Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Throne of Glory; Mercy Seat of God

[Cherub among palm trees, similiar to the motif that decorated the interior of the Temple. Displayed at Bible Lands Museum, Israel. Image from www.mystae.com]

Among the furnishings in the Mishkan, none is more intriguing than the Ark of the Covenant and its Cherub figurines forming the "mercy seat" or throne from which God addressed Moses (Ex. 25). This earthly throne was really just a demut, a material form of the celestial seat of power, known as the Kisei Kavod, the Throne of Glory.

The Throne of Glory is the superstructure of the Cosmos[1]; it symbolizes the divine order and divine governance of creation. Along with the Torah, it embodies the divine plan:

Six things preceded the creation of the world. Some were actually created, and others came up only in God's thought as what was to be created:
Torah and the Throne of Glory were created.
The [eventual] creation of the [great] ancestors, Israel, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah came to God's mind. R. Ahavah son of R. Ze'era said: So, too, repentance. And some say: Also the Garden of Eden and Gehenna.
(Bereshit Rabbah 1)

The Throne is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Jer. 14:21, 17:12, Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 1:26, 10:1), but with little description. It (Ezek. 1:26) may be made of sapphire (making its co-equal with the heavens?), and/or it may be formed of living, numinous entities [probably Keruvim, Cherubs, but also possibly other numinous creatures - Hayyot, Serafim, and Ofanim] (ibid.), but little else is revealed in the Bible.

There are, however, many vivid descriptions of the Throne and its prominent features in post-Biblical literature. It is a celestial sky blue, the same blue that is part of the fringes an Israelite must wear. Another Midrash calls it chashmal, amber. Made of half fire, half hail, it hovers in the air, is 800,000 parsangs in length and 500,000 in width – and that is calculated in the parsang of heaven, which is 2000 cubits of the length of God’s arm
(PdRE 3, 4, 6; BhM 2:25, 41-46).

The angel Sandalfon stands over the Throne, weaving the prayers of Israel into God’s crown. Four Princes surround the Throne: Michael (right), Gabriel (left), Uriel (in front), and Raphael (behind). Other texts describe myriads of armies of angels arrayed around it. The earth is the footstool of God’s throne.

There is one tradition that there are actually two thrones, the Throne of Strict Justice and the Throne of Mercy. When Israel prays for forgiveness, it moves God to leave the first and sit in the second (Sanh. 38b).

When sitting upon the Throne in judgment, God is draped in a supernal robe of purple inscribed with the names of the martyrs of Israel (Mid. Teh. 4:12), inspiring God to be compassionate toward Israel for their sakes. The Throne is also inscribed with the image of the patriarch Jacob. Thus the Throne, like God’s tefillin, represents the metaphysical bond of the people Israel to the Godhead (Hekhalot Zutarti). This passage, also from Hekhalot Literature, describes God addressing the ascendant adept:

Give testimony to them of what you see by Me, of what I have done to the face of Jacob, your father, which I have engraved on the Throne of my Glory (Hekhalot Rabbati)

The idea that Jacob’s image is inscribed on God’s throne, that Israel is the centerpiece, the chief mechanism for the unfolding of God’s kingdom, appears several times in different genres of Jewish writing, not just esoteric texts:

And (Jacob) dreamed. And note, a ladder was fixed on the earth;and its head reached to the height of the heavens.And note, the angels who had come with him from his father's house ascended to bear good news to the angels on high, saying:--"Come and see a just man!" The one whom you desired to see,whose image is engraved on the Throne of Glory!" And, note, the angels from before the Eternal were ascending and descending and they looked at him.
(Targum Neofiti, Gen. 28:1)

Learn more. The EJMMM is available at amazon.com. Click here - http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050/sr=1-1/qid=1159997117/ref=sr_1_1/002-7116669-7231211?ie=UTF8&s=books

[1] Hekhalot Rabbati, which offers a poetic meditation on the Throne, calls it a meon, a “dwelling,” and a keli chemdah, a “precious vessel.”


Blogger Zeke said...

Shalom Rabbi Dennis,

Any book about Hekhalot literature would you recommend?

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At Marquette some of us believe this tradition underlies Jesus' words to Nicodemus in John's Gospel, "You will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.", i.e., Christ is claiming to be the One whose image is engraved on the Merkabsh.

4:47 PM  

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