Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?

Throughout the Old Testament, one finds an intriguing figure who is known as the Angel of the Lord (Hebrew, “mal’ak YHWH). The Angel of the Lord is not to be confused with an angel of God. There is a difference. The Angel of the Lord is given an extremely high status as he speaks for God. He appears at critical junctures, providing advice and giving stern warnings. But who is this mysterious figure? Is the Angel of the Lord an archangel like Gabriel? Is the Angel of the Lord the same as Michael the archangel? Or is he someone else? In this article, we will examine some of the Old Testament passages involving the Angel of the Lord. These passages provide necessary clues to the Angel’s identity.

Distinct from Yahweh[1] (Zechariah’s Night Visions).

On February 15th, 519 BC, the prophet Zechariah was given eight night visions. Through these night visions, God provided profound truths to the prophet pertaining to salvation, the promise of blessing, and judgment against opposition. The Angel of the Lord holds a profound role in these night visions. In the first night vision, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Yahweh, saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years” (Zechariah 1:12)?[2] What is most notable in this passage is that the Angel of the Lord, while of utmost importance, is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. So is the Angel of the Lord simply a messenger of God? Not so fast. Consider Genesis 16:7 and following.

Identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:7-12).

In Genesis 16, one finds the culmination of a series of problems between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the mother of Isaac and Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah (then Sarai) had irreconcilable differences with Hagar, an Egyptian servant. Sarah sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael (who was the son of Abraham). Yes, this was an ancient series of Days of our Lives. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and promised to take care of her and Ishmael. He also promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants. After the Angel spoke with her, Hagar replied to the Angel, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). The place was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” This is not the only time the Angel of the Lord is identified with God. For instance, the Angel of the Lord says to Joshua the high priest who wore excrement smeared vestments (representing the sin of the people), “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The Angel forgave the sins of Joshua and the people, something only God could do. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is divine.

Visible Manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6).

The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet separate from Yahweh Himself, as identified earlier. The Angel of the Lord often appears to humanity as a divine manifestation of God’s presence. For instance, Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush. Exodus notes that “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!”… “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-4, 6). The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham offering comfort and a stern warning to Lot to leave the area of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14). So how are we to understand the Angel of the Lord? There is an interesting parallel between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ Association with the Angel of the Lord (John 1).

The apostle John, in his gospel, provides an interesting prologue, popular to many. John notes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John teaches that Jesus was the Word, thus Jesus is shown possess an eternal nature. It is quite interesting that Jesus, defending the resurrection, argued by noting God’s response to Moses, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus’ statement is especially interesting as it is the Word of God, spoken by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is an eternal person, not identical to Yahweh, but identified with, or even as, Yahweh. Jesus is noted to be the same. So what does all this mean as it concerns the Angel of the Lord?

Conclusion

From examining the evidence, the Angel of the Lord cannot be considered an ordinary angel. The Angel of the Lord cannot be accepted as an archangel, either. The Angel of the Lord is a separate entity from Yahweh, yet he is closely identified with Yahweh. The Angel of the Lord is by all intent and purposes a visible manifestation of Yahweh to human beings. Now when one considers that Jesus is acknowledged as an eternal person who is separate from the Heavenly Father, yet closely aligned with the Father and, like the Angel of the Lord, holds a divine essence, it appears that one can hold a necessary link between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself. Therefore, this article holds that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus as He existed before the incarnation. Individuals are mistaken when they hold that Christ is not present in the Old Testament. In fact, the presence of the Messiah may be more evident than one supposes if the Angel of the Lord is identifiable with the pre-incarnate Jesus. Much more could be said about this issue. But for now, suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord is no ordinary character.

 

© September 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Yahweh is the personal name for God the Father.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s