Developing some observations and ideas from James Jordan’s lectures and writings on Revelation.
Cherubim have four faces: ox (sometimes calf), lion, eagle, man. And from Ezekiel we learn that these four faces correspond to the four points of the compass: The ox stands at the east and looks west, the eagle is south and looks north, the lion is west and looks east, the man at the north and looks south. Because of these positions on the compass, we can deduce connections between the four cherubim and the main pieces of tabernacle/temple furniture: The ox at the east corresponds to the altar of ascensions, the eagle at the south to the lampstand, the lion to the west with the ark, and the man to the north with the table of show bread.
These cherubim faces appears in different orders in different places in Scripture.
At times, the order is ox, lion, eagle, man. That is one order of prayer. You begin with the ox-altar, with sacrifice; ascend to the lion-throne; from the throne you move to the eagle-light; and you end with the man at the table. This provides a rudimentary liturgical order: Confession and absolution is the action at the ox-altar; having been absolved, we ascend to sit enthroned, an ascent through song; sitting enthroned we receive the word from the ark that gives us light and makes our eyes burn; we end at the table with bread and wine from the Man who is host. As we pass through the liturgical order, we are remade into human cherubim: Living ox-sacrifices, ruling lions, shining eagles, men who show hospitality at our tables.
At other times, the liturgical sequence is different. In Numbers 7, the tribes present their offerings to the tabernacle from east to south to west to north; that is, ox-altar, eagle-lamp, lion-throne, man-table. We again begin at the altar and end at the table, but the two inner faces are switched. That provides a complementary perspective to the prior order: God provides a sacrifice for cleansing, then oil to lighten us, then enthrones us, and finally offers us food. We begin with ox-sacrifice, receive illumination at the eagle-lamp, and so become enthroned lions and table hosts.In Revelation 4, John sees the faces in this order: lion, ox, man, eagle. In terms of tabernacle furniture, that means the appear as ark, altar, table, lampstand. That is the order in which the living creatures call out in Revelation 6, as the summon the four horses as the first four seals are broken. This is the order of conquest and evangelism. Conquest begins with the leonine white horse. The sacrificial altar-ox is not the first stage of conquest/evangelism but the second, a consequence of the leonine proclamation of the kingdom. The leonine gospel proclamation is followed by a sacrificial division between those who accept the message of the kingdom and those who reject it. From here, we move to the man-table, but in Revelation 6 the table is divided: Wheat and barley are scarce, while oil and wine are available. Famine of some foods, or for some; rich foods are available, at least for some. This, I think, follows the division that comes with the sacrificial red horse: On one side of the divide is famine, on the other side is abundance. Then follow world-unraveling judgments that are implicitly associated with the eagle, though in these judgments the people who receive the message of the kingdom are sealed and protected.
The church’s life can be viewed in terms of these different cherubic ordered. Gathered as a liturgical assembly, we move through the first sequence: ox-altar, lion-throne, eagle-lamp, man-table. Having been enthroned, illumined, and fed, we are sent out as a conquering cherubic host, but that takes place in a different order: With a gospel from the throne (lion), that divides (ox) and causes famine to those who refuse the message (man) and finally untunes the world so that a new one can be made (eagle).