Who was the Angel of the Lord?
Now the Angel of the Lord revealed in the Old Testament was no ordinary angel. He is not called “an angel” but “The Angel of the Lord” with the Definite Article distinguishing Him from all other angels. He is the unique Angel and non other than the pre-incarnate Son of God Himself! Firstly then let’s turn to the book of Exodus where the divinity of the Angel of the Lord is clearly revealed.
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; He will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in Him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out” (Exodus 23:20-23).
John the Apostle clearly states that no man has seen God at any time yet in the Old Testament we see people who see God face to face. Is God contradicting Himself or is there another explanation?
In the Old Testament the Angel of the Lord is used with the definite article denoting a specific angel, not “an angel” but “The Angel.” He is distinct from all of the other angels yet he has human form and is worshipped as God. In the above passage God speaks of him as a separate personality with the authority to forgive sin. This is a special angel in the Old Testament who spoke with the authority of God Himself, received worship from people, and left people with the knowledge that they had seen God personally. Here are the references of His appearance to people in the Old Testament
1. In the case of Hagar.
“Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude…” Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” (Genesis 16:10, 13).
2. In the case of Abraham.
In the whole chapter of Genesis eighteen Abraham sees God and they talk together. Three angels appeared to Abraham then when two of the angels went down to Sodom the third angel remained behind and spoke with Abraham. This angel, the Lord Himself in human appearance, kept talking to Abraham.
3. In the case of Jacob.
“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:24-30).
4. In the case of Moses.
“And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush…”And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:2, 15). Compare this statement with what Jesus Himself said. “Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:57)
5. In the case of all Israel.
“Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him” (Exodus 23:20-21).
6. In the case of Joshua.
“And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy” (Joshua 5:13-15).Joshua was certainly not worshipping an angel!
7. In the case of Gideon.
“Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!” …Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face” (Judges 6:11, 22 240). Gideon Knew He had seen a manifestation of God Himself in the Angel of the Lord!
8. In the case of Sampson’s Parents.
“Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to the woman…And the Angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD. And He did a wondrous thing while Manoah and his wife looked on—it happened as the flame went up toward heaven from the altar—the Angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar! When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. When the Angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!” (Judges 13:2-3, 18-22). So then the Angel of the Lord was non other than the Pre-incarnate, Pre-existing eternal Son of the Living God who would at God’s appointed time in history become flesh!
Sources: Mike Oppenheimer. (Jewish Hebrew Scholar) “Let us Reason” website.Arnold Fruchtenbaum of “Ariel Ministries” (Jewish Hebrew Scholar).Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website. My own Bible references/ research as well. Texts used are the NIV and the King James Version.