The Angel of The Lord
By Shawn Tomlin
When you read the word “angel” what comes to mind? Perhaps winged beings of light, halos, harps, and hopefully not those paintings of the little naked babies with wings. In this article we are going to move through passages of the Old Testament to discover that the mysterious figure known as “the angel of the LORD” may not have been an angel in the sense we think. Remember, “angel” translates to “messenger.” This specific figure was something much more than a creature, as angels are. So let’s get into this.
God is our redeemer, not angels
The first passage we come to is Genesis 16:7-13 where the angel of the LORD comes to Hagar as she’s been sent away from Abram’s camp by Sarai. Notice how the angel says in verse 10, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel is speaking in first person as if he is God. In verses 11 and 12 the angel, again speaking as God, pronounces a blessing for Hagar’s son, Ishmael. Then in verse 13 Hagar says of the angel of the LORD, “ You are a God of seeing; Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Hagar didn’t see an angel, but God. Only God could speak this way.
In Genesis 18:1-20, we see 3 men visit Abraham and Sarah. Notice in verse 2, Abraham “bowed himself to the earth” in worship. Remember, if these were mere men, Abraham wouldn’t be worshipping them. Now in verse 3 Abraham says “My Lord.” When you see “LORD” it means God’s proper name, YHWH, but “Lord” means “Adonai” which was used in Judaism as a way of referencing God without using His covenant name so there wasn’t a risk of taking His name in vain. In verse 13 it references one of these men as “LORD” or YHWH, as he speaks to Abraham. This also happens in verse 17 and verse 20. This passage also displays God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah of having a son, and is spoken by the leader of these 3 men, The only one who speaks, in first person. He accepts worship, hears the outcry (prayers) in Sodom, and promises Abraham a son. Only God can do this.
The angel of the LORD also appears to Abraham as he is getting ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac. In Genesis 22:11-18 the angel says, “Since you have not withheld your son, your only son from ME.” Remember God commanded Abraham to do this task. The angel is speaking as God. In Genesis 31:11-13 the angel of the LORD calls himself the “God of Bethel” and refers to the vow Jacob made to Him there. Again, the angel is speaking as God.
In Genesis 32:24-32 Jacob has a close encounter with a man, whom he wrestles with all night. This man never reveals his name, but blesses Jacob and renames him Israel. The man says “for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” In verse 29 Jacob says, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Clearly if you read this passage, it wasn’t just a man. Later, as Jacob (Israel) is on his deathbed (Genesis 48:16) and he refers to the “angel who has redeemed me from all evil,” as he is blessing Joseph. God is our redeemer, not angels.
Now in Exodus 3:1-9, we see the angel of the LORD appears to Moses in the burning bush. In verse 4 it switches from “angel of the LORD” to “LORD.” Scripture doesn’t contradict itself, this is no mistake. It is clear in the words spoken from the burning bush that this is God. Also in Exodus 23:20-23, God speaks and says He will send His angel to His people. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like much, but God says something about this angel in verse 22, “My name is in him.” If you read Isaiah 42:8 it says, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.” So in order for this angel to have God’s name in him he must be God. This also shows a clear distinction between God and this angel, the exact same distinction between the Father and Son.
Next, let’s move into Numbers 22:22-35. From the speech of the angel of the LORD, we see how he speaks as if he is God, how he accepts Balaam’s worship in verse 31, and he repeats the words of God from verses 12 and 20. There is also the distinction between God and the angel, most clear in verses 22 and 31. Look at how the angel of the LORD stood “with his sword drawn in his hand.” Now let’s go to Joshua 5:13-15. Verse 13 says Joshua looked and saw “a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand.” Almost identical to Numbers 22:31. What was Joshua’s response? He fell on his face and bowed in worship. Another line is drawn here back to Exodus 3:5 because God tells Joshua to “remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”
Now onto Judges 6:20-23 where Gideon sees the angel of the LORD. When Gideon realized what he had seen he said, “Alas, O Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” The LORD responds to him, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” In Judges 13:20-22, after seeing the angel of the LORD, Manoah says to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” Hagar was amazed she didn’t die when she saw the angel, and so was Jacob. We find out why in Exodus 33:20 when God says “No man can see me and live!” What Gideon saw was God in human form before him. Where else did God come to us in human flesh?
So this angel of the LORD identified with God, had the power to give life (Genesis 16:10), was described as All-Knowing (Genesis 16:13; Exodus 3:7), could judge the earth (Genesis 18:25), forgive sin (Exodus 23:21; Isaiah 43:25), received worship, and was in the form of a man. With all this scriptural evidence, plus the fact that there was a clear distinction between God and the angel of the LORD, this angel was none other than the pre-incarnate Christ, who was with His chosen people from the very beginning. No one else can be identified with the LORD in such a way.