Angel Of The Lord
Many today make little of human and angelic say-so in the world, though the Bible has much to say about the impact that both have on world affairs.
Angels were present at the creation of the world, they appeared to Hagar, Abraham, Jacob, Lot, Manoah, Mary, Joseph, Peter, and others. Two angels were placed at the gate of the garden once Adam was expelled, an angel spoke to Moses in the burning bush, an angel slew the firstborn in Egypt, and an angel protected Daniel in the lions’ den. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Christ and the shepherds were informed of the birth of Christ by angels. Angels strengthened the Lord Jesus after his fast and struggle with Satan. Angels bring answers to prayer, and we can meet them and not be aware. They are phenomenal beings, and a biblical survey of the angels is fascinating. Their involvement in the world is astounding. They are not to be worshipped but the holy angels are worthy of our respect and gratitude.
A unique angel, the Angel of the Lord, is mentioned in the First Testament and the New Testament, and this special aid of God has been the focus of much debate. Three main theories are set forth as to the identity of this angel, and each theory has its supporters. One explanation is that the Angel of the Lord is a Theophany, or a manifestation of God on earth. Another view is that the Angel of the Lord is a Christophany, or pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. The third theory is that the Angel is just that – an angel – albeit a special emissary of the Lord.
In the Bible, we read that the Angel (or angel) of the Lord at times seemingly spoke as God, and at other times the Angel is clearly distinguishable from God. Some consider this to be consistent with the ancient usage of a spokesman. After an introductory phrase, the spokesman would speak from the first-person point of view, that is, as the voice of whomever they represented. The messenger spoke for his master, was considered to have the authority of his master, and was given the same treatment that his master would receive were he there in person. This would align with the instances that the Angel spoke as if he were God, and individuals claimed they had seen God, even though the Angel was a separate being – the Angel was God’s agent. See Law of Agency here.
Are there important truths about God that we can learn by looking into this? Can we ever arrive at a definitive conclusion, or must our conclusions remain speculative? If the Angel of the Lord is indeed a manifestation of God himself, why do the narratives go back and forth between a being separate from God doing the speaking, and then back to the first person as if God is speaking? Why not just say it was God speaking?
Some in the Church read New Testament revelations about Christ into every page and event in the First Testament, and this is not sound exegesis. There are many examples that can be given - for example - some will say that God rejected Cain because his sacrifice was not a blood sacrifice, or because Cain’s sacrifice was “the work of his own hands” while Abel’s was an offering of faith because it was a lamb. Neither explanation is accurate. To claim that God did not accept Cain’s sacrifice because it was a grain offering is patently false. Grain offerings were acceptable to God (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 14-15; Leviticus 5:11-13 – sin offering). Furthermore, it is not clear how raising crops is “the work of man’s hands” any more than raising livestock. God rejected Cain’s sacrifice because of Cain, not the sacrifice. God knew Cain’s heart was not right (Genesis 4:5-12; 1 John 3:12) and he rejected his gift. It reminds us today that God is not looking for mere material offerings from us, he wants us to give him our hearts.
Is calling the appearance of the Angel of the Lord a Christophany yet another example of people allowing Christocentric interpretations to override what the Hebrew writers were teaching?
It is argued that the Angel of the Lord is never mentioned again once Christ enters our humanity, but this simply isn’t so according to the New Testament (Matthew 1:20; 1:24; 2:13; 2:19; 28:2; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 12:7; 12:11; 12:23). Matthew 2:19 says “an” angel of the Lord rather than “the” angel of the Lord, but I am not willing to make a doctrinal case on the translation of definite and indefinite articles like some are. I am aware that the word “Angel” is sometimes capitalized and sometimes not when referencing the Angel of the Lord (or angel of God), but it is not at all clear to me why the difference exists. One might say the context matters, but there appears to be nothing in the context to make this distinction in the English language. Perhaps it was a theological decision by the AV translators. It certainly leads me to ask questions that I have not asked before when it comes to English translations based on the Hebrew and Greek.
The Bible says in the Book of Hebrews that God has spoken through his Son in these last days. What would be the significance of this statement if God had been speaking through Christ in angelic form in the past? I am aware the word Angel means messenger, but this does not change the point. If Christ was a messenger in First Testament times, why would God emphasize that Christ has spoken for him in the last days?
Christ did not say (at least we have no record of it) that he had talked to Hagar, or Moses, or that he had wrestled with Jacob. He never said that he was the Angel of the Lord or that the deeds of the Angel of the Lord were his deeds.
When Gabriel visited Mary and Joseph, we are told this was the angel of the Lord. Christ was in the womb of Mary; therefore this messenger definitely wasn’t Christ. With that said, I am not sure that each time the Angel of the Lord was mentioned that it was necessarily the same messenger.
Interestingly, we read this in Isaiah 63:8-10:
“For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them” (bold emphasis mine).
Some have connected this reference to the angel of God’s presence with the holy spirit in verse 10. It appears from reading these verses that the angel of his presence, in his love and in his pity, redeemed the people and took care of them. Compare this with Exodus 23:20-21. You can imagine the speculation that has resulted from this observation.
I have not yet come to a definitive conclusion as to the identity of the Angel of the Lord, and perhaps I will find more evidence that points to the Angel of the Lord being Christ before he took on human form (I am aware of some of the supposed evidence, but it is not convincing at this point) but the claim that this was a unique Angel representing God through the Law of Agency appears to have merit. In the end, our praise and obedience is not due to the Angel of the Lord but to the Lord of the angels.