And from the midst of it came what looked like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they had human form, Bible see other translations

“four living creatures.” The Hebrew word translated “living creature” is from the Hebrew word “living” (alive) and generally refers to living animals, although most English versions render that as “living creatures,” and some as “living beings.” It is completely understandable why the prophet Ezekiel would call them “living creatures,” because he had never seen a cherub, until his own description in Ezekiel 1 and 10, we did not really know what they looked like. Although there are cherubim over the ark of the covenant, they are not described in any kind of detail in the Bible, and it seems like the way they are portrayed over the ark was different than the more exact description that Ezekiel saw.

For example, the cherubim over the ark seem to have only one face, not four, to have only one set of wings instead of two, and are not said to have arms with hands at all. Furthermore, the cherubim that are portrayed in the Millennial Temple only have two faces, not four; a human face and a lion face (Ezek. 41:18-19). It is possible that the sculpture, carvings, and weavings of the cherubim in the Temple are not fully accurate representations of them, but are more general representations. However, it is also possible that “cherub” is a general description of a category of spirit beings rather than a specific spirit being in the same way that “beetle” loosely describes a category of insects and not a specific insect such as a “rhinoceros beetle” or a “lady bug.” If that were the case, we could see how the descriptions of the cherubim differed yet each being was a cherub. That also opens the door for the six-winged creatures in Revelation 4:6-8 to be cherubim.

The book of Ezekiel does not tell us when or how Ezekiel came to the realization that the “living beings” were cherubim, but we learn from Ezekiel 10:15 and 10:20, that they were indeed cherubim.

We were first introduced to cherubim in Genesis 3:24, when God employed them to guard the way into the Garden of Eden and the tree of life, but they were not described other than they were obviously powerful and could wield a flaming sword. The next times we saw the cherubim in the Bible they were associated with the Ark of the Covenant in both Moses’ Tent of Meeting and Solomon’s Temple, and likely symbolize that cherubim guard the Ark of the Covenant just as they guarded the Garden of Eden (cp. Exod. 25:20; 37:9; 1 Kings 6:27; 2 Chron. 3:11, 13). In Exodus we learned that cherubim have wings, but we do not learn that they each had four wings until Ezekiel 1 and 10. We learn that God used cherubim to move from one place to another in Samuel and Psalms (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10), but those verses made it seem like God rode on them like one rides on a horse. However, since Ezekiel tells us they have the general form of a human, that is unlikely. God’s riding a cherub is likely an abbreviated way of saying what is described in much more detail in Ezekiel, that the cherubim power God’s chariot-throne. Finally, here in Ezekiel 1 and 10 we are given a much more complete picture of cherubim.

Like angels, they are alive; they are said to be living creatures. They are basically humanoid in shape (Ezek. 1:5), but have some very significant differences. On their head, each one of them has four different faces that each face in a different direction; the face of a human, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle, so they keep watch in every direction at once (Ezek. 1:10; 10:21). They each have four wings (Ezek. 1:6, 11; 10:21), so they fly, and can fly quick as lightning, and when they fly with God’s chariot-throne, they make a sound like a coming army (Ezek. 1:24). When they are not flying, one set of wings is stretched outward and one set is down and covers their body (Ezek. 1:11). Also, they have arms and hands like human hands under their wings (Ezek. 1:5; 10:21). The arms and hands allow them to grasp things as a human would, which is why the cherubim in Genesis could wield a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24). Also, although their basic form was human, including their upper leg, their “feet,” which included the area up to about the knee, were like those of a calf (Ezek. 1:7). Although the exact purpose for that is not given, it no doubt enables them to run on rocky soil and perhaps also they can be used as weapons. [For more on the cherubim and their purpose, see commentary on Ezek. 1:10].

“they had human form.” This refers to their basic shape. Obviously, humans do not have wings and four different faces.

Commentary for: Ezekiel 1:5