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GABRIEL THE ARCHANGEL

By David Bruce

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Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary
 

GABRIEL IN THE BIBLE

GABRIEL, whose Hebrew name may mean "God is powerful" is an Archangel who acts as the messenger of God. He appeared to Daniel (Dan. 8:16), Zacharias (Luke 1:19), and the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26–38).

    All these appearances of Gabriel are connected with the promise of the coming Messiah. There is also a passage that may link Gabriel with Christ's return. He might be the archangel whose trumpet blast announces the return of Christ (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16; Matt. 24:31).

 

GABRIEL IN JEWISH, CHRISTIAN AND ISLAMIC TRADITION

    In the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings, angels were organized into categories with specific duties and status before God. In 1 Enoch 40, Gabriel is considered one of the top four in rank, perhaps second only to Michael. Gabriel's duties included intercession on behalf of God's people (1 Enoch 9:1; 40:6) as well as being the instrument for destruction of the wicked (1 Enoch 9:9-10). As one of the "glorious ones" he looks down upon all humankind (1 Enoch 40:3). As one of four angels who he lifts up to God's presence the prayers of the martyrs as they appeal for an end to anarchy and violence upon the earth (9:1-11). As an agent of God's supreme power, he seats at his right hand (2 Enoch 24:1). His duties include casting the wicked into the fiery furnace after the Last Judgment (1 Enoch 54:6). Various Targums extend to him, among other things, agency in guiding Joseph to his brothers (sup. Gen. 37:5), in the burial of Moses (sup. Deut. 34:6), and even in gathering dust for the creation of humankind (H\ag. 12a; Pirqe R. El. 3). Indeed, his role expands so dramatically in later midrash that he dominates all angels, although often he is accompanied by Michael, Uriel, and others in marvelous exploits. In Islam Gabriel is revered for having dictated the Koran to Mohammed.

GABRIEL IN MODERN LITERATURE

    Hardy seems to have the biblical angel in mind in the character of Gabriel Oak, the rejected suitor of Bathsheba Everdene, who watches over her farm as she marries someone else in Far from the Madding Crowd. In George Eliot's narrative poem The Death of Moses, based on haggadic Jewish sources, Gabriel does not have the heart to carry the soul of Moses to God when commanded to do so. In Melville's Moby-Dick a "scaramouch" is hired on as seaman, "but straightaway upon the ship's getting out of sight of land, his insanity broke out in a freshet. He announced himself as the archangel Gabriel, and commanded the captain to jump overboard" (chap. 71). Emily Dickinson's two robins in her apple tree are "Two Gabriels"; more retiring than the scaramouch, they "have that modest way / To screen them from renown" ("Forever Cherished Be the Tree"). Joyce paraphrases Luke 1:38 in the litany section of the "Nausicaa" episode of Ulysses, while in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Stephen co-opts the Annunciation scene to describe the birth of a poem: "O! in the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh. Gabriel the seraph had come to the virgin's chamber." He is parodied as an ineffectual suitor in Katherine Anne Porter's Old Mortality, where Amy has kept her second cousin, Gabriel, waiting for five years.

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Traditions are what traditions are. The Bible is always the last word. Here then is the biblical Gabriel as he appears in the word of God. In the Old Testment he comes in human form to clarify the prophetic significance of Daniel's vision (Daniel 8:16). Later, he grants Daniel special wisdom and understanding (Daniel 9:21). In the New Testament he appears to Zacharias the priest "on the right side of the altar of incense" in the Temple, announcing the coming birth of a son (John the Baptist) to Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth (Luke 1:11). Gabriel is also the angel of thewpe2.jpg (58899 bytes) Annunciation, informing Mary that she will become the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:31). Each of these appearances, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, is connected in some way with the promise of Immanuel, the coming Messiah.

 

Gabriel in the Bible text (CEV)

In Daniel chapter 9 Daniel wrote:

I was still confessing my sins and those of all Israel to the Lord my God, and I was praying for the good of his holy mountain, 21 when Gabriel suddenly came flying in at the time of the evening sacrifice. This was the same Gabriel I had seen in my vision, 22 and he explained:

Daniel, I am here to help you understand the vision. 23 God thinks highly of you, and at the very moment you started praying, I was sent to give you the answer. 24 God has decided that for seventy weeks, your people and your holy city must suffer as the price of their sins. Then evil will disappear, and justice will rule forever; the visions and words of the prophets will come true, and a most holy place will be dedicated.

You need to realize that from the command to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of the Chosen Leader, it will be seven weeks and another sixty-two weeks. Streets will be built in Jerusalem, and a trench will be dug around the city for protection, but these will be difficult times. 26 At the end of the sixty-two weeks, the Chosen Leader will be killed and left with nothing.

A foreign ruler and his army will sweep down like a mighty flood, leaving both the city and the temple in ruins, and war and destruction will continue until the end, just as God has decided. 27 For one week this foreigner will make a firm agreement with many people, and halfway through this week, he will end all sacrifices and offerings. Then the "Horrible Thing" that causes destruction will be put there. And it will stay there until the time God has decided to destroy this one who destroys. (See also ch.10 and 8:16)

Gabriel tells of the Birth of John the Baptist.
Luke chapter 1.

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest by the name of Zechariah from the priestly group of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was from the family of Aaron. 6 Both of them were good people and pleased the Lord God by obeying all that he had commanded. 7 But they did not have children. Elizabeth could not have any, and both Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old.

One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. 9 According to the custom of the priests, he had been chosen to go into the Lord’s temple that day and to burn incense, 10 while the people stood outside praying.

All at once an angel from the Lord appeared to Zechariah at the right side of the altar. 12 Zechariah was confused and afraid when he saw the angel. 13 But the angel told him:

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you must name him John. 14 His birth will make you very happy, and many people will be glad. 15 Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born.

John will lead many people in Israel to turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go ahead of the Lord with the same power and spirit that Elijah had. And because of John, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.

Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know this is going to happen? My wife and I are both very old."

The angel answered, "I am Gabriel, God’s servant, and I was sent to tell you this good news. 20 You have not believed what I have said. So you will not be able to say a thing until all this happens. But everything will take place when it is supposed to."

The crowd was waiting for Zechariah and kept wondering why he was staying so long in the temple. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak, and they knew he had seen a vision. He motioned to them with his hands, but did not say a thing.

When Zechariah’s time of service in the temple was over, he went home. 24 Soon after that, his wife was expecting a baby, and for five months she did not leave the house. She said to herself, 25 "What the Lord has done for me will keep people from looking down on me."

Gabriel Tells about the Birth of Jesus (Luke chapter 1)

One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee 27 with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David. 28 The angel greeted Mary and said, "You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you."

Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. 30 Then the angel told Mary, "Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, 31 and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. 33 He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end."

Mary asked the angel, "How can this happen? I am not married!"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. 36 Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. 37 Nothing is impossible for God!"

Mary said, "I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said." And the angel left her.

 

References:

Jeffrey, David Lyle, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans) 1997.

Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors, Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.

Achtemier, Paul J., Th.D., Harper's Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1985.

 

 

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