The cherubim were the first of the angelic beings mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 3:24 – "So God drove out the man' and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep and guard the way of the tree of life." The Hebrew masculine word for cherubim was Kerub, translated, "one who intercedes" or "knowledge", borrowed from the Assyrian Kirubu, from Karabu, meaning "to be near". As mentioned in Genesis 3:24, a cherubim "guarded" the tree of life. The cherubim themselves, rather than their appearance or likeness found, are mentioned four times in the Bible. In Psalm 18:9 & 10, David, the Psalmist, describes the sudden descent of Jehovah to rescue a soul in distress in the following words: "He bowed down the heavens also and came down; and thick darkness was under His feet, v.10, And He rode upon a cherub (or a storm) and flew swiftly; yes, He sped on with wings of the wind." Cherubim have been described as chariots. The Hebrew word Kerub – which has been associated with the Hebrew Rakab, or "to ride" and Merkeba, or "a chariot" are often used interchangeably. One of the functions of the cherubim is that of throne-bearers, or "carriers" of His Divine Majesty, hence their depiction as charioteers. They are described as chariots, not because they had the outward shape of a vehicle, but because they symbolize swift-winged living creatures.
In Egyptian art, they appear as figures with a human face and two outstretched wings. In Assyrian art, they are winged human creatures, sometimes hawk-headed, sometimes with men's faces. The most spectacular accounts of a cherub are from the prophet Ezekiel at the river Chebar. These visions are found in Ezekiel 1:5-28 and Ezekiel 10. His descriptions in both of these passages are essentially identical. He witnessed the living creatures or the cherubim at close hand, each with four faces and four wings. His explanation of the cherubim is one of the most difficult to understand in scripture and has given rise to a multitude of explanations. The prophet first saw a luminous cloud coming from the north; from a distance it seemed a heavy cloud fringed with light and some intense brilliancy in the center, bright as God, yet in perpetual motion as the flames of a fire. Within that heavenly fire, he began gradually to distinguish four living beings with bodies as men, yet with four faces each: a human face in front, but an eagle's face behind; a lion's face to the left and an ox's face to the right. Though approaching, their knees did not bend in their march, straight and stiff they remained, and for feet they had the hooves of oxen, shod with shining brass. They had four arms, two to each shoulder, and attached along each arm they had a wing. Of these four winged arms, two were outstretched above, and two were let down and covered their bodies. These four living beings stood together, facing in four opposite directions, and between them were four great wheels, each wheel being double, so that it could roll forward or sideways. Thus, this angelic "chariot" in whatever of the four directions it moved, always presented the same aspect. And both angels and wheels were all studded with eyes. And over the heads of the cherubim, so that they touched it with the points of their outstretched wings, was an expanse of crystal, and on this crystal, a sapphire throne, and on the throne one resembling a man, the likeness of the Glory of God. The mystical meaning of each detail of this vision will probably remain a matter of speculation, but the meaning of the four faces seems fairly easy to grasp: man is the king of creation, the lion is the king of the beasts of the forest, the ox is the king of the field, the eagle is the king of the birds of the air. These faces are understood to signify that these angelic beings possessed the intelligent wisdom of man, the strength of the lion, the ponderous weight of the ox, and the soaring sublimity of the eagle. In Ezekiel's prophecy against Tyre in chapter 28, verses 14-16, he describes Tyre as a cherub fallen from glory.
Indirectly from this passage, we gather that cherubim were conceived to be in a state of perfection, wisdom, sinlessness and nearness to God in His Holy Mountain and of supernatural glory and happiness. The words "overshadowing wings" in verse 14 may have been translated as meaning "cherub of anointing, or "one who covers", therefore a royal anointed being, overshadowing others with its' wings to shelter them. If this is true, then we must add royalty and performing acts of mercy to their characteristics. The words "Who sits upon the cherubim" or "Who dwells above the cherubim" or "who is enthroned above the cherubim" (depending on which version of text you are reading), frequently found in the Bible, (I Sam. 4:4, II Sam. 6:2, II Kings 19:15, I Chron. 13:6, Psalm 99:1, Psalm 80:1, Isaiah 37:16) refers to Jehovah's actual dwelling in the Holy of Holies and the presence of the cherubim there with Him and also refers to them as being the heavenly throne-bearers of God. Their role as guardian spirits is not only depicted in Genesis 3:24, but also in their presence in the Ark of the Covenant, covering the mercy seat. (Ex. 25:18-22), wrought in massive gold. According to I Kings 6:23-30, Solomon placed in the Holy of Holies two huge cherubim of olive wood overlaid with gold. They most likely faced the Holy Place or the Entrance.
In Exodus 26:31, cherubim were embroidered on the veil of the tabernacle, separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. "With blue, purple, scarlet and fine twisted linen they were made." How many were embroidered on the veil, we do not know, but again their presence depicts guardian spirits or keepers as the veil screened the Holy of Holies. According to I Kings 6 and 7, cherubim were engraved as an artistic motif in wood and metal. The paneling of the Temple, both interior and exterior, was covered with them, as well as palm trees and flowers. The molten sea was adorned with figures of lions, oxen and cherubim. In Revelation 4, John describes the four living creatures just as Ezekiel with four heads, full of eyes. He describes six wings, and states they were saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come", which is more like the description of the likeness and duties of the seraphim in Isaiah 6, so it is unclear whether John is seeing the cherubim alone, the seraphim, or both. The fact that there were four accounts of the cherubim in the Bible and that they had four faces is not coincidence. The number four has to do with creation. The number four is made up of 3 + 1 = 4 and denotes that which follows the Revelation of God in the Trinity, or the number 3. He is known by the things that are seen, namely His creative works.
The Word says: "In the beginning God CREATED...". Creation is always the NEXT thing, the fourth thing, and the number four always has reference to that which is created. Where the cherubim are seen guarding the tree of life in Genesis 3:24, they are preserving the blessed hope of immortality for creation. They are next seen in connection with atonement, showing the only ground on which creation could hope for the end of its groaning. This is where they are seen on the veil and the mercy seat, binding up the hope of creation with Him who is called "The Hope of Israel." And, in Revelation 4, they are called "the living creatures", if John was indeed speaking specifically of the cherubim. These creatures announce the Coming One; they sing of creation, and of Him who created all things and for Whose pleasure they were created (verse 11). They call forth the judgements and plagues in Revelation 6:1, which issue the ejection of the Usurper from the earth, and the destruction of them which destroy the earth, and in the exaltation and enthronement of Him when all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our Lord, and His anointed... and when the Lord God reigns! They set forth the blessed hope of a groaning creation. The four heads, the lion, the ox, the man and the eagle, are again 3 + 1: 3 animals, and one human. The face that there were four living creatures marks them as connected with creation, and as symbolical representation that creation's hope of deliverance from the curse is bound up with the blood shed by our redeemer, Jesus Christ. How such magnificent and awesome beings were eventually shrunk by man to the size of little tubby, winged babies, fluttering prettily in our statues, sitting in our gardens, and in corners of buildings remains a mystery. But it is evidence that they are still honored as guardians and those who are near to God.