The Angel of the LORD continued…
Let’s look at the Angel in action in Genesis and Exodus.
His first appearance is to the Egyptian, Hagar:
Then the Angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The Angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” The Angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery… She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen 16:9-14)
Here the Angel speaks of another Person called the LORD who has heard Hagar. This is typical in the OT – God hears and sends His Angel to deliver. See Gen 21:17; Ex 2:23ff; Num 20:16; Judges 13:9 – also similar is Dan 3:28; 6:22.
But even though the Angel is distinctly called of the LORD He can also own the name ‘LORD’ Himself. In verse 13 even the narrator calls the Angel “LORD” and Hagar calls Him “the God who sees me.” He is from God but He also is God – in fact He is the visible God for Hagar is astonished that she has seen Him.
Read on to Genesis 22 and here we see that the Angel of the LORD is the One who intercepts the judgement of father Abraham on his son.
But the Angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” The Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.
Difficult to read these verses if you’re a unitarian! ‘Now I know that you fear God because you haven’t witheld your son from Me.’ The Angel clearly thinks the offering is to Himself and later in v16 He clearly thinks that He is the LORD who will bless Abraham. But He also clearly speaks of ‘God’ as another Person in the equation. There’s much more to be said about Genesis 22, but we must move on.
In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man (‘ish) who is clearly a source of blessing (v26) and is in fact God (v28). Jacob rightly identifies Him as ‘God face to face’ (perhaps best understood as a divine title?). Why are we looking at this passage while considering the Angel? Because of what Hosea 12:3-5 makes of this incident.
…[Jacob] struggled with God. He struggled with the Angel and overcame Him; he wept and begged for His favour. He found Him at Bethel and talked with Him there– the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is His name of renown!
Hosea knows how it is that Jacob could actually wrestle with God and see Him face to face. He knows that Jacob wrestled with the Angel. But Hosea also knows that such a name is not a diminutive title for this figure. The Angel is Himself the LORD God Almighty (Yahweh the God of Hosts). What’s interesting is not only Hosea’s high christology but also how OT saints thought through the issues of how God is mediated. It was clear to Hosea, even though Genesis does not mention the name, that Jacob wrestled ‘the Angel.’ OT saints are able to make such distinctions and properly interpreted their own Scriptures christologically centuries after the events and centuries before the incarnation.
Moving on in Genesis we come to Jacob’s blessing of his grandsons. Just as he sought the Angel’s blessing for himself (Gen 32:26,29) so now he wants the Angel’s blessing for Ephraim and Manasseh:
“May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm–may He bless these boys. (Gen 48:15-16)
Who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This is a massive question today. Can we please have the courage to proclaim from Genesis that Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the Deliverer God before Whom the patriarchs walked. The Angel is God and Shepherd, Deliverer and the Source of all blessing. The Angel is God from God and the One to Whom the patriarchs looked.
I can’t see a) any way around this, b) any reason you’d want to get around this!
Let’s move on briefly to Exodus. And here again we see the pattern whereby people call out to God, God hears (Exod 2:23-24) and in response He sends His Deliverer. And who is the Deliverer?
2 There the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight– why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:2-6)
The Angel is Him who dwelt in the burning bush (Deut 33:16). He is, v4, LORD and God and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Furthermore He is the great I AM (v14) who saves His people. When Jesus claims to be I AM He isn’t (as many seem to say) audaciously applying to Himself a title belonging to “”God””. He’s saying – I’m ‘Him who dwelt in the burning bush.’ He’s not just saying ‘I have the same name as Israel’s Redeemer, He’s saying – You know the whole burning bush, plagues, Red Sea thing? That was me!’
Notice how in Exodus 3:12 the Angel says:
“I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
The Angel will save a people and bring them to God. That is the story of salvation. And does the Angel deliver on His promise? Yes! He is the LORD who goes at their head:
By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Ex 13:21)
How do we know that this is the Angel?
Then the Angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them (Ex 14:19)
So the Deliverer is the Angel who is of the LORD and who is the LORD. Exodus 23:20-23 tells us how the Angel relates to the Most High God: ‘My Name is in Him’ says the LORD on top of the mountain. The Angel is the One the people should follow knowing that He has been sent from the LORD on high with the very character of the unseen God. To hear the Angel (v22) is to know the favour and salvation of God Most High.
The Exodus was wrought at the initiative of God the Father hearing His people’s cries for mercy. Out of His compassion He sent His Angel to deliver His people and bring them back to the Mountain to worship Him.
And just to drive home the point even further, let’s look at one last reference. When all is done and dusted and Scripture looks back on the redemption out of Egypt, who is it who takes the credit?
The Angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said,`I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” When the Angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud. (Judges 2:1-4)
At this point I feel like pulling a CS Lewis – when the Angel makes such incredible claims, He’s either mad, bad or the LORD. So who is He??
I hope it’s obvious. But I hope we also see that these things are plain on their own terms and in their own context. I haven’t needed to do any NT ‘re-reading’. I hope you see this isn’t a conjuring act it’s simply taking these verses seriously. And allowing them to say what they say without forcing them into a pre-fab unitarian mould.
I think it’s clear (don’t you?) the Angel is clearly divine, clearly Israel’s Deliverer, clearly trusted in. But also note – He is also clearly distinct from another called LORD or God (we’ll see this more and more as we go on). And He has His identity as the Sent One (malak – Messenger). To see Him is to be immediately drawn into knowledge of the Sender whose Name He bears. His very being is defined by relationship to Another. He is a divine Person who belongs to another divine Person. Israel’s LORD is God from God.
And if this is true then the OT doctrine of God is nothing like the modern Jew’s god, nothing like the philosopher’s god, nothing like allah. The God of the OT is inescapably and irreducibly trinitarian in nature and christocentric in focus.
One more post on the Angel to come and then we’ll look at some other fun stuff.