Do you have a list of questions for God? Do you have questions that can only be answered on the other side of eternity? They might be questions like, “What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?”, or “How was Enoch taken?”.
These and many others are questions that, while fascinating, are not necessary for us here. We have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). The secret things belong to God, but the things he has revealed belong to us (see Deuteronomy 29:29).
That being the case, we need to dig deep into what God has given us to answer the important and the intriguing, while understanding some answers may forever allude us. One intriguing and important question revolves around the Old Testament “angel of the Lord.”
Who is this messenger? Is this a secret thing which belongs to God or a revealed thing which belongs to us?
Three possibilities for this special messenger have been advanced: 1) A simple angel with a special commission, 2) A momentary glimpse of God, 3) The Logos, a temporary pre-incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. /1
Manser, writing in favor of the first, states that “angel of the Lord” is a “title given to those angelic servants of God who are given specific tasks in furthering God’s purposes among humanity.” /2
McClintock and Strong dismiss the second in favor of the third, “These appearances are evidently ‘foreshadowings of the incarnation.'” /3
Defining our terms
The phrase of interest is found 56 times in the Old Testament. “Angel,” both in Hebrew (malak) and Greek (angelos), is commonly defined as “one sent.” The men sent to spy out Canaan were “angels” (Joshua 6:17). Prior to Jacob meeting Esau, “angels of God” met him. Then Jacob sent “messengers” to Esau (Genesis 32:1-3). Both terms are translated from the Hebrew “malak.”
One attention-grabbing passage is found in Exodus 23:20. Here God says that he will “send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” The context of this passage is thrilling. We will come back to this later in our study.
The “angel of the Lord” is certainly “one sent.” But who is the sent one?
The first possibility advanced for the “angel of the Lord” is that this refers to delegated authority. In the times of the Old Testament, it was often the case that “the line of demarcation between the sender and the sent is liable easily to be blurred” /4.
In Genesis 44, Joseph tests his brothers by placing his cup within the bag of Benjamin. When accused of this, the brothers tell Joseph’s steward that if the bag was found that they would be Joseph’s servants. The steward responded, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant” (Genesis 44:9-10).
Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).
A prophet who spoke for God carried the authority of the Almighty. A disciple who spoke for Jesus carried the authority of the Son of God.
Is the “angel of the Lord” simply a case of delegated authority, or can we ascribe glory and honor to this very special messenger? Next week we’ll attempt to draw some conclusions and learn some lessons.
1/ John Macartney Wilson, “Angel,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 134
2/ Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).
3/ John McClintock and James Strong, “Angel,” Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1880), 226.
4/ See notes at https://netbible.org/bible/Exodus+23