In an article last week we introduced the fascinating case of the “angel of the Lord.” It will be our task in this article to explore Scripture and draw some important conclusions.
The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, telling him, “The LORD is with you…” (Judges 6:12 ESV). When Gideon expresses doubts to this angel, the text tells us, “The LORD turned to him and said…” (Judges 6:14). Is this a case of “blurring lines” between messenger and sender or something more?
Certainly the “angel of the Lord” has a special relationship to Jehovah. In appearances to both Hagar and Jacob, this messenger speaks in the first person as Jehovah (Genesis 16:7-13; 31:11-13). It was this messenger who stayed the hand of Abraham and renewed the covenant promises of God (Genesis 22:11-15).
This messenger came to Moses in a burning bush. The text states, “Jehovah saw,” and “God said” (Exodus 3:4). The messenger then told Moses to keep his distance and take off his sandals, “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). When asked for a name, the angel states, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14 ASV, NET). Jesus argues from this incident by stating that this “was said to you by God” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus also advocates for his Deity by echoing the statement made by the angel, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
There are appearances of God that pique our interest. Three men appear to Abraham in Genesis 18. Of these, two continue on to Sodom and are called “angels.” The other stays and speaks to Abraham. We are told that “Abraham still stood before the LORD” (Genesis 18:22). Joshua worshiped the “commander of the army of the LORD” (Joshua 5:14), and Joshua was commanded to take off his sandals for his was on holy ground (Joshua 5:15). No mere angel would allow, encourage, or command worship (see Revelation 22:8-9).
Is there a distinction between the “angel of Jehovah” and Jehovah? God told the people that he would “send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared (Exodus 23:20). A fascinating statement is made in Isaiah that helps us to understand this. “Thus says the LORD, the king of Israel and his Redeemer, The LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6).
If the angel of the Lord is deity, can we identify precisely who it is? God prophesied the coming of Jesus in this way, “Behold I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold he is coming, says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:1). Jesus makes it clear that the first messenger is John, the second messenger, this “messenger of the covenant” is Jesus (Matthew 11:10).
Remember the promise that God would send an angel to guard the Israelites on their way? Paul states the the they “drank form the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Isaiah says, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9). Jesus was that angel, that Rock and redeemer, who went before them!
A conclusion and a few lessons
- It seems to this student, that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. He is the messenger sent to guide and protect. He is the messenger whose very presence made the ground holy. He is the messenger who accepted worship.
- God’s presence is not accidental. He condescends to us because he cares for us! You are loved!
- The Logos, the pre-incarnate Christ, has been active in salvation for all our history. He is the great messenger who is sent to instruct, reveal, and save. You are blessed!
- We live in the age of ages (1 Corinthians 10:11). All that transpired in the past, even the appearances of God, occurred for us! You should be humbled!
- Jesus has appeared to us. While I’ve never seen Jesus with my eyes, I see him with my heart and my mind. Each day, as I read about his life, I see him and the Father. As compelling as a study of the angel of the Lord may be, it should lead to the most important study, the revelation of the Father through the life of Jesus.