CHERUB, CHERUBIM (chehr' uh bihm) Class of winged angels. The Hebrew cherub (plural, cherubim), is of uncertain derivation. In the Old Testament it is the name of a class of winged angels who functioned primarily as guards (Genesis 3:24) or attendants (Ezekiel 10:3-22). The only New Testament reference to cherubim is in a description of the furnishings of the holy of holies (Hebrews 9:5).
Texts descriptive of the appearance and activities of cherubim reflect two contexts. One is in the visions of the presence of God attended by living creatures (cherubim and seraphim, Isaiah 6:2-6; Ezekiel 1:4-28; Ezekiel 10:3-22). The other is Temple worship and the representations of cherubim which were a part of its furnishings (Exodus 25:18-22; 1 Kings 6:23-35; 2 Chronicles 3:7-14).
The most impressive of the Temple cherubim were the large sculptures (probably winged quadrapeds) in the holy of holies. If these were arranged as was common in the ancient Near East, the two cherubim would together form a throne. Their legs would be the legs of the throne, their backs the arm rests, and their wings the back of the throne. Consistent with the idea of a cherub throne are the texts which envision God dwelling between, enthroned upon, or riding upon the cherubim (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Samuel 22:11; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; 1 Chronicles 28:18; Psalms 18:10; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1; Isaiah 37:16). Even Ezekiel's vision depicts the glory of God resting upon or between the cherubim as something of a living throne.
Fully understanding Ezekiel's description of these creatures, however, is quite difficult. For one thing, his description of them is not complete enough to be unambiguous. Also, Ezekiel's cherubim bear as great a similarity to Isaiah's seraphim as they do to the Temple cherubim. However, a comparison of Ezekiel 1:1 and Ezekiel 10:1 with the Temple representations and with Isaiah's vision does clearly indicate that the function of these heavenly, living creatures was that of attending the presence of the living God. See Angels.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.