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Today's popular view of angels is that they are supernatural beings with various powers.

But the Biblical word מַלְאָךְ, mal'ak, can simply mean "messenger" or "agent", and it is translated as such in many verses. In fact, in most places where the word is usually translated as "angel", it would make as much sense to use either of those other words.

These messengers could be considered as ad hoc prophets delivering a simple message.

Are there any instances where an angel was required to be something more than simply a human being chosen to represent, or chosen to deliver a message from, the Lord?

  • The angel that was sent to destroy Sodom sounds like it fits what you're looking for. – Salmononius2 Jan 23 at 19:02
  • @Salmononius2, only barely. The final destruction came from above, not from the messengers. Most of the chapter refers to them as "the men". The only supernatural event attributed to them was the blinding of the mob, and that too could have been divine power that was simply directed by them (e.g. like Moses parting the sea, not through any power of his own). – Ray Butterworth Jan 23 at 21:03
  • @RayButterworth Genesis 19:13. – Fred Jan 23 at 21:45
  • @Fred, "we will destroy this place" is the message they delivered. As verse 24 says, "Then the LORD caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven", it wasn't the messengers themselves that did the destroying. – Ray Butterworth Jan 23 at 22:05
  • @RayButterworth The mechanics of the destruction are discussed and debated in rabbinic literature. One view in the Midrash Rabba is that the vav hachibur at the beginning of 19:24 implies (in concert with the announcement in 19:13) that one of the angels mentioned earlier (Gabriel, by tradition, who appears as an avenging angel throughout Talmudic literature) was one of the mechanisms the Almighty used to carry out the destruction in verse 24. – Fred Jan 23 at 23:34
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While the angel that appeared to Manoach and his wife to tell them of the birth of Shimshon was a messenger angel, his appearance was in a supernatural manner:

There was a certain man from Zorah, of the stock of Dan, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children. An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman...The woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me; he looked like an angel of God, very frightening. I did not ask him where he was from, nor did he tell me his name...Manoah pleaded with the LORD. “Oh, my Lord!” he said, “please let the man of God that You sent come to us again, and let him instruct us how to act with the child that is to be born.” God heeded Manoah’s plea, and the angel of God came...But the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I shall not eat your food; and if you present a burnt offering, offer it to LORD.”—For Manoah did not know that he was an angel of the LORD...Manoah took the kid and the meal offering and offered them up on the rock to the LORD; and a marvelous thing happened while Manoah and his wife looked on. As the flames leaped up from the altar toward the sky, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flames of the altar, while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they flung themselves on their faces to the ground. The angel of the LORD never appeared again to Manoah and his wife.—Manoah then realized that it had been an angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen a divine being.” Etc. (Judges 13)

Both Manoach and his wife's ability to see the angel as a divine being and Manoach's fear from the sight of the angel's divine form shows us that angels had a supernatural look to them that was even recognizable by simple people.

  • The messenger could have been a human that ascended just as Elijah ascended, not through any power of his own. But in this case he is referred to as אֱלֹהִים, 'elohiym, which is surely more than a man. So yes, this is a good example. – Ray Butterworth Jan 23 at 21:04
  • They both didn't seem to be able to tell it was an angel till he disappeared. I'm not sure why you claim otherwise – Double AA Jan 23 at 23:19
  • @Double AA that's only true for Manoach. When his wife first saw the angel, it's never stated that she only recognized it after it left. It's just stated that it had an angelic look. So apparently, there's such a thing as an angelic look. – Harel13 Jan 24 at 0:08
  • An angelic look doesn't mean supernatural – Double AA Jan 24 at 0:12
  • @Double AA then what does it mean? – Harel13 Jan 24 at 0:24
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Genesis 32:4 explains that Jacob sent malachim to his brother Esau. Malachim in Hebrew means messengers, not angels.

Genesis 32:23-33 tells the strange incident of Jacob wrestling with an angel. Expecting to encounter Esau the following day, he reportedly wrestled with a man until daybreak. During the battle, Jacob’s thigh is injured.

Maimonides felt that G-d does not need helpers. Instead, he equates angels with the natural forces that do G-d’s will such as the wind, snow, and rain. In his Guide of the Perplexed 3:42, Rambam writes that the events in Genesis 32:23-33 did not actually occur; “it was entirely a prophetic vision (or, a dream).”

In short, angels and demons do not exist. G-d is all-powerful and needs no helpers. For G-d is not a Pasha surrounded by servants that carry out the Pasha's commands. G-d has no need for assistants. The term malakh (angels) are a metaphor for the forces of nature. If one wants to think of the existence of angels, think of the natural forces such as rain, snow, the laws of gravity, etc.

  • "Instead, he equates angels with the natural forces" "In short, angels and demons do not exist." So you're saying that natural forces don't exist. If that's not what you meant you might want to revise your answer. – Heshy Jan 23 at 21:33
  • @Heshy, I think he means that "angels and daemons do not exist [as supernatural beings]". This is similar to the intent of my question, which was looking for counter-examples: is it possible to interpret the original Hebrew scriptures as if there is only one supernatural being? – Ray Butterworth Jan 23 at 22:11
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    This is inaccurate; Maimonides explicitly acknowledges the existence of angels. Even if he didn't, his interpretation of that passage wouldn't prove one way or another. – Jay Jan 23 at 23:34
  • @Jay I think Maimonides understood angels to be the natural forces, such as the rain, snow, and wind. As far as proof, philosophically, demons do not exist because it would be illogical to imagine that G-d created "dark forces" (Maimonides did not believe in demons) when the Bible says that G-d created the world "Very good." It is likewise philosophically impossible to say that angels [as supernatural beings] exists since G-d is all-powerful and needs no helpers. – Jonathan Jan 24 at 1:31
  • Hashem creates beings for a specific task. Thus, three malachim came to Avraham but only two left as each malach had an individual task and only existed for that task. These are the beings that are supernatural in nature. Hashem also uses forces of nature or living beings as appropriate if they are needed. – sabbahillel Jan 24 at 1:41

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