Angel of Death

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Who is the Angel of Death?

The angel of death reflects man’s ambivalent nature toward death, as death is very difficult for many of us to cope with. The angel of death, or grim reaper as he is sometimes called, allows us to embody the concept of death into a tangible creature. The idea of the angel of death is thousands of years old. The angel of death is or has been identified with Satan, and it is said that when Eve touched the tree of knowledge, she perceived the angel of death, and thought: "Now I shall die, and God will create another wife for Adam."

In the Bible, various names are applied to angelic beings. For example the Greek word angelos means messenger, either human or divine. In Jewish thought and lore, angels were referred to as bnei elohim or bnei elim, “children of God.” They were gifted with limited powers dependent upon the Master’s (God’s) decrees and orders. In 1 Chronicles 21:16, the angel of the Lord is described as standing between earth and heaven with a drawn sword in his hand: ”David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown” Isaiah 37:36 says, “Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning — there were all the dead bodies!

It is comforting to know that even in the verses where death is personified, there is no reference to any angel being granted permanent responsibility for terminating life on Earth. 2 Samuel 24:16 says, “When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, ‘Enough! Withdraw your hand…’”

Many religions and cultures have formed an Angel of death:

  • In Muslim and Islam theology, Azrael is the angel of death who is “forever writing in a large book and forever erasing what he writes: what he writes is the birth of man, what he erases is the name of the man at death.”
  • In Judeo-christian lore, Michael, Gabriel, Sammael, and Sariel are all named as the angel of death.
  • In Zoroastrianism, the angel of death is Mairya.
  • In Babylon, it is Mot.
  • In Rabbinical lore, there are 14 Angels of Death: Yetzerhara, Adriel, Yehudiam, Abaddon, Sammael, Azrael, Metatron, Gabriel, Mashhit, Hemah, Malach ha-mavet, Kafziel, Kesef, and Leviathan.
  • In Falasha lore, it is Suriel.
  • The Arabic angel is Azrael.


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