Children and some adults may have the belief that an angel is a celestial being, dressed in white, with flapping wings. That is an early primitive belief that has existed like the tooth fairy and the jolly fat man dressed in red from head to toe who slides down chimneys every 25th of December. People have a need to hold on to beliefs from childhood because, in truth, they are very comforting. Not real. Make believe. But very comforting just the same.
So it is with angels. The origin of the English word is derived from ancient Greek “angelos” which simply means a messenger….,usually a messenger of God. The Greek word is in accord with the original Hebrew, “malachim” which also means messengers serving God.
At night as I lay my head upon a pillow for a restful sleep, I turn my head to the right, then to the left, then to the front, then to the back, and finally raise my head upright. In doing so, I recite the ancient Hebrew formula requesting the blessing of four angels. “Mi yemini Michael”.. on my right is the angel Michael. “U’mi smoli Gavriel”..and on my left is the angel Gabriel. “Milfanai Uriel”.. before me is the angel Uriel. “U’mi achorai Rafael”and behind me is the angel Rafael. Then lifting my head upright I proclaim “U’mi al roshi, Shechinat El”.. and above my head is the Spirit of God. Thus said, I am assured of angelic protection as I sleep.
I have no imaginary concept of the appearance of the four protective angels. I know them only by their names. But because they have been chosen by the Almighty to be His messengers I am doubly comforted. And with the presence of the Spirit of God resting above my head, my sleep is blessed with peace.
In the Hebrew Bible God frequently sent His messengers, the “malachim” (angels) to reveal themselves to mankind and to deliver to them the special and personal words of the Holy One, intended just for the one who is privileged to greet an angel.
Abraham sat in the door of his tent when he saw strangers approaching in the hot desert sands. He ran to greet them, to invite them into his tent where he had a special meal prepared for them. He gave them food to eat and goat’s milk to drink to quench their thirst. He washed their feet with water to cool them from the blistering heat. And it was only after his hospitality did he inquire who they were.
They responded that his barren wife Sarah would conceive and give birth to a child in her old age.
When Sarah overheard them, she laughed. “Va titzchak Sarah”. And God Himself asked Abraham why Sarah had laughed. She denied her laughter “lo tzachakti” because she was afraid, but God responded “lo, ki tzachakt”… “no, for you did indeed laugh”. She replied that she was was ninety years old and Abraham was one hundred. How could she possibly conceive and give birth? And God assured the elderly couple that nothing was too hard for Him to do.
Because Sarah laughed, her son was named Yitzchak. As the child grew, Sarah was unhappy with the son of Abraham’s concubine, the Egyptian Hagar, and insisted that Abraham should send her and her son Ishmael away. She was determined that the wild Ishmael should not be an influence upon her son Yitzchak.
Abraham hesitated. Ishmael was his son and he loved him. He could not bear the thought of chasing the boy and his mother away. But Sarah would have no peace until Hagar and Ishmael were driven into the wilderness. When the food and water Abraham provided for them was finished, Hagar sat her son under the shade of a bush and walked a short distance from him in order not to bear the death of the child.
It was at this point that a “malach”, a messenger of God, appeared to Hagar and assured her that her son would live and would become a great leader. “Do not weep for God has heard the cry of your son ‘ba asher hu sham’”….at the place where he is.
This angelic message became a cornerstone in Jewish religious belief. God will hear us wherever we happen to be. “Hashem hoshiya b’yom kora-ainu”.. God will hear us on the day that we call to Him.
Angels bring us reassuring messages of God’s love for each of us with words of comfort and hope. God will hear us wherever we may happen to be and He will send his four protective angels to bless us. This belief in angels is no fairy-tale. It is a part of the essence of our association with the Creator and Architect of the universe. Blessed be His Name forever and ever.