We often look at Genesis and marvel over the creation of the universe. We look at humankind as another of His marvelous creations. But what of His other creation, angels? The bible has a lot to say about them. This is a rudimentary summary, because there is so much to be learned about these created beings, but here is an overview:
Angels are shown throughout the bible from Genesis to Revelation. We learn that they were present at the creation in Job 38:7, “When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy.” We meet our first angels in Genesis 18:2. After the LORD appeared to Abraham, three ‘men’ appeared to him, and Abraham bowed low. More on the bowing at the end. A parallel verse here is Hebrews 13:2, “entertaining angels unawares.” We see clearly that angels can look like men or they can look utterly like something that is unable to be described, like the wheel within wheel, four faced angels Ezekiel saw. (Ez 1:10-18, Revelation 4:6, “they had eyes all around”). Wow!
Though in our culture angels are depicted as having wings, only two kinds of angels are shown in the bible to have wings – Cherubim (Exodus 25:20; Ezekiel 10) and Seraphim (Isaiah 6). Many other times they are shown to look like men, and as a matter of fact, pass for human when we are entertaining them unawares.
Speaking of the cherubim, the famous painting detail from the Sistine Chapel in Rome, by Raphael, shows two typical cherubs but that is far from how cherubs really look! Cherubim are involved in the praise and worship of God. Two cherubim also guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden after the fall. (Genesis 3:24). It is a sure thing they aren’t roly poly little tots flying around having a grand old time! Forget Cupid.
Ezekiel 28:14 refers to Lucifer as an angel who covers (guards). It is an allusion to the cherubim over the mercy seat, which was covered with their wings. They are a sort of an Honor Guard at God’s throne. We know that the LORD can defend Himself but as with the Highest Sovereign, it is fitting to have a guard nearby to Him to give the honor due Him.
Gabriel is depicted as the angel who brings messages but all angels are messengers, really, their name in Greek means messenger (Aggelos, Hebrew,‘malak’). Archaggelos means chief of angels of ruler of angels. This reveals the hierarchy in the angelic order.
Did you know there are only three named angels in the bible? Can you guess who they are? I’ve already mentioned all three: Gabriel and Michael are easily remembered but we often forget that Lucifer is an angel too. He is now fallen in his status with God, being his opposer, satan. That is what satan means, adversary. So satan is the title, and Lucifer is the actual name. One of his other names is the Devil, which means slanderer. I wrote about the satan’s celestial slander here: It is the story of how he got that title and why.
Other names in general for angels besides messenger are morning stars, sons of God, and curiously, The Watchers. They are mentioned in Dan 4:13, Dan 4:17, and Dan 4:23, where it says that “a watcher” a “holy one” “came down” so we assume that since they are a holy one and live in heaven and come down at the behest of God, they are another class of angels. But that is an assumption, the Aramaic for the word watcher is…watcher, and since nothing else is stated about them in the bible that is all I can say!
Angels have many duties, numerous duties actually. One angel is in charge of the fire. (Revelation 14:18) and another is in charge of the water (Revelation 16:5). We know they come to earth to minister to the saints. 1 Kings 19:5 is a good example where a ministering angel was sent to help Elijah. He woke Elijah, gave him food and drink as he lay exhausted in the wilderness, having fled from Jezebel. Angels also attended Jesus after his ordeal in the desert. (Matthew 4:11). Despite being depicted tenderly in these scenes, angels are extremely powerful. In Revelation, four are seen holding back the four winds. (Rev. 7:1), and another thrusts his sickle into the earth and all humankind is reaped (Rev. 14:17). One stands on the sun! (Revelation 19:17). One is seen flying at midheaven (the stratosphere) and declaring the Gospel in such a loud voice every nation, tribe, and tongue hears it. (Revelation 14:6). Satan is an angel too, and therefore is this powerful. Don’t think you can resist him on your own! But enough about that guy.
They announce the will of God. The most famous is the Annunciation by Gabriel to Mary, of God’s plan for her to beget Jesus, the Savior and promised Messiah. They also announced the Savior’s birth to the Shepherds on that silent, holy night.
They participate in the judgments of God. They have done so throughout time but Revelation depicts with ghastly specificity of their roles in aiding God to execute the judgment of man. (Revelation 14:14-18).
Angels worship God night and day in His temple (Nehemiah 9:6). They fight for God. “And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). They delight in the Gospel and they sing for joy over one repentant sinner (1 Peter 1:12; Luke 15:10)
There are fallen angels. The ones who listened to satan’s slanderous accusations against God and followed satan in hopes of something better. They are forever damned (2 Peter 2:4).
Last, that verse we began with in Genesis 18 when three ‘men’ appeared to Abraham. Abraham bowed low. We know that these were angels because later they went to execute judgment on the 4 sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim (Deuteronomy 29:23). But if the angel said to John the Revelator not to bow to him nor worship him (Rev 19:10) then why didn’t these angels tell Abraham not to bow down to them? Because one of them was Jesus! Jesus made pre-incarnate appearances in the Old Testament. When you read “The angel of the Lord” it is Him, which is different from “An angel of the Lord.” In the Genesis 18 verses, we see it played out:
“Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.” (Genesis 18:1-3).
The verse begins with an appearance to Abraham by the LORD, all capitals. In the Hebrew translation that word is Jehovah. Then in verse 3 it says “My Lord” with a capital L. The word in Hebrew is Adonai. The Angel did not rebuke Abraham because Abraham had the proper response: worship of Yahweh.
Next time you are in church, look up to the rafters and imagine if the Lord would open your eyes as He did for Elisha at Elijah’s request. How many angels would you see? Do the same for your home. Look around and wonder if they are present. When you pray, remember to thank God for sending them to smooth your way and prevent the bad things that could have happened to you. Thank God for sending them to comfort you and minister to you. They help you, rejoice with you, sing for you. They may be standing next to you in line, sitting next to you at the coffee shop. They are in heaven singing with loud voice that shakes the rafters, HOLY HOLY HOLY is our mighty God. He is a mighty God, who ordered the hierarchies of heaven with the heavenly hosts, angels, another of His magnificent creation.