What Does Genesis Say About Angels?

Adda Frick
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Angels are created beings that serve God and minister to His saints (Hebrews 1:6­–7, 14). The Bible includes many stories of angels, revealing their roles and capabilities. The first book of the Bible includes several stories of angels. The way Genesis portrays these angels is particularly important as the author found these stories and characteristics to be essential to our understanding of angels in the rest of the Bible. These stories, though not exhaustive, share a variety of angels’ characteristics and roles as they serve God.

Guarding the Garden (Genesis 3:24)

The beginning of Genesis tells the story of creation, where God made the world for man and called it good. In 2:9, Genesis gives more details about creation and two trees, one of them forbidden, and one of them meant to be eaten of. God promised that the forbidden tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, would end in death if they ate of it. The Tree of Life, however, was included in the trees that God said were good to eat of (2:16). As the next chapter unfolds, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the forbidden tree resulting in the Fall, causing man to know he was naked and know good and evil (3:7, 22).

Instead of allowing man to eat of the tree of life causing him to live in a cursed and sinful state forever, God sent a cherubim, which is a certain kind of angel, to guard the tree with a flaming sword to prevent that eternal broken state from happening (3:24).

The role of the cherubim was to guard the Tree of Life, and in some ways protect man from living forever in his sin nature. We see this role of a protector and guard later on in the Bible as well—carvings and images of the cherubim were present on the ark of the covenant and in the temple which Solomon built, and Cherubim are present in God’s throne room. You can read more about the cherubim, the temple, and the mercy seat in Genesis 3:24, Exodus 25, 1 Kings 6–8, and Ezekiel 10.

Hagar (Genesis 16:1–15, bookended by 21:15–21)

The story of the Israelites begins when God promises to give Abraham to a son, Isaac, through his wife, Sarah. However, as Sarah grew older, her faith in God’s promise faded and Abraham had a son, Ishmael, with Sarah’s maid servant, Hagar. Bookending Hagar’s story is the appearance of an angel to give and reiterate a promise to her that her son would produce a nation.

The first appearance is in Genesis 16:1–15. Here, Hagar, pregnant with her son, wanders the desert after running away from Sarah. The angel of the Lord appears and promises that the son she has will produce a nation. Later, after her son Ishmael is born, Sarah sends Hagar out again. After wandering in the desert and nearing the point of death, Hagar cries out to the Lord. The Lord hears her and saves Hagar and Ishmael, once again promising Ishmael would become a great nation through the appearance of an angel.

The appearance of angels both opens and closes Hagar’s story to provide comforting news and protect her. You can read the full story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 16:1–16, and 21:8–21.

Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot (Genesis 19:1–22)

Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities in the ancient near east. The cities were extremely wicked and Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived in Sodom. The Lord knew the wickedness of the cities and that no one there was righteous, so He set out to destroy them. However, before raining fire on the cities, God sends two angels to the cities and they rescue Lot and his family. In this story the angels bring news of the coming destruction and show their supernatural powers by blinding a mob of men. This story highlights the powers of angels and reiterates their roles as messengers of God. Read more about this story in Genesis 19:1–22.

Jacob and the Angel (Genesis 31:1–3, 11–13, and 32:1)

Like Hagar’s story, this chapter of Jacob’s life opens and closes with the appearance of an angel. The first appearance is through a dream—this angel warns Jacob of the cruelty planned against him by his father-in-law, Laban (31:11). Jacob quickly obeys the warning and flees to his homeland as God instructs. Though Laban does pursue him, he has been commanded by God through a dream not to harm Jacob. At the end of this account, Jacob enters the land that God told him to, but before encountering his brother Esau, God’s angels “met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” Their appearance seemed to indicate to Jacob that the Lord was present where he had just been.

The full story of these appearances can be found in Genesis 31–32, and much of Jacob’s story can be found in Genesis 27–35.

Angels Do What God Tells Them

These stories of angels in Genesis exhibit their power and role as they deliver promises, protect God’s people, destroy cities, and give assurance of God’s presence. The rest of the Old Testament continues to build on these revelations of angels in their specific, God ordained roles as his messengers.

For Further Reading:

An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch

by Herbert Wolf

The Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—are the vital first books in the Bible. Understanding their scope, meaning,...

book cover for An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch