What is a…
Singular: cherub / Plural: cherubim
This is the name of certain order of heavenly beings created by God. They are mentioned by name 91 times in Scripture. They appear to be powerful guardians who attend most closely to God.
The Lord reigns, the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned above the cherubim, the earth quakes! —Psalms 99:1
…the Lord of armies who is enthroned above the cherubim… —1 Samuel 4:4 NASB excerpt
Their office was…
- the expulsion of our first parents from Eden, to prevent all access to the tree of life
- form the throne and chariot of Jehovah in his manifestation of himself on Earth. He dwelleth between and sitteth on the cherubim (1 Samuel 4:4; Psalm 80:1; Ezek. 1:26; 1:28).
So He [God] drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. —Genesis 3:24 NASB
You shall make two cherubim of gold; make them of hammered work at the two ends of the atoning cover. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the atoning cover at its two ends. And the cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the atoning cover with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the atoning cover. —Exodus 25:18-20 NASB
Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and violet, purple, and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skilled embroiderer. —Exodus 26:1 NASB
God promised Moses “from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:22 NASB).
Then I looked, and behold, in the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim something like a sapphire stone, in appearance in the likeness of a throne, appeared above them. And He spoke to the man clothed in linen and said, “Enter between the whirling wheels under the cherubim and fill your hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” And he entered in my sight.
Now the cherubim were standing on the right side of the house when the man entered, and the cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of Yahweh rose up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of Yahweh.
Moreover, the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks
…And the cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under their wings.
Then I looked, and behold, four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside each cherub; and the appearance of the wheels was like the gleam of a Tarshish stone. As for their appearance, all four of them had the same likeness, as if one wheel were within another wheel. As they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went; but they went in the direction which they faced, without turning as they went.
And their whole body, their backs, their hands, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around, the wheels belonging to all four of them.
The wheels were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels. And each one had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, the second face was the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Now as the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them; also when the cherubim lifted up their wings to rise from the ground, the wheels would not turn from beside them. When the cherubim stood still, the wheels would stand still; and when they rose up, the wheels would rise with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in them.
…When the cherubim departed, they lifted their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight with the wheels beside them; and they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of the house of Yahweh, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.
From Ezekiel’s description of them (Ezekiel 41:18-19 below), they appear to have been compound figures, unlike any real object in nature; artificial images possessing the features and properties of several animals.
And as for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. —Ezekiel 1:10
Later in Ezekiel, cherubim with just two faces are mentioned,
It was carved with cherubim and palm trees; and a palm tree was between cherub and cherub, and every cherub had two faces, a man’s face toward the palm tree on one side and a young lion’s face toward the palm tree on the other side; they were carved on all the house all around. From the ground to above the entrance cherubim and palm trees were carved, as well as on the wall of the nave. —Ezekiel 41:18-19 LSB
Book of Revelation
Cherubim images on the Ark of the Covenant and in The Holy Temple
Those on the ark are called the “cherubim of glory” (Hebrews 9:5), i.e., of the Shechinah, or cloud of glory, for on them the visible glory of God rested. They were placed one at each end of the mercy-seat, with wings stretched upward, and their faces “toward each other and toward the mercy-seat.” They were anointed with holy oil, like the ark itself and the other sacred furniture.
Ezekiel earlier speaks of four cherubim with four faces each.
Then I looked, and behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light all around it, and in its midst something like the gleam of glowing metal in the midst of the fire. And within it there were figures with the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance:
they had the likeness of a man. And each of them had four faces and four wings. And their legs were straight, and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they sparkled like the gleam of burnished bronze. And under their wings on their four sides were hands of a man. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn as they went; each went straight forward.
And as for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. And such were their faces.
Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. And the living creatures ran to and fro with the appearance of lightning. —Ezekiel 1:4-14 LSB
The cherubim were symbolical. They were intended to represent spiritual existences in immediate contact with Jehovah. Some have regarded them as symbolic of the chief ruling power by which God carries on his operations in providence (Psalm 18:10). Others interpret them as having reference to the redemption of men, and as symbolizing the great rulers or ministers of the church.
Many other opinions have been held regarding them which need not be referred to here. On the whole, it seems to be most satisfactory to regard the interpretation of the symbol to be variable, as is the symbol itself.