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Seraphs, Seraphim

SERAPHS, SERAPHIM (sĕr'a-fĭm, Heb. serāphîm). Called seraphs (jb, niv), seraphim (mlb, nasb, neb, rsv, -im being the Hebrew plural ending), and seraphims (kjv). They were celestial beings whom Isaiah, when he was called to the prophetic ministry, saw standing before the enthroned Lord (Isa.6.2-Isa.6.3, Isa.6.6-Isa.6.7). This is the only mention of these creatures in the Bible.

The word seraphim means “burning ones.” The same word is used to describe the snakes in the wilderness (Num.21.6, Num.21.8; cf. Deut.8.15; Isa.14.29; Isa.30.6); some commentators think that the seraphim of Isaiah’s vision were serpentine in form. This cannot be correct, because it conflicts with the evidence given in Isa.6.1-Isa.6.13. Like the cherubim and the living creatures, they belong to an order of unearthly beings attending the throne of God. Isaiah saw that they were standing upright with three pairs of wings and human hands, faces, and voices. The designation “burning ones” matches the context. Its focus on God’s holiness makes the emphasis on fire a suitable one, as does also the fact that a seraph performed a burning ministry toward Isaiah himself (Isa.6.6-Isa.6.7). The seraphim are in a particular sense, therefore, the guardians of the holiness of the Lord and the ministers of his holy purposes by means of a just, substitutionary salvation. See also Fire.