We know that angels are biblical beings, but they are also intrinsic to American popular culture. That’s why it’s easy to run with the notion that angels are human-like winged beings or tiny babies with rosy cheeks. However, biblical scholars know that these popular notions come from art, poetry, and cultural exchanges that date as far back as Ancient Egypt. The Bible describes four types of angels ranked in a heavenly hierarchy. This is a brief description of each.
Cherubim: The Cherubim are the lowest in the hierarchy and look like an animal-human hybrid. Their role is to guard the Garden of Eden against humans. The Book of Ezekiel describes Cherubim as beings with the faces of a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a human. They have straight legs, four wings (one set that covers the body and the other used to fly), and gleaming bull hooves for feet. Artists have drawn the Cherubim as winged babies which is probably a reference to Greek and Roman Gods like Cupid.
Malakim: The Malakim ranks third in the hierarchy of angels and are God’s messengers. They make several appearances in the Bible. They appear as the angel of death or as Michael the archangel. They also appear as Gabriel, who appeared to Mary with the news of her immaculate conception. Malakim look like human beings but they do not have wings. At the end of the fourth century, artists rendered them with wings to symbolize their sublime nature.
Seraphim: Seraphim ranks second in the hierarchy. They have six wings, only two of which are used to fly. The other two sets of wings cover their heads and feet. The Seraphim surrounds God’s throne singing “Holy, holy, holy” as He approaches.
Ophanim: The Ophanim are beings with a decidedly unique appearance. They’re made out of interlocking gold wheels covered with multiple eyes and float independently in the sky. They are tasked with guarding God’s throne and are the highest in the hierarchy.