Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Angels Unawares

Angels Unawares
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr

Often growing up I have and others have experienced bewildering events surrounding total stranger we have never seen again which make us ask, “Was that an angel!?”

I recall while in college in the dead of winter in downtown Nashville Tennessee I ran into a homeless man who seemed to be a very godly person whom we exchanged names and I gave a portion of my very own winter gear right off my body to give to him. And shortly after I walked away I turned to give another word to the man and he was gone. It caused me to recall Hebrews 13:2 and wonder if I just entertained an angel that was sent to test my faith. As soon as I got back to campus and called every homeless shelter in the city and gave the name and description of the homeless man and no one had ever heard of him or saw him! Could this have been an angel? Maybe, or it could have been a homeless person who lived under the bridge and never darkened a homeless shelter door. I may never know. But this story brings me to the verse in question:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. – Heb. 13:2

What does this mean? Does this really mean that we at times show kindness and hospitality to angels disguised as ordinary human beings? Sure, this is a possibility and a traditional understanding of this verse. We know that Scripture is multifaceted and many passages have double meanings as long as such interpretations do not contradict one another according to Hebraic Hermeneutics.

Being spiritual people we often would rather jump to the Sod (spiritual/mystical) level of interpretation even before we examine the P’Shat (Literal) level of interpretation. Seeing as we all likely have contemplated the ramifications of the Sod level of this passage, let us consider the P’shat meaning of the verse.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. – Heb. 13:2

To frame this verse in its proper context we must look at the surrounding verses.

Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. – Hebrews 13:1-7

To say Hebrews 13:2 to literally mean that we show hospitality to heaven sent angelic agents sent by GOD to us seems grossly out of context in conjunction to the surrounding verses. Literally this passage is speaking of how we treat one another and that we should take care to show kindness and hospitality (entertain) to Gentiles (strangers) because though they may not look it due to their ethnicity or their appearance, they may be GOD’s messengers, an Apostle, Prophet or Preacher and we may be unaware of this. Yeshua’s brother Ya’akov (James) warns us about not showing partiality or judging others due to their unconventional appearance (James 2:1-13). Considering the surrounding verses of Hebrew 13:2, it is an extremely odd break for the author to talk about brotherly love and our relations between spouses and those in authority over us and then randomly through in a warning to take heed lest we interact with heavenly angelic beings without realizing it.

It would be prudent at this point to remind the reader that the word Angel in the Greek can also be translated as Messenger; as in a minister, prophet, apostle, preacher and or evangelist, a mortal agent as well as a heavenly angelic being. Again, context is always to be considered before making an interpretation. Right after verse two the author (Whom I personally believe to be Paul/Rav Sha’ul) reminds the reader to remember, be kind to and minister to those who have been incarcerated because of the Torah and Messiah.  

It has been my experience that before the LORD will use miraculous means to accomplish His will, He will first use ordinary means that follow the laws of science before he will employ the miraculous. One Jew has said we definitely should believe in miracles, but we should not depend on them.

I am not trying to take the “magic” out of people’s faith, I am just trying to expose gentile theological bias, intentional or not, and have His Body to see the Scriptures in the first century context they were meant to be read. For when we don’t, that is where (no matter how seemingly innocent) the slippery slope of misinterpretations and the forging or erroneous doctrines that breeds cults begins.