The Angel of the Lord: Part 1 :: By Randy Nettles

Christ is given many names and/or titles throughout the Old Testament. They include: Jehovah, the Lord Jehovah, Jehovah’s Shepherd, Jehovah of Hosts, The Messenger of the Covenant, Son of God, Adonai, Messiah (Anointed One), Branch, Immanuel, Holy One, King of Glory, Man of Sorrows, Sure Foundation, Chief Cornerstone, A Great Light, Prince of Princes, Root of Jesse, Star out of Jacob, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, the Angel of God, the Angel of His Presence, and the Angel of the Lord. There are many more names for Christ in the New Testament as well (including Jesus).

“The word Jehovah is based on the Hebrew term for the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh. It is usually rendered in English Bibles as Lord. Many conservative theologians recognize that the name Jehovah or Lord typically applies to the Triune God collectively. But it also, in many cases, refers to the individual Persons of the Trinity, including Christ.” Christ is the second Person of the Trinity and is God; as are the other two Persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit. {1}

In the Old Testament it was sometimes necessary for God to manifest Himself to human beings in a visible form, either individually or collectively. This is called a theophany. The word theophany comes from the Greek words “theos” (God) and “phaneia” (to appear). God usually makes his presence known to man in the form of a man Himself, or sometimes even as an angel.

“Old Testament theophanies involving Christ are called Christophanies. So a Christophany is a particular kind of theophany that includes a preincarnate appearance of Christ in human form. It does not include visions (or dreams) of God or metaphors involving God, but actual temporary appearances of God in the form of a human being. In the Old Testament, Christ appeared in His preincarnate state. But in the New Testament, God appears not as a temporary human being but as one who is entirely permanent in the God-man, Jesus Christ.” {2}

The Shekinah (glory) is another form of manifestation or appearance of God. Some scholars (including John F. Walvoord) believe the Shekinah is not a formal theophany but some other kind of manifestation of God. Other conservative theologians believe the Shekinah is a theophany that involves the 3rd Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. These theophanies do not take the form of a man or angel, but rather an object of nature such as a thick cloud, pillar of smoke and fire, thick darkness, or a blinding light.

An example of this type of theophany or manifestation is found in Genesis 15:17 when God made a covenant with Abram regarding the promised land. Abram was instructed to offer a sacrifice and to cut up and divide the pieces. “And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces” (Genesis 15:17). The New Testament describes two instances where the Holy Spirit takes a visible form. They are described as having a form” like a dove” (John 1:32) and “cloven tongues like as of fire” (Acts 2:3).

God (Elohim) created man in His (Their) image. Elohim is plural for God (Gods) in the Hebrew language. “On the 6th day of creation God made man: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). This verse is just one of many declaring the Trinity of God otherwise known as Elohim.

The first theophany in the Bible occurred sometime after Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “And they heard the voice (word) of the Lord God walking in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). I’m sure all three Persons were involved in the first theophany, but it was the Angel of the Lord who appeared unto man in the form of a man Himself. He came to pronounce judgment on Adam and Eve’s sin. He also prophesied about the coming Savior of mankind and His plan of redemption (Genesis 3:15).

Most of the Christophanies in the Old Testament are accomplished by the entity called “the Angel of the Lord.” The word Angel is translated as messenger, and Lord is translated as Jehovah in the Hebrew language. So the Angel of the Lord is not actually a created angel but is the Messenger of God. As Christ is the second Person of the Triune God in the New Testament, the Angel of the Lord is the second Person of the Trinity in the Old Testament. The Angel of the Lord is the preincarnate Jesus Christ, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). They are One and the same, for they both had the same mission to accomplish for God the Father. The Father sent them to the earth at different times to deal with mankind and to accomplish His eternal will and plan of salvation for them.

“The combined testimony of these theophany passages (regarding the 2nd Person of the Trinity) portrays the Son of God as exceedingly active in the Old Testament, dealing with sin, providing for those in need, guiding in the path of the will of God, protecting His people from their enemies and, in general, executing the providence of God. The revelation of the person of the Son of God thus afforded is in complete harmony with the New Testament revelation. The testimony of Scripture has been so complete on this point that, in general, scholars who accept the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture are agreed that the Angel of Jehovah is the Christ of the Old Testament. Not only Christian theologians but Jewish scholars as well have come to the conclusion that the Angel of Jehovah is more than an angel.” {3}

The first appearance of the Angel of the Lord is found in Genesis 16:7-11 when Hagar (Sarai’s maid) fled into the wilderness. After Hagar had conceived (with Abram’s seed) she grew bitter toward Sarai, so Sarai in turn treated her harshly. Hagar then fled into the wilderness.

“And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where did you come from and where are you going? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress, Sarai. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hands. And the angel of the Lord said unto her: I will multiply your seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for it is such a multitude. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Ishmael; because the Lord has heard your affliction.”

After the Angel of the Lord talked to Hagar, this is her reply as recorded by the prophet Moses: “Then she called the name of the Lord (Angel 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 16:13). Clearly Hagar recognized this person to be God (in human form). “And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael. And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ismael to Abram” (Genesis 16:15-16).

In Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah were visited by three men. “And the Lord (Jehovah) appeared unto him (Abraham) in the plains of Mamre (Hebron): and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lift up his eyes and looked, and then three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground” (Genesis 18:1-2).

Abraham invited his guests to stay with them while they prepared a meal for them. The men accepted his invitation and ate a meal with Abraham. Afterwards they asked him where Sarah, his wife, was. Abraham told them that she was in the tent. “And he (one of the men) said, I will certainly return unto you according to the time of life; and surely Sarah your wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him” (Genesis 18:10). Sarah laughed to herself when she heard this news as she was getting very old.

The man that gave Abraham the news is now called the Lord in verse 13. He is the Angel (Messenger) of the Lord (Jehovah) appearing as a man to give His message to the couple. “And the Lord said unto Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?’ Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14).

The Lord then informed Abraham of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. “And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. And the men turned their faces from there, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the Lord. And Abraham drew near, and said, Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:20-23). He then proceeded to bargain with the Lord for any righteous people that might live in the doomed cities.

Genesis 19 records the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Verse 1 confirms the fact that the two men that were with the Lord and Abraham earlier were indeed angels disguised as men. “And there came two angels to Sodom at evening time, and Lot (Abraham’s nephew) sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and stay all night, and wash your feet, and you shall rise up early, and go on your ways” (Genesis 19:1-2).

Evidently, at this time, Lot did not realize the men were really angels. Genesis 19:4-19 describe the wickedness of the men of Sodom as they attempted to break into Lot’s home and rape the newcomers. “And they (the two men/angels) smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door” (Genesis 19:11). This act confirmed to Lot that they were not ordinary men but were angels. The messengers gave Lot the message from the Lord regarding the coming destruction of the city. They told Lot to gather his family and get out of the city immediately.

Early the next morning, judgment came for the inhabitants of the cities of the plain. “The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Genesis 19:23-24). Some scholars believe verse 24 is an example of the Trinity (Elohim). The first Lord mentioned is the second Person of the Trinity – The Angel of the Lord and the second Lord (Lord of heaven) is the first Person of the Trinity – The Father. The third Person, the Holy Spirit, isn’t mentioned here, but He is probably involved in some capacity.

Just as God said, Sarah gave birth to a son in her old age. When Isaac was still a child, Sarah caught Ishmael mocking her son and then demanded Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham did as the boss (Sarah) told him and gave them a small amount of food and water and sent them into the wilderness. After their supplies ran out and they were dying, Hagar lifted up her voice and wept. “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, ‘What ails you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is’” (Genesis 21:17).

The Angel of the Lord doesn’t appear in person, but rather speaks to Hagar out of heaven. In verse 18, the Angel of the Lord tells Hagar that her son will live and He will bless him by making unto him a great nation. “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in your hand; for I (the Angel of the Lord) will make him a great nation” (Genesis 21:18).

The next mention of the Angel of the Lord is found in Genesis 22. God decided to test Abraham’s faith and told him to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him as a burnt sacrifice to the Lord. Abraham took him to Mount Moriah (next to Salem) “and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham. And he said, ‘Here am I.’ And he (Angel of the Lord) said, Do not lay your hand upon the lad, neither do any thing unto him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me‘” (Genesis 22:9-12).

Abraham looked around and saw a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, so he took it and offered it up for a burnt offering in place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh which means In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen. “And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, ‘By myself have I sworn, says the Lord, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son: that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice‘” (Genesis 22:15-18).

The author of Hebrews mentions the faith of Abraham regarding this event. “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall your seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from when also he received him figuratively speaking” (Hebrews 11:17).

This event foreshadowed the death of Christ in many ways and is called typology. This term has been defined as “a method of biblical interpretation by which a person, event, or institution (type) in the Old Testament corresponds to another one (antitype) in the New Testament within the framework of salvation history.” In this case, Abraham represents God the Father who is giving up his only begotten son (with Sarah); Isaac represents the Son of God who carries the wood (for the burnt sacrifice) on his shoulders (symbolic of the cross) and is willing to die for his father. Both Isaac’s and Jesus’ birth were genuinely miraculous, albeit in different ways.

There are many more Christophanies and theophanies to come in Part 2.

Randy Nettles


{1} Finding Jesus in the Old Testament by David Limbaugh, Regenery Publishing, pg.148

{2} Ibid., pgs. 150-151

{3} Jesus Christ Our Lord by John F. Walvoord, Moody Publishers, pg. 53