Our Heavenly Brothers
A study of the angels
Angels are mighty and powerful spirit creatures that reside in the heavens, the heaven of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27; Neh.9:6; Mk.12:25; 1 Cor.15:44). One of the first references to angels is in the book of Job where it states that with the founding of the Earth "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:4-7 NASB). It is not hard to comprehend the magnificent spectacle that must have taken place in the heavens at that time. What singing and praise must have been given to the Most High, a beautiful majestic assembling of God's faithful heavenly sons singing in superhuman voices in superhuman language.
Then sadly, at man's fall (Genesis 3:24) two angels were posted at the eastern entrance to the garden of Eden with a flaming blade of a sword 'to guard the way to the tree of life', barring all but perfect people from entry, because Eden was the sanctuary of God, no unauthorised person could now enter.
How long were the angels stationed there guarding the way to the garden of Eden? They were posted there 1,600 years in which they would witness the first murder, the slow fall of man into wickedness, death and dying, and they could not intervene in any way. People often complain just waiting in a queue, or because someone is a bit slow. We often get impatient and restless, but these angels were given a 1600-year, some would say, mundane task!
What restraint they showed, how patient they must have been, and what a test it would be, demonstrating how very faithful are angels in God's service. Angels have greater mental and emotional capacity, and greater spiritual powers than we possess (Psalm 8:5a LXX). They would feel all the more acutely the pain of man's fall; it would have been a greater trial to an angel. They had to stand by while it all happened. They rejoiced over Earth, they would rejoice over man. Now they had to stand guard. Their duty ended and they returned to heaven when the building of the ark was complete and Eden was obliterated by the surging waters of the flood, its location lost to man except for the divine record of its existence.
Another thing we know about angels is that they have individual personalities and individual names. Yet only two names are known to us, Gabriel and Michael (Dan.12:1; Lk.1:26). In fact Gabriel is the only materialised angel to give his name. As personalities with language angels have the power to communicate with one another (1 Cor.13:1), as well as the ability to talk the various languages of men (Num.22:32-35; Dan.4:23; Matt.28:5; Lk.1:26,28; Acts 10:3-7). They have emotions, can be joyful, and have desires (Job 38:7; 1 Pet.1:12), and are frequently spoken of as holy (see Ps.89:6,7; Dan.8:13; Zech.14:5; Lk.9:26; Mk.8:38), dwelling in a holy environment (Ps.11:4; 29:9; 89:8; Hab.1:13a; 2:20).
They are each unique individuals unlike one another in their spirit form, unlike humans who are basically copies of the same form. Humans are made from DNA, the blueprint for our human body, and when we reproduce, we basically make similar copies of one another. Not so with angels. Angels do not marry and reproduce their own kind (Matt.22:30). Genetic procreation only takes place in the physical realm of existence, angels therefore do not have gender. Perhaps due to the confines of human language they are described as men, the masculine pronoun is used of them (Gen.18:2,22; 19:1,5; Dan.10:18; Mk.16:5; Lk.24:4,5; John 20:12; Zechariah 5:9) They are not all stamped out of the same mould like we see in paintings, they are not of the physical form and so each must be very different from the other. They are direct creations, having spirit bodies (1 Cor.15:44b). The variety and magnificence in angelic individuality must be truly staggering.
Another thing we learn from the book of Job is that Almighty God regularly convenes His heavenly sons in assembly, each taking their station before Him. A number of these assemblies are recorded in Job, but did you know that another is also recorded in the book of Kings? In the account we learn that angels have free will and are often presented with opportunities to serve God in special ways using their own initiative. They were created with the ability to do God's will intelligently and faithfully. It is the time of the two kingdoms, King Ahab ruled Israel in the North and Judah in the South was ruled by Jehoshaphat.
Ahab was bad; Jezebel had just had Naboth murdered so that Ahab could have his vineyard, and he lived in an ivory palace that was stained with the blood of innocent men. So Elijah pronounces judgment upon him. Ahab was only half repentant and his days were coming to an end. His war with the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead is given in 1 Kings 22. He engages Jehoshaphat to join him in taking back Ramoth in Gilead from the Syrians, and the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah are joined.
At the special request of Jehoshaphat Ahab enquires of his 400 prophets who assure him of success (Zedekiah the prophet takes the lead in encouraging the king, falsely applying a prophecy in Deuteronomy 33:7). Jehoshaphat is not convinced and asks for further counsel. Micaiah the true prophet is found and tells the truth that the war will be disastrous (1 Kings 22:17 NRSV). "Micaiah said, 'I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd;' and the LORD said, 'These have no master; let each one go home in peace.'" Something has been going on in heaven, a heavenly counsel has also gathered, a kind of angel senate behind the scenes, a heavenly court. "Then Micaiah said, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him. And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, 'I will entice him.' 'How?' the LORD asked him. He replied, 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then the LORD said, 'You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.' So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has decreed disaster for you." (1 Kings 22:19-23 NRSV)
This angel was to induce Ahab to fight against Syria as a judgment from God for all the blood he had spilt and his gross wickedness over Naboth's murder. The angel used his initiative and manoeuvred the network of false prophets to bring Ahab down.
Ahab's own delusions were the means of his downfall, he preferred lies to truth and became the snare of his downfall. Here in the vision given in Kings we see God pictured as presiding over the "council of the holy ones" (Ps.89:7 NASB), "in the middle of the gods he holds judgment" (Ps.82:1 NRSV; see Dan.7:10). This then tells us that angels can act to change a course of earthly action, they can intervene in the events of history, but only on God's approval. As the psalmist sang "Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word. Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will" (Ps.103:20,21 NRSV).
The visitation of an angel can be alarming, can grip one with fear, and has often begun by lovingly saying, 'Fear not' (see Lk.1:29,30; 2:9,10; Matt.28:4). A number of prophets had to be revived when an angel appeared, Daniel three times (Dan.8:15-18; 10:8-11,15-19). In Genesis there is little notice of angelic appearance till after the call of Abraham and from then on angels mingle with and watch over his family Both Abraham and Lot 'entertained angels unawares' (Heb.13:2).
The angels of God are compassionate and often give reassurance. In Genesis 16 when Hagar ran away because of the cruelty of Sarai, it was an angel that found her in a distressed state and compassionately spoke to her by name saying "Hagarů where have you come from and where are you going?" (16:8 NRSV). This angel comfortingly reassured her and helped her to return, promising she would have a great number of descendants, even naming her son Ishmael as she was pregnant at the time. It was an angel in Genesis 21 that had further compassion on Hagar when she was sent away with her quite sick son. The angel guided her to water saving her and her son's life.
It was an angel that guided Abraham's servant to find a wife for Isaac in Gen.24:7,40. An angel guided Abraham's grandson Jacob throughout his life (Gen.28:12; 31:11-13). In Genesis 32:1,24-30 a number of angels appear to Jacob, one later grapples with him and changes his name to that of a victor, Israel. Toward the end of his life he spoke of "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day" (Gen.48:15 NASB) and of "The angel who has redeemed me from all harm" (Gen.48:16a NRSV).
What else do we know about our heavenly brothers? How old are they? When exactly were they called into existence is not a subject of divine revelation (Ps.148:4,5). The aorist tense of the Greek word translated "created" (Col.1:16) may indicate an act (angels created all at the same time) or, the climax of a series of creative acts. All things came into existence by means of the Logos, the Son of God, logically that would include angels (see John 1:3; Col.1:16,17), and indicates they were created after the Logos was begotten and before the physical creation. We know therefore they are older than the Earth, they were present when its foundation was laid (Job 38:1-7, 31-33). Scientists estimate the age of the universe to be about 15 to 20 billion years. So angels are at least 15 billion years old. Think of that! God's heavenly sons have faithfully served Him for at least 15 billion years, and yet they are so modest and humble we only know the names of two!
No doubt the lack of names of our heavenly brothers is a safeguard against undue honour and worship that could be given these servants of God. They are dispatched by God to act in His name, not there own. The word angel basically has the humble meaning 'messenger' (Gr. angelos, Heb. malak). What humility to be remembered simply as a messenger. Never, ever, do they draw attention to themselves. They won't even tell you their name. When Jacob asked an angel his name, he refused to give it, simply stating, "Why is it that you ask my name?" (Gen.32:29 NRSV)
The angel that approached Joshua as he entered Canaan (at Gilgal) was asked to identify himself, and replied only that "as prince of the host of Jehovah I am now come" (Josh.5:13,14 ASV).
In Judges chapter 13 an angel appears to Manoah's wife, a barren woman, saying not only will she have a son, but also that he will save Israel out of the hands of the Philistines (13:1-5). She tells her husband saying the man did not give his name and they think he is a prophet. The angel then appears to them both confirming what he has said and they want him to share a meal, but the angel suggests an offering instead. Manoah then says (13:17,18 NASB), "What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honour you?" However the LORD'S angel said, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" And he disappeared ascending in the flames of the offering. Manoah's wife later gave birth to Samson.
The apostle John attempted to worship angels and was twice reproved by the angel "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brotherů. Worship God." (Rev.19:10 NIV; see also 22:8,9; Col.2:18,19). Faithful angels are our heavenly spiritual brothers (see Heb.2:11) and fellow servants or slaves. 'All I am is a fellow slave'. Such is their humility, and even though they have served faithfully for BILLIONS of years, they never take the credit for anything they do. So we can say in all honesty that God's heavenly sons must have very fine personalities. They delight to serve, nothing is more important to them than serving in the heavenly courts before the face of God. Nothing gives them greater joy than this one thing, serving and helping others, and they never, ever, take any credit for anything they do. Would we be content to serve our entire lives without any recognition, without being given any credit, and without anyone knowing what we have done?
Note the account in Judges chapters 6 to 8 regarding an angel appointing Gideon, the humblest man of his family and tribe, in order to 'save Israel out of Midian's palm' (Judg.6:14), and Gideon's self effacement in this victory toward his brothers (Judg.8:3). The angel would not have chosen him if it had been otherwise. Amazingly the apostle Paul states of God's heavenly sons "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14 NKJ; v.7; Ps.104:4; see also 1 Cor.4:9).
In other words they minister to you and me. Angels minister to the human disciples of Jesus Christ so that when they are raised, they are given immortality. Not only that, it seems they are given places higher than angels, and they, God's heavenly son's in their humility, are there to help us achieve this. Such is their great regard for specks of creation, whose time "passes away like a shadow" (1 Ch.29:15; Ps.102:11; 109:23; 144:4; Eccl.6:12; Jam.4:14). Man's duration of life is a poor pittance compared even to the life of the oldest man, Methuselah (969yrs Gen.5:27). But what are these to the life duration of a mighty angel, begun "before the mountains were brought forth" (Ps.90:2 NRSV) or the foundations of the Earth were laid? Of the billions and billions of years angels have served God faithfully, what are threescore years and ten to this?
We also know that God's heavenly sons aid us in our pilgrimage of faith down here. It was Jesus Christ Himself who stated that "Joy arises among the angels of God over one sinner that repents" (Lk.15:10; see Eccl.5:6). One person repents and joy is manifest on their countenance!
(to be continued)