Typically, wings in the Bible are appendages of birds (Genesis 1:21), so much so that “winged-thing” (substantive of kanaph) becomes a synonym for bird (cf. Genesis 7:14; bird is ‘oph). Bird wings are mentioned in the rite for the ascension offering from birds (Leviticus 1:17).

The earth’s four corners are sometimes described as “wings” (Isaiah 11:12; 24:16; Ezekiel 7:2). Perhaps the world itself is being pictured as a four-winged flying thing.

Human beings have “wings” when they put on clothes. The wing of a garment is the corner of a four-cornered robe, and each Israelite was to have a tassel with a blue cord on each of the wings of his robe, becoming a four-winged creatures (Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12). They were a nation of cherubim, winged like Yahweh their Father, winged to fly up into His presence. The Spirit “hovers” like a bird (Genesis 1:2), and appears as a dove. Clothed in their winged robes, Israelites were images of the winged Spirit.

All society and culture emerges from under the overcoat. Boaz brought Ruth under the wing of his garment, a sign of marriage (Ruth 2:12; 3:9; cf. Ezekiel 16:8) that reflects back on Yahweh’s covering of Israel with wings. 

Not only marriage, but politics is a product of enrobement, which means en-wingment. A robe represents authority, and so an assault on the wing of the king’s robe is an assault on the king (1 Samuel 24:4-5, 11).

Naked, human beings are earth-bound. Clothed, we put on wings. Clothing being the first layer of culture, and clothing being winged, we may conclude: Culture raises human beings from earth to heaven. We may also say: Robes elevate because; trousers keep us tied to earth. Trousers cannot make us soar.

Wings are important in Israel’s religious symbolism. In the temple, the cherubim on the ark had wings, but Solomon added winged cherubim who spread their wings across the Most Holy Place over the ark-throne (1 Kings 6:24-27; 2 Chronicles 3:11-13; 5:7-8). David’s desire in the Psalms to find refuge in the shadow of Yahweh’s wings is apparently a reference directly to this (Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4). David’s refuge is Yahweh’s throne. This too has marital overtones. David longs to be covered by the wing of Yahweh’s glory-garment, which is over His throne. A man’s man, David is a woman before Yahweh, and longs for the protection of His strong arms and His robe.

Yahweh the eagle who hovers over Israel (Exodus 19:4) is also Yahweh the Husband covering His bride with the wing of His garment, also Yahweh the Spirit hovering over the dark tohu.

More on: Bible

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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