Cherubim and a Flaming Sword
"And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten: Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil; and now lest he put forth his hand and partake also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, Therefore I, the Lord God, will send him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken; For as I, the Lord God, liveth, even so my words cannot return void, for as they go forth out of my mouth they must be fulfilled. So I drove out the man, and I placed at the east of the Garden of Eden, cherubim and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life." (Moses 4:28-31)
The way I have looked at this in the past is that God has placed something in our path to prevent access to salvation. Are we not all supposed to partake of the tree of life? If a cherubim is a messenger that has risen to a certain high level on Jacob's ladder, why would a true messenger prevent access to salvation? Isn't the tree a symbol of the Love of God?1 Isn't the Love of God the only thing that can save us from our sins? If that is the case why would a messenger prevent someone from the only means of obtaining salvation?
What does "turn every way" mean?
Was it a temporary block until Adam (we) had sufficient time to taste the bitter? If we couldn't immediately partake, then was he able to partake later at a time when we soften our hearts and decide we have had enough bitter? Perhaps some could partake after 14 years of bitterness and some have to wait decades, and all is dependent on the state of the individual spirit of the Father residing in each of us?
Antoniah asked Alma a similar question:
What is this that thou hast said, that man should rise from the dead and be changed from this mortal to an immortal state, that the soul can never die? What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever." (Alma 12:20-21)
I would encourage you, before you continue reading that you ask and find out yourself. Below is the answer to which I came.
A sword in the scriptures is used to symbolize the Word of God.2 The truth, or that which God speaks, is like a sword which divides asunder both joint and marrow. It pierces to the center.3 It feels like our life is ending. It cuts into lies like a physician's scalpel so that our wounds may be cleansed. What are our wounds? What is at the center of our being? We approach the tree of life and we must unavoidably meet the truth which we must face, otherwise we live forever in our sins, worlds without end, until we, at last, resolve to meet that cherubim. We must die as to our fallen state. Our false images of perfection must perish, our center must emerge.
This is that terror which kept the children of Israel off the mount4, the same terror which causes us to tremble to confront our own lies.
tribulation (n.) c. 1200, from Old French tribulacion (12c.), from Church Latin tribulationem (nominative tribulatio) "distress, trouble, affliction," noun of action from past participle stem of tribulare "to oppress, afflict," a figurative use by Christian writers of Latin tribulare "to press," also possibly "to thresh out grain," from tribulum "threshing sledge," from stem of terere "to rub" (see throw (v.)) + -bulum, suffix forming names of tools.
If you go through tribulation as wheat and other grain does to get to what is of value, the assumption is, that there is fruit in there. That is what you're after. You want to get rid of the useless hull and get to what you already know is good.
This is all very personal, and not something with which, if you experience in the least degree, can or want to use to beat someone over the head.
What is the cruft? What was it that originally separated us from God?
Do we come to choose mortality to gain experience with the bitter each time until at some point we have enough experience to only eat butter and honey? Is our biggest sin that we all commit, the denial of God? May the Tree of Life may also be called the Tree of Truth, the Tree of Love? Because the truth is, that God is Love and God is the Life and Light of men? If so, can the Tree of Knowledge also be called the Tree of Lies, the Tree of Death? Is "knowledge" only a byproduct of partaking of the Tree of Life's opposite?
When we are children we are pure and innocent. We had awareness. But as adults we are to return to God, having obtained wisdom. This seems to be what Moses understood when he experienced God and then Satan came attempting an imitation, he had the wisdom to know the difference.
Could it be true that we are all partaking of the Tree of Life every moment of our lives and just not realize it? Is every part of our being our cardiovascular system, our nervous system, every part of the air we breathe and every part of creation form a tree-like structure as it emanates from the source of Truth? The All-in all?5 If that is true, then what is it in us that constantly denies God? Is because we "know" so much?
Are the false images and idols that we worship the result of consuming the seed of lies? The first lie being we are unworthy, insufficient, loved conditionally which creates a tree of false knowledge? Do children cease being children because they believe the first lie? Is this what happened to Adam and Eve?
Is it this lack of love and acceptance that sprouts into so many ills and transgressions in the world?
If we have been deceived by the meaning of something as seeminly straightforward as Eternal Punishment, then what else, how many other teachings that we have learned have taken us down a strange path? What else do we need to forsake, what else do we need to grasp? Ezekiel 14 seems to say that it is entirely up to us to get it right.
1. "And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul." (1 Nephi 11:21-23)
2. "Behold, I am God; give heed unto my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my words." (D&C 6:2)
3. "And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven...it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake." (3 Nephi 11:3)
"...the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center." (1 Nephi 16:2)
"Yea, by the power of his voice, do the foundations rock, even to the very center." (Helaman 12:12)
"But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil—yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center." (D&C 10:56)
4. "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was." (Exodus 20:19-21)
Article: See that you are naked! Quick! Hide!
From Lecture 8:
"What did Joseph say about all the prophets of the Old Testament? He said they all held Melchizedek priesthood, and were all ordained by God Himself. They ministered in a society that was deficient, limited, excluded from the presence of God. But those who received and entertained angels were brought up to where they needed to be for redemption. God Himself ordained them. Should you not likewise have this same hope? Should you not rise up above the level of those who are content to have less? Should you not be willing to mount up on that fiery mountain? Despite the thunderings and lightnings, despite the earthquake; despite the fact you may not believe yourself to be worthy, you're still capable of coming aboard." (Lecture 8, A Broken Heart and Contrite Spirit)
From Lecture 1:
"First I want to read a passage from Job and misapply it, if you will. I want you to imagine that what I am reading is not merely a description of a mortal horse. What I am reading is a description of those horses which pull the chariot upon which Elijah ascended to heaven. This is the horse you need to ride in your quest for heaven. This is the way you to are to mount up:
'Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.' (Job 39:19-25)
"As the battle engages ride the horse. Not away, but toward the sound." (Lecture 1, Be of Good Cheer, Be of Good Courage)
"And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up." (Exodus 19:18-20)