Christ in the Old Testament (Part VII)

Christ in the Old Testament, Theology, Worship

Christ in the OT 7 Christ the Angel of the Lord

Christ: The Angel of the LORD

In this post we want to look at something related (in an rather unsuspected way) to Christ as the Word of God. It is Christ as the Angel of the LORD. Geerhardus Vos calls him, “The most important and characteristic form of revelation in the patriarchal period” (Biblical Theology, 85).[1] This is a curious way of putting it, since we normally think of “revelation” as being words (hence the relation), not angels. Yet, this connection was made long ago by Philo who wrote, “And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born logos, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word [logos], and man according to God’s image, and he who sees Israel … Even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons of God, still we may deserve to be called the children of his eternal image, of his most sacred logos; for the image of God is his most ancient word [logos]” (Confusion of Tongues 146).

Vos gives us the problem saying, “The peculiarity in all these cases is that, on the one hand, the Angel distinguishes himself from Jehovah, speaking of Him in the third person, and that, on the other hand, in the same utterance he speaks of God in the first person” (Vos, ibid). His solution? “We must assume that back of the twofold representation there lies a real manifoldness in the inner life of the Deity. If the Angel sent were Himself partaker of the Godhead, then He could refer ‘to God as his Revelation in the Patriarchal Period sender, and at the same time speak as God, and in both cases there would be reality back of it” (Vos, 86-87).

With this as background, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting passages with this Angel in it.  “The Angel of the LORD” appears with this exact title many times in the OT. He comes explicitly to Hagar (Gen 16:7ff), Abraham (Gen 22:11ff), Moses (Ex 3:2ff), Balaam (Num 22:22ff), Israel (Jdg 2:1ff), Gideon (Jdg 6:21ff), Manoah (Jdg 13:3ff), Elijah (1 Kgs 19:7ff), Zechariah (Zech 1:11ff), and others. Perhaps the most important (and least remembered) is his first appearance to Moses.

The Burning Bush

angel bush

The Angel, but not IN the bush as he should be

The Angel appears to Moses in the Burning Bush. We need to look carefully at the language. “And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Ex 3:2). There is an angel in the fire (the fire likely being an image of the Holy Spirit). After Moses turns aside to look at this amazing sight (vs. 3) it says, “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush” (vs. 4). Here, the Angel of the LORD is called both LORD (Yahweh) and God (Elohim). This is very similar to what we saw of the “word” in the Samuel, Jeremiah, and Abraham stories from the previous post. After telling him to take his sandals off because the ground is holy (vs. 5), the angel of the LORD, still speaking, 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 at God” (vs. 6). He was afraid to look at God because he could see God in some sense, that is the Angel of God. After a short conversation, Moses asks the Angel of the LORD his name. The Angel says to call him “I AM WHO I AM” (vs. 14) and “Yahweh, the God of your fathers” (vs. 15). Many people have not recognized that all of this is the angel speaking from the bush, and thus they default to the abstract word “theophany” when trying to explain it. In reality this is the same person who called himself “I AM” throughout the Gospel of John.

The Angel of the LORD is Yahweh’s messenger, for angels are messengers. In this way, he is distinct from Yahweh (the Father). Delivering messages is the function of an angel. But the term “angel” only speaks to a function. It does not necessarily describe a being’s ontology (his DNA, so to speak). Yet, though he is Yahweh’s messenger, he is also identified closely with Yahweh himself. This is made clearer by a couple of other passages.

The Angel of the Name

The first is Exodus 22:20-21. “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.” Who is speaking here? Our opinion is that the Angel of the LORD is speaking on behalf of Yahweh in heaven about the Angel of the LORD; or to put it into NT parlance, the Son is speaking on behalf of the Father about the Son. This is exactly what we see Jesus doing in the NT as well (cf. John 5:20-23; 10:34-38; etc).

Another important passage to look at is Judges 2:1-5. It helps inform the previous passage. “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, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the LORD.” Notice two things. First, they did not obey his voice, though as we saw in Exodus 22:21 this is what they were commanded to do. Second, the Angel of the LORD is the one who covenanted with Israel. This is because the Angel is the covenant God of Israel. I think most people think much too generically about the covenant making “God,” rather than the Second Person of the Trinity who is the mediatory. Yet here it is, right in the Bible.

Jacob

We see the Angel of the LORD being called “God” (elohim) other times besides the burning bush. For example, at Bethel it says, “The angel of God (elohim) said to me [Jacob] in the dream … ‘I am the God of Bethel” (Gen 31:11-12). Later, Jacob blesses Joseph and says, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys” (Gen 48:15-16). We could multiply these kinds of identifications.

Joshua

The point is, the Angel of the LORD is called Yahweh, God, and I AM among other names that we normally associated in our minds only with “God” (the one being) or perhaps with the Father. He also covenants with Israel, fights for his people, redeems them from slavery, forgives sin, and must be obeyed. Perhaps one final thing should be mentioned here. When he shows himself to Joshua as the commander of the army of the LORD, he tells Joshua the very same thing he told Moses, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (Josh 5:15; cf. Ex 3:5). This was in response to Joshua’s “worship” (vs. 14), which the Angel accepted. Now, unless this was actually an evil fallen heavenly being, he would not have accepted worship (cf. Rev 22:9) unless he was God. Since the word of God and the Angel are so closely linked, we can now begin to make sense of how the Word (the previous post) is seen as embodied. Just like other angels that are not anthropomorphisms, or literary devices but real living entities, so also the Word of the LORD is the Angel of the LORD. In the NT, his name is Jesus, and he assumes human flesh. This is a teaser, for we will look at the Christ: The Name of God in the next installment.

[1] This PDF was last accessed 8-15-2014.

(By: Doug Van Dorn)

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