Theology

The Angel of angels

Christ is the God of the Old Testament. That’s what He says about Himself: “Before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn 8:58). It’s what Paul believed and all the Apostles. It’s even what Luther, who’s the greatest and foremost teacher of our church, says, as I showed in my last article on this topic. Because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament, He is revealed there. The pages of the Old Testament don’t just run red with the blood of Jesus, pointing forward to Him. The words recorded on those pages could have red words, as so many versions of the Gospels have His words marked. It seems unusual, but it’s the topic of angels that makes this clear in the Old Testament.

It’s not far into the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve, until we hear about angels, both good and bad. There’s the deceiver, “the great dragon, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan.” (Rev 12:9) There’s the godly cherubim who guard the way to the tree of life, lest mankind live forever in sin and death. (Gen 3:24) Angel simply means messenger, and so divine messengers, angels, bring a word to people. The demons bring false words, but the good angels bring God’s true and holy word and also do what it says. In the Old Testament there is one Angel who sets Himself apart from all the rest. He is the Malach Yahweh (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה), the Angel of Yahweh, commonly translated as “The Angel of the LORD.”

There’s something different about this Angel when He shows up. He doesn’t just say, “Thus says Yahweh.” He speaks things that only Yahweh Himself can say. There are many examples of this. When Hagar flees from Sarah because she’s being mistreated for being pregnant with Abraham’s son, the Malach Yahweh appears to her. “The Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.'” (Gen 16:10) Only Yahweh Himself can make such a promise, and He does again later to Abraham. “Then God said: ‘As for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.'” (Gen 17:20) Yahweh made a promise and gave a blessing to all mankind in the beginning when He said, “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1) What He did then, He does again specifically to Ishmael.

When it was time for Yahweh to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He would deliver their descendants from 400 years of slavery (Gen 15:13), He appeared to Moses in the burning bush.

The Angel of Yahweh appeared to him in the flame of fire in the midst of the bush. When he saw it, behold, the bush burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “Let me now turn aside, and I will look at this great sight. Why is the bush not burning?” When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush. He said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “I am here.” (Ex 3:2–4 NKJV)

If that weren’t enough, there’s more: “He said, ‘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.” (Ex 3:6 NKJV) Here the Angel of YHWH is seen to be YHWH Himself. He speaks as Yahweh Himself to Moses. Moses recognizes this and “is afraid to look upon God.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. It happened with Moses’ replacement Joshua. “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.”'” (Jdg 2:1 NKJV) The Angel makes the covenant. In fact, it is His covenant! Gideon also is afraid of the Angel: “Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, ‘Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face.’” (Jdg 6:22) And we know that no one can see His face and live! (Ex 33:20) Even Samson’s parents realize this when the Angel receives the sacrifice, and they do not die. (Jdg 13)

This shouldn’t be too surprising for us. This fits right in with what John writes in his Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1 NKJV) The Lord is His own Word. A Word needs a messenger, and the Word is His own messenger! The Word, the second Person of the Trinity, was manifested in creation (“God said…”). He appeared also as the divine Messenger, the Angel of Yahweh, who does things only Yahweh can do: make covenants (Jdg 2), receive sacrifices (Jdg 13), multiply people (Gen 16, 17), and call Himself God (Ex 3).

This Angel of Yahweh, in the fulness of time, took on our flesh, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose again on the third day. He saves us. Jesus does this. He appeared as the Angel of the LORD, He’s the Messenger, the Word, the Lord Himself, our Savior. Thus we pray with David:

The Angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
(Ps 34:7 NKJV)

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