There’s no doubt that seraphim, cherubim and the four living creatures bring all kinds of imagery into our minds, in today’s society we find people’s attempts to draw what they think they look like on cards, works of art, buildings etc. What exactly do they look like? What purpose do they serve? We may not know exactly what they look like, although the Bible describes them in a way which is difficult to picture, but one thing we know for certain is that they are serving the Lord God Almighty.
The word Seraphim is the plural form of seraphs, in other words, you can have one seraphs, but if there are more than one, they are known as seraphim. The word itself means ‘burning ones’ and sometimes they are called, ‘ones of love’ because their name might come from the Hebrew root for ‘love’.
It may come as a surprise to some people, that these heavenly beings are only fully described in the Bible once, which is found in the Book of Isaiah when Isaiah is being commissioned by God to be a prophet and he has a vision of heaven, Isaiah 6:1-7.
According to Isaiah, these heavenly beings have six wings, but they only use two of them for flying. The other wings are used to cover their face and feet. Why do they cover their faces? One possible answer is that they cover their face because they were so close to God, they would witness His full glory which would be too powerful to behold.
Feet seem to be considered ‘unclean’ and so not worthy to be shown to God. Notice that Isaiah doesn’t tell us how many Seraphim there are present but because he uses the word, ‘they’, we know it’s definitely more than one.
Unlike the cherubim who are always portrayed as beside or around God’s throne, these heavenly beings are here flying above God’s throne. It seems as if their main role is to constantly glorify and praise God, someone suggested that they may also be God’s ‘personal attendants.’
The words they use, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory,’ have been used in hymns and choruses by Christians for many years to remind them of the holiness of God.
It’s interesting to know that in Hebrew, whenever the same word is used three times to describe, something or someone, it always means that the person or object is completely like the word. Hence here, calling God holy three times means that God is completely and perfectly holy.
The coal in Isaiah’s vision, that touches his lips, is used to signify that Isaiah is now purified and fit to be a prophet. The coal came from the altar in heaven, so would have been very powerful. Fire is also used in many religions and faiths as a way of purifying and cleansing something.
‘It’s the season to be jolly’ and no doubt some people would have received a Christmas greeting card with a picture of a cute, fat little baby, who have two wings which are supposed to represent cherubs. If that’s how people see these heavenly beings, they are sadly mistaken. Cherubs singular or cherubim, plural meaning more than one are described in two books of the Bible, Genesis and Ezekiel.
If you remember when Adam and Eve were banished from the garden in Eden, it was these heavenly beings who guarded the garden, so that no one could enter, and they are described as holding flaming swords, Genesis 3:24.
If you remember Ezekiel, who was God’s prophet has a vision of heaven where he sees many angelic beings and notice that the way he describes them, isn’t like what people today believe they are like, no cute, fat little baby, with two wings here, they are frightening, Ezekiel 1:1-14 / Ezekiel 1:22-24 / Ezekiel 10:3-8 / Ezekiel 10:12 / Ezekiel 10:14 / Ezekiel 10:20-22.
Like I mentioned, no cute, fat little baby, with two wings here, these are powerful heavenly beings with four faces and four wings.
The cherubim are also described in the construction of the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ and as we know the Ark was the dwelling place of God with the Israelites during their exodus in the desert, Exodus 25:17-22.
The ark was placed in the tabernacle and later, when the temple was built it was placed inside of it, in the holy of holies. On top of the ark were two statues of Cherubim, 1 Kings 6:23-28 / 1 Kings 8:6-7.
If we go back to Ezekiel’s vision, we read that Ezekiel describes another kind of heavenly being that seem to be associated in some way with the cherubim, Ezekiel 1:15-21 / Ezekiel 10:9-13 / Ezekiel 10:15-19.
Can you imagine what’s going through Ezekiel’s mind as he sees all these heavenly beings? Ezekiel is trying to describe these heavenly beings using human words, but it seems as though he’s struggling to find the words at times, no wonder!
Again, the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how many Cherubim there are, but here Ezekiel tells us he saw four. The main role of the Cherubs seems to be guarding God’s Holy realm and presence from any sin and corruption, hence they are sometimes known as the throne angels, as they are seen to be around the throne of God, Psalms 80:1 / Psalms 99:1.
These heavenly being portrayed as having four faces on four sides of their heads and being arranged in a square, seem to be able to travel in any direction without having to turn. Some believe the word cherub may come from a term meaning ‘to guard’ which would fit well with their role. As a side note, you won’t find a single reference in the Bible where Cherubim are directly called angels, but these are strong, powerful guardians of God.
The four living creatures are found in the Book of Revelation, where we get a brief description of what these heavenly beings are like, Revelation 4:6-10.
Who are these amazing ‘creatures’? Are they seraphim, cherubim or another sort of heavenly being? The simple answer is, that we simply don’t know.
They seem to have some features in common with both the seraphim, in that they have six wings and they continually praise God, they also seem to be like the cherubim, there are four of them and they are covered in eyes and look like a lion, ox, man and eagle.
Whoever these creatures are, and whatever their role is, we know that they too are powerful heavenly beings serving the Lord Almighty.