There are truly angels among us

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By Judi Siegal

I used to love to watch Touched by An Angel when it ran in primetime a few years ago. (Catch the reruns on Hallmark channel.) This feel-good schmaltzy drama starred Roma Downey with her lovely Irish-lilt voice and big gospel mama Della Reece, as two angels who went around helping people in trouble and assuring them that God loves them.

Sometimes things didn’t work out as the main characters planned but always God’s plan worked out for the best.

In the Hebrew Bible, angels are also messengers of God as in the TV drama. They are celestial beings controlled by God who sends them on special missions. In the creation story the way to Eden is blocked by an angel with a fiery sword, while the patriarch, Abraham, has several encounters with the heavenly creatures.

The three “strangers” who approach him in the desert on that hot day are really angels who warn him of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the impending birth of Isaac. Later on, it is an angel who stays Abraham’s hand as he is about to slay his son as a sacrifice to God. The same angel assures Abraham that the nations shall be blessed because of him and that his descendents will be many.

Angels appear to Lot, Abraham’s nephew, to warn him and his family to flee the evil city of Sodom before God destroys it. This is the famous story where Lot’s wife is admonished not to look back at Sodom’s destruction, and when she disobeys is turned into a pillar of salt.

In the story of Jacob, the patriarch “wrestles” with an angel and from then on is known as “Israel,” which means one who wrestles or contends with God.

Later on in the Bible we find other examples of angelic encounters. Balaam’s donkey is stopped on the road by an angel and in the Book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego are thrown, bound, into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship Babylonian gods. In the story, an angel saves the three Israelites as he does for Daniel whose trial is being thrown into a den of lions.

Much of what is written about angels has been influenced by the cultures that conquered or lived in ancient Israel. In the days of the First Temple, angels had nonspecific names but were called seraphim, cherubim and ophannin. We know of these names because these angels ministered to God on God’s heavenly throne.

The prophet Isaiah had a vision of God seated on a high and lofty throne, with seraphim attending the deity. These divine creatures, according to Scripture, had six wings; two covered their faces, two their legs and two were used to fly.

At the sight of this vision, Isaiah utters: “Holy, holy, holy! The Lord of Hosts! The whole world is filled with his presence!” (Some translate, glory.) While Christianity uses this phrase in reference to the Trinity, its original meaning has no connection with the Christian concept.

The Babylonian and Persian cultures influenced angelology and it is around the time of the Second Temple we have names for angels, such as Michael and Gabriel. The second century B.C.E. through the second century C.E. was the time period for apocalyptic literature and angels were used in the writings as a medium for God’s revelation in the world. Here the concept of fallen angels or demons developed but in Jewish belief, God controls such creatures.

Satan, started out in the Book of Job as the accuser angel, later became associated with demons and became prince of the demons. The whole concept of the devil as depicted in Christianity is not a Jewish belief per se but mostly folklore. It is believed that by doing good deeds and following the commandments, one would avoid evil encounters.

The mystic Jewish tradition of the Kabala placed much interest in angels and a whole cadre of incantations and amulets were devised for angelic favors and interventions. Many of these vestiges of folklore and kabalistic rituals have found their way into modern Judaism such as in the special Sabbath song, Shalom Aleichem, which is sung in synagogues all over the world.

Angels have found their way into pop culture as well. In any gift shop you can find angel pins, sculptures or other items with an angel motif. Books, movies and TV programs have all featured angels in recent years. Even names, such as Gabriel, Raphael, Ariel, and their feminine equivalents are popular angel-inspired names. 

I believe there are angels among us, although not on the spiritual scale as depicted in the Bible. Today’s angels give hope to the downtrodden, comfort to the sick and act as miraculous rescuers in time of trouble. I believe each breast cancer survivor has a guardian angel, who flies around helping out when she is needed most.

This angel sends the friends, family and doctors who help the survivor get well. Any cancer survivor can say that she was “touched by an angel.”

May we all recognize the angels among us, those who perform good deeds and care about making the world a better place.

Judi Siegal is a retired teacher and Jewish educator. She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.