וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן־עֵדֶן אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִים וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת לִשְׁמֹר אֶת־דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַֽחַיִּֽים
So He drove mankind out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the flaming, ever-turning sword along with the cherubim to prevent their return to the tree of life.
This verse constitutes the capstone of the story of man’s rejection of utopia for a mortal life of independence, struggle, and procreation. In this last scene, the cherubim and the flaming sword are the figurative expressions of the ancient theology that no earthly deed can or will reopen the gates of Eden. Mortal mankind will never be able to return to the idyllic life within God’s palatial garden on their own merit.
drove … out: the Hebrew verb, יְגָרֶשׁ (yəgaresh), is even harsher and more explicit than its counterpart in the previous verse (“expelled”). Imagine someone pointing to the door and saying, “go out!” That’s being expelled. Now, imagine that same person picking up a club and chasing the person away. That’s being driven out. These same two verbs are used in Exodus 6:1 in connection with the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt.
the flaming, ever-turning sword: the first of two protective measures taken by God that prevent Adam and Eve from ever returning to the garden. God seeks to prevent humans from ever regaining paradise and immortality.
the cherubim: these are not the chubby, angelic, winged infants so beloved by medieval artists. These are fierce, terrifying creatures thought to be members of God’s heavenly court. Note that the author uses the definite article (‘the’), suggesting that the audience would have been familiar with these creatures.
My translation conventions can be found here.
And-He-drove-out the-man. And-caused-to-dwell from-the-east to-the-garden-of-Eden with-the-kəruvim and-a-flame-of the-sword the-turning to-guard the-way the-tree-of the-living
And God drove the man out. And a flaming, spinning sword along with the Chrubims was placed on the east side of the garden of Eden to guard the way [back] to the tree of life.
Commercial Bible Translations
- (nas) After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
- (kjv) 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.
- (niv) After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
- (nlt) After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.