This is the first of a series of studies on the Old Testament character of the angel of the LORD. As we go through the appearances of this person in the Old Testament, it will become obvious that this is no ordinary angel. In fact, my conviction is that this is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity before His appearance in Bethlehem. My goal in each of these posts is to demonstrate how the angel of the LORD prefigures Jesus Christ. Then I also want to discover what characteristics are exhibited by the angel of the LORD and how Jesus manifested this in His earthly ministry. Finally, an implicit objective in all my posts is to show the beauty and the power of the Scriptures, and to make plain that the Scriptures are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).
GENESIS 16: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD MEETS HAGAR
As the narrative in Genesis 16 unfolds, Sarai, Abram’s barren wife, has given her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Abram so that Abram can go into her and have an heir. The plan backfires when Hagar conceives and, as a result, despises her mistress Sarai. Sarai then “treats Hagar harshly,” and Hagar runs away into the wilderness (Genesis 16:6). We will pick up the action there.
After the angel of the LORD finds Hagar in the wilderness, he speaks to her and asks her what is wrong. Hagar replies that she is fleeing from Sarai. The angel of the LORD then directs Hagar to return to Sarai and submit to Sarai’s authority (16:9).
We need to pause here for a second, because something interesting has just occurred. Notice that the angel of the LORD commands Hagar to return and submit to Sarai because it is right for Hagar to submit to her authority. Thus, the angel of the LORD has the authority to give people commands and to make moral judgments. This is a clue that this angel is divine.
Next, the angel of the LORD declares that He “will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count (16:10).” Now stop and consider this. With no reference or allusion to God or to the LORD, the angel of the LORD just declared the future as if it were already fact and promised to Hagar that He Himself would give her many descendants. He had said, “I will greatly multiply . . .” Notice he speaks in first-person singular: “I will.” Only God has the power to declare the future because only God controls and ordains the future. Also, God is the one who opens the womb and God alone is the one who determines who will bear children and how many they will bear. Yet here, the angel of the LORD has both declared the future and has promised Hagar children. These are strong clues that this mysterious angel is none other than the LORD Himself, since He does what only God can do.
The angel of the LORD goes on to make specific prophecies about Hagar’s son-to-be, Ishmael. He gives Ishmael his name and He describes his personality and even tells where he will live (16:11-12). All this is declared as fact, even though Hagar had just conceived. It is almost as if the angel of the LORD knows the future in detail, almost as if he is omniscient.
Finally, we examine Genesis 16:13 and see other clues about the identity of the angel of the LORD. Hagar “called the name of the LORD who spoke to her . . .” Hagar is convinced that the Person who spoke to her was the LORD but notice that the only Person who spoke to her in this story was the angel of the LORD. We must conclude that the angel of the LORD is the LORD. Now notice the name that Hagar gave to “the LORD who spoke to her:” “You are a God who sees.” Clearly Hagar believes that the LORD who spoke to her is God. At the end of this verse (still in Genesis 16:13) she says, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” In Hagar’s mind, when she saw the angel of the LORD, she had seen God. She was amazed that she remained alive because no one can see God and live. Again, Hagar believes that, in the angel of the LORD, she has met and talked with God, a God who sees her and has compassion on her, a God who is not going to let her perish in the wilderness or be treated too harshly by her mistress, Sarai. Yet Hagar had talked only talked with the angel of the LORD.
We have looked at the textual evidence about the identity of the angel of the LORD, but there are also intangible, subjective hints that let us know who he is. From the moment of His appearance on the scene, he possesses a divine presence, a bearing that radiates authority. It is obvious that the angel of the LORD is no ordinary angel. There is in his demeanor a simple, confident assurance that He is in charge, the He is in control.
Notice one other thing about the angel of the LORD. In Hagar’s encounter with him, even though he is an angel, his appearance does not frighten Hagar. Isn’t that curious? In other encounters with angels, it is normal for the angel to calm the person, but this angel does not tell Hagar, “Fear not!” Maybe he appears to Hagar as an ordinary, flesh and blood man. The angel of the LORD does not intimidate her, but rather seems to have compassion on her. She trusts Him. It is only after her encounter that she realizes who He was. His words. His demeanor. His presence. His compassion. His authority. “Why, He must be God!”
WHO IS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD?
Who is the angel of the LORD? Surely, it is obvious who he is. Who is a divine being who appears as a flesh-and-blood man? Who is the one whose very presence exudes authority? Who is the one who existed in the form of God, yet did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6)? Who is the one who speaks as the LORD, yet is not the LORD? The angel of the LORD announced that He Himself would greatly multiply Hagar’s descendants and that she would have a son. But only God has the authority to make and fulfill such promises.
Yes, the angel of the LORD is none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other candidate, no other suspect.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ANGEL OF THE LORD
First, we see that the angel of the LORD is compassionate. Hagar is running from Sarai, running into the wilderness. She is just a runaway Egyptian maid, wandering in the wilderness, but the angel of the LORD seeks her and finds her and speaks kindly to her and sends her back to the place of safety and blessing.
We also see that the angel of the LORD has the power to create the future. He declares to Hagar that He will greatly multiply her descendants and that she will have a son, who she is to name Ishmael. He is sovereign over the future.
Finally, the angel of the LORD sees us, and He gets involved in our lives.
And now we know this angel of the LORD as Jesus Christ, the great King of kings.
SDG rmb 2/22/2021