A cherub is an angelic being. They are sometimes described as the means by which God moves (2Sam. 22:11, cf. 1Chron. 28:18). The plural of ‘cherub’ is ‘cherubim’, as shown by passages like Exodus 25:18-19:
And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. …
Unlike angels, which appear in human form (Genesis 18:2,22; 19:1; Judg. 6:21-22) and are never, contrary to much art,1 etc., described in the Bible as having wings,2 cherubim are frequently described as winged (e.g. Ex. 25:20; 37:9; 1Kings 6:24,27; 8:6-7; 1Chron. 28:18; etc.). A more detailed description of them is given in Ezekiel 1:5-24 & 10:1-16 (although the beings are not called cherubim in Ezek. 1, Ezekiel identifies them as such in Ezek. 10:15 — cf. Ezek. 1:1,5ff.). Some of their characteristics include:
- a human likeness (Ezek. 1:5)
- four wings (v6)
- four faces (v6 — human; lion; ox; eagle: v10)
- straight legs (v7)
- soles, which sparkle like burnished bronze, like the soles of a calf’s foot (v7)
- human hands (v8)
- direction by God’s Spirit (v12,20)
- speed (v14)
- an accompanying wheel (described as a ‘wheel within a wheel’), the rim of which is full of eyes (v15-16,18)
The description is very different to the modern, popular image of a cherub!3
One passage in the Bible that refers to a cherub — Ezek. 28:14&16 — has often been misread to refer to a fallen angel called Satan. The passage is actually about the the king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:12), who is being poetically referred to as a cherub. Additionally, as Ezek. 1:12&20 tell us, the real cherubim do exactly what God wants them to do:
Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. [Ezek. 1:12]
Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went … [Ezek. 1:20]
So a real cherub could not rebel against God; they are like the angels: they do God’s will (Ps. 103:20). (For more on this, see ‘Who was the “cherub in Eden” (Ezekiel 28:13-14)?‘ and ‘Is Satan a fallen angel?‘.)
1. See, e.g., the 12th century icon of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel here.
2. For more info, see ‘Where in the Bible does it say that angels have wings?‘.
3. See Wikipedia article ‘Putto‘ (accessed 21/12/10).