The Host of Heaven
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 14 February 2018; Revised 7 February 2019
Scripture: Scripture quotations may be taken from various versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Passages translated by the author are annotated with "mine."
Sources: Publication data for works cited may be found at the end of the article.
The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.
Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of all Scripture and message I use the terms ADONAI (=Heb. YHVH), Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The term "angel" occurs many times in Scripture. The angels in Scripture have a variety of functions assigned by their Creator. They deliver messages to humans, carry out God's will, praise God, or guard God's throne. Although angels are active on earth their residence is Heaven (Gen 28:12; Ps 148:1-2; Matt 18:10; Luke 2:15). In the book of 1Enoch, being dated in the first half of the 2nd century BC, angels are mentioned numerous times. The Essenes possessed a highly developed angelology, including preserving the names of angels that are mentioned by Enoch (Josephus, Wars II, 8:7). Angels are mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls: 4Q400-407, The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (Online; See also TDSS 462-475). The Pharisees believed in the existence of angels, but the Sadducees did not (Acts 23:8).
Rabbinic Judaism, as reflected in midrashic literature, developed an elaborate angelology that greatly expanded on biblical references (Stern 824). The angels are generally represented as good, and as not subject to evil impulses (Genesis Rabba 48:11). Hence the Ten Commandments are not applicable to them (Shabbath 88b). The angels are called "holy," while men require a twofold sanctification to merit the epithet (Leviticus Rabbah 24:8). Being holy, angels show neither hatred nor envy; nor does discord or ill will exist among them (Sifre, Num 42). Nevertheless, they stand in need of mutual beneficence (Leviticus Rabba 21). Although they have superior knowledge they do not know the day of Israel's redemption (Sanhedrin 99a; cf. Matt 24:36). See the article Angelology by Ludwig Blau and Kaufmann Kohler in the online Jewish Encyclopedia.
Angels figure prominently in Scripture as ministering spirits (Mark 1:13; Heb 1:14), and personal guardians (Matt 18:10; Acts 12:15). They carry the soul to Paradise after death (Luke 16:22). Apparently they are in attendance at gatherings of believers for worship (1Cor 11:10). Angels assisted in giving the Torah (Deut 33:2; Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2). Angels do the Lord's bidding and sometimes are God's instruments in executing His judgment, particularly among His own people (2Sam 24:17; Ps 78:49; Acts 12:23; Rev 7:1; 8:2-3; 9:1; 11:15). Angels mediate revelation and give visions (Matt 1:20; Rev 1:1; 10:1-2; 14:6-8; 17:1). When Yeshua returns he will send his angels to gather all his followers from around the earth (Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27).
Angels are far different from popular assumptions about angels. Angels are not glorified humans that earn status in heaven by doing good works on earth. In Scripture angels have masculine descriptions (Jdg 13:6; Dan 9:21; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4), contrary to art and media, which sometimes depicts them as female. Contrary to Jewish and Christian literature which theorizes a rank structure, Scripture offers no confirmation of hierarchy, only distinctive function.
Armies of Heaven
The word tsva'ot (pl. of Heb. tsava, SH-6645), army, war, warfare, appears by itself to refer to an organized body of angels (Josh 5:14-15; 1Kgs 22:19; 2Chr 18:18; Neh 9:6; Ps 103:21; 148:2; Isa 24:21; Dan 8:11). The Tanakh only provides hints as to the strength in numbers and combat power of the angels of heaven (Ps 68:17; 78:49; 91:11; 103:20; 148:2; Dan 7:10). In the Besekh different Greek words are employed to refer to an organized group of angels. On the occasion of Yeshua's birth shepherds were greeted by a "heavenly host" (Luke 2:13). The word for "host" in that verse is Grk. stratia (SG-4756), a military term for a large army. Also, the Grk. strateuma (SG-4753), "army," is used for the armies in heaven (Rev 19:14).
Yeshua said that he had more than twelve legions (Grk. legiōn, SG-3003) of angels at his immediate disposal (Matt 26:53). A Roman legion was 6,000 men so 12 legions would be 72,000 angels. Paul said that there are "myriads" of angels in the heavenly city Jerusalem. "Myriad" renders Grk. muriadēs (SG-3461), which means "ten thousand." John the apostle witnessed "myriads times myriads, and thousands times thousands" (Rev 5:11), which equals one hundred one million angels in heaven (Rev 5:11). Some scholars interpret the count as just hyperbole for an innumerable host. However, if they couldn't be counted as the great multitude in Rev 7:9, then John would have said so. The number of angels in heaven was revealed to John, although this may not be the total number of angels in existence.
LORD of Hosts
A special name of God that illustrates His close relationship to His angels is YHVH-Tsva'ot, usually translated as "LORD of Hosts." A more accurate rendering would be "LORD of Armies." While many think of God as only a God of peace, He is also a God of war and He is prepared for war. The divine name appears over two hundred times in the Tanakh, often in the Prophets (especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Malachi) concerning divine judgment or deliverance. The name occurs twice in the Besekh as "LORD of Sabaoth" (Rom 9:29; Jas 5:4). He is the mightiest warrior in the universe and commands an army without equal. YHVH-Tzva'ot is the God of Israel (2Sam 7:27), and as such always acts on behalf of Israel and the house of David.
The divine name appears for the first time in 1Samuel 1:3 at the close of the period of the judges and in the vicinity of the sanctuary at Shiloh, where the ark of the covenant was housed. The ark itself symbolized the rulership of ADONAI. The name certainly contains the affirmation that ADONAI is the true head of Israel's armies (1Sam 17:45), although David's use of the name may have encompassed the heavenly armies. God's military might is especially directed for the good of Israel. In fact, various extraordinary miracles have occurred in Israel in modern times that protected both Israeli Defense Forces and the public from enemy weapons. Such events are obviously the work of angels. See The Miracle of Israel for more information.
Varieties of Angels
A wide variety of terminology is used in reference to celestial beings. Some of the names could simply be synonyms and not separate groups.
Benei-Elohim (pl. of Heb. ben, SH-1121, "son" and pl. of Heb. Eloah, SH-433, "God"), "sons of God", occurs only five times (Gen 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). They are noted for their singing.
Elohim (SH-430), "divine ones," Psalm 8:5(6). Many versions translate the plural noun in this verse as "angels" and others "God." (cf. Ex 4:16)
Kokabim (pl. of Heb. kokab, SH-3556), stars. In Job 38:7 the morning (Heb. boqer) kokabim are depicted as joyfully singing together on the occasion of the creation of the earth. Later the kokabim fight against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army (Jdg 5:20).
Malakim (pl. of Heb. malak, SH-4397; Grk. angelos, SG-32), one sent, a messenger. (Gen 16:7). Angels can fly (Rev 14:6), although there is no mention of them having wings.
Qadoshim (pl. of Heb. qadosh, SH-6918), "holy ones" (Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps 89:6, 8; Dan 8:13; Zech 14:5; cf. Rev 19:14). This is a general classification that make up the armies of God.
Kerubim (pl. of Heb. kerub; SH-3742). Although spelled as "Cherubim" in Christian Bibles (which causes mispronunciation), the Hebrew name is Kerubim. The kerubim have two wings and were first introduced as guardians of the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). The instructions for construction of the Tabernacle included molded kerubim with two wings that would adorn the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies (Ex 25:18-20; Heb 9:5). Kerubim are mentioned other times in the Tanakh (2Sam 22:11; Ps 18:10; Ezek 10:1; 11:1). Satan himself was originally a kerub (Ezek 28:14, 16). ADONAI is spoken of as enthroned above the kerubim (2Sam 6:2; 2Kgs 19:15; 1Chr 13:6; Ps 80:1; 99:1; Isa 37:16).
Anashim (pl. of ish, SH-376, "man"), "manlike beings," that appeared to Abraham (Gen 18:2; cf. 19:1 where they are called angels). One also appeared to Daniel (Dan 10:5).
Seraphim (pl. of Heb. seraph; SH-8314), first seen by Isaiah (Isa 6:2-6). The seraphim have six wings and a continuous ministry of glorifying God.
Chayyot (pl. of Heb. chay, SH-2416), the four living beings (Ezek 1:5; Rev 4:6-8). The four living beings have six wings and multiple eyes. (The translation of "creatures" is unfortunate because it implies they are animals rather than a unique class of celestial beings.)
Ophanim, (pl. of Heb. ophan, SH-212), "wheels within wheels," Ezekiel 1:15-21; 10:6-19; Daniel 7:9; DSS 4Q405, 1Enoch 61:10; 71:7. They have many eyes. Along with the Chayyot, the Ophanim never sleep and guard the throne of glory.
Qaddish-Ir (SH-6922/SH-5894), a holy watcher (Dan 4:13, 17, 23). This visitor from heaven gave a revelation of the future to Nebuchadnezzar.
Sarim (pl. of Heb. sar, SH-8269), captain, chief, commander or prince (Josh 5:14-15; Dan 8:11; 10:13). The first mention of an angelic sar occurs in the narrative of the conquest of Jericho; he introduced himself to Joshua as the commander of the army of ADONAI (Josh 5:14). In the book of Daniel the sarim act in a special role in relation to nations. In Daniel 8:11 there is the "prince of Persia." Gabriel (Dan 8:16; 9:21) and Michael (Dan 10:13, 21) are also mentioned as sarim, who is said to be among the "chief princes." The sarim correspond to the archangels mentioned in the Besekh (1Th 4:16; Jude 1:9; Rev 8:2). In particular Gabriel (Luke 1:19, 26) and Michael (Jude 1:9; Rev 12:7) are included in a list of seven archangels, called the "angels of the presence" in 1Enoch 9:1. The remaining five archangels are Uri'el, Rapha'el, Ragu'el, Saraka'el, and Remi'el. According to 1Enoch 20:1-7; 40:1-9, each angel is assigned a special function that either serves God or His people Israel.
Ischuros-Angelos (strong angel), Rev 5:2; 10:1. The adjective depicts extraordinary strength, since there are no weak angels.
Angel of ADONAI
While the noun "angel" (including the plural form) occurs about 300 times in Scripture, the first mention of the noun is in the special name Malak-YHVH, Angel of the LORD (Gen 16:7). This name occurs in the narrative of 10 appearances to various individuals:
Hagar, Genesis 16:7, 9-11
Abraham, Genesis 22:11, 15
Moses, Exodus 3:2
Balaam, Numbers 22:22-27, 31-32, 34-35
Sons of Israel, Judges 2:1, 4
Gideon, Judges 6:11, 12, 21-22
Parents of Samson, Judges 13:3, 13, 15-18, 20-21
Gad, 1Chronicles 21:18
Elijah, 1Kings 19:7; 2Kings 1:3, 15
Joshua, the high priest, Zechariah 3:6.
The angel of ADONAI is distinguished in Scripture from other angels. Note the definite article "the" as opposed to "an angel of ADONAI." In these encounters the Malak-YHVH delivers a message in the first person with the voice of divine authority and particularly as the one who made the covenant with Israel. While Malak-YHVH might designate a special status, such as an aide-de-camp to a modern commanding general of military forces, many interpreters recognize in this name a pre-incarnate visitation of the Son of God. After all, Yeshua is ADONAI (John 8:58). For an excellent treatment of this subject see Asher Intrater, Who Ate Lunch With Abraham?: A Study of the Appearances of God in the form of a Man in the Hebrew Scriptures; Revive Israel Media, 2011.
In the Beginning
Creation of Angels
Exactly when the angels were created is not disclosed in Scripture. The book of Job offers the earliest hint as to the creation of the angels. God asked Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth When the morning stars [Heb. kokabim] sang together and all the sons of God [Heb. benei-Elohim] shouted for joy" (Job 38:4, 7 NASB). The earth or land was brought into existence on the third day, so the angels had to have been created prior to this in order to witness the event. Psalm 104:2-5 suggests that angels were created on the second day when the waters of the Deep were stretched out and the expanse (or firmament) was created (cf. Gen 1:6-8). In the beginning the angels shared the great music of God and their existence was of light and joy. They lived in the mountain of God and "walked in the midst of the stones of fire," referring to the beauty of heaven (Ezek 28:14).
Fall of Angels
As with the creation of angels Scripture provides scant information on what brought about the sin of angels. It is a serious conundrum considering what the angels enjoyed in heaven after their creation. God's people are all too aware the that ancient adversary known as Satan wanders the earth seeking whom he may devour (1Pet 5:8). Moreover, he heads a diabolical organization (Mark 3:23-26; Eph 5:12) that seeks to impose his will on the nations (2Cor 4:4; 1Jn 5:19). The fall of Satan preceded the angels. The taunt against the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:11-15 and the lament for the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:11-19 indicates that Satan was created as a kerub and his downfall occurred because of a desire to be greater than ADONAI.
In the Tanakh Satan appears most frequently in the book of Job. God's repeated emphasis in Job on His creation of the universe hints that Satan may have come to consciousness in the waters that were formed on the second day. The creation scientist Dr. Henry Morris suggests that "Even though they [the angels] had later observed God create the earth, stars, and living beings [Job 38:4-7], they had not seen him create the universe itself. Thus, Satan may have persuaded himself that God, like the angels, must have simply 'evolved' somehow, out of the eternal primordial chaos" (The Remarkable Record of Job, Baker Book House, 1988; p. 52). Thus, Satan inspired the original evolutionary mythology and its modern "scientific" incarnation that pervades human institutions.
Yeshua emphasized that the devil was a liar from the beginning (in relation to Chavvah) and a murderer (in relation to Abel) (John 8:44). Thus, in the guise of a serpent, Satan had already turned away from God. The great lie he told Chavvah was that God is not really the compassionate creator or the righteous judge who will punish sin with death. Thus, God's Word and rule may be replaced with a personal pursuit of godhood. Satan is the chief opponent of Yeshua and the good news (Mark 4:15), a tempter (Mark 1:13), the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 1Jn 5:19), and the head of a demonic empire (Mark 3:23-26). Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10), going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1Pet 5:8). The devil is wholly committed to the destruction of all that is good and holy, but someday he will suffer eternal punishment for all his crimes (Rev 20:2, 10).
The First Error
"And likewise angels that kept not their domain, but left their own habitation, he has kept in eternal bonds under darkness to the judgment of the great day." (Jude 1:6 mine)
In the above passage Judah (the half-brother of Yeshua) alludes to the Genesis narrative in which the "sons of God (Heb. benei-Elohim)" took the "daughters of men" as wives (Gen 6:2, 4). Josephus recounts this event when he wrote "Many angels of God accompanied with women and begat sons that proved unjust" (Ant. I, 3:1). Enoch records that during the days of Jared, the great-great-grandfather of Noah, 200 angels rebelled against God, forsook their place in heaven and descended to earth and there took wives from human women (1Enoch 6:1-8; 7:1-6). It should be noted that this leaving was volitional and should not be confused with the war in heaven that was revealed to John (Rev 12:3-4, 7-9).
In the book of Job the sin of some of the angels is alluded to in a demonic visitation to Eliphaz in which a spirit says, "against His angels He charges error" (Job 4:18; cf. 15:15). The "error" likely refers to the unauthorized mating described in the Genesis narrative. This mating produced unusual offspring called Nephilim (lit. "fallen ones"). Many commentators do not accept the straightforward narrative in Genesis 6, but our ignorance of angelic anatomy and culture vastly exceeds our knowledge. The sinning of the angels may have led to the great war in heaven that resulted in Satan and a third of the angels being expelled from heaven to the earth.
"For if God spared not angels having sinned, but having cast down to Tartarus he delivered them to chains of darkness, to be kept until judgment." (2Pet 2:4 mine)
The angelic warfare described in Revelation 12 is a separate event from the "error" of the benei-Elohim who mated with human women. The context of the angelic war is the Woman giving birth to the son who would rule the earth. Since the Woman in the vision is probably Chavvah, then the war began sometime after God pronounced his curse on the serpent (Gen 3:15). Genesis records that the generation of Noah was dominated by an evil inclination (Gen 6:5). This wickedness likely came about by spiritual warfare conducted by the fallen angels to seduce mankind into abandonment of God's commandments. From this time the struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness dominate the narrative of God's people and history beyond Bible times. Henry Morris has produced an excellent study of this subject called The Long War Against God (Baker Book House, 1989).
The angels are a fascinating subject for study. God created the angels to serve Him in a variety of ways and in so doing their ministry has been a blessing to the people of God down through history. The angels who maintained their loyalty to God seek no honor for themselves but give wholehearted devotion to Yeshua.
Ant.: Flavius Josephus (c. 37100 A.D.), Antiquities of the Jews (Latin Antiquitates Judaicae). trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.
Copyright © 2018-2019 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.