Who is the Angel of the Lord?

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Who is the "angel of the Lord" that appears several times in the Bible? Is he a powerful spiritual being? On the other hand, is he a 'generic' spirit being that represented the Creator to the people? Did Jacob wrestle with him in the Old Testament? Was it the Father or someone else that led the Israelites into the promised land? Why did an angelic being visit both Abraham and Hagar?

The book Christ in the Old Testament has done a careful study of the appearances of this angel. Based on his research, the author calls these special appearances Christophanies, meaning special appearances of the Messiah - Jesus - in the form of a human BEFORE his birth to Mary.

There are several passages in the Bible that mention this special angelic being. We will review several of these to discover what God's word teaches about them.

Hagar

While she was there, the angel of the Lord came to her 8 and asked, 'Hagar, where have you come from, and where are you going?' She answered, 'I’m running away from Sarai, my owner.' 9 The angel said, 'Go back to Sarai and be her slave. (Genesis 16)

In this Bible passage an angelic being comforts Hagar who, although pregnant with her son Ishmael, is running away from Sarah. The being promises her that she will have many children, grandchildren, etc. and even foretells some of Ishmael's traits (verses 10-12).

In Hebrew the word angel is malâk (Strong's Concordance #H4397) and it simply means a messenger. It occurs at least 200 times in the Old Testament. Indications are that the malak in Genesis 16 is likely divine. He not only is able to make prophetic announcements but also to make events happen at a particular time and place. Hagar, after her conversation, is sure her eyes have seen God (verse 13).

 
 
 
 
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Jacob

11 In the dream an angel of God called out to me, ‘Jacob!’ 12 'He said . . . 'I know what Laban’s been doing to you. 13 I’m the God of Bethel where you consecrated a pillar and made a vow to me. (Genesis 31)

Jacob's wives are told what he saw while he was dreaming. In his dream then 'angelic' being calls himself the God Jacob worshipped in Bethel. This is referencing a prior revealing dream (Genesis 28:10-15). These Bible verses suggest that Jacob viewed the being he saw in a dream as divine. He later would have a seemingly odd encounter with same Being of his dream.

24 Afterwards, Jacob went back and spent the rest of the night alone. A man came and fought with Jacob until just before daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not win, he struck Jacob on the hip and threw it out of joint. 26 They kept on wrestling until the man said, 'Let go of me! It’s almost daylight.' 'You can’t go until you bless me,' Jacob replied. (Genesis 32)

Jacob wrestles all night with a "man" who refuses to disclose his name but grants Jacob's request for a blessing. He gives Jacob the new name Israel, and afterwards Jacob is convinced that he has wrestled with God. The prophet Hosea later writes of Jacob,

when Jacob grew up, he fought against God — 4 he fought against an angel and won. (Hosea 12:3-4).

These passages and others describe a messenger of God who is both distinct from him and divine.

Testing the faith of Abraham

When they came to the place which God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven . . . 12 'Don’t hurt the boy . . . (Genesis 22)

God tests Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. The angel of the Lord appears just before Isaac is to be killed. Because he passed this extreme test of his faith Abraham is told he will be blessed in several ways (verses 16-18). Verse 12 of Genesis 22 strongly implies the divine nature of the Being who spoke to Abraham as well as verses 15 to 18.

Moses and the burning bush

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as a flame coming from the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire but that it was not burning up. 5 God said, 'Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.' (Exodus 3)

Moses' eye is caught by a flame (verse 2) that does not consume a bush. A voice calls to him and proclaims that He is the God of his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (verse 6). Clearly, the voice in the bush is speaking as a divine Being. In verse 14 of the same chapter it is revealed "I AM" is his name. This designation of 'I AM' is the same one, many years later, Jesus Christ will apply to himself.

Leading the Israelites to the Promised Land

Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him . . . For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites . . . (Exodus 23)

At mount Sinai the Israelites are told by God He will send a spiritual being with them on their way to land He has promised them. This being not only has God's Name but the Israelites are told they must obey him. He also is able to forgive the breaking of God's law (verse 21) - which suggests he is divine.

God, after Israel sins by making and worshipping a golden calf, decides to have an angel go with them (Exodus 33:2-3). Due to a strong intercession by Moses God agrees to keep his initial promise: He will go with the children of Israel (Exodus 33:15-17). All this again strongly implies that the angelic being of Exodus 33 is lesser than the Being mentioned in Exodus 23. Paul the apostle would later state that "the spiritual rock" that went with ancient Israel was none other than Jesus Christ (1Corinthians 10:4).

Gideon meets a special person

11 One day the angel of God came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah . . . appeared to him (Gideon) and said, 'God is with you, O mighty warrior!'

20 The angel of God said to him, 'Take the meat and unraised bread, place them on that rock, and pour the broth on them.” Gideon did it. 21 The angel of God stretched out the tip of the stick he was holding and touched the meat and the bread. Fire broke out of the rock and burned up the meat and bread (Judges 6)

The supernatural Being accepts Gideon's offering, a very strong indication of his divinity since righteous angelic being reject any worship directed toward themselves.

The revealing

All of this information begs one simple question: WHY would God choose to reveal Himself to man as the "angel of the Lord?" These appearances of Jesus before his birth first show that the Creator is a personal Being who loves and cares about those he has created. They also satisfy the need people have for fellowship and encouragement. They are also used to specially call people for an important purpose like Moses and Gideon. They are also an important part of God's relationship with those who are faithful to him like Abraham. In the final analysis, these appearances were part of God's advance proclamation of the coming of his son as the Messiah.

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