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
(kĕ'rŭb). An unidentified place in Babylonian territory from which exiles returned to Judea (Ezra.2.59
CHERUB chĕr’ əb;
pl. CHERUBIM chĕr’ ə bĭm
, pl. כְּרוּבִ֗ים
, LXX χερούβ
, pl. χερουβείμ, χερουβείν, χερουβιμ, χερουβίν
, meaning uncertain; intercessor
has been suggested from Akkad. karibu
, KJV superfluous cherubims
). One of a rank of angelic beings.
The nature of the cherub has been a matter of debate. The Biblical evidence is basically limited to the OT (Heb 9:5 is the only direct reference in the NT). Appeal has been made to the ancient Near Eastern milieu. A number of views have resulted.
The Bible states the existence of spiritual beings created by God which may assume physical form for particular purposes. These creatures may be classified into two categories: (1) those in proper relationship with God are generally called angels (q.v.) or messengers, and (2) those in rebellion against God are referred to as demons. Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16, e.g., give other designations for these creatures.
There are prob. a number of angelic ranks. The Bible mentions the “Angel of the Lord,” which may be a Christophany. Chief angels are called “archangels” (1 Thess 4:16; Jude 9) or chief princes (Dan 10:13). The names of Gabriel and Michael are associated with these positions. The angelic leader of the demonic hosts is Satan (q.v.) or the Devil, formerly known as “Day Star” (Isa 14:12, or Lucifer, KJV), who had been an angel of high position (Ezek 28:14, ASV, “the anointed cherub that covereth”).
The total number of cherubim created by God is unknown. Four are mentioned in Ezekiel 1:5; 10:9, and 12. Many artistic representations of them were used in the decorations of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. The wide decorative use in Israel’s religious edifices along with the pl. form of cherub would argue for the possibility of a multiplicity of these creatures.
The physical appearance of the cherubim is problematic. With prophetic vision and artistic representation being the sole Biblical evidence for form, one could question whether either are realistic attempts to picture the actual creature. The composite nature of these beings and differences of description seem enigmatic. The repetition of the terminology “likeness” and “form” in the description of Ezekiel would indicate a definite inability on his part to express in words what he had seen. It is possible that either he had never before seen such creatures or his readers were not expected to be familiar with them in this form. Even in the 1st cent. a.d., Josephus pointed out that no one knew what the cherubim looked like (Ant. VIII. iii. 3).
In an attempt to solve the problems related to appearance of the cherubim, scholars have turned to the culture of the ancient Near E for complementary information. The archeological remains have yielded many hybrid humananimal forms in Assyrian, Babylonian, Hittite, Egyptian, Greek, and Canaanite art from the first two millennia b.c. These include winged sphinxes (cf. ivory box from Megiddo and the sphinx throne of King Ahiram of Byblos, ANEP, plates 128, 456-458 respectively), winged humans (cf. ANEP, plates 609, 614), winged humans with eagle’s heads (cf. ANEP, plates 617, 645), and other combinations of human and animal forms (cf. ANEP, plates 644-666).
W. F. Albright and others believe that the cherubim may be identified with the winged sphinx or winged lion with a human head because of its dominance in the art and religious symbolism of Syro-Palestine (“What Were the Cherubim?,” The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, I, p. 95). Some would equate the cherubim with the Assyro-Babylonian colossi, Egyptian griffins, and other representations. One must, however, emphasize that none of these proposed identifications accurately depicts the cherubim as described in the Bible.
Evidence concerning the function of the cherubim may be summarized under three subpoints.
After Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, God placed cherubim and a flaming, revolving sword to guard the road to the tree of life (Gen 3:24). In this activity they are similar to the colossi of the ancient Near E who watched the entrances of cities, palaces, and temples. The use of the cherubim in the decoration of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple may indicate a guarding function or reflect the role of divine attendants in the celestrial sphere.
Associated with fire.
Bearers of God’s throne-chariot.
The throne-chariot with the cherubim in Ezekiel was seen as a storm cloud upon which Yahweh rode (1:4). Psalm 104:3 and Isaiah 19:1 declare that Yahweh uses the clouds as his chariot and rides the swift cloud controlling the weather much like the storm gods in Canaanite stories (C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook , p. 484 lists the references in Ugaritic lit. to the “rider of the clouds”). In two parallel poetic passages Yahweh is pictured as riding on a flying cherub (2 Sam 22:11; Ps 18:10). This does not mean that cherubim are to be equated with clouds.
Similarly, Psalm 80 seems to attribute to Yahweh the character of a sun god with shining face as He rides a cherub across the sky. This brings to mind the ubiquitous winged sun disc of the ancient Near E (cf. ANEP, e.g., plate 653) and the solar chariots of pagan sun worship (2 Kings 23:11). Neither should be identified as cherubim.
OT decorative uses.
Composite humananimal figures are found in ancient art representing subordinates ministering to deities. In like manner cherubim were used in connection with Israel’s religious architecture having important symbolic meaning. At God’s direction they were incorporated into the design of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. Solomon’s Temple utilized them in its decoration. Ezekiel’s vision of the millennial temple also exhibited cherubim.
Ark of the Covenant.
On the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant were placed two cherubim facing one another (Exod 25:18-20; 37:7-9). They were made out of hammered gold and were of one piece with the mercy seat. The cherubim were formed with their wings spread above over-shadowing the mercy seat.
Cherubim were embroidered on ten curtains of white fine twined linen and material of blue, purple, and scarlet. These curtains, twenty-eight cubits by four cubits each, when coupled together, made up either the outside wall or the undermost covering of the Tabernacle tent (Exod 26:1ff.; 36:8ff.). A veil of the same materials was hung between the most holy place and the holy place. On this were also embroidered cherubim (Exod 26:31ff.; 36:35ff.).
In the inner sanctuary of Solomon’s Temple were placed two olivewood cherubim overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:23-28; 2 Chron 3:10-14; 5:7-9). The cherubim were ten cubits high and each had two wings five cubits long. The wingspread of each was ten cubits. They were set up facing the entrance so that one wing of each cherub touched the outside wall of the inner sanctuary on opposite sides, while their other wings touched in the middle of the room. Under the cherubim the Ark of the Covenant was situated.
On the wood paneled walls of the Temple were carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers both in the inner and outer rooms (1 Kings 6:29; 2 Chron 3:7). The relationship of cherubim with palm trees is understood by some as a decorative motif with reference to Genesis 3:24. The same decorations were cut into the olivewood doors of the inner sanctuary and the cyprus doors of the nave. These were overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:31-35). In the doorway of the inner sanctuary a veil of linen and blue, purple, and scarlet material was hung and on it were embroidered cherubim (2 Chron 3:14).
Solomon made ten laver stands cast from bronze after the pattern of a wagon or chariot (1 Kings 7:27-39). They had four wheels with axles attached to a squared frame on which panels were fixed. Each of these panels were decorated with lions, oxen, cherubim, and wreaths. The same decoration was applied to the stays on the round band at the top of the stand.
In the Temple foreseen by Ezekiel, cherubim were to be part of the decorative scheme (Ezek 41:17-20). On all the walls around the inner room, the nave, and the whole Temple from the floor to above the door were carved cherubim and palm trees. The cherubim had two faces turned in opposite directions: one of a man and the other of a young lion. The design alternated cherubim with palm trees so that there was a palm tree on either side of each cherub and vice versa (cf. ANEP, plates 654, 656).
P. Dhorme, L.—H. Vincent, “Les Cherubim,” RB, XXXV (1926), 328-358, 481-495; M. Margolis, “Cherubim,” ISBE, I (1939), 603, 604; P. Heinisch, Theology of the Old Testament (1955), 136, 137; M. Haran, “The Ark of the Covenant and the Cherubs,” Eretz Israel, V (1958), 83-89; M. Haran, “The Ark and the Cherubim, Their Symbolic Significance in Biblical Ritual,” IEJ, IX (1959), 30-38; W. F. Albright, “What Were the Cherubim?,” The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, I (1961), 95-97; J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (1962), 289-295; T. H. Gaster, “Angel,” IDB, I (1962), 131, 132; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, II (1965), 295-302, 304, 319, 320.
CHERUB kĕr’ əb (כְּר֥וּב). Cherub is a leader among those who returned from the Babylonian exile (1 Esd 5:36); but Cherub is also the name of a place in Babylonia (Ezra 2:59; Neh 7:61).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
A place in Babylonia from which people whose genealogies had fallen into confusion went up at the return from exile (Ezr 2:59; Ne 7:61); unidentified. In 1 Esdras 5:36 we read "Charaathalan leading them, and Allar," a phrase that seems to have arisen through confusion of the names in the passages cited above.