December 2011 • Volume XIII, Issue 20
The Angels and the Giving of the Law
There are five texts in the Bible that speak of the
angels’ role in the giving of the law at Sinai. The first occurs in
the last recorded speech of the 120-year-old Moses, at the start of
the penultimate chapter of the Pentateuch—his blessing of Israel—where
he tells us that he saw angels on Sinai thirty-eight years ago: "The
Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth
from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his
right hand went a fiery law for them" (Deut. 33:2).
David made the other Old Testament reference to angels at the giving
of the law: "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands
of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place"
(Ps. 68:17). The psalmist tells us that "twenty thousand, even
thousands of angels"—Moses refers to "ten thousands" (Deut. 33:2)—came
as an army ("chariots"). Like Moses, David also emphasises the
impressiveness and awesomeness of the angels on the holy mount. (The
psalmist’s reference to "angels" makes it clear that the "saints" or
holy ones in Deuteronomy 33:2 are heavenly messengers.)
The first believer recorded in the New Testament as referring to
angels at Sinai is the deacon, disputer, apologist and martyr,
Stephen. As part of his defence before the Sanhedrin, he stated that
the Jews "received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not
kept it" (Acts 7:53). Here we learn that the angels were not only
present at Mount Sinai but also that they had a role in the
communication of the law to Moses.
Paul, battling against the Judaizers, provides the fourth biblical
reference to angels at Mount Sinai: the law "was ordained by angels in
the hand of a mediator" (Gal. 3:19). The word here rendered "ordained"
has the same Greek root as that translated "disposition" in Acts 7:53.
The basic idea is that of arranging, ordering or appointing.
Hebrews 2:2, our fifth and final text, tells us not just that the law
was given in the presence of angels (Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17) or that it
was conveyed in an orderly way through angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19),
but that the law was actually "spoken" by angels (to Moses): "the word
spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and
disobedience received a just recompence of reward" (Heb. 2:2).
What was communicated by the angels here? Was it just the ten
commandments or the whole body of law given at Sinai (cf. Ex.
19:1–Num. 10:10)? The answer is the latter, the whole body of the law.
First, not only the decalogue was delivered at "Sinai" (Deut. 33:2;
Ps. 68:17). Second, in his critique of apostate Judaism, Stephen meant
that Israel had broken all the law and not just the ten commandments.
Third, there is a comparison and contrast between the Old Testament
law of Moses (not merely the decalogue) and the new covenant or gospel
of Christ (Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2).
What are the roles of the various parties in the giving of the law?
Perhaps, before reading this article, you thought: God to Moses to the
people. But there is a fourth party too, making it: God to the angels
to Moses to the people. In fact, a fifth party is also involved:
Christ (Acts 7:38, cf. v. 30), "the messenger of the covenant" (Mal.
3:1). This is the complete chain of revelation: the Triune God (the
sovereign Lord and author of the law) to Christ (the pre-incarnate
Word) to the angels (who were present to order and speak the law) to
Moses (the Old Testament mediator) to the people of God.
This is analogous to the book of Revelation. Revelation 1:1 teaches
this chain of revelation: God to Christ to an angel (not angels) to
John (not Moses) to the people of God. A close reading of Daniel 8-12
and Zechariah 1-6 will reveal something similar regarding God’s
revelation given through these two prophets.
Why should we have expected angels at Mount Sinai? First, we read of
them in connection with key events in the Bible, e.g., creation (Job
38:7), the birth of Jesus (Matt. 1-2; Luke 1-2), Christ’s resurrection
(Matt. 28:2-7) and the Lord’s second coming (II Thess. 1:7). Second,
angels frequently are present at theophanies or appearances of God
(e.g., Isa. 6; Eze. 1) and this was the greatest theophany in the Old
Testament with regard to time (almost a year; Ex. 19:1, cf. Num.
10:11), viewers (a whole nation of some two million or more) and
several impressive features (e.g., the earthquake, fire, clouds and
voice of God). Third, angels are often involved in revelation (Dan.
8-12; Zech. 1-6; Rev. 1-22) and this is the greatest revelation in the
Old Testament, both in terms of its "amount" (cf. Ex. 19:1–Num. 10:10)
and its foundational role. Fourth, the good angels are especially
interested in justice, a corollary of Jehovah’s law given at Sinai.
All the unfallen angels live in the presence of the holy God and are
all personally sinless and righteous. They all know what it was like
before sin entered heaven and earth. They saw the fall of Satan and
his angels (and God’s punishment of them) and the fall of Adam and Eve
(and God’s judgment upon the human race and the earthly creation). No
angel has experienced or will ever experience forgiving mercy.
The nature and history of the good angels and their role at the giving
of the law are in full accord with the Bible’s presentation of them as
ministers of God’s justice. They are powerful and holy, often evoking,
even in believers, fear or trembling or falling to the ground. Look
out for this as you read God’s Word. Also you will find that in
Scripture the justice they administer to the impenitent wicked is
usually death! Rev. Stewart
An attractive box set of 12 CDs on "Creation
and the Angels," plus handouts, is available for just £12 (inc. P&P).
The audio classes on angels include their creation and nature, number
and ranks, election and reprobation; cherubs, seraphs and archangels;
their activities as God’s messengers, guardians of God’s people,
ministers of God’s justice and worshippers of God. The final CD
answers the vital question: "How Do Angels Benefit Us Today?"
Are All Infants Dying in Infancy
The reader will recall that we are considering a number of texts that
a correspondent sent in to defend the proposition that absolutely all
infants who die in infancy are saved. In the two preceding issues of
the News, I examined Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20, Jeremiah 32:18-19 and
Deuteronomy 1:19. In every case there was no evidence whatsoever that
could serve as proof that all infants who die in infancy are saved.
In this issue of the News, I continue a discussion of the texts
that were cited. Next in line is Isaiah 7:16: "For before the child
shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou
abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings."
I really do not see the need of spending any time explaining this
verse. It seems sometimes that the defender of the proposition that
all infants dying in infancy are saved chooses rather randomly any
text that speaks of children. One ought to give some thought to a
verse, it seems to me, before quoting it in proof of what is, after
all, a very serious doctrinal matter.
The child referred to in the text is the child spoken of in Isaiah
7:14-15. That child is to be born of a virgin, and is, as all admit, a
reference to the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:23).
It has, therefore, nothing to do with the question we face.
The next text summoned in defence of the correspondent’s position is
Jonah 4:10-11: "Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd,
for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which
came up in a night and perished in a night: and should not I spare
Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand
persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left
hand; and also much cattle?"
While it is true that the text refers to the fact that Nineveh was a
huge city in which were more than sixty thousand children, those
children did not die in infancy, for they were spared because the city
repented at the preaching of Jonah. It is, therefore, impossible to
conclude from this passage that all infants dying in infancy are
saved, because all these infants did not die.
It is possible that the questioner argues somewhat along these lines:
God spared Nineveh, that is, God saved Nineveh. In that city were
sixty thousand children. God saved sixty thousand children. Perhaps
some of those children died in infancy. They were therefore saved.
I doubt whether that is the line of argument the questioner follows,
but, if it is, the reasoning is false. The text does not speak of any
infants that died in infancy, but only of children that were spared
destruction. Even if we assume that infants did die, the text simply
does not say that they went to heaven. We do great wrong to Scripture
if we try to read all these things into the text.
It is well to emphasize a couple of truths from this important
passage. Jonah (and Israel) had to be taught that the day was coming
when the church of Christ would be saved from all the nations of the
earth—even Nineveh, Israel’s arch-enemy (Matt. 12:41). Further,
contrary to Baptist doctrine, the text teaches that when God does
gather His church from the Gentiles, the same principle will hold true
that was true in the old dispensation: God saves His people in the
line of generations, believers and their seed. But of infants dying in
infancy the text says nothing.
Matthew 25:45-46 is also mentioned. Of this text it is said: "At the
final judgment Christ will reject those on His left hand on the basis
of what they had not done. Since infants dying in infancy cannot do
those things, how can they be rejected?"
The text reads, "Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto
you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it
not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but
the righteous into life eternal."
The argument, I think, runs along these lines. A person is given
heaven on the basis of his good works and the wicked go to hell
because they have not done good works. This is a position that is
contrary to Scripture. It is basically an Arminian position that
teaches that every man is punished or rewarded on the basis of what he
has chosen to do or not to do by his own free will.
Let it be emphasized, first of all, that a man is not given heaven
because he, by his own power or with his own spiritual resources, has
made himself worthy. Salvation is by grace alone. It is by grace for
adults, as well as children (Eph. 2:8-10). Matthew 25 itself
emphasizes this when Christ says to His sheep, "Come, ye blessed of my
Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of
the world" (34). It is also evident that this is true from the fact
that these saved are "the righteous," not because of their works, but
because of the righteousness of Christ freely imputed to them by
grace. Finally, it is evident from the fact that these righteous are
not aware themselves that they have done anything good (37-39). They
are unaware of this because they know that God works in them to will
and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13)
It is also true that the wicked go to hell because of the just
judgment of God who punishes the wicked for their sin. But the
Scriptures also teach that behind man’s disobedience and punishment
for sin stands the sovereign decree of reprobation. God saves His
people according to the decree of election in the line of generations,
but God also reprobates in the line of generations.
God punishes those who worship graven images unto the third and fourth
generation of them that hate Him (Ex. 20:5). That includes children.
Romans 9 is so clear one has to be willingly obtuse not to see that
sovereign reprobation is taught in this passage. There is no evidence
that sovereign reprobation excludes the children of reprobates who die
I am fully aware of the fact that few believe the truth of double
predestination in our day. But let us not forget that Augustine taught
it in the fifth century; all the Reformers preached it, including
Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox; and the doctrine is clearly
incorporated in the Reformation confessions, including the Belgic
Confession, the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster
Nevertheless, regardless of all these things, Matthew 25:44-45 does
not teach the salvation of all who die in infancy. Such an error is an
illegitimate deduction that the text does not support. Prof.
If you would like to receive the Covenant Reformed News
free by e-mail each month (and/or by post, if you are in the UK),
please contact Rev. Stewart and
we will gladly send it to you