7. Angels Answering Prayer
See too http://www.carelinks.net/books/dh/angels/angels7_5.htm
Angels are of course active in answering our prayer, obeying the commanding voice of God Himself in Heaven- answers to prayer " go. . . out" by prayer and fasting (Mt. 17:21). The answer to prayer is therefore likened to a 'going out'- of the Angel and command from the throne of grace? This language of 'going out' is frequently used in the Old Testament about the going forth of the cherubim Angels. Isaiah 37 is shot through with allusions to the Angel cherubim destroying the Assyrian host. The Angel went forth (v. 36)- perhaps referring to Him physically going forth out of the temple where He dwelt to slay the Assyrians outside the walls of Jerusalem. This phrase 'went out' is nearly always used about literal physical movement, which we have seen is what Angels literally do. Thus in the Ezekiel visions of the cherubim, they and the lightnings " went forth" , physically and literally, in performing God's work. " Let my sentence come forth from Thy presence (Angelic language); let Thine eyes (Angels) behold the things that are equal" , seeing they are involved with the 'coming forth', according to the parallelism of this verse. Thus David cried in prayer, and hoped for God’s word of response to go forth, from the throne of Heaven (Ps. 119:147). Similarly Job's satan Angel " went forth" from the presence of the Lord (Job 1:12). Zech. 2:3 also has an Angel going forth to answer the prayers concerning restoring the fortunes of Jerusalem (see Zech. 5:5 too). Ps. 81:5 describes the Angel going out through the land of Egypt in order to " remove (Israel's) shoulder from the burden" . Ps. 81 is 'Angelic', following Ps. 80, which is another such Psalm. Heb. 1:14 also offers support: the Angels are " sent forth" to minister to us- by answering prayers? In the court of Heaven, God " thrusteth away the desire of the wicked" (Prov. 10:3 RV)- as if their prayers are rejected there. In passing, note that by praying for others, we represent them before the throne of God, in the Heavenly court. Paul prayed “on your behalf” for the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:4). Jeremiah’s prayers for the people would’ve been accepted as their prayers, his voice before God would’ve been theirs, were it not that they themselves had sadly gone just too far away from God (Jer. 14:11,12).
This close association between Angels and answered prayer resulted in many of the early believers conceiving of God in terms of an Angel, as we have seen Jacob in particular did. Hannah is another example; she prayed to the Lord of Hosts (Angels) to " look on the affliction of Thine handmaid" (1 Sam. 1:11); and the Angels are God's eyes through which He looks on us. She came to pray " before the Lord" (v. 15)- i. e. before the Angel dwelling over the ark. Angels are associated with conception- the cases of Samson, John and Jesus quickly spring to mind.
There is a vision described in 1 Kings 22:22 of the Angels presenting their various plans of how to slay Ahab. God says to the one whose plan He accepts " Thou shalt persuade him (Ahab), and prevail also: go forth, and do so" . Thus the Angel still has to " prevail" or 'struggle' to operationalize a command from God which they know is His will to perform; and we have to do likewise, not least in the preaching of the Gospel, both obeying and prevailing. This makes more sense of Jer. 51:12, which says that " The Lord (of Hosts/ Angels, v. 14) hath BOTH devised and done that which He spake" about Babylon. We cannot leave the subject of Angels and prayer without returning to Daniel 10. Verses 2 and 3 show Daniel praying for three weeks- presumably for the fortunes of Israel to be restored. As the days went by, it would have seemed natural to assume that the prayer was going unanswered. However, the Angel told him that " from the first day. . thy words were heard" (v. 13), but the delay was because " the prince of the Kingdom of Persia withstood Me (the Angel) one and twenty days" - i. e. three weeks. So his first prayer was heard, but it took the Angel three weeks to work out the answer in practice. How many of our prayers are like that! The Angel then describes how he confirmed and strengthened Darius (11:1) to the same end to enable the prayer to be answered- as if when our Angel sees someone set in a course of action which will lead to the answer of our prayer, they are confirmed and strengthened in it. The same idea is found in Dan. 9:23; a command being given from God to answer a prayer as soon as it's prayed but there being a delay to the answer due to the Angels effecting the answer. " At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment (from God to answer your prayer) came forth, and I (the Angel) am come to show thee" .
An Electric Cosmos
Luke 15 describes the joy in Heaven when one sinner repents; the man who found the lost sheep " calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me. . when she (the woman) hath found it (the lost coin) she calleth her friends and neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me. . likewise I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" . The man and the woman must therefore represent God manifested through our guardian Angel. The Angel physically leaves the presence of God in Heaven and then goes off to arrange circumstances to encourage the sinner to return. He then calls all the others together to rejoice " when He cometh home" (into Heaven, into the multitude around the throne of God from which Angels go and return in obeying God's Word). The whole Heavenly household (or just those other Angels which our guardian has used in arranging circumstances for us to repent?) then rejoice together. Thus we read in Hebrews 1:14 that all the Angels are " ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" . All the Angels are involved together in this work. All things in Heaven (the Angels) and on earth (the things they arrange on earth) are for our sakes! The whole of the cosmos is electric because of a deep change of heart within some tiny human being on planet earth.
Luke 11:7,8 gives further insight into how prayer is heard- the householder, God, is in His house (Heaven) with the door shut and his children with him in bed, and in order to get up- corresponding to God answering our prayer in the parable- the whole household, the children of God (a description of the Angels- Luke 20:35,36 etc. ), have to be roused. Thus all the Angels are conscious of one specific action on our behalf. And note, all prayer is heard, even if the answers are not as we would expect. Whoever asks, receives (Mt. 7:8); those who pray constantly will be ‘avenged’ in some form (Lk. 18:7). Prayer does make a deep impact, and causes Angels to run hither and thither in response, even if we don’t see any of the expected answers. The moment God hears a prayer it is in some sense answered; the hearing of prayer by the Father is the answer. This surely is the implication of the teaching that we are to believe that what we asked for we [in essence, in some form] have immediately received (Mk. 11:22).
The idea of every little thing in life and the world being controlled by Angels contradicts the notion that God has set this world in motion according to certain natural laws, and that things continue without His direct intervention- as if the whole system is run by clockwork which God initially wound up. Intervention in this system by God has been called 'the hand of providence'. However, these ideas surely contradict the clear Biblical teaching that every movement in the natural creation is consciously controlled by God through His Angels, thus needing an energetic input from Him through His Spirit for every action to occur. Consider the following:
- " Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them" (Mt. 6:26)- God consciously feeds the birds with their every mouthful.
- " If God so clothe the grass of the field. . . shall He not much more clothe you?" (Mt. 6:30). The blessings God gives us do not come by clockwork- we thankfully recognize they are individual acts of mercy towards us. Perhaps our sometimes 'clockwork' prayers are an indication that we think God's blessings of food etc. are clockwork too?. In the same way, God individually and consciously cares for each blade of grass. Fundamentally, they do not grow as a result of chemical combination or photosynthesis, but due to the conscious care of God using such processes.
- One sparrow " shall not fall on the ground without (the knowledge of) your Father" (Mt. 10:29). God is aware of the death of each bird- He does not allow animals to die due to their natural decay (the clockwork mechanism) without Him being actively involved in and conscious of their death. Again, Jesus shows how God's knowledge and participation in the things of the natural creation must imply an even greater awareness of us. " The very hairs of your head are all numbered. . . ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Mt. 10:30,31).
- God "makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt. 5:45). God consciously makes the sun rise each day- it isn't part of a kind of perpetual motion machine. Hence the force of His promises in the prophets that in the same way as He consciously maintains the solar system, so He will maintain Israel. Job 9:7 seems to have this idea of conscious control in mind: "Who commands the sun, and it does not rise".
- Ps. 104 is full of such examples: " He watereth the hills. . causeth the grass to grow. . maketh darkness (consciously, each night). . . the young lions. . . seek their meat from God. . . sendest forth Thy Spirit (Angel), they are created" (not just by the reproductive system).
- Consider too Job 38:32; 39:27; Amos 9:6; Is. 40:7; Prov. 11:1.
There are important implications following from these ideas with regard to our faith in prayer. It seems to the present writer that our belief that the world is going on inevitably by clockwork is one of the things which militates against faith. To give a simple example: we may need to catch a certain train which is to leave at 9a. m. We wake up late at 8:45a. m. and find it hard to have faith in our (all too hasty) prayer that we will get it, because we are accustomed to trains leaving on time (at least in the Western world). But if we have the necessary faith to believe that each individual action in life is the work of God, then it is not so hard to believe that God will make the action of that train leaving occur at 9:30 a. m. rather than at 9a. m. when He normally makes it leave.
The relatively small amount of human repentance needed to make the Angel repent is shown in Amos 7. Amos sees visions of the impending judgements on Israel. After each he prays " O Lord God, forgive, I beseech Thee: who shall stand for Jacob? ('If you, his Angel-God, don't?') for he is small" . The answer comes: " The Lord repented for this. It shall not be, saith the Lord" . He repented for the sake of one intense prayer! Notice too Amos asking " Who shall stand for Jacob?" . Michael the Angel stands for Israel in the court of Heaven (as the Angel 'God of Jacob';Dan. 12:1), and thus it appears Amos is pointing out that if Israel is condemned and punished they will have no Angel with them- and so the Angel changes His mind.
Angels And The Will Of God
The fact we can alter God's will by wrestling in prayer with the Angels throws a serious question mark over the average public 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 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'. Or again, how he says that their will not be dew nor rain but according to his word (1 Kings 17:1). He prayed that there would be no rain, James tells us. But he was so confident of the answers coming. Reflect how the Lord cursed the fig tree with fruitlessness. But when the disciples marvelled at how this had come about, the Lord started speaking about prayer. Clearly enough, He'd been praying for the fig tree to become barren, and He was so confident that what He had asked would truly come about. And so He comments in this context: " What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them [i.e. already], and ye shall have them" (Mk. 11:24). 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. This is why David could say that God would be responsive to his prayers, “according to [my keeping of] thy word” (Ps. 119:58)
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
I have elsewhere commented upon the connection between Angels and the cherubim. The original root of the word ‘cherubim’ is associated with prayer and intercession: “The closest cognate is the Akkadian karibu which is also a being at the entrance to the sanctuary. Its original meaning is that of an intercessor…a mediator of prayers…the one who prays par excellence”(1). Note too the parallel in 1 Kings 8 between Solomon spreading forth his hands to pray, and the Cherubim spreading forth their wings before God and man (1 Kings 6:27; 8:7 cp. 8:22,38,54). This is not to say that now the Angels are mediators of prayers- for the Lord alone is that.
In this context, Revelation has much to say about Angels and prayers. 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.
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.
The Hebrew word translated " hear" is also that for " answer" (see Ps. 55:1). God's answer is in that sense instant; we must believe that what we ask for we have already received. And yet there does seem to be a definite gap between God's response and our requests. 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 reconcilliation 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).
(1) Clauss Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1987) p. 274.
(2) Note that the Ziphites, although Israelites, are counted as not in the covenant; just as those rejected from God’s people will be judged with the world, i.e. treated as ‘Gentiles’ as the apostate amongst natural Israel were.