Cherub; plural, Cherubim. Composite animal forms, always spoken of as familiar to the Hebrew: fourfold, Consisting of man, lion, ox, and eagle; ideal representatives of redeemed creaturely life, in which man is prominent (Ezekiel 1:5; Revelation 4:7). Distinct from the Assyrian and Egyptian winged forms still existing (almost always a beast' form with human head) in having the fourfold composite animal aspect, with the characteristics of manhood as the basis and body of the whole. "At the E. of Eden (after Adam's fall) God placed (yashkeen, 'set as the dwelling place of His Shekinah glory') the Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of life" (Genesis 3:24). As the flaming sword proclaimed God's just wrath against sin, so the Cherubim mercy in store for lost man.
They were "the provisional occupants of man's lost inheritance" (Fairbairn), the pledge of the restoration of man and the creaturely world closely allied with and subject to him (Psalm 8; Isaiah 11:6-9; Romans 8:17-24; Ezekiel 34:25; Hosea 2:18); the symbolical prophecy of the recovery of the tree of life; for they guard it, not against but for man, against the time when man shall be fit to enjoy it and never to lose it. Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:14; they, with the flaming sword, were the forerunners of the sanctuary, where the Cherub on either side of the bright Shekinah cloud (from which, as on Sinai, the flame might at any moment dart) looked down on the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat of the ark, God's meeting place in reconciliation with sinners by the stoning blood; mercy and justice meeting together in man's redemption.
Hence it was before God's manifested presence, between the Cherubim at the E. of Eden, the first sacrifices were offered (Genesis 4:3-4; Genesis 4:16; Genesis 3:21). Whereas pagan sacrificed to appease their God, Bible sacrifices were brought before God expressing the propitiation which He had already in His gracious purpose made by His Son (Revelation 13:8). The placing of the man-like Cherub on the inheritance once man's suggested the truth that man and the creatures involved in his fall have still by some gracious mystery, of which the Cherubim are the pledge, an interest in Eden. The appearance of the Cherubim in the holiest place afterward suggested to man the same assurance of a common meeting ground with God at peace and in holiness. Finally, their appearance in Revelation, round God's throne as the redeemed, crowned that hope with joyful certainty.
As the glory of God was last seen on the E., so shall "the glory of the God of Israel come from the way of the E." (Genesis 3:24; Ezekiel 11:23; Ezekiel 43:2.) As the redeemed will hereafter be one with Christ in His executing vengeance on the ungodly (Revelation 19:11-16), so the Cherubim (Revelation 15:7; Ezekiel 10:7). In Ezekiel 1 the four living creatures of the Cherubim stand in contrast with the four world monarchies (Daniel 7), termed "beasts." The four answers to the four quarters of the world, implying worldwide extension, true universality, which the world powers sought vainly to attain by ambitious selfishness. The Mosaic cherubim were formed out of the same mass of pure gold as the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:19-20). The wings express rapidity in fulfilling God's will. The eyes all over (Ezekiel 10:12) express manifold and ubiquitous wisdom.
The ox form represents tame animals, of which he is chief; the lion represents wild animals; the eagle represents birds; man, representing the head of all, in his ideal realized by the Son of man, combines all animal excellencies. The redeemed shall be the ruling powers, through whom, as now by the angels, God shall administer the government of the world, and proclaim His manifold wisdom (Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Ephesians 3:10; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4:6-8). In Ezekiel 10:13 "it was cried unto the wheels ... O wheel," i.e. "Roll on." Jehovah by His word in connection with His ministering powers sets the whole "wheel of nature" (Greek text of James 3:6) and providence in motion.
In Revelation 5:9-12 the four living creatures (zooa, not theeria, "beasts") identify themselves as the redeemed (All creation is summed up in man its lord; from whence Christ's command, "preach the gospel to every creature," for man's redemption involves the restoration of the creature now subject to vanity: Romans 8) "Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred and tongue ... and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth." Whereas in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:6) each living creature has all four faces, in Revelation 4:6-9 the four faces are distributed, one to each.
The Christian fathers identify them with the four Gospels: Matthew, the lion, the kingly aspect of Christ's manifestation; Mark, the ox, Christ's laborious endurance; Luke, the man, Christ's brotherly sympathy with our whole race; John, the eagle, the soaring majesty of the divine Word made flesh. The grain of truth in this view is that the church of the redeemed, like Christ her Head and His gospel, is one under a fourfold aspect answering to the several characteristics represented by the four heads of animal life. In and with Christ she shall realize the ideal of man combining fourfold creaturely perfection:
(1) kingly righteousness with hatred of evil, as "the lion springing terribly on the victim";
(2) laborious diligence in duty, as the "ox bound to the soil";
(3) human sympathy, as "the man";
(4) sublime contemplation of heavenly things, as "the eagle."
In Revelation the four living creatures represent the elect redeemed, as they shall be when perfected, ministering as king-priests unto God, and media of blessing to the redeemed earth with its nations and its animal creation. The four standards under which Israel encamped in the wilderness were a lion for Judah on the E., an eagle for Dan on the N., an ox for Ephraim on the W., and a man for Reuben on the S. In the midst was the tabernacle with the Shekinah cloud symbolizing God's presence, "the picture of the blessed period when the earth being fitted for the kingdom of the Father ... heaven's court will be transferred here (Revelation 21:3), and the world is subject to a never ending theocracy" (DeBurgh). The cherubic four stand always in nearest relationship to God in His holiness and life-imparting presence; compare Exodus 25:22; Psalm 80:1.
Whereas angels are "round about the throne," the living creatures occupy the innermost circle next it and Him who is in their midst (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:11). Thirty times they are called "the living creatures," full of the life of God everlastingly flowing into them. frontADAM.) The griffins of northern fable and the winged beasts of Assyria and Egypt seem a relic of primeval tradition corrupted. The Greek grups, glufo, and the Syriac and Arabic words for "carve" and griffin, seem kindred words to cherub; cherob is the rabbinical term for an image; cherub, the Coptic. Gesenius takes the root chaarab "to consecrate a shrine." Colossal figures of compound living creatures are still found "guarding the portals of the Assyrian temples" (Layard).
The pagan knowledge of the cherubim of the Book of Revelation is implied in Ezekiel 28:13-14, where the king of Tyre is represented as having been "in Eden the garden of God," and as boasting that he is "the anointed cherub that covereth," i.e. the cherub of the temple anointed by the consecrating oil, and defending Tyre as the cherubim "covered" or overshadowed the mercy-seat; the type of Antichrist who shall usurp the attributes of the true Anointed One, who "covers" His church, the beautiful ideal of humanity. The clearness of the type as symbolizing the redeemed increases as the revelation of the scheme of redemption becomes fuller. At Eden the cherubim are mysteriously indefinite.
In the tabernacle they are lifeless carved figures, with faces ever turned to the mercy seat, the pledge of redemption. In Solomon's temple they are of colossal size, symbolizing the future grandeur of the church, reigning with the antitypical Solomon over the earth. In Ezekiel, for the first time, instinct with life, zeal, and ceaseless untiring motion. In Revelation they reveal who and what they are, and sing the song of praise for their redemption (Revelation 5:8-9). As the mercy-seat (typifying Christ as our propitiation) interposed between the law inside the ark and the cherubim outside, so Christ interposes between the divine justice and the redeemed.
As the cherubim were of one piece with the ark, so the redeemed are one with Christ, and one with Him as their propitiation (2 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 2:11; Exodus 29:42-46; Exodus 25:22; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Galatians 2:20). Freeman suggests that the cherubim were the archetype in heaven upon which God molded all the various genre and species of the animal kingdom on earth; hence arises the strange similarity in difference; it is the token of a universal pattern, though not of a common parentage, a mutual relation between them, but not a development of one out of the other by natural selection, as Darwin thinks.