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What are Cherubim?

There are quite a few references to these remarkable beings in scripture, but these scriptures are not very explicit about who and what they are.

To begin with, the term ‘Cherub’ or ‘Cherubim’ can best be explained by a phrase, ‘the image of a winged creature’ or ‘a winged creature.’ We cannot be sure in what form these cherubim appeared either. All we can be certain of is that they had wings, hands and faces.

They appear to serve God in at least two particular ways.

  • They are the protectors of the ‘holiness’ of God
  • They are God’s throne bearers.

Cherubim as ‘protectors’:

  • Subsequent to the Fall of Adam and Eve, God removed them from the Garden of Eden. God then placed a cherubim with a flaming sword at the entrance of the garden in order to prevent sinful humankind from returning, eating from the Tree of Life and in so doing, participating in eternal life as sinful creatures (Gen. 3.24).

    There are numerous places in scripture where figures of cherubim can be found, appearing to protect or cover the holiest places of God on earth. Firstly, they were portrayed as carved figures of gold, placed at both ends of the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle. They faced each other, spreading their wings out above the Ark of the Covenant covering in particular that part of the Ark called the ‘mercy seat’. It was here that the presence of God was made manifest to Moses and subsequent generations of high priests. Could this symbolically suggest protecting the ark, which represented the presence of God (Ex.25.18– 22)? I think this is the implication. Secondly, the cherubim were embroidered on the curtains of the tabernacle and more poignantly, the veil that separated the Most Holy place, containing the Ark, from the outer Holy place which contained the tabernacle. This again suggests that the cherubim are the guardians of holiness (Ex. 26.31). Thirdly, the Most Holy Place of Solomon’s magnificent temple was adorned by two large representations of cherubim made of olive wood and covered with gold leaf. When placed side by side with outstretched wings they spanned the entire width of the inner sanctuary. Smaller cherubim and palms were carved on the temple’s wooden panels and some of the doors, and were also represented on the sides of the laver stands (1 Kings 7.29, 36). Lastly, cherubim, alternating with palm trees, formed part of the decor of Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ez. 41.17–20).

Cherubim as God’s ‘throne-bearers’:

God is enthroned upon the cherubim (2 Kings 19.15; 1 Chron. 13.6; Ps. 80.1; 99.1; Ezek. 9.3, 10.1, 4), giving the idea that the cherubim serve as a visible pedestal for God’s invisible throne.

It is interesting to note that these cherubim are not simply some kind of fixed pedestals for God’s throne. The pedestal they offer Him is highly mobile (1 Chron. 28.18). The context of this passage is David’s giving instructions to Solomon about building the temple. Included in these instructions were plans to make a golden chariot for the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the Ark of the Covenant. The word ‘chariot’ implies mobility. The psalmist speaks of God riding on cherubim (Ps. 18.10). These amazing pictures of God enthroned upon the cherubim and being transported everywhere by them is vividly depicted in the Book of Ezekiel, particularly in chapter 1; they might be the ‘four living creatures’ and chapter 10, where they are referred to as ‘cherub’ specifically. These are some of the most peculiar visions within scripture. The problem with these visions is that they describe images of heavenly scenes using a great deal of symbolism, which makes it exceedingly difficult to pin down literal explanations of the cherubim. For instance, cherubim are portrayed as having four faces (Ezek. 10.14), those of the cherub, human, lion and eagle; feet like the hoofs of a calf, four wings, human hands and wheels next to them covered in eyes. I can just imagine the confused and overloaded mind of Ezekiel trying to take all of this in. Trying to explain his vision to a human must be similar to us trying to explain to a caveman what a laptop computer is and does.

Archangels

The term ‘archangel’, meaning ‘chief angel’ occurs twice within scripture. The first time occurs prior to the Second Coming of the Lord when the archangel will blow the trumpet to announce His coming (1 Thess. 4.16) and the second, where the archangel Michael fights with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude 9).

No one can be sure of the exact number of these archangels. There is definitely more than one though – Daniel, while in discussion with the angel Gabriel, is informed by said angel that he took twenty- one days to reach Daniel with a vital message as the ‘Prince of Persia’ delayed him. Michael, one of the chief princes, came to his assistance freeing him to deliver the message (Dan.10.13). The fact that Gabriel mentions that Michael is one of the princes logically implies that there is more than one archangel.

For more information about the archangel Michael read the following passages: Jude 9; Dan. 10.13, 21; 12.1 and Rev. 12.7. In these verses

Michael is portrayed as a ‘contender’, ‘a great prince who has charge over Daniel’s people’, and a warrior in charge of many angels who war against the dragon, presumably representing Satan.

Do we have a Guardian Angel?

The concept of a ‘guardian angel’ is very popular amongst various religions today. But do they really exist from a scriptural perspective? There are a couple of instances within scripture which might hint at the idea of their existence.
The first appears in the book of Acts where Peter has just been delivered from prison by an angel. While he was being set free from prison by an angel, a number of the disciples were praying at the same time at Mary’s house i.e. John’s mother’s place. Peter arrived at the house and knocked on the door. Rhoda, a maid, came to the door. When she heard Peter’s voice, she was so overcome with joy she forgot to open the door. Instead, she rushed to the other disciples and told them Peter was at the door. They first said that she was out of her mind, ‘so much for their faith in God’! Then they said something very interesting, “it must be his angel” (Acts 12.15). What could they have meant by this? It could not mean his apparition or disembodied spirit as some suggest, since the text would state this. The words for apparition (phantasma) and spirit (pneuma) are different from angel (angelos) used here. This is supported by the incident where Jesus walks on the water and thedisciple’s at first mistake him to be a spirit (‘pneuma’ – Lk. 24.37). No! They definitely meant angel in this passage as Luke used the same term ‘angelos’ a few verses back in Acts 12.7 to refer to the angel who set Peter free. The problem, which arises when using this to build a doctrine for the existence of ‘Guardian Angels’, is that it might have simply been a belief that the disciples accepted at the time.

The most likely verse which hints at the possibility of guardian angels is found in the story when the disciples asked Jesus: “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”. Jesus called a child to him and began to talk about children’s simple faith. Then, He changed tack and began to warn the disciples and other listeners not to harm children. Nearing the end of His discussion, He said, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18.10). The background of this idea is rooted in Jewish tradition where angels were believed to be assigned to individual people (see Gen. 48.16; Ps. 34.7, 91.11 and amongst other Jewish writings).

The problem is that by taking these, the only two accounts in the New Testament, and forming a substantial doctrine of angels, is beyond what I call good theological practice. We simply do not have enough information to say: “Yes, we have guardian angels.” However, we can be sure that angels are known to protect people, even if they are not assigned to one specific individual. As referenced above, Jacob mentioned how an angel delivered him from harm when he was giving a final blessing to his sons (Gen. 48.16). He was most likely remembering the time when he felt certain that his brother Esau was going to kill him. Other instances of protection can be found in Daniel 3.28 and 6.22. These two portions of scripture document the protection of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace and Daniel while in the lions’ den.

Angels are emotional beings

Angels are emotional beings. Job mentions that at the creation of the world the angels shouted for joy (Job 38.7). Then, do you recall after Jesus was born, how huge numbers of angels appeared to shepherds in the field rejoicing, praising and singing (Lk. 2.13–14)? One last example, Jesus was once in discussion with a group of tax collectors, sinners and the Pharisees about His mingling with sinners. Amongst other things, he tells them about how overjoyed the angels are when one sinner repents (Lk. 15:10).

 

Angels Minister to Believers

Angels minister to the believers both offering physical protection and spiritual welfare. There are some intriguing accounts of angels rescuing folk from certain death. Again, I remind you of Daniel and the lions. Daniel was double crossed and ended up being tossed into a den full of hungry lions. At that precise moment, an angel shut the lions’ mouths and Daniel walked out unscathed the next morning (Dan. 6.7–23). As I mentioned previously, there is the case where Herod seized Peter after killing James and threw him into prison to be held for execution the following day. That night, Peter was wakened by an angel who walked him out of the prison (Acts 12.6–11). Then, as to our spiritual welfare, angels are shown as being overjoyed with happiness when a person comes to salvation (Lk. 15.10), and quite understandably so since God works to achieve this night and day. Furthermore, angels serve us in our spiritual needs (Heb. 1.14).

Angels adminster God’s judgments

 

Angels carry out the judgments of God upon His enemies when ordered to do so. Th ere are some terrifying displays of angels’ power in this regard. As mentioned earlier under the topic of power, there was the case where one angel caused the death of 185,000 Assyrians in one night after Sennacherib threatened Hezekiah and God. We have also discussed the instance where an angel wiped out more than 70,000 people from Dan to Beer-sheba and would have annihilated Jerusalem had the Lord not stayed His hand (2 Sam. 24.15–17). Other examples include Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities which were fl attened due to their atrocities and horrendous sin (Gen. 19.12 onwards) and the Egyptians at Passover (Ex. 12.23).

Angels are Moral Beings

Angels are moral beings. What I mean by this is that they are capable of adhering to the rules of right conduct, which means that they have freedom of choice, which also means that they have a will. Consider the following evidence for this. Scripture suggests that there are both good and evil angels. Do you remember Peter’s statement in this regard? “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned…” (2 Pet. 2.4)  Or what about Jude when he said, “And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6)? If angels can be holy or evil, it means that they have a moral element to them. The holy angels are at this moment behaving in a freely chosen morally acceptable (to God) manner.