Published: 14 February 2022

Who Is The Angel Of The LORD?

The Angel Of The LORD

A mysterious being called “the angel of the LORD” is an important character in the story of the binding of Isaac. Genesis 22 is not the first time the angel of the LORD has appeared (Gen 16), but this is the earliest indication that he was not an ordinary angel. The angel of the LORD makes lots of appearances in the Old Testament. Who is he and what is special about him?

Abraham and the angel of the LORD

If you haven’t read Genesis 22:10-17 recently, take a moment to read it now. If you were paying attention as you read, you probably noticed that the angel’s language kept shifting back and forth. He starts out by speaking of himself, but by the end of his sentence he seems to be referring to himself as if he was God.

11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Gen. 22:11–12 ESV)

Notice that in Genesis 22:11 the angel of the LORD is speaking. He is referring to himself in the first person and to God in the third person as you would expect. Abraham was about to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God. However, the angel of the LORD declares that Abraham had not withheld Isaac “from me.” The angel is now speaking about God in the first person; as if the angel is God! 

Is this a failure to translate Hebrew into correct English? Is it sloppy writing by Moses, the author of Genesis? If this was the only time in the Old Testament this sort of shifting of language took place between the angel of the LORD and God, perhaps we could say yes to one of these questions. As I’ll show below, this is not an isolated occurrence. It would seem that the wording is intentionally designed to blur the distinction between the angel of the LORD and God!

Jacob and the angel of God

What Genesis 22 implies is directly stated in Genesis 31. Jacob encountered the “angel of God” in a dream who explicitly declares that He is the God of Bethel.

11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 12 And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’” (Gen. 31:11–13 ESV)

In an earlier dream (Gen 28:10-22), Jacob had seen God while sleeping at Bethel. This was the dream where Jacob saw a ladder spanning heaven and Earth which angels were ascending and descending on. It was here that Jacob made a vow to serve God. 

This same angel who intervened at the aborted sacrifice of Isaac has now appeared to Isaac’s son identifying Himself as God. 

Gideon and the angel of the LORD

We see another remarkable event in the dialog between Gideon, the angel of the LORD, and God in Judges 6. In Judges 6:11 the angel of the LORD appears to Gideon and strikes up a conversation with him. Gideon responds expressing concern that God has forsaken Israel. It is just then (Judg. 6:14) that the LORD speaks up!

Read this passage carefully and take note that this is not the angel of the LORD speaking; it is the LORD Himself. As the story unfolds, it would seem that there are two “Yahweh” figures present with Gideon; one visible and one invisible. Even after the angel of the LORD vanishes in front of Gideon (Judg. 6:21), God goes on speaking to Gideon. 

Two Yahwehs?

Have you ever wondered why the Jewish believers in Jesus never expressed any concern or surprise that Jesus was Divine? After all, to accept Jesus as the Son of God would mean there was more than one God (so to speak). Even though they were monotheists, the fact that Jesus was God and that Yahweh was also God didn’t even trouble them at all! 

“The startling reality is that long before Jesus and the New Testament, careful readers of the Old Testament would not have been troubled by the notion of, essentially, two Yahwehs— one invisible and in heaven, the other manifest on earth in a variety of visible forms, including that of a man. In some instances the two Yahweh figures are found together in the same scene.”[1]Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (p. 134). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition. 

The ancient Jews did not define monotheism the way we might think. Their concept of one God permitted God to exist as multiple persons. As Dr. Michael Heiser puts it, there were “whispers” of the Trinity in the Old Testament.[2]Ibid., 132.

The angel’s identity

By now I’m sure you have put the puzzle pieces together. Can there be any doubt that the Old Testament’s “angel of the LORD” was anyone other than the preincarnate Jesus? Jude says so:

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 1:5 ESV)

There are several passages Jude may have been referring to and this one may be among them:

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, (Judg. 2:1 ESV)

Jesus was the visible Yahweh who so often represented the invisible Yahweh. Jesus reminded His disciples that He was the visible manifestation of God the Father:

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8–9 ESV)

When you read about “the angel of the LORD” in the Old Testament, take special notice because it is Jesus you are reading about.

References

References
1 Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (p. 134). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.
2 Ibid., 132.