The Appearance of Cherubim - A Biblical Study.

In my comic I have now hit the point where I need to research the appearance and representation of Cherubim. They are depicted on the curtain and ceiling of the Tabernacle and will be subtly included in Deborah and Barak's defeat of Sisera.

So using Biblegateway's word search function I tracked down all the direct and indirect references to Cherubim that I could find. Also I expanded the search to include descriptions of other angels to to look for any similarities.

Below are all the verses I found which have any description of Cherubim, in visions, the narrative or as represented in places of worship.

Ez 1:5 (ESV)And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And 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.

Ez 10- 8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under their wings...  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. ... 12 Their whole body, their backs, their hands, their wings and the wheels were full of eyes all around, the wheels belonging to all four of them. The wheels were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels.  And each one had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, the second face was the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle...21 Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and beneath their wings was the form of human hands.

Genesis 3:24 -So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

Ez 28: 13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The ruby, the topaz and the diamond;
The beryl, the onyx and the jasper;
The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald;
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you.
On the day that you were created
They were prepared.
“You were the anointed cherub who covers,
And I placed you there.
You were on the holy mountain of God;

2 Samuel 22:11 “And He rode on a cherub and flew;
And He appeared on the wings of the wind.

1 Kings 6: 10 (Statues in the Temple) -  Also in the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olive wood, each ten cubits high. Five cubits was the one wing of the cherub and five cubits the other wing of the cherub; from the end of one wing to the end of the other wing were ten cubits.

Eze 41:18 It was carved with cherubim and palm trees; and a palm tree was between cherub and cherub, and every cherub had two faces, a man’s face toward the palm tree on one side and a young lion’s face toward the palm tree on the other side; they were carved on all the house all around.

Rev 4:6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within;

Seraphim

The word Seraphim (one seraph, two or more seraphim) means “burning ones” or nobles.

Isaiah 6: 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew... 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs.

Angels

Matt. 28:4 “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow”

Rev 10: 1 I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire; and he had in his hand a little book which was open. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land;

Note: Angel of the Lord references are not included here as I believe these are a Theophany and therefore not relevant to Angelic Beings.

Ancient depictions of cherubim and angel like creatures or Deities

 

Many creatures from legends world wide that fit the description of Cherubim or other angels to some degree. Looking at pictures of Chinese or Babylonian mythological creatures and gods might seem an odd thing to do, but if we place a biblical world view before our inclination to dismiss other/ancient cultures' myths as man-made and imaginary, we might say that angelic beings have been seen in visions by more than just the few people we can list in the Bible, and these have created these other myths. In fact, Satan himself is a Cherubim (Ez 28) so he and these with him may have appeared to people (may still) to lead them into worship or folklore that is in opposition to God and his Word. (1 Corinthians 10:20)

Note: Keep an eye out for the parts of these animals that are human, feline,bovine and avian.

syrian free.jpg
free Winged_goddess_Louvre_F32.jpg

My understanding of these passages

The same but different...

I believe that the four living creatures seen by Ezekiel were the same four living creatures seen by the Apostle John. Although there are some differences in their descriptions (Six or four wings, and four animal faces or four animal forms) there are so many similarities I think they are the same beings. The reason I believe this is that I do not think they are limited to one form and also I think what they really looked like was only “like” a lion, for example, and not an actual lion face specifically.

Their shape could even have been ever changing or difficult to decipher. This idea of shape-shifting I think is not a great leap as we know that angels can appear as people (Hebrews 13), but I think it also helps make sense of passages where God rides the Cherubim, (2 Samuel 22:11, Psalm 18) and they appear like a lion or an ox or a flying eagle (Revelation 4), rather than in the form of a man (Ezekiel 10), but granted these examples of God riding the Cherubim are both Psalms and could be purely poetic and not 100% literal.

Wheels within Wheels...

In the Ezekiel passages there is a lot of information about these “wheels” that appear with the Cherubim (apparently called “Ophannim”). I believe that while these are linked to the Cherubim, because there are times Cherubim seem to appear without them, they are not inextricably linked, and may even be a different kind of Angelic being as the apocryphal Book of Enoch states. Wiki has more info - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophanim

Other similarities...

Fire and glowing seems to be common to all angelic beings in some way. Seriphim means burning ones. The giant angel in Revelation 10 has legs of fire, as for the Ezekiel 1 Cherubim “their appearance was like burning coals of fire”. Some may think of fire as a demonic trait or associate it specifically with the Devil, but this is a wrong view biblically. Fire as an idiom, time and again is associated with God ( Tiny selection of hundreds of verses- Exodus 24:17, Numbers 9:15, Deuteronomy 32:22, Acts 2:3, Hebrews 12:29), particularly his wrath. So some people think of the Devil ruling Hell, but this is our world's twisted view of Revelation 20, where the Enemy is thrown into God's fire to burn, Hell (Sheol/ Gehenna/Hades/Tartarus) is within the soverignty of God and not Satan's realm.

Breaking it down

I took the key descriptions and added them to my basic diagram by location : Head, Wings, Arms and Legs, and Body.

Using this information I drew some sketches of how these creatures may have looked to Ezekiel in his visions.

Wings

After looking at ancient pictures of creatures like cherubim and angels (Sphinx, Shedu, Egyptian and Assyrian gods and goddesses etc) it occurred to me that the type of wings these angels have are what I'd call Icarus wings (wings attached to their arms) and not just the kind you normally see angels have. I believe this is what is meant by Ez 10:8 “The cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under their wings.”

Also as I tried to draw sketches of the Cherubim, it occurred to me that the sets of wings don't all have to be the same sizes.

As Ezekiel records four wings and John six, I believe they either simply had different numbers of wings. I wondered if it could be that Ezekiel just didn't see one pair as they were behind the angel; while this is possible, in the Temple God instructs Solomon to create the two giant gold Cherubim statues seem to only have two wings (1 Kings 6). These are just a representation so perhaps we shouldn't read too much into it but nevertheless, God told Solomon to make them that way, when he could have just as easily specified six wings if that was the true and specific number. This small detail makes me think the number of their wings can vary, through shape shifting or simply variety, but I'd lean towards the former as I believe these are the same four specific angels in Ezekiel's vision by the river Chebar and John's revelation.

Another issue to consider is whether the wings are feathery or not. There are poetic verses in psalms (Psalm 91:4) that mention God's wings as having feathers. Again this is a poetic verse and not literal but what it shows, perhaps, is that when the Holy Spirit is writing about wings it is supposed to conjure up the idea of feathers. In addition in Zechariah 5:9 there are “Women with the wings of a stork” in his vision. There is some debate about whether these woman are angels or more like demons as a stork is an “unclean” bird in Jewish law and they are “women” and not described as angels, but whether angel, demon something else, the wings are feathered. While these two references are tenuous, no verses to the contrary are to be found... however... In the verses about the Cherubim collected here we find “Their whole body, their backs, their hands, their wings and the wheels were full of eyes all around,” (Ez 10:12) and “each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; (Rev 4:8). Now these eyes could be interpreted in at least two ways; they are either real seeing eyes or have eyes on their wings just as a peacock has eyes on its tail. That is something we don't know from the text but I feel they probably are real eyes but not necessarily like ours. You will see how I represent them below.

Four faces, one head

The Ezekiel passages tell us the creatures have four faces but the form of them is like a man. So, while they could have four heads, It seems they only have one. Most artists depict the four faces stuck on four sides of the head, this may indeed be what Ezekiel saw but as spiritual beings are not necessarily limited to a fixed shape or even fixed dimension there could exist four different faces in the same space simultaneously. Ezekiel states the faces' relationship to each other: “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”. (Ez 1:10) so I have them overlapping but in their respective positions.

Ears

None of the descriptions specifically deal with ears, but they are implicit as bulls, lions and men have ears. I used ears as something common to all the faces. Initially I wasn't planning to have any ears but if there are none they look too much like
aliens. To pull the overall appearance out of the realms of 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', I have used a little of the visual language of fantasy art. Making their cheek bones and ears a little elvish or animalistic. Below is a little study I did considering the kind of ears I could potentially use, and thinking about their shapes.

Ears study

Clothes

I wasn't planning to have clothes on them as I thought this was a very human thing but Matt. 28:4 states about the angels at Jesus' tomb: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow”, so using clothes seems to be biblical and again helps make them look less like Aliens.

My Depiction

Icon for curtains in the Tabernacle

I also have looked at hundreds of images of sphinx, chimera, angels, shedu and others creatures to get an idea of how Bezalel might have depicted the Cherubim in the Tabernacle. In the end, my depiction is reminiscent of the Egyptian winged goddesses as I think they fit the description well and the Egyptian style is going to be the one the craftsmen were familiar with. While it was not necessarily in a style they were familiar with I think it fits with the setting and while God instructed their work I think we bring something of ourselves to the work God commissions.

They have the four wings, calf hooves, Icarus wings, and the lion and the man faces from the description of the Cherubim carved in the Temple. I also have the two eyes that can been seen from these faces make a pair of eyes looking straight forward.

Very Rough Cherub Icon for Tabenacle Curtain Cherubim Angels

Drawing the Real Thing

Here is one of my first attempts at representing them. I want their shape to be difficult to decipher, rather than crystal clear. I really don't like depictions of angels in the shape of the vision but as a solid three dimensional shape. As such, the angelic beings I depict that are not in human guise will be ill defined of glowing light and flames, incorporeal and ephemeral. Using 'glows' and loose airbrushes provides a stark (and intentional) contrast to the heavy black lines and dark shadows that characterise the artistic style used in the comic. A contrast that represents the hard three dimensional world and the hyper dimensional spiritual realm.

I use the motif of the bright cyan green again to represent something spiritual that is unseen except to the prophet seeing them.

I've done four different faces based on the four animals, which may be how they appeared to John, one animal each, then following is how they may have appeared to Ezekiel. I wanted them to seem like a being in its own right that is hard to discribe but when you see the face you'd be inclined to say "It's like a Lion/Bull/Man/Eagle" without having a lions lion glued on an angelic body.

Cherubim Cherub Angel Angels Word for Word Bible Comic
Cherubim Cherub Angel Angels Four 4 Faces Word for Word Bible Comic

Here are some sketches I did also.

Cherubim Cherub Sketch Word for Word Bible Comic
photo 3.JPG

I hope you like them, please leave comments and suggestions below.

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