Angel of the Lord in the Bible: Let’s turn our attention once more to the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Zechariah. Zechariah 1.
And we’ll be in the first vision of Zechariah which covers verses 7-17.
Now, last time, we studied verses 7-12. And we do need to get to verses 13-17 – but on the way there we met this kind of mysterious being that we’re going to take the whole time today to study throughout Scripture. See if you can identify him as we read the first six verses of Zechariah’s first vision in Zechariah 1:7-12.
Angel of the Lord in Zechariah 1
KJV Zechariah 1:7 ¶ Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying,
8 I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.
9 Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.
10 And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.
11 And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.
12 Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?
And so, the being that we need to become better acquainted with is this one known in verses 11 and 12 as “the angel of the Lord” – מַלְאַךְ־יְהוָה - the man on the red horse among the myrtle trees.
This being is mentioned by name 58 times in the Old Testament.
But here, in Zechariah 1:11 and 12 we note a few things about this being.
First of all, he’s a man – at least that’s how he appears. That’s how Zechariah introduces him. He’s the man on the red horse in the middle of the myrtle trees.
And yet, at the same time, we’re told that this being is an angel. He’s some sort of ministering spirit that is higher than mankind for the time being.
And this angel/man is concerned for God’s people. Note his cry to the Lord. He’s concerned that the Lord not delay any longer showing mercy toward his people. And note also that it isn’t the people themselves begging for God’s mercy – at least, not that we’re told of. No – this angel of the Lord is interceding for God’s people to God himself.
And so, after verses 11 and 12 this angel of the Lord bows out of the scene. But we take away from this passage that this being takes the form of a man. He intercedes for God’s people according to God’s will. He is a mediator between God and man.
OK, what else about him? Let’s search the Scripture to discover more. Because there are still 56 more references to this being in the Old Testament!
Angel of the Lord in Zechariah 3
Let’s turn to Zechariah 3. We’ll read verses 1-7.
KJV Zechariah 3:1 ¶ And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
2 And the LORD said unto Satan, 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?
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.
6 ¶ And the angel of the LORD protested unto Joshua, saying,
7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by.
And he goes on from there and prophesies the coming of a man named Branch, whom we know to be Jesus the Messiah. But we’ll stop there for now and consider what we’ve just seen about the angel of the Lord.
To begin, we notice that Joshua is standing before this angel – and Satan is also standing there. In my mind, the angel of the Lord occupies a place that I would tend to assume God alone would assume – that of judge. It’s almost like a trial scene with the judge, the accused, and the accuser. And it’s not the Lord of Hosts who is at the front serving as judge. It’s this angel of the Lord. He seems to take on the position of divine sovereign here.
Notice also that there are three people introduced – Joshua, the angel of the Lord, and Satan in verse 1. But all of a sudden, the Lord is said to start speaking and rebuking Satan in verse 2. I think we could be forgiven if we start to get the idea that somehow the angel of the Lord is the Lord himself – otherwise, the Lord’s voice coming out of nowhere seems a little out of place. Could it be that somehow this angel of the Lord is actually the Lord himself?
Let’s also note that the angel of the Lord seems to take authoritative actions like we’d expect the Lord himself to do. This angel who is standing as judge of Joshua and who is rebuking Satan then directs various people standing around – which we didn’t know about beforehand – to do various things for Joshua to clean him up.
But the most authoritative action of all that the angel of the Lord takes is when he declares to Joshua, “I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee” which is a clear reference to this being forgiving sins. And we’re left wondering with the Jews of old who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and declarations of sins forgiven “who is able to forgive sins but God alone?!” And yet, the angel of the Lord is apparently forgiving sins. And so, the question continues in our minds, is this angel of the Lord divine? Is he God?
And yet, the angel seems to be separate in some ways from God. After all, he gives a message in the name of the Lord of hosts. So, it’s not like these two individuals are the same person, as it were. There’s a distinction between the two. And yet, they seem to be as close as any two persons could be. Perhaps to the point of being the same being and yet two distinct persons. Is this sounding familiar?
Well, let’s do some more investigation into the remaining 53 references to this angel of the Lord.
Angel of the Lord in Genesis 16
Let’s go back to Genesis 16, which contains the first mention of the angel of the Lord that we have in Scripture.
In Genesis 16, we have a situation where Abraham’s barren wife Sarai gave her maid to Abraham to bear a child for him. That later caused Sarai to be angry and chase Hagar, the maid, away. Then we have this in Genesis 16:7-13.
KJV Genesis 16:7 ¶ And the angel of the LORD found [her/Hagar] by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
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.
9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.
10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
11 And 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.
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.
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?
So, let’s consider a few facts about the angel of the Lord from this passage.
First, notice his compassion. And this compassion is toward the mother of Ishmael – the child of the bondwoman. The child who competed with the son of the promise – Isaac – and ultimately lost. This is not one of God’s nearest and dearest people. And yet, the angel of the Lord has compassion on her and on the unborn Ishmael by extension. The angel of the Lord seeks her out and finds her.
Then the angel of the Lord tells her that he will multiply her descendants. That would be an activity I would think is reserved for God alone to do. Which is another hint that this being is deity in some way. And yet, maybe he’s just speaking on behalf of the Lord of Hosts and is just a normal angel.
And you can think that way – that he’s just an angel – until the end of this passage in verse 13. Moses himself – whom God used to write the book of Genesis – he says that Hagar “called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me.”
Who was speaking to Hagar? The passage tells us that the angel of the Lord spoke to her. But whom does Moses say spoke with Hagar? The Lord himself.
So, Moses admits that the angel of the Lord is himself the Lord.
Then, Hagar is recorded as calling the angel of the Lord “God.” And then she expresses amazement that she saw God and lived to tell the tale!
Now, again, whom did Hagar see? She saw the angel of the Lord. And she says that she saw God.
To see the angel of the Lord was to see the Lord himself. To hear him speak was to hear God. And my mind is brought to the passage in John 14:9 where Jesus tells his disciples, “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father;…”
Do you see the similarities between the angel of the Lord and Jesus Christ? And there are 49 more references to the angel of the Lord who appears to be none other than a pre-New Testament appearance of Jesus the Messiah.
Angel of the Lord in Genesis 22
So, let’s move on to Genesis 22 where we’re next shown this being.
This is the situation where God had told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham was about to do just that when all of a sudden…
KJV Genesis 22:11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.
15 ¶ And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
So, we have here the angel of the Lord and the Lord being shown to be two separate persons. The angel declares the words of the Lord just like one of my sons might declare to his brother the words of his dad. And obviously in that situation, my son and I are two separate persons.
And yet, then we see the angel of the Lord commending Abraham for not withholding his only son from “me.” Well, from whom was Abraham not withholding his son? From God. But from whom does the angel of the Lord commend Abraham for not withholding his son? From himself.
So, at one time we have a distinction of persons but apparently oneness in being.
And that reminds us of Jesus and how at one time you can have the scene at Jesus’ baptism where the Father speaks from heaven and the Son is on earth in the water. So, God the Father and God the Son are separate persons.
And yet, you have John 1:1 where John the evangelist tells us that the Word – the Logos – Jesus Christ – “was God.”
Separate persons, but one being? Yes – that’s Jesus Christ and God the Father.
And I’m convinced that that’s the case with the angel of the Lord and the Lord of Hosts. God the Son and God the Father. The angel of the Lord then is a preincarnate Jesus – an appearance of Jesus before the incarnation – before he was born of the virgin Mary. (47 left)
Angel of the Lord in Exodus 3
Another instance where this angel of the Lord appears in in Exodus 3. Let’s read verses 1-6.
KJV Exodus 3:1 ¶ Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
So, who is in the bush? The angel of the Lord, according to verse 2.
But who calls to Moses from the bush? God does, according to verse 4.
And of whom is Moses afraid to look at in the bush? Moses is afraid to look at God who is in the bush, according to verse 6.
So, the angel of the Lord in verse 2 is then identified in verses 4 and 6 as God. (46 left)
Angel of the Lord in Numbers 22
The angel of the Lord appears to Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22 and is mentioned by name 10 times there. And we won’t read it for sake of time, but Numbers 22 is another passage that emphasizes more of the separateness of the angel of the Lord and the Lord of hosts. (36 left)
Angel of the Lord in the Book of Judges
And then we get to the book of Judges in which we find 19 out of the 58 times that this being appears in the entire Bible. So, one-third of the times that the angel of the Lord is mentioned in the Old Testament, he’s found in the book of Judges. (17 left)
Angel of the Lord in Judges 2
The angel of the Lord comes to the people of Israel in the time of the Judges and announces that he’s not going to drive out the inhabitants of the land from before them anymore because they didn’t obey him. Catch that – whom did Israel not obey – as we see from Scripture? They disobeyed God and his covenant with him. And yet, whom does the Angel of the Lord say they disobeyed? The angel of the Lord himself. Another testimony to the deity of the angel of the Lord.
Angel of the Lord with Gideon
Later on, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Gideon in Judges 6 verses 11-24.
KJV Judges 6:11 ¶ And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
12 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
13 And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
14 And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
15 And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.
16 And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
17 And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
18 Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.
19 ¶ And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it.
20 And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so.
21 Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
22 And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face.
23 And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.
24 Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
So, here I think we have a clear distinction between the angel of the Lord and the Lord of hosts. The angel and Gideon speak of the Lord as if he’s a separate person in verses 12 and 13.
But then in verse 14 we have the Lord looking at Gideon and then speaking to him in response to the conversation that the angel was having with Gideon. Surely, that’s the angel of the Lord looking at and speaking to Gideon – and yet, we’re told that the Lord did those things.
Then Gideon responds to the angel presumably in verse 15. And in response, we’re told again that the Lord gives Gideon assurance in verse 16 of his personal presence with Gideon.
And then it seems like finally in verse 17 that Gideon gets that this angel that he’s speaking with is the Lord himself. Why else would you ask for a sign that the person who is speaking with you… is actually speaking with you?! Additionally, Gideon seeks to sacrifice to this angel of the Lord – whom he understands now to be the Lord himself in verse 18.
And then Gideon ended this section expressing concern that he might die because he saw the angel of the Lord’s face – which is a level of concern typically reserved for seeing God’s face. But the Lord responds to Gideon’s concerns with comfort.
Angel of the Lord with Samson’s Parents
After that, this being appears to Samson’s parents in Judges 13:2-24.
KJV Judges 13:2 ¶ And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
3 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
4 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:
5 For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
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:
7 But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
8 ¶ Then Manoah intreated the LORD, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.
9 And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her.
10 And the woman made haste, and ran, and shewed her husband, and said unto him, Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the other day.
11 And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman? And he said, I am.
12 And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?
13 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware.
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.
15 ¶ And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee.
16 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.
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?
18 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?
19 So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.
20 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.
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.
22 And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
23 But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
24 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.
So, at first this angel of the Lord is identified by Samson’s mother as a man – but one that looks like an angel!
Then Manoah speaks to the Lord and asks him to send back this man – indicating that at least in Manoah’s mind, the angel and the Lord are separate beings.
Then there’s this weird situation in which Manoah wants to offer sacrifice to this being that he knows to be a simple man – which would be idolatry, which is what was going on in Israel at this time in their history. And the angel needs to remind Manoah that his sacrifices should be offered to the Lord alone – not to any other being.
Manoah then wants to know the name of this angel and he tells him it’s a secret! That’s mysterious!
And after they offer the sacrifice and the angel of the Lord disappears, what is the conclusion that Manoah and his wife reach? “We have seen God!”
Angel of the Lord Elsewhere
And time fails us to speak of the 15 or so more times that the angel of the Lord is referred to by name in the Old Testament. But what we’ve seen I think has been helpful in increasing our understanding of this character in Scripture.
Back to Zechariah
And so, let’s return in our minds to Zechariah 1.
When we see this angel of the Lord on the red horse in the midst of the myrtle trees, we are seeing none other than a pre-New Testament appearance of Jesus Christ! He is both in his being God and at the same time a separate person. He is both God and man. And the fact that he’s described as an angel doesn’t mean that he was created – which Jesus Christ was not. He’s an angel in the sense that he’s a heavenly messenger bearing the message of Yahweh.
And as we see the angel of the Lord throughout the Old Testament and here in Zechariah, we get the sense that he’s concerned for his people. He comes and plays a role in comforting Israel after the Babylonian exile just like he came to Abraham and Hagar and Moses and Gideon and Samson’s parents in their hours of humiliation and danger and need.
And so, here in Zechariah, Jesus Christ comes to his people who are back in the land and he’s ready to comfort and guide them.
So, we’ll see the rest of his comfort and guidance for his people next time.