THE MESSENGER OF YAHWEH:CREATION OR CREATOR?
Throughout the Old Testament, a being called ‘the angle of the Lord’, or the Messenger of Yahweh 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.” 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.” 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). 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.”
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. 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.
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. 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
 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.