You may not remember angels being present at Mount Sinai when Moses was given the law, but the rest of the Bible does. David, Stephen, Paul, and the author of Hebrews make mention of this theme. This is because Moses mentioned that God met him on Mount Sinai with thousands of his “holy ones.” The Hebrew term for “holy ones” can be used in reference to either spiritual beings or human beings. While Moses uses this term ambiguously, the most popular Bible translation of Jesus’ time directly identified these particular “holy ones” as “angels.”
So why are angels at the Mount Sinai event? First off, it helps to remember that where God is present, so is his divine council. Therefore it’s not that shocking that when Moses approaches God’s sacred space on Mount Sinai, God’s heavenly entourage is there with him. Secondly, it also makes sense that they’re present because scholars have noticed that the giving of the law at Mount Sinai matches the ancient concept of a “vassal treaty.” Such a treaty was an agreement between an inferior party and a superior party (in this case, Israel and God). When such agreements were made, spiritual beings relevant to the humans making the treaty were to be present. That way, if the human broke the covenant, they couldn’t run to other spiritual beings for support, because those beings knew the deal and were enforcing it. Therefore, the heavenly host were there as witnesses of God’s legal agreement with Israel.
But according to the Bible writers, the angels weren’t just present at Mount Sinai—they also delivered the law to Moses. Paul gets even more specific about this delivery: Apparently the angels gave it to Moses through an intermediary. But the Old Testament says that God himself gave Moses the law and that it was written by his own finger. So then who actually gave the law to Moses? God? Angels? An intermediary? Paul tries to clear up this confusion with a really weird statement: “an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.” What Paul means by this is that it was no mere angel that handed the law to Moses. It was the “the Angel of the Lord”—a specific angel in the Old Testament that was God in human form.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 7:44-8:1 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net. This particular post is a summarization of Michael Heiser’s research in his book, The Unseen Realm. You can also learn more about the Mount Sinai event and vassal treaties in Carmen Joy Imes book, Bearing God’s Name, or John Walton’s book, The Lost World of the Torah.