Cherubim

Cherubim are spiritual beings mentioned frequently in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament. They were commonly used of those heavenly spirits, who closely surrounded the Majesty of God and paid Him service.

In Moses' Tabernacle and Solomon's Temple, cherubim are sculptured, engraved, and embroidered figures used in the furniture and ornamentation:

The fact that the Bible nowhere explains how the cherubim looked like, but always presupposes them well-known, makes us believe that they were among the most common figures of contemporary art in Ancient Near East. In Egyptian art, figures with a human face and two outstretched wings attached to the arms are exceedingly common. Two winged sphinxes also appeared frequently in Phoenician art and Assyrian art.

Thus today's Biblical scholars have suggested that cherubim are "similar to the statues of winged, human-headed bulls or lions that stood guard at the entrances to palaces and temples in ancient Mesopotamia." (from the NIV Study Bible, the commentary on Genesis 3:24).

The 3D model below shows the cherubim standing inside the Most Holy Place in Solomon's Temple.

Ezekiel's Vision of the Cherubim

Before we move on to discuss the appearance of the cherubim as seen by Ezekiel, we need to understand that the book of Ezekiel is highly symbolic:

Ezekiel described the cherubim in his vision as:

Ezekiel 1:5-11 (NASB)

5 Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form.
6 Each of them had four faces and four wings.
7 Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf's hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze.
8 Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them,
9 their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward.
10 As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.
11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies.

There are three reasons why we did not model the cherubim after Ezekiel's vision:

  1. The description of the cherubim in Ezekiel's vision is different from the ones in the Temple. For example, Ezekiel's cherubim have four faces and four wings, and have eyes all over their bodies (Ezekiel 10:12); whereas the ones in the temple have one face (II Chronicles 3:13) and two wings (II Chronicles 3:11) and nothing about their eyes.
  2. Most Biblical scholars also agreed that the vision of the cherubim is symbolic rather than literal.
  3. At the time when Ezekiel first saw the vision of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1:5-11), it was 593 BC. The Temple was still around at that time (it was burnt in 586 BC). Now Ezekiel was a priest himself (Ezekiel 1:3), therefore he had seen the images of the cherubim (which were carved on the walls, the doors and on the carts) in the Temple. Why did he go into such details in describing the cherubim in his vision? We believe it's because the cherubim he saw in his vision were very different from the ones he saw in the Temple. Ezekiel was telling us his vision rather than telling us how the cherubim in the Temple should look like.

Other Models of the Cherubim

Some have used the description of the cherubim by Ezekiel in their model of the Solomon's Temple as shown below:


Ark work by Rodney Treadway, rtrewdway11@comcast.net, used by permission

For more 3D images of the Temple modeled by Rodney Treadway, visit his web site at http://home.comcast.net/~rtreadway11/site/.

References

New Advent, "Cherubim", http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03646c.htm.

NIV Study Bible