This is a post by guest author Lindsay Kennedy.
In previous posts, we drew from Michael Heiser’s Angels to find out what the Bible tells us about angels. We know that angels are immaterial members of God’s heavenly host, and we also discussed why Christians should care about angelology in the first place.
In the first post, we saw that heavenly beings make up a council over which Yahweh presides. But what does this council do? Do they float through heaven all day playing harps? Do they simply worship Yahweh? Or do they observe, or even participate in, the decision-making?
According to Heiser, the service of angels “can be expressed in three broad categories: participation in God’s heavenly council, obedience to God’s decisions, and praise of the Most High” (p. 32). While the second and third categories are probably quite familiar to us, the first one requires some exploration. In this post, we’ll examine how heavenly beings participate in Yahweh’s council.
1. Angels make decisions.
In 1 Kings 22:19–23, the prophet Micaiah reports a vision that is a strange but informative window into the workings of Yahweh’s council:
And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.”
In this passage, we see the heavenly host are “standing” beside Yahweh. Heiser notes that this posture “speaks of being available, ready, and willing to carry out the superior’s commands” (p. 34).
However, we also see a greater level of involvement. Yahweh has decided that Ahab will be enticed to die in battle at Ramoth-Gilead, but notice how he involves the council. He asks them who and how questions. It’s not that Yahweh can’t figure this one out; rather, he invites his creatures into devising a solution. According to Heiser, this passage “presents us with a clear instance where God has sovereignly decided to act but allows his lesser, intelligent servants to participate in how his decision is carried out” (p. 35).
2. Angels bear witness.
Scripture shows the council witnessing and affirming Yahweh’s decrees in various settings:
- Creation (Job 38:4–7)
- The decision to create humanity (Gen 1:26)
- The giving of the law (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2)
- Verdicts (Amos 3:9–14)
- Return from exile (Isa 40:1–2)
- The commissioning of prophets (Isa 6; Jer 23:16–22)
And these are just the instances Scripture records, the variety of which indicates angels are privy to God’s work in the world, and affirm it.
It’s important to note the distinction between affirmation and permission. As Heiser says, “The members of the heavenly host perform an endorsement role, not in terms of authorizing God’s decision, but rather validating or confirming its goodness, wisdom, and desirability” (p. 37). God is sovereign even over the angels—he needs not their permission.
3. Angels govern the world.
The council also participates in overseeing the human world. In Job 1–2, council members present themselves before Yahweh (Job 1:6–12). Amongst them, “the Satan” has been traveling “to and fro on the earth” (Job 1:7). Zechariah 1:10 describes a similar instance where angels “patrol the earth” and report back to Yahweh.
In addition, members of the council appear to have been given administration of the nations besides Israel. In an illuminating passage that contemplates Yahweh’s judgment in the Tower of Babel incident, Deuteronomy 32:8–9 says:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
These verses tell us that when Yahweh divided the nations (see Gen 10–11), he delegated their oversight to the other council members. In contrast—as we see in the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12—Israel was directly governed by Yahweh himself. However, at some point, these beings abused their commission. Psalm 82 describes a scene where Yahweh calls these Sons of God into account for their abuse and mismanagement of the nations:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (Psalm 82:1–2)
I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (Psalm 82:6–8)
This Psalm holds out hope that these sons of God will be judged for deceiving the nations. When we connect these dots, we see how high-level angelic beings could be called the “princes” of Persia (Dan 10:13) and Greece (Dan 10:20). Paul’s references to the “principalities” and “powers” (e.g. Eph 6:12) also become clearer.
In addition to carrying out Yahweh’s commands and worshipping him, angels also participate in his council. They contribute to the who and how of decisions and missions, bear witness to and affirm his decrees, and govern the nations.
That said, heavenly beings are not autonomous. Rather, as Heiser says, “They, like us, do not act autonomously, but God does indeed expect us (and them) to serve as his representatives, utilizing the abilities he has bestowed” (p. 46).
Angels are not floating around in heaven with nothing to do but sing and shoot arrows. They serve important functions in God’s ultimate rule over the cosmos.