The Malak Yahweh:
Jesus, the Divine Messenger of the Old Testament
[Continued from Part I]
The Old Testament puts the divinity of the Malak Yahweh beyond all peradventure of a doubt, not only by supplying premises from which, by good and necessary consequence, such a conclusion can be deduced, but also by providing unequivocal, plainspoken declarations to this effect. Theologian Herman Bavinck summarizes some of the most important lines of evidence for this that can be found in the Old Testament:
This much is clear: that in the Mal’akh Yhwh who is preeminently worthy of that name, God (esp. his Word) is present in a very special sense. This is very evident from the fact that though distinct from Jehovah this Angel of Jehovah bears the same name, has the same power, effects the same deliverance, dispenses the same blessings, and is the object of the same adoration. This exegesis is supported by the entire Old and New Testament[s], …1
The evidence is also summarized in a similar way by the late Princeton Theologian Charles Hodge:
We … find throughout the Old Testament constant mention made of a person to whom, though distinct from Jehovah as a person, the titles, attributes, and works of Jehovah are nevertheless ascribed. This person is called the angel of God, the angel of Jehovah, Adonai, Jehovah, and Elohim. He claims divine authority, exercises divine prerogatives, and receives divine homage … since this is a pervading representation of the Bible – since we find that these terms are applied, not first to one and then to another angel indiscriminately, but to one particular angel; that the person so designated is also called the Son of God, the Mighty God; and that the work attributed to Him is elsewhere attributed to God Himself – it is certain that by the angel of Jehovah in the early books of Scripture we are to understand a divine person …2
At the same time, as the above writers also state, the Angel is not only identified as Yahweh but He is juxtaposed with Yahweh, a fact that throws the truth of the Trinity in the Old Testament into bold relief, at least as touching on two of the Trinitarian persons. Speaking of the evidence of the Angel’s distinct divine identity, which, in part, is grounded in the observation that the Angel speaks as God in the first person and also speaks of God in the third person, theologian Gerhardus Vos says:
The most important and characteristic form of revelation in the patriarchal period is that through “the Angel of Jehovah” or “the Angel of God.” … 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 … The problem is how to do justice to both. There is but one way in which this can be done: 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 sender, and at the same time speak as God, and in both cases there would be reality back of it. Without this much of what we call the Trinity the transaction could not but have been unreal and illusory.3
These two basic issues – 1) the divine identity of the Angel; and 2) the Angel’s distinction from Yahweh – will be considered in turn in this and the next several papers in this series.
The Malak Yahweh’s Divine Identity
The Self-Identification of the Angel
When it comes to the self-identification of the Angel, some significance attaches to the fact that He never calls Himself “the Angel of Yahweh”; this is always a title given to Him by others, such as (and almost always) the sacred author or (more rarely) someone else in the narrative. In fact, quite often the Angel does not identify Himself by any title, and sometimes appears almost allusive when directly questioned, such as when Jacob and Manoah, on two separate occasions, ask Him for His name: to the former, He replies, “Why is it that you ask my name?” (Genesis 32:29); and to the latter, in a reply that is somewhat more informative but yet still cryptic, He says, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful,” which is to say, beyond understanding (Judges 13:18).4 In most cases, then, the Angel simply lets His words and actions speak for themselves, a fact that virtually forces the person to recognize Him solely on this basis, and these are usually of such a nature that they lead the person having the encounter to identify Him as none other than Yahweh or the Lord God.
On those occasions when the Angel does openly identify Himself, He does so by using divine titles. To Jacob, the Angel says, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13) and “I am the God of Bethel” (Genesis 31:13). He told Jacob later in his life to go up to Bethel and "build an altar there to God, who appeared to you..." (Genesis 35:1). He also said to Jacob: "I am God Almighty" (Genesis 35:11). To Moses, the Angel says: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6); “I Am that I Am” (Exodus 3:14); and “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:15). The only other title that He gives Himself is “Captain/Prince of the Host of Yahweh” (Joshua 5:14).
This shows that the individuals who initially encountered the Angel, to the extent that He ever says His name, or to the extent that they are left to judge by His words and works, which, as we will see, are divine in quality, only know by the facts immediately before them, i.e. by the facts that are present to them, which doesn’t include the words of the sacred authors who later record what took place and call Him “the Angel of Yahweh”, that the Angel is none other than God Himself. In other words, the fanciful theories that suggest themselves to people on the basis of the title “the Angel of Yahweh”, which we have already seen in part one of this series does not rule out the deity of the Angel anyway, simply were not available to those who directly encountered Him. For all they knew, the Angel was an appearance of God, just as He always demonstrated and sometimes openly and emphatically declared.
The Identity of the Malak Yahweh According to People in the Narratives
The evidence that people who encountered the Angel concluded and believed that He was God is plentiful.
After the Angel of Yahweh appeared to Hagar, she gave this name to Him: “You are a God who sees” (Genesis 16:13). After Jacob awoke from a dream in which the Angel appeared to him, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” and “this is none other than the house of God.” (Genesis 28:17). On another occasion, Jacob says, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Genesis 32:30). Still later, when reflecting upon the providence of God in his life as well as that of his fathers, Jacob refers to Him as “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil …” (Genesis 48:15-16).
Speaking to the Angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, the Angel who told him to declare His name to the children of Israel, Moses said: “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13). Still later, God says of the Angel, “My Name is in Him” (Exodus 23:21).
When the Angel converses with Gideon, who at first did not recognize who He was, he eventually calls Him “Lord” (Judges 6:15) and “LORD God” (6:22). Manoah, who, along with his wife, also did not recognize the Angel at first, finally exclaims, “We will surely die, for we have seen God!” (Judges 13:22), to which his wife responds, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands …” (Judges 13:23)
For a final testimony, Malachi records the words of God concerning the Angel of the covenant, where these words are spoken about Him: “… the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple” (Malachi 3:1).
Coupled with all of this is the fact that, at least in the case of the patriarchs, memorials names are given to commemorate a number of these events, each of which point to the fact that they experienced a divine encounter:
Hagar names the place where she encountered the Angel, “Beer-lahai-roi, which means, “the Well of the Living One Who sees me” (Genesis 16:14); Abraham names the place where the Angel of Yahweh countermands the divine command to slay Isaac, which itself bespeaks the Angel’s divinity, Yahweh-Yireh, meaning “the LORD Will Provide” (Genesis 22:14); Jacob names the location of one divine encounter Bethel, which means “the house of God” (Genesis 28:19), and he names another place - Peniel, “the Face of God” (Genesis 32:30); and finally, when Gideon erects an altar in the place where the Angel of Yahweh speaks peace to him, he names it “Yahweh-Shalom”, Yahweh is Peace (Judges 6:24).
The Identity of the Malak Yahweh According to the Sacred Authors
In response to this, some have objected that certain Biblical characters mentioned above – such as Hagar, Manoah and Gideon – were mistaken when they concluded that the Angel was God and LORD. Aside from the fact that the above testimonies provided within the narrative include the testimonies of prophets like Moses, the sacred authors would not be expected to include such testimonies if they were not in fact true, especially since they did not fence these remarks in such a way as would prevent readers from making the same “mistake”. If it be objected that the very use of the phrase “the Angel of Yahweh” by the Biblical authors does this very thing, i.e. this phrase provides a literary clue that this is really a creature-angel and not a manifestation of God, at least two considerations dispel this.
In the first place, on one of the rare occasions when someone within the narrative actually calls Him “the Angel of Yahweh”, namely in Judges 6 where the Angel appears to Gideon, it is quite apparent that Gideon, drawing upon previous revelation where the authors of Scripture speak of these visible manifestations to people under the name “the Angel of Yahweh”, understands this phrase to be a circumlocution for God.
Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “the LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The LORD looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.” Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” The LORD said to him, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it The LORD is Peace. (Judges 6:11-23)
At first, Gideon does not appear to recognize who it is he is speaking to. This is seen in the manner by which he initially addresses the Angel, apparently supposing him to be only a man or prophet, calling Him only “my lord [Heb. adon]” (Judges 6:13). But after the Angel speaks as God in the first person, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14), the form of address changes to “the Lord [Heb. adonai]” (Judges 6:15), which is usually the form of the word reserved for deity. This again is followed by the Angel speaking as God in the first person, saying, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man” (Judges 6:16). And once again this prompts Gideon to surmise that it is the Lord Himself who is speaking to him, as is indicated by his request, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me”. Seeking confirmation that it really is “the Lord”, Gideon asks the Angel to wait until he returns with a minchah, a present, a word that could either refer to a feast or to a meat-offering for God (Leviticus 2:1). The significance of this is captured by Matthew Henry, who says, “… that word [minchah, present] is used which signifies both because Gideon intended to leave it to this divine person to determine which it should be when he had it before him: whether a feast or a meat-offering, and accordingly he would be able to judge concerning him …”5 In other words, if He accepted it and ate of it as a common meal, then it would prove He was a man and therefore just a prophet; but if He received it as a sacrifice, then it would prove He was a divine person.6
The Angel’s action furnished a decisive response, thereby settling Gideon’s lingering doubt and confirming Him to be the Lord, a fact that caused Gideon to exult: “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”
The reaction of Gideon shows how he understood the title “the Angel of Yahweh”. Since the Angel does not here call Himself by that name in this story, it is evident that Gideon is drawing upon the previous Scriptures when he speaks of what has been determined to be a divine theophany as an appearance of the Angel of Yahweh: “When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, ‘Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die’” (Judges 6:22). The fact that Gideon feared that he would die upon seeing the Angel of Yahweh further proves that he understood the Angel to be God.7
In addition to the above, the fact that the sacred authors were not trying to correct any supposed error on the part of Biblical figures when they, i.e. the sacred authors, denominate Him by the title “the Angel of Yahweh”, is proved further by the fact that the most copious references to the Angel as God and LORD come from the sacred authors themselves.
Repeatedly throughout the Torah Moses tells us who it was who was speaking to people on these occasions, even if they did not at first recognize Him for who He was. When Hagar called the Angel “God who sees,” the sacred author prefaces these remarks with the following: “She gave this name to the LORD [i.e. Yahweh] who spoke to her …” (Genesis 16:13). In the dream that Jacob had where the Angel, standing above a latter that reached from heaven to earth, says, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac,” the sacred author once again provides prefatory remarks identifying Him as Yahweh: “And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham …” (Genesis 28:13). Of the Angel who appeared to Jacob in Bethel, the sacred author explained that Jacob on that earlier occasion renamed the place Bethel (i.e. house of God) and built an altar there "because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother" (Genesis 35:7; see also, 14-15). When Moses later writes about the conversation he had with the Angel who spoke to him from the bush, the very one who declared Himself to be the great I AM, he says things like: “When the LORD saw that he [i.e. Moses] turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush” (Exodus 3:4); “then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6); “The LORD said …” (Exodus 3:7); “But Moses said to God …” (Exodus 3:11); “Then Moses said to God …” (Exodus 3:13); “God said to Moses …” (Exodus 3:14); “God, furthermore, said to Moses, …” (Exodus 3:15).
As with the writings of Moses, so it is with the rest of the Old Testament writings; the inspired authors refer to the Angel by one or another divine title. And so, for example, when the Angel appears to Joshua, the sacred author precedes His words with: “The LORD said to Joshua …” (Joshua 5:13-6:2). Before Gideon realizes it is the Angel of Yahweh who is standing before him and talking with him, the sacred author says, speaking of the Angel: “The LORD [i.e. Yahweh] looked at him [Gideon] and said, …” (Judges 6:14); and just two verses later the Angel’s words to Gideon are recorded in this wise: “But the LORD said to him,…” (Judges 6:16). And, finally, the prophet Hosea, emphatically and climactically, says of the Angel: “... the LORD [i.e. Yahweh], the God of hosts, the LORD [i.e. Yahweh] is His name” (Hosea 12:5).
If we include the testimony of other passages that do not use the phrase “the Angel of Yahweh” but which do speak of divine theophanies (e.g. Genesis 15, 17, 18-19, 26; Exodus 24; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1, etc.), and the previous study has shown something of the evidence that these should also be viewed as appearances of the Malak Yahweh, then the proof of the Angel’s divinity could be easily extended. The following will briefly illustrate with two examples.
First, in Genesis 18 we are told of what appeared to be three men visiting Abraham (Genesis 18:2). Later in the story when two of them depart for Sodom we are told they are angels (Genesis 19:1). The Jerusalem Targum and the Targum of Pseudo Jonathan even use the word angel for all three of them. While it is apparent to the reader all along that at least one of the three is Yahweh (He is called Yahweh by the sacred author in vss. 1, 13, 17, 20, 22, 26 and 33), this is a growing realization on the part of Abraham, as seen by the fact that he initially addresses Him only as “Lord [adon]”, which at that point in the context appears to be little more than a term of respectful address and a token of Abraham’s hospitality. Later in the story, after it has been made plain that one of the visitors is God, Abraham adjusts his language accordingly, and he even calls Him “the judge of all the earth” (vs. 25). Dr. John Pye Smith gives the following terse summation:
Three persons in human form appeared to Abraham. Two of them passed on to Sodom, on a mission of righteous judgment; and they are called angels. The third had remained with Abraham; and He repeatedly assumes and receives the name JEHOVAH. Though He is not expressly denominated the Angel, yet the attendant circumstances are such as agree with other manifestations in which that appellation is used. Upon this passage, the Jerusalem Targum says; “the Word [Memra] of Jehovah appeared to him in the valley of vision.” Other Jewish writings have the following explications: “The Shekinah was associated with them, and detained Abraham until the angels departed. – He said not who he was: but, in all these [appearances], it was the Angel of the covenant. –”8 (Upper case original; bold mine)
In fact, it is evident from the rest of the story that this person who appeared to Abraham and who is identified as Yahweh is yet distinct from another person called Yahweh, just as we see in the case of the Angel of Yahweh, for we read the following taking place after Yahweh departs from Abraham and goes to Sodom:
Then the LORD [Yahweh] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD [Yahweh] out of heaven. (Genesis 19:24)
The distinction drawn in the passage between one person who rains down the fire from another, both of whom are called Yahweh, is quite stark.9
A second example of a theophany that could be included which doesn’t mention the Angel of Yahweh by name but which is evidently an appearance of the Angel all the same, is found in Genesis 26:
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.’ So Isaac stayed in Gerar. (Genesis 26:1-6)
Once again there can be no question in this passage that God is the one who has appeared to Isaac. The sacred author says, “The LORD appeared to him”, and the LORD speaks as God in the first person, issuing divine commands and promises that only God could make.
While there are many identifying marks in the passage that enable us to determine that it is the Angel of Yahweh, it is enough to point out that God in verse 3, says, “I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham”, which we know from Genesis 22 was in fact made by the Angel of Yahweh:
Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)
The author of Hebrews was surely correct, when He said, “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, …” (Hebrews 6:13)
The pointed testimony of Hagar, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon and other Biblical figures, along with the inspired say-so of the Biblical authors and the self-testimony of the Angel, are more than sufficient to prove that the Bible teaches the Angel’s divine identity in no uncertain terms. If they are not sufficient to this end, then one must wonder how it would be possible to communicate such an idea at all. Of course the very fact that everyone understands what the present thesis aims to prove, namely that the Angel of Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is proof positive that people are engaging in cognitive dissonance if and when they refuse to acknowledge what the Biblical authors mean when they say the same thing.
Continue with Part III.