The title “The Angel of the LORD” is used nearly 50 times in the Old Testament. Similar titles include:
- “The Angel of God” (Genesis 21:17; 31:11; Exodus 14:19; Judges 6:20; 13:6, 9; 1 Samuel 29:9; 2 Samuel 14:17, 20; 19:27)
- “The Angel of His presence/face” (Isaiah 63:9)
- “The Angel of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1).
But there may be more titles in the OT referring to the Angel of the LORD than just these. Foreman and Van Dorn state, “In fact, the Angel of the LORD appears in the OT sometimes under different titles. Some of these titles include: the Word of the Lord, the Name of the Lord, the Glory of the Lord, the Face of the Lord, the Arm/Hand of the Lord, the Prince/Commander, even the ‘Son’.”
What is important to note is that His appearances are not confined to one particular epoch in the Old Testament, but His presence and importance are seen and felt from Genesis to Malachi. Foreman and Van Dorn state, “He appears in crucial passages as the central figure in the redemptive promises of God.” Let’s look now at the explicit and implicit places where He is found.
A.) The Explicit Places
1.) The Patriarchs
Geerhardus Vos states, “The most important and characteristic form of revelation in the patriarchal period is that through ‘the Angel of Jehovah’ or ‘the Angel of God.’” The patriarchal period is probably not the first time the Angel of the LORD appears in the OT, but it is the first time the Angel of the LORD is explicitly referenced in the OT.
- In Genesis 16, the Angel of the LORD appears to Hagar in the wilderness and tells her she will bear a son named Ishmael.
- In Genesis 21, the Angel of God speaks to Hagar from heaven and tells her that Ishmael will not die but he will make him into a great nation.
- In Genesis 22, the Angel of the LORD stops Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac and blesses him.
- In Genesis 31, the Angel of God tells Jacob in a dream to return to the land of Canaan.
- In Exodus 3, the Angel of the LORD appears to Moses in the burning bush, speaks to him about the coming Exodus, and calls him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (see also Acts 7:35-36).
- In Numbers 22, the Angel of the LORD appears to the prophet Balaam with a drawn sword in his hand and gives Balaam the words to speak to King Balak.
- In Judges 2, the Angel of the LORD recounts how he brought the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
4.) The Judges
- In Judges 5, the Angel of the LORD speaks through Deborah to curse the inhabitants of Meroz for not lending a helping hand to fight against the Canaanites.
- In Judges 6, the Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon to call him to save Israel from the Midianites.
- In Judges 13, the Angel of the LORD appears Manoah and his wife to inform them that they will have a son named Samson who will begin to save Israel from the Philistines.
5.) King David
- In 1 Chronicles 21, the Angel of the LORD almost destroys Jerusalem with a drawn sword due to David’s sin of numbering Israel but relents when David builds an altar on Mount Zion and offers sacrifices to God.
6.) The Prophet Elijah
- In 1 Kings 19, the Angel of the LORD appears to Elijah in the wilderness when he fled from Jezebel and strengthens him with food so he can make the long journey to Mount Horeb.
- In 2 Kings 1, the Angel of the LORD tells him to deliver a message of judgment to King Ahaziah and protects him from being killed.
7.) King Hezekiah
- In 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37, the Angel of the LORD fights on behalf of Israel and strikes down and kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night.
8.) The Prophet Zechariah
- In Zechariah 1, the Angel of the LORD explains various visions to Zechariah and intercedes for the people of God.
- In Zechariah 3, in a vision given to Zechariah the Angel of the LORD rebukes Satan and exchanges Joshua the high priest’s filthy garments with pure vestments.
9.) The Prophet Malachi
- In Malachi 3, the Angel/Messenger of the Covenant, who is the Angel of the LORD, is prophesied to come.
B.) The Implicit Places
There are other places in the OT where I believe the Angel of the LORD is present without His specific title being used. Let’s look at three such places where this may occur.
1.) The LORD God in the Garden of Eden
In Genesis 2, we are told that the LORD God plants a garden in Eden, forms Adam out of the ground, forms the animals out of the ground and brings them to Adam, forms Eve out of Adam, brings Eve to Adam, and gives them both commands to follow. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve hear the LORD walking in the Garden, hide themselves from His presence, are confronted by Him for their sin, are condemned by Him, are clothed by Him with animal skins, and are sent out of the Garden by Him.
These actions performed by the LORD seem to be very human-like. Now, we could read all this as anthropomorphic language. The Scriptures could be telling us figuratively that God did all these things in a way that we can understand as humans. But what if the LORD here is actually the Angel of the LORD doing these things in a very literal way? What if the LORD walked in the Garden in human-like form as the Angel of the LORD? This view would at least be consistent with how God revealed Himself to His people later on in the OT. And some of the older commentators make mention of this view:
- Augustine: “it should appear that God then spoke with man in the appearance of a man.”
- Matthew Henry: “It is supposed that he [the Lord God] came in a human shape, and that he who judged the world now [when Adam and Eve fell] was the same that shall judge the world at the last day, even that man whom God has ordained.”
- Matthew Poole: “Either God the Father, or rather God the Son, appeared in the shape of a man, as afterwards he frequently did, to give a foretaste of his incarnation.”
- John Gill: “but rather the voice of the Son of God, the eternal Word, is here meant, who appeared in an human form, as a pledge of his future incarnation,”
Although these commentators do not specifically identify the human-like appearance of the LORD in the Garden as the Angel of the LORD, what they tell us is entirely consistent with what the rest of the Bible teaches concerning the Angel of the LORD, namely that He is the pre-incarnate Son of God appearing in human form before assuming humanity.
2.) The “Second” Yahweh near Sodom and Gomorrah
In Genesis 18, Abraham is visited by three “men” (Genesis 18:2). Two are supernatural angelic beings (Genesis 19:1), and one is the LORD/Yahweh (Genesis 18:1).
We are told that the LORD (as well as the two angels) washed his feet, rested, and ate a meal. He also promised a son to Sarah, conversed with Abraham about destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and went his way to Sodom and Gomorrah. But the most interesting statement about the LORD comes in Genesis 19:24: “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.”
There seems to be two persons both identified as the LORD/Yahweh in this text working together to judge Sodom and Gomorrah: Yahweh on earth and Yahweh in heaven. How do we understand this? I think the best way to do so is to see that the Yahweh on earth who looked and acted like a man was none other than the Angel of the LORD!
Socrates Scholasticus, a fifth century church historian says, “. . . for the Lord the Son rained from the Lord the Father.”
John Gill elaborates, “and this destruction was brought upon them by Jehovah the Son of God, who had appeared to Abraham in an human form, and gave him notice of it, and heard all he had to plead for those cities, and then departed from him to Sodom, and was the author of this sad catastrophe; this amazing shower of fire and brimstone was rained by him from Jehovah his Father, out of heaven;”.
Yahweh the Father from heaven destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with the assistance of Yahweh the Son who appeared on earth as the Angel of the LORD.
3.) The Commander of the Army of the LORD near Jericho
Before the battle at Jericho, Joshua meets a man with a drawn sword in his hand who calls himself “the commander of the army of the LORD” (Joshua 5:14, 15). In response to meeting him, we are told that Joshua falls on his face and worships him, calls him his lord, confesses to be his servant, pledges his obedience to him, and takes off his sandals in his holy presence.
Who was this mysterious warrior? He was not a mere man or a created angel, but I believe he was the Angel of the LORD who stood as the general and prince of the heavenly and earthly armies of the LORD.
Keil and Delitzsch state, “Joshua regarded him at once as a superior being, i.e., an angel. And he must have recognised him as something more than a created angel of superior rank, that is to say, as the angel of Jehovah who is essentially equal with God, the visible revealer of the invisible God,”.
Calvin says, “In his representing himself as different from God, a personal distinction is denoted, but unity of essence is not destroyed. We have said that in the books of Moses the name of Jehovah is often attributed to the presiding Angel, who was undoubtedly the only-begotten Son of God.”