The transliterated Hebrew word seraph is translated in the King James Bible as fiery serpent three times, fiery twice, and seraphim twice. It comes from a root word meaning burn, burned up, or kindled; it is Strong’s reference number 8314.
The fiery serpent reference is first in regard to Numbers chapter 21, where God sent “fiery” serpents against the people because of their excessive complaining against Him:
Then people admitted their wrongdoing to Moses, and he prayed for them. God told Moses to make a “fiery serpent” on a pole so all who were bitten could look at it to save their lives:
Later in the Bible, Isaiah writes of a “fiery (flying) serpent” twice in his book, in chapters 14 and 30:
These two references seem to have a common theme, and that is of a nasty being that makes trouble for those whom God allows to be affected by it/them.
What makes this word seraph interesting is that it is also used in Isaiah chapter 6 to indicate the angelic host around the throne of God! Each “seraphim” had six wings, similar to those described in Ezekiel 1:5-11 (and to a certain degree in Revelation 4:6-8):
How can the same Hebrew word, seraph, be used in seemingly drastically different ways… in ways that seem diametrically opposed to one another? In one instance they are creatures of terror and judgment, in another they’re God’s divine council.
In many cases, when doing biblical word searches and studies, one can interchange a like word from the original language and retain or enhance meaning. An obvious example is the Hebrew word for God, YHWH, translated in the King James Bible as LORD. But it is difficult to imagine “fiery serpents” around the throne of God, or seraphim biting people in the desert!
The only thing that makes sense is to relate this to Satan, angels and heavenly beings.
Satan, generically thought of as a fallen angel, is allowed to torment people to the degree God allows. Consider Job and his story. Satan causes mischief, heartache, suffering and pain, but in the bigger picture, is being used by God to bring people closer to Himself. On the other hand, angels are God’s servants, messengers and ministers, created to tend to and serve God. Certain Hebrew commentaries of Isaiah 6 even render fiery serpent as bright or shining angels. This makes reasonable sense, in that Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan portrays himself as an angel of light.
So when considered in such a manner, seraph can be understood in either setting… as a fiery serpent intent on destruction, ultimately designed to turn people to God… or as a heavenly host around the throne of God.