Author’s Note: Interested readers can find all previous volumes of this series here.
Thanks for joining us as we begin our two-part study about angels in the Bible. Today we examine the Old Testament, and next week the New.
Everyone loves angels, those adorable, cuddly, invisible, flying beings with fluffy white wings depicted throughout culture in music, art, literature, cartoons, and movies.
Speaking of movies, among my favorites is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring a hard-working angel named Clarence. But my beloved “real” angel is St. Michael – a high-ranking "archangel" – among the few mentioned by name in the Bible and best-known for his “Prayer of Protection” discussed in Vol. 20.
Guiding us through our brief study meant to stimulate further interest in this extensive topic is Mike Aquilina, who authored “Angels of God.” Mike has written numerous books and is Executive Vice President and Trustee of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.
Aquilina says, “The word ‘angel’ is from the Greek word, angelos, meaning ‘messenger’ also the root of ‘evangelist,’ and ‘evangelical,’ that means ‘news.’ Thus, ‘ev-angel’ is ‘good news,’ referring to the gospel.”
The Biblical appearance of angel messengers conflicts with Hollywood’s cherub-faced friendly depiction and the reason why angels usually say, “Don’t be afraid” before delivering their heavenly messages from God. Although the word angel is rooted in “messenger,” they are called upon to perform varied tasks, most notably as guardians.
In the Bible, angels are called many names. Aquilina says, “the Bible uses a wealth of terms such as seraphim, cherubim, choirs, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, sons of God, ministers, servants, hosts, watchers and holy ones.”
The first time an angel is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible is in the third chapter of Genesis:
“After he [God] drove the man out, he [God] placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).
Here the cherubim act as God’s guards tasked with keeping sinful “fallen man” from gaining access to the tree of life to “live forever,” as God states in Genesis 3:22. (See Christ, Jesus in the New Testament about how the “live forever” matter is resolved or begin by reading Vol. 32.)
Later in Genesis, we meet “The angel of the LORD,” who intervened in a history-altering birth story while ministering to Hagar in the desert. Hagar was a frightened maid-servant who ran away after being mistreated by Abram’s wife, Sarai. (Much family drama ensues, and note that in Genesis 17, God renamed Abram and Sarai as Abraham and Sarah.)
The angel informs Hagar that she must return to Sarai because: “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count” (Genesis 16:10).
Famously, the angel tells Hagar: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:11-12).
Could this passage be the root of all Middle East conflicts?
Another job of angels is to serve as guides for critical missions, like when Abraham’s servant was sent to find a wife for his son Isaac. Upon departing, Abraham told the servant: “The LORD, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success..” (Genesis 24:40).
Sometimes in the Bible, angels appeared to be men but made clear they were speaking on behalf of God’s will. Angels as men have also accompanied the LORD on pivotal visits, such as delivering news of a forthcoming, miraculous birth. That occurred when Abraham had “three visitors” in Genesis 18:1-15, the Lord and two of His angels. And then the two angels went on to warn Lot before the Lord destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-29.
Aquilina tells us that “in the Old Testament, it is not always easy to make a distinction between God and his angels.”
Engaging in military maneuvers was another angelic duty dramatically demonstrated in Exodus. While trying to escape Egypt, the Hebrew people, led by Moses, were chased by Pharaoh’s army and stopped at the water’s edge before the sea miraculously opened for them to cross. But first, an angel had to strategically change position:
“Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them” (Exodus 14:19).
Now let’s review a representative sampling of Psalm verses featuring angels in their roles as guards, protectors, and messengers of His Word.
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:7).
“Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word” (Psalm 103:20).
The book of Daniel is where the angels Gabriel and Michael are named in Daniel’s visions about the Son of man, the fate of Israel, God’s judgment, and the end times.
Again, in a messenger role: “And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, ‘Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.’ As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. ‘Son of man,’ he said to me, ‘understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.’”(Daniel 8:16-17). (See Vol. 53 for more about “Son of man.”)
Then in Daniel 9: 21-27, Gabriel offers Daniel further “insight and understanding.” Daniel’s vision continues, and he is informed that Michael is “your prince” who “will arise” to “protect your people” at the end times in Daniel 10:21 and 12:1.
Unfortunately, messenger angels have not increased my allotted space to continue discussing their vital role representing God in the Hebrew Bible. But for more angel verses, click here.
Join us next week when Mike Aquilina will expand our understanding of angels in the New Testament. As a preview, Mike says, “In the New, angels do the same jobs as in the Old, but we find that our human relationships with angels differ from that of the Old Testament heroes.”
Myra Kahn Adams is a media producer and conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. She is also Executive Director of www.SignFromGod.org, a ministry dedicated to educating people about the Shroud of Turin. Contact: MyraAdams01@gmail.com or Twitter @MyraKAdams.