Who is "The Angel of the Lord"?

 THE MESSENGER OF YAHWEH:CREATION OR CREATOR?  

Throughout the Old Testament, a being called ‘the angle of the Lord’, or the Messenger of Yahweh[1] makes several appearances.  But who is this being?  Based on certain evidence, most scholars have come to the conclusion that this being is actually the Second Person of the Trinity; the same person who in the New Testament take on human form as the Messiah.  However, some scholars remain unconvinced of this idea.  This paper will briefly present evidence that suggests that the appearances of the Messenger of Yahweh are theophanies which leads one to believe that this is in fact the pre-incarnate Christ.   

Evidence for the Function of the Messenger 

In nearly every translation of Scripture the being known as the Messenger of Yahweh (mal’ak YHWH in Hebrew) is called the angel of the LORD.  This trend is regretful considering the implications it brings to the issue.  When one hears the term angel one usually thinks of a created, heavenly being that serves God in various capacities from fighting for Him to simply giving Him eternal praise.  At its basic level, the Greek term angelos simply means “messenger.”[2]  This is also true of the Hebrew term mal’āk, which means “messenger or envoy.”  As opposed to this person being a created heavenly being, the idea behind the title Messenger of Yahweh is that this person is “a divinely appointed and authorized envoy of the heavenly court; he is God’s official spokesman.”[3]  Since one cannot determine what this being is based upon his name, one must look elsewhere to determine who he is in relation to God.  Is he simply a created being who delivers messages from the LORD, or is he something more?   

Evidence for the Deity of the Messenger 

Throughout the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the Messenger of Yahweh appears to exhibit privileges and authority that is reserved only for Yahweh Himself.  This use of divine authority provides much of the basis for the belief that the Messenger of Yahweh is in fact God.  This divine authority is generally exhibited in three ways: He identifies Himself with Yahweh, He speaks as Yahweh, and He claims to exercise the prerogatives of Yahweh. While the length of this paper does not permit an examination of each passage that involves the Messenger of Yahweh, it will discuss the ones that most clearly this divine authority in use.  

In all of His appearances, the Messenger of Yahweh is always closely identified with Yahweh Himself.  Some of the passages so closely align the Messenger with Yahweh Himself in the language used, it is hard to determine who is being spoken of in certain contexts (e.g. Gen 16.7-13; 22.11-18; Num 22.22-35).  Other times the names “Messenger of Yahweh” and “Yahweh,’ or “God” are used almost interchangeably (e.g. Gen 31.11-16; 2 Sam 14.4-20).[4]  Elsewhere in Scripture, other angels are always distinguished from God.   

In certain passages in the Old Testament, the Messenger of Yahweh actually speaks as Yahweh Himself.  The most prominent of these passages occurs in Exod 3.  Here we have the famous passage where Yahweh speaks to Moses from the Burning Bush.  The text says that the Messenger of Yahweh was the person who appeared to Moses from the bush (v.2).  However, beginning with v. 4, the text makes a shift and says that Yahweh spoke to Moses.  The text has already established that the Messenger is in the bush when he says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.”[5]   

Another instance similar to this in Scripture occurs in the book of Judges.  In chapter 2, the text says that the Messenger of Yahweh “came up from Gilgal to Bochin.” There He rebukes the nation of Israel.  As the basis for His rebuke, He reminds the people of their salvation from Egypt and of the covenant, which He had established with them.  The language here clearly indicates that the Messenger is identifying Himself as Yahweh.   

In Hebrew narrative, the voice of the narrator is essentially the voice of God.  He is omniscient and provides theological and moral commentary on the events that are taking place.  While other characters in the passage may lie, misrepresent facts and people, and even simply be wrong, the narrator is always correct in his observations of the events.[6] This being said, Gen 16 provides us with compelling evidence for the deity of the Messenger of Yahweh.  For in this passage the narrator calls Him Yahweh.  The text says that the Messenger appeared to Hagar and comforted her.  As Hagar begins to respond in joy to His promise of a child for her, the narrator says, “Then she called the name of Yahweh who spoke to her” (Gen 16.13, author’s translation). 

Not only does the Messenger speak as Yahweh Himself, He also exercises certain prerogatives that Yahweh alone can carry out.  This is most clearly seen through two examples from the book of Judges.[7] 

The first example comes from chapter 6.  Yahweh has commanded Gideon to deliver the people of Israel from the hand of Midian.  Gideon is uncertain and tests Yahweh’s Messenger, not knowing to whom He is talking.  Gideon asks for a sign so that he can be sure that he would be victorious over the Midianites.  As part of the test, Gideon wants to offer a sacrifice to the Messenger.  The Messenger of Yahweh accepts the sacrifice by causing it to be consumed in a burst of flame from His staff.  Throughout Scripture Yahweh commands that His people are not to offer sacrifices to anyone other than Himself, and yet here the Messenger of Yahweh accepts this offering.  After this occurs, it is obvious by his astonished utterance that even Gideon has now grasped what had happened and who his visitor had been – “Alas, O Lord Yahweh” (Judg 6.22, author’s translation).    

The second occurrence of such a display takes place in chapter 13.  This time, the appearance of the Messenger of Yahweh transpires in connection with the birth of Samson.  The Messenger appeared to Samson’s parents to announce his birth.  Again, a sacrificial offering is prepared and presented to the Messenger and again He accepts it.   These two events, and other like them, are significant in that they distinguish the Messenger of Yahweh from other created angels. In various place throughout Scripture we see angels responding to worship in the same way they do in the final chapter of God’s revelation to man.[8] In the midst of his incredible vision of the future on the island of Patmos, John records that he saw an angel (19.9ff).  After the angel instructed him to record the true words of God, John fell down to worship him.  However, the angel responded, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus…” (19.10).  When men try to give worship to angelic beings, this response is always given.  So, why did not the Messenger of Yahweh also respond in this way?  I believe it is because He is One who is worthy to receive worship from man because He is God.                                                                                                                 

One final piece of evidence to suggest that the Messenger of Yahweh is more than just an angel come from Jewish Scholarship.  John Walvoord tells us that Jewish Scholars viewed the role of the Messenger as a unique one: “[they] regarded the Angel of the Lord, in every instance, not as an ordinary angel, but as the only mediator between God and the world, the author of all revelations, to whom they gave the name Metatron.”[9]  This also begins to lead us into the direction of understanding exactly who this divine Messenger is.           

Evidence for the Identity of the Messenger 

If we believe that the Messenger of Yahweh is divine, and if we believe in a Triune Godhead, then we must determine which Person of the Trinity He is.  As we have seen, He is closely associated with Yahweh Himself, who we generally think of as the Person revealed to us as the Father.  Does this then mean that we are to assume that the Messenger of Yahweh is the Person we know as the Father?  Further Scriptural evidence would suggest otherwise. 

While Scripture often closely associates the Messenger of Yahweh with Yahweh Himself, it also distinguishes Him from Yahweh.  The book of Genesis gives us a clear example of this.   While Abraham is giving instruction to his servant about how to find a wife for his son Isaac, he says, “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s land house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me…He will send His angel before you…” (Gen 24.7).  The prophet Zechariah even gives us a record of a conversation between Yahweh and His Messenger (Zech 1.12ff).   

We must also take note of the fact that the Messenger of Yahweh disappears after the Incarnation.  While we have references to angels in general, every reference to the Messenger of Yahweh is in the Old Testament. This being said, however, the New Testament does make reference to the Messenger of Yahweh, but it always refers back to His activity in the Old Testament.  One reference also gives us insight into the Messenger’s identity.  Before we examine the New Testament passage we need to look at the Old Testament texts to which it refers.  In passages like Exod 14.19; 23.20; and 2 Kings 19.35, Scripture tells us that God sent His Messenger do perform tasks such going before the people of Israel as a cloud and a pillar of fire while they journeyed to the Promised Land and to go before them into battle.  Then, Paul tells the Corinthians, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and passed through the sea…and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10.1-4).  Paul not only speaks of the spiritual food and drink as being the Messiah, but also of their leadership from God in the form of a cloud.   

Whitmer also makes a comment on the Messiah being called the Word in John’s gospel.  He says that, “His very designation as the Word…suggests visible expression and manifestation and audible communication and revelation.”[10]  He goes on to say that it also means, “that He is the member of the Godhead manifested visibly and communicating audibly in the Old Testament.”[11]  If we agree with Whitmer, then it is most likely that every physical manifestation of the presence of Yahweh, from the Messenger to the glory in the temple, could be said to be the second Person of the Godhead.  Regardless, this seems to indicate the Messenger of Yahweh would eventually be the incarnate Messiah. 

Beholding His Glory 

As we have seen, the being known in the Old Testament as the Messenger of Yahweh is more than a simple angel.  He is one who exhibited divine authority and was closely associated with Yahweh Himself in that He identified Himself with Yahweh, spoke as Yahweh, and exercised the prerogatives of Yahweh.  Even Jewish scholarship recognizes that He is unique and even calls Him a mediator between God and man.  All of these factors point to a Scripturally based belief that the Messenger of Yahweh was in fact God.  Moreover, based on the Scriptural evidence concerning the role of Messiah, Yahweh-incarnate, it seems that the divine Messenger was in fact the pre-incarnate Messiah – Jesus the Anointed One.  Knowing this will better allow us to behold the glory of Christ, better understand how he has acted to reveal God, and give us more fuel the worship of our lives and the praise of our lips.  

NOTES


                [1] The vast majority of scholars consider the being bearing the title mal’āk hā’ělōhîm (messenger of God) to be the same person as the mal’ak YHWH.  For the purposes and scope of this paper, this is assumed to be the case by the author. 

                [2] W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 26.

                 [3] Daniel I Block,  Judges, Ruth.  New American Commentary, vol. 6 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 110.

                 [4] Don Slager, “Who is the `Angel of the Lord,’” The Bible Translator 39 (1988): 437.

                 [5] All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version, unless other wise noted.

                 [6] Eric Mitchell, “Preaching Biblical Narrative” (classroom lecture, 21313The Former Prophets: I & II Samuel, January 2000), 42.

                 [7] John A. Whitmer, Immanuel: Experiencing Jesus as Man and God (Nashville: Word, 1998), 16. 

                 [8] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor, 1995), 239.                            

                 [9] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago: Moody, 1969), 54.

                 [10] Whitmer, Jesus Christ Our Lord, 13.

                 [11] Ibid.

2 thoughts on “Who is "The Angel of the Lord"?

  1. francisco says:

    “Let There Be Light”

    “In The Beginning” The Creator, The Father of ALL
    said, “Let There Be Light, and there was Light”

    …….”Let There Be Light”…….

    “The Beginning of the Creation of GOD”

    And Revelations 3:14 testifies that The Messiah
    was “The Beginning of the Creation of GOD
    (Father of All)”! And The Messiah testified that
    His GOD and Father(Creator) is The GOD and
    Father(Creator) of His Brethren.

    It is very important to both know and experience
    The Messiah as He was and is, and also to know
    the “glory He had with Our Father” before He was
    born in “the likeness of sinful flesh”.

    Frst, let me simply state that i believe that the
    “catholic” and “christian” systems of religious
    theo(ry)logy are Anti-Messiah for they “imag”ine
    a “christ” who is either one head of a three-headed
    pagan “god”, or is “god and father”, or is an
    exalted messenger(angel),or is but a prophet.

    It is needful to believe that The Messiah was, is
    and always will be “The Son of The Living GOD”
    and that there is but “One GOD, Father of ALL”.
    The Messiah testified that The Only True GOD,
    Father of ALL, was His GOD and His Father, and
    was also The GOD and Father of His Brethren.

    …”Let There Be Light”…

    The Messiah simply testified in John 17:5 “And
    now, O Father, glorify Me with YOUR own self
    with the glory that I had with YOU before the
    world began”.

    Prior to that testimony The Messiah testified in
    John 12:35-36,”Yet a little while is The Light with
    you. Walk while you have The Light, lest darkness
    comes upon you: for he that walks in darkness does
    not know where he goes. While you have Light,
    believe in The Light, that you may be the children
    of Light.””

    And the apostle John testified: “In the beginning
    was the Word, and the Word was with GOD, and
    the Word was(not is) GOD. The same was in the
    beginning with GOD. All things were made by Him;
    and without Him was not any thing made that was
    made. In Him was life; and the life was the Light
    of men. And The Light shined in darkness; and the
    darkness comprehended it not. There was a man
    sent from GOD, whose name was John. The same
    came for a witness, to bear witness of The Light,
    that all men through Him might believe. He(John
    the baptist) was not that Light, but was sent to
    bear witness of that Light(The Messia). He was the
    True Light, which enlightens every man that comes
    into the world. He(The Messiah) was in the world,
    and the world was made by Him, and the world
    knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own
    received Him not. But as many as received Him, to
    them gave He power to become the sons of GOD,
    even to them that believe on His name: Which were
    born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh,
    nor of the will of man, but of The Only True GOD.”

    And the apostle John testified in John 3:17-21:
    “For Our Father sent not his Son into the world to
    condemn the world; but that the world through Him
    might be saved. He that believes on Him is not
    condemned: but he that believes not is condemned
    already, because he has not believed in the name
    of the only begotten Son of Our Father. And this
    is the condemnation, that Light is come into the
    world, and men loved darkness rather than light,
    because their deeds were evil. For every one
    that does evil hates The Light, neither comes to
    The Light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
    But he that does Truth comes to The Light(The
    Messiah), that his deeds may be made manifest,
    that they are wrought in Our Father.”

    In John 12:34 the people asked, “who is this Son
    of man? Then in John 12:35-36, “The Messiah
    answered, yet a little while is The Light with you.
    Walk while you have The Light, lest darkness
    come upon you: for he that walks in darkness
    does not know where he goes. While you have
    Light, believe in The Light, that you may be the
    children of Light. The Messiah spoke these things,
    and departed, and hid Himself from them.”

    Simply, “in the beginning” The Only True GOD
    spoke The Word, “Let There Be Light”…….
    and there was Light! Certainly that was not
    “natural” light for “natural” light, the sun, moon,
    and stars were not created until the “fourth day”.

    “In the beginning”, “The First Day”, The One GOD,
    Father of All created “The Light”, without which
    Creation Life, as we now know and experience it,
    could not have been.

    The First Day, The Messiah, “The beginning of the
    Creation of GOD(HE WHO is The Only True GOD
    and Father of ALL)”! And “The Light which
    enlightens every man born into the world”, was
    born as a child destined to be The Messiah.

    The Messiah, “The Light of the world”.

    The Messiah, “The firstborn of all Creation”.

    The Messiah,”The firstborn among many brethren”.

    The Messiah, “The firstborn from among the dead”.

    The Messiah, “A servant of The Only True GOD”.

    Once again: “in the beginning” Our Father spoke:
    “Let there be Light, and there was Light”!

    The Messiah, “The Beginning of the Creation of
    GOD”, “the firstborn of all Creation”.

    HalleluYAH!

    The Messiah, Created by The Only True GOD,
    Father of ALL!

    The Messiah, “The Light of the world”!

    And The Messiah, “The Lamb of GOD,” is
    The Light of The New Heavenly Jerusalem.

    Sadly, those of this world yet love darkness ;-(
    And they will abide in that which they loved
    forever ;-(

    Sadder yet, religious systems of this world
    such as “catholicism”, “christianity”, “judaism”,
    “islam”,.etc., have so perverted The Testimonies,
    that today, as in the yesterdays gone by, “The
    Way of Truth is evil spoken of” because of their
    theo(ry)logical, heretical doctrines that are of
    men, and especially those theo(ry)logical
    doctrines which seek to define The Only True
    GOD, Father(Creator) of All.

    All such doctrines are but the product of
    mankind’s “imag”ination and mankind’s
    “imag”ination is responsible for the destruction
    and perversion of Creation(earth, air, water,
    creatures, Truth, Love, Peace, Hope, .etc.)

    Yes, sadly ;-( Creation is being destroyed by
    self-willed men who could care less about that
    which is of Truth(what is), and care even less
    about those things which they can not compre-
    hend apart from their natural senses and mental
    processes ;-(

    And Truth testifies, The Creator “will destroy
    those who destroy the earth(HIS Creation)”
    (Rev 11:18).

    Sadly, in this wicked world, those who seek profit
    will naturally overcome those who do not ;-(

    Yet, while there is breath(spirit) there is hope!

    For Miracles do happen and Faith rejoices against
    theo(ry)logy(logic) and profit(greed)!

    Hope is there would be those who experience
    The Miracle that is “receiving a love of
    The Truth” for they will “see” “The Light”.

    And they will receive peace, in spite of the
    dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world, for
    they will clearly “see” this world and it’s
    systems of religion as they are, and not as
    “imag”inative humans would have us believe
    them to be.

    They will clearly “see” that “The WHOLE world
    is under the control of the evil one” and that
    this world’s systems of theo(ry)logical religion
    are all Anti-Messiah(Anti-Light), indeed and
    Truth……. Francisco

  2. Pastor John says:

    thanks for the comment, francisco. to be honest though, other than knowing that you think the Christian view of God and Christ is wrong, i’m not exactly sure i understand who you think God and Christ are. could you summarize your beliefs in a few sentences? thanks, john

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