Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:St. Michael and All Angels
Tradition says that the Feast of St. Michael and all Angels was first celebrated in the fourth century; but history states that its general observance did not occur until the eighth century, when it became an annual festival. Since then the Eastern Church has observed it on 8th November; the Anglican Church on 29th September.
The belief in angelic creatures has been a favourite article in the universal creed, but the most unequivocal and direct evidence of their existence and ministry is to be found in the Bible. Fifteen, at least, of the inspired writers have described them.
I. Of the vast number of the holy angels there is very little doubt. The Jewish Rabbis state that 'nothing exists without an attendant angel, not even a blade of grass'. The great Aquinas asserts that 'there are more angels than all substances together, celestial and terrestrial, animate and inanimate'. St Gregory calculates that 'there are so many angels as there are elect'. Charles Kingsley maintains that 'in every breeze there are living spirits, and God's angels guide the thunder-clouds'. But what saith the Scripture? On its pages their number is variously stated. As Jacob was on his way back to his native land 'the angels of God met him'. In his last benediction Moses speaks of 'ten thousand'. When Elisha prayed that his servant's eyes might be opened, he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about'. In his vision of the Ancient of Days, Daniel beheld 'thousand thousands ministering unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before Him'. St. John did but echo this language in one of his gorgeous descriptions of Heaven when he described the angels as a vast assembly 'which no man could number'. At the advent of Jesus there appeared 'a multitude of the heavenly host,' and one dark eventide, near Gethsemane, He declared to Peter that if He prayed to His Father He would give Him 'more than twelve legions of angels'.
II. But all the angels are not of the same rank. Michael, for example, is represented in Scripture as being the next in rank to the Angel-Jehovah. In the Book of Daniel he is spoken of as 'one of the chief princes' in the celestial hierarchy, and in the Book of St. John as 'the archangel'.
III. A word may now be added about the ministry of angels. They were ever the servants of Jesus during His incarnate life, as they are now in His glorified life; and sometimes God has employed them to punish the wicked. The Collect for this Festival speaks of the succour and defence which they may render to us, and it is well to remember that they are God's ministers, and 'do His pleasure'. 'Babes,' says Manton, 'have their guardian angels'; and Bengel asserts that 'the angels take care of the little ones; and so much the more the less they are able to protect themselves'; while Keble ascribes the 'first soft smile' of sleeping infancy to their presence, and, in his own poetic and beautiful manner, represents their smile as 'a gleam from heaven's deep sea of love'. And a Greater than these has said that the angels of the little ones do always behold the Face of their Father in Heaven.
It may be true that holy angels render service to unholy men; but, according to the Bible, they are specially 'sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation'. Nor do they forget the body which enshrined the soul. They guard its sleeping-place, as they did the sepulchre of Jesus, until the early dawn of the resurrection, when they will give up their trust.
References.—XII. 7.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, p. 281. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 209. XII. 8.—W. H. Barlow, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 372.
The character in which he [Blake] abhors and renounces Satan is that of 'the accuser of sins'. The monarch of hell might be the antagonist of many things accounted sacred, and might exercise wild volcanic forces in many inconvenient directions, and yet incur small blame from Blake; but it is a different matter when the same personage accuses others of sins.... There lies the fatal flaw in Satan. 'Every religion that preaches vengeance for sin is the religion of the enemy and avenger, and not of the forgiver of sin; and their God is Satan named by the Divine name.'
—W. M. Rossetti, upon Blake.
References.—XII. 10.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 291; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 327.
Bishop Daniel Wilson preached from this text at St Bride's Church in 1846, on behalf of the Church
Missionary Society. He only paid one visit to England during his quarter of a century's episcopate in India and his sermon was the chief event of his furlough. His heads were (1) the mighty foe, (2) the means of resisting him, (3) the issue of the conflict. At the close he used this expression: 'Then may we humbly hope that being washed, covered, plunged, hidden in the blood of the Lamb, we shall pass as one of our commentators [Dr. Gill] sublimely speaks, "under the purple covering triumphantly to glory".'
References.—XII. 11.—Spurgeon, vol. xxi. No. 1237; vol. xxxiv. No. 2043. XII. 12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1502.
I like to see the earth helping the woman. I do not plead very earnestly for any particular church, but I would have a well-formed machinery fixed in every country—ducts of irrigation—through which the predominant religion, whatever it is, may diffuse its streams of Christian instruction.
—Chalmers, in 1830.
Reference.—XII. 16.—Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 337.
In his Holy War, Bunyan describes the various Captains of the Devil's army against Mansoul, one of whom is 'Captain Pope; his standard-bearer bare the red colours, and his scutcheon was the stake, the flame, and the good man in it'.
And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.