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.