To the ancient world the sun, moon, and stars were seen as living creatures not just balls of gas or rock. That is why pagan cultures worshipped them, but to the Israelites, they were just members of the host of heaven who serve God. Who are the Hosts of Heaven? The Host of Heaven is sometimes referred to as Elohim (“gods”) collectively, as the body of heaven while God is the head of heaven. Kind of like Jesus as the head and the believers as the body of Christ. It can also be viewed as the Godhead or Trinity (but Jews didn’t have this revelation in the old testament).
Elohim is the plural version of El which means god in the generic sense. In scriptures that say you shall have no other “gods” before me, the word “gods” is translated from the Hebrew Elohim. For example, Deut 10:17 says For Adonai (the Lord) your God is God of gods and Lord of lords. ‘God of gods’ is translated from Elohim of Elohim. To the bible believers, the spiritual beings in heaven are not gods, but servants of the most high God. However, to the pagan nations, they were seen as part of a pantheon of gods. That’s how other ancient tribes ended up worshipping them as deities and praying to them, which the bible frowns upon even in the new covenant (Colossians 2:18, Hebrews 1:14). There are various beings in heaven and they differ in appearance and roles. In the Bible, there are Angels, Cherubs, Seraphs, and Sons of God.
Angels in the Bible appear as human-looking. There are numerous stories where angels appear but are merely called men because they look like people (Gen 18:1-2, and 22). Hebrews 13:2 suggest that angels can go unrecognized on earth living amongst people even today. In Judges 13 when an Angel appeared to Samson’s parents to tell them to make a Nazirite from the womb and give them instructions, Manoah Samson’s father, had no clue he was an angel and tried to prepare food for him as a gift. It seems like he thought the angel was just a prophet, he even asked the angel his name, and the angel inquired as to why he wanted to know. When Jacob wrestled the angel and got his name changed in Genesis 32:28-29 he also asked the angel’s name and got the same response. If the angel had wings then it would be obvious that he wasn’t human. When they appear in visions and dreams, however, they are illuminated and scary (Dan 4:10:4-7, 10-11, Acts 10:30). Angels DO NOT have wings. When Cornelius was visited by an angel in Acts 10, he described him as a “man with dazzling clothes”, but he never mentioned wings. It’s hard to imagine that he would omit something like wings when describing a winged human and only focus on his clothes. Anyone can wear fancy clothes but how many people have wings? If you saw a human with fancy clothes, you wouldn’t think much of it, but if you saw a human with wings, that is not something you would forget nor omit when telling others about it. Think about Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, the two angels lead Lot in his family out, but they didn’t pick them up and fly them away like superheroes, they ran with their feet. Angels in pre-4th Century artwork are not depicted without wings. In the 4th Century, wings were added to depictions of angels. This and many other changes came about with the European romanization of Christianity, which reinterpreted Jewish aspects of Christianity. For example, Cherubs were made to look like cupids (babies).
Linguistics lesson: The English word “Angel” comes from the Greek word Angelos (ἀγγελος), which means messenger. In Hebrew, it’s, Mal’ak (מלאך). This is a generic word used to refer to both human messengers and God’s messengers. In Genesis 32:1-3 it says, “Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels (Heb. mal’ak) of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim. Then Jacob sent messengers (Heb. mal’ak) before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. It refers to both spiritual messengers of God and human ones sent by Jacob. The English translations like the KJV made a point to distinguish heavenly messengers from earthly messengers by keeping Angel untranslated for heavenly messengers and translating the word for humans. Just like how in English we capitalize God to distinguish it from pagan gods. In Hebrew, there are no capital letters, so in Hebrew God and god are both written as Elohim (אֱלֹהִים), one must use context clues to distinguish. Although usually God is called the Lord God or Adonai, to distinguish him from pagan gods.
Cherubs and Seraphs:
Cherubs and Seraphs are depicted with wings and are always seen in God’s presence in, usually near his throne. These are not Angels because they are not Messengers they usually stay in God’s presence, meanwhile, Angels travel between heaven and Earth to deliver messages. The word Angel itself is simply the Greek word for Messenger.
Cherubs move around God’s throne room and humans don’t typically interact directly with humans like angels, they are usually seen by prophets through dreams and visions. The closest direct interaction of cherubs on earth is in Gen 3:24 when a Cherub is sent to guard the garden after the fall of humanity. God’s presence was in the garden so that is why they come close in that, but since then they have not appeared on grounds of the Earth, in the bible. Cherubs are described as 4-legged animals with different animal heads at different times, somewhat resembling creatures from other cultures like the Sphinx of the Greeks and Egyptians, the Shedu of Assyria, and Mushushu of Babylon. They have wings, sometimes two and sometimes four (Exodus 25:20 & 1 Kings 6:27, Ezekiel 41:18, Ezekiel 10:14). The cherubs were first seen in the garden, they guarded it against humans after the fall (Gen 3:24). Images of Cherubs are symbolically placed throughout the Tabernacle and Temple. They are embroidered on the curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1), on the veil that marked off the holy of holies (Exodus 26:31), and gold statues of them are placed on top of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:17-22), as well on in the walls of the Temple (1 Kings 6:29) and as larger gold statues in the Temple (1 Kings 6:23-28). In Revelation 4:6-9 the cherubs have 6 wings like the seraphs in Isaiah 6. Many European churches have paintings of these little Cupid-looking things and call them Cherubs. But Cherubs are not babies and they don’t look like cupid, cupid is a pagan deity. It’s important that we don’t use modern imagery based on Greco-Roman mythology (images of Cupid or nymphs), to define the host of Elohim (God) because then biblical understanding of them gets lost.
Seraphs are serpent-like creatures that are described with 6 wings (Isaiah 6:1-6). There are theories that Satan was actually a seraph since he deceived humans as a serpent. In Revelation 4:6-9 we see hybrids of this imagery from Isaiah 6 (Seraphs with 6 wings) and Ezekiel.
Sons of God (Divine Council):
The Sons of God (sometimes referred to as the Divine Council) are a group of beings that sit in heaven observing the world and offering ideas for judgment to God. In Psalm 89:5-7 there are multiple different titles referencing them: 5 The heavens will praise Your wonders, Yahweh; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the “holy ones” (also myriad of angels). 6 For who in the skies is comparable to Yahweh? Who among the “Sons of God” (also Sons of the Mighty) is like Yahweh, 7 A God greatly feared in the ”Assembly of the Holy Ones” (also highest angelic powers), He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne.
Other scriptures for Sons of God are that translated as angels, heavenly beings/court, or son of the mighty. The Hebrew text in all of these passages says Benei Elohim (בְּנֵ֣י אֵלִ֑ים) or Sons (Ben) of God (Elohim).
Ps 29:1 (NLT) Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings [Sons of God]; honor the Lord for his glory and strength. Job 1:6 One day the members of the heavenly court [Sons of God] came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. 7 “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”
Job 38:7 (NLT) as the morning stars sang together and all the angels [Sons of God] shouted for joy? NOTICE: The angels are the singing stars, but the Sons of God (divine council) are shouting.