The Angel of the Lord
Turn to Gen. 16
Tonight, we’re talking about the Angel of the Lord! He’s elusive. Enigmatic. Mysterious. Was He an angel? Was He a Christophany? What was He?
Here in Gen. 16, we get the first mention of the Angel of the Lord. Of course, we know this story well. God makes a covenant with Abraham and promises him a land and a nation out of his seed and despite the fact that he is childless his seed “shall come forth out of thine own bowels” and “shall be thine heir.” We find in Gen 16:1 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. Gen 16:2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. Gen 16:3 And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. Gen 16:4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. Gen 16:5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee. Gen 16:6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
I have a lot of sympathies for Hagar in this story. This was Sarai’s bad idea. They’re impatient about God fulfilling His promise of a seed. They decided to help God out and conceive through Sarai’s handmaiden. I don’t think, given Hagar being a handmaiden, that she had any options. She had to go along with it. Because what would the consequences be to her if she said no? The story doesn’t really explain why Hagar despised Sarai. Do you think it’s possible there were jealousies between those two women? Could Sarai have continued to treat Hagar as a handmaiden even though she was now a wife and should’ve been afforded all the privileges that came with being a wife? Is it possible that Abraham showed more favor to Sarai even though Hagar should’ve been viewed as an equal? Is it possible that this marriage felt a bit crowded? This is what we’d call bigamy and yet none of these three acted very big. I despise the fact that Abraham allowed Sarai to deal harshly with Hagar. They should’ve been above that kind of treatment to someone who is an equal wife. So Hagar runs away.
Gen 16:7 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. Here we get the first time we read Angel of the Lord, literally translated “messenger of Jehovah.” And we’ll find that here, as in many other stories involving the Angel of the Lord that He speaks not only FOR the Lord but AS the Lord Himself, which has led many to say that this is a Christophany, which is an appearance or non-physical manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ, which makes perfect sense to me. But this begs the question: “If this is a Christophany, then why does the Bible call Him an ‘Angel of the Lord’, a ‘messenger of Jehovah’?” How can Jehovah be a messenger of Jehovah? One writer suggested that the Lord was the messenger of the will of God the Father. Perhaps. I couldn’t help but wonder if He’s called an Angel of the Lord because the Lord is on a stealth mission. More later. But notice also how this verse says, “the angel of the LORD found her”. The Angel of the Lord went out looking for her. He sought her out. He found her. The fact that she was found by a well on the way to Shur would seem to indicate that she was returning to Egypt.
Gen 16:8 And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. This question is very reminiscent of the Lord asking Adam “Where art thou?” after they sinned. The Lord knew full well where they were. But asking a question you already know the answer to is not a sin. That question was asked to demonstrate the break in fellowship and to get Adam to give an account of himself. Here the Lord asks Hagar a question He already knew the answer to, but it was designed to open a dialogue so that Hagar can also give an account. He has her thinking of where she came from and where she is going. There is a sermon in that for every runaway. Consider where you came from and consider where you are going. Are you doing what is best for you and your child? And Hagar immediately answers Him! Here she is. She’s in the wilderness. She encounters this… being. And yet, there’s no shock. No, “Who art thou?” She answers Him immediately. Everyone who encounters the Angel of the Lord always has a sense of who He is.
Gen 16:9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. Gen 16:10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. Gen 16:11And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. This line is quite extraordinary. This is a line that acknowledges and validates what she’s feeling. She was legitimately afflicted. She was legitimately wronged in some way. Plus, this would indicate that she was a believer, which is why the Lord heard her affliction. She cried bitter tears about that situation and the Lord heard her affliction. Her tears about that situation was not unjustified, and He heard her cries of affliction. Her tears spoke as loudly as any prayer. God not only saw the affliction but heard and understood fully what those tears were saying. She had a right to be upset. And the name, Ishmael means “God will hear.”
He continues about Ishmael. Gen 16:12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. Look at her response here. Gen 16:13 And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Notice, first, she called the Angel of the Lord “Jehovah.” She had a strong sense of who He was so much so she was willing to call him “Jehovah.” Again, an indication she was a believer. Then she said, “Thou God seest me”.
Is that not powerful? She said, “Thou… God… seest ME.” He didn’t just see her. He really saw her. He understood her completely. When she was alone and no one else saw her affliction, when no one else understood her predicament from her point of view, God saw her. God understood her. What a powerful line. Can we not also say that? “You God see me.” When no one else sees our pain, when no one else understands, God sees us. God understands. God hears our afflictions in its totality and God cares for us. Then Hagar asks a question. Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? In other words, am I not also seeing Him that sees me? Am I not looking at the very God who sees me? She wants confirmation of what she senses, that she’s speaking to the Lord Himself. This is a question that two other people would ask when encountering the Angel of the Lord. What am I looking at exactly? Is it you, Lord? And here, as in the other two instances, the Lord doesn’t answer. In the next verse, the narrative only tells us where this well was located and then goes on to explain that Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name… Ishmael. He never confirms to her what she’s sensing, that He just might be the great I am.
Flip over to Judges 13. This entire chapter is about the Angel of the Lord speaking to Samson’s parents. We won’t have time to dive into this entire chapter. But the Angel of the Lord first appears to Samson’s mom. Like Sarai, she was barren, and the Lord tells her that she’s going to bear a son and no razor shall come on his head because he’s going to be a Nazarite unto God from the womb and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. So she goes home to tell her husband and look at what she says in Jdg 13:6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name… A couple of points to be made. This is one of three occasions in which we’re given a description of His appearance. The second occasion was when He appeared to Moses in Exo 3:2: “And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush...” We’ll read the third description of His appearance in a few minutes. But here, Samson’s mom said, his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible… “An angel of God” is a very different description from “the Angel of the Lord.” She assumed He was just an angel. She was so taken aback, she didn’t ask where He came from and He didn’t tell her His name. His countenance her, all we can guess, is that it was one of great glory, which she called “very terrible,” very frightening. And there was something about His very presence, the majesty in how He looked and the words He spoke, that He commanded reverence and respect, and she assumed that He had to be an angel, because why would Jehovah want to visit her?
So then her husband, Manoah, prays to the Lord to see this angel. And the Angel of the Lord appears to both of them, and again, from the dialogue you get the sense that this was the Lord Himself as a Christophany. The Lord appears and reiterates all He told Samson’s mom. Jdg 13:13 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware. Jdg 13:14 She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe. Only the Lord could’ve made that statement. Any regular angel would’ve said, “Thus saith the Lord.” In every story in which the Angel of the Lord speaks, He always speaks with the authority of the Lord. There was a moment in Judges 2 in which the Angel of the Lord spoke to all the children of Israel and said in Jdg 2:1 …I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. Only the Lord Himself could’ve made those statements.
But back to this story with Samson’s parents. Manoah asks Him a question. Jdg 13:17 And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour? Jdg 13:18 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret? Isn’t that amazing! He refused to give His name! His name was a secret! Why?
This also happened with Jacob when he wrestled with God. Gen. 32:24 tells us that he wrestled with a man until the breaking of the day. Then we learn that this “man” touches his thigh and it’s automatically out of joint. Jacob wouldn’t let Him go. The “man” says, Gen 32:26 …Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. He knew he was wrestling with the Lord. So the “man” says Gen 32:27 …What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And the “man” says, Gen 32:28 …Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. Gen 32:29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. Although this “man” is never called the Angel of the Lord, that may very well have been a Christophany as the Angel of the Lord, because only the Lord could have blessed him personally and because He refused to give His name. So on three occasions, the Angel of the Lord appears. The people all have the sense that this is an angel or the Lord Himself. They all ask for confirmation. The Lord refused. Why? I suspect this may have been a test of faith. Going by His countenance and the words He spoke, they knew He was special. They knew they were dealing with something Heavenly, and they were to take on faith that they interacted with the Lord. The Angel of the Lord, I think, is the Lord totally going on stealth missions, interacting with His people in person but refusing to reveal Himself.
There’s another verse worth pointing out. Look at Jdg 13:21 But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD. He could appear and disappear at will.
And yet He’s also capable of interacting like a man. It’s possible the Angel of the Lord, God as a Christophany, wrestled with Jacob. There was also an occasion in which the Angel of the Lord appeared to Elijah in 1Ki 19:7 And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him… So it would seem He can disappear and also have physical interaction. How is this possible? God is a spirit. How can a spirit transform itself into something physical and appear and disappear at will? The same reason the angels can do this. With God all things are possible and we take what we read on faith. Also – in Jdg. 13:21, when the verse said, Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD, I think it meant he understood without being told that he had encountered a Christophany. The OT saints were smart enough to figure these things out on their own.
Flip back to Numbers 22. Okay, the story of Balaam. He was a man of some rank among the Midianites (Num_31:8; compare Num_31:16). Even though he was dwelling amongst idolaters, he had a relationship with the Lord as a prophet, and he was held in such reputation amongst the Midianites that it was supposed that whom he blessed was blessed, and whom he cursed was cursed. When the Israelites were encamped on the plains of Moab, on the east of Jordan, by Jericho, Balak, the king of the Moabites, sent for Balaam and wanted him to go out to curse the Israelites. Balak was scared to death because there were so many Israelites there. Balaam talked to the Lord. The Lord said NO. Balak and his princes repeatedly pressured Balaam to go curse the Israelites. Then Balaam finally said, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more. He desperately wants that filthy lucre, but he also knows God won’t allow him to curse His own people if He doesn’t want them cursed. Yet, the Lord allows him to try, just as He allowed Jonah to flee and would deal with Balaam just as miraculously as He did Jonah. And we get the story of Balaam and his talking donkey, arguably one of the funniest stories in the Bible and proof God has a sense of humor. As we go through this story, just take note of what’s said about the Angel of the Lord.
Num 22:22 And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him. Num 22:23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way. Num 22:24 But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. Num 22:25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he smote her again. Num 22:26 And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. Num 22:27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff. Num 22:28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? Num 22:29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee. Num 22:30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay. Num 22:31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face. Num 22:32 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me: Num 22:33 And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive. Num 22:34 And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.
A couple of points to be made about the Angel of the Lord. Whereas in the previous story with Samson’s parents, He could appear and disappear at will, here, we find something different. The Lord totally changes things up. The Lord controls who can see Him and who cannot see Him. Was this a vision? Or was this a matter of the Lord standing there in the spiritual realm and He allowed the donkey to see Him in the spiritual realm and then later Balaam? Or was He there in person in this physical realm but He merely blinded the eyes of everyone except the donkey to see Him? I think it’s the third possibility, because we read in Num 22:31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam… And what did he see? Num 22:31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face. Balaam’s reaction was the same as the donkey’s. He immediately prostrated himself with his face flat on the ground. Again, given His countenance, His words, and now He has a sword, I suspect Balaam had a strong sense of the fact that the Lord Himself was standing before him. This is the third occasion in which we’re given a description of His appearance. He’s holding a sword, which is significant. This isn’t the only time the Angel of the Lord would be holding a sword. Do you remember the time David got in trouble for numbering the people of Israel? Turn to 1 Chron. 21.
David and the Angel of the Lord
Why was it such a terrible thing for David to number the people? The number would lift up his heart in pride. He would find pride in himself because of the numbers. He would be find confidence in his security because of the numbers rather than resting his faith and all his confidence in the Lord.
So Satan personally persuaded David to number the people, which he did, and this angered the Lord. Gad, David’s prophet, gives him a message. He gets to choose his punishment. Look at 1Ch 21:11 So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee (notice carefully what’s said here) 1Ch 21:12 Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee;or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me. So he had 3 choices. 3 years, 3 months, or 3 days of massive death. Everything that happens within those 3 days is called the sword of the Lord. And the sword of the Lord would include 2 things: pestilence and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel.
Now does this mean that the Lord Himself would come as a Christophany and personally destroy all those people? Let’s see what happens. 1Ch 21:13And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man. 1Ch 21:14 So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. 1Ch 21:15 And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite. This goes back to a point we made at the beginning of this series. Not every reference to the Angel of the Lord is a reference to Christophany. One must consider the context in every story before making a determination. There are 68 references to the Angel of the Lord in 64 verses in the Bible. I daresay none of the references in the NT to the Angel of the Lord are Christophanies and almost ALL the references to the Angel of the Lord in the OT but there are exceptions. Every story requires individual consideration.
But wait! The angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel was an angel sent by God. God talks to that angel and tells him to stop. There’s more to this story. Look at 1Ch 21:16 And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. 1Ch 21:17 And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father's house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued. Whereas the Angel of the Lord who slayed 70,000 people was an angel sent by God, the Angel of the Lord that appeared to David, who was literally floating between Heaven and Earth with a sword, He was clearly a Christophany and He is called God in vs. 17. And the Lord, again, is holding a sword. And His response is as interesting as everything else in this story. He wouldn’t even respond to David. Look at how the Lord responds. 1Ch 21:18 Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite. Not only is the Angel of the Lord a Christophany because He is called God but He also acts like God because He chose to speak to David through His prophet.
The sword held by the Angel of the Lord had to be nothing less than the very “sword of the Lord” spoken about often in prophecy. It was a visual that symbolized impending punishment for sin. In Isa. 34, the Lord Himself talks about His sword that He’ll use at His Second Coming. We have in Isa. 34:4 the Lord talking about how “the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll”, and then He says in Isa 34:5 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. Isa 34:6 The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. All of this is to say that the visual of the Angel of the Lord holding a sword is yet more proof that the Angel of the Lord was more often than not a Christophany.
I was also reminded of 2 Kings 19 and the story of Hezekiah and Sennacherib and Hezekiah’s mighty prayer. And we’d read in 2Ki 19:34 the Lord saying, “For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.” Then in 2Ki 19:35 we’d read that, …it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand (185,000): and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. I wondered if that Angel of the Lord was the Lord Himself because the Lord said I will defend this city, but I suspect because of the story with David numbering his people, that Angel of the Lord was an angel sent by the Lord to destroy the 185,000 Assyrians just as the Angel of the Lord destroying Israel was an angel sent by the Lord to destroy Jerusalem.
Turn to Zech. 12. I came across two stories in Zechariah talking about the Angel of the Lord that were not Christophanies. In Zechariah 1:11-14, we have an Angel of the Lord crying out to the Lord and the Lord responds to that angel. In Zechariah 3:1-2, we have an Angel of the Lord who rebukes Satan directly and says, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? On both of those occasions, I think it’s likely that those were references to regular angels. And yet, ironically, in Zechariah 12, we get a definition of the Angel of the Lord, which is kind of amazing. Look at this verse. Zec 12:8 In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. This verse comes in the context of the great “in that day” chapter, talking about the Second Coming of the Lord. “…in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people…” “In that day… I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness…” “In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood…” And “In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem…” And he describes the feeble during the tribulation as becoming mighty like David and “the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them.” When the house of David is resurrected from the dead, they shall be as God, holy, righteous, filled with the Spirit, and they shall be as the angel of the LORD before them. This is a verse that essentially confirms that the true Angel of the Lord, the true living Christophany, is God. If the house of David is as God and as the Angel of the Lord, then the Angel of the Lord is also God, which means that the Angel of the Lord was truly a Christophany, a manifestation of God here on the Earth in some form. But when He returns in His Second Coming, when the people of Israel are resurrected, they shall be in the kingdom perfect, living Christophanies.
What did we learn about the elusive, enigmatic, mysterious Angel of the Lord in the Bible? We discovered that the Angel of the Lord in the NT are normal angel whereas the Angel of the Lord predominantly in the OT is the Lord Himself going on stealth missions acting as the “messenger of Jehovah.” He who spoke FOR the Lord also spoke AS the Lord and WAS the Lord in the form of a Christophany. His countenance was glorious, frightening, and sometimes He was holding a sword. He could appear and disappear at will. Float in the air. He could control who could see Him and who couldn’t. He could interact with others like a human. There was majesty in how He looked and He spoke. He commanded reverence and respect. Everyone who encountered Him had a sense that He was some kind of Heavenly being, an angel or perhaps the Lord Himself, but when they wanted confirmation of who He was, the Lord refused. It was a secret! Why did the Lord refuse to reveal Himself? Perhaps as a test of faith. There are 68 references to the Angel of the Lord in 64 verses in the Bible. Not every reference to the Angel of the Lord was a Christophany, as some were angels sent by God, which means that in order to determine whether a reference to the Angel of the Lord was a Christophany, individual consideration always has to be made for each story based upon how He appeared and what He said when He spoke.