Can we tell angels what to do?

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QUESTION: Can Christians tell righteous angels what to do? Can we command them to protect, serve, or even do something for us?

ANSWER: There is no Bible precedent of any human telling or commanding righteous angels what to do. Humans are not to pray to angelic spirit beings (see our article on whom we should direct our prayers) or worship them (Revelation 22:8 - 9). Scripture does record, however, cases where humans have made requests when such spiritual servants have appeared to them in human form. Many times what they ask for is granted and other times it is not.

One well-known case of angels fulfilling a request made by a human involves a man named Lot. After Lot and his family are escorted out of Sodom (just before its destruction) they are told the following.

17. And it came to pass, when they (two angels) brought him outside, they said, "Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountain lest you be consumed" (Genesis 19:17, HBFV throughout)

Lot, possibly fearful that he would not reach the suggested mountain in time to avoid being destroyed along with the city, pleads for a favor.

18. And Lot said to them, "Oh no, my LORD, 19. Behold now, your servant has found grace in your sight, and you have magnified your mercy, which you have shown to me in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil overtake me and I die. 20. Behold now, this city (Zoar) is near to flee to, and it is a little one. Oh let me escape there - is it not a little one? - and my soul shall live" (verses 18 - 20)

Lot's request is granted through the sparing of the city of Zoar from destruction so that he and his family could flee to it (verse 21).

Who saw Lot's wife turn into a pillar of SALT?
Will humans judge ANGELS?
Why did Lot have sex with his daughters?

It should be noted that, in at least some Old Testament cases, requests that seem to be made of angels were actually asked of the spirit Being who would become Jesus (see our article on the subject). For example, Jacob's request that he be blessed before he let go of a "man" he was wrestling (Genesis 32:24 - 29), and Abraham's request that Sodom and Gomorrah not be destroyed if ten righteous were found in them (Genesis 18), were made and granted by Christ who appeared as a human.

Lot Fleeing with his Daughters from Sodom
Lot Fleeing with Daughters from Sodom
Albrecht Durer (c. 1498)

One example of a request that was not fulfilled by angels centers on the conception of Samson. A barren woman is told by an angel that she will conceive a son (Samson) who, under a lifelong Nazarite vow, will deliver Israel out of the hands of the oppressive Philistines. After she tells her husband Manoah about her special visitor, he asks God to have the spirit being appear again to instruct both of them regarding how to raise the child. Manoah, after the angelic messenger appears a second time, asks him to stay for a meal.

15. And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "I pray you, let us keep you until we have made a kid ready for you" (Judges 13:15)

The messenger of the Eternal rejects Manoah's request.

16. And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, "Though you keep me, I will not eat of your bread. And if you will offer a burnt offering, you must offer it to the LORD" . . . (verse 16)

Hebrews 1:14 tells us that the primary purpose of righteous angels is to minister to (serve, aid, help) the children of God. They watch over true believers and are interested observers of God’s plans coming to pass on the earth (1Peter 1:12). Believers do not have the authority, however, to command or tell them what to do. They serve and are accountable to our heavenly Father and live to carry out HIS will in all matters concerning human beings.

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Can we tell angels what to do?