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WHO IS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD? (Judges 6:22-23)

IF GIDEON ONLY SAW AN ANGEL, WHY DID HE FEAR THAT HE MIGHT DIE? Many interpreters believe that an angel takes God's place and acts as his representative. However, others do not feel this explanation fits all the data. Who, then, is this "angel of the LORD"?

The angel of the Lord first appears in Genesis 16:7 and then intermittently throughout the early Old Testament books. In other passages an individual manifesting himself in human form is frequently called "the LORD" (Gen 12:7; 17:1; 18:1). If this angel actually were God, why is he called an angel? Since the root meaning of angel is "messenger" or "one who is sent," we must determine from context whether the word refers to the office of the sent one or to the nature of created angels as finite beings.

Initially, some contexts of the term "angel of the LORD" appear to refer to nothing more than any other angel (as in Judg 6:11). But as the narrative progresses, that angel soon transcends the angelic category and is described in terms suited only to a member of the Trinity. Thus in the Judges 6 episode, we are startled when verse 14 has the Lord speaking to Gideon, when previously only the angel of the Lord had been talking.

Many Old Testament passages state that this angel is God. Thus, after being told that Hagar had been speaking with the angel of the Lord (four times in Gen 16:7, 9-11), Genesis 16:13 informs us that Hagar "gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: `You are the God who sees me.'" Jacob's testimony in Genesis 48:15-16 is even more striking. He identifies the God in whose presence his fathers Abraham and Isaac had lived as "the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm."

This angel spoke to Jacob earlier in a dream and identified himself by saying, "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me" (Gen 31:11, 13).

Likewise in Exodus 3:2-6 the phrase "the angel of the LORD" is used interchangeably with "the LORD." In fact the angel claims, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6).

The passage, however, that really clinches this remarkable identification is Exodus 23:20-23. There God promises to send his angel ahead of the children of Israel as they go through the desert. The Israelites were warned that they must obey and not rebel against this angel. The reason was a stunning one: "Since my Name is in him." God would never share his memorial name with anyone else, for Isaiah 42:8 advised that he would never share his glory with another. Thus the name of God stands for himself. And when a person is said to have the name of God in him, that person is God!

This angel has divine qualities, prerogatives and authority. He has the power to give life (Gen 16:10) and to see and know all (Gen 16:13; Ex 3:7). Only God can forgive sin, yet this angel did the same in Exodus 23:21. The angel performed miracles such as keeping a burning bush from being consumed (Ex 3:2), smiting Egypt with plagues (Ex 3:20), calling forth fire on the rock to consume the meal set for him (Judg 6:21) and ascending the flame of the altar (Judg 13:20).

Finally, this angel commanded and received worship from Moses (Ex 3:5) and Joshua (Josh 5:14). Angels were not to receive worship. When John attempted to worship an angel in Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9, he was corrected quickly and told not to do it.

It is clear from this abundance of evidence that the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament was a preincarnate form of our Lord Jesus Christ, who would later permanently take on flesh when he came as a babe in Bethlehem. But mark it well: the one who came after John had already been before--he was that angel of the Lord. His full deity was always observed and yet he presented the same mystery of the Trinity that would later be observed in "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30) and "my other witness is the Father, who sent me" (Jn 8:18). It is that word sent that ties together the angel, messenger or sent one into an Old Testament theology of christophanies, appearances of God in human form.

Taken from Hard Sayings of the Bible. By Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch. Copyright © 2002 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Permission kindly granted to Faith & Reason Forum by InterVarsity Press.