The flaming sword

Gen 3:24
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.

Was the flaming sword understood as wielded by the cherubim? Or was it an entity of itself?
The way the text is it seemingly supports the latter?

Im just not sure how to look at it!:sweat_smile:

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Every angel who belongs to the legions of led by the archangel Michael, carries a flaming sword. Michael is called the Power of God, but he is not alone in this task. His angles guard the boarder between Heaven and Hell with a sword that can destroy an angel or a demon. Divine fire is the only thing that can damage or destroy immortal, spiritual beings, thus the only thing to hold the inhabitants of Hell back.

This is not in the Bible, and this comes from various inspired texts that describe the realms of Heaven.

The flaming sword could be an entity in itself as it appeared in a symbolic way in other cultures:

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I suspect the mythology inspired Tolkien with the elvish blades that glowed when orcs were near.

It would be interesting to know what meaning it had in the ANE context, though I suspect it symbolizes the separation from close communion with God and exile from paradise. If the text was finalized during or shortly after the exile, it would be especially poignant to Israel at that time.


The Jewish Study Bible, which uses the Jewish Publication Society TANAKH translation, translates Gen 3:24 in this way:

“He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

This translation makes it sound as if the sword is a separate entity. Don’t know if that helps, though, because that would mean there are two types of guardian to figure out instead of just one.

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Armor, (even all its distinct parts no less!) including the sword is used for various metaphorical representations in the new testament (the Word being a sword of division, or also what literally issues from the mouth of the returning king in Revelation). Most bible believers of all different stripes have no trouble accepting that we are not speaking of physical swords in these contexts, so it remains (in my view) an inconsistency on their part if they have trouble accepting the use of metaphor in Genesis.


I’m not really sure what the “fiery ever-turning sword” represents, though I have no difficulty with metaphor or allegory in Genesis. @Totti was asking if the cherubim and the sword are two different “entities.” The Jewish translation lends support to the two-entity interpretation, though this leads to more questions and debate, of course.

Totti… Good question.The point of the whole verse is that the man was not just sent out on an errand, but was booted out — given the old heave-ho — don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out…altogether a most disconcerting image. The verb for “driving out” also is translated as “expelled” or elsewhere as “divorce.” Not a pleasant moment in human history…Actions have consequences…

As for the flaming sword — or “the flame of a revolving sword,” as some have it ----“a revolving or zigzagging sword, especially one wielded by angels, is one that is sure to hit and bring death,” per description in Word Biblical Commentary. The NICOT puts “the fiery whirling sword” in the hands of cherubim who guard east of the garden of Eden to prevent reentry by humanity — just as in the later temple, the Levites are posted as temple guards to strike down any who approach “the forbidden sancta (num 1:51,53).”

The text and commentaries seem to see the sword as something held by cherubim and representing the holiness or presence of God, but that presence is especially indicated in judgment (per WBC). So it seems that the flaming sword represented the judgment of God, showing humanity the door and ensuring that he/she not return. Thus, whether or not the sword was an entity in and of itself — not sure how you are taking it. An entity of judgment, evidently yes…but held by cherubim of some sort in order to prevent Adam and Eve from returning on their own…

Or perhaps preventing Adam and Eve from returning until they understood why their choices were so unacceptable to God? The way to the tree of life was guarded, but the land outside the Garden of Eden must surely be seen as part of God’s good Creation, despite God’s promises of pain, thorns, and thistles for the son and daughter who put love of knowledge ahead of relationship with God.

It’s been observed that when one habituates themselves into doing good deeds, it get easier - or perhaps “less hard” as those paths become well worn and you take them more often. But when you embark on a path of evil, the thickets and brambles close in behind you so that when you want to turn around and find your way back … it’s a fight no matter which direction you go. This beautifully illustrates how after we’ve pursued a life of evil, there is no simple “undoing” or “going back”. For a while every choice around you is evil. It is simple to such a person, “well, just stop doing evil things!” but the reality is many people, even if they get those moments are stuck trying to choose among evil options.

It seems to me like the barred return option is a reflection of this observation about humanity; the Genesis version of “Pandora’s Box” if you will.

Well…the idea of the Garden of Eden is that this is/was where Adam and Eve had a sort of fellowship with God (“in the cool of the evening…”) that you and I are somewhat envious of — but cannot have. Actions have consequences. The consequences of their actions were more than they had imagined and more than they could resolve on their own…

That is why they, and we, have needed a Savior…

All those people writing books and telling us they “saw God and know what He looks like”? That is us fantasizing — but we fantasize because (evidently) that is what humanity once (long ago) had and were meant to have but lost. We have been adrift ever since. Actions have consequences. That is, no one sees God face to face these days…Yes, outside the Garden the land was part of God’s good Creation…but fellowship with God in the way that Adam and Eve once had it, that was lost…And I would not say they put love of knowledge ahead of relationship with God. They disobeyed God on the one thing He had forbidden them to have. This was something other than “love of knowledge” – in light of all the consequences it brought. If you were told by others that sticking a wet finger in a lighted electrical socket would kill you, and you did it anyway — would you be called “a lover of knowledge”? Had “a lot of intellectual curiosity”? Or “dead and stupid — and after the funeral, why not we check out that little Italian restaurant I have seen on the square?”

I agree with you. I really do. I know how difficult it is when all you can see is the thickets and brambles that have grown around you from the seeds you’ve planted.

I do believe with all my heart, though, that what set Jesus’ teachings apart from everybody else’s teachings was his belief that you can struggle your way back to the Garden of Eden. It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably the hardest thing a human being can do. But knowing that God will forgive you and help you slowly push through the thorns is profoundly humbling and transformative.

I know that Christian orthodoxy has come to view the Garden of Eden narrative as a cautionary “one-way ticket” tale, but it’s worth noting that Judaism views Genesis 2-3 less starkly – not as the final word in divine-human relationships, but as the beginning of a journey of redemption.

I like a lot of what you said there too - embracing the struggle. Wanting to see grace as a free ticket to a life of spiritual ease is one of the places that the church (or at least many religious adherents in it) have missed the boat. If I read you right - you are pushing a corrective to that.

I see a parallel with the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s like Jesus sees us lost deep in the thickets of all our evil and actually joins us there, telling us: “yes, I know you don’t know your way out of all this. Just watch what I do and then follow me when you can. It’s not going to be easy. In fact I’m going to go in exactly the last direction you want to choose - where it looks bleakest. Trust me. I’m about to open up the door for you there.”


I do like the brambles and thickets idea — though not when I personally have to hike through them myself! Or slog through them…

But biblically, at least initially, that journey toward redemption was to be found in the coming of a Messiah…not simply slogging through brambles and thickets…Jesus’ teachings were a declaration that He was/is the Messiah prophesied by the prophets and sent by God to pay the price for humanity’s sins.

This is one way of interpreting Genesis 2-3, and it’s probably the majority Christian interpretation: Adam and Eve disobeyed God (no doubt about that), so disobedience is the choice that will get you kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But there are other layers within Genesis 2-3. There’s the strand about the seductive power of knowledge in the absence of Life to balance the knowledge; the betrayal of God’s trust for the sake of achieving wisdom; the complete lack of humbleness and regret on Adam and Eve’s part; the sudden willingness (after obtaining knowledge) to blame other people for their own mistakes; their lack of remorse and lack of apology; and their belief (after talking to the snake, whom I believe represents pre-Socratic philosophy) that they have “the Right to be Right.” These are the kinds of choices people continue to make to this day, choices that separate us from God and prevent us from hearing God’s guidance.

I’m sorry, but I just find this image of God so depressing. The God I know is radiantly loving, but is also the parent who expects everyone to take responsibility for their own choices and to learn from their own mistakes (which is something Adam and Eve most definitely refuse to do). Adam and Eve wanted all the “rights” of being in the Garden without accepting any of the responsibilities. So God kicked them out until they learned that relationship with God means more than just having pure knowledge.

Yes, this is exactly what I mean. Thank you for putting it so well.


Yes, this is definitely one major strand of thought in the Bible. But it’s not the only strand. The footnotes of the Jewish Study Bible say this with regard to Gen 3:22-24: “In Judaism, the estrangement caused by the innate human appetite for evil does not require an act of messianic redemption to be healed. Rather, the practice and study of Torah renew intimacy with the God of Israel and lead to eternal life.”

The Book of Job is also a major strand within the Hebrew Scriptures that speaks to a different redemptive path than the Messiah pathway.

God bless,

That’s interesting. I think there is room for a lot of different “thoughts” on the matter of the Garden of Eden — especially since the story is so bare bones. But some “thoughts” are just good thoughts and maybe helpful or perhaps raise questions of another sort. If “the betrayal of God’s trust for the sake of achieving wisdom” is part of the Genesis 2—3 event, does this imply that God is adverse to us being informed or wanting to be?

Was wanting knowledge the problem? Had they not been allowed, somehow, to name all the animals and so on, at least according to the text? Had they not been granted daily conversations with God who created them and came to speak with them? Presumably some of those conversations allowed for exchanges of information? This is presumptuous, of course, but conversations tend to include information of various kinds at some point.

If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” as was much later written, then what was seductive about the knowledge they sought elsewhere? If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” was the lack of that fear in pursuing this other path at all wise? If what this serpent said was, “Has God said—?” or “God knows that in the day you eat thereof …” was this “being” (whatever he looked like) pointing toward knowledge – or had he some other goal?

And why did this act of disobedience, if it was a search for knowledge, get them kicked out of the garden at all?

If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” then perhaps what Adam and Eve did – in showing no fear of God at all — had nothing at all to do with knowledge, but was rather like deciding to stick their fingers in a live electric socket to see if it really would kill them — or had they just been told an old wives’ tale? Was their act an act of seeking knowledge? or was it foolish and stupid — never mind an act of disobedience — because they listened to one who really DID want them to suffer harm (of the sort that would happen if you stuck your wet finger in a live socket) rather than listening to the One Who really did have wsdom?

We could go on with this…though, at this point, we are off track from “the flaming sword” description. In that description, the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions were severe and are experienced by us today…

Is there room for seeing “complete lack of humbleness and regret on Adam and Eve’s part” — especially if the first thing (seemingly) is that Adam, if not Eve, blamed it all on that silly woman that God had so thoughtfully — or thoughtlessly(?) given Adam. Was the blame game a result of receiving knowledge? or was it a refusal to take responsibility? or was it part of some moments of confusion and realization that a huge mistake had been made, and if only —!! If only she had not ----!! Can this not be seen as regret? Adam seems to have regretted something, even if it was verbalized in resentment towards Eve and God’s decision to create her.

As for depression as a reaction to the idea that fellowship with God was lost as Adam and Eve once had it…there is a case to be made for that being depressing to us. We are stuck… or so it seems. The Levites guarding the sanctuary of the Temple was a “picture” of what had happened in the Garden when humanity was separated from their Creator due to rebellion. The “non-depressing” part of it was that God Himself is and always has been actively making a way back for us — and that way comes through the payment of our debt to God, a debt which we ourselves cannot repay (since we are hardly perfect…“there is none who is righteous, no not one” and similar verses. …

OK…I have gone on too long. But the debt was paid by God Himself. To me, this ultimately is hardly depressing ---- though it may be humiliating since it does not come from any sort of human effort — we cannot live up to it — but from the actions of Creator God alone…

You’ve raised some excellent points. I don’t think God is averse to human beings being informed – far from it. But knowledge and wisdom have to be balanced by empathy, conscience, and common sense.

We have tons of examples in today’s news that point out the dangers of having knowledge without empathy, conscience, and common sense. My guess is that God wants us to seek the necessary balance – even though it means our faith must be a thinking faith rather than a blind faith.

God bless.

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Hope we addressed your original query