Angelogy, the Study of Angels
"He had a dream, and behold a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." Genesis 28:12
Angels in the Old Testament
by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain
1. Abraham stated that God would send his angel to guide his trusted servant in selecting a wife for his son Isaac among his relatives in Syria (Gen. 24:7, 40).
2. I believe this angel is the same angel to which Jacob referred (Gen. 48:15-16).
3. I believe this angel is the same angel that guided Israel into the promised land (Ex. 14:19; 23:20-23; 32:34; 33:2; Num. 20:14-16), and is also the Angel of Yahweh.
1. Jacob had a dream in which there was a ladder reaching to heaven. the angels of God were ascending and descending the ladder (Gen. 28:12).
2. The angel of God spoke to Jacob in a dream (Gen. 31:11).
3. As Jacob was on his way back to Esau, the angels of God met him (Gen. 32:1).
4. Hosea asserted that when Jacob wrestled with the angel, he was contending with God (Hos. 12:3-4; cf. Gen. 32:24-32). The angel looked like a man (Gen. 32:24), but Jacob called the name of that place Peniel, for, he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Gen. 32:30). In my opinion, the angel with whom he wrestled was the Angel of Yahweh.
5. As Jacob was blessing Joseph he referred twice to God (Elohim). He referred to God as the God of his fathers and as his personal shepherd (Gen. 48:15). In the next breath he referred to God as “the angel who has redeemed me from all evil,” and asked him to bless the two lads of Joseph (Gen. 48:16). Thus Jacob identified the angel whom he had encountered as Elohim.
1. When the Israelis were fleeing the Egyptians, the angel of God, who had been going ahead of them, moved and went behind them, as did the pillar of cloud (Ex. 14:19). It is my belief that this angel is God’s special angel, “the angel of His presence” (Isa. 63:9), otherwise known as the Angel of Yahweh, the second person of the Trinity in his pre-incarnate existence in relation to Israel.
2. God promised to send an angel to guard Israel en route to the promised land (Ex. 23:20). The people were to be careful to obey him, for this angel would not pardon their transgression since Yahweh had put His Name in him. If they obeyed this angel, he would be an enemy to their enemies, and an adversary to their adversaries (Ex. 23:21-22)! This angel would go ahead of Israel and bring the people into the land of the inhabitants of Canaan (Ex. 23:23). Doubtless this angel was the special Angel of Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Christ.
3. God’s angel would continue to go ahead of the people despite their idolatry (Ex. 32:34).
4. God promised to send an angel ahead of Israel (Ex. 33:2).
5. Moses related to the king of Edom how, when the Israelis cried out to Yahweh, He heard them and sent an angel and brought them out of Egypt (Num. 20:14-16).
6. When Balaam was going to meet Balak, the king of Moab who wanted Israel cursed, Elohim was angry, and the angel of Yahweh stood against him as an adversary (Num. 22:22). The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh with drawn sword and turned aside into the field (Num. 22:23). Balaam beat his donkey. Moments later, the angel of Yahweh blocked the passage in a narrow place between two vineyards. The donkey shied into a wall, and Balaam beat the donkey again (Num. 22:24-25). Finally, the angel of Yahweh stood in a tight place where there was no room to turn either to the left or the right, so the donkey lay down, and again Balaam beat the donkey (Num. 22:26-27). In a most humorous incident to us readers, Yahweh opened the donkey’s mouth to speak to Balaam. She asked Balaam what she had done that deserved three beatings. Balaam replied that she had made a mockery of him three times and he would have killed her if he had a sword! The donkey noted her faithful treatment of Balaam for years. Had she ever been uncooperative like this before? Balaam agreed that she had not been (Num. 22:28-30). The angel of Yahweh opened Balaam’s eyes so he too could see the angel of Yahweh standing in the way with drawn sword. Balaam bowed low to the ground. The angel of Yahweh asked Balaam why he had struck his donkey three times. He had come as an adversary to Balaam because his way was contrary. Had the donkey not turned aside three times, the angel would have killed Balaam and let the donkey live (Num. 22:31-33)! Balaam said he had sinned. He did not know the angel was standing there. He would turn back if it was displeasing. The angel of Yahweh gave him permission to go, but warned him to speak only the words he would give him (Num. 22:34-35). Though the Angel of Yahweh is not here identified as Yahweh Himself, from other explicit passages, we deduce that He is the second person of the Godhead, appearing as an angel before His incarnation as Jesus. It is my belief that this is the same angel that went before Israel on her journey from Egypt to Canaan (Ex. 14:19; 23:20-23; 32:34; 33:2; Num. 20:14-16).
7. Isaiah called this angel “the angel of His presence” (Isa. 63:9).
1. After the tribes of Israel had failed to conquer completely the land of Canaan (Judges 1), the Angel of Yahweh came from Gilgal to Bochim and spoke to the sons of Israel. He reminded them He had brought them out of Egypt to the promised land and had warned them not to make covenants with the people of the land, but Israel had not obeyed. Therefore, He would not drive out the inhabitants completely, but would leave them as thorns in their side, and their gods would ensnare the people into idolatry. When the Angel of Yahweh had spoken, the people wept and offered a sacrifice to Yahweh (Judges 2:1-4). This is the same angel that had led them the whole time. He speaks as if He were Yahweh.
2. The Angel of Yahweh uttered a curse upon the inhabitants of Meroz because they did not come to the aid of Yahweh in battle against the Canaanites (Judges 5:23).
3. The Angel of Yahweh raised up Gideon to deliver the sons of Israel from Midian (Judges 6:11-24).
4. The Angel of Yahweh raised up Samson to deliver the sons of Israel from the tyranny of the Philistines (Judges 13).
1. Even in King David’s day, there was memory in Israel of the angel of God (2 Sam. 14:17, 20; 19:27). What is also fascinating is that even Achish, King of Gath, likened his satisfaction with David as with “an angel of God” (1 Sam. 29:9). Evidently David had talked to Achish about the Angel of Yahweh.
2. Yahweh sent the Angel of Yahweh to inflict pestilential death upon 70,000 Israeli soldiers. At the instruction of Yahweh he spared Jerusalem and commanded Gad the prophet to order David to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. God was appeased by the petition arising with the offering and stayed the plague. (2 Sam. 24:15-25; 1 Chron. 21:14-28). This threshing floor became the site of Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 3:1).
3. The tabernacle of Yahweh and the altar of burnt offering were in Gibeon, but David could not inquire of Yahweh there because he was terrified of the sword of the angel of Yahweh (1 Chron. 21:29-30).
1. To the devout, the word (even supposedly) of an angel carried Divine weight (1 Kings 13:18). A man of God from Judah prophesied against Jeroboam’s altar (1 Kings 13:1-10). He said that a descendant of David would be born who would one day sacrifice Jeroboam’s priests on the altar and human bones would be burned on it. As proof, the altar was split and ashes poured out.
2. On his way home he was met by an old prophet living in Bethel. This old prophet lied, telling the man of God from Judah that an angel had told him, contrary to instructions given to him earlier, that he was to eat and drink. The man of God followed the false instructions and was destroyed by a lion on the way home. This was additional proof that the prophecy of the man of God from Bethel against Jeroboam’s false altar would be fulfilled (1 Kings 13:11-32).
1. An angel ministered the physical and emotional needs of Elijah twice, as he ran for his life from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-8).
2. The angel of Yahweh instructed Elijah to warn King Ahaziah he would die because he planned to consult Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, concerning his illness (2 Kings 1:1-4).
3. The angel of Yahweh told Elijah it was safe to go with fifty soldiers to speak to King Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:15-17). 102 soldiers had already been consumed by fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:9-12)!
1. Eliphaz believed that God charges his angels with error, so there was no way that Job could not have sinned (Job 4:17-18).
2. Elihu believed that rarely, angels might mediate on behalf of a man (Job 33:23).
1. David stated that the Angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Yahweh and rescues them (Psalm 34:7).
2. David prayed that Yahweh would deliver him from his enemies. Specifically he asked that the Angel of Yahweh drive them away like chaff before the wind (Psalm 35:5), and that the Angel of Yahweh might pursue them on their dark and slippery way (Psalm 35:6).
3. Asaph related that, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God rained down manna upon her, which he described as “the bread of angels” (Psa. 78:25).
4. Asaph interpreted the plagues upon Egypt (Psa. 78:43-51) as being “a band of destroying angels” (Psa. 78:49). By that he meant either that the plagues were messengers of destruction, or, more likely, that God employed angels in bringing the devastating plagues upon Egypt.
5. To the one who makes Yahweh his refuge and the Most High his dwelling place, God will charge His angels to guard them in all his ways (Psa. 91:9-11).
6. Angels worship God.
a. It is the task of angels, who are mighty in strength, to bless Yahweh and obey His commands (Psalm 103:20).
b. It is the task of all God’s angels and angelic armies to praise Him (Psalm 148:2).
J. Angels in the Book of Daniel. (For an overview of Daniel, see the author’s outline.)
1. God sent an angel to protect three Jewish men who refused to worship a statute of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The king acknowledged that the fourth person in the fiery furnace protecting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego was an angel sent by God (Dan. 3:19-28).
2. God used an angel to influence the regime of King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar described a dream of a great tree visible to the ends of the earth (Dan. 4:10-18). An “angelic watcher” from heaven decreed that the tree should be cut down and humbled for seven periods of time according to the decree of angelic watchers” (Dan. 4:13, 17). The purpose was so that the living might know that the Most High rules over mankind and bestows ruling authority to whomever He chooses (Dan. 4:17). Daniel interpreted the dream for Nebuchadnezzar, telling him that the decree of the angelic watcher (Dan. 4:23) meant Nebuchadnezzar was to be driven from mankind and eat grass like cattle for seven periods of time until He realized that the Most High is the ruler over mankind and He bestows positions of government on whomever He chooses (Dan. 4:24-27).
3. God used an angel to protect Daniel. When Daniel continued to pray to God despite the newly enacted law prohibiting it, he was thrown into a den of lions (Dan. 6:1-18). Daniel asserted that God had sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths and they had not harmed him (Dan. 6:22).
K. Angels and the Prophet Zechariah. (For an overview of Zechariah, see the author’s outline.)
1. Zechariah’s vision of a man riding a red horse with red, sorrel, and white horses behind him (Zech. 1:7-17). Through an angel Yahweh revealed to Zechariah that He was about to resume His compassion and blessing upon Judah, Jerusalem, and Zion. The word of Yahweh came to Zechariah and he saw a vision at night (Zech. 1:7-8). In this vision two angels appeared to Zechariah. One of those angels served to help him understand the meaning of the vision (Zech. 1:9-10, 13-17, 19, 21). The other angel, the Angel of Yahweh, is described as a man riding on a red horse and “standing among the myrtle trees” (Zech. 1:8, 10). Yet he was also described the Angel of Yahweh (Zech. 1:11-12). Here is a synopsis of Zechariah’s encounter with these two angels.
a. At nighttime Zechariah saw a man astride a red horse standing among the myrtle trees. Behind him were red, sorrel and white horses (Zech. 1:7-8).
b. Zechariah asked an angel who was speaking with him the significance of the horses. The angel speaking with Zechariah responded that he would show him (Zech. 1:9).
c. Whereupon the man standing among the myrtle trees told Zechariah that the horses behind him were those whom Yahweh “has sent to patrol the earth” (Zech. 1:10).
d. The horses “answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees” that they had “patrolled the earth and found it peaceful and quiet” (Zech. 1:11).
e. The angel of Yahweh asked Yahweh of Troops how long he would withhold compassion from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, for He had been angry with them for seventy years (Zech. 1:12).
f. Yahweh replied to the angel speaking with Zechariah that He would again bestow compassion on Judah and Zion and Jerusalem (Zech. 1:13-17).
g. In Zechariah 1, the person “standing among the myrtle trees” is twice described as a man (Zech. 1:8, 10) and once as “the angel of the LORD” (Zech. 1:11).
h. The angel of the LORD addresses the LORD of hosts with a question. Yahweh’s response is directed to Zechariah.
i. In this chapter, the angel of Yahweh looks like a man, and he is differentiated from Yahweh, for he addresses Yahweh. This is consistent with other descriptions of the Angel of Yahweh that do not explicitly state his Deity.
j. The Angel of Yahweh’s full identity is revealed in Zech. 3.
k. Both of these angels provided information for Zechariah, which he included in his prophecy.
2. Zechariah’s vision of the four horns and the four craftsmen (Zech. 1:18-21).
a. Zechariah saw four horns (Zech. 1:18). He asked the angel speaking to him what they signified (Zech. 1:19).
b. The angel replied that they were the horns which had scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem (Zech. 1:19).
c. Yahweh also showed him four craftsmen (Zech. 1:20).
d. When Zechariah asked what the four craftsmen signified, he (presumably the angel) responded that the craftsmen had come to throw down and overpower the horns of the nations which had scattered Judah (Zech. 1:21).
e. Again, the angel provided information for Zechariah, enabling him to interpret his vision and include what he had learned in his prophecy.
3. Zechariah’s vision of the man preparing to measure Jerusalem (Zech. 2:1-13). Angels help Zechariah understand the glorious future of Israel.
a. Zechariah saw a man with a measuring tape preparing to measure Jerusalem (Zech. 2:1-2).
b. Another angel met the angel who had been speaking to Zechariah (Zech. 2:3). He told Zechariah’s angel to inform the man that Jerusalem would one day be “inhabited without walls because of the multitude of men and cattle within it” (Zech. 2:4). This would be true because Yahweh Himself would be a wall of fire protecting the city, and He would be the glory within her (Zech. 2:5)! This prophecy has not been fulfilled. It awaits its fulfillment in Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom.
c. Three messages arise out of this vision.
1) The first message we have already touched on. It was addressed to the young man: God will Divinely protect and bring glory to Millennial Jerusalem (Zech. 2:1-5).
2) The second message is addressed to Israel (Zech. 2:6-12).
a) The first portion of this message is addressed to the exiles in Babylon: “Flee from exile, for I, Yahweh, will punish your foes” (Zech. 2:6-9).
b) The second portion of this message is addressed to the daughter of Zion: Celebrate the Millennial joy and peace in international fellowship with Yahweh (Zech. 2:10-12)!
3) The third message arising out of the vision is addressed to “all flesh”: Let all mankind keep silent as Yahweh of Troops supports Israel (Zech. 2:13)!
a. The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zech. 3:1). If the form of the book of Zechariah holds firm, the person identified as “he” must be the angel who speaks to him as it is throughout the rest of the book of Zechariah.
b. Abruptly, Zechariah recorded, “The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire’” (Zech. 3:2)? The best understanding of this intriguing passage is that, once again, the Angel of Yahweh is identified as Yahweh.
c. Zechariah next observed that Joshua was standing before “the angel” (of Yahweh) with filthy garments (Zech. 3:3). The Angel of Yahweh instructed that Joshua’s filthy clothes be removed. When this had been done, the Angel of Yahweh said to Joshua, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes” (Zech. 3:4). Only God has the authority to forgive the sins of His people. Here is a clear inference that the Angel of Yahweh is none other than Yahweh Himself, most likely a pre-incarnate appearance of God’s Eternal Word (John 1:1-3), who would become permanently Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14-18).
d. Joshua was given clean clothes while the Angel of Yahweh was standing there (Zech. 3:5). Then the Angel of Yahweh “admonished Joshua, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house ...”’” (Zech. 3:6-7a). Here, the Angel of Yahweh quotes Yahweh. The fact that the Angel of Yahweh is identified as Yahweh, exercises prerogatives belonging only to God (removing someone’s sin), and yet is distinct from Yahweh coincides perfectly with the words of the Apostle John about the Word, Jesus. “The Word was with God” (distinction), and yet “the Word was being God” (identity) (John 1:1, author’s translation.
e. The significance of this vision is that the cleansing of Joshua, the high priest, symbolizes the Millennial cleansing and restoration of Israel to the Land through the Messiah.
5. Zechariah’s interpreting angel roused him from slumber and asked him what he saw. Zechariah replied that he saw a golden lampstand with its bowl on top and seven lamps each with seven spouts (Zech. 4:1-2). This means that the lampstand would furnish an extraordinary amount of light, for each of the seven lamps had seven spouts which housed seven wicks. There were seven times seven wicks burning, illuminating the area. There was a large bowl on top filled with olive oil. Not only that, but two olive trees stood nearby, providing an inexhaustible supply of olive oil for this high-candlepower lampstand (Zech. 4:3).
a. Unsure of the significance of the lampstand, Zechariah asked his interpreting angel what it meant (Zech. 4:4-5). The angel replied that it meant that Yahweh of Troops would perform His work of rebuilding the temple (Zech. 1:16; 8:9) and expanding the city (Zech. 2:4) not by human might or power, but by the power of His Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:6). Zechariah had been involved in beginning work on the temple restoration after the exile, and his hands would complete the work (Zech. 4:7-10).
b. Zechariah asked his angel for the significance of the two olive branches on the olive trees that continually emptied oil into the bowl of the lampstand (Zech. 4:11-12). The angel replied that they were the “two anointed ones” who stood “by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zech. 4:13-14). By these he referred to Zerubbabel and Joshua.
c. The over-all significance of this vision explained by the angel is that the post-exilic temple was to be rebuilt in the power of the Spirit led by the two anointed ones, (King) Zerubbabel and (Priest) Joshua.
6. Zechariah was given a vision of an ephah-basket with a woman inside trapped by a lead cover, and two women transporting it carefully to Babylon (Zech. 5:5-11).
a. The angel who continually spoke with Zechariah throughout the events described in his book asked him what he saw (Zech. 5:5). Zechariah could not decipher what he saw, and asked the angel for an explanation. The angel replied that it was “the ephah going forth” (Zech. 5:6). A lead cover was lifted up, and there was a woman sitting inside (Zech. 5:7). The angel quickly threw her down and replaced the lead cover so she could not escape, exclaiming, “This is wickedness!” (Zech. 5:8). Zechariah observed further as two women with stork wings flew and carefully carried the basket away in the air (Zech. 5:9). When Zechariah asked where they were taking the basket and its evil contents, the angel replied, “To build a temple for her in the land of Shinar; and when it is prepared, she will be set there on her own pedestal” (Zech. 5:10-11). Shinar is a reference to Babylon (Gen. 10:8-10; 11:1-9), from earliest times a city of rebellion against God.
b. It is not without significance that John, in the Book of Revelation, writes extensively of a woman whom he describes as a great prostitute named Babylon, mother of all prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth. She is both a false religion and a city which carries enormous political clout as she, for awhile, controls the end-time government of the antichrist and seduces kings and merchants and people of the earth to follow her idolatrous religion in exchange for commerce and wealth (Rev. 17:1-7, 15, 18). Babylon’s doom will be sudden, disastrous, and eternal (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:1, 16-17; 18:1-24; 19:1-3).
c. The significance of the vision was God’s removal of idolatry from Israel and redirection of it toward Babylon. It is not surprising that in the last book of the Bible, Babylon is characterized as the Great Prostitute (Rev. 17:1, 5, 15-16; 19:2), while New Jerusalem is characterized as the Holy City, the Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9-10; 22:17, 19).
7. Zechariah saw yet another vision, four chariots, variously harnessed to teams of red, black, white, and dappled horses (Zech. 6:1-3).
a. Zechariah asked his angel what they meant (Zech. 6:4). The angel replied that they were four spirits of heaven sent out to patrol the earth and to appease God’s wrath in the north by judging Babylon (Zech. 6:5-8; cf. 6:9-10).
b. As elsewhere in the book of Zechariah, the angel served to explain the prophetic symbolism of the visions which the prophet witnessed.
1. This present study, entitled, “Angels in the Old Testament,” is not a full treatment of the subject. In some respects it is a discussion of miscellaneous references to angels in the Old Testament that did not fit into other categories.
2. For additional information on angels in the Old Testament, go to the following topics:
a. What is an Angel? (A concise definition of "angel".)
b. What Do Angels Look Like? (A discussion of the appearance of angels.)
c. What Do Angels Do? (This document contains information on the tasks of angels from virtually all the New Testament references to angels as well as from several Old Testament references.)
d. The Angel of Yahweh (The Angel of the LORD.)
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Originally published June,
2008. Updated February 7, 2022
Published Online by WordExplain.com
Email Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)