On several occasions throughout the history of Israel, there appeared a messenger from God who was referred to as the “Angel of the Lord,” or “Angel of God.” Some biblical interpreters have assumed that this Angel was the Son of God before His incarnation. In fact, some translations capitalize the word “Angel” when it is used in various Old Testament contexts in reference to the ministry of this Angel.
In the context of this Angel, we must understand that the history that is recorded in the Old Testament was for our learning (Rm 15:4; 1 Co 11:10). And that which we are to learn from Old Testament history is that history was recorded to unveil the gospel of the coming incarnation of the Son of God. Therefore, the Angel who is identified specifically as the “Angel of God” worked on behalf of God in order to accomplish the eternal purpose of God on earth in the history of man.
The Angel of the Lord appeared on special occasions in order to carry out specific tasks in reference to the eternal plan of God. Because the Bible defines the work of the Angel of the Lord to be the direct work of the Lord, this Angel is pictured in the position of the Lord Himself. It is because of this that many assume that the Angel of the Lord is a reference to God the Son.
We could certainly make a valid argument here in reference to the work of the Son of God before the incarnation. We see God the Father working in the affairs of this world before the incarnation of God the Son. The Holy Spirit also worked throughout Old Testament history, specifically in inspiration of the prophets. It would only be logical, therefore, to assume that God the Son was also working. This would especially be true in the Son’s preparation for His own incarnation.
It simply would not be reasonable to conclude that God the Son sat in idleness throughout history before the incarnation. As in the creation of man, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked as one in order to accomplish the purpose for which the world was created (See Gn 1:26; Cl 1:16). They also worked as one throughout history in order to bring the Savior into the world. We would assume, therefore, that there would be some reference to God the Son in the Old Testament. We would conclude that this reference was to the Angel of the Lord who carried out the purpose of God for the creation of the world.
Several contexts in the Old Testament mention the special work of the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar in the desert (Gn 16:7), to Abraham when Abraham interceded on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 18), and to prevent the sacrifice by Abraham of his son Isaac (Gn 22). Abraham promised that Eliezer would go forth under the protection of this Angel (Gn 24). Later, the Angel appeared to Jacob (Gn 31), and subsequently, Jacob wrestled with the Angel of God (Gn 32:24ff). Jacob even spoke of this Angel and God as the same (Gn 48:15ff). The Angel of the Lord also appeared to Moses in the burning bush on Mount Sinai (Ex 3; At 7:30). He appeared to Joshua (Ja 5:13 – 6:2). He also appeared to Gideon (Jg 6:11ff).
Israel was commanded to obey the Angel that God sent before them to lead them out of Egyptian captivity, and through their wilderness wanderings (Ex 23:20ff). On the occasion of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian captivity, the Angel spoke with authority. If Israel disobeyed the Angel, then they would be disobeying God. In this sense, therefore, the Angel stood for God because God revealed His authority through this Angel in order to lead Israel. Since there are definite inferences in the Old Testament that the Angel of the Lord was the Son of God in spirit, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that He truly was.
In Exodus 32:34 – 33:17, Moses interceded on behalf of the nation of Israel when they sinned against God. Subsequently, God informed Moses that His Angel would go before him to lead Israel (Ex 32:34). God promised at the foot of Mount Sinai, “I will send an angel before you” (Ex 33:2). God promised that this Angel would go up with Israel into the land of promise in order to drive out the Canaanites.
It is interesting to note that in Exodus 32:34 God would send the Angel to go before Israel into the land. In Exodus 33:2 reference is made to “an angel.” We could possibly assume that “the Angel” of Exodus 32:34 was the same angel of Exodus 33:2. But what is significant to notice was the purpose for sending the Angel to lead Israel in her feat of casting out the Canaanites from the land. God sent the Angel instead of Himself because of what He said in Exodus 33:3: “I will not go up in the midst of you because you are a stiffnecked people, and I might consume you in the way.”
It seems that the intercessory work of Jesus the Son of God started long before the atoning sacrifice of the cross. If God went with Israel into the land, the people would of necessity be terminated because of their persistent rebellion that would eventually take place in the land of promise. But if the Angel led the way, the wrath of God would be appeased through the intercession of the Angel. Of this intercessory work, Paul wrote of King Jesus in His present ministry: Jesus “is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rm 8:34). “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tm 2:5). The Angel who went with Israel into the land of promise eventually came in the flesh in order to continue His work of intercession between God and man as Moses interceded on behalf of Israel.
Moses had at one time interceded on behalf of Israel. But when he died, the Angel of the Lord in the flesh took on this responsibility. Eventually in the history of Israel there would be the voice of one crying in the wilderness that Israel’s intercessor in the Spirit was incarnate in the flesh as their Savior (Lk 2:10,11).
It is thus challenging to determine who the special “Angel of the Lord” was in the Old Testament. Our best conclusion would simply be that God could use this special Messenger to carry out His work, and in so designating this Angel in a special way, we would view Him to be different from all other angels. Since this Angel of the Lord worked so obediently on behalf of God the Father in special situations, we could only conclude that the Angel of the Lord was truly special and chosen to carry out specific works that would accomplish the purpose for which the world was created. Since the world was created by God the Son in order to bring us into the eternal presence of God, we would assume that God the Son was at work in the affairs of man long before He showed up on the scene when an angel made the following gospel announcement to some shepherds:
“But do not fear, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be to all the people. For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10,11).
Once the seed of Abraham was chosen to give birth to a nation that would preserve the seedline of woman unto the time of the “crushing” (Gn 3:15), we would assume that the Seed would work through the chosen nation of Israel until the time of the revelation of the incarnation. The Son of God was the “Angel of the Lord” who worked to bring Israel to the cross. But after the ascension and coronation, and as King of kings over all things, the resurrected Seed worked to bring His spiritual seed into eternal glory. Since the world came into existence in order to populate heaven, and Israel was established to preserve the seedline, we would correctly assume that God the Son began His ministry of reconciliation from the very time when the command was issued, “Let Us make man …” (Gn 1:26).
[Next in series: Nov. 10]