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20 These are the living beings that I saw beneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar; so I knew that they were cherubim. 21 Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and beneath their wings was the form of human hands. 22 As for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the river Chebar. Each one went straight ahead. (Ezekiel 10:20-22 - NASB)

He placed the cherubim in the midst of the inner house, and the wings of the cherubim spread out so that the wing of the one was touching the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub was touching the other wall. And their wings were touching end to end in the center of the house. (1 Kings 6:27 - NASB)

The depiction in Ezekiel shows that cherubim have four wings but the cherubim's on the ark has two each. The question that arise is, are the cherubim on the ark even a true depiction?

A: Does a Cherub have two or four wings, or both?
B: How could Ezekiel know they were Cherubim by the depiction of having four wings and faces when they are different from the ark?

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  • The cherubim on the ark are in union with the ark and with one another. Therefore they each have four wings, in union. Which is an indication of what the concept is that is expressed by the representation. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 5, 2022 at 10:16
  • @NigelJ Maybe the Cherubim on the ark have only two wings because they have no genitals to cover. Aug 5, 2022 at 15:59
  • I have no response to make to that suggestion.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 5, 2022 at 16:21
  • 1
    There is a lot to suggest that two of the wings were used to cover or clothe the cherubim's bodies, but there is nothing to warrant any speculation about genitalia, and the concept of nakedness or lacking a cover are not about biology.
    – Robert
    Aug 6, 2022 at 4:36
  • 1
    As to "How could Ezekiel know they were Cherubim...", take into consideration that this is a vision that Jehovah God is giving Ezekiel. If Jehovah God can give information about what heaven looks like, then he could also give knowledge as to who/what these beings are.
    – agarza
    Aug 6, 2022 at 15:36

4 Answers 4

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The description in Eze 1 is of God's throne room in heaven of which the sanctuary/temple was also a highly cut-down representation. We have another description of the throne room in Rev 4. Thus, we have at least three different descriptions of the four cherubim/angels/living creatures that attend God on the throne:

  • Ex 25:18, 20, 37:9, 1 Kings 6:27, 32, 2 Chron 3:10-13, 5:8, Heb 9:5 - two cherubim with two wings and one face each on the ark and two more on the wall in the Most Holy Place
  • Eze 1 & 10 - Four cherubim with four wings and four faces each beside wheels within wheels
  • Rev 4 - Four living creatures with six wings and four faces each

To this list we could add some further references such as:

  • Ps 18:10 - He mounted a cherub and flew; He soared on the wings of the wind.
  • Ps 80:1 - Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth
  • Ps 99:1 - The LORD reigns; let the nations tremble! He is enthroned above the cherubim; let the earth quake!

All these theophanies are trying to describe something that is beyond description! Let us not be too literal or harsh on the prophets' struggles in putting into words what is completely beyond their experience.

Note the differences - does God sit above or between the cherubim? Do the cherubim have two, four or six wings? How many faces to they have - one or four? Does the throne sit on wheels or a blue expanse, or a crystal sea?

Let us be content with the glimpse of the throne room as we have it and assume we are seeing it from (say) different angles and under different conditions, etc. Some of these descriptions are also possibly symbolic and thus may not be entirely literal.

Lastly, Ezekiel was an inspired prophet and thus, the data revealed in the vision was given directly from God, including the names of the living creatures attending God's throne.

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  • Thanks for your contribution. I believe that Rev 4 is talking about Seraphim as Isaiah does in Ch6:1-8 "Seraphim were standing above Him, each having six wings" and maybe the Cherubim on the ark have only two wings because they have no genitals to cover. Aug 5, 2022 at 15:58
  • @DanielDahlberg - yes Isa 6 is another theophany but there the seraphim have only one face but in Rev 4 they have 4 faces - so is Rev 4 more like Isa 6 or Eze 1? Further, according to Matt 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35, angels have no genitals.
    – Dottard
    Aug 5, 2022 at 21:38
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    No to say that they "neither marry nor are given in marriage" does not exclude one from having genitals. Angels have male organs at least malachim, maybe not cherubim and sheraphim. Aug 6, 2022 at 6:47
  • @DanielDahlberg - O really? So God gives these creatures useless organs and creates two types of Cherubim and seraphim, male and female. Presumably the female angels have breasts that never get used or perhaps they procreate without marriage?
    – Dottard
    Aug 6, 2022 at 11:31
  • Stop being silly and sarcastic when speaking about God and His creation or he might take offense and it will lead to consequences for you! There is no female angelic beings and you know it, they are all male's, Benei ha'elohim (sons of God) made in his image, that's why God made Chawa from Adam and not in the same way. Jubilee's speaks of angels that they are all created with circumcision that's why you need a penis. A penis to be circumcised and not sexual relations (procreate) that is on your mind! Aug 7, 2022 at 14:47
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The Hebrew word יָדַע [yada] is usually translated as "knew" but KJV also renders it as "considered". We might say that he "believed" they were cherubim. As for the number of wings, since Ezekiel describes a personal spiritual experience here [and also in Ch. 1], his vision was necessarily subjective.

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I think the most straightforward conclusion is that "cherub" is a categorical term broader than whether they had two, four, or six wings. This is similar to the word "insect." Some insects have two, some have four, and some prehistoric versions even had six wings, some have two eyes, and some have five, but we can know that they are all insects without confusion or a nagging sense of contradiction.

With regard to how one knows what a guardian cherub is, it may be as much a functional category rather than just a strict biological one.

The function of cherubs is directly called out in Genesis 3 and Ezekial 28:

Genesis 3:24 24 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.

Ezekiel 28:14 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

Ezekiel 28:16 16 In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.

And they are powerful enough for the Lord to sit upon his throne and for a single cherub to swiftly carry the Lord:

Psalms 99:1 1 The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

Psalms 18:10 10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.

So, the Cherubs are routinely depicted as awesomely powerful, protective, and swift flying creatures both worthy and capable of bearing the throne of God and guarding His most holy places against any enemy transgression into it.

Perhaps, though Cherubs may come in an array of different body plans, Ezekiel recognized them by their awe-inspiringly powerful winged appearance and the function they performed about the holy place around the throne of God.

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As the bible refers to "cherubim" without defining what they are, you can assume that this is a word that was already known, so we look to the cultural context to see what they were represented as. That will require pictures, so I've included some here so we can have a similar understanding to Ezekiel's intended audience.

Visual Representations of Cherubim prior to Ezekiel's vision

Cherubim is transliteration of Hebrew כְּרֻבִ֛ים (keruvim) that is conjectured to come from k-r-b "to bless". They are the mesopotamian equivalent to Egyptian sphinxes, in that they are composite humanoid creatures that attend to God's throne or guard a sacred tree. All cherubim found so far can be connected to a throne or sacred tree.

Cherubim_throne_1200_BC

Cherubim or their equivalent - have been found from Egypt to Greece, Turkey and Iran, appearing in a number of specific forms, but always guarding a throne or a tree.

enter image description here

Cherubim often appear underneath a god, holding him up or pulling a chariot.

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And this tradition goes back at least to the third millennium BC, long before Ezekiel

enter image description here

Here is an ancient cylinder seal from Persia that was roughly contemporaneous with Ezekiel, and also shows a throne lifted on a firmament and a wheel held by two cherubim with four wings and calfs feet:

enter image description here

Textual representations of Cherubim in the Bible

The bible follows the similar pattern, with cherubim depicted as

  • guarding the way to the tree of life in Eden (Eden is also the dwelling of God on earth) Gen 3.24
  • guarding the throne of God - 2 Sam 6.2, 1 Kings 6.24-39, 2 Kings 19.15, Psalm 99.1, Isaiah 37.16
  • guarding the ark of the covenant (also the dwelling place of God on earth) Ex 25.18-22, Ex 37.7-9, 2 Chron 5.8
  • supporting the throne of God as it moves about - 2 Sam 22.11, Psalm 18.10

How Ezekiel recognized them

It is a mistake to count the wings as if you were a zoologist studying an animal, trying to classify it according to morphology, as cherubim are representations of spiritual beings, and therefore they can take on a number of visual representations. It would be like assuming that as Ezekiel's theophany of God (1.27) had His body look like fire below the loins and amber above, whereas Daniel's theophany in (10.6) had an entire body of Beryl and fire in his eyes, that these can't refer to the same God.

Rather than trying to impose some type of Hellenistic classification of cherubim based on their morphology, we can use a semitic understanding in which the Cherubim are recognized as cherubim because of their narrative role - namely guarding and supporting God's throne, which we've seen is the traditional role of cherubim.

This is further reinforced by the text, as Ezekiel does not recognize them as cherubim at the start, but only calls them "four creatures" [literally "animals" חַיָּה]:

Ezekiel 1:5 (KJV 1900)

Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.

Why could Ezekiel not recognize them as cherubim? Because there was no throne of God or sacred tree visible.

Later on, the vision unfolded, and the throne appeared after the four creatures were seen and Ezekiel received his commission. So the next time he saw the same creatures, he was able to recognize them as cherubim, not because of the count of their wings, but because he knew that they were the same guardians of the throne of God that he saw before.

Ezekiel 10:20 (KJV 1900)

20 This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims.

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