The angel who brought to Zacharias “these glad tidings,” disclosed to him his name: “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God.”
We have heard of this angel before; and we lose something unless we look back to the circumstances with which he was previously connected. This, then, was the same angel who appeared to Daniel, to explain to him the time that was to elapse until the coming of the Messiah—until the time came “to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy,” Dan_9:21-27. This being the case, we at once see the special and emphatic fitness that the same angel should be employed to announce the new accomplishment of that which he had so long ago predicted; and as the prophecy in question was at this time deeply studied by the Jews, and, indeed, led them to entertain the belief that the time of the Messiah was then close at hand, we may understand the emphasis and reassuring significance of the information, that he was the same angel through whom the ancient announcement had been made, and the authority which this fact would give to his present intimation in the eyes of the people when these circumstances transpired. Hence, we may be sure that when Zacharias came to describe these circumstances fully, he did not fail to give due prominence to the fact, that it was no other than the same angel Gabriel who had formerly announced the time of the Messiah to Daniel, who had now appeared to make known the completion of that time to himself. Angels have feelings; and it was doubtless gratification to Gabriel to be employed on messages vindicatory of the prediction which had in old time been given by himself; and it may have been partly in regard to this gratification to him, that his and our gracious Lord entrusted this mission to him. Nor this only. For it is the same angel who was sent, a few months later, to announce the birth of the Messiah himself, as now of his harbinger. The same considerations apply to both transactions. In connection with them the name of Gabriel was a named power, in consequence of his former revelations to the prophet Daniel.
This is all we authentically know of Gabriel; but then his repeated appearances, and the fact that he is the only one of the angels who conspicuously appears by name in the New Testament, have rendered that name more familiar to us than that of any other angel. In fact, there is only one other angel whose name is given in canonical Scripture; and that is Michael, who is described in Daniel 10 as “one of the chief princes,” and as having special charge of the affairs of the Jewish nation. In Jud_1:9 the same angel is introduced as disputing with Satan about the body of Moses; and in Rev_12:7-9, Michael and his angels are represented as warring with Satan and his angels in the upper regions, from which the latter are cast down to the earth. On the authority of the first of these texts, the Jews made Michael not only one of “the seven archangels,” (of whom Gabriel is held to be one,) but the chief of them; and, on the authority of all these texts taken together, Christian interpreters have been disposed to acquiesce in this conclusion.
But although these two only are named in the canonical books, several other names occur in the Apocrypha, and have been adopted into the popular angelology. One named Raphael is very conspicuous in the singular story of Tobit, from which circumstance—from the frequent use of his name by the old diviners by crystals and the like, who professed to act much under the influence of angels, and, with us, from the conspicuous part Milton has assigned to him in “Paradise Lost,” as the friendly instructor of Adam—the name of Raphael has become almost as familiar as the names of Gabriel and Michael.
The book of Esdras furnishes us with the further names Uriel, of Jiremiel, an archangel, and also of Sealthiel. The Jewish rabbinical writers, however, give us many more names of angels, which they pretend to have received by tradition from the fathers. Indeed, their cabalistical writers inform us that the names of the angels are contained mystically in the Scriptures, and that “the wise” can discern them there.
On the other hand, there are those who doubt that angels have any proper names. This is the view taken by a writer who has devoted a volume to the subject of angels. Note:
: On a Discourse of Angels. London: Printed for Thomas Parkhurst, at the Bible and Three Crowns, 1701. The learned author’s name does not appear in any part of the work; but our copy is lettered Saunders’ Angels. He argues, that although names do appear in Scripture, “they are names given those angels, not as their proper names, but as names that suited such messages as they were then sent on, and did as properly belong to other angels when sent on like messages. Gabriel signifieth the power or strength of God—and the angel is so called when sent to declare the great power of God; Michael signifieth, who is like unto God—that is, so strong as to be able to contend with Him; and so the angel is called when sent to fight for God’s people, and to oppose the devil and his angels. In like manner, that angel mentioned in Tobit is called Raphael, because he was sent to heal, (as you read in that history,) and so the word signifies. These were not names perpetually belonging to those individual angels, as their proper names, but names given them as appearing in certain ministries writing such names. And when any other angels are sent about the like services, those names do as properly belong to them.”
This is an ingenious view, and entitled to consideration. It even obviates some difficulties; but, upon the whole, there seems to us grounds of preference for the opinion, that the mines given are actually proper names. Without this, indeed, the significance the have deduced from the employment of Gabriel on the present occasion, would fall to the ground.
We may add, that the name of Gabriel, by reason of the prominent manner in which Mohammed brings him forward in the Koran, is now more familiar than that of any other angel in the Moslem East. Indeed, Mohammed pretended that Gabriel was the medium of his intercourse with heaven, and brought to him the revelations which the Koran embodied; and it was Gabriel who conducted him to heaven, mounted on the marvellous beast Al-Borak. Mohammedans believe, as we do, that this angel announced the birth of Christ to Mary his mother; and curiously enough, they claim his special patronage of the Moslems, on the ground that he served the Messiah, whom they reverence, Note: The Moslems reverence Jesus as a great prophet, but abhor his being accounted as the Son of God, which they regard as the error of his followers, and not as his own claim. and as an enemy of the Jews, who rejected Him. They call him “the faithful Spirit;” while the Persians, by a metaphor strange to us, but significant to them, designate him as “the Peacock of Paradise;” and in the second chapter of the Koran we read, “Whosoever is an enemy of Gabriel shall be confounded.” The Jews they suppose to be his enemies, on account of the part he took in introducing the Messiah; and he their adversary, on account of their rejection of Jesus.