There is a long period of time between the fall of Adam and Eve and the coming moral and physical glorification of human beings who trust in God. During this interval men and women have failed to act as responsible and competent administrators of history. Total and final disintegration in the development of the human race has only been avoided because God in mercy has intervened to contain the disorder.
The Bible refers to the Supreme Being as the ‘Lord God of hosts’. This title always includes ‘the heavenly host’, that is, ‘all the host of heaven’. The term refers to an innumerable multitude of angels consisting of ‘ten thousand times ten thousand’ who dwell in the presence of the transcendent God. Some think of the angels as ‘soldiers’ who enforce God’s purposes. Perhaps better than ‘military agents’ is the thought that they are God’s messengers and as such God directs them in the fulfillment of His holy will.
It is evident from history that the ability of human beings to continue as good administrators on behalf of God has been severely restricted. The ensuing vacuum left the door open for intruders in the form of malignant forces in the cosmos. They were not slow to enter and both Testaments testify to their presence in the world.
The Bible also witnesses to the presence of benevolent angels who are always at God’s service and have continually assisted the human race. Two angels saved Lot from a possible tragic death and eventually succeeded in removing him from his town that was about to be destroyed. Sometimes angels acted in judgment as in the case of David. In the tragic story of the destruction of the apostates who lived in Jerusalem in the times of Ezekiel, the six ‘men’ who suddenly appeared seem to be angelic messengers of God’s wrath. Angels also helped human beings understand God’s will and they provided protection for God’s servants.
It is possible that the first reference to an angelic presence in the affairs of the nations appears in the Song of Moses. He wrote, ‘When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations … He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance’, Deut. 32. 8-9. The reference to the children of Israel is not easy to understand. The Scriptures give no explanation concerning how the nations’ boundaries are linked to the children of Israel.
The Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament, translates the phrase as follows, ‘He set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God’, giving us some indication of how the Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, understood the phrase over a century before the Christian era. In the Dead Sea Scrolls the phrase reads, ‘of the sons of God’. Some translate ‘according to the number of the sons of God’. In other places the Scriptures use the term ‘sons of God’ when referring to the angels of God. The following translation seeks to capture the thought in this difficult sentence, ‘When the Most High assigned lands to the nations, when he divided up the human race, he established the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of angelic beings. For the people of Israel belong to the Lord; Jacob is his special possession’. It is, then, at least possible that the thought of angelic intervention over the affairs of the nations of the world is implicitly found in the Song of Moses.
In the book of Daniel there is direct reference to the intervention of angels in world affairs. During three weeks the statesman was perturbed, apparently the result of his concern about the future of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.
He immediately prayed to God for help and his plea was heard. Without delay an answer was sent to him. However, Daniel did not receive the answer for three weeks. The messenger sent to Daniel explained the reason for the delay, ‘But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia’, Dan. 10. 13.
The powerful description of the messenger would point to an angel. The effect on Daniel’s friends was terrifying and on Daniel himself almost life threatening, ‘no strength remained in me; for my vigour was turned to frailty, and I retained no strength’, v. 8. Evidently we are looking at an encounter between heaven and earth and even a man of Daniel’s remarkable stature was awed and ‘fainted, face down on the ground’.
As Michael is one of God’s chief angels, it is only natural to understand that ‘prince’ carries the meaning of ‘angelic prince’ in this story. Both Michael and the angelic messenger sent to Daniel appear as God’s servants actively involved in helping a human being. On the other hand, the ‘prince’ of Persia is a cosmic usurper who resists the will of God.
Referring to angels, the author of Hebrews asks the question, ‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?’ There are remarkable examples in the New Testament of benevolent angels acting on behalf of Christians.
When Peter found himself in the jail of King Herod he knew there was very little chance of getting out alive. Herod had already killed James, John’s brother. Peter was beyond any possible help from his friends. In spite of the constant surveillance and the fact he was chained to two soldiers, Peter walked out of the jail the night before he was to appear in court. Writing the story, Luke, the historian, affirms that it was the obvious result of an angelic action on the apostle’s behalf, an event so abnormal that Peter thought he was dreaming. Walking past two guard posts within the prison, Peter and the angel continued right on to the main gate, which opened of itself in front of them. When Peter was safely on the street, the angel left him.
The Christian finds no support in the Scriptures for undue curiosity about the ministry of angels. However, there is evidence that God does intervene, often with angels, to thwart the designs of the evil one. Disorder is kept in check. How full of comfort are the psalmist’s words, ‘For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up’. Billy Graham writes, ‘Christians should never fail to sense the operation of angelic glory. It forever eclipses the world of demonic powers, as the sun does a candle’s light’.
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