“Angels in Genesis”

Posted on September 25, 2011. Filed under: Doctrinal Sermons, Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions, Theological Issues |

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

Gen.28:12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth,and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!





Introduction: Once in a while it is good when you are preaching or teaching your way through a Bible book to stop, and do a topical or, in this case, doctrinal lesson that fits in with the part of the book you are currently studying. We have looked at the story of Jacob’s ladder for a few weeks and there is an appearance of angels that is rather prominent, so this would be an excellent time to look at the use of angels by Moses in Genesis. Who, or what, are angels and what is their purpose? What is a proper biblical understanding of angels? How can we of the 21st century believe in angels and how can we defend this belief in an atheistic world?


It seems as if each generation has 2-3 theological fads; in the last 20 years angels made a big comeback. The TV show “Touched By An Angel” ran from 1994-2003 and gave all kinds of wrong information about angels. Guideposts magazine frequently includes stories about people who claim to have had some kind of an experience with angels. But there are some serious dangers from an overemphasis on angels. 2Cor.11:14 “warns us that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light”. David Jeremiah writes (p.16), “But a stronger belief in angels is no guarantee of greater understanding of God’s truth. The devil can ensnare us as much through ‘angelism’ as he can through materialism or sexual lust or power hunger. In fact he has scored some of his greatest triumphs in the disguise of angels. In the year 610 the oppressive religion of Islam was born when Muhammed received the contents of the Koran in a series of visions from someone he believed to be the angel Gabriel. Twelve centuries later, the deceptive cult of Mormonism supposedly arose when an angelic being calledMoronigot Joseph Smith connected with the Book of Mormon.”


Belief in the “spiritual” is not the same as believing in God. Many people believe in angels but not the biblical God. In fact, to a certain extent, angels can replace God in some people’s lives. No repentance is needed. Nothing in the Bible indicates that angels will help non-christians and Satan tried to persuade Jesus to rely on angels for protection by misquoting an OT text.


  1. I.                   The Use of the Word “Angel(s)” and Related Words, in Genesis
    1. A.     Texts in Genesis that use the word malak – angel(s) or texts that present some sort of spiritual being: Gen. 3:1-5, 24; 6:1-4; 16:7-14; 18:1-22; 19:1-29; 21:14-21; 22:1-19; 24:7,40; 28:10-17; 31:11; 32:1-2, 24-32; 48:14-16. Malak-angel, Strong’s #4397, to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger; specially of God, i.e. an angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher):- ambassador, angel, king, messenger.
      1. 1.      Angel of the Lord- Gen.16:7-14 The context of the story is that Sarai is barren and has fallen back to a custom of the day, giving her female servant to her husband Abram so that she, Sarai, could obtain a child through her. That sounds strange to our ears but today we practice surrogate mothering and artificial insemination. After Hagar conceived, she “looked with contempt on her mistress.” Sarai now mistreats the pregnant Hagar and she flees. In vs. 7 “The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness” and the angel has a conversation with her.
      2. 2.      “The angel of the LORD…” Francisco notes that this is the first use of the term in the Bible (BBC, Vol.1, rev. p.168). Is this an angel, is this the pre-incarnate Christ, or is this a theophany? The use of this term can be confusing as it is clearly called an angel, messenger from God, yet also referred to as God by Hagar in vs. 13. Arthur W. Pink views this as a theophany (Gleanings in Genesis, Moody, p.176). Mathews writes, “This passage is the first reference to ‘the angel of the LORD’ in the Old Testament, where it occurs fifty-eight times. In Genesis the theophanic name occurs six times, four in chap.16 (vv.7,9,10,11) and twice in the offering of Isaac (22:11,15). The precise relationship between the ‘angel of the LORD’ and God is puzzling. The angel is equated with the Lord in some texts and yet appears distinctive in others (eg. 22:15-16; Exod. 3:2-4 with Acts 7:30-32; Num.22:22,31,35,38;) ..Chap.16 illustrates the ambiguity of the angel’s identity….Traditionally, Christian interpreters ascribed to the appearance of the angel a Christophany, the preincarnate divine Son of God.” (NAC, vol.1B, pp.188f). It would be too much to be dogmatic either way as it would be common to view the King’s messenger as the king himself in that culture, but it is also clear that God does show up personally at times such as in Gen. 3, 18. My personal understanding is that this is the pre-incarnate Christ.
      3. 3.      What is the angel’s purpose in this encounter? First to get Hagar to return to Sarai, vs.9. Second, to announce a blessing to her of a multitude of offspring. Third, to comfort her in her affliction, vs.11. Fourth, to announce what kind of a man her son would grow into- “a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone”. Hagar obviously linked the angel with the LORD himself and knew she was speaking with God through this angel.
      4. 4.      The three men and two angels of 18:1-19:29. 18:1 “And the LORD appeared to him…”- notice that this phrasing is very similar to 17:1 thus linking this story with what preceded it in 17:1 “the LORD appeared to Abram and said…”  Compare with 16:7 “The Angel of the LORD found her (Hagar), and 15:1 “”the Word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision…” 13:14 “The LORD said to Abram…” 12:7 “the LORD appeared to Abram…” 12:1 “Now the LORD said to Abram…” Notice that it says, “the LORD appeared to him” and did not mention Abraham by name. This links the present story to the previous story where Abraham was the subject. This information is from Moses, the narrator of the story. As we shall see shortly, Abraham was not immediately aware of who his guests were. Gordon Wenham (p.45) writes, “…reflects the narrator’s standpoint: the identity of his visitors was not immediately apparent to Abraham. As v.2 makes clear, he at first thought they were simply men. His warm welcome and alacrity in serving them was in no way prompted by his recognizing them.”
      5. 5.      vs.33 “And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking…” brings the section to a definite ending.
      6. 6.      “…and behold, three men were standing in front of him.” As the story unfolds we find out that one of the three was in fact the LORD and the other two were his angels. This lets us know that angels can have the physical appearance of human beings, men specifically (there are no female angelic appearances despite the TV series). This physical appearance of what are essentially spirit beings is intriguing. More on that in ch. 19, which will have an impact on how we interpret Gen. 6:1-4.
      7. 7.      But one of the three men is the LORD! James M. Boice does not hesitate to state that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus, p.147, “…two of the three (the two that went on to Sodom and rescued Lot) were literally angels and that only the third was Deity- Jesus…These and several other references suggest that Jesus here anticipated His incarnation and was found in fashion as a man even before His later birth in Bethlehem.”
      8. 8.      “When he saw them…” indicates a sudden, even mysterious appearance, although if Abraham was taking a siesta in the shade of his tent, he may have wakened to see them suddenly. But it is interesting that he did not see them approaching from afar.
      9. 9.      What we see here in ch.18 then is the LORD himself, the pre-incarnate Christ, and two angels, show up as men. Abraham does not immediately recognize who they are. The angels in this case remain silent and are accompanying the Lord. Their primary role comes in ch.19. The switch from “men” to the LORD comes in vs. 10 but we do not know exactly when it dawned on Abraham that he was speaking to the LORD. In vs.10 the LORD makes a prophecy about Sarah’s pregnancy. But the “men” continue to be “men” until 19:1. We do not know for sure what Abraham knew nor when he knew it. But, the story would have been told orally by Abraham to Isaac and so passed down to Moses so we can assume that Abraham figured out they were angels at some point.
      10. 10.  Moses subtly makes the transition from “men” in ch.18 to “angels” in 19. Perhaps the author of Hebrews explains it best in 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” From Lot’s perspective they were men and he was offering hospitality and protection to them. There must have been something about the men that drew attention to them in order to arouse the entire populace. As the men of the city seek to have homosexual sex with them the amazing thing is that if these were angels, spiritual beings, they also had real physical bodies. In v.10 they grab Lot and bring him inside, and they ate in vs.3, just as they did in 18:8.
      11. 11.  The significance for this is the implications relating to 6:1-4 and the “sons of God” taking wives from the daughters of men, producing the Nephilim. Is it possible that spiritual beings, angels, can take on human flesh so that they can eat and even have sexual relations? But what about Mark 12:25 “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” This simply says that angels are not married in heaven. Presumably there is no need for sex in heaven is the implication. What does that say to Gen. 19 and 6? Not much because both of those events were not in heaven, but rather on earth and the angels (if the ‘sons of God’ were angels in Gen. 6) had physical bodies that could eat and be lusted after by the Sodomites.
      12. 12.  Herbert Lockyer, “All the Angels in the Bible” (pp.126-127) “The account of the mating of the sons of God with the daughters of men in Genesis 6:1-4 is unique in the Bible. No other passage of Scripture relates or even hints at members of the celestial world having sexual intercourse with human beings. ‘By and act of rebellion a new level in the spread of evil is attained, to which divine judgment is the only antidote…So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created’ (Genesis 6:5, 7). Noah is immediately introduced, and the story of the flood commences’ (J.R. Edwards). ‘…Some fallen angels transgressed not only by taking on human bodies- as we know fallen angels sometimes do- but by operating in all the functions of those bodies, including sex.’ (Terry Law, the Truth about Angels,p.223.) Our conviction is that sin reached its climax in the illicit intercourse between fallen angels and women.” Lockyer is the only person I have read who says this, and I came up with this several years before reading Lockyer. I would disagree with Law as cited by Lockyer, when he implies that angels sinned by taking on human bodies. We have seen in Genesis that angels take on human flesh before Abraham and Lot, and certainly Jacob when he wrestled all night and yet those were good angels.
      13. 13.  21:14-21 This is the time when Sarah protested about how Ishmael was teasing Isaac (mocking) and Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away for good. Somehow Hagar and Ishmael ran out of water and Hagar gives up and is ready to die when the “angel of God called to Hagar”. The angel speaks with Hagar and tells her to not fear, thus bringing comfort and renews the promise to make of “the boy…a great nation.” God opened Hagar’s eyes so that she saw a nearby well and they were preserved. The purposes of the angel here then, were comfort, prophecy, and provision-protection.
      14. 14.  22:1-19 The sacrifice of Isaac. In vs. 11 “the angel of the LORD” calls out to Abraham to stop the ritual slaughter of Isaac, thus protecting Isaac. Notice that in vs.12 the angel of the LORD identifies himself as God. In vss. 15-18 again “the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham” but clearly speaks of himself as the LORD. Notice that there is no physical manifestation of the angel of the LORD, only a voice is mentioned, as in ch. 21 and 16.
      15. 15.  24:7,40 we have “he will send his angel before you” in v. 7 and in v.40 Abraham’s servant quotes his master Abraham “send his angel with you”. There is no physical manifestation of an angel, nor is there a voice. But the implication is that Abraham knows that the LORD will send his angel along with or before his servant on this important trip. The implication is for guidance and protection, to help ensure a successful journey to acquire a wife for Isaac and therefore to ensure success for God’s covenant with Abraham.
      16. 16.  In 28:10-17 the angels are a part of the dream Jacob had but did not make a physical presence. The implication however is that they are present, though unseen, and will guide and protect Jacob on his journey.
      17. 17.  31:11 Jacob claims that a dream about the “angel of God” led to his breeding policy resulting in increasing his flocks at the expense of Laban. Notice, however, in vss. 12-13, the “angel of God” becomes “the God of Bethel”. The angel, or God, is telling him to leave the land of Laban and return home. The theme is protection again, and guidance as well.
      18. 18.  32:1-2, 24-32 the angels of God met him- This follows from his prior dream with the angel’s telling him to leave Laban; this is a confirmation of the protective presence of God. He is preparing to meet Esau again and is fearful, but the Lord is with him. In vss. 24-32 the man wrestling with Jacob is never identified as an angel. Vs. 30 Jacob identifies him as God. Here we have the pre-incarnate Christ wrestling with Jacob. This most unusual. The pre-incarnate Christ engaging in a martial art of wrestling with Jacob. But we see the Commander of the Army of the LORD meet Joshua in Joshua in ch.5:13-15, possibly the pre-incarnate Christ, again in a warrior mode.
      19. 19.  48:14-16 the angel who has redeemed me-again, this text identifies God with the angel.
      20. 20.  Gen.3:24 Cherubim- They guard the Lord’s glory with flaming swords, protecting the entry into the Garden from fallen man. The word for cherub is shrouded in mystery and may be related to “intercessor”, “guardian”, or “to grasp or hold”. They were a part of the Ark of the Covenant in Ex.25:20 and are described as having wings. There are cherubim woven into the curtains of the Tabernacle in Ex.261.


  1. II.                Doctrine of Angels
    1. A.     Angels
      1. 1.      Part of Creation- Psalm 148:2-5; Col.1:16. Angels are created by God as spiritual, heavenly creatures, who are immortal, but who can, on occasion, take on human flesh on earth. Angels are always listed as male in the Bible, there is not one instance of a female angel. God created the angels BEFORE creating the earth in Job 38:4-7; Psa.104:1-5. Angels are not recipients of salvation and are curious about it 1Pet.1:12.
      2. 2.      How many angels are there? We do not know but Jesus mentions that he could call for 12 Legions (a Roman legion, if it were full, would have about 6,000 soldiers) of angels in Matt.26:53; Heb.12:22 (thousands and thousands of angels); Rev.5:11 (ten thousand times ten thousand).
      3. 3.      Watch over children- Matt.18:10
      4. 4.      Protect God’s people- Psalm 34:7; Daniel 3- fiery furnace, Dan.6- the lions den.
      5. 5.      Involvement in international affairs- Dan.10:13,20-11:10; Acts 12:19-24. See 2Chron.32:16-23 and Isa.37:36-38.
      6. 6.      Participating in Judgments- Gen.19:13,32; Rev.15-16;
      7. 7.      Announcing Christ’s Birth- Matt.1:20-23; Lk.1:8-25, 26-38; 2:8-15
      8. 8.      Protecting Christ- Matt. 2:13; Matt.4:11; Mk.1:13.
    2. B.     Fallen Angels (demons)
      1. 1.      Lucifer’s fall- Jude 6-9; Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:1,2, 11-19.
      2. 2.      3:1-5, the serpent…said- the devil incarnate as a serpent. The devil is a fallen angel. Why a talking serpent? I believe the devil inhabited a serpent because of the snake’s beauty and slithering seductiveness. Remember that in the Garden at least, the serpents would not be dangerous, but a good part of God’s creation. The serpent would later become recognized as a sneaky, deadly, deceptive beast.

Conclusion: We have seen several substantial accounts of the presence of Angels, God’s Messengers, in Genesis and have lightly touched on several accounts throughout the rest of the OT and the New. From the Patriarchs to Moses and Joshua, to the Kings and Prophets, to Jesus and the Apostles, angels were real and active. Angelology is however, a minor issue in Scripture. It is taught and we need to understand it, but if you see anyone who has an unwarranted interest in angels, or is depending more on angels than the Spirit and the Word- watch out! Angels, like miracles, are never guaranteed, but show up as directed by God. My own personal experience with angels was at the bedside of dying Christian man who very clearly saw two angels in his hospital room before he went home to be with the Lord. None of the rest of us could see them except for our dying friend, father and husband who was leaving earth and entering eternity. I think our culture, though interested in the subject, treats the subject lightly, frivolously, as they do other areas of Christian doctrine.



Jeremiah, David. Angels: Who They Are and How They Help- What the Bible Reveals. Multnomah Books:Colorado Springs,CO1996 (232pp.)

Graham, Billy. Angels: God’s Secret Agents. W Publishing Group:Nashville,TN 1975 (192pp.)

Lockyer, Herbert (1886-1985). All the Angels in the Bible, ed. Herbert Lockyer, Jr.  Hendrickson Publishers:Peabody, Mass.1995.



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