Last updated: April 19, 2009
The terms “cherub” (singular) and “cherubim” (plural) describe composite beings, usually part human, part land animal, and part bird. There is no clear and consistent biblical description of these creatures. The authors generally assume the reader knows what cherubim are. In the tabernacle the cherubim have one face and two wings (Exodus 25:20; 37:9). Ezekiel describes them as having four faces and four wings in two contexts (1:6-11; 10:14) but has having two faces in another context (41:18-19). Human-animal-bird figures are known from other art in the ancient Near East.
Cherubim were a common decoration on Israel’s sacred structures. The inner curtains and the veil that closed off the holy of holies in the tabernacle were adorned with cherubim (Exodus 26:1, 31; 36:8, 35; cf. 2 Chronicles 3:14). Carved cherubim were found on the following elements of the Jerusalem temple: the sanctuary walls (1 Kings 6:29; 2 Chronicles 3:7; Ezekiel 41:18-20), the doors separating the internal chambers (1 Kings 6:32, 35; Ezekiel 41:25), and the panels of the stands for the basins (1 Kings 7:29, 36).
Three-dimensional cherubim were a part of the tabernacle and temple. Two golden cherubim covered the ark in the tabernacle’s holy of holies (Exodus 25:18-22; 37:7-9; Hebrews 9:5). Gold-covered cherubim made out of olive wood covered the ark in the temple’s innermost chamber (1 Kings 6:23-28; 8:6-7; 1 Chronicles 28:18; 2 Chronicles 3:10-13; 5:7-8). The cherubim were seen as a throne for God’s presence (Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Psalms 80:1; 99:1; Isaiah 37:16; Ezekiel 9:3).
There is a close connection between God and cherubim. Cherubim guard the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). In a couple poems God is envisioned as riding upon cherubim (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10). In Ezekiel 10 and 11:22 the glory of God rests upon cherubim. In Ezekiel 28:14, 16 the king of Tyre is likened to a guardian cherub. Cherubim appear to have filled conceptual roles such as the invisible divine presence, God’s omnipresence, and God’s sovereignty.