As we continue to talk about angels and men, we cannot ignore the common understanding that God sends His angels to be our aid. That when we are in trouble, we can call on God and He will send down His angels to surround us, protect us, heal us, and hold us. I think we probably get this idea from Jesus and His temptation in the wilderness, where He both declares that He could call down angels and is, after the temptation, tended by angels as He regains His strength.
But that's Jesus, not man.
Men's relationship with angels is a little more complicated. Just consider, for example, Elijah, who was also in the wilderness in need of some tending to. To the prophet, God sent ravens. Ravens seem a strange choice if angels are available....
Throughout the Scriptures, we see angels coming from time to time. They come to check out the situation in Sodom, staying with Lot and pulling him into his house to save him from the wicked crowd that has gathered outside. We see one come and wrestle with Jacob on the edge of the Jabbok River as he makes his way home to his brother Esau and his ailing father. We see angels standing in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
And angels, of course, come heralding all kinds of messages. It is an angel that comes to Gideon in the winepress and calls him a "mighty warrior." It is an angel that comes to Elizabeth and tells her of her impending pregnancy. It is an angel who informs Mary that she is "highly favored," and the same who clues Joseph in on what is actually going on.
All of these encounters lead us to believe that the angels have come for our sake, that they are fundamentally "for" us in some way. But if we go all the way back to the book of Joshua, we will see that one man dared to actually ask the question. And the answer is a poignant reminder about who the angels really are.
Israel has just come into Canaan, and they have celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land. Joshua, the man who succeeded Moses in leading Israel into Canaan, heads toward Jericho and runs right smack into an angel. Joshua went up to him and asked, 'Are you one of us or one of our enemies?' He answered, 'Neither one! I am here as the commander of the Lord's army.' (Joshua 5:13-14)
Now, Israel is of course engaged in this series of great battles. They are fighting for their inheritance, the land promised to their fathers by God hundreds of years ago. And throughout these battles, we see it play out that the Lord's army clearly fights "for" Israel; the angels are on Joshua's side.
But asked straight out, the angels put the warrior in his place. "We're not here for you or for them; we're here for God." And indeed, this is the testimony of angels throughout Scripture. They come for God's purposes, not man's.
Thus, when we encounter angels in our lives, we must not think that they have come for our sake. Rather, we must always be asking what God is up to. We must always be looking for the story that God is telling. For if the angels are here, it is for His sake, not ours. It is for His glory, not ours. They have come in His service that He might be glorified in us. Just as it was intended from the very beginning.