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The first living being

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was like a lion, 

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the second one

was like a bull calf,

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the third

had the face of a man,

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and the fourth

was like a flying eagle.


The first representative of its type of living beings was the most respected member of all wild land animals, the second was the most highly valued of the domesticated animals, the third demonstrated the inner qualities of mankind, and the fourth was the most honored of all the birds.



In Scripture, whenever there is such a listing, those things mentioned are representatives of their category. It is not about them specifically, but about what they represent. Since four means “all” they are intended to represent all categories of created beings even though technically some things, like fish and insects, are not included. Such a technicality does not matter here, it is symbolism and we lose its impact if we over-analyze it.

2: Why these four living beings?

The representatives of each category are what we might call the leaders, the authority figures, the best or most honored of that grouping of created beings. The submission, reverence and obedience that the “leaders” of each category bring to the One sitting on the throne are a symbolic indication that all of creation will worship and obey God, for He alone is worthy.

3: “Bull calf”

The Greek word used here means a “young male bovine, or a bull calf.” Why was a young bull the most highly esteemed of the domesticated animals? The use of the ox to represent domesticated animals was quite common, we might even say universal, in ancient times. It was something that everyone knew, and it was much more valuable than a sheep. Camels were also valuable but they had a bad reputation since they can be hard to handle. Camels are useful only for one thing, traversing long distances across arid land. Oxen were useful in several ways, including the fact that members of the bovine kind could be eaten, while camels could not be. The camel was an unclean animal, while the ox was considered clean.


The facial expressions demonstrated what was in someone’s heart. Favor and sympathy, anger and hatred, were all seen in the face; therefore, the face became a symbol for one’s inner qualities.

Man as the Representative of Mankind

I treat this entry a little differently than the rest because it seems to merit a change. The Lion may be the king of beasts, but when it comes to men, the Bible is the source of the idea that “all men are created equal.” Rich men are not any better than poor men. In God’s eyes all are on the same level. In this case, unlike the animals mentioned, he is just another man, not a man of greater honor than other men. He is not a man in authority over other men; he is just a man.

Indeed, it is a man and not a woman that represents us in this quartet of living beings. I do not have room to get into this topic deeply in this context; suffice it to say the following: The use of a male as the representative of mankind is based on the fact that God made Adam the captain of the team; He also gifted the man with abilities and strengths designed to protect the women and children around him, while he designed and gifted the woman for a role of nurturing and supporting. This does not make women less valuable, it simply means we have different roles. Even in the trinity there are different roles, but all three of them are equally God.

While the others represent a wide variety of animals, there is only one type of man. Race, skin color, and language differences do not make us different kinds of humans.