The Bible positively affirms that creation includes more that just the material world. This is hard to grasp considering the overall materialistic outlook of the 21st century world. Our excessively material outlook is in large part an overreaction to the medieval superstitions. In the Dark Ages, everything that happened on earth had a spiritual cause; milk spoiled because an evil spirit visited you, and walking under a ladder would disrupt the trinity, giving bad luck. Today, the intellectual consensus is that all things can be explained on a strictly physical level and therefore spiritual things do not exist. Paul in Ephesians 6:12 asserts not only the existence of spiritual forces but puts spiritual forces at the center of our conflict. For reasons not discussed in this article, the Bible will be considered not only as a reliable source about spiritual forces but the only reliable resource on the subject.
In modern vernacular, spiritual forces are roughly equivalent with angels. When the word angel is used today, it tends to carry the connotation of benevolent spiritual beings. This is appropriate because one of the ways the Bible used the word angel is referring to benevolent spiritual beings (Hebrews 1:14).
The word angel by itself does not necessarily imply anything spiritual. In Revelations 2:18-24, the term is clearly applied to a member of the church meeting at Thyatira and in 2 Corinthians 12:7 the term is used to describe some form of physical ailment. Simply put, the term angel just means messenger that may or may not be a spiritual being.
There is one more linguistic problem to address before considering this problem with any precision. That problem is that not all spiritual beings are messengers. One example of this, the seraphim or burning ones the prophet Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6). The seraphim are spiritual beings that have a message about the holiness of God but do not appear to take that message from God to man. In this sense, despite the seraphim having a message, they are not really messengers. This is true about a variety of spiritual beings that have been revealed to us.
The serpent in the garden notwithstanding, the first of these spiritual beings encountered in the narrative of the Bible are the cherubim. Cherubim had the task of guarding the tree of life after man sinned (Genesis 3:24). Interestingly, no detailed description of the cherub’s form follows until Ezekiel 1. A similar description is found in Revelation 4:6-8. Cherubim have one face of man, one of an eagle, one of a lion and one of an ox. Imagery of cherubim were included on opposing sides of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 37:8-9), and when the Ark finally made it to the temple, they were met with two more images of cherubim in the most holy place (1 Kings 6:23-26). Contemporary art depicting cherubim often show them as winged humans. However, there is no biblical proof for this imagery. For those who are more familiar with the modern art depiction of the Ark than with the Bible’s description, reimagining the Ark and the guardians of the garden is necessary.
When a number of cherubim is specified, there are typically four. There were four “living creatures” in Ezekiel’s vision, as well as John’s vision, the Ark and two in addition to the two in the Most Holy Place. The cherubim’s main purpose is not to carry a message. Like the seraphim, they praise God (Revelation 4:8). They had the job of guarding the tree of life, they are the throne of God (1 Samuel 4:4), and they are the chariot that God rides upon (1 Chronicles 28:18, 2 Samuel 22:11).