Angels in the Old Testament

Angels appear mainly to the warrior, builders, lawgivers and teachers in the Old Testament. The great men portrayed in the Old Testament were not considered odd because they confessed to having seen angels and to have been guided by supranatural powers. It gave them confidence in their mission and gave them the perseverance that was needed to accomplish good works.

The angels that appear were swift, strong, beautiful, wise and living. Their activities are worship and glorify God and to carry out His commands. They protect, guide and admonish men. The are present at the hour pf prayer and the time of battle. They are always referred to as male, as strong warriors ready to protect nations as well as individuals. They personify virtue, wisdom and love.

Angels do not commonly make their presence visually known, nor do they appear because they are called. They appear unexpectedly and fill the beholder with awe and strength.

 Angels and Early Leaders

ArkThe lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then a guardian angel.
"And now I am sending my angel to go before thee and guard the on they way and lead thee to the place I have made ready for thee" (Ex 23:20-21).

God told Moses how to make the Tabernacle and Ark where he was to keep the tablets. "Make e and Ark... Make me a throne too of pure gold...and two cherubs of pure beaten gold of the two ends of this throne, one to stand on either side of it; with their wings outspread to cover the throne, guardians of the shrine. They are to face one another... Thence I will issue my commands; from that throne of mercy, between the two cherubs that stand over the ark and its records, my voice shall come to thee,whenever I send word through thee to the sons of Israel" (Ex 25:10-22). The Cherubs bear and uphold the throne of God. Today in our Orthodox Churches the altar is surrounded by angels. The doors to the sanctuary are guarded by archangels.


MosesThe Appearance During the Repose of Moses

"Moses, the servant of the Lord, died in the land of Moab by the word of the Lord. They buried him in Gai near the house of Phogor; and no one has seen his sepulcher to this day [Deut. 34:5, 6]. " The apostle and brother of the Lord, Jude, writes: "Now Michael the archangel, when he took issue with the devil and was disputing about the body of Moses, did not dare to lay upon him a judgment of blasphemy, but said, 'May the Lord rebuke thee."' Saint Bede comments that "it is not entirely obvious from what Scriptures Jude took this witness. But nonetheless we should know that we find something like it in the Prophet Zacharias [3:3] .... We remain uncertain when Michael had a struggle with the devil over the body of Moses….”

JoshuaMoses never entered into the promised land. It was Joshua who led the Israelites into canaan. He was deeply aware of help from angels. "And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come...” (Joshua 5:13-15). With the trumpets and shouts of the people the walls of this city collapsed and Joshua prevailed. This angel soldier and leader exemplifies the archangel Michael in the Orthodox tradition.

The Preservation of Hagar and Ishmael
When Hagar learned that she was to bear Abram’s child, and was afflicted by Archangel Michael Sarai, she fled into the wilderness. An Angel of the Lord found her by the fountain of water in the wilderness, in the way to Sur. The angel of the Lord said to her, "Hagar, whence comest thou, and wither thou?" She said, "I am fleeing from the face of my mistress Sarai. " The angel of the Lord said to her, "Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands." The Angel of the Lord said to her, "I will surely multiply thy seed, and it shall not be numbered for multitude. Behold thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael, for the Lord hath hearkened to thy humiliation. He shall be a wild man, his hands against all, and the hands of all against him, and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren [Gen. 16:1-16]. "

The Lord then visited Sarah, and she conceived by Abraham, and gave birth to Isaac. Sarah saw Ishmael sporting with Isaac, and asked Abraham to have the bondwoman Hagar and her son cast out. After this had been done, Hagar and her son wandered in the wilderness near the well of the oath. They had no water. God heard the voice of Ishmael crying and weeping, and an Angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, "What is it, Hagar? Fear not. Rise up, and take the child, and hold him in thy hand, for I will make him a great nation. " God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of springing water; and she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the child drink [Gen. 21:1-21].


Righteous Lot is Saved from Sodom

Two angels came to Sodom at evening. Lot, son of Abraham's brother Haran, .sat by the gate of Sodom, and rose up to meet them and offer them hospitality. "Nay, but we will lodge in the street," they said. Lot constrained them. After they ate, the Sodomites compassed Lot's house and called out Lot, and said to him, "Where are the men that went into thee this night? Bring them out to us that we may be with them." He said, "By no means, brethren, do not act villainously. But I have two daughters, who have not known a man. I will bring them out to you, and do ye use them as it may please you, only do not injury to these men, to avoid which they came under the shelter of my roof." The Sodomites then drew nigh to break the door. The angels stretched forth their hands and drew Lot into them into the house, and shut the door of the house. Then the angels smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great, and they were wearied with seeking the door. Then they urged Lot to depart with those with him, "For we are going to destroy this place; for their cry has been raised up before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it." Lot went out with his wife and two daughters. The Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrha brimstone and fire, overthrowing Sodom and Gomorrha, and all the country round about [Gen. 19:1-25].


The Deliverance of Isaac

When Abraham was put to the test and told to take his beloved Isaac and offer him for a whole-burnt-offering, he rose up and took the lad. Abraham took the wood of the whole-burnt-offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took into his hands both the fire and the knife, and the two went together. Isaac asked, "Father, where is the sheep for a whole-burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide Himself a sheep for a whole burnt-offering, my son." Abraham then built the altar and laid the wood on it. He bound his son's feet and laid him on the altar. He then stretched forth his hand to take the knife to slay his son, when an Angel of the Lord called him out of heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham." And he said, "Behold, I am here." And He said, "Lay not thy hand upon the child, neither do anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest God, and for My sake thou hast not spared thy beloved son. " Abraham then lifted up his eyes and saw a ram caught by his horns. He took the ram, and offered him up for a whole burnt-offering in the place of Isaac his son. The Angel of the Lord called Abraham the second time out of heaven, saying, "I have sworn by Myself, says the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and on My account hast not spared thy beloved son, surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the shore of the sea, and thy seed shall inherit the cities of their enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast hearkened to My voice [Gen. 22:1-18].


Angels visit Jacob

Other sightings of angels in Genesis include that of the Prophet Jacob, who dreamed and beheld a ladder fixed on the earth, whose top reached to heaven, and the angels of God ascended and descended on it [Gen. 28:12]. Again, when Jacob departed Laban and returned home to Esau, he looked up and saw the host of God encamped; and the angels of God met him [Gen. 32:1].

Conception of Samson
the Lord repeatedly sent angels to poor distraught women who were humiliated by their inability to bear children. This story prefigures the annunciation of Mary. In the case of Samson's mother, "the Lord's angel appeared and said,' poor barren one, poor childless one, thou are to conceive, and bear a son.... he shall strike the first blow to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines.' So when she met her husband she told him, 'I have been speaking with a messenger from God, who might have been an angel, such awe his look inspired in me" (Judges 13:3-7). His father Manoah, entreated the Lord to send the angel back to advise them how to nurture this child. The angel did return to say the message He had given his wife was sufficient.. (Judges 13:80-13)
The messenger said, "Detain me if thou will, but of thy food I must not eat... " Manoah did not recognize him as an angel and asked for his name. "Do not ask my name; it is a high mystery," replied this stranger. Manoah went to offer a sacrifice. As he did"flames went up from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up too, there amid the flames. (Judges 13:16-25) Here we see the personality of the angel being revealed in a flash as a flame burning with the pure love of God. We can presume this angel was Gabriel.

The Appearance to Gideon (Gideon)

GideonIsrael was leaderless for a long time. When Israel was enduring one of its numerous invasions by the Madianites an angel stirred up the courage in Gideon who then liberated his people. "an angel of the Lord came and waited by the oak tree at Ephra..." Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine-press in order to escape from the face of Madiam. The angel said to him, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty in strength. " And Gideon said to him, "Be gracious with me, my lord: but if the Lord is with us, why have these evils found us? And where are all His miracles, which our fathers have related to us? Now He has cast us out and given us into the hand of Madiam. " The angel of the Lord turned to him and said, "Go in this thy strength, and thou shalt save Israel out of the hand of Madiam: Behold, I have sent thee." Gideon said to him, "Be gracious with me, my Lord: Whereby shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in father's house." The angel of the Lord said to him, "The Lord shall be with thee, and thou shalt smite Madiam as one man. "

Gideon then wished to make an offering, and the angel waited until returned. The angel of the Lord stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened bread; and fire came up out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened bread, and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Gideon saw that he was an angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, "Ah, ah, Lord my God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face." And the Lord said to him, "Peace be to thee; fear not, thou shalt not die. " And Gideon built there an altar to the Lord, and called it "The peace of the Lord [Judg. 6:11-24].

 Angels and the Prophets

The Appearance to Balaam

The archangel appeared to the soothsayer Balaam, as the latter was on his way to curse the nation of Israel, menacing and preventing him from such an act. God was very angry because Balaam saddled his donkey and went to the princes of Moab. Thus, the angel of the Lord rose up to withstand him. When the donkey saw the angel of God standing opposite in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand, then the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field. Balaam smote the donkey with his staff to direct her in the way, but the angel of the Lord stood in the avenues of the vines, a fence being on this side and a fence on that. When the donkey saw the angel of God, she thrust herself against the wall and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall, and he smote her again. The angel of the Lord went farther, and came and stood in a narrow place where it was impossible to turn to the right or the left. When the donkey saw the angel of God, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam was angry, and struck the donkey with his staff. God then opened the mouth of the donkey, and she spoke to Balaam: "What have I done to thee, that thou hast smitten me this third time? Balaam said to the donkey, "Because thou hast mocked me; and if I had had a sword in my hand, I would now have killed thee. " The donkey said to Balaam, "Am not I thine ass on which thou hast ridden since thy youth till this day? Did I ever do thus to thee, utterly disregarding thee?" "No," said he. God then opened the eyes of Balaam. He beheld the angel of the Lord withstanding him in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand, and he stooped down and made obeisance. The angel of God said to him, "Why hast thou smitten thine donkey this third time? And, behold, I came out to withstand thee, for thy way was not seemly before me; and when the ass saw me, she turned away from me this third time. And if she had not turned out of the way, surly now, I should have slain thee, and should have saved her alive." And Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned, for I did not know that thou wert standing opposite in the way to meet me; and now if it shall not be pleasing to thee for me to go on, I will return." And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, "Go with the men: nevertheless the word which I shall speak to thee, that thou shalt take heed to speak [Num. 22:21-35].

Balaam had been determined on his own course. He was aggravated by his donkey who was a stubborn as his master. The intervention of an angel was necessary to make him aware of the uselessness of going against the will of God. This may have been his guardian angle but this was not a concept until christian times. But this is how a guardian angle helps us.


The Appearance to Elijah (Elias)

Elijah was a clear sighted powerful and faithful man. But even he fell on despair. He challenged the god Baal of the wicked Jezabel, the wife of king Ahab.Prophet elias

The prophet Elijah was being pursued by the queen for having put to death fifty of her idolatrous priests [3 Kgs. (I Kgs.) 18:39]. The prophet fled into the wilderness and sat under a juniper tree and said, "0 Lord, take, I pray thee, my life from me; for I am no better than my fathers." And he lay down and slept there under a tree; and behold, someone touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat. " And Elijah looked, and, behold, at his head there was a cake of meal and a cruse of water; and he arose, and ate and drank, and returned and lay down. And the angel of the Lord returned again, and touched him, and said to him, "Arise, and eat, for the journey is far from thee." And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights to Mount Choreb [3 Kgs. (I Kgs.) 19:1-8]. It is in our hour of weakness that God sends strength to those who are called to do His bidding.

Elijah was the first to call God,"God of Hosts" He saw God as the master of the angelic world, a world high above our own.

Elijah never knew death as he was translated up into heaven as Enoch was said to have been, "...a flaming chariot appeared, drawn by flaming horses, and elijah went up on a whirlwind into heaven." (2Kings 2:11)


IsaiahAppearance to Isaiah

Isaiah one of the greatest of the prophet had a vision of the divine reality. "...I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “ Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “ Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “ Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “ Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And He said, “Go, and tell this people" (Is 6:1-8).

Isaiah is the only one in Scripture to have spoken abut seeing the seraphim (means "burning ones"). They are the beings closest to God. He saw them give voice tot he great joy of being close to God. This was such a great joy that they had to cover their faces in humble adoration and they chanted "Holy, Holy, Holy."

The searing and purifying grace that came to him from direct contact with the angel is paraphrased in the divine Liturgy in the prayer the clergy say after partaking of Holy Communion, "Lo this has touched my lips; my iniquity shall be taken away and my sins purged from me."

Isaiah is depicting God's glory. He communicates to us the magnificence of the court of heaven. He surely struggled with the appropriate words to to express what he was shown. His vision is captured in the Hymn we sing at each divine Liturgy.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord of sabbaoth, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the Highest!



Ezekiel was an exile carried into captivity into Babylon. He lived among unhappy and uprooted people. He also had a vision of the glory of God. His view is much more complex and harder to understand. But he clearly communicates the greatness and power the angelic being are illuminating. He uses symbolism to put into wards what cannot be totally described. This description can be found in (Ez 1:4-2:1). He describes the angels as human in appearance with four faces and two pairs of wings. they sparkled like red-hot bronze. They appeared like flaming coals or torches. They had the glow of fire and from this glow lightning came out. Like lighting they moved about. The had eyes that surrounded their frame. The sound of their wings was a loud as waters in a flood or thunder. Its hard to understand how the cherub could have ever been depicted as a naked little boy.



Zechariah was given the task of reconstructing the Temple when the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem under king Darius Hystaspis. Zechariah was given eight visions. It was an angel that gave him the strength in this task.

"A vision appeared to me in the night of one that was mounted on a sorrel horse... the angel that inspired me promised he would show me the meaning of it. These have gone out on the Lord's errand, patrolling the earth. And to him, now, the angel of the myrtle wood, those others made their report: All earth we have patrolled, said they, and everywhere is safety, everywhere is rest. Ah, Lord of hosts, my angel monitor said, wilt thou never relent, never take pity upon Jerusalem... the lord answered him; ...I am for Jerusalem again, bringing pardon with me...

"When next I looked up I saw a mn there that carried a measuring line; so I asked him, whither he was bound? For Jerusalem, he said to measure the length and breadth of it. And at that my angel monitor would ha gone out on an errand, but here was a second angel came out to meet him. Sped thee, said he, on thy way, and tell people of thine: So full Jerusalem shall be, of men and cattle both, wall it shall have none hedge in it: I myself, the Lord says, will be a wall of fire around it, and in the midst of it, the brightness of my presence." (Zech 1:8-2:2)

 Angels in poetry, Tales and Apocalypses


Esdras give us the name of Uriel as one of seven archangels (2 Esdras4:1.36; 5:20). He gives us an indication of their place in the order of creation.
"Before it thundered and lightened, or ever the foundations of paradise were laid, Before the fair flowers were seen, or ever the moveable powers were established, before the innumerable multitude of angels were gathered together, Or ever the heights of the air were lifted up, before the measures of the firmament were named, or ever the chimneys in Sion were hot, And ere the present years were sought out, and or ever the inventions of them that now sin were turned, before they were sealed that have gathered faith for a treasure... (2Esdras 6:2-5)

The angel Uriel made it clear to esdras that man cannot readily comprehend God for God moves in his own mysterious ways.


The Psalms

The Psalms deal mostly with man's words addressed to God. they call for help, express thanks and are prayers for praise, penitence, confidence and thanksgiving.

"the chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place" (Ps 67:18).

"He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Ps 90:11-12).

"This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him,...the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Ps 33:6-7).

"Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word" (Ps 102:20)

Praise ye him, all his angels; Praise him all his hosts!



This book of faith mentions angels in the prologue where the are described as the sons of God who come before the Lord to give and present an account of their activities.



Daniel gives angels personal names and defines their functions as patrons or guardians of nations. He has direct contact with them in both a practical manner and a mystical one. Daniel lived in the time of captivity in Babylon. He tells the story of his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abedego who refused the kings order to worship a golden image and were bound and thrown into furnace stocked to seven times the normal heat. The Three youth put there faith in God and prayed for deliverance.

"But an angel of the Lord had gone down into the furnace with Azarias [Abednego] and his companions; and he drove the flames away from it, making a wind blow in the heart of the furnace, like the wind that brings the dew. So that these three were untouched, and the fire brought them neither pain nor discomfort. (Dn 46-51, LXX)

Daniel in the Lions' Den

The prophet had been informed against, that he was praying toward Jerusalem and giving thanks to his God (Dan. 6: 10). On account of the king's irrevocable decree, they cast him into the den of lions. They brought a stone and put it on the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his ring, and with the ring of his nobles. God, however, shut the mouths of the lions, that they not molest Daniel. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and came in haste to the den of lions. When he drew near to the den, he cried with a loud voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has thy God, Whom thou servest continually, been able to deliver thee from the lion's mouth?" Daniel said to the king, "O king, live for ever. My God has sent his angel, and stopped the lions' mouths, and they have not hurt me: for uprightness was found in me before Him; and moreover before thee, O king, I have committed no trespass." Then the king was very glad for him, and he commanded to bring Daniel out of the den. So Daniel was brought out of the den, and there was found no hurt upon him, because he believed in his God (Dan. 6:16-23).

Daniel perceived that each nation had a guardian angel and that saint Michael was the protector and patron of Israel (Dn 10:21). He also saw the glory of God. "thousand thousands ministered unto him God." (Dn 7:10) he relates to us from his spiritual experience.

There is also an intimate moment of contact between Daniel and the Archangel Gabriel.
In the vision of Prophet Daniel, Gabriel's name appears literally as man of God, " when he interpreted the vision which Daniel saw concerning the kings of the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks. The prophet writes: "And it came to pass, as I, even I Daniel, saw the vision, and sought to understand it, that, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man [Dan. 8:15]. " At another time, Archangel Gabriel appeared to Daniel and made known to him that the Messiah (Christ) would come in the flesh: “Yea,while I was yet speaking in prayer, behold the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in
the vision at the beginning, came flying, and he touched me about the hour of the evening sacrifice. And he instructed me, and spoke with me, and said,

O Daniel, I am now come forth to impart to thee understanding .... Thou shalt
know and understand, that from the going forth of the command for the
answer and the building of Jerusalem until Christ the prince there shall be
seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks... [Dan. 9:21-25].


Archangel Raphael and Tobit

Tobit and his son Tobias were accompanied by the Archangel Raphael. "God hath sent me," speaks the archangel, "to heal thee and Sara thy daughter-in-law. I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, who present the prayers of the saints, and who go in and out before the glory of the Holy One [Tob. 12:14, 15]. "

The Archangel Raphael is the angel of prayers, good deeds and healing; he is also the protector of all wayfarers and today revered by those who travel by air.


Above is adapted from:

The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church - Nov, pp 225-228, Trans. from Greek by Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Co.

Adapted from The Holy Angels by Mother Alexandra