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Fausset's Bible Dictionary [1]

 Isaiah 6:2-3. ("God's attendant angels".) Seraphim (Plural) in  Numbers 21:6 means the "fiery flying (Not Winged, But Rapidly Moving) "serpents" which bit the Israelites; called so from the poisonous inflammation caused by their bites. Burning (From Saraph "To Burn") zeal, dazzling brightness of appearance ( 2 Kings 2:11;  2 Kings 6:17;  Ezekiel 1:13;  Matthew 28:3) and serpent-like rapidity in God's service, always characterize the seraphim. Satan's "serpent" ( Nachash ) form in appearing to man may have some connection with his original form as a Seraph (Singular) of light. The serpent's head symbolized wisdom in Egypt ( 2 Kings 18:4). Satan has wisdom, but wisdom not sanctified by the flame of devotion. The Seraphim with six wings and one face differ from the Cherubim with four wings (In The Temple Only Two) and four faces ( Ezekiel 1:5-12); but in  Revelation 4:8 the four living creatures ( Zooa ) have each six wings. The "face" and "feet" imply a human form.

Seraphim however may come from Sar , "prince" ( Daniel 10:13); "with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain He did fly." Two wings alone of the six were kept ready for instant flight in God's service; two veiled their faces as unworthy to look on the holy God or pry into His secret counsels which they fulfilled ( Exodus 3:6;  Job 4:18;  Job 15:15;  1 Kings 19:13). Those in the presence of Eastern monarchs cover the whole of the lower part of their persons (Which The "Feet" Include) . Service consists in reverent waiting on, more than in active service for, God. Their antiphonal anthem on the triune God's holiness suggests the keynote of Isaiah's prophecies, "Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of hosts; the fullness of the whole earth (Is) His glory" ( Psalms 24:1;  Psalms 72:19).

Besides praising God they are secondly the medium of imparting spiritual fire from God to His prophet; when Isaiah laments alike his own and the people's uncleanness of lips, in contrast to the seraphim chanting in alternate responses with pure lips God's praises, and ( Isaiah 6:5-7) with a deep sense of the unfitness of his own lips to speak God's message to the people, one of the seraphim flew with a live coal which he took from off the altar of burnt offering in the temple court, the fire on it being that which God at first had kindled ( Leviticus 9:24), and laid it upon Isaiah's mouth, saying, "lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged." Thus he was inaugurated in office, as the disciples were by the tongues of fire resting on them, the sign of their speaking of Jesus in various languages; his unfitness for the office, as well as his personal sin, were removed only by being brought into contact with the sacrificial altar, of which Messiah is the antitype.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

Seraphim . The seraphim are mentioned only in a single passage of Scripture (  Isaiah 6:2 ff.). In his inaugural vision, Isaiah sees these supernatural creatures grouped about Jehovah’s throne in His heavenly palace. The prophet furnishes no elaborate description of the form of these beings, and apparently assumes that his readers will be able to fill in what he omits; but he does make clear that they are six-winged creatures. With one pair of wings they hover around Jehovah’s throne; and with the other two they cover their faces and their feet, actions symbolical of humility and adoration. The seraphim are arranged in an antiphonal choir, singing the Trisagion, and their chorus is of such volume that the sound shakes the foundations of the palace. In the prophet’s vision they have human voices and hands (v. 6), but it cannot be asserted with equal certainty that they possess human bodies. The prophet leaves us in no doubt about the function of these creatures. They are ministers of Jehovah, occupied in singing the praises of their Sovereign, and in protecting Him from the approach of sin and evil. The seraphim may be traced in the Imagery and symbolism of the NT Apocalypse, where the four living creatures, in both their function and their form, are a combination of the seraphim with the cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision (cf.   Isaiah 6:2 ff.,   Ezekiel 1:1-28;   Ezekiel 2:1-10 , and   Revelation 4:8 ).

It was customary with the prophets to transform and purify popular conceptions, by bringing them into relation with their ethical idea of God. The seraphim are an illustration of this process. The popular mythical seraphim were a personification of the serpent-like flash of lightning. The usage and meaning of the singular sârâph (= ‘ fiery serpent ,’   Numbers 21:6 ,   Isaiah 14:29 ), as well as the etymology of the word, suggest this view of the origin of the seraphim. The later Jewish tradition, according to which they are serpents, points in the same direction (Enoch 20. 7, 61. 10 et al .). The brazen serpent, Nehushtan , which was removed from the Temple by Hezekiah, was a relic probably connected with the popular mythical conception, and it may have suggested the seraphim of the heavenly palace to Isaiah’s mind.

Two other theories of the origin of the prophetic conception have been advanced, but there is little that can be said in their favour. Some would derive the name from the Babylonian Sharrapu , a name for Nergal the fire-god, and consequently would regard the seraphim as the flames that enveloped this deity. Others have endeavoured to associate them with the Egyptian griffins ( seref ), half-lion and half-eagle, which are represented as guardians of graves. According to the latter view, the duty of guarding the threshold of the Temple would be the function that must be assigned to the seraphim of Isaiah’s vision. In criticism, it may be remarked that the Egyptian griffin is more akin to the Hebrew cherub, and the latter should be sharply distinguished from the seraph (cf. art. Cherub).

James A. Kelso.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [3]

Symbolical celestial beings seen by Isaiah standing above the Lord on His throne ( Adonai, but many MSS read Jehovah ). Each had three sets of wings: with one pair he covered his face, in token of reverence; with another he covered his feet, in token of humility; andwith the third he flew to accomplish his mission.

Gesenius and Fürst give to the word saraph the meanings 'to burn,' and 'to be exalted.' They trace the seraphim to the latter signification, as 'exalted ones.' The word occurs only in  Numbers 21:6;  Deuteronomy 8:15 , translated 'fiery;' and in  Numbers 21:8;  Isaiah 14:29;  Isaiah 30:6 , translated 'fiery serpent.' In  Isaiah 6:2-7 (the plural) the seraphim are exalted beings, but the only actions recorded there are that one brought a live coal from off the altar and laid it upon the prophet's mouth, and said, "Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." They cried to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."

The distinction between seraphim and cherubim may be that, while the former bear witness to God's holiness (that is, to His nature), in the latter are exhibited the principles of His righteous government on the earth. The 'living creatures' of  Revelation 4 combine the characteristics of both cherubim and seraphim.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [4]

Seraphim. (Burning, Glowing). An order of celestial beings, whom Isaiah beheld in vision, standing above Jehovah , as he sat upon his throne.  Isaiah 6:2. They are described as having, each of them, three pairs of wings, with one of which. They covered their faces. (a token of humility); with the second. They covered their feet. (a token of respect); while. With the third. They flew. They seem to have borne a general resemblance to the human figure.  Isaiah 6:6. Their occupation was two fold; to celebrate the praises of Jehovah's holiness and power,  Isaiah 6:3, and to act as the medium of communication between heaven and earth.  Isaiah 6:6.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [5]

Burning ones, celestial beings surrounding the throne of God. Compare  Deuteronomy 4:24   Hebrews 12:29 . They appear to be distinguished from the cherubim,  Ezekiel 1:5-12 . The prophet Isaiah,  Isaiah 6:2,3 , represents them as reverently adoring the triune God, and burning with zeal to fly and execute his will. Each one had six wings, with two of which he covered his face, with two his feet, and with the two others he flew. They cried to one another, and said, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [6]

It seems that seraphim (plural of seraph) are angelic beings of one of the higher heavenly orders. They appear to be similar to cherubim and, like cherubim, are heavenly guardians who serve the Almighty. In the only biblical reference to them they have a special concern for holiness and morality ( Isaiah 6:1-7; see Cherubim ).

Easton's Bible Dictionary [7]

 Isaiah 6:2,3,6,7Angels  Numbers 21:6,8 Deuteronomy 8:15 Isaiah 14:29 30:6

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Seraphim, Princes. The name given by Isaiah to the spirits waiting on the Lord, and which axe apparently the most exalted of the angelic host.  Isaiah 6:2;  Isaiah 6:6.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [9]

The name is one with cherubim. See Cherub. It is derived from Sharaph, or Seraph, to burn. Hence the burning serpents were called Seraphim. ( Numbers 21:6)

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(1): ( n.) The Hebrew plural of Seraph. Cf. Cherubim.

(2): ( pl.) of Seraph

Holman Bible Dictionary [11]

 Isaiah 6:2

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

(Heb. Seraphim', שְׂרָפַים ; Sept. Σεραφίμ , or Seraphs; the plural of the word שָׂרָ , Saraph ) , celestial beings described in  Isaiah 6:2-6 as an order of angels or ministers of God, who stand around his throne, having each six wings, and also hands and feet, and praising God with their voices. They were therefore of human form, and, like the Cherubim, furnished with wings as the swift messengers of God. Some have indeed identified the Cherubim and Seraphim as the same beings, but under names descriptive of different qualities: Seraphim denoting the burning and dazzling appearance of the beings elsewhere described as Cherubim.

It would be difficult either to prove or disprove this; but there are differences between the Cherubim of Ezekiel and the Seraphim of Isaiah which it does not appear easy to reconcile. The "living creatures" of the former prophet had four wings; the "Seraphim" of the latter, six; and while the Cherubim had four faces, the Seraphim had but one (comp.  Isaiah 6:2-3;  Ezekiel 1:5-12). If the figures were in all cases purely symbolical, the difference does not signify (see Hendewerk, De Seraph. Et Cherub. Non Diversis [Reg. 1836]). (See Cherubim).

There is much symbolical force and propriety in the attitude in which the Seraphim are described as standing, while two of their wings were kept ready for instant flight in the service of God; with two others they hid their face to express their unworthiness to look upon the Divine Majesty (see  Exodus 3:6;  1 Kings 19:13; comp. Plutarch, Quoest. Romans vol. 10), and with two others they covered their feet, or the whole of the lower part of their bodies a practice which still prevails in the East when persons appear in a monarch's presence (see Lowth, ad loc.). Their occupation was twofold to celebrate the praises of Jehovah's holiness and power ( Isaiah 6:3), and to act as the medium of communication between heaven and earth ( Isaiah 6:6). From their antiphonal chant ("one cried unto another") we may conceive them to have been ranged in opposite rows on each side of the throne. As the Seraphim are nowhere else mentioned in the Bible, our conceptions of their appearance must be restricted to the above particulars, aided by such uncertain light as etymology and analogy will supply. We may observe that the idea of a winged human figure was not peculiar to the Hebrews: among the sculptures found at Mourghaub, in Persia, we meet with a representation of a man with two pairs of wings springing from the shoulders and extending, the one pair upwards, the other downwards, so as to admit of covering the head and the feet (Vaux, Nin. and Persep. p. 322).

The wings in this instance imply deification; for speed and ease of motion stand, in man's imagination, among the most prominent tokens of divinity. The meaning of the word "seraph" is extremely doubtful; the only word which resembles it in the current Hebrew is saraph, שָׂרִ , "to burn," whence the idea of Brilliancy has been extracted. Such a sense would harmonize with other descriptions of celestial beings (e.g.  Ezekiel 1:13;  Matthew 28:3); but it is objected that the Hebrew term never bears this secondary sense. Gesenius ( Thesaur. p. 1341) connects it with an Arabic term signifying High or Exalted, and this may be regarded as the generally received etymology; but the absence of any cognate Hebrew term is certainly worthy of remark. It may be seen in the article SERPENT (See Serpent) that a species of serpent was called Saraph, and this has led some to conceive that the Seraphim were a kind of basilisk-headed Cherubim (Bauer, Theolog. A.T. p. 189); or else that they were animal forms with serpent's heads, such as we find figured in the ancient temples of Thebes (Gesen. Comment. In Jes. ) . Hitzig and others identify the Seraphim with the Egyptian Serapis; for although it is true that the worship of Serapis was not introduced into Egypt till the time of the Ptolemies (Wilkinson, Anc. AEgypt. 4, 360 s. q.), it is known that this was but a modification of the more ancient worship of Kneph, who was figured under the form of a serpent of the same kind, the head of which afterwards formed the crest of Serapis. But we can hardly conceive that the Hebrews would have borrowed their imagery from such a source. Knobel's conjecture that Seraphim is merely a false reading for sharathim ( שָׁרָתָים ), "ministers," is ingenious, but the latter word is not Hebrew. See the Studien und Kritiken, 1844, 2, 454. (See Angel); (See Cherub); (See Living Creature); (See Teraphim).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [13]

ser´a - fim ( שׂרפים , serāphı̄m ): A plural word occurring only in   Isaiah 6:2 ff - I saiah's vision of Yahweh. The origin of the term in Hebrew is uncertain. Sārāph in  Numbers 21:6;  Isaiah 14:29 , etc., signifies a fiery serpent. A B abylonian name for the fire-god, Nergal, was Sharrapu . In Egypt there have been found eagle-lion-shaped figures guarding a grave, to which is applied the name seref . The equivalent English term is "griffin."

It is probable enough that popular mythology connected fire with the attendants of the deity in various ways among different peoples, and that burning lies at the base of the idea in all these suggested etymologies. It remains, however, that in Isaiah's use there is nothing of the popular legend or superstition. These seraphim are august beings whose forms are not at all fully described. They had faces, feet, hands and wings. The six wings, in three pairs, covered their faces and feet in humility and reverence, and were used for sustaining them in their positions about the throne of Yahweh. One of them is the agent for burning (with a coal off the altar, not with his own power or person) the sin from the lips of the prophet.

Seraphim are in Jewish theology connected with cherubim and ophanim as the three highest orders of attendants on Yahweh, and are superior to the angels who are messengers sent on various errands. As the cherubim in popular fancy were represented by the storm-clouds, so the seraphim were by the serpentine flashes of the lightning; but none of this appears in Isaiah's vision.

In the New Testament the only possible equivalent is in "the living ones" ("beasts" of the King James Version) in  Revelation 4:1-11;  Revelation 5:1-14 , etc. Here, as in Isaiah, they appear nearest Yahweh's throne, supreme in praise of His holiness.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [14]

Ser´aphim, or Seraphs, the plural of the word saraph, 'burning,' or 'fiery:' celestial beings described in , as an order of angels or ministers of God, who stand around his throne, having each six wings, and also hands and feet, and praising God with their voices. They were therefore of human form, and, like the Cherubim, furnished with wings as the swift messengers of God.

There is much symbolical force and propriety in the attitude in which the Seraphim are described as standing; while two of their wings were kept ready for instant flight in the service of God, with two others they hid their face, to express their unworthiness to look upon the divine Majesty (comp. ), and with two others they covered their feet, or the whole of the lower part of their bodies—a practice which still prevails in the East, when persons appear in a monarch's presence.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [15]

Angels of the highest order and of etheriel temper, represented as guarding with veiled faces the Divine glory, and considered to have originally denoted the lightning darting out from the black thunder-cloud.