Flaming Swords and Winged Beasts: What Were These Ancient Creatures? The Origins of Cherubim – Part II
The word angel comes from the Old English engel, or ‘messenger’. Angels have an ancient and global tradition, but with belief in these powerful but elusive supernatural beings still going strong today, it’s good to take a look at what the ancient Biblical description of these creatures were.
What are these heavenly creatures so many people believe in? What are they, where do they come from, and what do they look like?
Ancient biblical texts provide details concerning the nature and makeup of ‘angels’: seraphim and cherubim, including a prophetic vision in Ezekiel as to what their roles to a certain degree would be once heaven had been established on earth:
A mid-12th century Flemish piece of copperwork depicting Ezekiel's Vision, an illustrated Old Testament event. ( Public Domain )
Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord. The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.
When the Lord commanded the man in linen, "Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim," the man went in and stood beside a wheel. Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took up some of it and put it into the hands of the man in linen, who took it and went out.
Furthermore, Ezekiel goes into more detail concerning their look, stating, “Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes ...”
The Whirling Wheels
It gets more interesting and downright bizarre in Ezekiel 1:15-21 wherein he describes another type of angelic beings alongside the cherubim:
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces.
This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
These angels are known as the Whirling Wheels, or Ophanim. Ezekiel mentions that the cherubim were accompanied by these fascinating things; Were they creatures? Or symbols?
Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels. I heard the wheels being called "the whirling wheels."
Ezekiel's Wheel in St. John the Baptist Church in Kratovo, Macedonia. Fresco from the 19th century. These are known as "Ofanim, Wheels of Galgallin." It is said that they were the actual wheels of the ‘Lord's Heavenly Chariot’, Merkabah. ( Public Domain )
The description given suggests that the wheels are spinning within each other and are in constant rotation. Moreover, the passage suggests a meteorological imagery: the word “wheel” can also mean whirlwind.
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Cam Rea is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including: The Wars of Israel: A Military History of Ancient Israel from the End of Judges to Solomon
Top Image: From the Biblical tale, Jacob wrestles with an Angel ( Public Domain );Deriv.