APPENDIX #3: ABOUT ANGELS
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
This Appendix is not intended to be a complete or general discussion of all the biblical references to ‘angels’. Its focus is on those Old Testament references where the ‘angel’ appears to be a manifestation God himself. The purpose of this Appendix is to establish precedence for the understanding that some of the references to specific individual angels in Revelation may be apocalyptic representations of God – particularly of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
In the history of biblical interpretation there have been many scholars who have maintained that in the Old Testament, on several occasions, ‘the angel of the LORD’ is a ‘theophany’ – a manifestation of God, a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The potentially relevant Old Testament incidents are:
Here ‘the angel of the LORD’ appeared and spoke to Hagar the first time she ran away from Sarah. This being is called ‘the angel of the LORD’ in verses 7,9,10 and 11. However, verse 13 reports ‘She gave the name to the LORD who spoke to her “You are the God who sees me” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”’
Hagar called ‘the LORD’ who spoke to her ‘the God who sees me’. ‘the LORD’ translates Yahweh [Jehovah] – God’s personal and holy name. ‘God’ is obviously God, not an angel, and ‘who sees me’ is an attribute of God – it speaks of God’s omniscience.
The occasion is Hagar’s second flight from Sarah, this time with her son, Ishmael. Here ‘the angel of God’ called to Hagar from heaven and told her that God had heard the boy crying [verses 17,18]. In verse 18 the angel said ‘I will make him into a great nation’ – but that is not the work of an angel, that is the work of God. In verse 19 ‘God’ opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.
This is the report of Abraham’s obedience when God told him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. The ‘angel of the LORD’ intervened and prevented Abraham from killing Isaac. In verses 16-18 the angel spoke the words of God.
The occasion is Jacob’s flight from Laban. The ‘angel of God’ spoke to Jacob in a dream and said ‘I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me’. Here ‘the angel of God’ clearly identifies himself as God.
Jacob is in the process of blessing Joseph, and is referring to God in various ways. He calls God ‘the God of my fathers …’, ‘the God who has been my shepherd all my life …’, and ‘the Angel who has delivered me from all harm’. This is a very definite identification of ‘the Angel’ with God.
The ‘angel of the LORD’ appeared to Moses in a burning bush. This ‘angel’ is subsequently referred to as ‘God’ [verses 4-6,11-15], ‘the LORD’ [verse 7]. When ‘the angel’ identifies himself he says of himself:
‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’ [verse 6; compare verses 15 & 16]. At this statement Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you”’ [verse 14].
In verse 15, having repeated the titles given in verse 6, God said ‘This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation’.
In addition ‘the angel’ says of himself things that are true of God, things that relate to God’s omniscience [verses 7-9,16], God’s omnipotence and sovereign authority over nations [verses 8, 10, 17,21], and God’s knowledge of the future [verses 18-22]. He also states that he will be worshipped [verse 12] – something due only to God.
The context here is the pillar of fire/pillar of cloud that accompanied the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt, both day and night. Verse 19 associates the pillar of fire with ‘the angel of God’; however, verse 24 states that ‘the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud’ and threw the Egyptian army into confusion. This connects with Exodus 13:21,22 which states that ‘By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.’ It also connects with Numbers 14:14 which states that God went before the Israelites in the pillar of fire and cloud.
God, speaking of how his angel will lead the people into the land of Canaan, says about this angel – ‘my Name is in him’ and ‘he will not forgive your rebellion’ [verse 21]. These are two highly significant statements, as God is extremely jealous of his Name, and the authority to forgive is God’s alone. The appropriate response to this ‘angel’ determines God’s actions towards them [verse 22]. This parallels the significance of our response to Jesus Christ.
This is the report about Balaam and his donkey, confronted by the angel of the LORD. In verse 35 the angel told Balaam to speak only what the angel told him; in verse 38 Balaam says that he can speak only what God puts in his mouth.
In these verses ‘the angel of the LORD’ speaks as if he is God. He says:
‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, “I will never break my covenant with you ...” … you have disobeyed me. … I will drive them out before you …’
This reports the interaction between Gideon and ‘the angel of the LORD’. During the conversation the being speaking to Gideon is referred to as an ‘angel’ in verses 11,12,20,21, 22, and as ‘the LORD’ in verses 14,16,18,22,23,25,27. We are told that Gideon, realizing that this being was ‘the angel of the LORD’ said “Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face’ and thought he was going to die. Such a response, such fear of imminent death, is the appropriate response of the sinner in the presence of God.
The occasion is the visit of an angel of the Lord to the childless wife of Manoah, when he told her that she would have a son [Samson]. For the most part this being is referred to as ‘the angel of the LORD’, but there are a few exceptions to this. In verse 6 the woman referred to him as ‘a man of God’ who ‘looked like an angel of God’. In verse 19, where Manoah is preparing a burnt offering commanded by the angel, we read ‘the LORD did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched’. Like Gideon, when they ‘realized that it was the angel of the LORD’ they thought that they were doomed to die, because, Manoah said, ‘We have seen God!’ [verse 22].
In addition, in verses 17-18, when Manoah asked the angel of the LORD ‘What is your name?’ the angel replied ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’ Alternate translations are ‘wonderful’, ‘secret’, ‘miraculous’.
In this passage the Lord punishes David because he numbered Israel’s fighting men. David was given three choices as to which form of punishment he preferred. He chose ‘three days of the sword of the LORD – days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel’ [verse 12]. David chose this punishment because it was in ‘the hands of the LORD’. We read that ‘God sent a plague on Israel’ [verse 14] and that God stopped ‘the angel of the LORD’ who was executing the plague [verse 15]. Again David sees this as the hand of the LORD [verse 17]. When David prayed to God, it was the angel who answered [verses 17-18]. At the end of the chapter we read that David could not inquire of God because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD. There seems in this passage to be a repeated interchanging of God and the angel.
This is a Psalm in praise of God because of his deliverance of David. In this context we read in verse 7 ‘The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them’. It is God who delivers, it is God whom humans are to ‘fear’, yet here this fear and this deliverance are ascribed to the angel of the LORD.
In this Psalm David asks the Lord to fight against those who are fighting against him. He then prays that his enemies may ‘be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away’ and ‘may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them’ [verses 5,6].
This verse tells us that ‘the angel of his presence saved’, Israel yet we know that it was the Lord himself who saved them. It is God himself, and no other, who is the Saviour, the Redeemer. Isaiah has taken great pains in previous chapters to stress this.
Hosea, commenting on Jacob’s wrestling with ‘an angel’ [Genesis 32] states that Jacob struggled with the angel and overcame him, he wept and begged for his favour, he found him at Bethel and talked with him there; then Hosea adds ‘ – the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!’ Back in Genesis 32 the term ‘angel’ is not used. There Jacob’s opponent is referred to as ‘a man’ [verses 24,27,28] and ‘God’ [verses 29,30].
The angel of the LORD mentioned Zechariah 1 appears to be distinct from God. However, in Chapter 3:3-5 the ‘angel of the LORD’ orders that the high priest Joshua’s dirty clothes be taken off and announces ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.’ It is only God who takes away sin.
Zechariah 12:8, describing the future inhabitants of Jerusalem, says that they ‘will be like God, like the Angel of the LORD going before them.’ This statement equates ‘God’ and ‘the angel of the LORD’.
In Acts 7:30-35 Stephen recounted the incident of Moses and the burning bush. He said that ‘an angel appeared to Moses’ and Moses ‘heard the Lord’s voice’, and the one who spoke to him was ‘the LORD’. What Moses saw was an angel, but who Moses heard was God.
For similarities between ‘the angel of the LORD’ and Jesus Christ go to this page on the Jews for Jesus site.