It was the morning when my wife was scheduled to attend one of the hospitals that are located within an hour’s drive from our home. She was due to receive laser treatment for her persistent glaucoma. But the preparatory medication they had recently prescribed to reduce pressure in her eyes had caused regular vomiting of any food she had swallowed. She even got dreadful nausea in her empty stomach when she had given up eating anything over the final weekend. So she had actually postponed her appointment at the start of the week.
Angels are ‘under orders’
Psalm 91:9-11 in the New Living Translation tells us: ‘If you make . . . the Most High your shelter . . . he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go . . . so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ The noun ‘angels’ translates literally as ‘messengers’ and generally refers to heavenly spirits but could even be applied to human beings. And we were soon to discover that the nurse who had telephoned to restore the appointment was truly an NHS angel! But first . . .
At the end of Jesus’ forty-day fast it was in fact ‘the devil’ that misquoted and misapplied this saying. He had led Jesus to a mountain top and tried to persuade him to presume on angelic safeguarding if he would dare to throw himself flamboyantly from this mountainous height onto the hard desert floor below. However, because the Son of God knew in detail the first five books of Scripture as well as the Psalms, he rebuked the devil by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 in reply. Here’s Matthew’s account (Matthew 4:5-11).
‘Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “He will order his angels to protect you [. . .] and they will hold you up in their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God’.”’ Actually Satan had deliberately left out a crucial proviso in that Scripture which I have indicated in square brackets. Compare the two sentences that the devil quoted, then notice what he omitted from Psalm 91, especially the clause as it is rendered in the New International Version (as well as in the New American Standard Version, and the Standard English Version too).
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’
If Jesus had thrown himself off a cliff edge presumptuously he would not have had angelic deliverance. Why? Because the phrase ‘in all your ways’ does not include egotistical daredevil showmanship! Messiah only ever performed deeds that his heavenly Father inspired him to do.
Incidentally, it is significant that Satan stopped short of quoting the couplet with which the psalmist had continued his lyrics: ‘You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent’ (Psalm 91:12 NIV)! Why, do you suppose, the devil didn’t let those two lines trip off his lying tongue?
So, what happened to us?
Let me now describe our visit to the hospital. Let’s call the nurse by the biblical name of ‘Miriam’. When she met us in Reception she informed us that she had been taken from her routine duties on ground level to serve us specifically. She accompanied us by the elevator to the top floor which, she told us, was not currently in use during the pandemic. We sat down for the nurse’s routine tests for blood pressure and sugar levels etc and Rosemary told her, ‘God has arranged for you to help me today.’ The warmth of the nurse’s response was easy to read in her eyes. So, for the entire forty minutes of my wife’s visit to the theatre ‘Miriam’ sat across the waiting room from me and we exchanged exuberant conversations about our individual Christian pilgrimages. Although our paths had never crossed in the previous decades, we had each been active in places and practices that had at times required risks of faith. The name of Brother Andrew, the legendary Dutchman, featured in each of our histories. In my case, smuggling Bibles into closed Communist lands inspired by Brother Andrew’s now published memoirs, and, in her case, she had cared for children in a needy area of the Middle East to which Brother Andrew moved his adventurous services after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the consequent opening up of ‘closed lands’.
I had brought a book with me to while away the long and lonely interval I had anticipated while Rosemary was in surgery. It was Alister McGrath’s ‘Inventing the Universe’. I only managed to read one short piece in it – a quotation from the pen of Richard Dawkins, the militant anti-Christian atheist.
‘Viewed through the lens of Dawkins’ scientific reductionism, human beings are just gene- perpetuating machines. [Genes] “. . . are in you and me; they created us, body and mind, and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for their existence.”
‘So, that’s settled then. That is what science tells us about human nature and identity.’
I read these sentences to ‘Miriam’ with the comment, ’I simply can’t believe that DNA [= DeoxyriboNucleic Acid] created humanity. It had to be G.O.D.’ We both laughed at Dawkins’ blind belligerent blustering.
Rosemary received her scheduled surgery, and another Christian nurse took over from ‘Miriam’. But she was able to accompany us in the elevator to the front door where we parked until our son-in-law drove his car to collect us. She laid her open palm on Rosemary’s shoulder, flicked my elbow with the back of her hand and sped from our sight (presumably to the refectory for her lunch). We breathed fresh air from outside. And we also sensed a frission of the atmosphere of heaven that Peter felt after he was miraculously released from prison. When ‘the angel suddenly left him . . . he said, “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me . . . from what [in our case, the glaucoma] had planned to do.’ (Acts 12:10-11 NLT).
‘If you make . . . the Most High your shelter . . . he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go . . . so you won’t ever hurt you foot on a stone.’ Yeah! Hallelujah!