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The Cherubim: Throne Guardians of God

Now, since you’re paying attention, you’ll remember that the divine rebel in Eden, the nachash of Genesis 3, was called a guardian cherub in Ezekiel 28. As we just showed you, nachash and saraph, the singular form of seraphim, are interchangeable terms. But if the rebel in Eden was one of the seraphim, how could he also be one of the cherubim?

Good question. Cherubim are mentioned more frequently in the Old Testament than the seraphim. They are usually referenced in descriptions of the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Testimony or carved decorations in the Temple built by Solomon. The exceptions are the cherubim who guard the entrance to Eden and the four cherubim Ezekiel saw in his famous “wheel within a wheel” vision by the Chebar canal.

The modern image of cherubim has been shaped by artists in the Middle Ages—cute, chubby little boys with dinky wings who filled up the empty space in religious paintings. Nothing could be further from the biblical and archaeological truth. Cherubim are seriously bad dudes you do not want to mess with. For more, see Josh Peck’s book Cherubim Chariots.

The cherubim of the mercy seat are usually shown as a matched pair of plainly recognizable angels perched on top of the ark with their outstretched wings touching in the middle. The Bible doesn’t describe these cherubim, telling us only that they have wings and faces. Why? Apparently, everybody in the 15th century B.C. was familiar with what a cherub looked like, and they knew it was right and proper for them to serve as Yahweh’s throne-bearers. You see, God appeared to men above the mercy seat “enthroned on the cherubim.”  (See Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2: Psalms 80:1 and 99:1; and Isaiah 37:16.)

But the cherubim that Ezekiel saw looked like something from a nightmare:

…this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze.

Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went.

As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.

Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.

As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.

And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.

Ezekiel 1:5-14 (ESV), emphasis added

While these living creatures aren’t identified as cherubim in these verses, they are specifically called cherubim in Ezekiel 10.

So how do we read this? These creatures sound nothing like the shining serpentine seraphim. What’s even more confusing is the description Ezekiel gives of another type of angelic being, the ophanim—the wheels that UFO hunters love to call spacecraft. They seem to be related somehow to the cherubim:

And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went. And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the whirling wheels.”

And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

Ezekiel 10:9-14 (ESV), emphasis added

Wait—the ophanim had the face of a cherub and the face of a human? What’s the difference? Why a cherub instead of an ox for the fourth face? Is there some connection between the cherub and the ox?

Well… maybe. The word cherub probably comes from the Akkadian karibu (the “ch” should be a hard “k” sound, although we English speakers don’t usually say it that way). It means “intercessor” or “one who prays.” The karibu were usually portrayed as winged bulls with human faces, and huge statues of the karibu were set up as divine guardians at the entrances of palaces and temples. This is like the role of the cherubim placed “at the east of the garden of Eden… to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24, ESV)

This is speculation, but the divine rebel in Eden, the anointed guardian cherub, might have protected the tree of life once upon a time.

Cherubim were the gold standard for guarding royalty in the ancient Near East. In Assyria they were called lamassu, and the Akkadians called them shedu. They were sometimes depicted as winged lions rather than bulls and they were often incorporated into the thrones of kings.

So the function of the biblical cherubim, guarding the tree of life and carrying the throne of God, was entirely consistent with what the neighbors of the Israelites knew about these beings. Based on archaeological finds in the Levant (modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel), the cherub was probably more like a winged sphinx than a humanoid with wings.

In other words, the presence of the cherubim in the Bible wasn’t something the Hebrew prophets just made up. The cherubim were known by different names by the other cultures of the ancient Near East, but they served a similar role in all of them. The cherubim were supernatural bodyguards for the throne of Yahweh, and their imagery was appropriated by earthly kings. A bit of hubris, no doubt encouraged as a PSYOP by the Enemy. Remember, “you shall be as gods.”

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The consequences of the rebellion in Eden were immediate and harsh:

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” […]

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”

[T]herefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:14-15, 22-24 (ESV)

For centuries, well-meaning Christians have pointed to Genesis 3:14 as the moment in history when snakes lost their legs. That misses the mark entirely by desupernaturalizing the story. God didn’t amputate the legs of snakes; He was describing the punishment the nachash would suffer in figurative language. Even casual observers of the animal kingdom know that snakes don’t eat dust.

What happened was this:  The nachash was cast down from the peak of the supernatural realm, “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty,” to become lord of the dead.

What a comedown! Isaiah 14 makes a lot more sense when you keep a supernatural worldview in mind:

Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations.

All of them will answer
and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
You have become like us!

Isaiah 14:9-10 (ESV)

Remember these verses because we’ll come back to them later in this series. The “shades” referenced by Isaiah are the Rephaim (root word rapha), a mysterious group mentioned several times in the Old Testament. The Rephaim weren’t an invention of the Hebrews, either. They were well known to their neighbors. We’ll examine them more closely a forthcoming article in this series.

For Adam and Eve, the banishment affected the two of them and all their descendants through the present day. Instead of living with God as members of His council, we humans have struggled for millennia to make sense of a world that often seems to make no sense. The memory of our brief time in the garden of God has echoed down the centuries, and it may be the source of our belief that mountains are somehow special, reserved for the gods.

Here’s the main takeaway of this article:  Eden was a lush, well-watered garden “on the holy mountain of God,” which was where Yahweh presided over His divine council. The council included the first humans. They walked and talked with the supernatural “sons of God” who, based on clues scattered throughout the Bible, were beautiful, radiant beings. At least some of them were serpentine in appearance.

The long war between Yahweh and the sons of God who rebelled is not just about control of the spirit realm, it’s also about whether humanity will be restored to its rightful place in the seat of the gods—among the divine council on the Holy Mountain of God.

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Derek Gilbert Bio Derek P. Gilbert hosts SkyWatchTV, a Christian television program that airs on several national networks, the long-running interview podcast A View from the Bunker, and co-hosts SciFriday, a weekly television program that analyzes science news with his wife, author Sharon K. Gilbert. Before joining SkyWatchTV in 2015, his secular broadcasting career spanned more than 25 years with stops at radio stations in Philadelphia, Saint Louis, Little Rock, and suburban Chicago. Derek is a Christian, a husband and a father. He’s been a regular speaker at Bible prophecy conferences in recent years. Derek’s most recent book is The Great Inception: Satan’s PSYOPs from Eden to Armageddon. He has also published the novels The God Conspiracy and Iron Dragons, and he’s a contributing author to the nonfiction anthologies God’s Ghostbusters, Blood on the Altar, I Predict: What 12 Global Experts Believe You Will See by 2025, and When Once We Were a Nation.
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