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Sidney B. Sperry Symposium: A biblical pattern for the role of angels in physical salvation

Studying the work of angels in the Old Testament and throughout the scriptures helps individuals learn in the latter days, Brother Taylor Halverson said during the Sperry Symposium at BYU on Oct. 31.

Brother Halverson, who is a consultant for the Center for Teaching and Learning at BYU, discussed seven separate episodes from the Old Testament in which angelic messengers sent from God save people from physical calamity.

Taylor Halverson delivers a lecture on "The Paths of Angels: A Biblical Pattern for the Role of Angels in Physical Salvation" as part of the 38th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium.
Taylor Halverson delivers a lecture on "The Paths of Angels: A Biblical Pattern for the Role of Angels in Physical Salvation" as part of the 38th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. Photo: Jason Olson, Deseret News

"Although a thorough investigation of every passage with reference to angels is not possible here, a definite pattern emerges from the passages presented," Brother Halverson said. "Angels of the Lord — the Lord's divinely commissioned messengers authorized to speak the will of the Lord in response to human crisis — they provide an opportunity to faithfully respond to God's message, and thereby be saved from physical calamity."

In his presentation, Brother Halverson included several accounts of angels in the Old Testament. He discussed: the angel of the Lord who saves Hagar in Genesis 16, angels saving Lot from Sodom's destruction in Genesis 18-19, the angel of God who saves Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21, the angel of the Lord who saves Isaac in Genesis 22, the angel of God who saves the Israelites in Exodus 14 and the angel of the Lord who saves Jerusalem in Isaiah 37.

In looking at these accounts of angels in the Old Testament, Brother Halverson found a pattern of nine events that occurred in each of these experiences.

"The passages we have reviewed are stories of God's chosen people encountering moments of crisis, where life is threatened and their faithful response to God's urgent, angelic messengers has meant the difference between life and death," Brother Halverson said. "Their faithful response has also meant the difference between their claiming or forfeiting for themselves and their descendants God's Abrahamic promises."

The pattern of angels in these instances follows this order: someone petitions God, God responds, an authorized messenger is sent, the messenger speaks as God's representative, the petitioner is commanded to act, promises are made, the petitioner responds and salvation from death occurs and blessings are realized.

"Those moments of crisis in the Old Testament provide God's people an opportunity to be tested, and to choose life or death, in a quite literal sense. Those who physically survive these crises because they faithfully responded to God's authorized messengers can then lay claim to far greater spiritual promises from God."

What makes these examples so important to Latter-day Saints today, Brother Halverson said, is the example of responding to God's heavenly counsel for deliverance.

"Just as the faithful in the Old Testament realize physical salvation if they heed the words of angels, so too can people in the latter days find physical deliverance … if they respond faithfully to God's messengers," said Brother Halverson.

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