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Vol. IX, Sept. 2003

 

"The Lord With Mighty Chariotry...
Thousands Upon Thousands" (Ps 68:17)


Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Psalm 68 directs our glance upwards again to heaven, to God! Near God, all is in order. In His realm reigns peace, everyone is filled with joy. There is life in His presence. To approach Him is always something solemn: "Let God arise…Let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song to Him who rides upon the clouds; His name is the Lord, exult before Him!" (Ps 68:1,3-4).

Recently, in Ps 46:8 (IX, June, 2003), we reflected on the dignity and power, the majesty and authority of God as manifested in His throne. Here the Psalmist shows us the greatness of God in another, yet similar way. He says, "With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place. Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives in Thy train, and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there" (vv. 16-18). What are we to understand by this imagery?

The Psalmist compares God to an earthly king. He wants to show God’s incomparably higher kingship by pointing to His "mighty chariotry" of an almost incalculable number, "twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands". This refers, of course, to His spiritual army, the holy angels, for His "kingship is not of this world" (Jn 18:36). Being purely spiritual, God does not need a physical army nor chariots. Notwithstanding, His contact with creatures needs to be expressed in some phenomenological way. Again we read, "Lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds" (v. 4) and "sing praises to the Lord, to Him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens" (vv. 32-33). Based on parallels in Scripture, like in Rev 9:16ff., an exegete states, "Here God enters with the myriads of angels, who surround Him on Sinai (cf. Deut 33:2) and form also in the holy tent His invisible court…As kings enter, so the poet can imagine God, only upon a chariot surrounded by an innumerous army of His fighters, the blessed spirits" (E. Kalt, Herders Bibelkommentar). This image invites us once again to reflect upon the holy angels in their relation to God.

1. The "Mighty Chariotry" Seen from God

a) "Their Splendor–Your Greatness": We might imagine the "chariotry" of the biblical times and think about their importance for earthly kings. Following the Psalmist here, we have to think of the army of God as composed of pure spirits. By this image is depicted not so much His angels in their immense multitude, as God’s greatness and the awesome majesty of His reign which forms a harmonious composition with all those who belong to Him and serve Him. This thought is reflected in the preface of the holy angels at Mass: "In praising Your faithful angels and archangels, we also praise Your glory, for in honoring them, we honor You, their Creator. Their splendor shows us Your greatness, which surpasses in goodness the whole of creation".

b) The Chariots–GOD’s Entourage: Sacred Scripture also mentions the chariotry of the Lord, when it testifies that Elijah was taken up to heaven: "A chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two [Elijah and Elisha]. Elisha cried out, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen’" (2 Kings 2:11-12; cf. Circular V, May, 1999). Chariots are also mentioned when God sent a chariot to take Elijah up to heaven, or when Elisha prayed and his servant saw how the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (cf. 2 Kings 6:17 and Deut 33:2). We concluded at that time with Cornelius Lapide: "This fiery chariot, which took Elijah on high, was formed by angels with clouds." In fact, we seldom see a person in a high position alone by himself, particularly when they are on a mission. God surrounds Himself as well with His faithful angels, coming "with mighty chariotry…thousands upon thousands"!

c) The Chariots as a Sign of His Love: In contradistinction to human leaders, however, God does not need this manifestation of His might. Therefore, we may see it also as a sign of His love for His creatures. Lowly as they all are with respect to Him, God is, nevertheless, not ashamed of His creatures. He likes especially, as we see it in these thousands upon thousands of chariotry, the already proven and therefore faithful angels with Him. In the Gospel of St. John we frequently find the expression, "The One whom He has sent" to indicate Jesus, as if it were His name. In a similar fashion we can call the holy angels, "those who are with God". They are the first "captives" of His love, of His majesty, goodness and beauty. GOD loves them and they love God. This is the shortest and the clearest description of the world of the holy angels into whose beauty this Psalm leads us.

2. The "Mighty Chariotry" Seen with the Angels

We may ask ourselves why this image is used for the angels?

a) The Chariot of God: The Psalmist says, "Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives in thy train." To communicate with us, we find many anthropomorphic expressions in the Psalms; the chariotry is one of them. Consider Jesus entering into Jerusalem: "Your king…coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass" (Mt 21:5). This most humble manner underscores His sacred Humanity. Now, what a difference there is here: "Mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands!" Is it not a testimony of the divinity!

b) Ascending: In the dream of Jacob, there "was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!" (Gen 28:12; cf. Circular II, Sept. and Nov., 1996). Referring to this image, Jesus promised, "You will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (Jn 1:51). The Psalmist refers here to the angels with in a slightly different way: God Himself is described as moving, He "came from Sinai into the holy place," and "Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives" with the angels! The angels are testimonies of the real happiness for all creatures, which consists only in the union with God. Among the angels there is no longer any searching or spiritual hunger, for they are "bearer[s] of God" and so are always with Him.

c) So Many and Just One: When beholding the angels, one might ask: Can they all find the fulfillment of their desires in One and the same thing, in God? The question, of course, arises out of our experience as creatures with creatures. These are all finite goods, none of which can perfectly satisfy the infinite longing of the created will for infinite goodness, to say nothing of satisfying the will of all men and angels. But God is not just infinitely wise and almighty. He is infinitely good, infinitely capable of responding to the "infinite" longing of every spiritual creature, men and angels alike. Each will be filled to overflowing with their own personal share in the inexhaustible goodness of God. We find this truth reflected in Jesus’ presence in the Holy Eucharist: However many hosts are consecrated, in each one the communicant receives Jesus entirely. There is no limit to the number of hosts that could be consecrated, nor is there a limit to the amount of happiness the saints can enjoy in God.

3. The "Mighty Chariotry" Seen by Man

What can this beautiful vision of God mean for us?

a) Angels as Companions of the Judge: The Psalmist sings about "the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation…sing praises to the Lord, to Him who rides in the heavens" (vv. 19-20, 32-33). God is shown in almost all the Psalms as the merciful Redeemer and sovereign judge, and with Him, as is often said, are the angels (cf. Is 66:15; Dan 7:9ff.; Mt 13:39,49; 25:31; Jude 14ff.). The angels, His chariotry, accompany God in the judgement as testimonies for both God and man, as defenders of God’s goodness towards man throughout his earthly life, and as confessors of all the good works of man. The appeal to the chariots of God is also to show that the victory of Israel did not come from their own arms, but from the help of God through His angels and in their company.

b) So Many? Yet, we might wonder why there are so many angels who accompany Him when God comes to us and takes us to Himself? But is this fact really so strange? Do we realize how many people we meet each day? How many people we meet on one single trip? With how many people we come into contact with during work and when we go into town? And do they not all have their angel? Therefore, even if the figure "twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands" remains vague to us, still we can understand that during our earthly life we really come into contact with a great number of angels, many more than we commonly think! This brings us to a final observation.

c) Step On: The beautiful observation of the Psalmist, "With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place. Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives in thy train" (Eph 4:8), is finally a very strong invitation to "jump into this train." Besides God being the goal of all our life, union with His angels as mediators and helpers to the goal is at least part of the plan of God. Since God loves them and wants them in His company, how can we neglect their presence with Him?! If God enjoys being surrounded by these pure, humble, loving spirits, how can we think of excluding them from our lives and still hope to find our happiness in God?! Since He considers it delightful to be with them, how much more so should we be grateful and seek to pass our days in their presence and companionship?!

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

How great is our God! Let us follow the invitation of the Psalmist and look up to the Lord! Let us try to see His splendor and majesty, manifested through the presence of the angels around Him.

How much would change in our life if we became more aware of these powerful heavenly spirits "sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation" (Heb 1:14)!

May the saints help us to grow in this familiarity with the invisible and yet not less real part of God’s creation.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC