The greatest tragedy in the history of the world occurred in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve took of the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden. No longer were they innocent. Now they were sinners. Now they knew what it was like to hear a command from God and disobey it. Now they also knew the terrible consequences of sin. Sin carries terrible and eternal consequences. Often this event is called “the Fall.” But perhaps that is not the best term to use. A fall can imply something somewhat insignificant. Certainly some falls can be difficult and dangerous, but someone can also trip and fall, then get up as if nothing happened. But that is not what happened after Adam and Eve’s sin. Perhaps a better term would be a “Cosmic Tragedy.”
The worst consequence of the Cosmic Tragedy of Adam and Eve’s sin is that mankind is now separated from God by sin. We are born sinners, and we do not have a relationship with God at birth (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 2:1-3). This separation was pictured for Adam and Eve by their removal from the Garden of Eve. This removal prevented them from eating of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). But it also pictured the separation between man and God, since Adam and Eve were removed from the place where they had experienced unbroken fellowship with God. Genesis 3:24 says, “So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” Cherubs (angels) were placed at the entrance of the Garden of Eden to protect it and keep Adam and Eve away.
But cherubs are not mentioned again in Scripture for hundreds of years. The next time cherubs are mentioned is not until Exodus 25 when the ark of the covenant is made. Two gold cherubs are placed on the top of the ark of the covenant, and God said that He would speak from that spot to the children of Israel. Like many times in Scripture, this is a place where cherubs are associated with God’s presence.
In the next chapter, cherubs are again mentioned, when they are placed on the tabernacle. Exodus 26:1 says, “Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them.” The outside curtain of the tabernacle had cherubs embroidered on it. As the people of Israel approached the tabernacle to worship God, they would see cherubs embroidered on the outside of the tabernacle. But why? That seems like a random thing to include on the tabernacle, until we remember the only other place that the young nation of Israel has read of cherubs. The only other time they have been mentioned in Scripture so far is at the Garden of Eden. When Israel comes near to the tabernacle, they are coming to worship God, but cherubs are still there as a reminder of the severed relationship between God and man and the separation that now exists.
Exodus 26:31-33 says, “And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made: And thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold, upon the four sockets of silver. And thou shalt hang up the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.” The inside of the tabernacle was divided into different sections, and two of those sections were the holy place and the most holy place. The tabernacle contained a veil that separated these two areas, and again, cherubs were embroidered on this veil. The cherub-covered veil hung as a reminder of the terrible consequences of sin.
Years after Israel entered the Promised Land, King Solomon led the construction of the permanent temple in Jerusalem to replace the portable tabernacle that had been used in the wilderness and early time in the Promised Land. Once again, cherubs adorn the temple in several places (1 Kings 6:23-30). Even as Israel comes to the temple of God, they are confronted with the harsh reality of the spiritual separation between God and man. Sin separates us from God.
This harsh separation is seen most clearly in the cherub-covered veil that was hung in the tabernacle and that was also hung in the temple. The most holy place of the temple was where God manifested His presence, but the ordinary Jew was not allowed to enter. The cherub-covered veil stood as a harsh reminder of the separation that sin had brought. Hebrews 9:7 says, “But into the second [section of the temple, the most holy place] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people.” Even the ordinary priests could not go into the most holy place. Only the high priest could go, and he could only go once a year. When he went, he had to go with a sacrifice; he was not allowed to go if he did not take this sacrifice. Some traditions say that the high priest would wear a bell on his ankle and have a rope tied to his ankle that went out through the veil into the other part of the temple. These were used in case God struck the high priest and killed him because of sin. If the bell stopped ringing for very long, the people outside figured that the priest was dead, so they would use the rope to pull him out (since they could not go into the most holy place themselves). In the Old Testament times, it could be a terrifying thing to seek the presence of the Lord, because sin brought separation between God and man. People could follow God and worship Him, but they did not have direct access to God because of sin. One of the most vivid reminders of the Cosmic Tragedy of sin was the veil that hung in the temple, covered by cherubs, reminding the people of their separation from God. But what would God do? Would that veil of separation remain forever?