The Angel of the Lord: Jesus Christ

I recently preached through Judges 6:1-24 to my bible study, discussing the encounter between the judge, Gideon and the mysterious Angel of the Lord in verses 11-24. After I taught, there were a couple of people who approached me afterwards, asking for some clarification on two points that I made; I will be discussing the first one here and the second in another blog.

I mentioned that it appeared that a number of things seemed to hint at the fact that this Angel, or literally “messenger” (מַלְאָךְ, malach) seems to be a unique when compared against other angels sent by God.

  • I pointed to the shift in the author’s description of the Angel speaking, eventually dropping the title of “messenger” and simply stating “And the LORD turned to him and said,” (vs. 14 and 16).  
  • The Angel of the Lord exhorts Gideon to accomplish his divinely assigned task because of the promised presence and commissioning given by the Angel. “…do not I send you?…But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (vs. 14,16). In the rest of the Bible this type of explicit exhortation comes only from God, not some other heavenly being. 
  • Gideon’s hope rests in finding favor in the eyes of the Angel. (vs. 17)
  • Gideon brings an offering to the angel, which then is transformed into a sacrifice by the Angel in verses 19-21. Offering any kind of worship or sacrifice to an angel would have been directly forbidden by God, because he alone receives worship (Ex. 20:3-5), angels exist to act as ministering spirits to believers (Heb. 2:14), some day we will sit in judgement over angels (1 Cor. 6:3), so it does not make sense why this Angel would be allowing himself to be worshipped. Anytime someone has tried to bow down to an angel they have been immediately rebuked by the angel (Rev. 19:10). 
  • Upon Gideon’s revelation that he is speaking with the Angel of the Lord, he responds in fear, “‘Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.'” (vs. 22-23). Nowhere in the Bible does it mention seeing the face of an angel is grounds for death, but only for seeing the face of the LORD (Ex. 33:20). This encounter is extremely similar to Manoah’s, Samson’s father, reaction to his wife after speaking with the Angel of the Lord, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!” (Judges 13:21-22). This text seems to blatantly equate the Angel with God. This sounds very similar to Jacob’s response after discovering the man he was wrestling with was God, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Gen. 32:30).
  • Gideon builds an altar in remembrance of the Lord’s graciousness after the terrifying encounter with the Angel. (vs. 24).

Jesus, the Father’s Messenger

It seems that Gideon is not speaking with a normal angelic being, but is speaking with Yahweh Himself. But how could that be? We already saw that if anyone sees God’s face, they will be overwhelmed by his unfettered glory and holiness and die. How can sinners encounter an invisible God? Colossians tells us that the second member of the Trinity helps us with this problem, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God,” (Col. 1:15). Jesus Christ comes in a humbled form (Phil. 2:6-7) allowing his saints to commune with him without the radiance of his glory consuming them. Jesus himself, when asked to reveal the Father, simply responds, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me…whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9). Jesus provides a way for us to encounter the Father, acting as an intermediary. When the Father wants encounter His people, He sends His Son – even before Jesus’ incarnation, such as the case in Judges 6 and other places in the OT, and after His resurrection, such as the case of John in the book of Revelation or Saul in the book of Acts. I would say that we have fairly good grounds to claim that this Angel is the pre-incarnate Jesus, ministering to Gideon.

Remember, just because the word “Angel” conjures up Victorian paintings of fair-skinned, chubby babies, floating on clouds with wings – it doesn’t mean that is what an “Angel” is. That is Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd theology. The word “angel” literally only means a messenger – so while there really is an angelic race that exists, it does not mean that every mention of “angel” in the Bible is referring to those specific beings. In fact, numerous times the word “angel” is actually used for a King’s messenger being sent out. Take Genesis 32 for example, the word for “angels” in verse 1 is the same word used for “messengers” in verse 3 and 6. So don’t get thrown off with me saying that Jesus is the Angel of the Lord; Jesus Christ is the Father’s primary, and ultimate Messenger.

Other Examples of the Angel of the Lord Being the Son of God

  • “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor.” – Hosea 12:3-4. Here Hosea reflects on the story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. Note, he strove “with God” but then is said to have “strove with the angel.” In Genesis, Jacob understands that it was not merely a created angel he has seen, but the very face of God (cf. Gen 32:30). 
  • “The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” – Genesis 15:10, The Angel of the Lord makes claims to divine power.
  • “And 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 and have not withheld your son, your only son,” – Genesis 22:15-16. The Angel of the Lord swears by himself, something only God can do.
  •  Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.” – Exodus 23:20-21. The Angel is given divine command to dispense God’s justice, and the Father’s name is in him.
  • “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” – Daniel 3:23-24, A fourth person, out of thin air, appears in the furnace and looks like a Son of God.

Charles Hodge helpfully points out,

If this were a casual matter, if in one or two instances the messenger spoke in the name of him who sent him, we might assume that the person thus designated was on ordinary angel or minister of God. But when this is a pervading representation of the Bible; when 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; that the work attributed to him is elsewhere attributed to God himself; and that in the New Testament, this manifested Jehovah, who led his people under the Old Testament economy, is declared to be the Son of God, who was manifested in the flesh, it becomes certain that by the angel of Jehovah in the early books of Scripture, we are to understand a divine person, distinct from the Father. – Systematic Theology, pg. 485

When we see the identity of the Angel accurately, the sacrifice upon the rock that Gideon makes begins to make much more sense.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. – John 1:14,18

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