Watch Out for Angels!

Have you ever noticed how sometimes one carries out one’s work effectively but without joy?  There are other times when every task is exhilarating and uplifting.  In both situations, the work gets done and your business progresses, but in the latter case, there’s an additional bounce in one’s step.

Building a marriage and building a business share many similarities.  There are times in every marriage when the marriage functions, but it operates mechanically.  Husband and wife carry out their duties and obligations but without passion.  At other times, every moment of life is enhanced by the magic of the marriage.

A peculiar few verses that help us understand this dynamic appear in Exodus soon after the Ten Commandments are given at Mount Sinai.

Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way, and to bring you to the place…Take heed of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him…if you obey his voice and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy to your enemies…For my angel shall go before you, and bring you to the Amorites…and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off.
(Exodus 23:20-23)

Israel has never before been told to follow an angel.  We’ve been told to obey God; we’ve been told to obey the Torah and its commandments, but an angel?  Never!

Furthermore, God repeatedly assures the Israelites that He will Himself be among them to protect them.  In fact, He even commanded them to build a Tabernacle for Him so He could dwell in their midst.  So what is with this angel? 

Perhaps catching a glimpse of him elsewhere will provide some insight.

I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite…and the Jebusite to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in the midst of you; because you are a stiff-necked people…and the people heard these bad words and mourned…
(Exodus 33.2-4)

The second case that sounds so similar to the first one makes clear that there is a problem. Despite the fact that the Angel is a messenger of God that will lead the Israelites to victory, the presence of the Angel conveys a lack of God’s direct intervention.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that there will be times when Israel will step out of line and no longer merit God’s direct involvement.  At those times, His support and guidance will come indirectly.  The practical results will be the same. They will still have to obey whatever the angel conveys, and they will still be protected.  However, the spiritual dimension will be weakened.  They will still be under the Divine wing, but the joy of being at one with God will be temporarily absent.

Both accounts of the angel are followed by details of restoring the relationship with God.  We are reminded of our duties and obligations.  What a blessing that even when Israel falls out of favor for a while, there is a road to restoration.

In the same way, when we fall out of love with our work, there is a way back.  When we fall out of love with our marriage, there is a way back.  In all these cases, the road to rebuilding and restoring is by fulfilling our duties and obligations.  Instead of allowing the temporary dissatisfaction to fester into a crisis, we focus on what we ought to be doing.  When Israel resumes loyalty to God and His commandments, God returns to dwell in their midst. 

At work and in our marriages, the bumps in the road that strip the excitement and happiness from us are often temporary.  We can mistakenly respond to the lack of joy by making poor choices and doing things that magnify the problem, or we can continue to do what needs to be done. That path leads us back to where we wish to be, living a fulfilling, harmonious life. 

11 thoughts on “Watch Out for Angels!”

  1. Dear Rabbi and Susan;
    Recently on your programming you talked about Abraham and his nephew Lot. The Lord appeared before Abraham at Mamre and there were three men Abraham called Lord. Then those men went down to Sodom but only two arrived and the KIng James Version calls them angels. Were the three men who talked with Abraham the Lord God? Is it happening with Lot that he had not followed God’s directive but is [still] being saved by God by way of God’s angels because of Abraham?

    1. Teena, the Hebrew word translated as ‘lord’ can refer to ‘the Lord’ or as an expression of respect, somewhat as the lords and ladies of English aristocracy. The three guests were angels. Please do a search in past Thought Tools for more on Lot.

  2. Neweverymoment, Deb:
    Thanks so much, Rabbi (and Susan!)
    It is so easy for Christians (such as moi) to slog through Exodus or the rest of the Pentateuch without noticing the subtleties that you are bringing out, which brings all of it to life for us today. I usually work from the New American Bible, Catholic personal study edition (although I am not and have never been a Roman Catholic; this is a great source for students), but I went back to my battered KJV for this. Amazingly significant lessons. Answers for so much of what we are currently facing.

  3. Rabbi Lapin,
    Great article & beautiful information.
    Learning to operate by ‘principle rather than emotion ‘ is a lesson in maturity . ‘Staying the course’ out of responsibility and commitment always pays off. I wondered why blessings are always on the other side of obedience. Now I know !

    1. Hi Jeff. Staying the course is less and less popular in the general culture and ‘the course’ seems to be getting shorter and shorter as well.

  4. A co-worker born in India, recently became a Christian asked me the question to ask a Rabbi. Q: If God is so good why does it say “he hardened the heart of Pharoah”. He wanted me to ask you. His name is Moses.

    1. Kali, I don’t have time to search now, but I’m pretty sure this was discussed in one of our teachings. You might try a search for Pharaoh.

    2. Kali, Christian reflection on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart can often be correlated with Romans, which says that when we persistently choose a life of disobedience to God, he gives us over to a reprobate mind, and our sin begins to compound on itself.

      So Pharaoh is recorded in several instances as doing the hardening on his own, but by the time you get to wiping out the Egyptians’ firstborn children, he’s completely owned by his sin. God stops sending Moses to ask for cooperation in releasing the Jews and simply moves against him.

  5. Mary Michael Townsend

    Hello, Rabbi and Susan.

    Please, do NOT shorten the podcast! The woman who asked you to dial back your podcast to an hour is not thinking clearly. Like you said, you can pause a podcast and return to it later. Secondly, two hours is a two-for-one: twice the wisdom that an hour could provide. I don’t know about the woman who advised you to shorten the podcast, but this single gentile woman needs all the ancient Jewish wisdom she can get. I say, make it three or four hours in length. The end result will be a stronger faith-based philosophical understanding, and I need all I can get.

    On another note, just quickly, I would love to hear more of what the Torah has to say for single women (i.e., never married) who are in their 50s. What do we need to know and do to be more open to finding and receiving a great man and a creating a great marriage? (How you get to be in your 50s and unmarried is hard to explain. Basically, I didn’t have much of a Biblical foundation in my youth, so I consequently was a bit self-centered, wayward and grasping to find meaning. To a great degree I thought I was the cat’s meow, but deep down I was too insecure to let anybody in.)

    Long story short, I got into a church, got on the right track and discovered you. All is heading in the right direction now, but for all the advice, guidance and explanation you offer males on how to be better men, I’d like to hear a little bit more on how to be the kind of woman that attracts a great man.

    Thank you for guiding me to the source of meaning in life. I appreciate your teachings and have listened to EVERY ONE.



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