Hark! The Herald Angels Sing… or did they?
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
How many angels sang at the birth of Jesus? That’s a trick question. The answer is: none. But faithful Christians have been conjuring up impressive choirs of angels holding songbooks and sweetly singing in perfect harmony over the plains of Bethlehem for years, right?
And why wouldn’t we? Consider the words to O Come, All Ye Faithful: "Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation” and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: “Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn king” and Angels We Have Heard on High: "Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plains." First, let’s look to the Bible to see what actually happened over 2,000 years ago over the fields of Bethlehem. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…” (Luke 2:13) So the angels were praising God, giving him all the glory. They were speaking, not singing. Also, what is a heavenly “host”? The classical Greek word “stratia” denotes an army or a company of soldiers. So heavenly troops, not choir members. Have you ever noticed whenever an angel shows up in the Bible, people are initially frightened? Angels in the Bible are described as looking like people, but impressive and often frightening. In fact, the first words that the angel who spoke to the shepherds were, “Fear not.” The angels were “heralds,” or messengers, but we’re not talking about a singing telegram. They were telling it like it was-- think of troops of soldiers booming out a message in unison. How many angels are we talking about? Well, since there was a “multitude” of the heavenly hosts, we suppose there could easily have been thousands upon thousands of angels there that night. But let’s let Scripture inform our understanding of angels in the presence of God. Look at the angels before God in Daniel 7:10 where "A thousand thousands kept ministering to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him." Then look in Revelation 5:11 where the number of angels in the throne room of God who are worshiping the Lamb is “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, ..." A "myriad" is innumerable-- too many to count. Could we be talking about millions and millions? A final mind-blowing clue is from Hebrews 1:5-6 which appears to speak about the nativity: "For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you'? Or again, 'I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son'? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.'" God's only begotten was worthy of all the angels to attend the day of his birth. The shepherds saw a multitude, but probably saw only a fraction of all the heavenly hosts in attendance to worship the newborn King. That night in the fields, as the shepherds were watching their flocks, it was less like a choir and more like a military drill and ceremony. All of God's angels were in formation, exclaiming, “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST!”
Imagine that many voices, in unison, worshiping and praising God for the birth of the Messiah, the advent of salvation. It got their attention, alright. They were “sore afraid” as the King James Version tells us, so they were probably quivering in their sandals. Christmas really is “good news of great joy” for everyone. For our Savior, Jesus the Messiah was born. He was born to die, and die that we might live. Just like those shepherds, I am overwhelmed with the glory of God and the wonder of the Christmas news. Let us join in with those heavenly messengers and praise God for his perfect redemption plan-- and speak (or sing!) God’s praises loudly!
Credit: I can't remember where I read online someone making the comparison of the heavenly host being more less like a singing telegram and more like a football game or a pep rally, and yelling "GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST!" so if you recognize this comparison, please let me know so I can cite you. Because of the military aspect, it seemed more like a military call and response to me, but your article gave me the idea, thank you.