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Fiery Serpents around the Throne?

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:

So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

Numbers 21:6

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:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”

Numbers 21:8

Later in the Bible, Isaiah writes of a “fiery (flying) serpent” twice in his book, in chapters 14 and 30:

For out of the serpent’s roots will come forth a viper, and its offspring will be a fiery flying serpent.

Isaiah 14:29

Through a land of trouble and anguish, from which came the lioness and lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent…

Isaiah 30:6

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):

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.”

Isaiah 6:1-3, 6-7

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.