To Light and Guard: Angels in the Bible
Angel of God, my guardian dear, To whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side, To light and guard, rule and guide. Amen.
Who didn’t recite this prayer as a child? Or what Catholic-schooled student wasn’t told to make room on her or his desk seat for his or her guardian angel? Pictures of guardian angels looking after children who stand innocently in the face of danger abound. But, what does all this mean to our faith? And where does the idea of guardian angels come from?
Guardian Angels Angels appear throughout the Bible, including right away, in the Garden of Eden. This angel acted as a guardian, but not as a protector of human beings. Quite the opposite—it was charged with guarding the Garden against Adam and Eve, who had just been expelled from it (Genesis 3:24). Though this angel is identified as a cherub, it isn’t the winged infant of popular art. Cherubs or cherubim (the plural form in Hebrew) were human-headed, winged, bull statues stationed as sentries at the entrances of Mesopotamian temples. Their fearsome appearance itself acted as a deterrent, thus safeguarding the sanctity of the sanctuary. A second biblical story about a guarding angel is found in the Book of Tobit. The angel Raphael acts as a guarding companion of the young Tobiah and his wife Sarah (Tobit 5:4). When Tobiah returns from his journey, the angel reveals his true identity: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord” (Tobit 12:15). The Book of Enoch, a Jewish collection of stories about angels written around 300 bc, refers to these seven angels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Remiel. Today they are known as archangels.