Last update: June 19, 2002
1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars.
This angel, whose identity will be discussed further on, is said to be "robed in a cloud," this being a reference to the Shekinah. The combination of cloud, rainbow, brightness (sun) and fire is similar to the vision of Ezekiel, who associated with a heavenly voice:
Ezekiel 1:26-28 - And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like lapis lazuli; and upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness like the appearance of a man upon it. And I saw something like the color of amber, like the appearance of fire enclosed around it, from what appeared to be his loins upward; and from what appeared to be his loins downward, I saw what appeared to be fire, and it had brightness around it. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one speaking.
Ezekiel is also said to have had a vision of the Shekinah:
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 82a - To Ezekiel only the Shekinah was revealed in Her Chariot, and he but caught glimpses of it as though through many barriers.
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 82b - The heavens were opened and I saw visions (maroth) of God (Ezek. I, 1). Maroth is written in a defective form, to indicate that he merely had a vision of the Shekinah. Said R. Jesse: But is the Shekinah not a representation of the whole of the Deity? R. Jose replied: The Head of the King is not to be compared to His Feet, although both are in the Body of the King. Observe that Isaiah said I saw (eth) the Lord (Isa. VI, 1), but Ezekiel said I saw visions of God. They meant, however, the same thing, and both belonged to the same grade (of spiritual perception).
The "angel of the Lord," is also connected to the "cloud":
Exodus 14:19 - And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them;
The rainbow is said to be a "likeness" of God:
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XXXV:3 - I HAVE SET MY BOW (KASHTI) IN THE CLOUD (IX, 13): that means, My likeness (kishuthi), something that is comparable to Me. Is that really possible? In truth, [the bow resembles God] as the straw resembles the grain. AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS, WHEN I BRING CLOUDS UPON THE EARTH (IX, 14). R. Judan said in name of R. Judah b. R. Simon: This may be compared to a man who was holding in his hand some hot flour, and was going to give it to his son, but gave it to his servant instead. AND THE BOW SHALL BE IN THE CLOUD, etc. (IX, 16).
The presence of God is seen as shrouded in the cloud (Shekinah) when it descends. Conversely, man (here Moses) is seen as being cloaked in the same when approaching God:
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 99a - And Moses went into the midst of the cloud and got him up into the mount (Ex. XXIV, 18). Now what does the cloud signify? he asked, and answered his own question, saying: There is a reference here to the words: I set my bow in the cloud: namely, the rainbow, in reference to which we have learnt that it removed, as it were, its outer garment and gave it to Moses, who went up to the mountain with it and saw through it all the sights with which he was feasted there.
This interesting passage not only shows the cloud/Shekinah as being "protection" for Moses when he traversed the heavenly realms, but also shows his appearance changing to resemble an image of the Lord as well:2 He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land,
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2,Page 58a - Said R. Eleazar: When Moses entered the cloud (Ex. XXIV, 18), like a man traversing the region of the Spirit, a certain great angel, whose name, according to tradition, is Kemuel, and who is appointed guardian and chief over twelve thousand messengers, sought to attack him. Thereupon Moses opened his mouth and uttered the twelve letters of the Holy Name which the Holy One had taught him at the bush, and the angel departed from him to a distance of twelve thousand parasangs. And Moses walked in the midst of the cloud, his eyes flaming like coals of fire.
This angel is seen "straddling" the sea and land, representative of the angelic world of Yetzirah (sea) and the physical world of Asiyyah (land). (Also see comments on verse 5.) As with the effect of demons in the physical world (discussed in the previous chapter), here too we see God's judgment/rectification fast approaching its final phase.3 and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke.
There are several clues that reveal the identity of this angel as being the archangel Michael. The text states that he "comes down from heaven," this being a reference to Beriah, the world of the archangels. (The "lesser" angels exist in the world of Yetzirah.).
Michael is seen as descending in other places in Scripture. In this Midrash, he is closely associated with the Lord Himself. This is also reflected in the Revelation verse as this angel also speaks with "the voices of seven thunders" similar to the voices of the Lord:
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XLIV:13 - AND HE BELIEVED IN THE LORD... AND HE SAID UNTO HIM: I AM THE LORD THAT BROUGHT THEE OUT OF UR OF THE CHALDEES, etc. (XV, 6 f.). R. Liezer b. Jacob said: Michael descended and rescued Abraham from the fiery furnace. The Rabbis said: The Holy One, blessed be He, rescued him; thus it is written, I AM THE LORD THAT BROUGHT THEE OUT OF UR OF THE CHALDEES. And when did Michael descend? In the case of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Psalm 29:3-9 - The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is upon many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes them skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the hinds to calve, and strips the forests bare; and in his temple every one speaks of his glory.
The association with the Shekinah and the Angel of the Lord (as discussed above) is indicative of Michael:
Midrash Rabbah - Exodus II:5 - AND THE ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED (III, 2). R. Johanan said: This is Michael; R. Hanina said it was Gabriel. Whenever they saw R. Jose the tall, they used to say, There goes our holy Rabbi, so also whenever Michael appeared, it was realised that there was the Glory of the Shechinah.
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 143a - Observe that when Isaac said to Esau: and go out into the field, and take me venison, he added, I will bless thee before the Lord (Gen. XXVII, 7). Now, had Isaac said simply, that I may bless thee, there would have been no harm. But when he uttered the words before the Lord, the Throne of Glory of the Almighty shook and trembled, saying: Will the serpent now be released from his curses and Jacob become subject to them?. At that moment the angel Michael, accompanied by the Shekinah, appeared before Jacob.
The angel in verse 3 also shouts "like a lion," which the Zohar links toMichael:
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 23b - For the morning prayer also a lion comes down to receive it in his winged arms: this is Michael.
Soncino Zohar, Bemidbar, Section 3, Page 154a - MAKE UNTO THEE TWO TRUMPETS OF SILVER, ETC. R. Simeon adduced here the verse: And when the Hayoth (living creatures) went, the wheels went hard by them; and when the.Hayoth were lifted up from the bottom the wheels were lifted up (Ezek. I, 19). The Hayoth, he said, are borne along by the supernal power; and so were the movements of the tribes below who bore on their standards the likenesses of the Hayoth, that of Lion, Eagle, Ox, Man. Angels attended each of the standards. The first standard bore the likeness of Lion and was attended by Michael, who had under him two chieftains, Zophiel and Zadkiel. When these set out numerous armed hosts moved in unison on the right-hand side whilst the sun on the left illumined them. The Lion put forth his right hand and summoned to himself all his hosts, to wit, three hundred and seventy thousand lions, and they all assembled round him. When this Lion roars all the firmaments and all their hosts and legions quiver and shake. The Fiery River blazes forth and sinks a thousand and five hundred stages to the lower Gehinnom. Then all the sinners in the Gehinnom shake and tremble and burn in the fire. So Scripture says: The lion hath roared, who will not fear? (Amos III, 8).
The appearance of Michael at this juncture (the coming final judgments against Asiyyah) brings to mind what Daniel said:
Daniel 12:1 - And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who has charge of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be saved, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.
The idea of Michael "standing up" is discussed in this Midrash, which associates it with his withdrawing of his defense of Israel, at which point God Himself does so:4 And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down."
Midrash Rabbah - Ruth Prologue I - R. Johanan said Hear, O My people , to that [which was said] in the past; and I will speak in the future; Hear, O My people in this world; and I will speak in the World to Come, in order that I may have a retort to the princes of the nations of the world, who are destined to act as their prosecutors before Me, and say Lord of the Universe, they have served idols and we have served idols; they have been guilty of immorality and we have been guilty of immorality; they have shed blood and we have shed blood. Why do they go into the Garden of Eden while we descend to Gehenna? ' In that moment the defender of Israel keeps silence. That is the meaning of the verse And at that time shall Michael stand up (Dan. XII, 1). Do they then as a rule sit in Heaven? Did not R. Hanina say, there is no sitting in Heaven, as it is written I came near unto one of ka'amaya (ib. VII, 16), the meaning of this word ' ka'amaya being that stood by, as it is written, Above him stood the seraphim (Isa. VI, 2), and it s also written And all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and on His left (II Chron. XVIII, 18)? And yet the verse says shall [Michael] stand up!. What then is the meaning here of stand up? Stand silent, as it is said, And shall I wait because they speak not, because they stand still, and answer no more? (Job XXXII, 16). And the Holy One, blessed be He, says to him: ' Dost thou stand silent and hast no defence to offer for My people? By thy life, I will speak righteousness and save My people!
A mysterious passage. The thunder of God's voice in alluded to in the Tenakh in several places including these:
Psalm 77:19 - The voice of your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lightened the world; the earth trembled and shook.
Job 37:1-5 - At this also my heart trembles, and is moved from his place. Hear attentively the noise of his voice, and the sound that goes out of his mouth. He directs it under the whole heaven, and his lightning to the ends of the earth. After it a voice roars; he thunders with the voice of his excellency; and he will not restrain them when his voice is heard. God thunders marvelously with his voice; he does great things which we cannot comprehend.
Midrash links the thunders with angels who carry out God's will:
Midrash Rabbah - Esther VII:18 - How many hosts are at My service, how many lightnings, how many thunders, as it says, The Lord thundered with a great thunder (X Sam. VII, 10); ' how many Seraphim and how many angels! But My might shall go forth and fight with thee,
Ezekiel seems to indicate this as well:5 Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven.
Ezekiel 3:12-13 - Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a great thunderous voice: "Blessed is the glory of the LORD from His place!" I also heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, and a great thunderous noise.
The text indicates a connection between the three lower worlds of Asiyyah (the land), Yetzirah (the sea) and Beriah (heaven). This would place Michael's "descent" at the Sephirah where the three lower worlds meet (i.e., the Malkut of Beriah, which is simultaneously the Tipheret of Yetzirah and Keter of Asiyyah. See previous background study on the Work of Creation.)
The raising of the right hand could be seen in a "negative" context (i.e., the taking away of mercy in order to achieve the final rectification of the physical world of Asiyyah. Compare this to the idea presented in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 where the one who "restrains" is "taken away.") This results in the "mystery of God being accomplished" (verse 7) which is indeed both sweet and bitter (verse 9).
The following Midrash sheds light on the cobative roles of Michael and Samael the accuser:6 And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, "There will be no more delay!
Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XVIII:5 - And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people (Dan. XII, 1), because he it is who presents Israel's requirements and pleads for them, as it says: Then the angel of the Lord spoke and said: O Lord of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have compassion on Jerusalem (Zech. I, 12), and also: And there is none that holdeth with me against these, except Michael your prince (Dan. X, 21). R. Jose said: To what may Michael and Samael be compared? To an intercessor and an accuser before a tribunal: each speaks in turn, and when each has finished the intercessor sees that he has triumphed, and he begins to praise the judge that he may issue his verdict; and when the accuser wishes to add anything, the intercessor says to him: You remain quiet and let us hear the judge. So also do Michael and Samael both stand before the Divine Presence; Satan accuses, while Michael points out Israel's virtues, and when Satan wishes to speak again, Michael silences him, because, as it says: I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for He will speak peace unto His people (Ps. LXXXV, 9).3 This is the meaning of: In the night I will call to remembrance my song (ib. LXXVII, 7),4 referring to the miracle of Hezekiah.
Again we see the three worlds of creation; Heavens/Beriah, Earth/Asiyyah, and Sea/Yetzirah, all approaching their final rectification prior to the coming of Messiah, who will inherit all things. (See notes to chapter 6 on the rectification of these worlds.)7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets."
John's revelation is found within the sod (hidden) level of the prophecies of the Tenakh, as it is written:8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: "Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land 9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey." 10 I took the little scroll from the angel's hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Amos 3:7 - For the Lord YHVH does nothing, except He has revealed His counsel unto His servants the prophets.
Scrolls and the act of "measuring" (i.e., Chapter 11) are often indicative of coming judgment.
John's scroll is reminiscent of two others. In Zechariah chapter 5 a scroll is associated with spiritual falsehood and Babylon (Shinar). The scroll in Ezekiel chapter 3 is linked to Israel not turning to God in faith. Both are key issues in the coming chapters.11 Then I was told, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings."
John is told that his prophecy will enter into yet another stage. For the next several chapters the primary focus of the revelation is events in the world of Asiyyah, made up of peoples, nations, languages and kings.
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