezekiel (e.g., the multiple faces are reduced to one for each creature),[78] he combines differing texts together (e.g., the living beings are from Ezekiel and Isaiah), and he will sometimes universalize what the prophet said (e.g., the renewed Jerusalem becomes a place, not only for Israel, but for all the nations).[79] Notably, he omits the anthropomorphic description of God that was a feature of Ezekiel’s writing.[80] Studies have shown that John’s Greek text ‘mimics’ the Hebrew text, using “equivalents for the Hebrew vocabulary.”[81] Moyise concludes, “The most obvious explanation is that John has taken the ‘persona’ of Ezekiel. Through meditation and study (of which there are ample precedents), John has absorbed something of the character and mind of the prophet. This is why he can make so many allusions to the book without ever actually quoting it…He has taken on the mind of Ezekiel and writes ‘in the spirit’ (ἐν πνεύματι).”[82]

Ezek 1:1: καὶ ἐγὼ ἤμην ἐν μέσῳ τῆς αἰχμαλωσίας ἐπὶ τοῦ ποταμοῦ τοῦ Χοβαρ, καὶ ἠνοίχθησαν οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδον ὁράσεις θεοῦ (“and I was in the midst of the captives upon the Chobar River, and the heavens (were) opened and I saw a vision of God”). [83] Ezekiel, as a priest, should have been serving at the temple in Jerusalem, he instead sees “the heavenly throne itself coming to Babylon’s River.”[84] This he shares with John, who saw heaven open in exile at Patmos. In a time of crisis, in a foreign land, they were given a vision of heaven.[85] Apocalyptic texts reveal the heavenly world—not for its own sake—but to encourage the readers as they face difficulties within this life. “A paradigmatic super-reality”[86] gave them strength to face the persecutions, knowing that their enemy’s downfall was pre-ordained.

Ezek 1:4: καὶ εἶδον καὶ ἰδοὺ πνεῦμα ἐξαῖρον ἤρχετο ἀπὸ βορρᾶ (“And I saw and behold the spirit[87] lifted up was coming from the north…”). John’s vision in Rev 4:1 has these words: εἶδον, καὶ ἰδού (“I looked and behold…”) and 4:2: εὐθέως ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι (“immediately I was in the spirit”). “These experiences of ecstatic transportation are described in the visions as the working of the spirit.”[88] Ezekiel saw a cloud with splendour within it, with “fire flashing as with lightening” (πῦρ ἐξαστράπτον; 1:4). John’s vision is similar: he sees the seven flaming torches before the throne and identifies them with the seven spirit of God (Rev 4:5). John, like Ezekiel, sees a storm (v. 5)—a characteristic image of Jewish apocalyptic literature, drawing on “ancient Canaanite and Israelite traditions of storm theophanies (Ex 19; Isa 6:1–4; Ps 29; Dan 7:9).”

Ezekiel, from within this fiery splendour, has his vision of the four living beings: καὶ ἐν τῷ μέσῳ ὡς ὁμοίωμα τεσσάρων ζῴων· (“and in the middle was the likeness of four living beings”; 1:5). He describes their faces, their wings, their legs, their feet and their sparkling nature: v. 6 καὶ τέσσαρα πρόσωπα τῷ ἑνί, καὶ τέσσαρες πτέρυγες τῷ ἑνί (“And (there were) four faces to (each) one, and four wings to (each) one”). V. 7 καὶ τὰ σκέλη αὐτῶν ὀρθά, καὶ πτερωτοὶ οἱ πόδες αὐτῶν, καὶ σπινθῆρες ὡς ἐξαστράπτων χαλκός, καὶ ἐλαφραὶ αἱ πτέρυγες αὐτῶν (“and their legs (were) straight, their feet (were) feathered, and sparks flashing like bronze, and their wings were light”). Human hands were under their wings (v. 8 καὶ χεὶρ ἀνθρώπου ὑποκάτωθεν τῶν πτερύγων αὐτῶν). They are anthropomorphic in this aspect (cf. v. 5).

Ezekiel describes the living creatures faces: πρόσωπον ἀνθρώπου καὶ πρόσωπον λέοντος ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῖς τέσσαρσιν (“a face of a man and a face of a lion (from the right of the four), καὶ πρόσωπον μόσχου ἐξ ἀριστερῶν τοῖς τέσσαρσιν καὶ πρόσωπον ἀετοῦ τοῖς τέσσαρσιν (“and a face of a calf (on the left of the four) and a face of an eagle”; Ezek 1:10). There are many similarities to John’s vision in Revelation—the same four creatures are described, but there are major differences. In Ezekiel each individual creature has each of the four faces, while in John’s vision each creature has a different face. The order is different, and some of the details are varied: Rev 4:6: ἔχων τὸ πρόσωπον ὡς ἀνθρώπου (“had a face like a man”), ὅμοιον ἀετῷ πετομένῳ (“like an eagle flying”).[89] These four creatures, according to Block, define who God is: “Carrying the divine throne, the four-headed cherubim declare that Yahweh has the strength and majesty of the lion, the swiftness and mobility of the eagle, the procreative power of the bull, and the wisdom and reason of humankind.”[90] Blenkinsopp, by contrast, holds that the prophet brings “all of creation, through their typical representatives, into the vision.”[91] These multi-faced winged creatures are commonly used in Mesopotamian and Syrian iconography.[92] Perhaps this vision uses these foreign demigods to declare that Yahweh is lord over them.[93] Resseguie thinks that these ancient hybrids “represent humanity’s divided nature: the beastly or animal side as well as the human side.”[94] Revelation uses such hybrids, in particular the beast from the sea, combining a deep sea monster and a human (Revelation 13). The four living creatures of Revelation 4 are hybrids of a different kind: combining the world above (their limitless eyes and multiple wings) and animals of this world. “The hybrid nature is emblematic of the world in perfect harmony with the creator.”[95]

Ezekiel describes their wings: v. 11 καὶ αἱ πτέρυγες αὐτῶν ἐκτεταμέναι ἄνωθεν (“and their wings were stretched out from above”), τοῖς τέσσαρσιν, ἑκατέρῳ δύο συνεζευγμέναι πρὸς ἀλλήλας (“the four of them each had two (wings) touching one another”). This is similar to the cherubim described in Exod 25:20 and 2 Chron 3:11–12. Each living being went straight ahead, wherever the spirit was going (vv. 9 and 12). The number four is mentioned a number of times (four faces, four wings). Zimmerli explains: “Four is the number of totality: from the four points of the compass the breath of Yahweh’s power comes, which restores the dead to life (37:9)…[the] four world eras of Dan 2 and 7 represent the whole of human history…the four creatures who bear Yahweh’s throne give expression to the omnipotence of Yahweh which is effective in every direction, like the four chariots from ‘the Lord of the whole earth’ of Zech 6:5.”[96] Revelation likewise uses the number four: four corners of the earth, four winds that blow, four compass points, four living creatures representing all creation, and a fourfold division of humanity (“every tribe and language and people and nation”).[97] Bauckham comments: “Four…is the number of the world”[98]—tying the four creatures to the earth.

Fire was in the midst of them: v. 13 καὶ ἐν μέσῳ τῶν ζῴων ὅρασις ὡς ἀνθράκων πυρὸς καιομένων (“and in the middle of the living beings was an appearance as charcoal fire burning”), ὡς ὄψις λαμπάδων συστρεφομένων ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ζῴων (“as the appearance of torches wrapped up going up in the middle of the living beings”), καὶ φέγγος τοῦ πυρός, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ πυρὸς ἐξεπορεύετο ἀστραπή. (“and the splendour of the fire and out of the fire was going forth lightening”). Block comments: “The entire unit is held together by the fire motif…the combination of fire and throne-chariot also sounds an ominous note of things to come…”[99] Ezekiel looks in the future—he sees the judgment coming on Israel[100] before their ultimate redemption. Later in Revelation the sea of glass (4:6) is mixed with fire (15:2), symbolizing deliverance from their enemies, just like the deliverance at the Red Sea.

Ezekiel describes a second, more extraordinary, vision that accompanies the first: v. 15 καὶ εἶδον καὶ ἰδοὺ τροχὸς εἷς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐχόμενος τῶν ζῴων τοῖς τέσσαρσιν· (“And I looked and behold a wheel (one) upon the earth holding the four living beings”). Like the living creatures these wheels are composite, τροχὸς ἐν τροχῷ (“a wheel in a wheel…”: v. 16). “The vitality of the creatures who bear the throne…falls into the background here and gives way to the picture of a ‘chariot’, a throne furnished with wheels.”[101] The number four continues—speaking of their ability to move anywhere. The wheels are magnificent. High above, their rims were full of eyes (v. 18). John’s has a similar vision, although it is no longer the wheel rims that have the eyes, but rather the living creatures themselves. This builds on a later verse from the prophet: Ezek 10:12 (“Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels”).

The living beings are connected to the wheels—for the spirit of life is in the wheels: v. 21 πνεῦμα ζωῆς ἦν ἐν τοῖς τροχοῖς (“the spirit of life was in the wheels,” also vv.19–20). The wheels describe the spiritual nature of the living creatures. Ezekiel uses a typical practise: resumptive exposition[102]—relating this verse to the earlier one that mentioned the spirit (v. 12: “Wherever the spirit would go, they would go”). Block notes, “the harmony between the wheels and creatures is attributed to the spirit of life…The twofold occurrence of the spirit of life…emphasizes that these normally inanimate objects appear to the prophet to be as alive as the ‘living creatures’ themselves.”[103] Thus begins the speculation which will “endow the wheel with a life of their own…—the ophannim of the mystical schools.”[104]

Ezekiel has a final vision of that which is above the living beings—a vision of God. His description is full of “expressions connoting brilliance, magnificence, brightness.”[105] The nearest biblical analogues are in the poetry of Israel—“the one who rides the clouds” (Ps 68:5).[106] He saw a throne and the appearance of a man: v. 26 ὡς ὅρασις λίθου σαπφείρου ὁμοίωμα θρόνου ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ ὁμοιώματος τοῦ θρόνου ὁμοίωμα ὡς εἶδος ἀνθρώπου ἄνωθεν. (“As the appearance of stone of sapphire a likeness of a chair (throne) upon it, and above the likeness of the chair (was) a likeness as the appearance of a man from above”). A man of amber and fire (v. 27). John, in Revelation, avoids naming a man here[107]—he “refuses to name the figure ‘on the throne’ and even omits the pronoun.”[108] John instead describes the beautiful precious stones that adorn the one on the throne.[109] They are stones of this world, yet they carry a luminescence of the new creation. The colours used are found on the breastpiece worn by the high priest (Exod 28:17–21). “These two colours [of jasper and sardius], representing the whole of Israel in inverse order, would point to the close connection between the one who sits on the throne and his people.”[110] Nancy imagines the resurrection as a kind of kenosis, an emptying of divinity. The risen Jesus appears as a gardener, not as “the Messiah triumphing on earth.”[111] God is hiding in the ordinary.[112] “The Hassidim have a saying about the world to come. Everything there will be arranged just as it is with us. The room we have now will be just the same in the world to come; where our child lies sleeping, it will sleep in the world to come. The clothes we are wearing we shall also wear in the next world. Everything will be the same as here—only a little bit different.”[113] A deep humility is here—“In the black night I see the stars.”[114]

Ezekiel describes a rainbow: v. 28 ὡς ὅρασις τόξου, ὅταν ᾖ ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ὑετοῦ, οὕτως ἡ στάσις τοῦ φέγγους κυκλόθεν. αὕτη ἡ ὅρασις ὁμοιώματος δόξης κυρίου· (“As the appearance of a bow whenever there is a cloud in a day of rain, thus the posture (standing) of the light from all around this (was) the appearance of a likeness of the glory of the LORD”). “The dazzling radiance of the image reminds the prophet of a rainbow, suggesting that the term hannogah as used throughout this account describes much more than brilliant light. Like the fire referred to earlier (v. 13), whose flames often display a mesmerizing variation in colour, this vision has not come to Ezekiel in simple monochrome; its polychromatic splendour is breathtaking.”[115] The Greek word for rainbow that is used in Revelation is a more unusual term (ἶρις)—it can mean either a rainbow or a halo (the Septuagint uses another word, τόξον, for rainbow).[116] Witherington observes:

“It may be that the rainbow image and the rainbow of colours of the vision were meant to convey the same message as the bow in the clouds were meant to convey to Noah: God will no more judge humans, in this case the chosen people, in such a severe fashion (Gen 9:11–13). One wonders, too, if the mention of the animal images in the vision also conjured up the Noah tradition, for God’s covenant with Noah was made also with every living creature. Notice, too, the connection between these stories in regard to the storm clouds, which begin Ezekiel’s vision and recede at the end of the Noahic story.”[117]

Ezekiel concludes his vision with his response—just like that of John and the twenty-four elders (Rev 1:17; 4:10): v. 28b καὶ εἶδον καὶ πίπτω ἐπὶ πρόσωπόν μου καὶ ἤκουσα φωνὴν λαλοῦντος. (“and I saw and I fell upon my face and I heard a voice speaking”).

These accounts of divine calling make it clear “that we are not dealing with a fixed formula for such commissioning narratives… [Each] has been formed with a remarkable freedom, which serves as a means of gaining new perceptions.”[118] The following vision, in Ezekiel 3, is more about its sound, likening to the sound of an earthquake: v. 12 καὶ ἀνέλαβέν με πνεῦμα, καὶ ἤκουσα κατόπισθέν μου φωνὴν σεισμοῦ μεγάλου Εὐλογημένη ἡ δόξα κυρίου ἐκ τοῦ τόπου αὐτοῦ. (“And took up me the spirit and I heard behind me a sound of a great earthquake. Blessed (is) the glory of the LORD from out of its place”). Later interpreters—from the Second Temple period and later—focused much more on sound of the living creatures’ worship, not on their ability to carry the throne. “These interpreters understood the sound of the wings of the creatures…to be not merely a deafening noise, but hymnic praise to God.”[119] A similar interpretation is found in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice:

“The [cheru]bim fall before Him and they b[l]ess when they raise themselves. A voice of quiet of God [is heard] and tumult of chanting; at the rising of their wings, a voice of [quie]t of God.”[120]

In Ezekiel 10 there is another description of the four living creatures. Ezekiel now refers to them as cherubim (vv. 1–2). Block comments on this change: “The narrator now knows what he is describing; the abstract has become concrete, and much of the analogical language has disappeared.”[121] The sounds of the wings of the cherubim is like the voice of God speaking: v. 5 καὶ φωνὴ τῶν πτερύγων τῶν χερουβιν ἠκούετο ἕως τῆς αὐλῆς τῆς ἐξωτέρας ὡς φωνὴ θεοῦ Σαδδαι λαλοῦντος. (“And a sound of the wings of the cherubim was being heard as far as the outer court as a voice of God Shaddai speaking”).[122] The sound of the wings is like the sound of his visitations, particularly at Sinai—thunder, lightning, a dense cloud and fire (Exod 19:16; Ps 18:8–16)—but also in his later visitation to the prophet John (Rev 1:10; 4:2, 5).[123] Ezekiel reconfirms that the four living creatures that he saw by the River Chobar are the cherubim: v.15 καὶ ἦραν τὰ χερουβιν. τοῦτο τὸ ζῷον, ὃ εἶδον ἐπὶ τοῦ ποταμοῦ τοῦ Χοβαρ (“And the cherubim went up. This (was) the living being that I saw upon the River Chobar” also v. 22). The throne and the living creatures that are described in Ezekiel’s vision seem to be based on these golden objects within the temple. The reality, however, is different: “what Ezekiel sees is the heavenly throne itself, the throne in Jerusalem was modelled on it…The throne is alive, as no crafted throne could be; one ‘spirit’ animates the whole.”[124]

There are two forms of worship, according Shneur Zalman: “The first is the form of ecstasy, the ‘great love,’ which is so intense that the heart cannot contain it, and hence the soul leaves the body; the second is a form of ecstasy that can be contained within the vessel of the heart, and its primary purpose is to draw down the divine surplus from above into the material world.”[125] This ascent and descent is likened to Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot: “The creatures speed back and forth like flashes of lightning” (Ezek 1:14). Worship “partakes of the paradoxical collusion of polarities.”[126] “[The] divine fullness establishes the most profound intimacy between Creator and creature.”[127] The creatures worship God and, like a flash of lightning, draw down his reality into the world.

In Ezekiel the divine glory is described as ‘likeness’ and ‘appearance,’ words of the imagination. “The imagination is thus the organ that puts one in contact with spiritual realities that are perceptible to each individual according to the dominant images of one’s spiritual and cultural affiliation.”[128] Wolfson likens it to a dream. The intellectual facility—which enables us to distinguish something from is opposite—is diminished, and the imagination—which has the tendency to combine what was is opposite—dominates.[129] It is like a Hebrew vowel, holem, which can be used above a Hebrew letter (a dream uses a similar Hebrew word—halom): “The dream lifts one above nature, but in the manner of remaining as part of nature. To be above nature, therefore, is not to inhabit a supernatural realm; it is to perceive nature for what it is, the metaphysical within the physical, the transcendent within the immanent.”[130] These images are also like an icon. Both face the invisible. Sigurdon, in discussing our heavenly bodies, reminds us that our concreteness “may not be confused with univocity or comprehensibility.”[131] In the coming world our “visible embodiment faces the invisible (like an icon).”[132] The body is not a fixed point, “but rather a dimension of ourselves whose mystery[133]  continually turns towards the invisible.”[134]

 

Golden Cherubim

The central theme of Exodus 24–40 is God’s presence on earth. The Shekinah was to dwell within a work of human hands. The Israelites were to provide offerings from all whose heart prompted them: “gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and other types of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece (Exod 25:3–7).” In Exod 24 Moses and Aaron, his sons and the elders of Israel were given an audience with God: v. 10. καὶ εἶδον τὸν τόπον, οὗ εἱστήκει ἐκεῖ ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ισραηλ, καὶ τὰ ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ ἔργον πλίνθου σαπφείρου καὶ ὥσπερ εἶδος στερεώματος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τῇ καθαριότητι. (“And they perceived the place where stood there the God of Israel and that which (was) under his feet as if (it were) work brick of lupis lazuli and (it was) as the appearance of the firmament of heaven in purity”).[135] They saw the “sapphire stone…the familiar opaque blue lapis lazuli of Mesopotamia. Its clearness is pictured as that of the heavens itself.”[136] The Lord commanded Moses to make a sanctuary according to the pattern that he is shown (Exod 25:9)—a piece of sky on earth.[137] Later Moses experienced this in his own physical features: “…his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD” (Exod 34: 29).

Moses was given instructions for the construction of two golden cherubim—whose wings overshadowed the ark. Exod 25:18 καὶ ποιήσεις δύο χερουβιμ χρυσᾶ τορευτὰ καὶ ἐπιθήσεις αὐτὰ ἐξ ἀμφοτέρων τῶν κλιτῶν τοῦ ἱλαστηρίου, (“And you will make two gold cherubim graven and you will place them at the two sides of the mercy seat”). Cherubim are hybrid beings—“with a lion’s body, the wings of a bird, and a human face.”[138] The cherub’s wing suggest a “dynamic divine movement (as in Sam 22:11; Ps 18:10). God is thus enthroned in the tabernacle and also ever-moving.”[139] Anderson holds that “the tabernacle furniture was understood as possessing something of the very being of God of Israel.”[140] “The whole structure of the temple itself literally shared in the presence of the divine.”[141] In the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice the building itself begins to sing:

“[and along with the seven groups of angels who are exhorted to sing praise] let all the [foundations of the hol]ly of holies offer praise, the uplifted pillars of the supremely exalted abode, and all the corners of its structure. Sin[g praise] to God[d who is dr]eadful in power[, all you spirits of knowledge and light] in order to [exal]lt together the splendidly shining firmament of [His] holy sanctuary. [Give praise to Hi]m, O god-[like] spirits, in order to p[raise for ever and e]ver the firmament of the upper[m]ost heaven, all [its] b[eams] and its walls, a[l]l its [for]m, the work of [its] struc[ture. The spir]its of holie[st] holiness, living god-like beings[, spir]its of [eter]nal holi[ness] above all the hol[y ones.”[142]

Newsom comments that the “most holy spirits” are either attendants or “the animate spiritual substance of the heavenly Temple itself.”[143]

There is a strong linkage between the construction of the tabernacle and the creation of the world. It was erected “on the first day of the first month” (Exod 40:2)—the same day as when “the waters [of the flood] began to dry from the earth” (Gen 8:13). It represents the creative and the re-creative power of God (Ps 104:30), and the creatures who look to him and praise him (Ps 104:10–27).[144] Angelus Silesius writes about a rose: “The rose is without why: it blooms because it blooms,/It pays no attention to itself, asks not whether it is seen.”[145] Perhaps these golden creatures represent nature’s praise, unseen and constant—and glorious.[146] (1 Kgs 6:29: “And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, within and without…”)[147]

St. Maximus the Confessor, the early Greek theologian, understood that the world would be humanized: It will “bear the entire stamp of the human… [it will] become, in its entirety, a humanized cosmos.”[148] A writer within that tradition notes that “in icons, rivers have a human form; so, too, do the sun and the moon and the stars and the waters. All of them assume human faces; all of them acquire a personal dimension—just like people; just like God.”[149] But what of these creatures that surround the throne?—they don’t bear a human likeness, yet they glorify God. Amos Yong has noted that the ruach elohim (Gen 1:2) neither refers to the person of God, nor his agency “but rather something akin to ‘the storm of God’ or ‘God’s wind’”[150] The Spirit remains humanely personal, but it is infinitely more.[151] Another modern Orthodox scholar speaks of his own experience in regard to St. Herman. The saint lived in the Spruce Islands, near Alaska. He used to feed birds, ermines and bears. When he died they all vanished. The scholar wrote, “St. Herman’s compassionate heart had, through a lifetime of Orthodox practice, become the beauty of his illumined face—better, his countenance. When St. Herman’s ermine and bear beheld this beauty, they were nourished—directly fed—by the works of his beauty.”[152] It is the compassionate heart—the work of the Holy Spirit—that is represented in the face. There is a human face among the living creatures. But what of the other faces, does the Spirit reveal himself through them as well?—“the Open, which is so deep in animal’s faces.”[153] Even in their ineffability God declares himself.[154]

 

Rainbow and Covenant

After the flood God remembered all living things—not simply Noah.[155] Genesis 8:1 Καὶ ἐμνήσθη ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Νωε καὶ πάντων τῶν θηρίων καὶ πάντων τῶν κτηνῶν[156] καὶ πάντων τῶν πετεινῶν καὶ πάντων τῶν ἑρπετῶν, ὅσα ἦν μετʼ αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ κιβωτῷ (“And God remembered Noe and all of the beasts and all of the cattle and all of the winged things and all of the creeping things, as many as were with him in the ark”).[157] The Septuagint gives a fuller list of non-human life than the Hebrew version, which only mentions the first two in the list.[158] “God’s merciful remembrance ‘extends in a touching way even to the animals in the ark.’”[159] V. 8:1b καὶ ἐπήγαγεν ὁ θεὸς πνεῦμα[160] ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν, καὶ ἐκόπασεν τὸ ὕδωρ (“and God brought a wind upon the land and the water abated”). God remembers with compassion, and translates this into action.[161]

Genesis 8:18–19 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν Νωε καὶ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ καὶ οἱ υἱοὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τῶν υἱῶν αὐτοῦ μετʼ αὐτοῦ, καὶ πάντα τὰ θηρία καὶ πάντα τὰ κτήνη καὶ πᾶν πετεινὸν καὶ πᾶν ἑρπετὸν κινούμενον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς κατὰ γένος αὐτῶν ἐξήλθοσαν ἐκ τῆς κιβωτοῦ. (“So Noe and his wife and his sons and his wives sons’ came out with him, and all the wild animals and all the cattle and every winged thing and every reptile moving on the earth, according to their kind came out of the ark”). Noah then built an altar and offered whole burnt offerings on it (v. 20). God responded, promising to no longer curse the earth (v. 21). “‘I will never slay every living creature, as I have done,’ needs no reason; it is a simple decision of God.”[162] God gives this promise: πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς γῆς σπέρμα καὶ θερισμός, ψῦχος καὶ καῦμα, θέρος καὶ ἔαρ ἡμέραν καὶ νύκτα οὐ καταπαύσουσιν. (“All the days of the earth, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and spring, day and night, will not cease”; v. 22). Earlier in Genesis, there was no thought of a “self-consistent world…There was nothing about the existence of the world, about its own life and order. The world acquires a life of its own only when the flood story reaches its goal in 8:20–22.”[163]

Genesis 9.1 Καὶ ηὐλόγησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν Νωε καὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτοῦ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Αὐξάνεσθε καὶ 1πληθύνεσθε καὶ πληρώσατε τὴν γῆν καὶ κατακυριεύσατε αὐτῆς. (“And God blessed Noe and his sons and he said to them: Increase and multiply and fill the earth and exercise dominion over it”). V. 2 καὶ ὁ τρόμος ὑμῶν καὶ ὁ φόβος ἔσται ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς θηρίοις τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐπὶ πάντα τὰ ὄρνεα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἐπὶ πάντα τὰ κινούμενα ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας τοὺς ἰχθύας τῆς θαλάσσης· ὑπὸ χεῖρας ὑμῖν δέδωκα. (“And the fear and the trembling of you will be on all the wild animals of the earth and on all the birds of the sky and on all the moving things on the earth and on all the fish of the sea, I have put (them) under your control”).

God, however, does not forget the living creatures. 9:9 Ἐγὼ ἰδοὺ ἀνίστημι τὴν διαθήκην μου ὑμῖν καὶ τῷ σπέρματι ὑμῶν μεθ᾿ ὑμᾶς καὶ πάσῃ ψυχῇ τῇ ζώσῃ μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν ἀπὸ ὀρνέων καὶ ἀπὸ κτηνῶν καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς θηρίοις τῆς γῆς, ὅσα μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν, ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐξελθόντων ἐκ τῆς κιβωτοῦ. (“Behold I am establishing my covenant with you and your seed after you, and every soul which is living with you, from birds and from cattle, and for all the wild animals of the earth, as many as are with you from all those who came out from the ark”). The Septuagint inserts the ἰδοὺ (‘behold’), thereby strengthening the verse.[164] V. 11 καὶ στήσω τὴν διαθήκην μου πρὸς ὑμᾶς, καὶ οὐκ ἀποθανεῖται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἔτι ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ… (“And I will establish my covenant[165] with you and all flesh will not die no longer from the water of the flood…”). “God’s word, God’s assurance guarantees the continuation of the world and of every living creature, and takes precedence over all theology: it is a simple confirmation of what is.”[166]

Verse 12 καὶ εἶπεν κύριος ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Νωε Τοῦτο τὸ σημεῖον τῆς διαθήκης, ὃ ἐγὼ δίδωμι ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ ὑμῶν καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον πάσης ψυχῆς ζώσης, ἥ ἐστιν μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν, εἰς γενεὰς αἰωνίους· (“And said the LORD God to Noe: This (is) the sign of the covenant which I am giving a ‘going up the middle’ (between) me and you and a going up the middle (between) every living soul which is with you for lasting generations – ”) v. 13 τὸ τόξον μου τίθημι ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ, καὶ ἔσται εἰς σημεῖον διαθήκης ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ τῆς γῆς. (“ – my rainbow.[167] I am placing in the cloud and it will be for a sign of the covenant ‘a going up the middle’ (between) me and the earth”). “The rainbow is an already existing natural phenomenon that is henceforth invested with new symbolic significance…This conception has no parallel in biblical literature.”[168] V. 14 καὶ ἔσται ἐν τῷ συννεφεῖν με νεφέλας ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ὀφθήσεται τὸ τόξον μου ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ, (“And it will be at the time when I collect clouds on the earth, my rainbow will be seen in the cloud…”) V. 15 καὶ μνησθήσομαι τῆς διαθήκης μου, ἥ ἐστιν ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ ὑμῶν καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον πάσης ψυχῆς ζώσης ἐν πάσῃ σαρκί, καὶ οὐκ ἔσται ἔτι τὸ ὕδωρ εἰς κατακλυσμὸν ὥστε ἐξαλεῖψαι πᾶσαν σάρκα (“…and I will remember [see Gen.8:1][169] my covenant which is ‘a going up the middle’ (between) of me and you and ‘a going up the middle’ (between) of every living soul (breath/life/spirit/soul) in all flesh and no will be longer the water for a flood so as to wipe out all flesh”).[170] “The repetition of this phrase and its equivalents, ‘all life’ and ‘all living creatures’ — a total of eight times in this scene — affirms God’s passionate concern for and certain commitment to the preservation and care of all living species on the earth.”[171] F. Delitzsh writes: “They are like hammer blows that fix more firmly and drive home more deeply.”[172]

 

Isaiah’s Seraphim                                                                        

Isaiah sees the seraphim—“the fiery ones”[173]: v. 2 καὶ σεραφιν εἱστήκεισαν κύκλῳ[174] αὐτοῦ, ἓξ πτέρυγες τῷ ἑνὶ καὶ ἓξ πτέρυγες τῷ ἑνί, καὶ ταῖς μὲν δυσὶν κατεκάλυπτον τὸ πρόσωπον καὶ ταῖς δυσὶν κατεκάλυπτον τοὺς πόδας καὶ ταῖς δυσὶν ἐπέταντο. (“And seraphim stood around him, (six wings to the one and six wings to the one) each one had six wings, and (on the one hand) with two they were covering the face and with two they were covering the feet and with two they were flying”). He hears the seraphines cry of the holiness of God in response to God’s glory[175]: v.3 καὶ ἐκέκραγον ἕτερος πρὸς τὸν ἕτερον καὶ ἔλεγον Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος κύριος σαβαωθ, πλήρης πᾶσα ἡ γῆ τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ. (“And they were shouting one to the other and they were saying: Holy, holy, holy, (is) the LORD Sabaoth; the whole land (is) full of his glory”). Like Ezekiel, Isaiah sees them as “not sculptured but alive.”[176] The holiness of God “suggests God’s distinctively supernatural, dangerous, almost frightening, divine nature, which should make people bow their head simply because they are creatures.”[177] The repetition of phrases expresses “superlatives or indicates totality. Only here is a threefold repetition found.”[178] The accompanying verse says that the whole land is full of his glory (πλήρης πᾶσα ἡ γῆ τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ). In Exodus and Leviticus holiness is shown in Israel’s ethical behaviour (Lev 19:1)[179]—“…for Isaiah as a Hebrew, it also meant that the terrifying otherness was not merely in essence but in character. Here was One ethically pure, absolutely upright, utterly true.”[180] The Seraph’s cry of holiness repels and attracts.[181] Isaiah wanted to flee (Isa 6:5)—“The describable presence of God is revealed as holy precisely insofar as it relentlessly threatens the survival of unholy participants.”[182] In Revelation the same declaration of holiness is accompanied by a different text: Rev 4:9 ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος. (“who was and is and is to come”). This relates to the revelation of God’s name in Exodus: Exod 3:14 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (“I am the (One) (who) exists”).[183] These fiery beings proclaim God’s fiery holiness (Exod 3:1–6; 13:21; 19:18; Lev 10:1–2; Num 11:1–2; 1 Kgs 18:24; Isa 6:6–7).[184] These creatures bring us heavenwards and earthwards—to see as God sees and to act as he acts (Isa 6:8). Can we be moved today as we contemplate the devastation of the earth (Rev 11:18)? A seraph touched Isaiah’s lips—a live coal from the altar—can we be changed as we listen to their cry?[185]

 

Ascendancy and Kindness[186]

While analysing the verses on human ascendency (Gen 1:26–31) Brueggemann takes note of the earlier verses (3–25): “The creator God is not totally preoccupied with human creatures. God has his own relation with the rest of creation.”[187] Sadly, there is often a conflict in these matters. Gross calls it an unresolved tension between ascendancy and kindness. “Humans’ ascendancy over animals (their use as resource, exploitation, domination) and humans’ kindness and kindredness to animals (shared vulnerability, embodiment, mortality, creatureliness) are pitted against each other to such an extent that one cannot be thought without the other.”[188] After the flood it seemed that human dominion grew stronger. No longer was humanity restricted to a vegetarian diet, rather “every creeping thing that is alive you shall have for food” (Gen 9:3), “the trembling and fear of you shall be on all the animals on earth and the birds of the sky” (v. 2). There is a limitation: “Flesh cannot be eaten ‘with the life-blood in it’ (9:4) and ‘a reckoning’ will be required if man or animal sheds human blood (9:5).”[189] Delitzsch and Dillmann called the blood prohibition “‘a sacred reverence for that principle of life flowing in the blood’ and as demanding ‘respect for the divineness of life.’”[190] Milgrom saw it as an ethical command: “The human being must never lose sight of the fundamental tenet for a viable human society. Life is inviolable; it may not be treated lightly. Mankind has a right to nourishment, not to life. Hence the blood, the symbol of life, must be drained, returned to the universe, to God.”[191]

This verse from Ps 145[192]:“And His mercies/compassion are over all His works” (v. 8) was often used in rabbinic commentary, in contrast with another command: “Go. For this you were created.” In the Talmudic story of Judah ha-Nisi, he commanded a young calf to die with these words: “Go. For his you were created.” He was put on trial and the heavenly court ruled that his lack of ‘compassion,’ or his lack of ‘mother love,’ condemned Judah ha-Nisi to suffer.[193] Sometime later the Rabbi’s maid was sweeping and saw some young rats. Judah said to her: “Let them go. It is written: ‘And His mercies are over all his works.’”[194] Because he showed compassion the court had compassion on him—“…the fact that an act of indifference or coldness to a pleading animal would impact God’s dispensation of compassion to the human actor immediately gives the question of tza’ar ba’ale chayyim [‘compassion for animals’] significant moral weight…in addition to its inherent value, [it] seems to have a value in the moral formation of humans.”[195] In our time, new moral questions have emerged with increasing global meat consumption and intensive farming. [196]

This lack of compassion for animals often flows out into our human relations: “Animalization and bestialization have long been integral to the history of racist representation, perhaps even more so than the objectification or the ‘thingification’ of people.”[197] The “logic of domination”: “the way in which different kinds of domination act as models, support and reinforcement, for one another, and the way in which the same conceptual structure of domination reappears in very different inferiorized groups: as we have seen, it marks women, nature, ‘primitive people,’ slaves, animals, manual laborers, ‘savages,’ people of colour – all supposedly ‘close to animals.’”[198]

By contrast, we can model a mutuality in our association with the animal world. This is often expressed in anthropological studies of kinship, which highlight “an order of existence where people (and animals, plants, objects and so on) exist in each other…It is a mode of living and thinking where we sense ourselves and others as ‘participating’ in each other’s existence, where the life-force of the humans and the nonhumans that surround us is felt to be contributing to our own life-force.”[199] This recalls the passage in Ezekiel 1 about the spirit/life force that is within—“one ‘spirit’ animates the whole.”[200]

The fourth part of the Book of Enoch is entitled “The Dream Visions” (1 Enoch 83–90). It features an “Animal Apocalypse” in which all the characters and nations are in the guise of animals. Noah is a white bull, Ismael a wild donkey, Jacob a white sheep, the oppression in Egypt is likened to sheep being harassed by wolves.  At the end all nations—both the sheep of Israel and the many other species of animals—are turned back into white bulls.[201] This is an allegory. In Revelation the lion, the lamb, the beast are all allegories. Are the living creatures the same? If so, what are they allegories of—the Gospels, the elements, the stars?[202] All these explanations seem arbitrary and insufficient. The one on the throne is real, the elders carry a certain reality, and the multitude of angels appear to be real.[203] Perhaps the ethical side of things should not be overshadowed by the allegorical. Bauckham, in his study of James, discussed a Christian’s ethical life. The Messianic law is “internalized in transformed hearts, concentrated in the summary principle of love for the neighbour, and intensified in line with Jesus’ teaching.”[204] The law commands—the Spirit enables. Can we listen to a similar voice in our interpretation of the four living creatures—as the Spirit awakens our hearts to love as God loves his creation?[205]

 

Worshipers and Judges

There are two principle roles of the four living creatures in Revelation: “First, they exemplify true worship (Rev 4:8–9). They sometimes initiate worship and are joined by the twenty-four elders in offering praise and prayers of petition before God (4:9–10; 5:8–10). They add ‘amen’ to the worship offered by angels and the whole creation (5:14; 19:4), and they remain beside the throne as the redeemed join in praise (7:11; 14:3). Second, they summon divine threats against the earth. As the Lamb opens each of the first four seals on God’s scroll, one of the living creatures calls out ‘come,’ and a horseman appears, threatening conquest, violence, economic hardship, and death (6:1–8). Later, one of the four creatures gives bowls of wrath to the angels, who pour them out onto the earth (15:7).”[206]

Girard discusses the apocalypse: he holds that reality is starting to resemble the apocalyptic images of the past. “Global warming and rising waters are no longer metaphors today…Two world wars, the invention of the atomic bomb, several genocides, and an imminent ecological disaster have not sufficed to convince humanity, and Christians above all, that the apocalyptic texts might not be predictions but certainly do concern the disaster that is underway.”[207] Apocalyptic images are materialising as a result of human activity, rather than sovereign acts of God. “The Word is always a providential Word,”[208] Radner declares. “One must wait for the Word to become clear before our sense.”[209] He recommends this pattern for our hearts: to be open and to be humbled by the Word’s work.[210]

Discussing the Irenaean view of the progressive fall, Hamilton states, “[The] future historian of the cosmos will identify the century after World War II, and particularly the decades after the 1990s when we knew what we were doing, as the time of the Fall. In this story the primal sin is not to defy God’s command but to misuse the gift of our special agency by violating the Earth, destroying the home provided for us.”[211]

Ghosh highlights the uncanniness of the new forces of nature that the Anthropocene has revealed. [212] He speaks about the vast coastal forest of Bangladesh and the tigers that inhabit it:

“The Sundarbans are nothing like the forests that usually figure in literature. The greenery is dense, tangled, and low…No breeze can enter the thickets of this forest…In the Sundarbans, tigers are everywhere and nowhere…The tiger is watching you; you are aware of its gaze, as you always are, but you do not see it; you do not lock eyes with it until it launches its charge, and at that moment a shock courses through you and you are immobilized, frozen…in that moment of contact you realize that this presence possesses a similar awareness of you, even though it is not human…In the tiger stories of the Sundarbans…there is…an irreducible element of mystery…their uncanniness lies precisely in the fact that in these encounters we recognize something we have turned away from: that is to say, the presence and proximity of nonhuman interlocutors.”[213]

Humanity has never exercised its power over nature as much as today, [214] yet we are becoming more and more vulnerable to it. “The climate system is becoming more energetic, bringing more storms, wildfires, droughts, and heatwaves…nature’s dormant powers have been unleashed, making them less predictable, more dangerous, and, crucially, less subject to human control.”[215]

God retracted after the flood. Not only would he do no evil to humanity despite the evil in our hearts, no—“God retracts vis-à-vis every thing living.”[216] It seems that God is asking the forgiveness of his creation.[217] The name of God, expressed in the name of Noah (“to console oneself”), is extended “to all life, to all life to come.”[218] If God could do such a thing, what of humanity in the face of this coming holocaust?[219] How can humanity contemplate the kind of destruction that God himself repented of? We cannot desacralize our world.[220]

Rev 6:1 Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὸ ἀρνίον μίαν ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ σφραγίδων, καὶ ἤκουσα ἑνὸς ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων λέγοντος ὡς φωνῇ βροντῆς · Ἔρχου. (“And (then) I watched as opened the Lamb one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say like with voice thunder, ‘Come!’”). Can the unfolding of judgment that these living creatures are key to, be likened to what is happening on the earth today?[221] “The image of the ‘voice like thunder’ is repeated in 14:2 and 19:6, both worship scenes. Here it may invoke the idea of the theophany (in 4:5–6 the storm theophany leads to the appearance of the living creatures), as God appears in judgment”[222]

The living creatures are also bearers of prayer—Rev 5:8: τὰ τέσσαρα ζῷα καὶ οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι ἔπεσαν ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου, ἔχοντες ἕκαστος κιθάραν καὶ φιάλας χρυσᾶς γεμούσας θυμιαμάτων, αἵ εἰσιν αἱ προσευχαὶ τῶν ἁγίων (“the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb each holding harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”). According to Paul, the whole creation waits eagerly for the children of God, for in them creation sees its liberation. Creation groans as in pains of childbirth—and we too groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. The Spirit helps in this—he intercedes through wordless groans—for God works for the good of all (Rom 8:18-28). Yong holds that “[t]he outpouring of the Spirit in these last days is thus at least in part a response to the groaning of creation and its creatures, even at the very ends of the earth.”[223]

There are a number of heavenly openings in the book of Revelation. These divide the book into its main sections. Revelation 4–5 is the first one, the next begins at Rev 11:19, where God’s temple is opened.[224] The preceding verses are a summary of all that has gone on before. The twenty-four elders fell on their faces in worship, thanking him, for he has begun to reign (Rev 11:16–17). They declare that the nations were wrathful, but that it is now the time for the reward of your servants and all who fear your name (11:18)—but it also the time for the destruction of those who destroy the earth (11:18).[225] Humans, inspired by the political forces of Babylon and its underlying powers (the false prophet, the beast and Satan) have violated the everlasting covenant (Isa 24:5). “Our wilful violation has returned the earth to its conditions before God’s covenant with Noah, a condition that Genesis describes in a single word: ‘violence’ (Gen 6:11, 13).”[226]

The next verse (11:19) parallels Rev 4:1—both use the word “open” (ἠνοίγη). “Both ‘opening’ are apocalyptic signs that the end has arrived.”[227] “Appeared” (ὤφθη) is also important…“it is clear that God is revealing deep heavenly truths to John.”[228] “The Lamb is the Lord of history, but he is also the door (cf. 3:8, 20: 4:1) who has opened a way into the holy of holies…The vision of the ark of the covenant, at the precise moment when the servants of God are said to receive their heavenly reward, is a sign indicating ‘the restoration of perfect access to God through the Ascension of the Incarnate Son.’[229] The covenant with Noah signified by the rainbow (Rev 4:3; 10:1), the covenant with Israel embodied in the ark, the new covenant realized once and for all in Jesus’ flesh—all these are signs of the peace that has been established between heaven and earth.”[230] It ends with “a Sinai-like theophany.”[231] It is significant that God’s glory is described as it was in Exodus. It seems that seeing God is represented in seeing the architecture of his sanctuary. “Build the sanctuary, Israel is exhorted, ‘so that I may be visible among you’ [Exod 25:8 LXX].”[232]

In Ezekiel’s vision, the wheels of the living creatures are on the earth. Ezek 1:15: καὶ εἶδον καὶ ἰδοὺ τροχὸς εἷς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (“And I looked and behold a wheel upon the earth”). Jenson sees this as a vision of incarnation—“heaven travels on Babylonian earth. The throne has even carried down to earth a piece of the sky.”[233] In Rev 5 a slaughtered[234] lamb appears (v. 6). The four living creatures and elders begin singing his praise (vv. 9–10), then the angels (v. 12), then every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and the sea (v. 13). “…it is explicitly the crucified Christ (depicted symbolically as the slaughtered Lamb in Revelation) who is exalted and worshiped.”[235] John Henry Newman preached a sermon on Good Friday, 1842; he spoke on Isa 53:7, which compares the Messiah to a lamb. Christ was “as defenceless and innocent, as a lamb is.”[236] He recognized a moral equivalence. “[Why] should the sufferings of vulnerable, innocent, unprotected, defenceless beings be judged as being theologically significant?—the answer must be that there is something Christ-like about much of their suffering.”[237] In describing God’s glory,[238] Bauckham explains that it was in the pain and humiliation of Jesus’ sufferings, seen in resurrection’s light, “that constitute the ultimate manifestation of God’s glory in the world.”[239] In the lonely incarnation the visible splendour of heaven can be found. Ezekiel defined his version of the incarnation: it is “the spirit of the living creatures (1:20)” that was within the wheels, these spirits—carrying the image of animate life—have touched Babylonian ground, joining the exiles in their sufferings. An equivalence can be seen: in Revelation it is the seven spirits sent out into all the earth (Rev 5:6)[240]—perhaps that is where the four living creature’s spirits are found, [241] among suffering creation, ministering—knowing that in the suffering and victory of the Lamb, triumph is near. Is this why the four living creatures add their Amen?[242]

 

 

Concluding Thoughts

What is the scope of Scripture? Athanasius uses the term skopus, translated as “drift,” “purpose,” or “intention.”[243] In an essay on wisdom he gives an array of different texts—“they are part of a ‘chain reaction,’ all of whose simultaneous referring is disclosive of God’s reality.”[244] A reader needs to sense the “semantic pressures of the texts.”[245] To read is a Holy Spirit-lead activity—he speaks in this.[246] What is the purpose in these Scriptures that we have examined? It is the importance of creation’s transformation (Rom 8:19–22).[247] This kind of interpretation  is “a way of using the biblical text to address a theological problem.”[248] Each text is linked—“one text ‘figures’ another,”[249] one verse leading to another—an “exploration always en route: tentative in its conclusions, yet driven in its thrust.”[250] This is the character of God’s Scriptures—“a word in motion, creating even as it moves…creating new life.”[251]

John’s journey is spiritual and visionary. Like the angels in Jacob’s dream (Gen 28:12) it ascends and descends. It is summed up in this Christological statement: “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).[252] His language is symbolic—it describes what is beyond our world, bringing it near—using images from his Jewish tradition, while, at the same time, he draws our world into the next. Like an icon, our “visible embodiment faces the invisible.”[253] Yes, the imagery of the living creatures is difficult to interpret: “But the primary function of the imagery is to reveal, not to conceal… images are evocative…Their power comes from their ability to engage the imagination.”[254] Ricouer wrote that in our doing away with idols “we have barely begun to listen to symbols.”[255] By looking into the roots of these images in the OT—God’s everlasting covenant with natural world,[256] the animate world’s voice of praise (represented in the cherubim),[257] his eschatological plans of renewal of creation[258]—and by sensing their vibrancy and currency[259]—can we answer the question posed in the introduction—who are the living creatures? They describe the non-anthropomorphic[260] reality of heavenly worship and they carry his aura. Of those who encircle the throne none are nearer—accept the circling rainbow that shows God’s mercy for the world.[261] Two theologians have commented on this passage: Barclay Swete declares that John is able to “voice the purpose of universal Nature; he becomes conscious that it exists solely to glorify God and the Lamb,”[262] and Karl Barth affirms that nature takes the lead and the church follows.[263] Job, after his sufferings, was “confronted by a vision of the vast panoply of nature’s extraordinary form: sun, stars, waters, mountain snows, hail, rain, fields of wheat, seas and fish, birds, goats in the hills, the wild ass, the ostrich and the lions, rivers, the crocodile. Job sees it all as God ‘answers’ him out of the whirlwind with these realities… the dissolution of anthropomorphic language might indicate the context of holiness as one of ineffability.”[264]

Rev 21:3 καὶ ἤκουσα φωνῆς μεγάλης ἐκ τοῦ θρόνου λεγούσης · Ἰδοὺ ἡ σκηνὴ τοῦ θεοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ σκηνώσει μετ’ αὐτῶν, καὶ αὐτοὶ λαοὶ αὐτοῦ ἔσονται, καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ θεὸς μετ’ αὐτῶν ἔσται (“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’”). The heavenly and earthly become as one—a tabernacle[265]—a holiness descends on all. The holiness and wonder of God can already be seen within animal life.[266] “Scripture witnesses to the deeply transformational quality of these moments of indwelling…the object of this incarnation—be it tabernacle, temple, or womb—becomes worthy of veneration in its own right. This is not a vestige of paganism or a form of idolatry; it is the reverent admission that any part of creation brought that close to the presence of God is overwhelmed by his power and sanctity.”[267] Kugel explains that during a theophany the angel of the Lord will be confused with God himself: “the biblical authors’ most realistic sense of the way things actually are. The spiritual is not something tidy and distinct…Instead, it is perfectly capable of intruding into everyday reality, as if part of this world.”[268] The name of God: ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος (Rev 4:8)—a river coming.

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Zalman of Liadi, Shneur. Torah Or. Brooklyn: Kehot, 1991.

Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel. 2 vols. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

 

[1] Joseph L. Mangina, Revelation BTC (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2010), 80.

[2] Referring to the eschatological future—God’s coming to this world in judgment and salvation.

[3] Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Eighth Elegy, Duino Elegies,” in The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, ed. and trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Vintage, 1982), 193.

[4] Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflections on the Christian Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 225–26: “The Old Testament was not simply a collage of texts to be manipulated, but the Jewish scriptures were held as the authoritative voice of God.”

[5] Edith Wyschogrod, “Crossover Dreams,” JAAR 54 (1986): 543–47 (544).

[6] John Collins, Semeia 36: Early Christian Apocalypticism: Genre and Social Setting, ed. Adela Yarbro Collins (Atlanta: SBL, 1989), 2 and 7

[7] Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 43.

[8] Elliot R. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 119.

[9] Chrysostomos Koutloumousianos, “Natural and Supernatural Revelation in Early Irish and Greek Monastic Thought: a Comparative Approach,” in Towards an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, ed. John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 347.

[10] John Christopher Thomas and Frank D. Macchia, Revelation THNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 20: “The frequency with which OT imagery and allusions appear within the book suggests that the hearers and readers are not only well versed in the OT (being expected at times to pick up on some faint allusions) but that the Jewish Scriptures were revered as authoritative within the community.”

[11] G.K. Beale, with David H. Campbell, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 17–18. Cf. Thomas and Macchia, Revelation, 14: “Sometimes these allusions are like loud voices calling out to the hearers, while at other times they are no more than whispers to which the hearers’ ears must be attuned or they will be missed altogether.”

[12] Craig R. Koester, Revelation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 123–24.

[13] Koester, Revelation, 124.

[14] Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), xi: “John was writing what he understood to be a work of prophetic scripture, the climax of prophetic revelation, which gathered up all the prophetic meaning of the Old Testament scriptures and disclosed the way in which it was being and was to be fulfilled in the last days.”

[15] Daniel F. Stramara Jr., God’s Timetable: The Book of Revelation and the Feast of Seven Weeks (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 33. Cf. Greenspoon, who says: “Perhaps the authors compared the Greek text in front of them with the Hebrew text (assuming they could read Hebrew at all). Perhaps some of the authors translated the Hebrew themselves or we able to cite the Greek from memory” (Leonard Greenspoon, “The Septuagint,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, ed. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 564). Καί for example is often used as introduction to a sentence or clause. I counted 24 times in this chapter. Of the 337 sentences in Revelation “245 sentences (73.79 percent) begin with καί.” (David Aune, Revelation, Vol. 1., WBC [Dallas: Word Publishers, 1997], cxci). Some think that it is because translation to Greek from a Semitic original, but it appears that this a common feature of Greek style.

[16] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 2.

[17] Gordon D. Fee, Revelation NCCS (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), xii–xiii.

[18] James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 18–19.

[19] Beale and Campbell, Revelation, 12. Beale sums up his position: “Revelation’s metaphorical texture is ‘like an onion or rose with layers of meaning,’ and even like a prism refracting meaning in multiple ways.” (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999] 69, quoting Fiorenza).

[20] Richard J. Bauckham, “The Role of the Spirit in the Apocalypse,” EvQ 52 (1980): 72.

[21] Wolfson, Through a Speculum, 124: “The dichotomy posited by many scholars between exegesis and experience, interpretation and revelation, seems to me to be problematic.” Cf. Beale, Revelation, 80: “…actual visions would have been experienced in the author’s own thought forms, so it might be difficult to distinguish a description of a visionary experience from a retelling of the experience through unconscious or conscious appeal to various traditions.”

[22] Cf. Jean-Pierre Ruiz, Ezekiel in the Apocalypse: The Transformation of Prophetic Language in Revelation 16, 17–19, 10, European Studies Series 23, Theology Vol. 376, 195–99, who suggests these other verses: 13:9–10, 18; 17:9 and also: 1:20; 10:7: 17:5, 7.

[23] Thomas and Macchia, Revelation, 20.

[24] “2 Cor 12:1–10 and Rev 4 are the only first-person autobiographical reports of a heavenly accent found in early Christianity or, for that matter, early Judaism” (Aune, Revelation, 1:278).

[25] Μετὰ ταῦτα (v. 1)—“it is to indicate a visionary sequence, not that the events of Rev 4–5 took place chronologically after Rev 1–3.” (David L. Mathewson, Revelation: A Handbook on the Greek Text [Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016], 59).

[26] In this chapter the author uses indicative verbs infrequently. Instead many clauses have a subject and a nominative predicate or adjective. Often participles are used with no other verb. “Linguistically Rev 4 provides the setting for Rev 5, in that Rev 4 is highly descriptive and more static, whereas Rev 5 relates activities and processes” (Mathewson, Revelation, 59).

[27] Θύρα (v. 1)—a nominative subject of a verbless clause.

[28] εὐθέως (v. 2)—a point in time immediately after the previous one.

[29] Θρόνος (v. 2)—anarthrous here (no article) because this is the first time that it is used (it is used 14 times in this chapter).

[30] The Greek does not name the “one.”

[31] Καθήμενος (v. 2)—also anarthrous here.

[32] ὁράσει (v. 3)—appearance, frequently used.

[33] θρόνους εἴκοσι τέσσαρας (v. 4)—accusative case, “the shift in case marks a shift away from the throne to a new object.” (Mathewson, Revelation, 62).

[34] ἐκπορεύονται (v. 5)—a narrative present verb, “the author uses the present tense in order to view an action that is unfolding” (Mathewson, Revelation, 63).

[35] ὡς (v. 6)—Aune points out that this comparative particle is typical in apocalyptic writings “to emphasize the mysterious and enigmatic character of what is seen” (Osborne, Revelation, 231, citing Aune, Revelation, 1:270).

[36] τὸ ζῷον τὸ πρῶτον (v. 7)—nominative subject of a verbless clause (repeated for each other creature).

[37] ἀνθρώπου (v. 7)—possessive genitive.

[38] ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς λέγοντες (v. 8)—“and they did not cease speaking day and night” (Mathewson, Revelation, 65).

[39] Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος (v. 8)—adjective of verbless clause.

[40] ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος (v. 8)—there are grammatical difficulties here—ἐρχόμενος is the wrong verb and the wrong tense. (R. Kendall Soulen, The Divine Names and the Holy Trinity: Distinguishing the Voices Vol. 1., [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011], 178). “John considers the paraphrase of the divine name as an indeclinable noun” (Mounce, Revelation, 46).

[41] Greek and English Interlinear New Testament ed. William D Mounce and Robert H. Mounce (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011). I (mostly) use their translation of Revelation.

[42] Beale and Campbell, Revelation, 101.

[43] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 51–53.

[44] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II.1, 124.

[45] “The notion that heaven is arranged in concentric circles around the throne of God is found in 1 Enoch 71:6–8 and in a more elaborate way in 3 Enoch 33:1–34:2” (Aune, Revelation, 1:286).

[46] A full rainbow is a circle.

[47] Aune, Revelation, 1:314.

[48] Richard Bauckham, Bible and Ecology: Rediscovery the Community of Creation (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2010), 174.

[49] Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 46. Harris speaks about how the entities or beings are related to the throne: “‘improper’ prepositions ἐνώπιον, ‘in front of’ (11x) and κυκλόθεν, ‘around, encircling’ (2x); the adverb κύκλῳ, ‘in a circle, all around’ (3x); the prepositional phrase ἐν μέσῳ, ‘in the middle of, among’ (2x); ἀνἀ μέσον, ‘in/at the centre’ (1x only, 7:17)” (46).

[50] Harris, Prepositions and Theology, 47.

[51] Except for the Lamb, see Harris, Prepositions and Theology, 47–48.

[52] Beale and Campbell, Revelation, 104.

[53] Resseguie, Revelation, 111.

[54] Koester, Revelation, 364.

[55] Beale, Revelation, 330: “For the discerning reader these ‘living beings’ are an encouragement to keep persevering under persecution, knowing that God is acutely aware of their plight and is already in the process of taking action in their favor and against their persecutors (as chs. 6ff. reveal).”

[56] Richard Bauckham, “Creation’s Praise of God in the Book of Revelation,” BTB 38 (2008): 59.

[57] Watson notes that “these identifications have regularly been criticised for their arbitrariness.” (Francis Watson, Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013)] 553). However he notes that the “four living creatures [are] an effective parable of the fourfold gospel because, in and with their common orientation towards Christ, they are so strikingly different from one another” (554).

[58] Koester, Revelation, 353.

[59] Koester, Revelation, 353

[60] See the list in Beale, Revelation, 330. Cf. Ben Witherington III, Revelation, NCBC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 118: “They probably should rather be seen as heavenly archetypes of the whole of the animate creation.”

[61] For a list of rabbinic works see Beale, Revelation, 330.

[62] Bauckham, Creation’s Praise of God, 60, quoting the Babylonian Talmud.

[63] Bauckham, Creation’s Praise of God, 60, quoting Kenneth Stevenson, “Animal Rites: the Four Living Creatures in Patristic Exegesis and Liturgy,” in Studia Patristica XXXIV, ed. Maurice F. Wiles and Edward J. Yarnold (Leuven: Peeters, 2001).

[64] Koester, Revelation, 369.

[65] Bauckham, Creation’s Praise of God, 60.

[66] E. Isaac, trans., “Enoch (Ethiopic Apocalypse of),” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Vol 1, Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Peabody, MAS: Hendrickson, 1983), 1:21.

[67] Florentino Garcia Martinez, “4QSongs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q403),” in The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, trans. Wilfred G.E. Watson, (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 423.

[68] James R. Davila, Hekhalot Literature in Translation: Major Texts of Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 10.

[69] ἐκτίσθησαν—“It is strange that the existence of all things precedes their coming into existence. This is probably another example of hysteron-proteron”—a figure of speech where the last is put first (Mathewson, Revelation, 68).

[70] Mangina, Revelation, 78. “There is no sense of estrangement here between humanity and the rest of creation. We are not the only creature on this earth (‘all of them have received dominion’), but at the same time human beings clearly are assigned a special role (‘man is exalted among creatures’); this view is consistent with the witness of both Testaments” (78).

[71] Mangina, Revelation, 80.

[72] Mangina, Revelation, 80.

[73] Beate Kowalski, Die Rezeption des Propheten Ezechiel in der Offenbarung des Johannes, SBB 52 (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwek, 2004), 252–62.

[74] Beale, Revelation, 314–16.

[75] Beate Kowalski, “Transformation of Ezekiel in John’s Revelation,” in Transforming Visions: Transformations of Text, Tradition, and Theology in Ezekiel, ed. William A. Tooman and Michael A. Lyons (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010), 279.

[76] Kowalski, “Transformation,” 292.

[77] Steve Moyise, “Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation,” in After Ezekiel: Essays on the Reception of a Difficult Prophet, ed. Andrew Mein and Paul M. Joyce (New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 50.

[78] Kowalski, “Transformation,” 296.

[79] Kowalski, “Transformation,” 297.

[80] Kowalski, “Transformation,” 298, n. 75: “Contrast Ezek 1:26 with Rev 4:2, 3: 20:11, and note the reservation in describing God in Rev 4:3.”

[81] Timothy Mackie, “Transformation in Ezekiel’s Textual History: Ezekiel 7 in the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint,” in Transforming Visions: Transformations of Text, Tradition, and Theology in Ezekiel, ed. William A. Tooman and Michael A. Lyons (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010), 253.

[82] Steve Moyise, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, JSNTSup 115 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 78f. Wolfson argues that a dialectical relationship exists between “past visions recorded in literary texts and the present visionary experience, in effect, the re-envisioning of the original event” (Through a Speculum, 53).

[83] Russell Morton, trans., “Ezekiel,” in The Lexham Greek–English Interlinear Septuagint LLXI, ed. Randall Tan and David deSilva (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2009–2010). I use his translation in the following section.

[84] Robert W. Jenson, Ezekiel, BTC (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), 37. “In my thirtieth year” (v. 1) —“Ezekiel belonged to the Zadokite priesthood, and, according to ritual law, thirty was the minimum age for assuming the office of priest (Lev 9:6).” (Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel, Interpretation [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990], 16).

[85] “For John to be granted such a vision of the heavenly scene was a remarkable gift to the lonely Seer on Patmos” (Mounce, Revelation, 118).

[86] David Frankfurter, “Revelation: Introduction and Annotations,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 464.

[87] “Spirit” rather than “wind” is this Septuagint translation.

[88] Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 1:27.

[89] “The author’s reference to a flying eagle suggests the ancient visual convention of depicted the eagle with its wings spread” (Aune, Revelation, 1:300).

[90] Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel, 2 vols., NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 1:96.

[91] Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel, 21.

[92] Block, Ezekiel, 1:97. “Some of these are bearers of a deity’s throne platform, others are carved on the throne itself (as we see in some of the Megiddo ivories, on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos, and on the throne of Ashtarte in the Phoenician temple of Eshmun), and still others are guardians a gates of temple and palaces (as we see on the palace of Ashurbanipal II at Nimrud)” (Michael A. Lyons, An Introduction to the Study of Ezekiel [London: Bloomsbury, 2015], 38–39).

[93] Ben Witherington III, Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 169.

[94] Resseguie, Revelation, 112.

[95] Resseguie, Revelation, 112.

[96] Zimmerli, Ezekiel, 1:120.

[97] Resseguie, Revelation, 29.

[98] Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 109.

[99] Block, Ezekiel, 1:91.

[100] In Ezek 10 an angelical being begins to take fire from among the cherubim, he then departs with this fire to pour out judgment on the city of Jerusalem.

[101] Zimmerli, Ezekiel, 1:127. “Thus the Israelite throne conception (1 Kings 22; Isa 6), even though no throne-chariot actually stood in the temple, could readily be enlarged upon without difficulty into becoming a mobile throne. This elaboration was particularly likely in the circle of Ezekiel’s disciples, since they were aware through Ezekiel not only of a God who was seated in his sanctuary in heaven or on earth, but of the One who appeared in his majesty to distant exiles” (Zimmerli, Ezekiel, 1:128). The fiery throne in Daniel also has wheels (Dan 7:9–10).

[102] He introduces a concept then elaborates on it later.

[103] Block, Ezekiel, 1:101.

[104] Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel, 22.

[105] Block, Ezekiel, 1:90.

[106] Block, Ezekiel, 1:106.

[107] The medieval Jewish mystics held that this “corporeal figuration of the divine is not to not be taken either literally or metaphorically; it is symbolic” (Wolfson, Through a Speculum, 325).

[108] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 226.

[109] “Throne scenes in Jewish apocalyptic literature do not usually use precious stones as metaphors for describing the glory of God…However, the throne vision in Ezek 1 mentions several precious stones and metals” (Aune, Revelation 1:285).

[110] Thomas and Macchia, Revelation, 137.

[111] Referring to John 21:15. Jean-Luc Nancy, Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body, Perspectives on Continental Philosophy, trans. Sarah Clift, Pascale-Anne Brault, and Michael Naas, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 30.

[112] Olga Sigurdson¸ Heavenly Bodies: Incarnation, the Gaze, and Embodiment in Christian Theology, trans. Carl Olsen, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 551–52: “There is a remarkable ‘normality’ in these meetings, without a trace of any ‘heavenly glory.’…At the same time these accounts claim that the risen Christ is no longer limited by a common, physical embodiment (John 20:19).”

[113] Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings of Walter Benjamin, 4 vols., ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996–2003), II:664. Moltmann comments, “God’s creative love in grounded in his humble, self-sacrificing love…God does not create merely by calling something into existence…In a more profound sense he ‘creates’ by letting-be, by making room, and by withdrawing himself.” (Jurgen Moltmann, God is Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God [London: SCM, 1985], 88).

[114] John Carroll, “Poet’s Road,” 2012, John Carroll Poems, last modified September 26, 2017, https://john-carroll-poems.com/: “In the black night/I see the stars/Through black faith/I see into heaven/The kernel of light/that breaks at sunset/in the black night/buds and flowers.”

[115] Block, Ezekiel, 1:105.

[116] “Nearly all agree that the rainbow is meant, but this rainbow has the shape of a halo of light in that it ‘encircles the throne’” (Osborne, Revelation, 227).

[117] Witherington, Jesus the Seer, 169–70.

[118] Zimmerli¸ Ezekiel, 1:100.

[119] Bauckham, Creation’s Praise of God, 56.

[120] James R. Davila, trans., Liturgical Works. ECDSS, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 147.

[121] “These modifications suggest that the images which Ezekiel had had extreme difficulty in describing and identifying… have now settled in his mind, and when the throne chariot returns in ch.10 he is able to describe what he sees in composed and coherent fashion” (Block, Ezekiel, 1:90).

[122] El Shaddai was an ancient title for God, it means “one of the mountain” (Block, Ezekiel, 1:103).

[123] Many scholars have noted the link between the appearance of God at Sinai and Ezekiel’s chariot revelation: “…a correlation institutionalized by the liturgical practice of reading the vision of Ezekiel 1 as the haftarah portion on Pentecost in conjunction with the narrative of the Sinai revelation in Exodus” (Wolfson, Through a Speculum, 49). Stramara holds that there is a relationship between Revelation and the Feast of Pentecost, noting that liturgical readings for Pentecost include Exod 19:1–20:21; Ezek 1:1–2:3 and Hab 2:20–3:19 (God’s Timetable, 145). “Exegesis of Scripture is a means of re-experiencing the seeing of God, particularly the historical moment of Sinai… ‘the fire burns around them and the words are as joyous as when they were given from Sinai… as it says, “The mountains was ablaze with flames to the very skies” (Deut 4.11)’” (Wolfson, Through a Speculum, 327). I have experienced this in a revival setting—a Pentecostal fire as God’s word is proclaimed.

[124] “Why are there four cherubim instead of two in the temple? We do not know. Why are the four faces all imposed on each ‘living being’ rather than distributed? We do not know. Why do the wheels have eyes? Presumably because also this part of the throne is sentient, but beyond that we do not know” (Jenson, Ezekiel, 37–38).

[125] Elliot R. Wolfson, A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream: Oneirospoiesis and the Prism of Imagination (New York: Zone Books, 2011), 204, citing Shneur Zalman of Liadi, (Torah Or [Brooklyn: Kehot, 1991], 111a).

[126] Woflson, A Dream, 205.

[127] Ian A. McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 11.

[128] Wolfson, Through a Speculum, 119. “…the imaginative faculty is singled out as the means of visualising that which cannot be perceived by the senses of perceived by the intellect” (324).

[129] Wolfson, A Dream, 203–4.

[130] Wolfson, A Dream, 267–68.

[131] Sigurdon, Heavenly Bodies, 589.

[132] Sigurdon, Heavenly Bodies, 589.

[133] “Somewhere in his writings, Robert Musil reminds us of how wrong we are to think of the individual self as the one unstable item within a firm world. The opposite is the case. The unstable world drifts like an island at the heart of each of us.” Gerald Murnane, Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs: Essays, (Artarmon: Giramondo, 2005), 44.

[134] Sigurdon, Heavenly Bodies, 599. This mystery seems to apply to animal bodies as well. The prologue of John says that the word became flesh (σάρξ). This word—σάρξ—speaks of the finitude of the material world, of all that is “fragile, vulnerable, perishable, transitory, the opposite of divinity clothed with majesty.” Elizabeth A. Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 195. “Christology is carried by the conviction that God’s eternal Logos has revealed and re-indentified itself – once and for all – as Jesus Christ within the matrix of materiality that we share with other living beings.” (Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Christology,” in Systematic Theology and Climate Change: Ecumenical Perspectives, ed. Michael S. Northcott and Peter M. Singer, [London: Routledge, 2014], 36).

[135] The Septuagint adds τὸν τόπον οὗ (“the place where”) God stood—emphasising God’s identification with the place of his throne.

[136] Brevard S. Childs, Exodus (London: SCM, 1974), 506–7.

[137] Jenson, Ezekiel, 39—referring to Ezekiel’s vision.

[138] Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, ECC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 614. Sarna thinks that cherubim describe something about God: “[They] are brilliant, if fantastic, fabrications of the fertile human imagination struggling to express symbolically profound and mystical abstractions—nothing less than concepts of God’s simultaneous immanence and His omnipresence, while preserving His absolute incorporeality and the aniconic nature of the national religion.” (Nuhum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel [New York: Schocken, 1986], 213). But—like the living creatures in Ezekiel—there are other possible (and perhaps interlinking) interpretations.

[139] Carol Meyers, Exodus, NCBC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 228.

[140] Anderson, Christian Doctrine, 103.

[141] Anderson, Christian Doctrine, 109.

[142] 4QSongs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q403) 1.41–45.

[143] Carol Newsom, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition, HSS 27 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985), 233.

[144] This Psalm mentions the flood: vv. 6–8, and God’s winged chariots of fire: vv. 3–4. It speaks of the wonders of the natural world, including man, and God’s provision for them. It ends with the taking away of their breath—death—and then speaks of the Spirit and renewal (as the Noah account did with the dove). Its final words are that sinners should vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.

[145] Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Reason, trans. Reginald Lilly (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 35. Heraclitus’s 123rd aphorism says, “Nature loves to hide.” Heidegger’s work is the unveiling of this: “the emerging of all beings and things…; their holding and lingering and whiling in appearance, carried along by a great giving stream, a stream not hidden exactly, but difficult to see” (Richard Capobianco, Heidegger’s Way of Being, [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014], 63).

[146] Ps 65:12–13; 69:34; 96:11–12; 98:7–8; 103:22; 148: 150:6.

[147] “Life is here in three stages: life rooted and growing, like the palm tree; life expanded, like the open flower; and life in its highest state, the life of the cherub.” (T. Leckie, D.D, “Cherubim, Palm Trees, and Open Flowers,” Bible Hub, last modified October 9, 2017, http://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/leckie/cherubim_palm_trees_and_open_flowers.htm). Leithart says, “[S]anctuaries are also architectural recapitulations of the garden of Eden.” (Peter Leithart, 1&2 Kings, BTC, [Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006], 56).

[148] Andrew Louth, “Man and Cosmos in St. Maximus the Confessor,” in Towards an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, ed. John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 61.

[149] John Chryssavgis, “A New Heaven and a New Earth: Orthodox Christian Insights from Theology,

Spirituality, and the Sacraments,” in Towards an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, ed. John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 157.

[150] Diarmuid O’Murchu, MSC, In The Beginning was the Spirit: Science, Religion, and Indigenous

Spirituality, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2012), 186-7, citing Yong.

[151] O’Murchu, In the Beginning, 187. He speaks of the trans-personality of the Spirit, and follows indigenous people’s experience of him: 85–117.

[152] Donald Sheehan, “The Spirit of God moved upon the Face of the Waters: Orthodox Holiness and the

Natural World,” in Towards an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, ed. John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 372.

[153] Rilke, “The Eighth Elegy,” 193.

[154] “…he ‘creates’ by letting-be, by making room, and by withdrawing himself” (Moltmann, God is Creation, 88).

[155] As Hamilton implies: Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis, 2 vols., NICOT (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990), 1:299. Later, however, he says this: “Animals have an honourable role in the biblical economy. They are part of the eschatological period (Isa 9:5–8), and are even capable of repentance (Jon 3.7–8)” (1:316).

[156] The term “the ark” (τῆς κιβωτοῦ) is used in both Genesis and Exodus. Living beings are associated with it—the beasts, the cattle, the birds and all of the creeping things in Genesis, or cherubim with a lion’s body, the wings of a bird, and a human face in Exodus.

[157] Glenn Wooden, trans.,Genesis,” in Lexham Greek–English Interlinear Septuagint LLXI. I use his translation in the following section.

[158] John William Wevers, LXX: Notes of the Greek Text of Genesis, Septuagint and Cognate Studies 35 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), 101.

[159] Claus Westermann, Genesis, 3 vols., A Commentary (London: SPCK, 1984), 1:441, citing H. Holzinger. “The term, especially with reference to God, signifies to act upon a previous commitment to a covenant partner.” (Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis [Grand Rapids Zondervan, 2001], 140).

[160] πνεῦμα is usually rendered as spirit rather than wind.

[161] Wevers, LXX, 101. God’s faithfulness guarantees “the emergence and persistence of continuous existing forms of creaturely reality.” (Pannenberg, ST 2.38 and 40, trans., Geoffrey W. Bromiley [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010]).

[162] Westermann, Genesis, 1:456.

[163] Westermann, Genesis, 1:457.

[164] Wevers, LXX, 117.

[165] Waltke, Genesis, 146: “The covenant confirms God’s pre-existing relationship with all creatures when he blessed them at the time of their creation.” “Covenant” is mentioned 7 times in this section (Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989], 62).

[166] Westermann, Genesis, 1:471.

[167] “The…bow stretches from earth to heaven and extends from horizon to horizon, reminded God of his universal commitment” (Waltke, Genesis, 146). The rainbow is the first circle that surrounds the throne, representing God’s mercy. Think of the refrain from Ps 136: “his mercy endureth for ever.”

[168] Sarna, Genesis, 62–63.

[169] Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death & Literature in Secret, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008), 141: “…a promise that we forget today every time that an animal is killed or maltreated.”

[170] My emphasis.

[171] Waltke, Genesis, 146. “The human annihilation of species is a matter of grave concern to the Creator” (155).

[172] Westermann, Genesis, 1:474. I have included these many Septuagint references to animal and bird life to help us see how important these things are in the Scriptures.

[173] Seraphim are similar to the cherubim—John uses aspects of them in his vision in Revelation, particularly their six wings and their cry of the holiness of God. The Hebrew term for seraphim is associated with fire. “Fire is everywhere associated with God’s holiness…so it is entirely appropriate for those who declare the holiness (v.3) to be fiery themselves” (John N. Oswalt, Isaiah, 2 vols., NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 1:179). Aquinas’ definition of Seraphim (abridged): “Their movement is upwards and continuous. They are borne inflexibly towards God. Their heat is penetrating, reaching to the smallest things with superabundant fervour. Those who are subject to them are roused to a like fervour. Their fire has a quality of clarity or brightness. Their inextinguishable light means that they can perfectly enlighten others.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae).

[174] This is the same word as in Rev 4:6. The Septuagint Isaiah has influenced John.

[175] Theses scriptures describe similar theophanic scenes: 1 Kgs 22:19; 2 Chr 18:18; Ps 47:8; Dan 7:8–9.

[176] Penner, “Isaiah,” 37.

[177] John Goldingay, The Theology of the Book of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 24.

[178] J.A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), 76. “It is clear that in Rev 4:8, as in Isa 6:3, the function of the Qedussah [the threefold repetition on his holiness] is to provide a solemn introduction for the uttering the divine name” (Aune, Revelation, 306).

[179] “You shall be holy as I am holy.”

[180] Oswalt, Isaiah, 181.

[181] Koestler, Revelation, 370.

[182] Ephraim Radner, Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 172.

[183] Gene Carpenter, trans., “Exodus,” in Lexham Greek–English Interlinear Septuagint LLXI. Cf. Bauckham, Creation’s Praise of God, 62: “The living creatures cannot sing the second line of the song of Isaiah’s seraphim (‘the whole earth is full of your glory’) because at that stage the worship of creation is marred and obscured by the activity of evil in the world.”

[184] Oswalt, Isaiah, 1:179. Daniel saw a fiery throne (Dan 7:9–10)—judgment was set, the beasts of the earth (Dan 7:3–8, 11–12) symbolising a series of empires, were slain. In Revelation “those four beasts become a single beast, so that readers see the tyrannical qualities of many empires as part of the same reality.” (Koester, Revelation, 580). It is a symbol of Rome. From John’s island vantage point he could watch ships full of “gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives” (Rev 18:12–13). (J. Nelson Kraybell, Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010], 141–42). (Does this last item on the list refer the third of the living creatures—humanity?) “Lions, leopards, bears, elephants, rhinos, hippos, and other animals were transported great distances to be tortured and killed in the public arenas…until no more such wildlife could be found even in the farthest reaches of the empire.” (Ashley Dawson, Extinction: A Radical History [New York: OR Books, 2016], 33). The largest mass annihilation of large animals since the Pleistocene was the Empire’s responsibility (34).

[185] This was Collins final part of his definition of apocalyptical writings: “…to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority” (Collins, Semeia 3, 7).

[186] Aaron S. Gross, The Question of the Animal and Religion: Theoretical Stakes, Practical Outcomes (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 151.

[187] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox, 2010), 30.

[188] “Kindness: a simple similarity in kind or the proper affections and concerns that may arise from this similarity in kind – kindness or compassion rachamim” (Gross, The Question of the Animal and Religion, 151).

[189] Gross, The Question, 157. “On the one hand the animals are delivered into the hands of humans with the consequent ‘fear and dread,’ on the other there is the good will of the creator toward everything living being” (158, quoting Westermann).

[190] Gross, The Question, 158, quoting Delitzsh and Dillmann.

[191] Gross, The Question, 159, quoting Milgrom. “The Priestly legislators were so sensitive to the ethical primacy of the dietary system that they enjoined one of its tenets, the blood prohibition, on all humankind…Only one biblical statute, the blood prohibition, is enjoined upon all humanity” (Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus, 2 vols., AB [New York: Doubleday, 1991], 1:735). “…bringing death to living things is a concession of God’s grace and not a privilege of man’s whim…Animal slaughter was thus an infrequent event in the Israelite household” (1:735).

[192] This Psalm (144[5]) mentions the living creatures (ζῷον)—v. 16: ἀνοίγεις σὺ τὴν χεῖρά σου καὶ ἐμπιπλᾷς πᾶν ζῷον εὐδοκίας. (“You (emphatic) open Your hand and satisfy every living being with goodwill”). (Long, Fred, trans., “Psalms,” in Lexham Greek–English Interlinear Septuagint LLXI, ed. Randall Tan and David deSilva [Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2009–2010]).

[193] Gross, The Question, 168.

[194] Gross, The Question, 168.

[195] Gross, The Question, 170. Cf. William S. Morrow, An Introduction to Biblical Law (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 8: “One of the inferences of this book’s approach is that biblical law represents a dynamic system of thought.” “In this study we will find numerous examples of the profound way in which biblical law challenged social conventions and articulated a countercultural vision paralleling the prophetic imagination” (22).

[196] Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere: What we have Taken from Nature (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 227–29: “…a liberal estimate of the total zoomass of wild terrestrial mammals at the beginning of and end of the twentieth century…yields no more than 40 Mt [million tonnes] of live weight in 1900 and 25 Mt [million tonnes] of live weight in the year 2000, a decline of 35%–40%…the zoomass of wild vertebrates is now vanishingly small compared to the biomass of domestic animals. In 1900 there were some 1.6 billion large [domestic] animals…a century later the count of large domestic animals has surpassed 4.3 billion…The cattle zoomass alone is now at least 300 times greater than the zoomass of all surviving African elephants, whose biomass is now less than 2% of the zoomass of Africa’s nearly 300 bovines.” “Calculations of global feed requirements for the year 2000 show an enormous increase in phytomass claimed by the production of animal foodstuffs. In that year the total number of animals approached 1.6 billion heads of cattle, 164 million water buffaloes, 70 million horses and mules, more than 20 million camels, 900 million pigs, 1.75 billion sheep and goats. There were also more than 14 billion chickens and about 1.7 billion other birds (ducks, turkeys, geese). (128–29). “…humans and their domesticated animals have become the dominant mammalian species on Earth.” (235). “Growing animal feed [has] become a massive operation in its own right. Today, one-third or more of the entire cereal harvest, and nearly all the world’s soya, is devoted to feeding industrially reared animals.” (Philip Lymbery, Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were [London: Bloomsbury, 2017], xvi). Meat consumption throughout the world is growing—if Asia reached Europe’s mean it would increase the world’s meat consumption by a multiple of 3.5, if Africa reached todays Asian mean it would more than triple. (Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere, 249–50). “The disappearance of wildlife is a calamity of unprecedented magnitude, but the plight of the planet’s majority population—the farm animals—is cause for equal concern. In recent years there is growing awareness of the conditions under which these animals live and die, and their fate may well turn out to be the greatest crime in human history.” (Yuval Noah Harari, “Destroying the World.” Yuval Noah Harari, last modified September 26, 2017, http://www.ynharari.com/topic/ecology/). “A war [is] being waged between, on the one hand, those who violate not only animal life but even and also this sentiment of compassion, and, on the other hand, those who appeal for an irrefutable testimony to this pity” (Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet, trans. David Wills [New York: Fordham University Press, 2008], 28).

[197] Ghassan Hage, Is Racism an Environmental Threat? (Cambridge: Polity, 2017), 20.

[198] Hage, Is Racism, 26.

[199] Hage, Is Racism, 119, summarising Lucien Levy-Bruhl. Consider the Jewel Net of Indra—as interpreted by the Huayan school of Chinese Buddhism: “The net is held together by multifaceted gems, each of which reflects all the others…a network in which mutuality represents the essence of interdependence and hence compassion for all beings in nature” (Prasenjit Duara, The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015], 267–68).

[200] Jenson, Ezekiel, 38. Cf. Peter Sloterdijk, “The Anthropocene: A Process-State at the Edge of Geohistory?” trans. Anna-Sophie Springer, in Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, ed. Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015), 338–39: “It would be an Earth that the mortals themselves share, in all its diverse regions, an Earth too real to perform the role of conventional transcendence, yet also too transcendent to ever become the possession of a single imperial power. In this view, Friedrich Hölderlin’s vision of humans dwelling upon the Earth poetically remains compelling. The concept of the Anthropocene includes the spontaneous minima moralia of the current age. It implies concern regarding the cohabitation of the citizens of Earth in human and nonhuman forms. It prompts us to cooperate in the network of simple and higher-level life cycles, in which the actors of today’s world generate their existence in the mode of a co-immunity.”

[201] David A. deSilva, The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 115–117.

[202] See pp. 6–7 of this study.

[203] Mangina, Revelation, 79: “At the literal level of the narrative, surely the animals represent something like the astonishing vitality and diversity found in creation. They represent nature, just as the twenty-four elders represent the specifically human.”

[204] Richard Bauckham, James: Wisdom of James, disciple of Jesus the sage, NTR (London: Routledge, 1999), 51.

[205] Frans de Waal observes: “True empathy is not self-focused but other-oriented. Instead of making humanity the measure of things, we need to evaluate other species by what they are. In doing so, I am sure we will discover many magic wells, including some as yet beyond our imagination [referring the Von Frisch statement: ‘The life of a bee is like a magic well, the more you draw from it, the more there is to draw’ (11)].” Frans de Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, (London: Granta, 2016), 275. Can the concept of ‘brotherhood’ (Rev 1:9) be amplified? “…all the living things that man does not recognize as his fellows, his neighbours, or his brothers. And that is so in spite of the infinite space that separates the lizard from the dog, the protozoon from the dolphin, the shark from the lamb, the parrot from the chimpanzee, the camel from the eagle, the squirrel from the tiger, the elephant from the cat, the ant from the silkworm, or the hedgehog from the echidna” (Derrida, Animal, 34).

[206] Koester, Revelation, 363.

[207] Rene Girard, trans., Mary Barker, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoi Chantre (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010), x.

[208] Radner, Time and the Word, 282.

[209] Radner, Time and the Word, 282.

[210] Radner, Time and the Word, 282.

[211] Clive Hamilton, Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2017), 126. Cf. Stefan Skrimshire, “Eschatology,” in Systematic Theology and Climate Change: Ecumenical Perspectives (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), 168: Our age is the one in which we may condemn “the majority of the world to premature annihilation… The death of biodiversity, the passing of points of no return, the irreversible alteration of the earth’s carrying capacity for sustaining human communities—these are scenarios whose finality theology must not dilute.”

[212] The Anthropocene is the name of a new geological epoch (still under debate) in which “human activity has modified the Earth’s processes so radically that we have disrupted the great forces of nature governing the Earth’s System’s evolution” (Hamilton, Defiant Earth, 51). Every component of the Earth system is effected – “the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the crysosphere, the biosphere, and even the lithosphere – that is, the crust and upper mantle.” (Hamilton, Clive, “Crimes Against Nature: The Banality of Ethics in the Anthropocene,” ABC Religion and Ethics, last modified September 26, 2017,

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/07/14/4273352.htm).

[213] Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 28-30.

[214] “Consider the following emblematic cases: The lion (Panthera leo) was historically distributed over most of Africa, southern Europe, and the Middle East, all the way to northwestern India. It is now confined to scattered populations in sub-Saharan Africa and a remnant population in the Gir forest of India. The vast majority of lion populations are gone. In its African stronghold, it historically occupied roughly two thousand 10,000-km2 cells, and now it is reduced to some 600 cells.” (Gerardo Ceballosa, Paul R. Ehrlichb, and Rodolfo Dirzob, “Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signalled by vertebrate population losses and declines.” A Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México [Mexico City 04510, Mexico], and Department of Biology, Stanford University [Stanford, CA 94305], PNAS, last modified September 26, 2017, http://www.pnas.org/content/114/30/E6089.full).

[215] Hamilton, Defiant Earth, 45. “Even Hegel of the Phenomenology of Sprit could not have envisaged that the advent of the Anthropocene would so radically reverse the direction of his project that humans would be dialectically immersed no longer in the adventures of the Absolute Mind but in those of geohistory” (Bruno Latour Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climate Regime [Cambridge: Polity, 2017], 39).

[216] Derrida, Literature in Secret, 146. “More than once God himself seems to repent, to express regret or remorse… And his gesture at least resembles a plea for forgiveness, a confession, an attempt at reconciliation” (141).

[217] Derrida, Literature in Secret, 148.

[218] Derrida, Literature in Secret, 151.

[219] Abraham, according to Kierkegaard, asks for “forgiveness for the worst: for consenting to put an end to the future to come [i.e. the promised son, Isaac: Gen 22:2]” (Derrida, Literature in Secret, 126). This has application for our future world, where our actions or lack of them could threaten future generations. Cf. John Carroll, “The World Before Us,” 2013, John Carroll Poems, last modified October 6, 2017, https://john-carroll-poems.com/:

Never

The stars are high tonight. I sometimes think

that there are more of them than us. I know

that Abraham witnessed the future so –

his nameless progeny amidst the inky

sky. I understand their power to link

us to the future of mankind. It’s only

in more recent times that distant zones

of space have been revealed, and tiny twinkling

stars in countless multitudes appeared

where none had been before. But what of those

they represent – if they should never be?

If putting down our telescopes made sheer

abundance disappear? God never chose

it to be thus, and never too, should we.”

[220] Derrida, Literature in Secret, 154.

[221] Mangina, Revelation, 100: “…the suffering creation also longs for the disclosing of the children of God. Revelation has a nice way of making this point: it is the four animals, representatives of creation, who call out ‘Come.’” Cf. Osborne, Revelation, 570: “…they function as celestial heralds mediating God’s judicial penalty on unbelievers.”

[222] Osborne, Revelation, 275. “In this sense God is not so much pouring down judgment on the earth-dwellers as allowing their depravity to come full circle. This is a common theme in this book, as sin turns upon itself and self-destructs” (Osborne, Revelation, 274–75).

[223] Amos Yong, In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 347.

[224] Allan Chapple, A Gospel Pageant: A Reader’s Guide to the Book of Revelation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015), 17.

[225] “The scene sets the Creator of the world against the destroyers, who must be defeated if life is to prevail, and it anticipates that the God who created all things in the beginning will finally make all things new (11:18; 21:5)” (Koester, Revelation, 350).

[226] Ellen F. Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (New York: Cambridge, 2009), 19. Noah also models the way out of this: At his birth Noah was declared to be “a one who will bring relief” (Gen 5:29). “That destiny is fulfilled, but only alter the flood has washed away the human-initiated ‘ruination’ of the earth (6.11–13), when God has restored the steady cycle of ‘seedtime and harvest’ (8:22) and through Noah initiated the covenant ‘with all flesh on the earth’ (9:17). At that point, Noah the righteous man receives a new ‘heroic epithet’, complementary to the first:…’is ha’adama [a man of the fertile soil]… Instead of the hubris that characterized Adam and his descendants, Noah stands out as a beacon of the humbled adam who is faithful to the needs of adamah” (32, at the end quoting Norman Wirzba).

[227] “…the first opening was merely an anticipation of this one” (Osborne, Revelation, 448).

[228] Osborne, Revelation, 448.

[229] Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Whitefish, MONT: Kessinger, 2010), 145.

[230] Mangina, Revelation, 142.

[231] Mangina, Revelation, 142.

[232] Anderson, Christian Doctrine, 112. Cf. Job 12:7–8.

[233] Jenson, Ezekiel, 38–39.

[234] This only happens on earth.

[235] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 198.

[236] Andrew Linzey, Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 38.

[237] Linzey, Why Animal Suffering Matters, 39.

[238] Pointing out this word means both “honour, reputation” and “visible splendour.” Richard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 44.

[239] Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, 60–61.

[240] τὰ ἑπτὰ α τπνεύματοῦ θεοῦ, ἀπεσταλμένοι εἰς πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν (“the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth”).

[241] …or where their eyes are found (καὶ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑπτά, οἵ εἰσιν τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ [“and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God”])—“[their] knowing eyes search the earth, and they execute punishments only on those who truly deserve them” (Beale, Revelation, 330).

[242] Or their Hallelujah (Rev 19:4)—which was echoed by a shout from the multitudes like “the sound of many waters” (v. 6)—a text that originates in Ezek 1:24, comparing the movement of these living creatures’ wings to the sound of many waters or the tumult of an army.

[243] Radner, Time and the Word, 214.

[244] Radner, Time and the Word, 213, referring to Athanasius’ essay on Prov 8:22–31.

[245] Radner, Time and the Word, 215.

[246] Radner, Time and the Word, 279.

[247] Scriptural references: Gen 1:20–25, 31; Gen 8:1; 21–22; 9:8–17; Exod 20:8–11; 23:19; Lev 25:6–7;  Deut 12.6–7; Job 12:7–10; cps. 38–41; Ps 36:6; 65:8, 12–13; 66:1–4; 104; 136:25; Isa 11:6–9; 65:25–26; Jon 4:11; Ezek 36:11; Hos 2:18; Matt 6:26, 28–29; 19:28; Mark 1:13; Luke 2:7; 12:6–7; Rom 8:19–22; Eph 1:10; Col 1:19–20; Rev 7:1–3; 11:18; 21:1–5.

[248] Watson, Gospel Writing, 554.

[249] Radner, Time and the Word, 258. Radner describes a figural reading of the Bible. He holds that a discussion about what the author intended (for example the Author of Revelation) must come under what God intends: “the history of the Scriptures is that use by which God ‘alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men’” (274). “[The] issue is that the Bible is not the object of our varied gazes; rather, it is the subject” (275).

[250] Radner, Time and the Word, 258. “God’s word, in all his creative omnipotence, does its work of self-giving and conformation” (263.)

[251] Radner, Time and the Word, 201: “The Pentecostal theologian Ralph Macchia…speaks of the ‘present-tenseness’ to the events and words of the Bible, so that what happened then, happens now.”

[252] The transcendent can be revealed in the natural world: such supra-natural reality is often represented by dream-like imagery, it is not detached from the natural world, yet it lifts us up. At other times God speaks from above. Derrida comments: “Lightning, thunder, and the rainbow are defined as meteors. Rain also. It is easy to think of God, even the God of Abraham, speaking to us meteorically. He comes down to us vertically, like rain, like a meteor” (Derrida, Literature in Secret, 140).

[253] Sigurdson, Heavenly Bodies, 589.

[254] Koester, Revelation, 139.

[255] Elliot R. Wolfson, Giving Beyond the Gift: Apophasis and Overcoming Theomania (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 227: Idols are the persistence of employing “metaphorical language that personalizes transcendence and thereby runs the risk of undermining the irreducible alterity and invisibility attributed to the transcendent other.” In the following chapter of Revelation the symbol for transcendence is no longer the precious stones, but rather the lamb—pregnant with meaning (Thomas and Macchia, Revelation, 148).

[256] Anthony C. Thiselton, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 114: “Humankind is not alone in being the object of God’s love, care, and creative and sustaining power.”

[257] …which is always moved by the Spirit: Ezek 1:19–24 (Ps 65:12–13; 69:34; 96:11–12; 98:7–8; 103:22; 148: 150:6).

[258] Isaiah was the “first preacher of the eschatological expectation” (Hans Schwarz, Eschatology [Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2000], 45, quoting Vriezen). Cf. Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2010), 150: “Salvation is not the replacement but the renewal of creation. God’s purpose is history and in the eschatological future does not abstract humans from nature, but heals the human relationship with nature.” Koester writes: “Theologically, the new heaven and earth represent God’s faithfulness to creation, not his abandonment of it” (Revelation, 803).

[259] Radner, Time and the Word, 275: “The Divine Word, the Bible, acts on us, not us on the Bible.”

[260] They share the same “spirit of life” (Ezek 1:21)—a “Crossing of Borders”, a “Limitrophy,”—man longer with a capital M or animal with a capital A (Derrida, The Animal, 29).

[261] John 3:16. Morris comments: “When Christ is called ‘the light of the world’ (8:12; 9:5) or when it is said that he came or was sent ‘into the world’ (3:17; 11:27, etc.) the universe at large must be meant, though, of course, it might be possible that it is this world that is in mind…The word has many shades of meaning” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, Revised, NICNT, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 111–113. At the centre of the throne is of course the Lamb (Rev 7:17). Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi pictures the risen Christ with two fingers in a gesture of blessing while holding a crystal globe. (Mark Brown, “Only Leonardo da Vinci in private hands set to fetch f75m at auction,” Guardian, last modified October 12, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/10/only-leonardo-in-private-hands-set-to-fetch-75m-at-auction). Rev 3:14, Luke 23:50–51.

[262] Bauckham, Creation’s Praise, 62.

[263] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/3, 467.

[264] Radner, Time and the Word, 175. Cf. J.M. Coetzee, Late Essays: 2006–2017 (North Sydney: Knopf, 2017), 132: “Here we tremble on the edge of the moment so urgently longed for in the fantasy lives of children, when the great divide between species crumbles away and we and the creatures who have been so long been exiled from us come together in a greater unity.”

[265] Or a cube (21.15)—“the unequivocal sign that all is sacred,” referring to the similar squarical dimensions of the New Jerusalem in Ezekiel (Jacob Milgrom and Daniel I. Block, Ezekiel’s Hope: A Commentary on Ezekiel 38-48 [Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012], 262).

[266] Thiselton quotes Aquinas: “‘The nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin.’ Moreover many OT passages simply celebrate the goodness and wonder of creation (Ps 104:24, 31; 145:16–17).” (Anthony C. Thiselton, Discovering Romans: Content, interpretation, reception [London: SPCK, 2016], 175–176). Knausgaard describes what he learnt through working in his garden: “…life is so robust, it seems to come cascading, blind and green, and at times it is frightening, because we too are alive…[it] makes us fear whatever is blind, wild, chaotic, stretching towards the sun…” (Karl Ove Knausgaard, Autumn, trans. Vanessa Bird [London: Harvill Secker, 2017], 4). Cezanne wrote: “Nature is not on the surface, it is in the depths. Colours are an expression of these depths on the surface. They rise from the roots of the world.” (K. Ruhrberg and M. Scheckenburger, Art of the Twentieth Century, [Cologne: Taschen, 2000], 200). “The gift of creation is a real gift, not only given but received, eventuating in a world of creatures that constitutes a genuine ‘other’ for God. Up to this point in the book, the only voices we have heard have been divine voices. Now for the first time creaturely voices speak and sing. God remains mysteriously silent, but all around him swirls a lively, antiphonal, and polyphonic chorus of creatures” (Mangina, Revelation, 80).

[267] Anderson, Christian Doctrine, 132.

[268] James L. Kugel, The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible (New York: Free Press, 2003), 36.

Listen to these lines by the aboriginal poet, Bill Neidjie:

“This story e can listen carefully, e can listen slow.

If you in city well I suppose lot of houses,

You can’t hardly look this star but might be one night you look.

Have a look star because that’s the feeling.

String, blood…through your body.

That star e working there. See? e working I can see.

Some of them small you can’t hardly see

e working always at night.

If you lie down look careful e working

when you sleep blood e pumping

So you look up e go pink, e come white.

See him work?

In the night you dream, lay down.

That star e working for you, tree, grass, star.”

(Bill Neidjie, Story About Feeling, ed. Keith Taylor [Broome: Magabala Books, 1989].)

“The use of the pronoun ‘e’ means that an equal subjecthood is attributed to male and female, flora and fauna, natural phenomena, ancestral beings…Neidjie reminds us that essential processes in the natural order proceed without our volition. Trees and stars are described as ‘working’ while we sleep and dream. And as we sleep, ‘blood e pumping’… Neidjie’s form of intersubjectivity becomes a connecting and unifying principle operating across all degrees of existence… In the narrative titled ‘Spirit’, Neidjie tells the story of the ancestral being… [It] includes these remarkable lines: ‘You cannot see. I cannot see but you feel it. I feel it.’ The narrative goes on to say: ‘You listen my story and you will feel im because spirit e’ll be with you. You cannot see but e’ll be with you and e’ll be with me’… [It] is made more beautiful by the consistent refinement and sensitivity of Neidjie’s language with respect to birds, trees, animals. We realise that Neidjie is in state of consistent awareness of the mutual com-passion in play between all the orders of being.” (Philp Morrissey, “Bill Neijie’s Story About Feeling: Notes on its Themes and Philosophy,” JASAL 15.2 [2015]: 1–11 [6, 8–10]).