The Fire of the Angels

He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God
Daniel 3:25

You don’t want to meet angels.

annunciation1

Mary knew this.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God
Luke 1:28-30

Generally, the less terrifying a being is, the less it needs ot tell you not to be afraid.

A disclaimer: the rest of this post is speculative on my part, trying to understand the role of fire in the Bible.  But whatever angels “looks like,” it seems fair they are bitter visualized as terrifying

cherubim

than as whatever this is supposed to be

victorian cherub

Angels are made of fire. They live in fire. They wield fire, and they disappear into fire.

When Paul mocks the followers of the Law as “angel worshipers” (Colossians 2:18), he is referring to the idea that the Burning Bush itself was an angel

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:1-4

Eastern Christians sometimes believe that the burning bush was perhaps another form of messenger, a Woman transformed, Woman clothed with the sun

www-St-Takla-org-Moses-Prophet-05-Burning-Bush-Coptic

Moses — after receiving the Commandments — is “radiant,” or better, “radiated” (marked with radiation burns)

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.
Exodus 34:29-31

Mary herself is now clothed with the sun, crowned with suns, fusion reactors of imaginable flame

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
Revelations 12:1

woman of the apocalypse and red dragon

Angels wield swords of fire

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:24

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During the Annunciation to Samson’s mother, the Angel reveals himself as he is confused in a holocaust of fire

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.”

The angel of the Lord replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord.)

Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”

He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord.
Judges 13:15-21

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Even the poetic portions of the Hebrew Bible attest to this. From the Canaanites to the Muslims, all worshipers of El could agree that

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.

Psalms 104:2-4

One way of viewing Christianity is that angels no longer separate us from the tree of life, but now their will see us through to eternal life

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1031

This purification, when it occurs after death, is known as purgatory. But St Paul speaks as if a similar (or same) process can happen during life too. He also uses the image of fire

If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
1 Corinthians 12:15

In both cases the source and nature of this fire seems to be the same: one is surrounded by angels.

When the day is easy, when we can see the blue sky and the warm sun, the LORD rides the clouds…

But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful.
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol Him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord
Psalms 68:4

But when it is dark, only fire will let us see with human eyes. When we can no longer see the LORD, His messengers will not be denied

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
Exodus 13:21-22

What sort of person sees a pillar of flame, and says “Yes, let’s go that way!”

pillar-of-flame

Perhaps the sort of person who hear this, and thinks, “Whatever the Spirit of Truth has to say, it must be something I should hear!”

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:12-13

The Spirit comes with flames.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
Acts 2:1-3

TonguesofFirebyathyGrimm©2012
The LORD with His host of Angels.

As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear
Matthew 13:40-43

Letter to the Philippians

Philippi_Daumet_Direkler

My friend Steve Boint called it “the dumb semite theory”: the view of some people that the ancient Hebrews were so simple minded that their holy text is a line-by-line collection of various sources, almost randomly edited together. Many scholars, such as Robert Alert and E. Theodore Mullen have written on how ancient Hebrew and Canaanite writing works.

Without repeating all of that, it is worth describing doublets in Hebrew literature, escalating parallelism in Hebrew poetry, and how St. Paul combines both in two lines of the Letter to the Philippians.

Ancient Hebrew Literature

One of the bad consequences of the “dumb semite theory” is one of the greatest works of ancient literature, the Book of Samuel, is read only by academics who believe that complexity is a result of random editing.

For instance, the phrase “Is Saul, too, among the prophets” occurs twice in the Book of Samuel. There are actual scholars who believe this is because the ancient Hebrews were so illiterate they actually included the same incident twice, and later on had to change the details to cover their tracks.

Fools.

Saul Before Samuel and the Prophets

The first time, Samuel says that Saul will be seized by a spirit, “prophecy” (act like a mad man), and this is a proof of his kingship:

“After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.
1 Samuel 10:5-7

Sure enough, the spirit seizes Paul, he acts like a mad man, and he is the true king of Israel

When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” And when he had finished prophesying, he went to the high place.
1 Samuel 10:10-13

But later, we learn the truth. This is brought home as David’s war against Saul begins and Saul seeks a meeting with Samuel to perhaps end it

But he can’t keep his composure. He acts like a mad-man, tearing off his clothes, embarrassing himself and showing Samuel — the man who anointed him — the horror of that anointing. The same phrase — Is Saul, too, among the prophets — is used again. The reader remembers happier times and the heart breaks

Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?”

And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
1 Samuel 19:22-24

Samuel misread the signs. Saul was crazy from the beginning. Samuel anointed a Mad King.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry

The poetry of the Hebrew Bible is based on parallelism, where the first incident of a concept is in some way magnified by what comes after

Lamech and his Two Wives 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05061

The form is used three times in perhaps the oldest poem in the entire bible, in inexplicable Song of Lamech – a story of killings further removed from Paul than Paul is from us

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Genesis 4:23-24

The is used in the Writings, such as Psalms

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalms 22:9-10

Verse 9 uses two concepts of a mother’s body, womb and breasts, and escalates, from the physical location of the infant before birth (the womb) to the plcae the child is loved, all of its life (the breast, or heart).

Verse 10 does the reverse, taking an abstract concept “from birth” and emphasizing its concrete reality (“from my mother’s breast”).

… and Job, with a parallel between lips and tongue, going further inward to emphasize the inwardness of the sufferer

my lips will not say anything wicked,
and my tongue will not utter lies.
Job 27:4

It is used in the Latter Prophets

Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Isaiah 49:23

They “bow” — but then they “lick the dust.” The same concept of submission is paralleled, but its manner is escalated

as it was in the Former Prophets..

The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
2 Samuel 22:5-6

… from waves to torrents, from cords to snares.

Saul’s Reuse of Biblical Literature and Poetry

Saul — the other Saul, Saul of Tarsus — was a “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). That is, unlike the Sadducees, he believed the entire Hebrew Bible, including the Prophets and the Writings. Thus he was more exposed to the use of ancient Hebrew literature and poetry than Sadduccees, and would have been more influenced by that tradition than even many other educated Jews.

Saul uses the same literary technique of escalating parallelism, combined with the ‘twist ending’ used in the Book of Samuel, in the Letter to the Philippians. The letter is short, and mostly retreads themes of letters presented earlier in the Bible.

In the first chapter of the Letter to the Philippians, there’s this odd line:

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ;
Philippians 1:12-13

That word “praetorium” is tricky. It might be a reference to the imperial jailers or guards (fitting, as Paul is under a sort of house arrest while during a long appeals process in Rome), or palace guard, or even imperial palace.

Perhaps Paul has attracted sympathizers with his jailers.

Praetoriumreal_syria

But in the second to last verse of the letter, the meaning is clarified.

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
Philippians 4:22

Paul literally has sympathizers in the headquarters of the military. And in the household of the Emperor himself.

The twist ending – Paul has access, not just to his jailers, but to those close of the head of government.

And he showed this through two lines of Hebrew poetry, wrote in Greek, which bookend his letter to the Philippians

It has become known throughout the whole praetorium
All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

The Good News

What has become known, the greeting of the saints, is the Gospel, the good news. As Paul writes:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8

The LORD has become Man!

The Creator has become a Creation!

He suffers with us, He dies with us, He lives with us.

With us He is hung on a tree. With us He weeps.

david-absalom

With us – with Paul, with you, with me – He despairs

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Philippians 1:21-24

With us He is not understood

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.”
Matthew 27:46-47

With us — even with Nero, the Caesar of Casear’s household — He has a mother

Nerón_y_Agripina

With us He drinks milk!

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With us He drinks wine!

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With us, even when we don’t see Him!

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Letter to the Ephesians

The old man was a murderer.

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Of all the men and women in the Bible, only Paul begins as a villain and ends as a hero.

He is first seen, almost as an afterthought, in the murder of St. Stephen

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.
Acs 7:55-8:1

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But this Saul of Tarsus — this St. Paul — was still recognizably the same man after his conversion than before. It was before his conversion, before he understood how or why he was blinded, that his character was revealed

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

Saul was and remained, a man searching for God

The Letter to the Ephesians, a public epistle meant to be read aloud, is also the most private of Saul’s letters. Nowhere else in the Bible is the written directions of a man to others so clearly a man’s reflection on himself

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32

Paul tells us — tells himself? — to imitate God

Yet the Man, God, himself instructed us to act in the actions of another

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.
John 8:37-39

Abram, who became Abraham, shares some traits with Saul, who became Paul. Both had transformations. Both were incomplete transformations.

Abraham’s character is introduced as a cautious man, a coward, who uses deceit to protect those he loves

And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
Genesis 12:11-13

But it is later, against a far greater threat, Abraham instead uses logic and reason– even when the the subject of the conversation is the LORD Himself

Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Genesis 18:22-26

In both cases Abraham is fearful of the consequences to his loved ones. In both cases he’s cautious. He improves, as Saul improves. But he is his own self, if not, entirely, his old self.

And not without the pain of his old self

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Genesis 18 may be the most important single chapter of the Bible. We see Abraham in his fullness, the new yet recognizably the same man once known as Abram. We see the LORD, eating steak and drinking milk with Abraham, the Man God, who so loved His creation that He Himself became a creature. And we see this becoming, not only from Abraham, but from the LORD

The four verses before Abraham’s bargaining for Sodom, and direct after the meal of steak and curds and milk are as follows

Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Genesis 18:16-19

The Divine Internal Dialog. The LORD in His full humanity. The LORD, fully human and fully divine, that also imitated Abraham

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Mark 6:1-6

At the radical core of Christianity is the greatest miracle, the greatest act of love, the work of the greatest will imaginable. The Creator became a Ceature. God became man. Paul says to immigate God, the Lord says to imitate Abraham, and Abraham himself imigates God and Paul.

Abraham_Isaac

Few men ever see another, knowing that he would die for him, that he would be tortured in his place

As Paul wrote

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

I wonder what the LORD thought to himself, seeing Isaac?

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Genesis 22:6-7

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Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

But God loves us that much.

Christ could have taken Himself down fromt he Christ. He didn’t. He could have avoided death. He didn’t. He could have avoided hunger and pain and thirst. He didn’t. The One so loved us the One became one of us.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Mark 12:29-30

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6