The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
No Biblical concept bewilders me more than angels. They appear in so many contexts and configurations, comprehending their basic form and function eludes me. There are good angels (Michael, Gabriel, et al.) There are evil angels (Lucifer and his crew). Some angels do nothing but worship, others deliver messages, and still others guard God’s people and holy places. Some come into physical contact with people, like the one that wrestles with Jacob. Some waft through dreams. Some hover overhead to perform choral numbers, as the heavenly hosts heralding Christ’s birth do. Then, to make things more confusing, angels come in various shapes and sizes. Cherubs have two wings. (1 Kings 8.7) Seraphs, per Isaiah 6.2, have six wings. During his vision, John of Patmos sees an angel resembling neither cherub nor seraph. His angel “was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars.” (Revelation 10.1)
I trust the time will come when I’ll grasp these perplexing mysteries. Meanwhile, I confess skittishness about discussing angels. In part this springs from factors cited above. But it also comes from awareness each of us imagines angels differently and believes in their post-Scriptural existence to varying degrees. Many accept their reality wholeheartedly; many regard them as figurative representations; a few experience manifestations they consider angelic visitations. Yet wherever each of us stands, I hope we all agree when the Bible introduces angels, something extraordinary is underway. And what that is takes precedence over how it’s described.
An Inner Circle
Belief in angels may strike rational thinkers as crazy. But David’s declaration in Psalm 34.7—“The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them”—comes at an undeniably lucid moment in his life. The psalm’s preface says he penned it after “he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.” A great deal of speculation has gone into what this refers to, as no recorded episode directly correlates to it. From what we’re told, though, we assume three things: David was imprisoned or held hostage by a hostile king. ("Abimelech" is a Philistine title akin to “Pharaoh.”) He faced sufficiently serious danger to risk loss of self-respect by feigning insanity—or epilepsy, according to some—to escape. Finally, his confidence in the strategy was shaky at best, because Psalm 34 revels in God’s mercy and protection without a hint of personal pride.
“My soul will boast in the LORD,” he writes in verse 2. Verse 4 says, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” And the sixth verse reinforces this: “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.” In retrospect, despite being surrounded by hostility and danger, David observes an inner circle stood between his enemies and him. “The angel of the LORD”—plural, in the same sense of a collective guard or platoon—“encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” His crazy routine didn’t save him after all. He’d been safe all around all along, buffered from harm by God’s protection. And, most important, the desperation and doubt that inspired his goofy behavior also signaled his dependency on God. Acting like a madman was the best he could come up with, but he went with it, trusting God to take his pitiful attempt and somehow make it succeed.
Through It All
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” they say. If we find ourselves encompassed by menacing attitudes and circumstances, we’re as likely as David to act like we’ve lost our minds. We may even think we have. But if we truly believe God is actively concerned about us, trust in His deliverance accompanies our feeble efforts. Where we are and what we do doesn’t negate confidence in Him. When what we come up with isn’t good enough, God steps in with His best.
In times of trouble, we take comfort in knowing we’re not part of God’s inner circle; we’re surrounded by it. His angels encircle us always. They camp around us. Whatever they look like, whether they’re actual beings or figurative representations of His love and power, they’re there. Where we go, they are. Psalm 91.9-11 promises this: “If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Life will jostle us left and right. Problems will knock us back a few steps. Time and progress will push us into uncertainties. Things will get crazy. We’ll act crazy. Sometimes we’ll believe we are crazy. Through it all, if we live by faith, we can stand secure inside God’s protective inner circle. He commands His angels to guard us in all our ways. We’re safe all around.
Whether actual or figurative representations of God’s love and power, angels encircle us always. We’re safe all around.
(Tomorrow: Anger Issues)