Who maketh his angels spirits - They are so far from being superior to Christ, that they are not called God's sons in any peculiar sense, but his servants, as tempests and lightnings are. In many respects they may have been made inferior even to man as he came out of the hands of his Maker, for he was made in the image and likeness of God; but of the angels, even the highest order of them, this is never spoken. It is very likely that the apostle refers here to the opinions of the Jews relative to the angels. In Pirkey R. Elieser, c. 4, it is said: "The angels which were created the second day, when they minister before God, אש של נעשין become fire." In Shemoth Rabba, s. 25, fol. 123, it is said: "God is named the Lord of hosts, because with his angels he doth whatsoever he wills: when he pleases, he makes them sit down; Judges 6:11; : And the angel of the Lord came, and sat under a tree. When he pleases, he causes them to stand; Isaiah 6:2; : The seraphim stood. Sometimes he makes them like women; Zechariah 5:9; : Behold there came two women, and the wind was in their wings. Sometimes he makes them like men; Genesis 18:2; : And, lo, three men stood by him. Sometimes he makes them spirits; Psalm 104:4; : Who maketh his angels spirits. Sometimes he makes them fire; ibid. His ministers a flame of fire."
In Yalcut Simeoni, par. 2, fol. 11, it is said: "The angel answered Manoah, I know not in whose image I am made, for God changeth us every hour: sometimes he makes us fire, sometimes spirit, sometimes men, and at other times angels." It is very probable that those who are termed angels are not confined to any specific form or shape, but assume various forms and appearances according to the nature of the work on which they are employed and the will of their sovereign employer. This seems to have been the ancient Jewish doctrine on this subject.
And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits - He gives to them an inferior name, and assigns to them a more humble office. They are mere ministers, and have not ascribed to them the name of “Son.” They have a name which implies a more humble rank and office - the name “spirit,” and the appellation of a “flame of fire.” They obey his will as the winds and the lightnings do. The “object” of the apostle in this passage is to show that the angels serve God in a ministerial capacity - as the winds do; while the Son is Lord of all. The one serves him passively, as being wholly under his control; the other acts as a Sovereign, as Lord over all, and is addressed and regarded as the equal with God. This quotation is made from Psalm 104:4. The passage “might” be translated, “Who maketh his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire;” that is, “who makes his angels like the winds, or as swift as the winds, and his ministers as rapid, as terrible, and as resistless as the lightning.”
So Doddridge renders it; and so did the late Dr. John P. Wilson (manuscript notes). The passage in the Psalm is susceptible, I think, of another interpretation, and might be regarded as meaning, “who makes the winds his messengers, and the flaming fire his ministers;” and perhaps this is the sense which would most naturally occur to a reader of the Hebrew. The Hebrew, however, will admit of the construction here put upon it, and it cannot be proved that it was the original intention of the passage to show that the angels were the mere servants of God, rapid, quick, and prompt to do his will - like the winds. The Chaldee Paraphrase renders this passage in the Psalm, “Who makes his messengers swift as the wind; his ministers strong like a flame of fire.” Prof. Stuart maintains that the passage in the Psalms cannot mean “who makes the winds his messengers,” but that the intention of the Psalmist is to describe the “invisible” as well as the “visible” majesty of God, and that he refers to the angels as a part of the retinue which goes to make up His glory.
This does not seem to me to be perfectly certain; but still it cannot be demonstrated that Paul has made an improper use of the passage. It is to be presumed that he, who had been trained in the knowledge of the Hebrew language, would have had a better opportunity of knowing its fair construction than we can; and it is morally certain that he would employ the passage “in an argument” as it was commonly understood by those to whom he wrote - that is, to those who were familiar with the Hebrew language and literature. If he has so used the passage; if he has - as no one can disprove - put the fair construction on it, then it is just in point. It proves that the angels are the “attendant servants” of God; employed to grace his train, to do his will, to accompany him as the clouds and winds and lightnings do, and to occupy a subordinate rank in his creation. “Flame of fire.” This probably refers to lightning - which is often the meaning of the phrase. The word “ministers” here, means the same as angels, and the sense of the whole is, that the attending retinue of God, when he manifests himself with great power and glory, is like the winds and the lightning. His angels are like them. They are prompt to do his will - rapid, quick, obedient in his service; they are in all respects subordinate to him, and occupy, as the winds and the lightnings do, the place of servants. They are not addressed in language like what is applied to the Son of God, and they must all be far inferior to him.
The connection of the visible with the invisible world, the ministration of angels of God, and the agency of evil spirits, are plainly revealed in the Scriptures, and inseparably interwoven with human history. There is a growing tendency to disbelief in the existence of evil spirits, while the holy angels that “minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14) are regarded by many as spirits of the dead. But the Scriptures not only teach the existence of angels, both good and evil, but present unquestionable proof that these are not disembodied spirits of dead men. GC 511.1
Before the creation of man, angels were in existence; for when the foundations of the earth were laid, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38:7. After the fall of man, angels were sent to guard the tree of life, and this before a human being had died. Angels are in nature superior to men, for the psalmist says that man was made “a little lower than the angels.” Psalm 8:5. GC 511.2
We are informed in Scripture as to the number, and the power and glory, of the heavenly beings, of their connection with the government of God, and also of their relation to the work of redemption. “The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom ruleth over all.” And, says the prophet, “I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne.” In the presence chamber of the King of kings they wait—“angels, that excel in strength,” “ministers of His, that do His pleasure,” “hearkening unto the voice of His word.” Psalm 103:19-21; Revelation 5:11. Ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, were the heavenly messengers beheld by the prophet Daniel. The apostle Paul declared them “an innumerable company.” Daniel 7:10; Hebrews 12:22. As God's messengers they go forth, like “the appearance of a flash of lightning,” (Ezekiel 1:14), so dazzling their glory, and so swift their flight. The angel that appeared at the Saviour's tomb, his countenance “like lightning, and his raiment white as snow,” caused the keepers for fear of him to quake, and they “became as dead men.” Matthew 28:3, 4. When Sennacherib, the haughty Assyrian, reproached and blasphemed God, and threatened Israel with destruction, “it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand.” There were “cut off all the mighty men of valor, and the leaders and captains,” from the army of Sennacherib. “So he returned with shame of face to his own land.” 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Chronicles 32:21. GC 511.3Read in context »