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The Difference Between Seraphim & Cherubim?

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Have you ever gotten confused about the difference between seraphim & cherubim ? They seem to play similar parts in a couple of prophecies throughout the Bible and have a similar name. However, there are actually three differences between the two that can be discovered by really looking at the passages where each is mentioned. 


The Difference Between Cherubim and Seraphim

Through studying a few of the places where each is mentioned in scripture, it is found that the difference between cherubim and seraphim, two types of angels (most likely), is mainly that they serve different purposes. 

We will look at what exactly that difference in purpose is, as well as a couple other differences, later on. 

What are Cherubim? 

Cherubim, plural for cherub, are a type of celestial being found in the Bible, assumed to be angels, though it is not actually said directly in scripture that they are indeed angels. Either way, they are spiritual beings. For simplicity, I will be referring to them as angels. 

The first appearance of Cherubim in scripture is found in Genesis, after the fall, and after God drives Adam out of the garden of Eden. 

“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Genesis 3:24 (ESV)

What we learn from this passage about cherubim is that they are a sort of guardian, perhaps guardian angels, of holiness or righteousness. Because of their sin, Adam and Eve could no longer be in the garden of Eden and the presence of God, therefore the perfection, the holiness, of the garden where God walked had to be guarded in a way that no mere human beings could enter. 

Interestingly, Satan was originally created as a cherub. 

“You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.”

Ezekiel 28:14-15 (ESV)

This passage is God speaking to Satan in a prophecy of Ezekiel. In the prophecy, God says that Satan was in fact an anointed cherub. He was perfect and without fault, of course, until he was not.

We also see cherubim purposed as guardians again in this prophecy, as God says Satan was an “anointed guardian cherub.” We also see again that cherubim, as guardians, were associated with the holiness of God, as Satan was originally placed on the holy mountain of God. 

Let’s look at a more visual description of cherubim as guardian angels. 

“And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filed with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.”

Ezekiel 10:4-5 (ESV)

If the wings of the cherubim were audible, especially to the point of being heard far away, we can infer that they flew, or flapped their wings at the very least. This would then mean that the flying or flapping of the wings is what ‘released’ the glory of the Lord that then filled the house. This would again mean that the cherub was guarding the holiness and glory of God, and quite literally this time, as it was hidden and held underneath the wings of the cherub. 

Speaking of wings, when we think of angels, we tend to think of this nice little being, probably with a human form, with pretty white wings. However, Ezekiel describes the appearance of the cherubim in his prophecy to be quite a bit more grand and intimidating. 

“The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under the wings… And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around – the wheels that the four of them had… and every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.”

Ezekiel 10:8,12,14 (ESV)

That’s right! These (most likely) angels were covered in eyes, had four faces resemblant of four different creatures, and possessed something like a human hand underneath its wings. Not quite the same image we typically come up with in our heads! 

This unconventional appearance of cherubim is reiterated in the new testament, in John’s prophecies of the end times. 

“And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 4:6-8 (ESV)

This is found within John’s vision of the throne of God in heaven, and gives a slightly different perspective to cherubim, as it does not explicitly say anything about them guarding the God’s throne. Rather, they are simply worshipping the Lord Almighty. 

Whether actively worshipping or guarding the righteousness of the Lord Almighty, or both, “the cherubim serve the purpose of magnifying the holiness and power of God.” ( Worship declares that God is higher and worthy of everything, as does the need to be guarded. The cherubim and their purpose as guardians and worshippers declares the holiness of God.

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What are Seraphim?

Unlike the cherubim that appear in many books of the Bible, the word seraphim, plural for seraph, is only directly mentioned in the book of Isaiah. These celestial beings are a part of Isaiah’s vision of God calling him to be a prophet. 

Isaiah has this vision, recorded in Isaiah chapter 6, in the same year that King Uzziah died. The vision begins with God sitting on a throne inside of a temple. 

“Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 6:2-3 (ESV)

We can learn a few things about seraphim from just these two verses. First, we know that seraphim flew or levitated over the throne of God. Second, they too are not the image of a human form with wings that angels are so often pictured as. Instead, they have six wings. Lastly, they worshiped God as the Lord of hosts. 

The vision continues with the temple shaking at the sound of their voices and filling with smoke. Isaiah then cries out in woe as he is a “man of unclean lips” who has now seen the presence of God (Isaiah 6:9), which is known to strike a man dead. 

However, instead of dying, or even just falling on his face as has previously happened to people of unclean lips that witness the full glory of God, Isaiah remains standing before the Lord and the seraphim. 

“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6:6-7 (ESV)

From this part of the vision, we learn that the purpose of a seraph is to “constantly glorify and praise God and they may also be the personal ‘attendant’ angels of God“. This inference comes from the fact that the seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips with the live coal instead of God himself. 

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Based on their appearances in scripture, there are ___ differences between cherubim and seraphim: their appearance, their position, and their purpose. 

The first difference between cherubim and seraphim is quite simple; that they have different forms. The cherubim have eyes all over their bodies, as well as four faces of different creatures – the lion, the human, the eagle, and the cherub itself – and a hand of human likeness underneath a wing. Meanwhile, the seraphim are not said to be covered in eyes or have many faces, it is only noted that they posses six wings and two of them cover their feet. 

Secondly, the two celestial beings have different positions amongst the presence of God. When Isaiah sees the seraphim in the temple among the throne of God, they are positioned above him. However, anytime the cherubim are recorded acting out their purpose of guarding holiness, they are noted to be around the spectacle of holiness, whether that be God himself or a symbol of his holiness like the flaming sword outside the garden of Eden. 

The third main difference between cherubim and seraphim is the purpose they serve. The cherubim are clearly meant to be guardians of holiness or righteousness, making a separation between mere human beings and that which is set apart. In the old testament, they guard the flaming sword outside the garden of Eden after Adam is driven out, the guard the ark of the covenant, and they guard the glory of the Lord himself. 

Something I find quite interesting is that when they are mentioned in the new testament, in the book of Revelation, they seem to drop the guard and take on a role of simply worship. Perhaps this is because the new testament brought the saving work of Jesus that meant there no longer had to be such a separation between God and man. 

Along with this, Revelation is the prophecy of the ultimate restoration of heaven and earth where the creator and the creation live eternally amongst each other in perfect harmony. This means that there is no longer a need for guardianship of what is set apart, as there is no ‘set apart’ when everything is perfect. The cherubim now just participate in the constant worship of the Lord God Almighty. 

This leads us to the purpose of the seraphim, which was always just to worship the Lord. Declaring the glory of God is one of the only things the seraphim are recorded to be doing in the Bible, as Isaiah enters the presence of God. The only other thing they do is touch a live coal to Isaiah’s lips, atoning for his sins. This means that the seraphim could possibly be attendants of God. Keep in mind that is not specifically stated in the Bible, just an observation. 

Aside from the difference between cherubim and seraphim, these two types of angels play important roles in revealing the majesty of the full glory of God. While the knowledge of cherubim and seraphim can be a simple fun fact about the Bible, let it be a testament to the greatness of the Lord as God Almighty. 

You may enjoy this video about the Difference Between Seraphim & Cherubim.

Or one of these recommended resources for further study:

Our Spiritual Companions : From Angels and Archangels to Cherubim and Seraphim by Adam Bittleston

Encounters with Angels: The Invisible Companions of Our Spiritual Life by Odile Haumonte 

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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