Foundations for a Christian Worldview: Unseen Things (4)
“For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them…” Exodus 23.23, 24
An unseen spiritual world
Among the unseen aspects of the worldview vision that emerges in the Law of God, the reality of unseen spiritual beings other than God is indicated. The people of Israel were to understand that the unseen realm is populated by other creatures, spiritual in nature, which fulfill various purposes among the peoples of the earth.
In addition to the Angel of the LORD, the Law mentions cherubim as other spiritual beings which serve the purposes of God. We’re not given much detail concerning these servants of God, but we are to understand that they are real and so closely associated with God Himself that they always have His interests and will in mind – which is to say, they always have theinterests of God’s people in mind. The many representations of cherubim in the tabernacle would have reminded the people of Israel that around them unseen creatures of great beauty and power served the purposes of God on their behalf.
But the Law also intimates the presence in the unseen realm of spiritual beings favorable neither to God nor to His people. Their purposes were more violent and destructive.
Apart from “the serpent”, the Law does no more than suggest the existence of unseen spiritual forces of wickedness. It does so by its many mentions of the gods of the various pagan nations, and by strict warnings to God’s people to have nothing to do with these. There is only one God, as we have seen; how then to account for the many false deities served in so many abominable ways by the various pagan peoples? No explanation is given, but the reality of unseen powers of evil is clearly intimated. God does not want His people to be overly curious about possible spiritual forces or powers beyond those which He reveals to them, at least, not at this stage in the covenant.
Yet we suspect they are there, for false religion and the worship of terrible deities are ubiquitous among the pagan peoples of the day. The first and second commandments are designed, at least in part, to discourage peering into the unseen realm of wickedness on the part of God’s people. They must be aware of it, but not curious about it. And they must not indulge any of the practices of those peoples who sought contact with that aspect of the spiritual realm.
It was to be enough for God’s people then – and now – to know that these creatures exist, but to have nothing whatsoever to do with them.
The importance of these spiritual beings, and the role they will play in the unfolding story of God’s covenant, can be seen especially in two prominent unseen creatures – the Angel of the LORD and Satan.
The Angel of the Lord
The Angel of the LORD appears in the Law of God as a spiritual being sometimes identified with God and sometimes separate from Him. He speaks with the voice of God, with the authority of God, and in the Name of God. The word angel means simply, messenger. So when the Angel of the LORD speaks, He is the Word of God Who brings the message of God to His people. In this respect, the Angel of the LORD may be a kind of pre-incarnate manifestation of the second Person of the divine Trinity.
The Angel of the LORD can manifest Himself within the created order as He goes about to do God’s work (Num. 22.22ff). Does this also suggest a fuller and more potent “on the ground” manifestation of the Word in days to come?
We do not receive much explanation about the Angel of the LORD, but the impression we get from the times He appears is that He is a Being of great power and authority. His Word is to be received and obeyed without question. He represents God and comes to do God’s will on behalf of His people.
The second prominent spiritual being mentioned in the Law of God is Satan. We see him only in the garden of Eden, in Genesis 3. After that, he does not appear in the Law, although we can see the effects of his opposition to God in the sin that everywhere abounds in the books of Moses.
How did sin become established as a continuing condition effecting the human soul and the creation? The Law of God explains that sin entered through the rebellion of Adam and Eve, which was instigated by Satan, the serpent from of old (Rev. 20.2).
The Law of God presents Satan as a reality, but it does not reveal much about him. He is not even named in the Law; rather, he took the form of a serpent, and this is how the Lord was pleased to refer to him. He makes but one appearance in all the Law of God, but we are to understand that this was enough. By his guile and deceit, he plunged the creation into sin and trouble. It would take a mighty act of God to redeem, not only the people He had chosen for Himself, but the entire vast cosmos which He loves (Jn. 3.16).
We do not learn anything more about Satan until we get beyond the Law of God. All we know from the Law is that he exists in the unseen realm, and he is in some way related to the fallen and sinful condition of men. In the New Testament we learn that, just as God is attended by a great host of holy spiritual beings, Satan is attended by a large number of spiritual beings which joined him in rebelling against God, and were cast down to earth to spread the misery of sin throughout creation.
But the fact that so little is said about Satan in the Law of God reminds us that the story of humankind is not about Satan and the baleful effects of sin; it is about God and His grace, and His plan for ensuring that the world would know and enjoy His glory.
Sin has a “personal face” in the Law of God, but he is kept largely out of sight as God sets the stage for His glorious work of redemption and renewal in the unfolding of His covenant.
1. Why do we need to keep in mind that we exist within a vast realm of unseen spiritual beings?
2. How does the Angel of the LORD point forward to the coming of the Word of God in flesh?
3. How can believers help one another to be more mindful of these unseen beings?
Next steps – Preparation: Should the work of angels have a larger role in your Christian worldview? Talk with a Christian friend about this question.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.