Meditations in Hebrews 1: 13. Angels versus the Son
Heb 1:7,8 In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
The writer has already started making comparisons between angels and the Son. In verse 4 we read, “So he became as much superior to the angels.” In verse 5 he has said, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son” and then in verse 6, “when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Now he goes on to make a further comparison. (Beware: to try to get as full an understanding as possible of the way the Hebrews’ writer thinks, we are going to have to look a little into the background of the scriptures he quotes along the way.)
He next takes a simple quote about angels: “In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” Here we appear to have a quote from Psa 104:4 which, when you look it up, reads, “He makes winds his messengers (angels), flames of fire his servants.” Note a possible alternative ‘angels’ for our translation, ‘messengers’.
Again it is a quotation from the Septuagint, that Greek version that came into being between 300 and 200BC and was widely used by the Hellenistic Jews, those Greek speaking Jews who had spread across the Greek and then Roman empires who were beginning to lose the use of their Hebrew language. It is believed that it had its origins in Alexandria in Egypt and some 70 or 72 scholars were commissioned to carry out a Greek translation of the existing Hebrew scriptures.
It has been suggested that the Septuagint (sometimes referred to by the Roman numbers as the LXX) reflects the developing doctrine of angels during the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This version would have been known and used by first century Jews and that is perhaps the reason the writer to the Hebrews uses quotes that are more aligned with that Greek version. Perhaps we should note before moving on that our Psa 104:4 quote speaks of the storm wind and the lightning as agents of God’s purposes, which the Septuagint interprets as something like ‘he makes the angels his servants of change.’ The point being, behind all this, that he defines angels as servants of God.
Then comes the contrast: “But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.” (v.8) Now I have purposely split what is the complete quote which is verses 8 and 9 to show the importance of careful reading. Looking at verse 8 you might legitimately ask, “How does he take that quote to mean the Son?” Good question. Read on in verse 9: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
The words, “your God” show us that that psalmist saw two beings who are being referred to, and what might have appeared so strange, that perhaps the early scholars balked at it, was that the psalmist was prophetically talking to one he referred to as ‘God’ and yet that one had had God setting him up above others. See it more clearly with the complete quote from the Old Testament: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” (Psa 45:6,7)
It is obviously a common form of argument in those days (and should be therefore today) for we see the apostle Peter using the same approach when anointed by the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost he preached the first ‘Christian’ sermon. In fact, he used it twice. First it was in respect of the resurrection: “David said about him (the Coming One, the Messiah): “I saw the Lord (God) always before me (the Messiah). Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you (God) will not abandon me (the Coming One, the Messiah) to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One (the Coming One, the Messiah) see decay.” (Acts 2:25-27 quoting Psa 16:8-11) The one the psalmist was referring to, and appears to be speaking, separates himself off from ‘the Lord’ and yet has the confidence he will not stay in the grave. Peter applies that to Jesus.
But then he also uses the same approach in respect of Jesus going up into heaven and sitting with his Father: “For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord (God) said to my Lord (the Coming One, the Messiah): “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Acts 2:34,35 quoting directly from Psa 110:1) Note particularly in Psa 110, “The LORD said to my Lord.” i.e. ‘the I AM (God) said to my Lord, sit at my right hand.”
Apart from the truths being conveyed in the words of the scriptures we have quoted, it seems to me that there is a challenge here to be careful as we read the scriptures. The words are clearly there and they clearly show, as the various New Testament writers show us, that these Old Testament words applied in the various prophecies to the Coming One, the Messiah, now seen as Jesus Christ. The point I would make is that the Jewish scholars had had these scriptures before them for centuries but could never believe what the scriptures actually said, that the Messiah would be God’s Son, one who would return and rule at his Father’s side. Do we have similar blindness that stops us from seeing the wonder of God’s will in His word, being applied into our lives today?
But to return to the main point of these verses, it is that there may be myriads of angels but they are merely God’s servants. Jesus, by comparison, is the unique Son of God who is actually worshipped by angels. The reality of that is seen in Revelation 5. read it and wonder afresh, and then join in the worship.