The Angel of the Lord

The Hebrew Scriptures mention the Angel of the Lord many times. This angel, unlike any other, is often presented as God and sometimes even speaks as God – yet somehow he is also different. In this post I will argue that the Angel of the Lord is none other than Yeshua. In doing so I will address the common rabbinic objections to such a conclusion.

Angel of the Lord

Introduction

Gen. 12:7, 17:1 and 18:1 all have the phrase “the LORD [the divine name] appeared (to Abram).” The same phrase occurs in Gen.26:2 and 26:24 which record two separate instances where the LORD appeared to Isaac. These verses are found in the opening book of Torah. They are about the chief patriarchs of Israel’s history. They record that God has appeared in this world right from the beginning in a physical way.

Typically, Orthodox Jews object to this idea by quoting from Deut. 4:15-24. They point to this passage as saying that God is irreconcilably apart from his creation. Creation and the Creator are totally separate and, though there are lines of blurring since God fills creation (Jer. 23:23-24), creation is never God. Therefore to worship anything – any form – within this universe as God is the height of idolatry, whether it is the sun, the moon, the stars, a man, or a graven image.

Hence it is impossible that the previous verses that were cited could really mean that God literally and physically appeared in this world. When Moses wrote about times where God seemingly did this, he must have meant something else. There are a few key points in this objection that I will dismantle and then demonstrate that, contrary to the traditional Jewish point of view, when it says in the Tenakh that God appeared that is exactly what it means.

The crux of the Orthodox Jewish argument is that Deut. 4:15-24 states that “you saw no form when you heard the voice” and then goes on to say that the Israelites should not make an idol of anything in the universe. Therefore God will never reveal himself in this universe in a physical way. Even if you think you are seeing God, even if the Scriptures say that people have literally seen God in a physical manner, then they and you are mistaken.

The problem is that the conclusion does not follow the argument, nor can it really be derived from Deut. 4:15-24 in any logical way. Deut. 4:15-24 implores Israel to stay true to the one whose voice they had heard and to never build an idol or form. This includes building an idol to represent the LORD, as happened in the golden calf incident but it also generally includes never making something into God that is not God. Traditional Jews usually argue that because Moses said, “you saw no form” (Deut. 4:15), therefore God will never represent Himself through a form in this universe. But this is patently incorrect.

Moses was right that the people of Israel saw no form, but he himself did. He saw God expressing Himself through a form at Sinai, as did the seventy elders and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu (Ex.24:9-17). Moses was right that people should never represent God through a form, but God himself said that Moses had seen the form of the LORD (Num. 12:6-8). In this text, God uses the exact same Hebrew word Temunah that is used in Deut. 4:15. Clearly, Deut. 4:15-24 cannot be used to say what Traditional Jews want it to say. It cannot be used to argue that God will never and has never physically inhabited this world while at the same time filling Heaven and Earth. The clear testimony of Torah alone suggests the opposite.

Appearances of God: The Angel of the LORD

The Angel (Messenger) of the LORD appears many times throughout the Bible. The Angel is not to be confused with other angels like the ones Jacob saw in Gen. 32:1-2. This is because no other angel is presented as being the LORD but also separate from the LORD. No other angel speaks as if it is God, is explained to be God, but is also clearly distinct from God. The scriptures record several texts where “the demarcation between God and his angel is often blurred…At the Exodus from Egypt it is now God (Ex. 13:21), now his angel (14:9) who goes ahead of the Israelite camp” (N. Sarna in Brown, 2000, p. 27). Similarly, Gen. 24:6-9 appears to clearly distinguish between God and this angel. Yet, when the Angel of the LORD stops Abraham from killing Isaac, he talks as if he himself is God, saying, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

I will discuss a few of the key texts that speak about the Angel of the LORD in the Tenakh and show how if the NT is true, then the picture in the scriptures that we receive of the Angel of the LORD is exactly what we would want to see. I will also discuss key objections that traditional Jews give to this view and will outline positive arguments for why the Angel of the LORD is God but is also sent by God.

In sum, as will be shown, the Tenakh categorically clears up any confusion that could result about the specific identity of the Angel of the LORD – this Angel is God, but not the entire dimensions of God, so that it can be said, “God and His Angel.” He was the infinite God’s way of physically manifesting Himself in the world; which is most fully shown when this dimension of God took on flesh in the Gospels.

The Angel is the Same as God

In Gen. 32:22-32 Jacob struggles with a man as he is fleeing from his brother Esau. In this story, the man identifies that struggling with him is the equivalent of struggling with God. Jacob later reflects that this encounter should have cost him his life as in it he saw “God face to face and my life was preserved.” There is an awe that seems to have lasted for over 400 years from this story in Israel. As the man touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and moved it out of joint, so Israel, at the time Torah was written, did not eat the muscle that was shrunk.

The identity of this man is partially clarified in chapter 35:1 where God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.” God says to Jacob that the one who appeared to him during that struggle was God. The man was God. It should also be noted that the way God speaks to Jacob here is like me saying, “Go make an altar to Joel who appeared to you (instead of make an altar to me).” It was a strange way for God to refer to himself; a way that is repeated throughout the scriptures (Ex. 24:1; Brown, 2000, p. 26).

Hosea 12:2-5 clarifies this even further saying that this man was also the Angel of the LORD.

The Lord also brings a charge against Judah,
And will punish Jacob according to his ways;
According to his deeds He will recompense him.
He took his brother by the heel in the womb,
And in his strength he struggled with God.
Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed;
He wept, and sought favour from Him.
He found Him in Bethel,
And there He spoke to us—
That is, the Lord God of hosts.
The Lord is His memorable name.

This text clearly points to the fact that the man that Jacob struggled with was God in the form of the Angel.

But there is more. Jacob himself clearly identified for us all once and for all that the Angel of the LORD is God. When he is blessing the sons of Joseph, he said:

“God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has fed me all my life long to this day,
The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
Bless the lads;
Let my name be named upon them,
And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

Here Jacob clearly identifies that the Angel who has redeemed from all evil was also the God who had fed him all his life. This is an incontrovertible fact. Whenever people saw the Angel they saw God. This is the conclusion of Jacob and of many others in the Tenakh (Judges 6:22 & 13:22).

Finally, since the man in Gen. 32 is identified as the Angel of the LORD, it would be fair to say that during the other times that the LORD appeared physically to people, it was by revealing himself through the Angel of the LORD. In other words, a good case can be put forward that the one who appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and who manifested in a form on Sinai, as well as being revealed to many of the later prophets, was the Angel of the LORD. This is because the Angel of the LORD is continually identified with the majority of these manifestations.

The Angel is Separate from God

Exodus 33 shows that the Angel of the LORD is also absolutely distinct from the LORD.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Though the previous verses discussed show complete sameness between God and the Angel of the LORD, this passage shows the opposite. This is clear because the LORD said that he would not be going with Israel to the Land, but would send his Angel instead. Later in the chapter, Moses pleads with God to change his mind. At the end, God does and promises to go with the people.

Another passage that expresses this complete separation between God and the Angel of the LORD can be found in Zech. 1:12.

“Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’”

In this passage, the Angel of the LORD actually intercedes for the people to the LORD. This demonstrates that, in some sense, this Angel is totally separate from the LORD.

Sameness and Separation

The Angel of the LORD is therefore in some ways completely the same as the LORD but in others completely distinct from the LORD. This Angel is God but it is also separate from God. This can be understood by the texts that demonstrate that the Angel is the LORD but is also sent by the LORD (Ex. 33:1-3) or intercedes for Israel before the LORD (Zech. 1:12).

This is very similar to the concept of God presented in John 1 that talks about the incarnation of Yeshua. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The similarity is that the Word “was” God but was also “with” God. It was the same as God but also totally distinct from God. This parallels the theological situation that comes from the Angel of the LORD passages that were examined above.

The NT therefore claims to clarify the mystery of the Angel of the LORD. Just as the Angel was distinct from God but the same as God, so Yeshua was with God but was the same as God. In the same way, as the Angel intercedes for Israel in Zech. 1:12, so Yeshua continues to intercede for his people (Heb. 7:25). Clearly, however, similarity in theology does not mean that Yeshua is incontrovertibly the Angel of the LORD, but it is a foundation to present the other evidence on. At the very least, this similarity shows that the argument that the God presented in the NT is totally foreign to anything the people of Israel previously knew does not actually hold up.

Furthermore, it should be underscored that the NT actually teaches that, “No one has ever seen God.” (John 1:18) This is in line with a previous tension that is set up in the Tenakh between the aforementioned passages and verses that stress that no one can see God (Ex. 33:20). Hence there is a mystery set up in Tenakh. Namely, that God has never been seen, yet people have seen him. The NT presents Yeshua as the answer to this divine mystery. Whenever someone saw God in the Scriptures, they really saw God’s unique and divine Son.

Answering Key Objections:

1. The NT does not explicitly identify Yeshua as the Angel of the LORD.

You may be surprised. In Jude 5 the author stated, “But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that Yeshua, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” This statement explicitly creates a link between Yeshua and the LORD. Do not mistake this for the idea of Modalism. Christians do not believe that the different dimensions (i.e. the Father and the Son) of God are interchangeable. We do not believe that Yeshua is the Father. Therefore, this means that, as Deut. 4:35-38 says, God (the Father) was responsible for taking the Israelites out of Egypt, not Yeshua. However, in Judges 2:1-3, the Angel of the LORD says:

“Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. 2 And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’”

It must therefore be in this sense that Jude said that Yeshua saved a people out of the land of Egypt. Though the Father was responsible for the Exodus, in the main, the Angel of the LORD carried it out. In this way, both are responsible. Therefore, Jude 5 explicitly identifies Yeshua with the Angel of the LORD NOT with the Father.

2. Judges 6 and Judges 13 both record times when the people in the stories made a mistake when they identified the Angel of the LORD as God. In fact, in Judges 13:16 the Angel rejects an offering and explains people should only offer to the LORD.

This objection clearly misunderstands the context of Judges 13. This is that Menoah and his wife did not know who the Angel of the LORD was until the end of the story. Secondly, Menoah and his wife do not actually suggest giving an offering to the Angel, they simply offered the Angel food (15-16). After this, the Angel of the LORD says that if they do give an offering they must offer it to the LORD. Straight after this the story explains that Menoah and his wife did not know it was the Angel of the LORD. At the end of the story they realise it was and, as Gideon did previously, correctly associate the Angel of the LORD with God.

Furthermore, the traditional Jewish objection to this passage proving that the Angel of the LORD is God is based on Judges 13:17 where the Angel explains to Menoah and his wife that they must give burnt offerings to the LORD. The orthodox argument is that this clearly shows that the Angel of the LORD is not the LORD as the Angel does not receive the offerings. However, in Judges 6:17-21 the Angel of the LORD does accept an offering from Gideon. Moreover, this is explicitly an offering made to the Angel of the LORD . Therefore, according to the orthodox Jewish logic and the Angel’s that offerings can only be made to the LORD, the Angel must in some sense be God.

3. In Acts 12:7 the Angel of the LORD appears again to rescue Peter from Jail. Therefore even the NT stresses that the Angel of the LORD is not Yeshua.

Firstly, the Greek word for “Lord” is not the Tetragrammaton representing God’s name that is often written as the LORD in the English translations of the Tenakh. Furthermore, “Lord” in the NT mostly refers to Yeshua, whereas God mostly refers to the Father. Therefore, one way to understand Acts 12:7 is that Yeshua sent the angel.

Another way is simply to say that this was another angel of God, not the angel of the LORD. This is clear as when the Angel of the LORD appears in the Tenakh it is qualitatively different from other angels in its manner and the way people react to it. None of the features that accompany seeing the Angel of the LORD in the multitude of references to it in the Tenakh are seen in Acts 12:7. Therefore it is extremely unlikely that this angel could be the same as the Angel of the LORD, especially when the NT clearly identifies the Angel of the LORD with Yeshua.

4. Even if you’re right about the Angel of the LORD being God and also being sent by God, that is not enough evidence to argue that Yeshua was the Angel of the LORD – God, but also sent by God.

You’re right. Yeshua’s claim to be the divine Son of Man is incredibly difficult to accept by many. Let me sum up some of the other evidence then. The events surrounding Yeshua were not done in a corner. If the NT accounts can be trusted, then there were angelic appearances, public times when God spoke from heaven to validate what Yeshua said, appearances of Moses and Elijah, public miracles that Yeshua did throughout Israel that stirred up the whole nation, the public outpouring of God’s Spirit at Shavuot and the fulfilment of prophecy after prophecy in the life of Yeshua.

Finally, in the end, there was also an empty tomb.

Many anti-missionaries write this off but the fact is that no one can plan their own resurrection. The most logical explanation of the evidence is that the tomb was empty and that the disciples then saw a risen Lord. If Yeshua truly came back to life, then that proves all his theological claims about himself and that, ultimately, the Messiah exists within the Shema’s Monotheism. This is because it would mean that the Father raised him from the dead.

The greatest evidence you can receive is that if he is truly alive, then he is alive today and you ask him to change your life. Why don’t you? I challenge you to ask him! Ask him if he is true then to come into your life and to show you in a radical and previously unknown way.

No one can plan their own resurrection. If he truly came back to life, then God’s seal of approval is on him and all the theological claims about himself that he made are true. Before he became flesh, he visited this universe as the Angel of the LORD, now he remains (as he truly was previously) as God’s unique and divine Son. He is the ultimate expression of the Father. He is the mechanism through whom God interacts with the world. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. No one can come to Father except through him.

May you be blessed in the way that the Lord described when he answered John’s disciples who asked him if he was the Messiah in Matthew 11:4-6

“Yeshua answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”