The Angel of Jehovah in the Old Testament Scriptures

The name angel of the Lord first occurs at Genesis 16:6-13 as an appellation of the messenger who appears to Hagar, when she fled from the face of her mistress Sarah It is the angel of the Lord who calls from heaven to Abraham that he shall not lay his hand upon the lad Isaac (Gen. 22:11); speaks to Jacob in a dream that he has seen all that Laban did to him (3:11); and calls to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush (Ex. 3:12). It is again the angel of the Lord who encourages Joshua when he was by Jericho. Looking out into the distance, Joshua sees a man standing over against him and in his hand is a sword. He calls to him that he make known who he is, friend or foe. Not as foe has he come, is the man’s reply, but as captain of the host of the Lord. That this mysterious visitor is the same angel is proved by his commanding Joshua to remove from his feet his shoes in that the place where he stands is holy ground. Moses formerly had to do likewise and for the same reason, having been commanded by the angel of the Lord. The Israelites for their sins are oppressed by the Midianites. The angel of the Lord sends Gideon for their deliverance (Judges 6). The same angel appears to Manoah and promises him a son and reveals himself as he has done to Gideon by causing fire to issue from the rock and consume the sacrifice which has been placed upon it. This angel is also spoken of as “the angel of the presence, i.e., face, of Jehovah. There are more scriptures which contain references to him. The question that confronts us is: Just who is this angel? The answer is to be gotten in the way of an examination of these scriptures.

The angel of the Lord appears to Hagar and says, “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And Hagar called the name of Jehovah that spake to her, Thou God seest me.” This angel therefore is identified with Jehovah and promises what God only can do.

One of the three angels who appear to Abraham during his residence in the plans of Mamre is Jehovah (Gen. 18). The chapter sets out with the statement that the Lord appeared to him. He is called Jehovah in this chapter over and over. “And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh. . . .Is there anything too hard for the Lord? At this time appointed I will return unto thee. . . .and Sarah shall have a son (vs. 13). And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do. . . . (vs. 17). And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great. . . .I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it. . . . (vss. 20, 21).” Abraham is said to stand before Jehovah. Through the whole of his intercession in behalf of the cities of the plain, he addresses the angel as Adonai, a name borne by the true God only; and the angel replies as one whose authority it is to pardon or punish, as to him seems just.

In Gen. 22:2 God commands Abraham to offer Isaac. “And the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven. . . .and he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything to him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (vss. 11, 12). The implication also of this language is that the pronoun me and the names angel of the Lord and God denote one and the same entity.

“And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time and said, By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah, for because thou hast done this thing. . . .that in blessing thee ,and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars in the heaven. . . .” (vss. 15, 16). Here the angel calls himself Jehovah, swears by himself, and promises a numerous posterity to Abraham. He will bless Abraham and multiply his seed. These are works of which God only is capable. This angel therefore is God.

In his vision (Gen. 28:1-22), Jacob beholds a ladder whose top reaches to heaven. “And, behold, Jehovah stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” In Gen. 22 it is the angel of the Lord who is to accomplish what is here promised and to be brought to pass by Jehovah, again proving that the angel is the Lord God of Abraham and the God of Israel.

At Peniel (Gen. 32:24-32) Jacob wrestled with a man whom he perceived to be God. He therefore called the name of the place Peniel. “For,” said he, “I have seen God face to face.” In referring to this event, the prophet Hosea, 12:4 says, “Yea, he (Jacob) had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us; even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial.” Here the “man” is identified with the angel of the Lord and the latter with Lord God of hosts.

Exodus 3 is an account of the revelation of God to Moses at Mount Horeb. “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush:. . . .And Moses said, I will turn and see this great sight, when the bush is not burnt. And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said. . . Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy 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 upon God. “Here, too, the angel of Jehovah is identified with Jehovah and is said to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

How that the Scriptures identify the angel of the Lord with Jehovah is further manifest from the account given in Judges 6:11 of the appearance of the angel to Gideon. “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. . . . And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianities: have not I sent thee?” In vs. 16 it is again, “And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianities as one man.” Gideon implores his visitor not to depart until he bring his offering and set it before him. The sacred narrator continues, “And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and poor out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and their rose fire out of the rock and consumed the flesh and the cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight. And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face. And the Lord said to him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.” The one who in this passage transacts with Gideon is called now angel of the Lord and then again the Lord (Jehovah in the original text). Gideon addresses him as Jehovah God and honors him with an offering that may be brought only to God.

But the scriptures also clearly distinguish between this angel and Jehovah, One such scripture in which this distinction is clearly presented is Ex. 23, where it is said, “Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice ,and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine angel shall go before thee and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites. . . .and I will cut them off.” The speaker here is Jehovah. That the angel whom He sends is the angel of the Lord, elsewhere and also here identified with Jehovah, is apparent. Jehovah’s name, the revelation of His being, is in him. Therefore he will not pardon transgression i.e., condone sin. He will bring the people of Israel into the promised land of their abode, cutting off their enemies. But this angel, though identical with Jehovah, is at once distinct from Him. For Jehovah sends him. And His name is in Him. The distinction between the two is also clearly brought out in Ex. 33. This chapter records what God says to Moses after the people had sinned in worshipping the golden calf. In punishment of this offense, the Lord will send an angel before His people, but He, Jehovah, will not go up in their midst, lest He consume them in the way, they being a stiff-necked people. When the people hear this evil tiding, they mourn. The truly penitent go out to the tabernacle, which Moses has taken and pitched without the camp in fulfillment of the Lord’s threat. Moses implores the Lord to consider that this nation is His people. The Lord replies that His presence, i.e., His face, will go with him. Thus the facts of the matter are verily these: 1) The angel of the Lord identifies himself with Jehovah. 2) Those to whom he appears recognize, name, and worship him as Jehovah, the only true God, the God of Israel. 3) He receives sacrifices and worship without any protest. 4) He claims, does this angel, divine honor and exercises divine power. 5) The Biblical writers constantly speak of him as Jehovah. This on the one hand. On the other hand: 1) This angel is distinct from Jehovah. For, Jehovah sends him and His name is in him.

Just who, then, is this angel. There are principally two views. The one sees in him an ordinary angel, like other angels, thus one of the spirits who wait continually on God and do His will. The following reasons are urged in favor of this view.

a. The name angel designates, throughout the entire scriptures, only one class of spiritual beings. But this is not true. The seven angels of the seven churches in the Revelation of John were human beings.

b. It is urged that the angel of the Lord who appeared to the virgin Mary and to Joseph her husband, was a creature-angel. So, too, it may be added, the angel of the Lord in several Old Testament scriptures such as 2 Sam. 24:16ff and 1 Kings 19 :5-7. The question is whether in every creature where the title occurs the angel of the Lord is a creature-angel.

c. It is said that the Old Testament cannot speak of the self-distinction of God because in that case it would anticipate the doctrine of the trinity. This argument certainly is devoid of all force. All the great doctrines contained in the New Testament scriptures are intici- pated by prophecy and type, the prophetic word and the corresponding typical transactions. There is such a thing as a progressive revelation. Its commencement is the very first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”.

d. It is said that in Ex. 33:1-3a a passage which reads, “And the Lord said to Moses, depart, and go hence. . . .unto the land which I sware unto Abraham. . . . And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanites. . . . for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people,” in this passage, it is said, Jehovah appears to so distinguish this angel from Himself that we cannot think of him as one with Jehovah. Accordingly, some interpreters hold that after the sin with the golden calf, God threatened the people that He should no longer go with them, but a subordinate, created angel. But the opposition here is not this, that either a created, ordinary, angel goes with Israel, or Jehovah, but this, that Jehovah would no longer Himself be present in the camp of Israel, but beyond it, that thus a stricter separation should be made between the impure people and the tabernacle.

e. It is also objected by some that the prophets too identify themselves in a similar way with Jehovah. True it is that the prophets often do set forth their discourses as directly proceeding from the mouth of Jehovah, but they always in some way make a clear distinction between their person and His. What is more, there is no passage in which a prophet of God ascribes to himself divine honors, names, works and determinations. There is no passage in which a prophet uses indiscriminately his own name and that of Jehovah and renders to himself divine honor, in worship and sacrifice.

So the question, “Who is the angel of the Lord,” must be answered thus: This angel who appeared to Hagar, to Abraham, to Moses, to Joshua, to Gideon, and to Manoah, can be none other than the Son of God, the second person in the blessed trinity, in His office of Mediator, thus He whom we now worship as our God and Savior Christ Jesus. There can be no doubt about the correctness of this answer. Said Israel, when blessing Jehovah, “God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads” (Gen. 48:15, 16). The prophecy of Isaiah contains this remarkable passage, “And he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not die: so he was their Savior. In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bear them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9, 10). How clear that the angel of whom the prophet here speaks can be none other than Christ. It may have been with this very passage before his mind, that the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews penned, “Wherefore in all things it behooved him—Christ Jesus—to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted (Heb. 2:18). For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:16).

Further, as the Old Testament scriptures identified the angel of the Lord with the Triune God, so the New Testament writers of the scriptures identified Christ with the Triune God. In making plain to his readers that Christ is preferred above the angels, both in person and in office, the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews quotes from the psalms as follows, “And of the angels he saith, who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness, is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Ps. 45:6, 7). And again, “And, thou, Jehovah in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands” (Ps. 102:25). Finally, “They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail” (Ps. 102:26; Isa. 34:4). These passages, as quoted, are found at Heb. 1:7-12. So does the writer of this epistle set forth Christ as being God, whose throne is for ever; as being the unchangeable and everlasting Jehovah by whom was laid the foundation of the earth. Now, if both the angel of the Lord and Christ are Jehovah, then it cannot be otherwise than that this angel is Christ.

Finally, the very circumstance that the Scriptures identify the angel of the Lord with God and at once distinguish between Him and God is by itself conclusive proof that this angel—the angel who appeared to the Old Testament worthies mentioned above—is Christ. For, Christ being of one and the same essence with God—the Triune Jehovah—none other than He can be identified with God. But, though being one with God, He is at once distinct from God, He being Christ, the Mediator of God and man, the incarnate Word.

Thus the distinction here is not between the Son on the one hand and the Father and the Holy Spirit on the other, but between the Son in His office of Mediator and the Triune Jehovah.

Thus, long before His incarnation in the fullness of time the Son of God in his office of Mediator was manifesting Himself personally and even visibly upon the earth,—to Hagar and Abraham in a real human form; to Moses in the burning bush; to the people of Israel in the smoke and fire that enveloped the summit of the mount of God; and later to this people in the pillar of cloud. Thus the angel whom Abraham addressed as Jehovah and for whom he fetched bread, was verily Christ. It was Christ—the Triune Jehovah through Christ—who called to Moses out of the midst of the Bush and sent him to deliver Israel. It was Christ who met him by the way in the inn and threatened to kill him on account of his neglect in the matter of the circumcision of his son. It was Christ who communicated to him the law and spake to him out of the tabernacle of the congregation. When the people of Israel took their journey from Succoth, it was none other than Christ Himself who went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them by the way; and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. The word of the Lord that came to all the prophets was a word communicated to them by the Triune covenant God through Christ. Thus through all the centuries of the Old Dispensation, Christ personally and directly was functioning as Mediator in His office of Mediator.

(to be continued)