7-5 ANGELS AND PRAYER
This leads on to a consideration of Angels and prayer. The fact we can alter God's will by wrestling in prayer with the Angels throws a serious question mark over the average public Christadelphian prayer, which seems to be a list of requests interspersed with a host of "If it be Thy will"s. Presumably we base our style of prayer on Biblical example. But where are the examples of men requesting something in prayer and adding a half hearted "If it be Thy will"? Consider, as a random example, Elijah's calling down of fire to consume the sacrifices in front of the Baal worshippers. He didn't mention 'if it be Thy will'. He decided what he wanted, and he prayed with great faith. If our concept of the will of God is that it is all signed and sealed before we start to pray, then the very request for the prayer to be heard only if it is God's will makes a mockery of prayer. If God's will is determinate and decided already, then it will happen whether we pray or not. But prayer is powerful. We can change the declared will of God in many things- even up to the date of the second coming!
Thus for the man in good conscience with God "Thou shalt make thy prayer unto Him, and He shall hear thee (no mention here of 'if it is His will'!). . thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee" (Job 22:27,28). Absolute faith in prayer which is according to God's broad desires results in our requests effectively being decrees of what is now going to happen! To the present writer this is the only reasonable understanding of the relationship between the 'will' of God and our prayers. It is not difficult for us to know what the will of God in the sense of His desires is. We have been born again by the word of God. We were not born again by the will of man, but by the will of God. The will of God is therefore found in the word of God (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:12-14). Thus if we pray according to our knowledge of God's desires as explained in the word, we are praying according to His will- and therefore if we have faith "He heareth us". Jesus said as much: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what YE will, and it shall be done unto you" (Jn. 15:7). Notice He didn't say 'you will ask whatever is according to God's will , and it will be heard'. We ask whatever we desire, and we will receive. This is because our will should be the will of God if the word of God is in us.
A nice picture of the Angels at work in dealing with our prayers is given in Mal. 2:17: "Ye have wearied the Lord with your words" (in prayer). The Hebrew for "wearied" means to 'exhaust by work'- as if God really makes a lot of effort in considering our prayers. God Himself never wearies- such language is surely more relevant to the Angels? The exhortation to an Israel whose prayers were half hearted and formal repetition needs to be heeded by all of us; and encouragement taken at the great energy expended to deal with our prayers.
It would seem from the earlier comment on Jacob wrestling with the Angel in prayer, that our prayers are in the first place heard by our guardian Angel, and that we can plead with Him for an answer. It appears from Is. 6:7 that Angels even have the power delegated to them to forgive (through Christ, now) our sins in response to our prayers. The Angels being God's eyes means that they are His sensors to our prayers and thoughts; thus it would be fitting if our prayers went to them first in the process of their presentation to God, although God Himself knows our every thought and word. Heb. 2:6 says that God is mindful of man because He visits him- which He does through His Angels (visiting is Angelic language). Thus God is mindful (literally mind-full!) of us because of the Angels "visiting" us with trials and observation "every moment" (Job 7:18). However, in the same way that for such thoughts to be powerful with God they have to go through Christ, so they also have to be presented to Him by the Angels. Naturally it must ever be remembered that there is only one mediator- the Lord Jesus, not Angels (1 Tim. 2:5). The connection between the Angels as God's eyes and His hearing of prayer becomes more relevant once it is realized that to 'find grace in God's sight' (eyes-Angels) is equivalent to saying 'please hear my prayer'- see Gen. 19:19; 32:5; 33:10,15; 34:11- at least in Genesis. This again explains why early believers conceived of God in terms of an Angel, as they would have prayed to the Angel and received the answers and other revelation of God from one.
Prayer As Incense
Again, Revelation has much to say about Angels and prayers. Rev. 14:18 pictures an Angel coming out of the incense altar, and triggered by the incense of our prayers, asking another Angel to do something dramatic on earth. This is how powerful prayer is! Rev. 5:8 shows each of the Angels (again notice how all of them are involved) having golden vials in which are our prayers, and that with them in hand they bow down to Jesus. So it would appear that our prayers go first to them, then to Jesus, and then to God Himself, who then gives His answer to the Angel before His throne to go forth and execute. Rev. 8:3 describes one Angel being given much incense- i. e. prayers- presumably by the individual guardian Angels. He then offers this up on the altar (Christ) to God, and the response from God comes in the form of the Angels sounding their trumpets. It is interesting to note that actually these Angels had already been prepared for what they were going to do (Rev. 8:2) when they had been earlier before the throne of God. God knows our prayers before we say them . He knew what the prayers of the people at that time would be, and had earlier prepared the Angels to answer them, and this was unleashed by their cumulative prayer. But without that prayer- that human part of the equation- the prepared answer would not have been put into action. The prayers were offered up by one Angel- this either means there is one Angel with overall responsibility for offering up prayers to Christ (the altar), or that there is one Angel who collects together the prayers from one period of time or about one particular subject and then offers them up to Christ. The fact "much incense" is mentioned presumably means that there was much prayer made at this time, and this was added to the "prayers of all saints" (v. 3) which had already been made about this.
Perhaps this idea of our prayers going first to an Angel is hinted at in Psalm 80:1 "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel (the language of Is. 63:11 regarding the guardian Angel of Israel in the wilderness), thou that leadest Joseph like a flock (the Angel led Israel through the wilderness); Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. . ". It would seem that the Angel "went up in the midst of them" as Moses had successfully pleaded for by physically dwelling between the Cherubim whilst they were encamped, occasionally shining out with the shekinah glory either in pleasure or anger at the people's behaviour during the journey. In this Psalm we see a prayer addressed to this Angel. We have commented earlier on the use of the word "send" with regard to God physically sending forth an Angel in answer to prayer. "The LORD send thee help from the sanctuary (Most Holy)" (Ps. 20:2) indicates that the Angel was physically there, and that God would send out His help through that Angel. The other allusions to the Angel in Ps. 80 are detailed in Chapter 12, but v. 4 is interesting at present. "O Lord God of Hosts (Angels), how long wilt Thou smoke against the prayer of this people?". Incense represents prayer, but it seems that if prayer is insincere the Angels as it were fill the sanctuary with smoke to stop the incense getting through to Jesus. This is perhaps the situation in Rev. 15:8, where the temple was filled with smoke from "the glory of God and His power" (the Angels? cp. 2 Thess. 1:8,9), so that "no man"- i. e. no man's prayer?- could enter until the Angels had fully punished the world.
Is. 1:15 also seems relevant to God's method of rejecting prayer through the Angels. "When ye spread forth your hands (in prayer) I will hide Mine eyes (Angels) from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear". God Himself hears and sees all words and actions, including insincere prayer. But He lets Himself be limited through His Angels turning away from being sensitive to some words of prayer.
In Zech. 1:12 “the angel of the Lord” asks Yahweh of hosts “how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem…?”. Surely the Angel was representing those of God’s people such as Ezra who were asking God “how long?”. And in response to that, the Angel seeks to persuade other Angels [“Yahweh of hosts”] to act. Dan. 8:15 records daniel seeking to understand the meaning of a vision; but two verses earlier, an Angel had asked another Angel for understanding of the same vision. Here surely we have the practical meaning, in Angelic terms, of God knowing our prayers and arranging the answers before we even ask them. Perhaps it was daniel’s guardian Angel who asked a more senior Angel for the interpretation of the vision, knowing daniel was going to be asking for it. Yet it was the second Angel who actually gave the answer to daniel (Dan. 8:14). Verse 16 describes the one Angel standing at the Ulai river calling out: “Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision”. Yet at this time, daniel himself was in vision at the Ulai river (:2). His guardian Angel was there, right in front of him. And He had foreknown daniel’s feelings and arranged for another Angel to respond to them...and so the second Angel (Gabriel) also comes near where daniel was standing (:17). His guardian Angel had literally called Gabriel to come over to daniel... And all this is going on for you and me hourly in the court of Heaven! There’s another example of this in dan. 12. There are two Angels with daniel by the river (:2). One of them asks the other: “How long shall it be to the end...?” (:6; cp. 8:13). Yet this was exactly the spirit of daniel! And then the other Angel gives daniel the answer. His guardian Angel knew his unexpressed questions and desires, and passed them on to another Angel to answer.
Angels Answering Prayer
Does it follow that our guardian Angel or the Angel coordinating the offering of the prayers will only offer them to Christ if they are for some specific furthering of God's purpose when there are enough of them? This idea is very attractive regarding the second coming- once there is enough incense concerning this, it will be offered to Christ, who will then send it to God and the answer empowering Christ and the Angels to act will come. The fact that the incense is offered together must indicate a period of amassing it, and therefore a slight gap in the answering of the prayers through their being delayed in being offered to Christ.
An interesting thought arises form Prov. 15:29: "The Lord is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous". This implies that God is too physically far away from the wicked to hear their prayer. Ps. 10:1 is one of the many refernces in the Psalms to God being physically far away when a prayer is not answered: "Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?". This is the language of limitation- God Himself hears every sound of our lips, including the prayers of the wicked, which He says are like smoke in His nostrils and an annoyance to Him. So if our prayers are heard when God is 'near' us, does it not follow that when our Angel is physically near us, then our prayer is more quickly heard? Hence Jesus' Angel was physically with Him in Gethsemane in order to encourage Him in prayer. Once we accept that prayer goes first to an Angel, then this suggestion looks more sensible.
Luke 1 exemplifies how Angels are used in answering prayer. The Angelic context is set by v. 65 saying that Zacharias and Elisabeth "were both righteous before God"- recalling the language of the Law, where coming before God was coming into the presence of the Angel in the tabernacle. In God's sight no man is justified (i. e. counted to be righteous)- Ps. 143:2, although men may be justified in the view of His Angels. The people praying outside made a fitting parallel with the incense being offered in the temple. Seeing it was the day of Atonement, the prayers were fundamentally for forgiveness of sins which the animal sacrifices of the past year had not properly atoned for. The answer came in the form of an Angel standing on the right side (implying acceptance) of the incense altar, and giving news of the coming ministry of Jesus, the true means of Atonement. Gabriel says that He had been sent in answer to this prayer (v. 19)- He was therefore the Angel that appeared to Zacharias.
In Rev. 8:8 we have an Angel casting a mountain into the sea. This must surely connect with the Lord's encouragement that we can cast mountains into the sea by our faith (Mk. 11:23). Therefore... it surely follows that our prayers have a direct effect upon the Angels. They throw mountains around because of our faithful prayer... Inevitably we see a connection with Ps. 46:2, which comforts us not to fear when mountains are cast into sea. Surely the point is that we shouldn’t be scared when we perceive the awesomeness of the power of prayer and its influence upon Angels. It’s all too easy to ask for things without perceiving how it would really be if that prayer were answered. We need to have specific and focused faith in what we ask for, realizing that legions of Angels are potentially able to operationalize what we ask for.
The fact the Angels are limited in wisdom and power explains the delay in answer to some of our prayers. Daniel 10 is a clear example of this. Daniel 10:2 records that Daniel prayed for three weeks, presumably for understanding of the vision. In v. 12 Daniel is told by the Angel that "from the first day... thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words". So because of his prayer ("words"- perhaps put like that to emphasize the power of the 'mere' words uttered in prayer), an Angel was sent from God to give him the understanding he had asked for. His very first prayer for this was answered- but the actual answer came three weeks later. The reason for this was that the Angel had been withstood by the prince of Persia for 21 days (v. 13). Three weeks is 21 days. So Daniel's first prayer was answered, but it took the Angel three weeks to work out the answer in practice; but during this time Daniel kept on praying, although at the time it must have seemed to him that no answer was forthcoming. So let us be prepared to persevere in prayer, as those saints in Rev. 8 did and were rewarded by the incense finally being offered by the Angel to Christ, and then to God.
It may just be possible that there is a mighty Angel of answered prayer (Gabriel?), in the same way as there is a 'wonderful numberer' co-ordinating the timing of God's purpose, and an Angel specifically representing Jesus and Israel (do these four make up the four forms of Angel manifestation in the cherubim and four living creatures?). This Angel would co-ordinate the presentation and answering of prayers. Thus in Luke 1:10,11 we see the priest's offering of incense paralleled with the prayer of the people, and in reply to these prayers and those of Zacharias an Angel comes and stands at the right hand of the altar of incense to announce the granting of the peoples' request (for forgiveness), and Zacharias' request for a child, in the form of the birth of John and his ministry of reconciliation with God. The incense altar represented the offering of prayer- the Angel coming to stand at the right side of the altar indicates answered prayer. The command from the altar (of incense?) in Rev. 9:14 to the sixth Angel telling Him to loose other Angels was maybe from this same Angel of answered prayer. All these suggestions need very careful development, especially guarding against making the Angels rather than Jesus our mediator. There is only one mediator (1 Tim. 2:5).