Whilst there are many men today who are named after Peter, James and John—the three who figured prominently among the disciples—not so many have been privileged to be named after this angel, this “man of God”, Gabriel. Moreover, (in spite of any natural name we may possess), it would be preposterous for us to make a spiritual statement among our fellow-men, such as forms the heading of our article. At first it might give the impression of taking some form of superiority over our brethren, and for such an attitude or position it would be hard to find scriptural precedent. Again there might be no warrant for us to do so, as not having fulfilled the conditions necessary for being in a position to make such a claim. Yet a study of this one who came to Zacharias (to announce the unusual birth to Elizabeth of a son for them both, one who should turn many in Israel to the Lord, and indeed be the forerunner of our beloved Lord) is worth careful consideration. It gives us some practical help in our own service for the Lord under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Firstly we note the four Scriptures in which reference is made to him, the reading of which will introduce us to the study. They are to be found in Daniel 8. 16; 9. 21; Luke 1. 11, 19; 1. 26-39.
Having read these passages, we ask the meaning of Gabriel’s name, and we find that there are a number of related meanings to it. Man (strong) of God; God is my strength; strength of God; my strong God; ambassador; hero of God. Herein lies much food for thought, as Paul reminds us, “I have strength for all things in him that gives me power”, Phil. 4. 13 J.N.D.
One of the Hebrew words used for man is geber, which we see forms the earlier part of the name Gabriel. It means a strong man, and may be used when strength in one or other of its aspects is denoted—strength of physique, character, etc.
Again, one of the Hebrew words used for God is el, and forms the last part of the name before us. In this title of God, it means the mighty God.
If it is correct that these two Hebrew words are linked together (and it would seem so from the meanings given to the name Gabriel), then we must note that it is God in His character of being mighty, and man in his character of being mighty also, that are joined together in this name given to the angel.
Psalm 103. 20 describes the Lord’s angels as excelling in strength, and that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word. From this passage it would appear that obedience marks them; purpose impels them, and strength brings to fruition the work with which they are entrusted.
In the case of Gabriel, he is sometimes termed by men an archangel— possibly because he says to Zacharias, in Luke 1. 19, “I … stand in the presence of God”. But nowhere in Scripture is he so described.
Reflection on the meanings of his name bring out both the title EL— strength of God, and my strong God; and also GEBER—man (strong) of God, and (showing the source of that strength as a binding link) God is my strength. What a wonderful combination for confidence in such an ambassador! No wonder he was a hero of God! Brethren, surely it is alone in such a Source that we may find all the strength that is necessary for the work to which the Lord has called us.
We now turn to consider some of the characteristics of the one who bears such a name.
In Daniel 8. 16 we notice that “a man’s voice … called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision”. The way in which Gabriel receives this directive is by way of command. There is no request here, nor anything involving the will of the requested one. The statement is put in such a way that it is imperative that it must be obeyed.
The response of Gabriel is not to show a display of one will against another, despite the fact that he is “the strong one of God”. It is far different—“So he came near where I stood … he said unto me, Understand”; “And he said, Behold, I will make thee know”. The command had been issued, and Gabriel fulfils it fully. He is not content with passing on the directive he receives by saying “Understand”, but goes on to explain fully to Daniel the meaning of the vision. He fulfils his mission without adding to or subtracting from the instructions he had received. His obedience is immediate—he is “caused to fly swiftly”; an exhausting mission—“with weariness, or flight”, 9. 21 (margin).
“He touched me”. The appearance of the angel had brought fear to Daniel, despite his having heard the command given to Gabriel. Daniel’s strength was gone, and he was in a “stupor” (J.N.D.)
Gabriel’s touch would appear to be a light one. (The Hebrew word naga can also mean a stronger action, such as a stroke or plague, but other Scriptures where the word is interpreted touch seem to indicate a light touch—see Young’s Concordance under “touch”.) There is no reproof at Daniel’s posture, but “he … set me upright”. He strengthened Daniel to stand in his presence; then he gave him the ability to know that for which he came to him.
Not only is Daniel strengthened to stand in Gabriel’s presence, but “to stand upon his standing”—that is, to maintain the position he had attained before God, and which had been the reason for the angel’s coming to him. Daniel had “done all, to stand”; Gabriel gave him the ability to “Stand, therefore”, Eph. 6. 13, 14.
“Fear not”, Luke 1. 13, 30. The presence of Gabriel had struck awe into the hearts of both Zacharias and Mary, but his first words to each of them are words of assurance, grace and comfort.
None of the missions upon which Gabriel was sent has any connection with fear and judgment upon those to whom he was sent. Each errand was in grace—“Behold, I will make thee to know”; “I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding”; “thy prayer is heard”; and “thou has found favour with God”. Surely these messages bespeak grace rather than judgment. Notice also “O Daniel … greatly beloved”; and “Hail… highly favoured, the Lord is with thee”.
Despite having the status of a heavenly being, he is not ashamed to appear to Daniel as a man. Whilst there was among the heavenly creatures the possibility of pride, those who had gained the victory and had not fallen from their first estate maintain that victory, and that without boasting. They never draw any attention to themselves, and almost appear surprised at the fear that their presence creates in those to whom they are sent. We do not find them showing any encouragement to personal worship of themselves.
The first visit that Gabriel paid to Daniel followed his vision of the ram and the he-goat. This vision has to do with Gentile rule, initially the Medo-Persian and the Grecian, but by the several references to “the end”, “latter times” etc., also to the end of Gentile world rule yet to be fulfilled.
Gabriel’s second visit follows Daniel’s confession of his and his people’s (the Jews’) sins, again both in immediate and also future aspects, Dan. 9.
When Gabriel appears to Zacharias, he told him that John’s ministry would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, etc., and many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. This appears to be immediate only, and has to do with the Jews alone.
Finally, his visit to Mary foretells the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of the Highest (Most High—a title connected with future world rule by God Himself) and also as the One who should reign over the house of Jacob for ever.
In each of these incidents the knowledge of things in relation to men is displayed—and also in relation to God’s dealings with, and mercy toward, men is shown as known to Gabriel.
The possession of knowledge is a very different thing from the impartation of knowledge. To impart knowledge needs an ability to do so. This Gabriel displays very clearly in the concise way in which he goes step by step through the stages of the vision, Dan. 8. 19-25; that which is “determined upon thy people”, 9. 24; the character and mission of John the Baptist; and the circumstances of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with that which is decreed for Him in the purpose of God.
So clear and distinct has been Gabriel’s interpretation of these heavenly messages that, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, holy men have recorded them, and spiritual men have gained much knowledge from them; though they still remain enigmatic to those seeking to understand by natural ability.
“I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God”, Luke 1. 19. The angel here shows the authority for his appearance and for the message that he had brought. It was not a self-concocted message; it was an expression of the mind of God. In view of this Gabriel expected it to be received as he had given it—with divine authority. The questioning of this authority by the unbelief of Zacharias brings the strong and effective reproof of Gabriel—he believed the message and acted upon the authority behind it.
In the case of Mary, her questioning “How shall this be?” rather than “How can this be?” is not a matter of unbelief, but of expectancy. This is borne out by her submission—“be it unto me according to thy word”—on hearing the interpretation of the message from Gabriel.
It should be noted that this interpretation is accompanied by the stimulus to faith, “Thy cousin hath conceived in her old age, for with God nothing shall be impossible”.
Whilst we have no indication to the contrary, it might be dangerous to assume that Gabriel came undisclosed to men on other occasions. On those occasions where he does appear, he is named, and his message is to those who are found deeply concerned about the things of God— not with a patronizing concern, but one which deeply affected the soul of the person. Prior to the angelic appearance, Daniel had been deeply moved about dreams that he had seen, and by his own and his people’s spiritual condition. The Holy Spirit’s commendation of Zacharias and Elizabeth showed their holy desires for the things of the Lord. And again, the desire of Mary (as of many other young women of her day) was to be the virgin who should be with child in fulfilment of the scriptural promises.
Gabriel’s calling then appears to be to devout souls who are desirous of seeing the divine purposes brought to fruition.
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