Poole on Revelation 4:7: The Four Living Creatures, Part 2

Verse 7:[1] (Num. 2:2, etc.; Ezek. 1:10; 10:14) And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.



[The first living creature, etc.] The figures of the living Creatures agree with the similitude of the Vision of Ezekiel, except that there the individual living Creatures have four distinct faces, here the individuals have only individual faces (Pareus). Now, these living creatures, each one in its own kind, hold the supremacy, the Lion among wild beasts, the Ox among cattle, Man among living creatures, the Eagle among birds; and each has its peculiar excellence: the Lion, strength and loftiness of spirit, Isaiah 31:4; the Ox or Calf, labor and endurance, Deuteronomy 33:17; Proverbs 14:4; Man, prudence and moderation, Daniel 4:16; 7:4; Hosea 11:4; the Eagle, clarity of vision and swiftness, Isaiah 40:31; Jeremiah 4:13; 48:40 (Cluverus). [Question: What then do these four living Creatures denote?] Response 1: Four singular persons (certain interpreters). [Which, nevertheless, they do not explain in one way.] The four Evangelists (certain interpreters in Pererius, Ribera, Napier, Cluverus), by whom, nevertheless, they explain these living Creatures in diverse ways (Pererius). Respect here is had, either, to the beginnings or titles of the Gospels (Napier, Ribera), by which the Books are distinguished, as living Creatures are by faces (Napier): or, to the singular gifts of the Evangelists (Cluverus). Matthew, therefore (according to the common exposition [Ribera, Pererius]), is signified in the man, for, as if he would describe a man, he begins, The Book of the generation of Jesus Christ: Mark in the lion, for he begins from the crying of John in the desert, as if from the roaring of a Lion: Luke in the calf, the animal most suitable for sacrifices, for he begins from the Priesthood of Zacharias: John in the eagle, on account of his lofty introduction, In the beginning was the Word, etc. (Ribera, similarly Napier). Others: the four Apostles, that is, those that were present in the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15, namely, Peter, verse 7, and (although not there named) John, Galatians 2:9, Paul and Barnabas (Hammond). Others: I do not doubt that the Lion here is Peter, placed on account of the supremacy in front of the throne, fervent of soul: שׁוֹר/ox, which the Septuagint often translates μόσχον,[2] calf or ox, and which signifies Patience, designates James the brother of the Lord: Man, who goes before the other living things in excellence, designates Matthew, who is said to have remained in Judea for a long time. Πρόσωπον/face, like פְּנֵי in Ezekiel,[3] is all that which falls into view, not the face only: The Eagle signifies the swiftness of the ministry; which is certainly proper to Paul, who was frequently at Jerusalem, and rightly [is said to be] πετώμενος/flying, for he was often in swift travel (Grotius). But this is a figment, contrived without any foundation, and the applications are inept and trivial. For why is Peter, who denied our Lord because of fear, to be held as the Lion, rather than Paul, etc. (More’s Synchronistic Rationale of the Apocalyptic Visions 5:6:183). [These things concerning the first opinion.] Response 2: They correspond to the fourfold truth of the Gospel, which is the power of God,[4] which the lion denotes; the subject of which is Christ, who was made for us true man, and a sacrifice (of which the calf is a type), and, after the likeness of an eagle, He came from heaven. We say that these draw together into one, with the order preserved, that the Gospel is the power of God in the death of the heavenly man (Forbes). Response 3: This glorious session of the Divine Majesty is illustrated by the arrangement of the Encampment of the people of Israel, which was distributed into four parts, and each part was under a banner or Ensign, namely, of the Lion in the East; of the Ox in the West; of the Man in the South; of the Eagle in the North (More’s Synchronistic Rationale of the Apocalyptic Visions 5:6:183 out of Mede). Thus the most learned of the Hebrews explain this Hieroglyphic: By the Slowness of the Ox, the Anger of the Lion, the Swiftness of the Eagle, and the Benignity of Man, is represented God, which sort He constantly was to the Jews, even when He came to execute vengeance, slow to anger, and swift to mercy (Hammond). These living Creatures denote four attributes of divine providence. For this is strong, like a Lion; swift and penetrating, like an Eagle; pleasant and amiable, like a Man; longsuffering and patient, like an Ox (Menochius, similarly Pererius). Response 4: As by the Throne of God the Ark with the propitiatory was signified, so also the four living Creatues signify the four Cherubs of the Temple, which were surrounding the Ark; which also were signifying four principal, heavenly Spirits, administrators of Divine Providence in the government of the world and Church, especially fit for that duty, as it is shadowed forth by these similitudes (Pererius). By the lion is signified in the Angels the vigor, excellence, and majesty of God terrible to enemies (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:3:6:770), strength and loftiness of spirit (Gomar, similarly Pererius): By the ox or calf, obedience (Pererius), tameness and tolerance of labor (Gomar), and constancy in the service of God (Pererius, similarly Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals): By the man, prudence (Pererius, Gomar), love of the human race (Pererius, Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals), and of the salvation of the elect (Pererius), humanity, lenience: By the eagle, the vigor of heavenly nature, agility, exertion after sublimities (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals), the greatest swiftness (Pererius, thus Gomar) in the execution of the commandments of God (Pererius). Moreover, of these living Creatures, two were wild, the lion and the eagle, and two were tame, the man and the ox: the former, so that they might terrify rebels; the latter, so that they might be for a consolation to the pious (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:3:6:770). Response 5: These diverse forms or appearances denote the specific virtues of distinguished Teachers (Pareus), and the diverse gifts with which the same Spirit imbues them, according to 1 Corinthians 12:4, etc. (Durham), thus giving bountifully to all, yet so that diversity is conspicuous in individuals, and thus the wisdom of the Divine dispensation declared (Forbes). In Ezekiel 1 where the Cherubs are described, all these properties and perfections are in the individuals; but here, where this is applied to the Ministers of the Gospel, all are given, not to each one, but to all (Durham), and are assigned distributively (Forbes). By these figures, therefore, are denoted the fortitude, zeal, and boldness of some Ministers, which sort is of the lion; the humility, diligence, patience, constancy of others, which sort is of the ox; the prudence and wisdom of others, which sort is of the man; the penetrating vision of others in searching heavenly mysteries, after the likeness of a flying eagle. Yet these individual properties are not thus attributed to individuals, as if they were absent from the rest (Durham, similarly Forbes), which absence is certainly not able to agree with the celebrated virtues of those (Forbes); but because some properties in some excel by the exercise of them, etc. (Durham).



And the first beast, etc.:It is observed concerning these four living creatures, (for so they were, not beasts in a strict sense, as it is opposed to flying things, for the fourth was a fowl:) 1. That they were the same mentioned in Ezekiel’s vision, Ezekiel 1:10; only each one there is said to have had the four faces of these creatures, here each one had a single face proper to it. 2. That these were the four creatures whose portraitures were in the four ensigns of the Israelites as they were marshalled into four companies, allotting the men of three tribes to each company. Judah’s standard had a lion in its colours, according to Jacob’s prophecy of that tribe, Genesis 49:9, Ephraim had an ox, Reuben had a man, Dan an eagle. This the learned Mede proves from the Rabbins, who, though fabulous enough, yet in such a thing may be credited. It is also thought they answered the four cherubims in the temple. Question: But what is signified by these four living creatures? Solution: Some say the four evangelists; others, four apostles, etc. But certainly they judge best who say, that by them is signified the various gifts with which God blesseth his ministers, giving to some more courage and fortitude, that they are like lions; to others more mildness and meekness, that they are like oxen or calves; others have more wisdom and prudence, which most adorn a man; others a more piercing insight into the mysteries of God’s kingdom, rendering them like eagles.

[1] Greek: καὶ τὸ ζῶον τὸ πρῶτον ὅμοιον λέοντι, καὶ τὸ δεύτερον ζῶον ὅμοιον μόσχῳ, καὶ τὸ τρίτον ζῶον ἔχον τὸ πρόσωπον ὡς ἄνθρωπος, καὶ τὸ τέταρτον ζῶον ὅμοιον ἀετῷ πετωμένῳ. [2] Revelation 4:7a: “And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf (μόσχῳ)…[3] Ezekiel 1:10: “As for the likeness of their faces (פְּנֵיהֶם), they four had the face (פְּנֵי) of a man, and the face (וּפְנֵי) of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face (וּפְנֵי) of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face (וּפְנֵי) of an eagle.[4] See 1 Corinthians 1:18.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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