The Angel of the LORD and Moses (Exodus 3)

This article is another of our studies on the mysterious character of the angel of the LORD. As we go through the appearances of this person in the Old Testament, it will quickly 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 these posts is to demonstrate how the Scriptures present the angel of the LORD as divine and thus to show that He prefigures Jesus Christ. I also want to discover what characteristics the angel of the LORD displays which will later be manifested by Jesus in His earthly ministry. Finally, an 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).

EXODUS 3: MOSES AND THE BURNING BUSH

The basic story of Moses and the burning bush is very well known. Many people in our culture even today can tell you that Moses was in the desert and God spoke to him out of a bush that was burning but was not being burned up. It is as we dig deeper down into the details of Exodus 3, however, that we begin to see the complexity and the mystery of what, on the surface, appears to be a simple story. Our focus here will be on the angel of the LORD and trying to determine his identity. As the story opens, Moses has been a shepherd in Midian for forty years. One day, he wanders over into the west side of the wilderness and comes near Mount Horeb.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of the bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not being consumed.

COMMENTS: Observe that the Scripture explicitly says that the angel of the LORD (AOTL) appeared to Moses. The AOTL was visible to Moses, as if the AOTL allows God to be seen.

Also, “the AOTL appeared to him in a blazing (flaming) fire from the midst of the bush.” We will see later in Exodus 3:4a that “God called to him (Moses) from the midst of the bush.” The repetition of the exact phrase is the literary means of intentionally connecting God with the AOTL.  

The final comment from this verse is the author’s choice of the Hebrew word for “blazing,” elsewhere translated as “flaming.” This same Hebrew word appears in two other passages involving the AOTL, in Judges 13:20 when the AOTL announces the conception of Samson and in Isaiah 10:17, an allusion to the destruction of the Assyrian army by the AOTL.

The point of these comments is that they begin planting seeds in our thinking that this AOTL is not just an ordinary angel but may be much more.

When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

COMMENTS: In commenting on Exodus 3:2, we had observed that the AOTL appeared, and that God called to him from the midst of the bush. The message being communicated by this repetition of phrase is that persons who do the same things are very closely related to each other.

There is further mystery here, as “the LORD saw that he (Moses) turned aside,” but then God is the one who called to Moses from the midst of the bush. For those keeping track, we now have the AOTL, the LORD, and God all in the midst of the bush.

One of the characteristics of this appearance of the AOTL, and of appearances of the AOTL in general, is that there is intentional ambiguity about identity. When the AOTL and God and the LORD appear in the same scene, it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. This is done intentionally in the text to convey the idea that there is a lot of overlap in these characters. So, right now it seems that the AOTL is closely related to God.

Since God is now calling to Moses from the midst of the bush, we need to ask the question, “What happened to the AOTL?” The AOTL does not appear again in the chapter. Where did He go? Did He just disappear? Also, when did God enter the scene? The solution could be that the AOTL is the visible manifestation of God. It could be that the AOTL is “the image of the invisible God” (spoken of Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:15).  

Another interesting observation is seeing how God calls Moses. “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” In an earlier encounter with the AOTL in Genesis 22, we saw that the AOTL called Abraham by saying, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:11) Again, it is significant when the Scripture presents this sort of repetition: A double calling of the name with a response of, “Here I am.” This serves to create further ambiguity between God and the AOTL. “If they speak the same way, maybe they are the same person.”

Up to this point, then, both the AOTL and God act from the midst of the bush, but also both God and the AOTL call people in the same way. Hmmm. They certainly have a lot of similarities.

16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”’

COMMENTS: We are skipping down to this verse (3:16) to see what God instructs Moses to tell the people of Israel: the LORD, the God of Abraham has appeared to him. What is interesting is that, in this chapter, only the AOTL is recorded as having appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:2). What do we conclude from this? The conclusion seems to be that when the AOTL appears, it is as if the LORD Himself has appeared. An appearance of the AOTL is an appearance of the LORD.

GENERAL COMMENTS: It is difficult to tell how many people are in this scene. We see the AOTL, the LORD and God all mentioned in this chapter, but the Person talking with Moses is only one person. In other words, the name changes between the AOTL and the LORD and God, but it is obviously the same person speaking throughout.

CONCLUSION

Even though the angel of the LORD is only mentioned once (in 3:2), it seems that throughout the chapter, the AOTL is the visible manifestation of the LORD and of God. Just as Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” so in the Old Testament the one who had seen the AOTL had seen the LORD.

SDG                 rmb                 3/18/2021

The Angel of the LORD and Abraham (Genesis 22)

This article is another of our studies on the mysterious character of the angel of the LORD. As we go through the appearances of this person in the Old Testament, it will quickly 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 these posts is to demonstrate how the Scriptures present the angel of the LORD as divine and thus to show that he prefigures Jesus Christ. Then I also want to discover what characteristics the angel of the LORD displays and how Jesus manifested this in His earthly ministry. Finally, an 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 22: ABRAHAM AND ISAAC ON MOUNT MORIAH

Genesis 22 is one of the most memorable chapters in the Old Testament. It begins when God calls Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Moriah “to offer him there as a burnt offering.” In an act of supreme devotion and obedience, Abraham painstakingly makes all the preparations for the burnt offering and travels to the place of sacrifice. He arranges the wood, places his son Isaac on the altar and raises the knife to slay his son. It is at that point that the angel of the LORD (AOTL) appears in the scene. Our study will go through Genesis 22:11-18.

11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 

COMMENTS: The AOTL calls Abraham by name just as God had called Abraham (22:1). The duplication of verses is significant and is meant to communicate that the two speakers are virtually the same. This would suggest that the AOTL calls Abraham as God.

Notice also that the AOTL spoke from heaven. (22:15 also) Only God speaks to man from heaven. The “from heaven” is an important clue to the deity of the AOTL.

Abraham immediately recognizes the voice of the AOTL and responds the same way that he did to God. (See 22:1) This is significant.

12 He said, “Do not reach out your hand against the boy, and do not do anything to him; for now, I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 

COMMENTS: VERY IMPORTANT POINT – The AOTL commands Abraham NOT TO DO something that God had commanded him to do. God alone has the authority to change God’s commands. A mere angel has no such authority (or ability, for that matter).

Observe that the AOTL is certainly the one speaking in this verse, because he does not make any reference to God or to the LORD. Therefore, it is the AOTL who judges Abraham’s obedience (“I know that you fear God”), and it is from the AOTL (“from Me”) that Abraham has not withheld his son, his only son. But we know that it was God who had called Abraham to, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and offer him as a burnt offering (22:2).” The obvious conclusion is that the AOTL is God.

13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in the place of his son.

COMMENTS: The AOTL provides a substitute. Although it is not explicitly stated, the implication is that, because the AOTL prevented the burnt offering of Isaac, it was the AOTL who provided the ram for the burnt offering. Instead of the sacrifice of Abraham’s beloved son, the LORD (22:14) provides a substitute.

Here, on this mountain, the beloved son is spared, and the substitute is sacrificed, but in the future on another mountain, the beloved Son is sacrificed AS the substitute and the sinners are set free. This provision of a substitute for sacrifice unmistakably foreshadows the death of Christ.

14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

COMMENTS: Abraham calls that place “The LORD Will Provide,” but the AOTL was the one who had provided the ram of the sacrifice. There is intentional ambiguity here as to who is providing, because, by that ambiguity, the Scripture is communicating to us that the AOTL is, in fact, divine.

15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 

COMMENTS: Why did the LORD Himself not speak to Abraham from heaven? Before it waws always the LORD who had spoken to Abraham. Why now the AOTL twice? This is done to present the divinity of the AOTL, that He is like the LORD.

16 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, 

COMMENTS: Once again, it is intentionally ambiguous who is speaking here. It is clear that the words come from the AOTL (22:15), but whose words are they? Is the AOTL speaking FOR the LORD, or is he speaking AS the LORD? That is, when the AOTL says, “declares the LORD,” is he giving the real source of the words, or is he stating his identity?

When the AOTL says, “By Myself I have sworn,” are the first-person singular pronouns referring to him or to the LORD? Again, intentional ambiguity.

The most natural way to read 22:16 is as a continuation of 22:12.

In 22:12, the AOTL says, “since you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me.”

In 22:16, the AOTL says, “because . . . you have not withheld your son, your only son.”

In 22:12, it is certain the AOTL is speaking for himself. I can discern no reason not to think that the AOTL is also speaking for Himself in 22:16. That being the case, we must conclude that the AOTL is speaking AS the LORD. Once again, we reach the conclusion that the AOTL is divine.

17 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. 18 And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

COMMENTS: The AOTL says, “I will greatly bless you,” which is what the LORD had declared in Genesis 12:2. The AOTL says, “I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens,” which is what the LORD had declared in Genesis 15:5. The AOTL says, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,” which is what the LORD had declared in Genesis 12:3 and 18:18. The AOTL speaks with all the authority of the LORD, as if he is the LORD. He repeats and confirms what the LORD has already said.

CONCLUSION

In these eight verses in Genesis 22 we have seen many reasons that suggest that the angel of the LORD is divine, as somehow related to God and the LORD, and yet also distinct from either of them.

The AOTL speaks with all the authority of the LORD. In fact, often it is impossible to determine whether the AOTL is speaking purely for Himself or if he is just communicating the words of the LORD to us.

The AOTL has authority to issue divine commands and to correctly declare the truth of all Scripture.  

The AOTL provides a substitutionary sacrifice.

The wonder is that, when we see that angel of the LORD, we see an appearance of the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. He is the one who speaks with all the authority of the LORD. When Jesus speaks, God speaks. Jesus has the authority to issue divine commands and to rightly apply all of God’s commands. At His word, all discussion ceases. And finally, Jesus was the one who would offer Himself not as a burnt offering, but as a sin offering on the cross as a substitute for all the sinners who would believe in Him.

SDG                 rmb                 3/9/2021

The Angel of the LORD in Genesis 16 with Hagar

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

The Angel of the LORD – Introduction

Of all the characters in the Old Testament, perhaps none is more fascinating and mysterious than the angel of the LORD. He first appears in Genesis 16 talking to Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarai as she is running away into the wilderness, and he makes random appearances in the Pentateuch, the history books, and occasionally in the prophets. Although he is called the angel of the LORD, he is no ordinary angel. He exhibits powers and a presence that separate him from all the other characters who appear in the Old Testament. Why do I say that?

When the angel of the LORD speaks, he speaks as God, and not as a mere messenger of God. Whereas prophets would say, “Thus says the LORD,” the angel speaks in the first-person singular: “I say.” So, although he is not YHWH, he speaks as YHWH. Note that he does not speak for God, but he speaks as God.

The LORD Himself appears in some of the scenes where the angel of the LORD also appears, and in those situations, the angel is indistinguishable from the LORD. One seems almost to blend into the other. It is difficult to tell which is which. It is as if they are the same, even though they are distinct, almost as if the LORD and the angel of the LORD are one.

The angel of the LORD knows all the details of the situation as soon as he appears. He knows names of the people involved and he knows the issues involved; it is almost as if he is omniscient. He also knows the future and declares it as fact.

The people who see the angel of the LORD believe they have seen God face to face, and they are struck with terror when they realize who he is. Men and women encountering the angel of the LORD somehow know they should worship him. It is appropriate and fitting to do so. Their worship is almost spontaneous, as if it is incumbent on them to worship him. And, unlike all other angels in the Bible, the angel of the LORD accepts the worship of men as fitting and appropriate.

One final interesting point to make about the angel of the LORD: He never gives his name, nor is he ever identified by name. Several times the people that meet him directly ask him his name, but he avoids the question. He deflects the question and leaves it as a mystery. That is very interesting, that this amazing character remains nameless throughout the Old Testament. Other powerful angels like Michael and Gabriel are identified for who they are, but this powerful angel remains anonymous in the Old Testament.

WHO IS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD?

The angel of the LORD made the LORD visible. The LORD said, “You cannot see My face and live (Exodus 33:20),” but in the person of the angel of the LORD, sinful man could see the Holy One of Israel and not be consumed. As YHWH, God was a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), but as the angel of the LORD, the eternal one who dwells in unapproachable light could be seen and heard. Although clearly divine, the angel of the LORD had the appearance of a man. He was the image of the invisible God, a mediator between God and man.

Who is the angel of the LORD? Surely, it is obvious who he is. The angel of the LORD is none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other candidate, no other suspect. Who else can speak as the LORD and yet not be the LORD? Who else is indistinguishable from God? Who else is divine, although He has the appearance of a man (Philippians 2:5-8)? Who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:4-6)? Who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15)? Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” Just so, he who has seen the angel of the LORD has seen the LORD. And now we know His name: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).”

A NEW SERIES OF BLOGS ON THE ANGEL OF THE LORD

For a long time, I have thought about writing about the angel of the LORD, and now I am committing to that. The series will probably be about 12-14 blogs. We will look at appearances of the angel of the LORD and see if he really is the pre-incarnate Jesus. It should be fun.

Our first post will be on Genesis 16 when Hagar, the Egyptian servant girl, encounters the angel of the LORD.

SDG                 rmb                 2/10/2021