The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy. The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right. Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them. He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them. Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy. – Psalm 99:1-9
For some reason this psalm has been difficult to navigate. It does not contain particularly challenging water or rapids so I am not sure why I have been hung up on the rocks for this one. Perhaps it just feels like a reprise of previous psalms…the return of justice and equity. There are a few additional characters here…the cherubim that surround God. God came riding on them back in 2 Samuel 22:8-14. These winged spiritual creatures are often associated with Renaissance art as pudgy babies with wings, although the actual biblical description does not sound so tame (Ezekial 10:14).
My sense is that no earthly depiction, or description, could capture the properties and nature of these Godly guardians. The closest I could come would be to imagine them as spiritual superheroes possessing special spiritual “superpowers”. I am not even sure that they would fly with wings like a bird, perhaps their “wings” allow them to navigate time and space in a way very unlike flying through the gasses we call air. The realm they inhabit is likely fundamentally different and spiritual in nature. When these creatures have been revealed to humans they have almost universally caused great fear in those who saw them.
Why would angels, cherubims, seraphims, and other spiritual creature induce such fear? I think it is because they exist not just outside our earthly experience, but outside the very structure which we use our human reason and senses to understand. The closest analogy I can come up with would be for a fish swimming in the ocean to all of a sudden encounter a cow walking along the bottom of the ocean. The fish would not have experience or knowledge with which to process the cow and thus it might well invoke confusion and fear.
I suspect this is a bit like what happens when we try to use our earthly senses to see or experience the spiritual realm in general. We cave dwellers lack the proper spiritual senses to interpret and perceive this spiritual realm and it inhabitants.
Now back to our regularly scheduled psalm…the middle of the psalm calls out a few specific God followers like Jacob, Moses and Aaron, and Samuel. I am not sure why these specific leaders were called out and not others like David or Elijah. In general, the psalm is describing the covenant relationship between God and His people. God spoke to them from the “pillar of a cloud”.
It just occurred to me that most clouds, at least those we see up in the sky, exist in a place between two very different realms…the earth and the vacuum of space. Perhaps the cloud form that God used to communicate with Isreal was a way to span the gap between the earthly and spiritual realms. The same role that Jesus, the Godly condensate, will play when He comes to show us the way to the “undiscovered country“.
Prayer: God our senses are not well suited to see spiritual things. Give us spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear.