|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:4-14 Many Jews had a superstitious or idolatrous respect for angels, because they had received the law and other tidings of the Divine will by their ministry. They looked upon them as mediators between God and men, and some went so far as to pay them a kind of religious homage or worship. Thus it was necessary that the apostle should insist, not only on Christ's being the Creator of all things, and therefore of angels themselves, but as being the risen and exalted Messiah in human nature, to whom angels, authorities, and powers are made subject. To prove this, several passages are brought from the Old Testament. On comparing what God there says of the angels, with what he says to Christ, the inferiority of the angels to Christ plainly appears. Here is the office of the angels; they are God's ministers or servants, to do his pleasure. But, how much greater things are said of Christ by the Father! And let us own and honour him as God; for if he had not been God, he had never done the Mediator's work, and had never worn the Mediator's crown. It is declared how Christ was qualified for the office of Mediator, and how he was confirmed in it: he has the name Messiah from his being anointed. Only as Man he has his fellows, and as anointed with the Holy Spirit; but he is above all prophets, priests, and kings, that ever were employed in the service of God on earth. Another passage of Scripture, Ps 102:25-27, is recited, in which the Almighty power of the Lord Jesus Christ is declared, both in creating the world and in changing it. Christ will fold up this world as a garment, not to be abused any longer, not to be used as it has been. As a sovereign, when his garments of state are folded and put away, is a sovereign still, so our Lord, when he has laid aside the earth and heavens like a vesture, shall be still the same. Let us not then set our hearts upon that which is not what we take it to be, and will not be what it now is. Sin has made a great change in the world for the worse, and Christ will make a great change in it for the better. Let the thoughts of this make us watchful, diligent, and desirous of that better world. The Saviour has done much to make all men his friends, yet he has enemies. But they shall be made his footstool, by humble submission, or by utter destruction. Christ shall go on conquering and to conquer. The most exalted angels are but ministering spirits, mere servants of Christ, to execute his commands. The saints, at present, are heirs, not yet come into possession. The angels minister to them in opposing the malice and power of evil spirits, in protecting and keeping their bodies, instructing and comforting their souls, under Christ and the Holy Ghost. Angels shall gather all the saints together at the last day, when all whose hearts and hopes are set upon perishing treasures and fading glories, will be driven from Christ's presence into everlasting misery.
Verse 7. - And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. A further intimation of the position assigned in the Old Testament to angels, contrasted by means of μὲν and δὲ, with further quotations with reference to the SON. A difficulty has been felt with regard to this passage (cited, as usual, from the LXX.) on the ground of the original Hebrew being supposed not to bear the meaning assigned to it. Hence the writer of the Epistle is said to have made use of an erroneous rendering for the purpose of his argument. Certainly the context of the psalm, in which God is represented as arraying himself in the glories and operating through the powers of nature, suggests no other meaning than that he uses the winds as his messengers, etc., in the same poetical sense in which he was said in the preceding verse to make the clouds his chariot; cf. Psalm 148:8, "Fire and hail, snow and vapors, stormy wind fulfilling his word." If so, there is no necessary reference in the original psalm to angels. But it is to be observed, on the other hand, that the structure of ver. 4 is not in the Hebrew identical with that of "he maketh the clouds his chariot" in ver. 3, and hence, in itself, suggests some difference of meaning. For
(1) a different verb is used; and
(2) the order of the accusatives following the verb is reversed; in both which respects the I,XX. correctly follows the Hebrew. In ver. 3 the verb is שׂום (ὁ τιθεὶς in the LXX.), the primary meaning of which is "to set," "to place," and, when followed by two accusatives as object and predicate, denotes" to constitute or render a person or thing what the predicate expresses." In ver. 4 the verb is עָשָׂה (ὁ ποιῶν in the LXX.), the primary meaning of which, when used actively, is "to form," "to fabricate." It is used of God making the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:7, 16; Genesis 2:2, etc.). When elsewhere, as here, it is followed by two accusatives, one of them (which may come either first or second in order) is found to denote the material out of which anything is formed. Thus Exodus 38:3, "He made all the vessels (of) brass" (cf. Exodus 30:25; Exodus 36:14; Exodus 37:15, 23). Hence an obvious meaning of ver. 4, so far as the mere language is concerned, would be, "He maketh [or, 'formeth'] his messengers [or, 'angels'] of winds, and his ministers of a flaming fire." (Winds certainly, not spirits, because of the context. But here the Greek πνεύματα is, in itself, as ambiguous as the Hebrew רוּחות and was as probably meant to denote winds.) According to this rendering, the meaning of the verse would seem to be that, out of the natural elements of wind and fire, some special agencies are called into being or operation; not simply that winds and fire generally are used for God's purposes. The change of phraseology between vers. 3 and 4 certainly suggests some change in the idea of the psalmist. What, then, are these agencies? What is meant by the "messengers" and "ministers" connected with the elements of wind and fire? The author of the Epistle (and probably the LXX. too, though the words ἀγγέλοι and λειτουργοὶ are, in themselves, as ambiguous as the Hebrew) saw in these words a reference to the angels, who are denoted by the same two words in Psalm 103:20, 21, and who are undoubtedly spoken of elsewhere in the Old Testament as operating in the forces of nature (as in the death of the Egyptian firstborn, the pestilence in the time of David, and the destruction of Sennacherib's army), and seem, in some sense, to be identified with the winds themselves in Psalm 18:10, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind;" and in Psalm 35:5, "Let them be as chaff before the wind; and let the angel of the LORD chase them." We say that the LXX., as well as the author of the Epistle, probably intended to express this meaning. It is, indeed, more than probable; for, ambiguous as may be the words ἀγγέλοι and λειτουργοὶ ιν τηεμσελ´εσ, the structure of the Greek sentence (in which "his angels" and "his ministers" are the objects, arid "winds" and "flames of fire" the predicates), seems to necessitate this meaning, which is further probable from what we know of Alexandrian angelology. It may thus well be that, whether or net the LXX. (rendering, as it does, the Hebrew word for word) gives the exact force of the original phrase, it hits its essential meaning, as intimating angelic agency in nature. And the learned Jews of Alexandria, followed as they are by the later rabbis generally, and by the writer of this Epistle, were, to say the least, as likely to understand the Hebrew as any modern scholars. The question, however, is not, after all, of great importance. For let us grant that the writer of the Epistle unwittingly adduced an erroneous rendering in the course of his argument. What then? It is not necessary to suppose that the inspiration of the sacred writers was such as to enlighten them in matters of Hebrew criticism. If it guarded them from erroneous teaching, it was sufficient for its purpose. And in this case the passage, as cited, at any rate expresses well the general doctrine of the Old Testament about angels, viz. that, unlike the Son, they are but subordinate agents of the Divine purposes, and connected especially with the operations of nature. It is to be observed, too, that the quotations generally in this Epistle are adduced, not as exhaustive proofs, but rather as suggestive of the general teaching of the Old Testament, with which the readers are supposed to be familiar.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Or "to the angels", as in the following verse, "to the Son", which stands opposed to this; and the words said to them, or of them, are found in Psalm 104:4
who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire: this cannot be understood of the wind and lightning, and of God's making these his messengers and ministers to do his will; for such a sense is not suitable to the scope of the psalm, from whence they are taken, nor to the order of the words in which they stand; for it is not said he makes spirits, or winds, his angels, and flaming fire his ministers, but the reverse; and is contrary to the design of the apostle in citing them, which is to show the superiority of Christ to angels, of whom it is said, that they are made spirits: they are "spirits", created ones, and so differ from God the Creator: they are incorporeal ones, and so differ from men; they are immaterial, and so die not; they are spiritual substances subsisting in themselves: and they are "made" such by God the Father, and by the Son the Lord Jesus Christ, within the six days of the creation, and all at once; for it is not to be supposed that the Lord is daily making them; and this proves the Son to be God, as well as more excellent than the angels; unless this is to be understood of the daily disposal of them in providence, in causing winds, thunder, lightning, and the like. Some choose to supply the word with "as", and read, who maketh his angels as winds; for invisibility, velocity, power, and penetration: "and his ministers as a flame of fire"; and these are the same with the angels, for they are ministers to God; they attend his presence; are ready to perform any service for him; they sing his praise, and are his chariots in which he rides: and they are ministers to Christ; they attended at his incarnation: were solicitous for his preservation, ministered to him in distress, assisted at his resurrection, and accompanied him in his ascension, and will be with him at his second coming: and they are as a flame of fire, so called from their great power, force, and swiftness; and from their burning love, and flaming zeal, hence named seraphim; and because they are sometimes the executioners of God's wrath, and will descend in flaming fire, when Christ shall be revealed from heaven: angels sometimes appear in fiery forms; the chariots and horses of fire, by which Elijah was carried up to heaven, were no other than angels, in such forms: so the Jews (x) say of the angels,
"all the angels, their horses are horses of fire, and their chariots fire, and their bows fire, and their spears fire, and all their instruments of war fire.''
And they have a notion, that an angel is half water, and half fire (y).
(x) Sepher Jetzirah, p. 16. Ed. Rittangel. (y) T. Hieros. Roshhashana, fol. 58. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
7. of—The Greek is rather, "In reference TO the angels."
spirits—or "winds": Who employeth His angels as the winds, His ministers as the lightnings; or, He maketh His angelic ministers the directing powers of winds and flames, when these latter are required to perform His will. "Commissions them to assume the agency or form of flames for His purposes" [Alford]. English Version, "maketh His angels spirits," means, He maketh them of a subtle, incorporeal nature, swift as the wind. So Ps 18:10, "a cherub … the wings of the wind." Heb 1:14, "ministering spirits," favors English Version here. As "spirits" implies the wind-like velocity and subtle nature of the cherubim, so "flame of fire" expresses the burning devotion and intense all-consuming zeal of the adoring seraphim (meaning "burning), Isa 6:1. The translation, "maketh winds His messengers, and a flame of fire His ministers (!)," is plainly wrong. In the Ps 104:3, 4, the subject in each clause comes first, and the attribute predicated of it second; so the Greek article here marks "angels" and "ministers" as the subjects, and "winds" and "flame of fire," predicates, Schemoth Rabba says, "God is called God of Zebaoth (the heavenly hosts), because He does what He pleases with His angels. When He pleases, He makes them to sit (Jud 6:11); at other times to stand (Isa 6:2); at times to resemble women (Zec 5:9); at other times to resemble men (Ge 18:2); at times He makes them 'spirits'; at times, fire." "Maketh" implies that, however exalted, they are but creatures, whereas the Son is the Creator (Heb 1:10): not begotten from everlasting, nor to be worshipped, as the Son (Re 14:7; 22:8, 9).
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