Not only does the Old Testament speak often of angels, but its depictions are also fascinating and sometimes shocking. In fact, angel is only one term among several that describe these spiritual beings. God created several different kinds of heavenly creatures that attend him and carry out his will. Let’s look at some of the terms in the Old Testament.
1. The council of the Lord
The Old Testament is framed in a worldview that sees the Lord seated on his throne, atop his heavenly mountain, surrounded by a great assembly of the heavenly host. He is utterly unique, but he is not alone. God is surrounded by a massive throng of spiritual beings that constitute a great heavenly assembly—an assembly Jeremiah calls “the council of the Lord” (Jer. 23:18; see also verse 22).
The council of the Lord is a place of spectacular worship. It is also a place of legislation and decrees. Several prophets had a vision of this gathering. Isaiah’s vision is probably the most well-known. He saw the Lord on his throne surrounded by angelic beings. After his confession of sin and his cleansing, Isaiah heard the call for a volunteer to go for “us”—a pronoun that included the Lord and the entire angelic council (Isaiah 6:1–8).
This Hebrew word can be translated either ‘God’ or ‘gods’. Its Hebrew form is plural, but it can have a singular meaning (like sheep in English). Elohim usually refers to the one eternal God of Israel. But in other contexts the same word can be a plural reference either to false gods (e.g., Exodus 20:3) or to angelic beings (Psalm 8:5). Psalm 82 describes the angelic beings on the divine council. According to the Old Testament, these angels are, in one sense of the word, elohim.
When the Bible applies the word elohim to angelic beings, of course it is not saying they are literally gods to be worshipped, served, or obeyed (though the ungodly nations see them this way). Instead it is using the word to highlight the fact that they are not humans. They are instead powerful, supernatural creatures who inhabit the spiritual realm. As such, they sit on the Lord’s heavenly council and help administer his justice among the nations (Psalm 82).
The term elohim also brings attention to the authority these beings have in the world as God’s agents. He presides over them and even judges them when they rebel. “God [elohim] stands in the divine assembly; he administers judgment in the midst of the gods [elohim]” (Psalm 82:1, LEB).
3. The sons of God
There is only one eternal Son of God. Jesus Christ is the Father’s “one and only Son”, equal to the Father and spirit in divinity (John 1:14, 18). He is greater than all angels (Hebrews 1). But did you know the Bible speaks of other “sons of God” besides Jesus and redeemed humans? The unique phrase “sons of God” is yet another way the Old Testament refers to angelic beings who dwell in the heavens.
Psalm 82 identifies the elohim with the “sons of the Most High” (verse 6). But why refer to angelic beings as sons of God? Because it draws out other important aspects of angels we must understand.
First, angelic beings are in some sense God’s children. Even though they do not reproduce their own children like humans (Mattew 22:30), they are still God’s offspring. He made them; they are his sons. The Father carefully, creatively, and compassionately created each and every angelic being. They are part of his heavenly family and therefore part of his massive household (Ephesians 3:15).
Second, the phrase “sons of God” means these spiritual beings are supernatural and powerful. Though they can enter the earthly realm, even appearing and functioning within it, this world is not their natural habitat. Heaven is. They are, after all, God’s own sons. As his spiritual kin—his children—they stand on the royal council and share God’s dominion in the world.
Finally, “sons of God” bear God’s image. Though they are not humans, they have powerful abilities, intellects, and emotions. They also possess free will. Angels are not spiritual robots. They have the power of choice. It is possible for them to make the choice to abandon their God-given place and operate in ways contrary to God’s will (Jude 6). Some have done this.
4. Cherubin and seraphim
These spiritual creatures seem to comprise the highest order of God’s angelic sons. Some scholars would even say we should not call them angels. Even though the use of terms can be debated, it is clear that these extraordinary creatures belong to a highly specialized class of angelic beings. Descriptions of them strike us as quite peculiar and even bizarre. Modern movies that create outlandish, CGI space creatures don’t even come close to these real, extraterrestrial creatures who abide close to God’s throne.
The prophets give us our most poignant descriptions of cherubim and seraphim. Some also come from the stories of the tabernacle and temple, and a few references occur in the psalms. Seraph means “fiery serpent”. The verb form of this Hebrew word means to burn, and the noun means serpent, so most translators simply combine the meanings. In some places in the Old Testament, seraph denotes a literal snake. When used in judgment against God’s people in the wilderness, their venom is their fire (Numbers 21:6, KJV). Yet in that same story, the Lord tells Moses to “make a snake [seraph]” out of bronze (verse 8). When the bitten Israelites look at the bronze figure, they are healed.
Angelic beings called princes appear mainly in the Book of Daniel (10:13, 20–21; 12:1). This term refers to a group of high-ranking angelic leaders over nations. The biblical worldview sees spiritual governments in the heavens as parallel to and ruling over earthly governments (e.g., 1 Kings 22:19–23; Psalm 82; Isaiah 34:4–5). The angelic princes in the Book of Daniel have a level of authority over various nations.
Michael, for example, is called the prince of Daniel’s people, Israel (Daniel 10:21; 12:1), while two rebellious princes are called the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece” (10:20). All three are princes, yet only one is loyal to the Lord. The other two fight against him. That means the rebellious princes previously served as high-ranking angels on God’s council but have since revolted and used their authority for evil purposes.
Furthermore, Michael is called “one of the chief princes” and “the great prince” (10:13; 12:1). That means there is a hierarchy with higher-ranking princes leading military contingents (see Matthew 26:53 and Revelation 12:7).
Daniel Kolenda is an evangelist and successor of Reinhard Bonnke. He is president and CEO of Christ for All Nations, a global evangelistic organisation.
This is an adapted excerpt from Slaying Dragons: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Warfare by Daniel Kolenda (Charisma House). Used by permission.
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