From: All God’s Angels
Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
According to the Book of Job, the angels – referred to as “the morning stars” and “the sons of God” – sang and shouted with joy when God laid the foundations of the Earth (Job 38:2-7). This means that, when God made man and woman, the angels already existed, a myriad of invisible (except to God) witnesses on the day that a piece of hand-shaped clay first inhaled breath and became a living being. What a sight that must have been for them. Did the angels know at that same moment that their lives and the lives of these fragile creatures would be inexorably intertwined for the rest of their days?
Given this picture, the first mention of an angel in the Bible is, in many respects, an ironic introduction. What are we to make of this appearance – the cherubim standing guard at the gate of Eden, fiery sentinels appointed by God to prevent Adam and Eve from returning to the Garden they were created to enjoy? For one thing, this picture tells us that the primary work of the angels is to serve God. Fulfillment of the divine will is the consuming purpose of their lives. This we must always remember – angels do God’s bidding, not ours.
Still, as servants of God they are servants of love, which means that barring the way back to Paradise had to be an act of divine love. Any attempt to reenter Eden on our own, to regain intimate communion with our Maker by our own efforts, is destined to be fruitless. By blocking humanity’s way, the angels point to our only hope of return: the mercy of God, who will make the way himself. It will have to be his own hand – the same hand that made us – that bids the cherubim open the gate and stand aside. This portrayal of God’s guardian cherubim reminds us that, as they serve, the angels’ job is not to make things easier for us, but to make things better.
Even more ironic is that, actually, the first angel we encounter in the book of beginnings may be the scheming serpent (Genesis 3:1). Passages from the book of Revelation (12:7-9) and the prophet Isaiah (14:12-15) have traditionally been understood to describe Satan’s ejection from Heaven and his subsequent enmity with God and with all of God’s works. We can’t be sure, of course, but it is possible that humanity’s first introduction to the appearance of angels came from a fallen one, whose primary goal was not to serve but to deceive, to tempt God’s new son and daughter into defying their Creator, just as he had once done himself. Any question as to whether angels have an impact on the events of history is settled definitively here in the third chapter of Genesis.