6. How Angels work
We are frequently reminded that we cannot know the ways of God's working, and this is of course true. "As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit (this phrase is alluded to in John 3), nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all" (Ecc. 11:5). Yet there are certain principles and patterns in how Angels work which God seems to have revealed unto us to enable us to draw closer to Him and to the more readily accept His Angels at work in our lives. One such principle is that the Angels often give evidence to men that they are at work; thus the Angel of Rev. 11 says "I will give power unto My two witnesses". The witnesses here are witnesses to the work of the Angel, not to the Truth. This overcomes the problem of the "witnesses" mentioned by traditional expositors not holding the full truth. God- the Angels- do not leave themselves without witness to the pagan world , but send them rain and seasons (Acts 14:17). Job and other Scriptures stress how rain and seasons especially are the work of the Angels.
The Angels never affect our freewill, but nevertheless provide the necessary arrangement of circumstances to encourage us to do God's will, and affecting the lives of unbelievers to this end too. In order for unbelievers to present the necessary trials to us in order to bring this about, the Angels harden the hearts of these people. Thus in Psalm 78 we read of the plagues on Egypt being brought by the "Angels of evil", including the slaying of the firstborn. These plagues were due to Pharaoh's heart being hardened by God (Ex. 4:21)- i. e. by the Angels of evil. In passing, Ex. 4:20,21 states that "Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the Lord said unto Moses . . see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in thine hand". The wonders were done by the Angels we are told in Psalm 78 and other commentaries on the Exodus in Scripture. But Moses through obeying the Word of God had control over those Angels, they were in His hand, symbolized by the rod. And so with us too.
The Angels formulate their plans perhaps without knowing whether we will respond suitably to enable the plans to go ahead, or maybe they arrange circumstances whether they know we will obey or disobey, so that we always have the encouragement that if we obey and do our part we will have the pre-arranged workings of the Angels behind us too. The entrance of Israel to Canaan shows this. God had promised in Ex. 33 to send an Angel before them which would drive out the tribes from Canaan; the 'Hornet'- a result of Angelic activity- was sent before them to do the same ( more proof of this provided later). Dt. 9:3 describes this: "The LORD thy God is He which goeth over (the Jordan) before thee; as a consuming fire (the language of Angels- Ex. 24:17) He shall destroy them (the nations). . so shalt thou drive them out". Thus when Joshua approached Jericho to attack it "there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand. . and He said. . As captain of the host of the Lord (Angels) am I come" (Josh. 5:13,14). So in prospect the Angels drove out every tribe that was in the land; the people of Israel had to just go in and posess the work which the Angels had done. So when they failed to drive out certain tribes, this was an example of human failing to be "workers together with God". Thus in prospect, the Angels led them to the promised "rest"- Dt. 25:19; Josh. 1:13; Is. 63:1 N.I.V. ; although in practice they did not enter that rest because of their faithlessness (Heb. 3:11-4:11), despite the Angel promising He would lead them there- "I will give thee rest" (Ex. 33:4). Was this due to the Angel over-estimating the spiritual strength of His charges? Ps. 81:16 gives another example by saying that if Israel were obedient, they would have been fed with honey as well as Manna- whilst Dt. 32:13 says they did have honey on their journey. Again, what they could have had and what they were given in prospect is spoken of as if it was reality due to the nature of how Angels work.
We digress to consider that the "rest" promised by the Angel entailed. The word is often used about the tabernacling of God in the ark- thus Dt. 12:1-8 warns the people not to use existing altars in Canaan "for ye are not as yet come to the rest. . . there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His Name to dwell there" (v. 9,11). Clearer associations between the "rest" and the Ark are:
- Num. 10:33 "The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them. . . to search out a resting place"
- 1 Chron. 28:2 "An house of rest for the ark"
- Ps. 132:8 "Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest: Thou, and the ark of Thy strength". The whole Psalm is about the ark, and concerning its location in Zion God says "this is My rest for ever; here will I dwell" (v. 14).
However, the real resting place of God's Name is not in the literal ark, but in the hearts of people humble to God's Word: "Where is the house that ye build unto Me? and where is the place of My rest?. . . to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word" (Is. 66:1,2). God's Angel literally dwelt in the ark , and they are His eyes through which He "looks" to the humble man. Thus God's Angels are searching the earth for people with hearts humble to the word, so that God can "rest" with us- and we with Him. The “ark” is spoken of as going ahead of Israel to spy out a resting place for them (Num. 10:33); but the ark is being put by metonymy for the Angel within it. Psalm 132 speaks of God chosing and desiring the ark's resting place, as if He engages in a process of searching. Such a process is only befitting of the Angels, seeing that God has absolute knowledge of every heart. The double emphasis on "the God of Jacob" (v. 2,5) being associated with the ark strengthens the Angelic context, seeing "the God of Jacob" is an Angelic term. Similarly "My covenant" of v. 12 points to the Angels, seeing they ordained the covenant.
This idea of the Angels' work for us being proportional to and dependent on our obedience is hard to fully accept, yet it is fundamental to our understanding of God's way of working in every enterprise we are involved in. The principle is outlined in Dt. 13:17, which said that the spoil of a captured city that was devoted to the Lord was not to be kept, as it was by Achan. This was so that "the Lord may. . . shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee". "The Lord" refers to the Angel, seeing that the attributes of mercy and compassion recall those of the Angel who declared them as part of His Name in Ex. 33 and 34. Dt. 13:17 continues: "... as He hath shown unto thy fathers…to multiply thee". These promises were made by Angels. Verse 18 lends further support ". . do that which is right in the eyes (Angels) of the Lord thy God".
Num. 32 has more of the same; the Gaddites and Reubenites were reprimanded for not going over Jordan into Canaan because they were not literally following the Lord- the Angel that had physically gone over in front of them. Moses stresses four times (v. 20,21,27,29) that they should go over armed "before the Lord". They were to at least show willing to fight in order to do their part in gaining possession of what the Angel had already done for them- "until He (the Angel) hath driven out His enemies from before Him "(v. 21). Notice He does not say 'until you have driven them out with your own sword', although they were to go over armed.
With us, the Angels have worked out every victory for us in prospect- we have to have the faith to go ahead and act, believing that they have acted, even when there is no visible evidence. Our works must therefore repeat those which our Angels have done previously- hence their great interest in us. The Angel brought Israel "forth out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them" (Ez. 20:6); the Angel in the ark "went before them in the three days journey to search out a resting place for them" (Num. 10:33). Yet Israel still had to send out human spies, and carefully "describe the land in a book" (Josh. 18:4-8).
If Canaan is seen to represent the Kingdom, the things which are stopping us entering the Kingdom are our sins. In prospect, Jesus, the antitype of the great Angel which lead Israel into the land and drove out the enemies in prospect, has vanquished all our sins. When Israel sinned, the help the Angels were giving Israel to help them posess what they had already prepared for them, was taken away. Thus with the first attack on Ai, the Angels had in prospect driven out the people of Ai, but the realisation of that was conditional on Israel's obedience. "Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I (God manifested through the Angel) be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you"(Josh. 7:12). It is perhaps in this context of the Angel going before the people that we read concerning Caleb that "Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb. . because that he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel" (Josh. 14:14)- i. e. he zealously followed the Angel which went before him, and therefore he obtained his inheritance which in prospect the Angel had prepared for him. This understanding of how Angels work was shown later by Deborah (Jud. 4:14), when she quotes the words of Dt. 9:3 concerning the Angel going before Israel to drive out the nations to Barak, to inspire him with courage in fighting them: "And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the Lord gone out before thee? "(quoting Dt. 9:3). She recognized that the work the Angels did when they went out many years ago to do all the groundwork necessary for Israel to destroy all the tribes of Canaan was done for all time. It was not too late to make use of that work by making a human endeavour in faith. So with us, the smaller objectives in our lives as well as our main goal of reaching the Kingdom have all been made possible through the work of Christ and the Angels in the past. Deborah's recognition of this is shown in her song- Jud. 5:20: "They (the Angels) fought from Heaven; the stars (Biblical imagery for Angels) in their courses fought against Sisera". In passing, note that the Hebrew for 'courses' is almost identical with that for 'ladder' in the account of Jacob's vision of a ladder of Angels. Strong specifically defines it as meaning 'staircase'.
1 Chron. 4:10 gives another example of this using of previous Angelic promises and preparatory work in order to achieve an act of faith. Some of the children of Judah later requested that their border be enlarged, at the expense of driving out neighbouring Canaanite tribes. "Jabez called on the God of Israel (an Angelic term), saying, Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed (a reference back to the Angelic blessing of Abraham's seed with the promise of possession of the land?), and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand (an Angelic phrase) might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested. " In passing, is this the basis of "deliver us from evil... (i e.) lead us not into (spiritual) temptation" in the Lord's prayer? In that case our sins are being likened to the tribes which Jabez drove out in faith, and we should believe that our Angel has driven our sins out for us in prospect, so that we might inherit the promises.
All Things Possible
In the same way, an Angel may be given a mission to preach somewhere, and success may be arranged by Him in prospect, but it is for us to put the work into practical effect, without which the converts will not be produced, despite the Angels preparatory work, although of course ultimately this is all foreknown by God Himself. Thus we read in Rev. 14:6 of an Angel being sent "having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth (same word as 'land'- i. e. the land of Israel), and to every nation, kindred and tongue and people "(i. e. the whole world as well). However, this actual work of preaching to the Jews and to the world will be done by the saints; thus they will work out in practice what was achieved by the Angel in God's plan. In this context it is worth considering how the great commission as recorded in Mt. 28:18,19 is set in the context of other references in Matthew to world-wide preaching. We are to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations; and yet it is the Angels who will gather the harvest from “the world” (Mt. 13:38), Angels who will “repay” us for our work at the last day (Mt. 16:27), Angels who gather the elect from “the four winds” (Mt. 24:31) and gather [converts from] “all nations” to judgment (Mt. 25:32). The implication surely is that in our preaching work, the Angels are with us and will gather in the converts which we have made.
Ps. 81 has clear Angelic allusions; the Angel laments "Oh that My people had hearkened unto Me, and. . walked in My ways! I would soon have subdued their enemies. . He should have fed them with the finest of the wheat, and with honey of the rock should I have satisfied thee" (v. 13-16). Thus our Angel will act more quickly for us according to our obedience, and may have physical and spiritual blessings prepared for us which we are yet to realize due to our lack of wholly following the Angel into our inheritance. The Angel planned to give Israel honey as well as water out of the rock on their journey- the water representing Christ and the Spiritual blessings from Him (1 Cor. 10:4; John 7:38,39); yet even richer blessings (honey from the rock) were possible; and are possible for us in our wilderness lives. Similarly the "bread from Heaven" which represents the Word (so Jesus interpreted it throughout John 6) would not have been stodgy manna ,but "the finest of the wheat".
So the conclusion is that because our Angel has been so zealous in acting for us, we too should be zealous in return- thus Abraham's servant, knowing that God had sent an Angel before him to prepare the way for his mission of finding a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:40), was eager to be as zealous as possible to do his part in the work- "Hinder me not, seeing the Lord (the Angel) hath prospered my way" (v. 56). There are many other examples of this. Because the Angel is with us, we must joyfully and enthusiastically do our part. Thus God encourages those rebuilding Jerusalem to have faith because the Angel is still among them: "Yet now be strong. . . and work: for I (the Angel) am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts (Angels): according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt (the Angel made that covenant) so My Spirit (Angel) remaineth among you; fear ye not". Similarly Nehemiah recounts the past activities of God's Angel (Neh. 9:19-24) as a stimulus to faith in God bringing them through immediate problems" (v. 32) and to making a rededication of their commitment to Him (v. 38 "because of this we make a sure covenant").