That the cherubim were more than clouds or statues is plain from the description Ezekiel gives (Ezek.9.3; Ezek.10.1-Ezek.10.22), which shows that they are the “living creatures” of the first chapter. The four faces of each of the cherubim (Ezek.1.10) stand for the four “excellencies” of the created order: the lion, the greatest of the wild beasts; the eagle, the greatest of the birds; the ox, the greatest of the domestic beasts; and man, the crown of creation. Ezekiel sees, over the heads of the cherubim, the throne of the God who is thus absolutely sovereign over his whole creation, in all its variety of life and being and in all its complexity of movement. The same explanation of the cherub-form suits their function both in Eden (Creation in its ideal purity consents to the Creator’s edict of exclusion from the Garden) and on the mercy seat (all the created excellencies marvel and adore the Triune God for the shed blood of atonement). At the same time, Ezekiel’s vision explains the OT allusion to the Lord as seated (or enthroned) on/between the cherubim (e.g., Ps.99.1); it is a metaphor of his total sovereignty. Likewise when the Lord rides on the cherubim (e.g., Ps.18.10; Ezek.10.1-Ezek.10.22 passim), the thought is that all creation is subject to his sovereign rule and “intervention,” and all its powers are at his disposal.
To sum up: The cherubim are the living chariot or carriers of God when appearing to men. They are heavenly creatures, servants of God in theophany and judgment, appearing in winged human-animal form with the faces of lion, ox, man, and eagle. Their representations in the tabernacle and temple as statues and in embroidery and carving are not a breach of the second commandment (Exod.20.4). They are significant in prophecy (Ezekiel) and in the Apocalypse (Revelation). Their service is rendered immediately to God. They never come closer to man than when one took fire in his hand and gave it into the hands of “the man in linen” (Ezek.10.7). Yet because the mercy seat, on which the blood of atonement was sprinkled, lay “between the cherubim,” nothing can more nearly touch our salvation. In the OT sanctuary, where everything was done and taught by visible, tangible types and symbols, physical representations of the living heavenly cherubim were essential. In Ezekiel’s new temple, and in the heavenly sanctuary of Hebrews and Revelation, they are no longer needed, for the redeemed themselves stand in the presence of the living cherubim. The carvings in Ezek.41.18 are memorials only.——ER