Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:7

“And of the angels He says,
‘Who makes His angels winds,
And His ministers a flame of fire’”
(Hebrews 1:7).

I am thankful that the servants of the heaven from which the Son reigns are themselves created beings which display His beauty, awesomeness, power, and glory.

The writer now quotes a Psalm. He has no intentions of belittling angels in his inspired efforts to exalt the Son above all.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;
He makes the winds His messengers,
Flaming fire His ministers (Psalm 104:1-4).

This word paralleled with “angels” is “ministers” (λειτουργος). “Minister” is used to describe civil rulers, Paul, Epaphroditus, and the exalted Jesus Himself. The verb is paralleled with fasting (Acts 13:2) and financial support of needy believers (Romans 15:27).[1] They, in their power, are not rulers. They are supporters.[2]

The Psalmist is trying to capture for us the mysterious strangeness of angels. C.S. Lewis does this, as well, in his science fiction book Perelandra (1943). God has put on Venus an Adam and Eve, and the book describes their temptation and victory over that temptation (with the help of a human being who presents a race who made the wrong choice yet was redeemed by the second Adam). At the end of the book, two angels attend the throneroom of the newly-successful Venusian Adam and Eve. These two beings then attempt to find an appearance that doesn’t drive the human being mad: “The very faint light – the almost imperceptible alteration in the visual field – which betokens an eldil vanished suddenly. The rose peaks and the calm pool vanished also. A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be poured over Ransom. Darting pillars filled with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubes and heptagons into an infinite black void. ‘Stop it…stop it,’ he yelled, and the scene cleared. He gazed round blinking on the field of lilies, and presently gave the eldila to understand that this kind of appearance was not suited to human sensations. ‘Look then on this,’ said the voices again. And he looked with some reluctance, and far off between the peaks on the other side of the little valley there came rolling wheels. There was nothing but that – concentric wheels moving with a rather sickening slowness one inside the other. There was nothing terrible about them if you could get used to their appalling size, but there was also nothing insignificant. He bade them to try yet a third time. And suddenly two human figures stood before him on either side of the lake. They were taller than the Sorns, the giants whom he had met in Mars. They were perhaps thirty feet high. They were burning white like white-hot iron. The outline of their bodies when he looked at it steadily against the red landscape seemed to be faintly, swiftly undulating as though the permanence of their shape, like that of waterfalls or flames, co-existed with a rushing movement of the matter it contained. For a fraction of an inch inward from this outline the landscape was just visible through them: beyond that they were opaque. Whenever he looked straight at them they appeared to be rushing towards him with enormous speed: whenever his eyes took in their surroundings he realized that they were stationary. This may have been due in part to the fact that their long and sparkling hair stood out straight behind them as if in a great wind. But if there were a wind it was not made of air, for no petal of the flowers was shaken…their bodies, he said, were white. But a flush diverse colors began at about the shoulders and streamed up the necks and flickered over face and head and stood out around the head like plumage or a halo. He told me he could in a sense remember these colors – that is, he would know them if he saw them again – but that he cannot by any effort call up a visual image of them nor give them a name…the faces surprised him very much. Nothing less like the ‘angel’ of popular art could well be imagined. The rich variety, the hint of undeveloped possibilities, which make the interest of human faces, were entirely absent. One single, changeless expression – so clear it hurt and dazzled him – was stamped on each and there was nothing else there at all…what this one thing was he could not be certain. He concluded in the end that it was charity.”

I appreciate this lengthy creative meditation on the nature of angels because it is so unlike “the ‘angel’ of popular art.” The hero of the story then asks the angels, “do I see you as you really are?” The angels respond that “only [God] sees any creature as it really is.” Good stuff.

They have the appearance at times of fire. The seraphim of Isaiah 6 are literally “fire serpents.” In Daniel 7, “a river of fire was flowing and coming out from before [the Ancient of Days]; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him” (vs.10). They are like “bolts of lightning” in Ezekiel 1:14. In 2 Kings 6:17 Elisha is protected by invisible “horses and chariots of fire.” The appearance of one of them causes Daniel to fall down as dead (8:17,18; 10:7,8,16).[3]

Despite their wondrous glory, angels are still just creatures. They are spiritual beings on a level of this creation comparable with nothing else. But they are just creatures. They are no closer to God-likeness than we are, for God is infinitely greater and higher than anything in His creation. For illustration, something with a hypothetical 2 on a hypothetical “Glory Chart” is quite a bit less than something with 1,000,000 on the Glory Chart, but neither compares to something that is infinitely glorious (or, more accurately, something that is Glory Itself and the glory of the 2 and the glory of the 1,000,000 are analogous and derivative).

Praise God, for He has created these beings not just as messengers, but has made them to be “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). They are servants of the covenant and the covenant people in Christ. Their power and beauty point to the greater power and beauty of the messages of God they were created to bring, and their glory and spiritual transcendence is merely a pale reflection of the infinitely Greater Who is their (and our) Creator. Praise Him with great praise!
Fire season, 3 1/2 years ago.
Fires bring alterations to the sky that grab the attention.

[1] In Hebrews, it maintains its sacrificial background in 10:11.
[2] Daniel 10:13,20 describe a parallel between earthly battles and warfare in the spiritual realm. Mighty angels battle in the spiritual realm, and their battles parallel real events on earth – God is, after all, called “LORD of hosts” some 229 times in the O.T. The “hosts” are not just heavenly armies, but earthly armies, as well. He governs the movements of both. The invisible/spiritual reflects the visible/earthly. Similarly, the letters of the glorified Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation are written to “the angel of the church” (1:20; 2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,7,14). Do churches have angels? I tend to think these are the pastors (remember than “angel” means “messenger”), but the Daniel example keeps me from being too dogmatic about this hypothesis.
[3] John’s falling down before the angel to worship in Revelation isn’t because he is an idolater; these beings are so overwhelming in their glory and message that we – creatures made to worship the infinitely Greater – are involuntarily moved to bow (19:9,10; 22:8).

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