Thursday, February 08, 2007

What fascinates angels

I think we can equally say that we know a lot about angels, and that we don't know a lot about angels. There is a great deal of Biblical material, on the one hand; but there are many gaps, holes, and (stuffy-word alert in 3, 2, 1...) lacunae.

Let's focus on just one aspect, and the core can be put simply. We think angels are cool. Angels think God is cool. Angels think our salvation is astonishing.

The first point hardly needs proving. Billy Graham wrote a book about angels, Amy Grant wrote a song about angels. Christmas carols have more angels than Carter's has little liver pills. (If you get that last reference, boy are you old.)

Artists have represented angels often, but almost always clearly wrongly so. The effeminate—indeed, often female!—angels of the painters are dead wrong in almost every respect. Angels are never certainly depicted as female in the Bible, and virtually always depicted as definitely masculine. Not merely masculine, but awesome and fear-inspiring. Artists' angels look as if they're about to say "There, there." Real angels usually have to start out with saying, "Okay, now--try not to die!"

We think angels are pretty cool.

But angels are mostly interested in God. Usually, they're seen functioning as their title indicates: as God's messengers. We observe them characteristically running errands, carrying messages, sent on missions.

But what is more, consider such scenes as Isaiah 6, where sinless seraphim cover their faces and feet, and are overwhelmed with the holiness and glory of God. Or consider the angelic beings in Revelation 4, who "day and night ...never cease to say, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'" Evidently that is their sole reason for being, to give forth a ceaseless river of praise.

But let's focus a little more on what fascinates angels. Both Testaments indicate that angels are particularly fascinated with our redemption.

Consider Exodus 25:18—"And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat." Isn't it interesting that they are not described? It is as if Moses says, "Okay, you know what cherubim look like, right? So, make two of them, and...." Wouldn't it be fun to know what they knew, and how they knew what they knew it?

But if that were important, God would have given the details. A crucial rule of interpretation is to make much of what God makes of, and the converse. So what is of interpretive importance to us that the cherubim's appearance is not of interpretive importance to us, or else they would have been described. God tells us what matters about them. What matters about them is that they are of hammered gold, they are at the two ends of the mercy seat, and
[t]he cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be (Exodus 25:20)

So what are the cherubim looking at, as they face inward? They are depicted, by command of God, as forever fixedly looking at the mercy seat, the kapporeth, the solid gold lid to the chest of the covenant. What is the significance of this lid? Yahweh appears there, and atonement is made there, on the great and highest holy day (Leviticus 16, especially vv. 14-15). This locus is the focus. The angels' two objects of fascination are closely tied to it: Yahweh, and believers' blood-bought redemption. The turning away of Yahweh's wrath by means of blood atonement absorbs them fully, as they are depicted as frozen in rapt attention towards that spot.

Does Peter possibly have this in mind as he writes? The apostle tantalizingly remarks, as it were in passing, that angels intensely desire to bend over and sneak a peek into the truths of the Gospel that we preach (1 Peter 1:12). It is an object of great interest and perhaps curiosity to them.

Think of it: angels know nothing of redemption themselves, except as spectators. Some of their number fell into rebellion, and not one of that company will be redeemed. The others stood fast with the Triune God, and not one of them needs redemption. Angels experience nothing of redemption. They either have no chance of it, or they have no need of it.

That Yahweh Himself would undertake to set His love on rebels, would design an intricate tapestry of pointers to that redemption, would come in person to effect that redemption-- these are great mysteries to the angels.

Reflect just a moment longer. Can we even imagine the vantage-point of the angelic mind? Thousands of years old, unclouded by sin, mighty in power and great in knowledge—what couldn't they study, if they wished to, within God's will? Planets, suns, comets, meteors, processes we can only imagine; all these are tomes available at their library for their casual checkout.

But what draws angels and holds them is the drama of redemption.

And here we can't but tarry a moment longer to reflect on how much smarter we are, today, than the angels. We know that the Gospel isn't interesting enough to draw and keep people. We needs skits, shows, tricks, dramas, dances, special effects. Entertainment! We must play to the MTV attention-span, Sunday after Sunday. We must structure our whole church to accommodate an entirely alien set of interests and priorities.

Great thing we're so much smarter than they, isn't it?


Anonymous said...


I really don't cherish my salvation.

Thanks Dan.

SuzEQCitizen said...

Never having been particularly interested in angels, I set about to read this post half minded. Got caught up right quick, however.

And like Naomi, I can just say wow. Great post. It has set my mood for the day.

Unknown said...

yeah, yeah ... but how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?

4given said...

you wrote: angels are particularly fascinated with our redemption.

Now that is selfless.

donsands said...

Refreshing post. A fresh look at angels looking at God's redeeming love. Amazing thought.

Her's a verse for you. let me know what thou thinks.
"Then I lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; .. and they lifted up the e-phad between the earth and the heaven.
Then I said to the angel that talked with me, Where do these bear the e-phad." Zech. 5:9-10

Chris said...

A friend of a friend once tried to start a comic book series about angels that was somewhat theologically sound (based on the Bible, not "City of Angels"). I don't know how much traction it got, but I do remember that he depicted the angels as (1) Masculine, (2) Really tough, (3) Awe-inspiring, and (4) God-centered.

There may have been some fascination with our redemption, but I don't remember seeing it.

DJP said...


Yep, that ONE VERSE is why I wrote that angels "are never certainly depicted as female in the Bible."

The women are certainly not said to be angels. What is more, it is in a vision where the prophet is seeing symbolic representation. Notably, he'd just seen a woman sitting on a lid, a representation of Wickedness (vv. 7-8). The symbolic woman is followed by the sight of these two winged women, presumably also representative; perhaps even agents of wickedness themselves.

Not certainly angels; and, if so, contrary to the univocal representation of the rest of the Bible. Utterly impossible? I wouldn't say so. Extremely unlikely? IMHO, yes.

Unknown said...

Thanks Dan...very good stuff!

donsands said...

"Extremely unlikely". I have to agree with that.

LeeC said...

Yup excellent post Dan.
Most of the angels we see today are in fact verions of the Roman winged victory godess. I (in a good natured way) often when visiting friend during Christmas look up at the tops of their trees and say "Hey, nice victory goddess you have there!" ;-)

It's amazing to study angelology and how they work and serve the Lord, but even more so how they are watching what the Lord is doing to and through us.

Robert said...

I've always thought of angels as super-intelligent spirit versions of Mr. Spock. They see everything as black-and-white, good-and-evil, no grey areas, and are ready to punish sin in an instant. Forgiveness and redemption would seem to them to be ..."illogical".

(Yes, Star Trek geekiness showing here!)

And since even the fallen angels are far above us in mental capacity, that's another good reason to stay away from the occult. We're not smart enough to mess with sprits, so we're warned by God's word to stay away.

LeeC said...


On another note, my word verification is "Towel". It's never spelled anything before, perhaps it's a sign?

Do I need to take a bath?

Mark B. Hanson said...

I have never heard this before, but it just struck me - are the cherubim on the ark of the covenant witnesses to the blood atonement made on the mercy seat? After all, the author of Hebrews mentions that the Mosaic covenant was "spoken by angels"...

To back this up, also consider 1 Timothy 5:21, in which Paul calls angels to watch over his charge to Timothy.

Rebekah said...

I echo what Naomi F. said. Wow. I've been thinking about this all day, about how I often do not fully appreciate and cherish the immense and awesome grace God has extended to us in redeeming us. Thank you for this post.

Rick Frueh said...

A great post. And even in the midst of much revelation concerning angels the Father still draws a mystery surrounding much of the study of angels because, obviously, He desires us to seek Him and Him alone.

Thanks for the post!