05. Angelic Apparitions – How the Angels Appeared – Old Testament
It is noteworthy that the earliest mention of the good angels in Holy Scripture is one in which they appear as instruments of God’s vengeance, and not as discharging in our regard their usual offices of beneficence. No doubt they are our friends, most solicitous of our eternal welfare, and eager to see us settles as co-heirs with them of the kingdom of Heaven; but their first allegiance is to God, and if we prove false to Him, they will rise up at the last day as our accusers and separating us from the legions of the just, will assign us our place with the apostate angels and the other reprobates.
When our first parents transgressed the commandment of God, He cast them forth from the Garden of Eden, and set cherubim with flaming swords at its portals to guard every approach to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24) lest they should eat of it and live forever. It is not said in what form the angels appeared, or whether they were seen at all by Adam and Eve, although the mention of swords would seem to imply a visible presence and a visible threat. Certainly so unequivocal a menace, showing to the banished pair the utter hopelessness of their lot, must have precluded forever any attempt on their part at regaining their former home.
The angels who appeared to Abraham as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18), were apparently like ordinary travellers, whose feet could be soiled by the dust of the road and who might be thought to stand in need to rest and refreshment in order to pursue their journey to its close. So too when they appeared to Lot as he sat at evening in the gate of the city (Genesis 19), and pressed them to turn in to him and wash their feet and eat and abide with him till morning. Again, it was an angel in human shape who wrestled with Jacob all through the night, before he blessed him and changed his name to Israel.
Of the angels in Jacob’s vision, nothing is told as to what they looked like. Only the fact is recorded that he saw them ascending and descending a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven. (Exodus 14:19) Of the angel who went before the camp of the Israelites as they fled from Pharaoh, it is not said whether or not he was seen by the chosen people, though we are told that when he shifted his position ot the rear, as the Egyptians advanced against them, the pillar of cloud, which served them as a guide, went back along with him.
In some instances the sacred writer tells us merely that an angel called from heaven; such was the case when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac; and Agar heard the angel call when her boy Ismael was parched with thirst and ready to die. In other instances we are informed of the effect of the visitation but no apparition is mentioned – as in the case of the angel of death who slew in one night all the first-born of the Egyptians or utterly destroyed the vast army of Sennacherib.
The Prophet Daniel, on the other hand, in narrating the remarkable series of visions that were vouchsafed to him concerning the future of his own people, and of the heathen nations that surrounded them, and with reference to the coming of Christ, speaks with considerable detail of the terrifying appearance of the angel whom he beheld by the great river Tigris – proably Gabriel, who had appeared to him twice previously.
“And I lifted up my eyes, and I saw: and behold a man clothed in linen, and his loins were girded with the finest gold. And his body was like the chrysolite, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as a burning lamp; and his arms, and all downward even to the feet, like in appearance to glittering brass; and the voice of his word like the voice of a multitude. And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision…. And I heard the voice of his words; and when I heard, I lay in consternation, upon my face, and my face was close to the ground. And behold a hand touched me, and lifted me up upon my knees and upon the joints of my hands. And he said to me: Daniel, thou man of desires, understand the words that I speak to thee, and stand upright…and I stood trembling.” (Daniel 10:5-11)
Another truly marvelous event is recounted in the second book of Machabees, in which the actors must surely have been angels. When Heliodorus, by order of King Seleucus undertook to rob the treasury of the Temple of Jerusalem, “there appeared to them,” says the sacred writer, “a horse with a terrible rider upon him, adorned with a very rich covering; and he rain fiecely and struck Heliodorus with his forefeet, and he that sat upon him seemed to have armour of gold. Moreover, there appeared two other young men, beautiful and strong, bright and glorious, and in comely apparel, who stood by him on either side and scourged him without ceasing with many stripes. And Heliodorus suddenly fell to the ground, and they took him up covered with great darkness, and having put him into a litter, they carried him out.” (2 Machabees 3:25-27)
Perhaps, however, the most pleasing of all the apparitions of angels recorded in Holy Writ, as it is certaionly the one of greatest duration and of most familiar intercourse, is that of the Archangel Raphael to Tobias and his son, to whom he appeared as a beautiful young man, all ready for a journey. But of this in detail is a subsequent chapter.