https://www.facebook.com/CenterforTanakhBasedStudies By: William J Jackson
It’s funny how the unanswered questions of our own youth return to us. Our Granddaughter, Lyric, asked me what angels were. Instead of handing her a fairytale answer, I turned to Hashem’s word to find the right answer, His answer. I will have to admit when I first pondered the question, images of angelic creators fluttered around my head. In my research I would discover that these images were put there by writings, artisans and cinematography found in our culture and not the Tanakh.
What’s in a name?
An angels purpose is found in the name. The Hebrew word for angel is “mal’ach” (1). This word more accurately means to dispatch as a deputy; messenger, representative and ambassador (2). In fact “mal’ach” is used interchangeably throughout the Tanakh as angel, messenger and ambassador. To better understand this diversified word, and its purpose, let’s use an illustration. On a smaller scale, we can see this relationship with our civil servants. For example, the Chief of Police doesn’t usually make the arrests, the Commander and Chief doesn’t lead military attacks, and the Principle doesn’t teach the classes, they all have delegates (policemen, soldiers and teachers) to execute their authority. Yes, these Department Heads and Commanders could do the tasks at the lowest level but why, everything has its own purpose (Isaiah 45:7, Amos 4:13, Psalm 33:14-15, Proverbs 16:4). Well we know what mal’ach means, so where does the word “Angel” come from? It derives from the Greek word “angelos” which pretty much means the same thing as the Hebrew word “mal’ach” (3).
Also, did you ever notice that Adonai not only used angels but sometimes used other things like people (Genesis 14:18-20, 37:13-17, Joshua 5:13–14) and objects (Genesis 15:17, Exodus 3:2-10, Numbers 22:28) to communicate His message. Why couldn’t he just have a direct man to man conversation with us? This is because Adonai cannot be a man (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:9) nor can a man see Adonai (Exodus 33:20, Deuteronomy 5:24, Isaiah 6:4-5). Unless he wants to suffer the consequences of death (Exodus 20:16, 33:20, Judges 13:22). Even the Christian NT admits that Adonai cannot be seen (John 5:37; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12). This creates a conundrum within their own culture since they believe in a mortal deity who is supposed to be the Elohim they admit they cannot see. This is why many Christian sects believe that their messiah is actually an Archangel (4). It’s an attempt to make the Christianity consistent with its own theology.
What do Angels do?
So let’s determine the specific functions of these delegates of Hashem. Angels are mentioned 106 times in the Tanakh. With such a vast representation of these lofty helpers let’s narrow our focus just on the Torah. These are the actions that angels have done on behalf of Adonai;
Guided: Genesis 24:7 Eliezer to find Rebekah, Exodus 14:19, 23:20, 23:23, 32:34, 33:2, Numbers 20:16, Israel through the desert.
As we see, angels have specific functions and in doing so become extensions of Hashem.
What do Angels look like?
So what does an angel look like? Although our tendency is to perceive angels as angelic beings (such as the word) they are anything but little and cute. They are powerful agents and messengers of Hashem that are formidable in their own right (5). In the Torah, the angels were nameless figures, but later in the books of the Prophets they seem to gain names (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael… etc.) and personality. Also, with the Prophets, we start to see features in which we can relate to such as wings (Isaiah 6:2, Zechariah 5:9) and human characteristics. Many commentators believe that angels were either without gender or were males, but the Prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 5:9 states that there were also female angels (6). Probably our most detailed description of an angel comes from Daniel 10:5–6. Here they are depicted as human like Super Heroes.
Where do people get confused?
Many people confuse cherub or cherubim with angels. As we know cherubim first appeared on guard duty in the Garden of Eden after the newly expelled tenants, Adam and Eve, left (Genesis 3:24). About two millenniums later the cherub found itself incorporated into the design of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-22) and later in the Temple (1 Kings 6:23-35). Ezekiel does a thorough job of describing these complex creatures in Ezekiel 10:1-20 . After reading Ezekiel’s account you will find they don’t resemble the cute little chubby childlike creatures painted by Raphael. Although cherubim may have been a form of an angel, they appeared to be more focused on the praise and worship of Hashem (7). They don’t appear to be as involve in influencing men and women as the before mentioned angels.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael) painted 1512 CE
Many people may believe angels act independently, like a “free agent”. The thought might be that angels are out randomly helping humanity in the name of Adonai. This might be inspired by the Christian verse Hebrews 13:2 where it states we may be unknowingly entertaining angels. Also, we can find in the in rabbinic literature, angels sometimes show some independence of mind (1). Although these are romantic concepts that intrigue our imagination, this artistic licensing with Hashem’s word does more harm than good. For example, if angels roam from their mission and become independent (although be it good natured) creatures, this would distract from the glory of Hashem. Using our previous example; if a policeman, a soldier or a teacher practices their craft apart from their employer it means they are working for somebody else, even if that somebody is them. Just remember Satan is an angel (Zechariah 3:1, Job 1:6) and Hashem had control over him (Zechariah 3:2, Job 1:12, 2:6).
Man or Angel
In our quest to understand angels the line can become blurred between angels and men. Even in some translations of the Tanakh the translators have superimposed their understandings sometimes turning men who are doing Hashem’s will into angels. These liberties blot out and confound Hashem’s word and our understanding. On Tuesday we will talk about some lectures and sermons we have all sat through and discuss the subversive spin on the truth. On June 30th, 2015 we will post “The Blurred Line Between Angels and Men”.