How accurate is your understanding of cherubim and angels? In the introductory video to their series on spiritual beings, the BibleProject says, “Unfortunately, almost all of our modern conceptions about these beings are based on serious misunderstandings.”
In popular culture, a “cherub” is a baby with wings. This, however, is an idea that comes from Renaissance art. Cherubim as the Bible depicts them are quite different.
“They’re way more fascinating,” says the BibleProject in their video, “Angels and Cherubim.” In the Bible, cherubim are portrayed as “hybrid creatures, a collage of different animals and every time they do appear, they look a little bit different.”
Far from being adorable and cute, cherubim are intimidating and are associated with God’s presence. The BibleProject says they “stand guard at the boundary between heaven and earth…If you see them, you know you’re entering the presence of the one who is above all and truly Other.”
Examples of Cherubim in the Bible
The first time we see cherubim in the Bible is in the Garden of Eden, which the BibleProject describes as “God’s temple residence.” God sets them as a guard at the garden after Adam and Eve sin so that the man and woman can no longer access the tree of life.
Another notable place where Scripture mentions cherubim is when the Israelites build the Ark of the Covenant. When God instructs Moses regarding the design of the ark (which is made out of gold and acacia wood), he tells him to make the covering with two cherubim on top that have their wings spread over it. God then tells Moses he will meet with him between the cherubim and give Moses his commands for the Israelites.
Says the BibleProject, “The biblical authors described the ark as the footstool of God’s throne, which the cherubim are carrying.” Psalm 99:1, for example, says that God is enthroned between the cherubim. These are just some of the times we see cherubim in Scripture associated with the holy presence of God.
What About Angels?
When you think of angels, you might think of Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life, but probably the most common portrayal of angels in our culture is of benevolent beings who have halos and wings. However, while angels in the Bible do resemble people, they do not have wings or halos. One of their primary duties is to carry messages from God to people, such as when the angels appear to Zechariah and to Mary in Luke 1. Because human beings cannot reach out to God in his heavenly realm, God reaches out to them through angels, who are his “spiritual ambassadors.” In fact, the word “angel” means “messenger.”
The other primary role of angels is to do missions for God, such as when an angel releases Peter from prison in Acts 12. It’s worth noting that God never encourages people to go looking for angels and that when people in Scripture encounter them, those people often respond with confusion or fear. “Angels are really awesome,” says the BibleProject, “but they play a supporting role in the Bible.”
For more on spiritual beings in the Bible, check out these other videos from the BibleProject: