This is a very interesting subject for me. The angel of God or the angel of the Lord appears in scripture many times and in very important situations and yet we know very little about him, or do we? Scripture does not come right out and tell us much about him. He is powerful and in great authority as we will soon see. I do not claim to have all the answers concerning this angel but will attempt to bring you some interesting scriptures in hopes that you will continue to study him further for yourselves. I have no desire to be an author but have an undying desire to teach and lead others into a greater desire for knowledge of God's word. I pray this is the result of this and all my studies.
Angel = angelos = a messenger from "angello" to deliver a message. It is also used of a representative or guardian (Rev.1:20). Usually used of an order of created beings, superior to man (Heb. 2:7; Psa. 8:5) and belonging to heaven (Mt 24:36; Mk. 12:25) and to God (Lk. 12:8; Psa 103:20). The word angel or messenger can be attributed to others as well and I think you will see this as we proceed in this study.
His Names Angel of God Genesis 21:17. Here we have Hagar and her young son fleeing from Sarah and her jealousy. They are in the wilderness and apparently close to death from thirst. Both Hagar and the child Ishmael are crying. You see this is the second time she has been driven out by Sarah from the camp. She is without water or food and no shelter from the hot eastern sun. she is dying and so is her son. She has placed him under a bush some distence from her so she will not see him die. Verse 17 tells us that God heard the lad crying (this is interesting because Ishmael means "God has heard"); and the angel of God called to her from heaven and said "do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift the lad and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water…"
Angel of the Lord Genesis 22:11, here is another familiar story where Abraham obeys God and brings his only son Isaac to the mount to sacrifice him there as he was commanded. As Abraham stretches out his hand to take the knife to slay his son verse 11 says "but the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven and said, Abraham, Abraham, and he said, "Here I am". And he said do not stretch out your hand against the lad and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me".
Captain of the host of the Lord Joshua 5:14, Joshua was the successor to Moses. He was also one of the two (along with Caleb) who wanted to go in and take the Promised Land when the other 10 spies were afraid. Here he is now in the leadership position over all Israel and about to go into the city of Jericho. Lets start at verse 13 "Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him "are you for us or for our adversaries"? And he said "No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord". And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and bowed down and said to him " what has my Lord to say to his servant? And the captain of the host of the Lord said to Joshua "remove your sandals from your feet, for the place you are standing is holy" and Joshua did so.
Well that's it! these are the names that are given to this unusual character who appears to us in God's word in the most unusual places and circumstances. Once to help the father of the Arab and Islamic nations, once to help the Father of Israel and once to help Israel conquer the first city of the promised land. The same person (this will become clear later) only with different titles or names. But that is just the beginning of the dilemma. His names could easily be explained by the task he appears to accomplish. But there is something much deeper here, much more sacred than first seen unless one really looks.
Lets look at each story to see what I mean:
1. In his appearance to Hagar he is called the angel of God. He tells Hagar that God has heard the crying of the lad and then tells her to take the boys hand and that "HE" will make him a great nation. Immediately it says God then opened her eyes to see the well. Either this angel attributes to himself more authority than we would expect or there is something else happening we do not see yet. By what authority can "HE" the angel make Ishmael a great nation, something only God can do? Remember this is the same promise God made to Abraham and his seed. By saying that "He" meaning the angel will multiply Ishmael we can see that the Angel of God here is acting as God. 2. In his appearance to Abraham he clearly commands Abraham to do something opposite from what God told him to do. He further goes on to say, do nothing to the lad because now I know that you fear God seeing that you did not withhold your son, your only son, from "ME". Here we see this angel assuming the same authority as God and even calling himself God. There can only be one explanation for this and that is that this angel is in fact God. No angel would ever except worship from a human no less take of the authority of God unless He was in fact God showing Himself in a bodily form to Abraham. 3. In this appearance to Joshua we see what we would expect from an angel. Powerful, mighty and warrior like, ready to do battle for Israel. Only, two unusual things take place here; one is that he accepts homage from Joshua (which as stated previously no angel would do). Second is the command to take off his sandals because where they were standing was Holy ground. Another reference to the presence of God. This is the same scenario as that of Moses on Sinai as we will see later. The angel of the Lord here is saying that because I am present, this ground is Holy.
So here we have three separate instances that show all three names attributed to this mighty and authoritive figure and in all three instances he either assumes things only God can or should do, he accepts worship or homage and actually places himself in the place of God, and speaks for God. Let us now look at instances where he appeared to others in scripture and what transpired. This may give us a better foundation for deciding who and what this character is and what his place is in the scheme of things.
To Hagar Genesis 16:7-8; 21:17 we have already looked at chapter 21 and have seen how the angel of the Lord had heard Hagar's cry and that of her son and provided for her in the wilderness. In chapter 16 we see His original visit to her when she fled from Sarah the first time because of Sarah's jealousy and how it was Gods plan that she live and bare a child for Abraham. The angel tells her that the boy will be the father of a great nation and even tells her what to name the child. Hagar calls the angel of the Lord, God here, and says she is amazed she has seen God and still lives. The angel in no way tries to correct her in this. The provision here and in chapter 21 could only have come from God and the language of the text clearly shows that this is the provider Himself speaking and Hagar recognized this.
To Abraham Genesis 18:1-33; 22:11,15 while chapter 18 does not use the name angel of the Lord or angel of God, we clearly see the physical appearance of three men coming to visit Abraham and Abraham rightly recognizes one of them as the Lord. This is a human manifestation of God coming to Abraham with a promise of a son and a judgment upon the five cities of the plains. While Abraham definitely calls one of these men Lord, some have speculated that he was calling all three Lord and that this was the appearance of the Godhead in bodily form. There is no evidence of this in scripture however and we should not go beyond its boundaries. The thought is interesting though. Keep in mind that this one can neither be Michael or Gabriel for the same man is delivering a promise of good tidings and a judgment where the two former deliver either or. Further we see that once Abraham realizes that the man he has called Lord is going to destroy the cities of the plain (Sodom and Gamorah) he bargains with Him for their deliverance. Only God Himself could have promised Abraham that He would not destroy them if a certain number of righteous people were found. In chapter 22 we see the event previously discussed where although called the angel of the Lord he takes upon himself the authority of God as well as the speech about Himself as God. In verse 16 He says, "by myself I have sworn, declares the Lord" a plain reference to the fact that this is God speaking and not just an angel. And the clear reference that Abraham had not withheld his only son from "ME" (the angel speaking) shows that this is clearly God Himself speaking as He made the command to Abraham and only He could stop it.
To Jacob Genesis 31:11-13; 32:24-30 Jacob had worked the 14 years to get the wife he had loved and had amassed a great flock and was returning home (actually fleeing from Laban) and in a dream was visited by the angel of the Lord. Chapter 31 verse 11 the one who appears in the dream is called the angel of the Lord, but in verse 13 the angel says "I am the God of Bethel….where you made a vow to me" this is clearly saying that this angel of the Lord is also actually the same God Jacob had previously worshiped and built a pillar to in Bethel. In Genesis 32 we have the familiar story of Jacob wrestling with an angel and having his hip dislocated. During the confrontation, Jacob recognizes the angel as God, and asks for a blessing there. Verse 30 tells us that Jacob says "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved", Jacob knew who the angel was. Like Hagar he is amazed he has seen God and still lives. As before he was never corrected for his belief.
To Moses Exodus 3:2 of all the scriptures that talk about the angel of the Lord this is probably the most familiar, yet the one people miss in its implications the most. In Genesis 3 verse 2 we have Moses tending the flocks of Jethro his father-in-law and "the angel of the Lord" appears to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush. But if we look at verse 4 we something very interesting. "When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called him from the midst". He then instructs Moses to remove his sandals, as did the angel to Jacob years later, because in the presence of God the ground is Holy. In verse 6 He says, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob". And Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look upon God. Verse 7 begins with "and the Lord said", and He tells Moses that He has heard the cries of "His" children Israel. Verse 13 tells us that Moses said to God and verse 14 begins with "and God said". So you see the transition from the angel of the Lord, to The Lord and finally to God, yet all speaking of the same person. Verse 14 also gives us His name, as "I AM WHO I AM". This is the proper name of God (usually transliterated from the tetragram YHWH and in Hebrew Jehovah) and means, "I am who has always been". Jesus in his many self proclaimed titles uses this same idea when He describes Himself as; I AM the way, the truth and the life, I AM the gate, I AM the light of the world, I AM the bread of life and I AM the living water and "before Abraham was I AM". This was just one reason the religious leaders were so angry at the things Jesus said of Himself. He claimed to be the same I AM that Moses encountered. That being said, the angel of the Lord has to be without a doubt a pre incarnate appearance of Jesus. When Mary was told she would bare a child she was told the child would be called Emanuel or God with us. But God has always been with us and I believe these appearances of the angel of the Lord is God in bodily form before the birth in Bethlehem.
To the Children of Israel Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19 the thirteenth chapter tells us that the pillar that led the children of Israel in fire by night and by cloud by day was the Lord (verse 21) yet if we jump over to chapter 14 verse 19 we see the following; "and the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them". So here clearly we see the names or titles of Lord and the angel of God as interchangeable and of like meaning. The pillar was definitely the protection and guidance of the children of Israel and the Psalms proclaim that it was God who protected and guided Israel.
To Balaam Numbers 22:22-41 here we find a very unusual story of a man called Balaam who was paid to bring a curse on Israel by Balak the king of Moab. God had commanded him to only go to Israel if called and to say only that which God tells him to say. Balaam disobeys God however and leaves on his own and ready to bring the curse he has been paid to bring. Along the way we are told that "the angel of the Lord" was standing in the road and ready to kill Balaam for his disobedience and only his donkey could see the angel. Read the whole story, you'll find it interesting. The point being that through the entire chapter the one blocking the road is called the angel of the Lord and in verse 35 the angel tells Balaam to go and speak only that which the angel tells him, yet in verse 38 Balaam tells Barak that he may speak only that which God has commanded. Again we see that the two are interchangeable in nature and authority.
To Joshua Judges 2:1-5 we have already looked at Joshua 5 and seen the first time Joshua encounters the angel of the Lord before battle with Jericho. There He appears as a mighty warrior as in the appearance to Balaam. In Judges 2 we find he appears to Joshua to bring promise. While he is here called the angel of the Lord he says, "I brought you up out of Egypt" clearly something attributed to God throughout scripture. He also tells Joshua that "I will never break my covenant with you" again something clearly done by God. An angel cannot make a covenant with humans or anyone else for that matter. Clearly although called an angel the term has to be interpreted as messenger in the broadest sense rather than the spiritual being referred to elsewhere.
To David 1 Chronicles 21:16-18 there is a lot of history in these verses but for the purpose of this study we are only concerned with how David responds to the angel of the Lord here. David has just disobeyed God and taken a census of the people of Israel, something God forbade him to do. As David looks up he sees the angel of the Lord with His sword drawn and stretched out over Jerusalem in judgment. David pleads with the angel to spare Jerusalem, as it was he who disobeyed and verse 17 says "and Davis said to God". In the middle of the verse and this prayer for mercy Davis says "O my Lord, my God". Clearly David recognized that this was no mere angel but God himself and David obeys Him as such.
Jacob's Prayer In Genesis chapter 48 we find that Jacob (Israel) is dying and he has summoned Joseph to bestow his final blessing. In the prayer he gives we find an interesting fact beginning with verse 15: And he blessed Joseph and said, The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads. Jacob here calls God the angel who saved him. I find that very interesting.
Now those are the appearances of this mighty angel in the Old Testament scriptures. He nowhere appears in the New Testament scriptures nor is there any references to Him there. This has caused no small debate as to who this being is and why he only appears in the Old Testament dealings with God and Israel. If we sum up for a moment what has been done so far we see the promise of a son to Abraham who becomes the father of the nation of Israel. We see the promise of a son and his protection to Hagar as her son will become the father of many of the Arab nations. We see the protection of Israel by the angel from Egypt to the taking of the Promised Land and beyond to the time of David the King of Israel. From David forward we see nothing of Him as if He has ceased His work here on earth. How this is explained or if it can be explained has been the subject of much study. There is some speculation though and I will share that with you only as opinion. One must study for himself and see what the scriptures say or do not say and come to ones own conclusion. First lets look at His characteristics.
Deliverer of Israel Judges 2:1-3 these are the verses we just looked at. The promise is that He will not break His covenant with Israel and warns them to make no covenant with any other gods or the inhabitants of the land they now possess. He also tells them that He left some of these idolatrous nations there as thorns in their side for not doing exactly as He had commanded.
Extended Blessing and Promises Genesis as a whole shows his blessings upon Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Jacob, Ishmael and Esau as well as their decedents. His providence was always with them as well as His presence. His protection can be seen both here and in Exodus with His deliverance from bondage.
Pardon of Sin Exodus 23:20-22 here we see the promise of God to send His angel before Israel to guard them along the way. He tells Israel that if they obey Him, He will make pardon for their transgressions. God also tells the children of Israel that His name is in Him. This is a curious statement and deserves further study. A study of the names of God and the names of Jesus will do well here. See the last two studies on names for assistance.
So who is this angel of the Lord? Some have said God himself, and there is definitely proof for this argument from scripture. How then do we deal with God saying He will send this angel to Israel? Can the angel be God and yet separate from God at the same time? Has this ever been seen in scripture before? I think you see where I am going with this.
Genesis 1:26 says the following "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness… We know that this is the creation account. Who exactly is God talking with here? Obviously not the angels, as they are not as God is in image or likeness and although witnesses of the creation were not a part of it's creation but were created themselves. It is obviously a conversation with the Godhead of Father, Son and Spirit as we have been made in their likeness. This has always been used as proof of the existence of Jesus before Christmas Day 2000 years ago. Jesus has said in John 9:54-58 to the religious leaders that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and that he did see it and was glad. When they questioned Him about this Jesus said, "Before Abraham was born, I AM". So when did Abraham see Jesus' day and was glad? In His ministry as the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament scriptures, can be the only answer. Jesus was physically born 2000 years ago but has existed with the Father throughout all eternity. It does not make sense that He and the Spirit just sat around for eons waiting for Christmas and Pentecost to spring onto the scene. They were an active part in creation, in choosing God's people, in their protection and deliverance.
Like I said before this is my opinion, but it is not without scripture and study to back my claim. I cannot point to a verse that says the angel of the Lord is in fact Jesus, but I believe the evidence is strong in pointing to this conclusion. How else can we explain the interchangeable references from the angel of the Lord to God and back again. Did Jesus not say, if you have seen Me you have seen the Father, and I and the Father are one. Clearly the two are interchangeable and one and the same. I believe the same is true here. Jesus says of Himself in Revelation that He is the "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end". Gods plan has existed since the beginning of time (see study on Why Blood) and Jesus is saying I have been a part of this plan, I planned it myself and in fact I AM the plan. He has had an active part from the beginning and at every crucial point we can see Him there.
Well now you have some food for thought. Study it and let me know your thoughts on this. It is not only a fascinating study topic, but it will show you the power and the awesomeness of the God we serve. Look in any good bible concordance under I AM to see how this first appears at Sinai and later how Jesus uses it to show that He is in fact God. As the angel of the Lord protected Israel and led them, so in the New covenant Jesus now protects and leads us.
If there is a topic or lesson you would like to see in these studies, please feel free to let me know. Also let me know if this has been a blessing to you in any way or if you would like to continue this subject or others in a home study. This is the best way to get friends or family involved in a non-confrontational setting in the study of God's word. We will see no harvest if we do not sow any seeds. Ask God to open a door for you to share His word with others and it will be opened. To suggest a study topic e mail me at the following: firstname.lastname@example.org