3 Nephi 10:3-6 — LeGrand Baker — under the cherubim wings
3 And it came to pass that there came a voice again unto the people, and all the people did hear, and did witness of it, saying:
4 O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
5 And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.
6 O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.
I grew up on a farm where we had chickens and all sorts of other animals. The hens had an interesting relationship with their little ones. When the chicks were old enough to learn to scratch, he would take them to likely place, cluck and then start to scratch the dirt. They would come and pick in the freshly overturned dirt for what bugs and worms they could find there. Those who got behind her at the wrong angle were scooped off the ground by her fast moving feet and tossed head over heels like a little fuzzy ball. It didn’t hurt them and they were soon up and at it again, but they had learned something important about those feet.
One day I heard her squawk loudly, this was not a loving clucking sound. She squatted down, lifted her wings. The chicks, almost as one, fled to the cover of her wings. She settled down protectively over their little bodies and raised all her feathers giving her the appearance of being twice as big as she really was. She was looking toward the sky and my eyes followed hers. There was a hawk making a wide circle around the farm yard. We both watched, the hen and I, until the hawk flew away. Then she made a gentle cluck and the little ones came out from under her wings, scattering themselves about to find whatever bugs looked good to eat.
I was out in the yard one cloudy day when I heard her squawk again. This one was different. It seemed to lack the sense of panic but it was severe and not to be misunderstood. Again the chicks ran to their squatting mother and tucked themselves under her outstretched wings. This time when she settled herself over them, she folded here feathers down flat against her body like a shield and ducked her head under a wing. I was surprised when the hail began to fall all around me. Some hit the chicken and bounced off of her tightened wings. I wasn’t so interested that I wanted to wait and see what happened next, but made a dash to the house to get out of the storm. I did not know that the hail was coming, but that wise mother hen knew just what to expect.
For many years after that, when I read what the Savior said about being invited under the wings, I remembered those scenes and thought that was what he was referring to. Perhaps he was, but now I think that was not the only thing he was trying to say, and it probably was not even the thing the Nephits were thinking about when they heard his words.
In the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple — and since the Nephite temples were patterned after Solomon’s, this would have been true of Nephite temples also — the throne representing the throne of God sat against the back wall. It was overshadowed by the wings of two large cherubim. I think that when he spoke to the Nephites, the Savior was inviting them, as sacral kings and priests, to sit upon that throne under the security of those wings. Stephen and I discussed that in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. This is what we wrote:
At the conclusion of the coronation ceremony of the ancient Israelite Feast of Tabernacles temple drama, the veil of the temple was parted the king entered the Holy of Holies, the most sacred of all earthly sacred space. It, like its predecessor in the Tabernacle, was a perfect cube. It contained no furniture except a throne on the back wall.
In the Tabernacle, Moses had built a small prototype of God’s throne on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, with two Cherubim whose wings stretched over the invisible throne, called the Mercy Seat. Below the lid, in the Ark itself, he placed the stone tablets on which the Lord had written the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron which was a symbol of his priesthood, and a jar of manna which represented the bread of life—the law (kingship), the staff (priesthood), and the bread of life (power of salvation).
Solomon’s Temple throne was like that, but much larger. In the Temple’s Holy of Holies, on either side of the throne were two great golden cherubim. Their wings touched the sides of the walls and made a kind of canopy that stretched over the throne; over whoever sat upon that throne; and over the Ark of the Covenant which now sat in front of the throne as its footstool (1 Kings 6:24, 8:6-7). The phrases that God “dwellest between the cherubims (Psalm 80:1 and Isaiah 37:16), and “sitteth between the cherubims” (Psalm 99:1), are references to God sitting on his throne, either in his heavenly or in his earthly temple.
The throne was patterned after a chariot (1 Chronicles 28:1-21), representing God’s ability to move among the clouds, and the symbolism of cherubim’s overshadowing wings represented the powerful wings of the celestial cherubim, upon whose majesty God himself is also said to have ridden. For, “he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind” (Psalm 18:10 and 2 Samuel 22:11). And upon whose wings he invites his children to ride also. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Josephus’s description of the interior of the Temple is the most complete. He writes:
“Now when the king had divided the temple into two parts, he made the inner house of twenty cubits every way, to be the most secret chamber, but he appointed that of forty cubits to be the sanctuary; and when he had cut a door-place out of the wall, he put therein doors of Cedar, and overlaid them with a great deal of gold, that had sculptures upon it. He also had veils of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and the brightest and softest linen, with the most curious flowers wrought upon them, which were to be drawn before those doors. He also dedicated for the most secret place, whose breadth was twenty cubits, and length the same, two cherubim of solid gold; the height of each of them was five cubits they had each of them two wings stretched out as far as five cubits; wherefore Solomon set them up not far from each other, that with one wing they might touch the southern wall of the secret place [the Holy of Holies], and with another the northern: their other wings, which joined to each other, were a covering to the ark, which was set between them; but nobody can tell, or even conjecture, what was the shape of these cherubim. He also laid the floor of the temple with plates of gold; and he added doors to the gate of the temple, agreeable to the measure of the height of the wall, but in breadth twenty cubits, and on them he glued gold plates. And, to say all in one word, he left no part of the temple, neither internal nor external, but what was covered with gold. He also had curtains drawn over these doors in like manner as they were drawn over the inner doors of the most holy place; but the porch of the temple had nothing of that sort” (History of the Jews 8:3).
It was there, in the Holy of Holies, at the throne of God, that the final scenes of the festive drama were conducted.
The cherubim who surround the celestial throne of God are represented as having wings, by Isaiah (6:2), Ezekiel (1:6-11), Daniel (7:4-6), and John (Revelation 4). But we were told by the Prophet Joseph that “wings are a representation of power, to move, to act, etc.” (D&C 77:4). That is also probably a way of describing their priesthood power.
Because the throne and its overshadowing wings were symbolic of the reality and power of priesthood and kingship, they were also symbolic of the invitation to receive the gift of eternal life. The Savior used that symbolism repeatedly, as a lament addressed to those who would not accept the invitation. He said:
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
(Matthew 23:37, see Luke 13:34, 3 Nephi 10:4-6, D&C 43:24).
And also as a promise to those who would:
2 [The Savior] will gather his people even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, even as many as will hearken to my voice and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer (D&C 29:2, see 10:65).
Nephi’s statement, resounding as it does with the clarity of the ancient enthronement ordinances, is a testimony of the validity of those ordinances, and an example of their fulfilment:
25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them (2 Nephi 4:25).
The wings have a further and expected symbolism. It is the association of the ideas of enthronement with the promise of security and peace, as Nephi prophesied
Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name (2 Nephi 25:13).
After his ordination and anointing, the king was a living messiah—not the “Messiah,” but rather a “messiah,” meaning an anointed one, a king of righteousness, and the legitimate “son” and heir of God. He had been crowned with a “crown of pure gold” and accepted God’s invitation to sit upon his own throne in the earthly Temple. Mowinckel observes,
We know that Solomon had furnished the Temple with an (empty) cherub’s throne, which was certainly understood to be the throne of Yahweh. In the very old Psalm 110 Yahweh is the king, sitting on his throne and offering to his ‘son’, the earthly king, the seat of honor at his right side. In the likewise very old Psalm 68 the worshiper calls Yahweh ‘his king and his god.’ ( Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 1:125)