Angels and Guardian Spirits in the Bible and the Ancient Near East

ZECHARIAH 1 Both the Hebrew and the Greek words that are translated into English as "angel" also mean "messenger." This reflects the fact that an angel is a messenger from God. It was sometimes difficult to determine whether a messenger from God during Bible times was human or angelic (Jdg 13:2 - 22), since angels were often perceived as humanlike in appearance and evidently seemed to be either male or female (Zec 5:9). The situation is also confusing in the case of "the angel of the LORD," since this being sometimes appears to have been a mere angel but at other times God himself. Human messengers in the ancient Near East acted as heralds, envoys and ambassadors, bearing the authority of the sender. In like manner angels functioned in the Bible as God's representatives.The"message"an angel carried may have been verbal, but it may also have been an action indicative of a judgment (2Sa 24:15-17), a ministry to believers (1 Ki 19:5-8) or a service as a guardian of God's people (Ps 91:11).

Beings analogous to angels also appear in the mythology of Israel's neighbors:

  • Lists of gods from Mesopotamia, often name the servants of the great gods. These lesser divinities purportedly functioned as messengers and agents for the high gods. Sometimes the myths present these lower gods as a kind of heavenly peasant class who did menial work for the high gods but who, if pushed too hard, were inclined to rebel against their heavenly overlords.

  • Lesser deities or "personal gods" in the ancient world also functioned as protective spirits with regard to individuals (analogous to the idea of guardian angels or patron saints).They were thought to watch over the lives of devotees in return for their allegiance.

  • Another group of lower deities encompassed the gatekeepers,typically depicted as fearsome, hybrid creatures, such as winged bulls or lions with human heads. Colossal statues of such creatures flanked the entrances of temples and palaces and were thought to ward off evil spirits, serving as guardians and attendants of both gods and kings. The British Museum now houses several of these statues, averaging over 9.8 feet (3 m) in height.Their Egyptian counterparts were the sphinx and the uraeus serpent.

Biblical cherubim and seraphim are analogous to the supernatural gatekeepers of the ancient Near East.Cherubim secured the way into Eden after the expulsion of the man and woman (Ge 3:24), and figures of winged cherubim also symbolically guarded the ark of the covenant and the Tent of Meeting (Ex 25:18-22; 26:1).4 Seraphim served as attendants in the heavenly throne room in Isaiah's vision (Isa 6). Cherubim are sometimes described in terms reminiscent of the hybrid creatures of ancient Near Eastern art (Ex 37:9; Eze 10:1-11), and some interpreters believe that the seraphim were serpentine. Both cherubim and seraphim are closely associated with God's holiness, sovereignty and purity.

Zechariah's Authorship

ZECHARIAH 4 Before the sixteenth century A.D. the authorship of Zechariah was uncontested. The book was believed to have been written in its entirety by the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo (1:1). Zechariah began his ministry in 520 B.C., a mere two months after Haggai commenced his own.

During the seventeenth century A.D., on the basis of Matthew 27:9 (which quotes Zec 11:12-13 but ascribes it to the prophet Jeremiah), the suggestion was made that the latter half of Zechariah (chs. 9-14) was actually written by Jeremiah. Since then the unity of Zechariah has been questioned by many critical scholars. Some hold that the entire work was written before the time of Zechariah, while others are convinced that it was written long after his day.The various arguments include:

    • The first eight chapters allude to the historical situation during the restoration of the temple and include the dates when the visions occurred,while the last six chapters contain no such allusions or dates.

    • There are marked differences in style and vocabulary between chapters 1-8 and 9-14.

    • The reference to Greece in 9:13 suggests to some scholars a composition date in the late fourth century B.C., after Greece under Alexander the Great had conquered the Near East. Since Persia, not Greece, was the prevailing power in Zechariah's day, many believe this particular verse to have been written after the fall of the Persian Empire.

There is little disagreement that chapters 9-14 are different from 1-8 or that the two sections were written at different times.This does not necessarily preclude, however, the assumption that Zechariah did in fact write the entire book.

    • The fact that Zechariah 1-8 dates its prophecies, while chapters 9-14 do not, can be accounted for without postulating a second author:

The first section relates to the crucial events of 520 to 518 B.C., focusing on specific individuals and time frames.This specificity in purpose requires a more concrete historical setting.

The second section is for the most part eschatological (focused on the end times) and oriented toward the distant future.

The first section was most likely written well before the second. Zechariah was a young man in 520 B.C. (2:4) but may have written chapters 9-14 decades later.

  • The prophet need not have maintained one writing style throughout his ministry.The apocalyptic-type visions of chapters 1-8 are reminiscent of what we see in Ezekiel (completed c. 575 B.c.) and Daniel (completed c. 530 B.c.). Zechariah 9-14, on the other hand, returns to a more classical style of prophecy.

  • With regard to 9:13, the Hebrew Scriptures already refer to Greece ("Javan") before Zechariah's time (Isa 66:19; Eze 27:13); Greece was a significant power already in the sixth century B.C.' By 520 B.c.the Greeks were a considerable irritation to the Persian Empire, and within a few decades the Persians would assemble one of the greatest armies of ancient history to deal with them—and suffer a catastrophic defeat. Indeed, the Persians may already have experienced a major setback in Greece by the time of the writing of Zechariah 9-14, and yet those chapters could still be the work of Zechariah himself (the battle of Marathon was fought in 492 B.c.).

Several solutions have been offered for Matthew's reference to Jeremiah. Some have argued that since the Talmud places Jeremiah at the head of the collection of prophetic books, any prophetic quote might be considered as belonging to the literary collection of Jeremiah. Others suggest that Matthew originally ascribed the passage to Zechariah but that the name Jeremiah crept in through scribal error. Matthew may have been quoting Zechariah but referring the reader to the prophecy found in Jeremiah 19:1-13 and 32:6 —8, which had been repeated and expanded in Zechariah's work. In addition to the arguments presented above, the work shows internal signs of unity. The first and second sections are both concerned with the divine protection of Jerusalem, judgment against Israel's enemies,the Messiah (Zec.3:8; 9:9) and the outpouring of the Spirit (4:6; 12:10).


ZECHARIAH 9 Sidon is located at a natural harbor on the coast of Lebanon, in ancient Phoenicia,' between Tyre and Beirut ("Map nit was, in fact, one of the oldest and most important cities in the region. Sidon 's prominence is reflected in the fact that it is mentioned in Hittite, Ugaritic, Egyptian and Assyrian records. The Sidonians were engaged throughout their long history in fishing, seafaring, commerce and the manufacture of purple dye. An enormous mound of murex shells, from which this striking dye was extracted, still exists in modern Sidon. Its inhabitants were also known for their fine craftsmanship; they produced beautiful works in materials such as ivory and silver.2 References to "Greater Sidon" in Joshua 11:8 and 19:28 reflect a precise knowledge of the name of the town. The Assyrian record of Sennacherib's campaign in 701 B.C. states that he captured both "Greater Sidon" and "Little Sidon."

When Joshua divided the promised land, Sidon was allotted to the tribe of Asher, but this tribe was unable to drive out the Sidonians (Jdg 1:31; 3:1-3). Later, during the divided monarchy period, Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon, in a union that resulted in the introduction of pagan worship into the northern kingdom (1 Ki 16:31-33).The prophets Jeremiah (Jer 25:22; 27:3-6; 47:4), Ezequiel (Eze 28:20--24), Joel (Joel 3:4-8) and Zechariah (Zec 9:1-2) all pronounced judgment against Sidon. She was among the cities God had given to Nebuchadnezzar? of Babylon (Jer 27:6), and a text excavated at Babylon lists the king of Sidon among Nebuchadnezzar's captives. Sidon was also a center for the Persian fleet during the reign of Xerxes.

Excavations at ancient Sidon have been limited by recent military hostilities, as well as by urban development. Recently there have been indications of the possibility of excavating remains of ancient Sidon under the sea (Greek historians indicate that in 146 B.c. the city was struck by an earthquake, which caused a large portion of it to sink beneath the ocean).


ZECHARIAH 12 The city of Megiddo ("Map 6") controlled the pass between the Valley of Jezreel and the Sharon plain. Routes that traveled northwest to the Phoenician coast and east to Damascus were also controlled by this city' Many critical battles took place at Megiddo, one of the most strategic cities in the region now called Palestine. An archaeological excavation of Tell el-Mutesellim during the first decade of the twentieth century located the city, including numerous layers of occupation. Megiddo was first inhabited during the Neolithic Age.' The Megiddo of the Early Bronze I period boasted the largest known temple in the Levant (Syria-Palestine) for that time period. Excavation revealed numerous levels of occupation through the Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Ages; some levels indicate periods when the city was prosperous and others when it was impoverished. During the earlier part of the Late Bronze Age Megiddo was under Egyptian domination, having been captured by Pharaoh Thutmose III in approximately 1479 B.C. Several of the Amarna Letters from the ruler of Megiddo profess loyalty to Egypt.

During the conquest of the promised land Megiddo was allotted to the tribe of Manasseh (Jos 17:11).4 The king of Megiddo is listed among those defeated by Joshua (Jos 12:21), but Manasseh could not take the city (Jdg 1:27). It appears that Megiddo was subsequently a Canaanite city with a Philistine presence. Apparently David conquered it for Israel.

An occupation level from the tenth century B.C., the age of Solomon, indicates that the city was used as a government administrative center for Israel. This level evidences the same kind of multichambered gates and double walls (called casemate walls) found in Hazor and Gezer during the same time period. On the basis of 1 Kings 9:15 we can conclude that the style of construction used in these cities was of a sort favored by Solomon's engineers.6 Pharaoh Shishak (r. ..945-924 B.c.) appears to have destroyed Megiddo during a campaign that included an attack on Judah and Jerusalem.

Megiddo was rebuilt and used again as a military or administrative center during the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. However, the city once again fell to a foreign power when Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, conquered it around 733 B.C., after which it was used as an Assyrian administrative center. With the fall of the Assyrian Empire, Megiddo came under the control of Judah. lt was the location of the confrontation between King Josiah and Pharaoh Neco that resulted in Josiah's death.' In Zechariah 12:11 "the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo" probably refers to mourn-ing over this calamity. During the Persian Age the city was abandoned.

A number of remarkable archaeological finds have emerged from Megiddo:

    • A large, round sacrificial area from an Early Bronze temple complex

    • A plaque depicting a Hittite king standing beneath a winged sun disk

    • A fragment of an Akkadian tablet containing a part of the Gilgamesh epic ei.

    • Ivory carvings of the Egyptian god Bes and of lotus patterns.

    • A painted pitcher, called the "Orpheus Jug," portraying a lyre player leading a procession of animals

    • Palace structures dating from the Israelite period (tenth—eighth centuries B.c.) reflecting that the city was for a time a significant Israelite administrative center.

    • A stele from Pharaoh Shishak, confirming that this Egyptian monarch did take the city during the time of Rehoboam.

    • A remarkable jasper seal with a roaring lion and the inscription"of Shema, servant of Jeroboam" (i.e., Jeroboam II).

    • A large building excavated there with three aisles running its length, separated by rows of pillars. (Its function has been debated, with some suggesting a storehouse or barracks, but it was probably a stable for horses from the time of Ahab.)

These finds, from different ages and from across the ancient Near East, attest to the abiding significance of Megiddo.

The Mount of Olives

ZECHARIAH 14 The Mount of Olives forms a ridge running north and south for about two miles (three km) just across the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem.' Zech-:ze 5 2-4 ariah 14:4 speaks of a split in this mountain that will run from east to west in the eschatological (end times) future. This gulch will provide an avenue of escape, so the text tells us, when Jerusalem comes under a terrible siege (v.2).

The Mount of Olives is explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament only here and in 2 Samuel 15:30; however, the "hill east of Jerusalem" where Solomon constructed shrines to pagan gods (1Ki 11:7-8; cf. 2Ki 23:13) was probably the same location. In these Old Testament references there seems to be some association of the Mount of Olives with crisis and judgment.This trend continues in the New Testament, where the Mount of Olives is prominent in the ministry of Jesus:

    • When Jesus in his triumphal entry approached Jerusalem, moving downward from the Mount of Olives, he wept over the city's coming destruction (Lk 19:30-44).

    • The cursing of the fig tree (Mt 21:17 — 19), a symbol of judgment on Israel, appears to have occurred there.

    • From this vantage point Jesus delivered his"Olivet Discourse" (Mt 24; Mk 13),a prophecy of judgment.

    • Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:30-42), as well as Judas's betrayal of him (Jn 18:1-3), both occurred there.