Our Jewish Roots: Angels

Mal'ach is the Hebrew word for angels. It means "messenger." The Torah has many instances in which angels interact with man to facilitate God's will. In Genesis, these instances include, but are by no means limited to, the angels who guard the gates of Eden after Adam and Eve are expelled and the angel who stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. Jewish teachings, like Catholic teachings, extend beyond the written word of God (see my previous article, Oral Law) and this is applicable to delving into the topic of angels as well.

Since angels have always played a role in the interaction between God and man, ancient Jewish thinkers have contemplated their purpose since time immemorial. Whether acting as God's heavenly worshippers crying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" or delivering messages of forthcoming ruin and devastation against Sodom and Gomorrah, angels have held the fascination and rapt attention of Jewish rabbis at all points in time.

Most agree that angels act as intermediaries, as when an angel appears to Moses in the burning bush. Here the thought is that Moses, as righteous a man that could be found, was not yet ready to see God face to face and so God provides an angel as a necessary intermediary, showing God's great love and compassion in, once again, providing what man needs in any given circumstance.

 It is quite fascinating that angels may be viewed, according to some of the ancient thinkers, as working in an intermediary relationship between God and man when the task is something below or beneath God's inherent dignity or at a time when it just would seem odd for God to deal with something firsthand, even though He most certainly is capable. Rabbinic teachings reflect upon this in an attempt to understand instances such as when an omnipotent God does not Himself reveal the news of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is interesting food for thought. Serving a monotheistic God, Jewish teaching continues to strive to understand everything within that framework. Consider how difficult it would be to fathom God wrestling with Jacob; but the idea that God would make use of an angel to bring about this necessary transformation of Jacob to Israel is easy for us mere humans to grasp.

Archangel Michael — which is often translated "Who is like God?" — is considered to be the guardian or protector of Israel. However, a more succinct translation of his name is actually "He who is assuredly God" coming from the Hebrew word miykael which is comprised of three Hebrew words: [miy] (who is), [kiy] (assuredly), and ['el] (God). This is why there are many Christian theologians today who study Michael with such great care, hoping to reveal his true identity and thus understand more fully Michael's role in the book of Revelation. Many of these Christian theologians contemplate if Archangel Michael is, in fact, Christ. Arguments for and against this theory abound.

Nonetheless, Archangel Michael is also considered to be the chief angel in both Old and New Testament writings. He is venerated as a soldier-angel and his feast day in the Catholic Church is September 29th. It is important to note that Michael's intercessory role in humanity seems not to have yet ended. Monte Sant'Angelo is a shrine in Italy where St. Michael is said to have appeared a number of times, including during a plague in the year 1656 where a bishop invoked St. Michael's effective protection against the epidemic. From that point, the site became an even more popular shrine.

Like Michael, Gabriel is a named angel in the Old Testament. Gabriel's name translates "Strength of God" and his role (I use the gender reference to these angels without intention of offense but in the same way that our creed says for us men and our salvation) has always been one of deliverer of news. This is evident with the first appearance of Gabriel in the book of Daniel where Gabriel, identified by Daniel as "a manlike figure," interpreted Daniel's vision of the ram and he-goat, but also in Gabriel's role in the annunciation. Thus Gabriel, like Michael, traverses the Old and New Testaments, connecting in many ways the people of the old covenant to the people of the new covenant. Saint Gabriel, along with St. Raphael, shares St. Michael's feast day of September 29th.

And while archangels hold a special place in our hearts and in our fascinations, guardian angels are also quite dear to humans. We share stories, from our firsthand knowledge, of times where we are certain our guardian angels have fulfilled their roles, For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11) or we share stories with messages that provide great solace in the knowledge that even today God's messengers are looking out for us.

Although people cannot become angels upon death (sorry, Clarence of "It's a Wonderful Life!") this does not mean that we cannot act in a heavenly way towards our fellow man. So while we look for God's messengers to take a firsthand interest in our lives, let's remember that God always provides us with opportunities to be angelic to one another!

Cheryl Dickow

By

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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  • Guest

    A Jewish friend told me that Jewish beliefs about angels are somewhat different than Catholic beliefs.  First of all, they do not believe that angels have a free will, that they are simply messengers.  This is in accord with Genesis saying that Man was made in God's image.  Part of their understanding of what this means is that Man has free will, but angels, not made in the image of God, do not.  More concretely, and very mysteriously, this means that Satan did not "choose" to rebel, but that he was created to rebel. 

    I don't like that conclusion very much.  That seems harder to accept than that angels do have free will, and that "being made in the image of God" doesn't exclude free will from angels who were not "made in the image of God."

    My friend also said that the Jews believe that angels only understand Hebrew. If you pray to St. Michael in English, he'll just go "huh?".  Undecided 

     

     

    St. Michael the  archangel, defend us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, oh prince of the heavenly host, by the divine power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all evil spirits who roam now throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

     

  • Guest

    c-kingsley,

    I have read the Jewish belief that satan is, essentially, obeying God and have always found the first few verses of The Book of Job to seem almost to support that, or at the very least give a foundation for that understanding of satan.  It would answer the age old question of why bad things happen to good people or why evil prevails…it is our opportunity to continue to show faith in God when everything tries to make us abandon our faith.  Definitely interesting perspective. 

    On the other hand, I've never heard nor read that angels only understand Hebrew and that is more difficult for me to wrap my brain around.  It would seem that even if Hebrew is their language (which I could accept), God would not put a language barrier between us and the heavenly host and so for those of us who do not speak Hebrew I would imagine (guess/hope/pray) that our prayers are "translated" into the language of the heavens. 

    I'm very curious if anyone else has some insights into either of these interesting points?

  • Guest

    I will extend the old adage to say – You must also choose your Jewish friends wisely.

    Oy vey!

  • Guest

    Well just because someone has odd or wrong beliefs doesn't mean we cannot be friends with him or her.  We choose to befriend people sometimes on the basis of who they are, but Christains also, following Christ choose to be friends with people sometimes on the basis of who we are.

    One thing this shows is that while the Jewish faith and Jewish worship can give us some insights into biblical questions, the fact is:  "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets;
    but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Heb 1: 1.2) and Jews are handicapped in their understanding even of their own scripture by not accepting that revelation through the Son.

  • Guest

    goral,

    Then I believe that my Jewish friends have been chosen, for me, by God.  They have revealed to me a depth of love for the Creator that is beyond compare.  They have taught me the great value of tradition and in that way have strengthened my love of the Sacred traditions of our Catholic faith. 

    Was it Ghandi who said he would become a Christian if only he found someone acting like one?

    We all fall short of how we could truly live and, as Mary K points out, Jews may be handicapped in not accepting the revelation of the Son, but I would suggest that Christians may be handicapped in not accepting their Jewish roots.

  • Guest

    Mkochan, please don't take my comment too literally. Amending time-honored adages is risky. On that basis no one would choose me as their friend. How would the "limited" angels get around these days only understanding Hebrew?

    Your second statement is very correctly to the point. This Hebrew Rabbi knows and speaks our language.

  • Guest

    Ditto to the author of this fine article, and God does choose our friends and angels for that matter.

    This is one Christian who takes his Jewish roots seriously, lapse in these comments notwithstanding.

    My miscommunication is partly due to my resistance of using the emotiocons.

    Shalom aleham.

  • Guest

    This may be out of topic.

    Nonetheless, I have been wrestling with these thoughts and I share them below so that maybe someone can correct them or point me to reliable resources:

    Does God hate Satan?

    The answer that I arrive at is that He does not, since He is love. And it is Satan– out of pride– who rejects God, and not the other way around.

    I read somewhere– I wish I remember where– that the fires of hell are the very same fires that set the seraphim and cherubim aflame– which is the flame of the love of God. Whereas the love of God consumes the seraphim and cherubim– and they surrender to it willingly, and in loving God back, the fires burn all the more but inflict no pain or harm– in hell, because the souls there reject the Love of God and because they refuse to love God back, then the fires hurt tremendously– imagine going against an infinite power.

    (Lucifer means Bearer of Light. Was it because he once was aflame with the love of God?)

    I relate this to a meditation of PJP2 on Gen 3:16-20, which I heard from Christopher West (in his 10-CD set about the TotB from the Gift Foundation) that because of sin, love and suffering became intertwined. Because of unforgiven sin– perhaps more appropriately, the unforgivable sin of pride, the sin that one does not want to repent from, the sin against the Holy Spirit, the refusal to accept the works of the Spirit in our lives through His Son– love (or fire) becomes inseparable from suffering (or pain) in hell; whereas in heaven, the same fire is separated from pain, and the more it blazes, the more love there is.

    Once in hell, can a soul still repent? Or is true repentance (sorrow for sin because of love for God) already impossible because of how much sin has corrupted one's soul?

    Can Satan still repent? A friend told me that St. Aquinas wrote something about this. That because the fullness of truth was revealed to Satan, and because he had (enough) capacity to understand, and because he still rejected God despite all that, then there is nothing new for him to know to change his mind.

    I apologize if I have placed too many unrelated things and tried connect them. Any comments and advice are welcome.

    I thank Cheryl Dickow for all her articles, and today, for this one. Thanks to CE also. The site has been tremendously nourishing. 

    God bless us all.

    –Michael

  • Guest

    Nice little read here. You lost me towards the end by going "out of your way" to kneel down before political correctness. If *Gabriel* was identified by Daniel as a manlike figure, how is it even possible to be offended by the use of a masculine pronoun? That's the way a liberal thinks. Faith-filled Christian women support their men and aren't offended by a proper use of the language.

    By the way, Conservative Judaism permitted the blessing of homosexual unions and the ordination of gay clergy in 2006.

  • Guest

    Zephyr424,

    I was just sharing with my husband how some of the articles I've written "in fun" like the snow days article and the lessons of the prophets received a few comments that took me by surprise and what has happened, as you caught, I am finding some of my writing to be affected; sort of knee-jerk, anticipating what someone is going to come back with and so I'll block it before it lands for a touchdown…

    I've written a few articles for February on the sanctity of marriage, the commitment involved etc. and have deleted and re-written and deleted and rewritten a number of times.  My skin is growing thicker, though, and I expect that my political correctness will be short-lived. 

  • Guest

    Michael,

    Your post is quite thought provoking and I am hoping to read some responses that I know will also enlighten me.  I would have to admit that I sheepishly disagree with what St. Aquinas says regarding "nothing new" for satan to learn from.  I would think that it is one thing to "know" in your head that sin separates you from God and thus make a decision because the actual pain of it isn't real until you've followed through.  Hence, once you've followed through, and actually experienced those same fires that are love but are now consuming hell fires, well, that's something to new to make you change your mind.  Of course, it is all my own humble opinion but the older I get (which is happening quicker than ever) it seems like the more I understand, let's say, hurts I've inflicted on my parents because now I'm a parent.  A roundabout way of saying that mustn't satan have some sense of horror at what he's done?  Whether he wants to admit it or not.  And mightn't that horror drive him to tempt us all the more.  Doesn't misery love company? 

    Bless you for your kind words on my articles and for all CE provides on this excellent site.

  • Guest

    I have had friends expouse beliefs far stranger than that. It seems, however, that the creation of man in Gods image says nothing of Angels.

    As to speaking only Hebrew, Genesis relates an original, universal, language at the time of the Tower of Babel. Was that language Hebrew or is Hebrew one of the many  languages that developed afterwards? Developed later I would say. 

    Tolkein in the Silmarillion suggests that the Angels speak music.

    Dado,

    AMDG

  • Guest

    Angels speak music and on the opposite side mathematics, which are the inate international languages. That's a possibility.

  • Guest

    Michael,

    St. Therese of Liseaux wrote often of being consumed by God's love, referring to His love as a fire.

  • Guest

    Hi Michael,

     Here are some thoughts on your questions:

     "Can Satan still repent?" I think that the angels (and demons are the same sort of creature, just that the demons are in rebellion with God and the angels are not) are like God (and the saints) in being "beyond time" in that there is no yesterday-today-tomorrow for them, but that they see all of time of creation.  Therefore, they appear changeless to us, in time.  Somehow, without time angels and God are able to make free choices, but it's somehow different from our progression: 1) I have a choice to make, followed by 2) I choose an alternative.  We'll have to get there to see what this is like, because we can't see beyond time well.

    In this light, the answer to your prior question,  "Once in hell, can a soul still repent?", would be no, because "time's up."  When you had time you chose whether you wanted to be with God or not, and you get your choice.

     (C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce helped me to see things this way. )

     

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