Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

The Heavenly Host

Posted by foryourfaith on May 26, 2010

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They are somewhere between humans and God, but what do angels do and are they truly ‘angelic’? Both the Hebrew and Greek words for angel mean ‘messenger’, and angels often have this role in the Bible, but the biblical writers also use the term in other ways. Good or evil angels are envoys of God or Satan, clashing in the final battle in John’s Book of Revelation. Angels can also be ordinary people, prophets who inspire others to action, supernatural informants or instructors, and even impersonal forces, including winds or the pillars of cloud and fire that guided the Israelites in their desert exodus. Pestilence and Plague are called evil angels, and Saint Paul referred to his own ailment as a ‘messenger of Satan’. God and the angels are sometimes referred to interchangeably. In the Book of Judges, for example, Samson’s father, who had been talking to an angel, says to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God.’ Many other phenomena, such as inspiration, sudden impulses and the workings of providence, are also ascribed to, or called, ‘angels’.

Invisible and immortal according to church teachings, the angels are sexless, invisible essences, immortal from their creation. Angels are also multitudinous, as implied by the Old Testament description of God as the ‘Lord of Hosts’. They form a hierarchy of ‘angels and archangels and all the company of heaven’. The early church visualized nine orders, or ‘choirs’, of angels – seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and angels.

Angels mediate between God and his people. The Old Testament says that no one could look directly upon God and live, so direct contact between the Almighty and humans is often portrayed as a meeting with an angel. It was an angel that prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac; Moses saw an angel in the burning bush, although he heard God’s voice; and the Israelites were led out of Egypt by an angel. Occasionally biblical angels behave as mortals until their true nature is revealed, like the angels who visited Abraham and Lot before the terrifying destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The scriptures describe many other angels, such as the spirit whose flaming sword barred Adam’s return to Eden; the cherubim and seraphim (portrayed as thunderclouds and lightning flashes, recalling an early Hebrew belief in a storm god); and the agent who miraculously freed Peter from prison. Then there are the beings seen in Isaiah’s heavenly court vision – ‘I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.’

Angelic hosts appear in the Bible a number of times, like the choir of angels that heralded Christ’s birth. The Archangel Michael commanded God’s great legions of angels against Satan’s spirits. Michael and Gabriel, who revealed the birth of Jesus to Mary, are the only angels named in the Old and New Testaments. Most refused to identify themselves when asked, perhaps reflecting the contemporary belief that to know a spirit’s name diminished its power.

 

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