God sends an angel to guard and guide his people into the Promised Land
I’ve read the book of Exodus a dozen or so times, but I never remember reading today’s passage. I’m sure it was there, but it never clicked with me until now.
The Israelites have left Egypt. They wander around in the desert as God prepares them for what is to come.
In the midst of his instructions God promises to send an angel to his people. The angel will protect them and guide them to the Promised Land. God adds that the people must listen to the angel and do as he says. If they resist the angel, he will hold it against them, because God is with the angel.
How amazing is that? The people will have a supernatural being to guard and guide them. (If only they had been better followers.)
While this promise is just to the Israelites at that time, God is able to do the same for us today. And it’s not unreasonable to consider that he will. In fact, there have been times of desperation when, not knowing what to do, I called for God to send angels to fight for me in the spiritual realm. I believe he did. Relief came quickly.
We don’t normally think too much about angels in our experiences today. But maybe we should. While we would be remiss to think too highly of angels, we are equally in error to dismiss them.
Do you think angels are active today? Have you ever had any angelic encounters? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Exodus 23-25, and today’s post is on Exodus 23:20-23.]
Most of the time when angels are mentioned in the Bible, their names are not given. Apparently, their names are not important; their message is what matters.
However, the names of four angels are mentioned:
Michael: The only archangel in the Bible is Michael. Jude reveals Michael argued with Satan about the body of Moses. Later, in Revelation, Michael leads his army of angels in a battle against the dragon. Michael is also mentioned in the book of Daniel, although here he is not called an angel, but “one of the chief princes,” “your prince,” and “the great prince.” In these instances in Daniel, Michael is referred to by another supernatural being, who may or may not be an angel.
Gabriel: Also appearing in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Gabriel arrives with messages for Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary. He is only mentioned these three times.
Raphael: Raphael makes his appearance in the book of Tobit, which is one of the apocryphal books of the Bible. He is mentioned twenty-nine times, but only in this one book. Raphael appears to Tobias in the form of a man. Whereas most angels merely communicate God’s message, Raphael accompanies Tobias on his quest, offering advice and encouragement, perhaps even being an instrument of healing for Tobias’s father, Tobit, and Tobias’s wife, Sarah.
Uriel: Another apocryphal angel is Uriel, he is mentioned by name only five times, all in the book of 2 Esdras. He comes to the prophet Ezra with messages from God. At one point he holds Ezra’s hand and comforts him.
I’m not sure if I assumed it or someone taught me, but I always thought seraphim and cherubim were two special classes of angels. Though seraphim and cherubim aren’t mentioned often in the Bible (2 and 69 verses respectively), angels make a much more frequent appearance, in some 290 places.
In none of those passages does the Bible call angels seraphim or cherubim. (The dictionary labels all three as “celestial beings.”) Although seraphim and cherubim have wings, no verses say that angels do. The Bible never says angels fly, though there are some hints they are occasionally airborne, but as supernatural beings, they don’t need wings to go vertical.
Angels are mentioned more times in the New Testament (182 times) than in the Old (108 times), with Revelation giving them the most coverage (77 times), followed by Luke (24 times) and Acts (22 times). We don’t know if angels have genders or not, but one verse (Judges 13:21) implies that particular angel is masculine, so I refer to angels as “him” rather then “it.”
While we see seraphim as worshiping God and cherubim as hanging out with God in heaven and attesting to his glory, angels serve as God’s messengers to us. They show up unexpectedly, suddenly appearing and then disappearing. Apparently either their arrival or their form is frightening, because they often say, “Do not be afraid.”
If an angel ever visited me, I wonder if I’d shrink back in fear. I’d like to say I wouldn’t, but I suspect I would. Regardless of how I react, I will want to listen carefully to what the angel tells me, receiving it as a word from God.
[290 verses that mention angels]
Quick, are seraphim angels?
Until recently I would have said “yes” without hesitation. That’s what I was taught. However, after researching last week’s post Holy, Holy, Holy, I’ve reached a different conclusion.
First, the dictionary says seraphim are “celestial beings.” Celestial implies heaven or the divine (God). I equate celestial to the supernatural or the spiritual realm. So, that makes seraphim supernatural beings or creatures from the spiritual realm (in contrast to us in the physical realm).
Second, I was surprised to discover that we only see seraphim in two verses in the Bible, both in the same passage, written by Isaiah. Isaiah doesn’t call them angels. He does say they have three pairs of wings and they fly. Interestingly, they only need two wings for flight.
In Isaiah’s vision, these seraphim are in the temple, worshiping God. Their adoration is not subtle. On the contrary, it is intense. Their voices reverberate and the temple fills with smoke. (That sounds like a Christian rock concert to me, which gives us something else to contemplate.) In addition to worshiping God, one seraph talks to Isaiah.
That’s it; that’s all we know about seraphim: they’re not angels, they worship God, and they can fly and talk.
Next Thursday we’ll look into cherubim and then angels. Stay tuned.
The short book of Jude, contains many examples to illuminate the main theme of his letter (concerning ungodly people in the church). However, some of these illustrations fail to accomplish that goal for us in our world today. They are more cryptic than clarifying.
The first is in verse 9, where Jude talks about the archangel Michael having a disagreement with the devil about Moses’ body. Now we may be familiar with the angel Michael; he is mentioned in the book of Daniel and Revelation, but there is no mention in the Bible about him and Satan verbally sparring about Moses. This verse is actually a reference to an ancient, non-biblical text, called “The Assumption of Moses.”
Similarly, in verse 14, Jude mentions a prophecy of Enoch. We also know of Enoch from the book of Genesis, but there is no mention of him ever prophesying. Again, this is a reference to an ancient non-biblical text, “The Book of Enoch.”
Jude was comfortable using examples from these two books because they would have been common knowledge to the people he was writing to. As such, these familiar references would have helped readers, in that day, better comprehend the points he was making.
That is not to imply that these non-biblical books need to be elevated to the same level as the Bible or used as a viable source for forming our theology. There were merely communication tools, along the lines of Paul, in his letter to Titus, citing a local poet’s disparaging remarks about his own people of Crete.
While all these references may be confusing to us now, they were clarifying back then.
[Jude 1:9, “Michael” references, Revelation 12:7, Jude 1:14-15, “Enoch” references, Titus 1:12]
The young girl gazes out into the desert; something is coming towards her. It is Solomon, her lover, traveling by carriage. He is accompanied by a protective band of weapon wielding warriors, tested and poised for whatever threat awaits them. With Solomon — and his army — she will be protected.
In a spiritual sense, this is how it is with God and us. He is coming towards us; with him, we will be protected. (That doesn’t mean there won’t be risks as we journey with him, because there will.) We will also be afforded a band of warriors, ready to battle on our behalf. In the spiritual realm, this is an army of angels.
Centuries later, Jesus tells Satan, “Don’t you know that I could ask my Father, and right away he would send me more than twelve armies of angels?”
While we might not see angels, we have good reason to believe that they are nearby, ready to protect us from both physical threats and spiritual foes.
Our God, who loves us, will make sure we are protected.
[Song of Solomon 3:6-8, Matthew 26:53]
In The Error of the Sadducees and Pharisees, it was noted that the Sadducees’ error was taking away from the Bible, dismissing or ignoring certain sections. Paul notes that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, angels, and spirits, even though all are addressed in the Old Testament.
In order to challenge or trick Jesus, the Sadducees smugly present him with a hypothetical situation. Jesus pointedly tells them they are in error because they do not know the Bible. He then corrects their errant thinking, amazing the crowd and silencing his critics.
Few followers of Jesus would admit to ignoring parts of the Bible or dismissing sections as irrelevant, but it is actually a common occurrence. When we read the Bible, it is naturally all too easy to focus on the parts we like and understand, while quickly skimming or even skipping the confusing and confounding passages. As a result, our understanding of God is diminished in the process.
It is the error of the Sadducees.
[Acts 23:8, Mark 12:18-27, also in Luke 20:27-40 and Matthew 22:23-33]
Our perceptions of angels are likely skewed by paintings we have seen. While many of these paintings are great works of art, they cannot begin to capture just how breathtaking and astounding angels must be.
Consider Daniel’s angelic encounter: “His body was like [a precious gem], his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” I’ve never seen a picture like that!
Now consider Daniel’s reaction to his angelic encounter:
- no strength, grew deathly pale, very weak (v8)
- trembling (v10-11)
- speechless (v15)
- overcome with anguish; helpless (v16)
- strength is gone; can hardly breathe (v17)
Plus, this was likely a “junior” angel, as he required help from a more powerful angel just to reach Daniel. How much more intense would it have been if the “senior” angel showed himself. It is no surprise then, that one of the first things angels say when they reveal themselves is “don’t be afraid.”
However, if an encounter with an angel produces this sort of intense, overwhelming, heart-stopping reaction, imagine what an encounter with the God who created them would be like.
Do you ever wonder what God thinks of you? Unfortunately, I suspect that most people who consider such a question reach the wrong conclusion.
But what if an angel were to show up and provide a supernatural perspective about you?
An angel tells Daniel that he is “highly esteemed.” This doesn’t just happen once, but is said three times on two different occasions. As a result of being highly esteemed, great insight about the future is revealed to Daniel.
A few centuries later, an angel tells a young girl that she is “highly favored“; her name is Mary. As a result of being highly favored, Jesus is born and the world is forever changed.
Although we can’t earn our salvation, we apparently can be esteemed and favored by God for our actions and dedication; implicitly, the opposite must also be true.
While we may never have an angel visit us to say what God thinks of us, the Bible does reveal this truth. But to find out, you can’t read it as a legal document or an instruction manual; embrace the Bible as a narrative, God’s narrative to you.
[Daniel 9:23 and 10:11&19, Luke 1:28]
Happy Easter! Today is the time when we remember — and celebrate — Jesus overcoming death and rising from the dead.
Each account of Jesus in the Bible records this:
Matthew: The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him’.” [Matthew 28:5-7]
Mark: “Don’t be alarmed,” [the angel] said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” [Mark 16:6]
Luke: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’.” [Luke 24:5-6]
John: simply confirms that the tomb where Jesus’ body lay was found to be empty; recording that he then appeared to Mary Magdalene, ten of the disciples, and lastly to Thomas. [John 20]
Have a Happy Easter!