The Angel of the LORD - the pre-incarnate Christ

Sunday's sermon at Neutral Bay Anglican on Jude 1-13 raised, once again, the issue of the presence of the Second Person of the Trinity in the Old Testament. In particular Jude makes the striking claim that…

Jude 1:5 … the Lord [Jesus] delivered his people out of Egypt…

A quite remarkable statement, but one which the Scriptures clearly testify to.

The conundrum surrounding such claims is resolved, in the main, by examination of a repeatedly appearing character in the Old Testament – the Angel of the LORD. The first appearance of this figure is in Genesis 16 where Hagar with unborn child by Abram, Ishmael, flees south from a jealous Sarai…

Genesis 16:7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert;

Part of our problem in reading this is the assumptions we bring to that word “Angel”. We instinctively think of small children dressed up in outfits with wings ready to take part in a nativity play or, alternatively, medieval and classical art portraying human figures with large wings. It is striking that I could not find one piece of artwork depicting this encounter that did not slip into this paradigm.

Now, of course, many angels in the Bible are created spiritual creatures but that does not exhaust  the full range of meaning of the word. The Hebrew word here translated as “Angel” (“malak”) simply means “messenger” or “sent one”. So the character who meets Hagar is simply presented to us as “the sent one of the LORD”. Only the ongoing events will show us exactly who he is.

Intriguingly the Angel then speaks big words to Hagar…

Genesis 16:10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”

It is a tremendous promise, strikingly similar to that made to Abram by the LORD in Genesis 12 & 15. But here the Angel speaks on his own behalf! There is no “God says” or “thus says the LORD”. He simply makes the promises himself. We should begin to wonder exactly who this is.

Hagar herself realises who she has met…

Genesis 16:13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

She calls him “God”. And if we were in any doubt the narrator himself affirms the same thing. “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her…”

So the Angel of the LORD is here also identified as the LORD and God Himself. He is sent by the LORD and yet He is the LORD God. Who is He?

He appears time and time again subsequent to this. Always speaking as though he were God and being treated as such. The Patriarchs regularly meet Him or are shown to have met Him. For instance Jacob's famous wrestling match in Genesis 32 is clearly an encounter with the same character. Jacob says this of Him…

Genesis 32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,  saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

The prophet Hosea comments on this encounter and makes an extraordinary observation…

Hosea 12:4 He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there– 5 the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!

The “man” who Jacob wrestled with and identified as God is the “angel”, also known as “LORD God Almighty”.

Jacob later reflects upon his own life as he blesses Joseph…

Genesis 48:15 Then [Jacob] blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm–may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth.”

The God before whom the Patriarchs walked is “the Angel”.

The same one turns up in that famous encounter with Moses in Exodus 3.

Exodus 3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight– why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Unless there are three separate characters being spoken of here, the most reasonable conclusion to draw here is that the angel of the LORD (v2) is the same LORD and God who speak from the bush (v4-6) and whom Moses is afraid to look at (v6). Thus, again, the “sent one” of the LORD is also identified as the LORD Himself. He, then, is the covenant-making God who goes on to promise to rescue the people from Egypt. That is, of course, His own testimony on the subject after the fact…

Judges 2:1 Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you…

So the “angel” is the one who, in Jude's words, “delivered His people from Egypt” – the same one that Jude identifies as “our only sovereign and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v4). We could go on, but the point has, surely, been made. The angel of the LORD is the sent one from the LORD who is also identified as God Himself and consistently reveals Himself by divine speech and action. The Christian believer knows who this is, it is the same one who can say,

John 12:49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.

and yet also declares…

John 8:58 “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!”

As Glenn notes, this view is held by many of the greats…

 

 

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JOHN CALVIN:

But let us inquire who this Angel was? since soon afterwards he not only calls himself Jehovah, but claims the glory of the eternal and only God. Now, although this is an allowable manner of speaking, because the angels transfer to themselves the person and titles of God, when they are performing the commissions entrusted to them by him; and although it is plain from many passages, and especially from the first chapter of Zechariah, that there is one head and chief of the angels who commands the others, the ancient teachers of the Church have rightly understood that the Eternal Son of God is so called in respect to his office as Mediator, which he figuratively bore from the beginning, although he really took it upon him only at his Incarnation. And Paul sufficiently expounds this mystery to us, when he plainly asserts that Christ was the leader of his people in the Desert. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) Therefore, although at that time, properly speaking, he was not yet the messenger of his Father, still his predestinated appointment to the office even then had this effect, that he manifested himself to the patriarchs, and was known in this character. Nor, indeed, had the saints ever any communication with God except through the promised Mediator. It is not then to be wondered at, if the Eternal Word of God, of one Godhead and essence with the Father, assumed the name of “the Angel” on the ground of his future mission.

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JOHN OWEN

He is expressly called an “Angel” Exod. 3:2 – namely, the Angel of the covenant, the great Angel of the presence of God, in whom was the name and nature of God. And He thus appeared that the Church might know and consider who it was that was to work out their spiritual and eternal salvation, whereof that deliverance which then He would effect was a type and pledge.  Aben Ezra would have the Angel mentioned verse 2, to be another from him who is called “God,” v 6: but the text will not give countenance to any such distinction, but speaks of one and the same person throughout without any alteration; and this was no other but the Son of God.

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JONATHAN EDWARDS:

This redemption was by Jesus Christ, as is evident from this, that it was wrought by him that appeared to Moses in the bush; for that was the person that sent Moses to redeem the people.  But that was Christ, as is evident, because he is called ‘the angel of the LORD’ (Exodus 3:2).

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