What is the Lord’s angel?
The fundamental meaning of the Hebrew word is “messenger”.
In the Old Testament, then, we frequently find the Lord sending an angel when he wants to speak to people.
The very first example is the angel that finds Hagar in the wilderness (Genesis ch16).
Part of his message is the promise “I will greatly multiply your descendants” (v10).
A very revealing way of putting it, because of course that “I” means God. The angel does not speak as a separate identity, but speaks the words of
God in the first person, like a translator at a meeting.
Another revealing moment comes when Hagar says “Have I seen God…?” (v13).
As John’s gospel rightly tells us (ch1 v18), nobody has ever “seen” God in the real sense. In any reported “vision” of God, what men see, at
the most, is an image, a symbolic form accommodating itself to our understanding, The angel in the wilderness will have been one of those images.
As I see it, the angel relates to God in the same way that the image on a television screen relates to the man in the studio.
When the President stands in front of a camera and says “I will build a wall”, then the image on the screen says “I will build a wall”, and
the viewers believe they can see the President. Yet the image is not really the President at all- just a network of electronic impulses.
In the same way, the angel is not God himself, but represents God as speaking to his people.
The angelic speech is just as ambiguous in the later appearances.
The angel that interrupts the sacrifice of Isaac says “You have not withheld your son from me
“- Genesis ch22 v12.
The angel that summons Gideon (Judges ch6) begins with “The Lord is with you, but a few verses later the narration is “The Lord turned to him and
said…” and “The Lord said to him”. When Gideon understands that he has “seen the angel of the Lord face to face”, he feels the alarm that
is appropriate to meeting God face to face. And in fact he did see God, to the extent that men are capable of seeing God.
Then Manoah, the father of Samson, has exactly the same reaction;
“Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord.
And Manoah said to his wife; We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (Judges ch13 vv21-22).
In short, the angel of the Lord is not a separate existence, but simply the medium through which God makes himself heard, an image on the screen of
In other instances, the angel of the Lord represents the fact that God acts in power to assist his people.
So Abraham tells his servant (Genesis ch24) that the Lord will “send his angel before you”, to prepare the ground for Isaac’s marriage. In other
words, God will help him.
When Jacob is blessing the sons of Joseph, he calls God “the angel who has redeemed me from all evil” (Genesis ch48 v16). This should not be taken
as meaning that God is “only an angel”. Jacob means the reverse; “God’s angel” is only a way of describing God in action, an alternative to
expressions like “by God’s hand”.
We may understand in the same way references to the angel’s role in the Exodus;
“He sent an angel and bought us forth out of Egypt…” (Numbers ch20 v16).
This was the angel who appeared to Moses in (or as) the flame of the burning bush.
“Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on your way, and to bring you to the place which I have prepared” (Exodus ch23 v20).
This might have been fulfilled by the appearance of the “pillar of fire”, but this kind of angel does not always need to be visible. It may be
just a way of saying “God did this”.
Again, it is “the angel of the Lord” that destroys the Assyrian army (2 Kings ch19 v35).
And when Isaiah says “the angel of his presence saved them” (ch63 v9), he seems to be referring to the general history of Israel before the
The power of God may be expressed more vigorously by the appearance of angels in large numbers, as a “host”.
Jacob saw them travelling up and down between earth and heaven (Genesis ch12). By implication, they are God’s agents in managing the world, a
visible representation of what we would now call “the laws of science”.
Meeting the angels of God on his way back to Canaan, he recognised them as God’s army, sent to support his own host, and he therefore called the
place Mahanaim, or “Two armies” (Genesis ch32 vv1-2).
When he wrestled with a man at Peniel, that was an individual figure representing God’s power (“For I have seen God face to face”- Genesis ch32
v30). But the man who meets Joshua near Jericho calls himself “commander of the army of the Lord” (Joshua ch5 v14).
By the time the kingdoms are established, the host of the Lord (like the human armies of Israel) has been equipped with chariots;
“So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2
Kings ch6 v17).
This image of God’s power as “a large host” is well represented in the Psalms;
“With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place” (Psalm 68 v17)
They call him “the Lord of hosts”.
His angels are the mighty ones who do his word (Psalm 103 v20) and they praise him (Psalm 148 v2), like the rest of his works.
And when it is said that “the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him” (Psalm 34 v7), the angel who “encamps around” can hardly be
an individual. Evidently the term is representing the all-embracing power of God.
Although two angels were required to rescue Lot’s family from Sodom, the individuality of angels does not really develop until after the Babylonian
The first signs are in the book of Daniel, where the Lord’s angel as “communicating with his people” is given the name Gabriel, and the Lord’s
angel as “power to help his people” is given the name Michael.
The apocryphal book of Tobit goes further, introducing a named individual angel and also a named individual demon (Raphael and Asmodeus).
The naming of individual angels and demons was already an elaborate system by the time of the Qumran scrolls, and has continued, of course- mainly by
the generous use of the imagination. For example, Qumran has given us the demon “Azazel”, who is nothing more than a mistranslation of the Hebrew
phrase “for the purpose of sending far away”.
As a consequence of the Babylonian exile, the Jews had made the acquaintance of the Persian cultural world and the Zoroastrian belief system, which
also has multiple spiritual entities ranged against one another for good and evil. So there has to be a suspicion that the angelology and demonology
of later Judaism (and beyond) were inspired by this element of Persian culture, and compromising with it, just as many of the local saints of the
early church were adapting the local gods of the Roman world.
edit on 24-4-2020 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)