Introducing the Angel of the LORD

Following is another in a series of excerpts from What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the LORD, released by High Street Press.

Let’s look at a key passage of Scripture regarding the angel of the LORD – Exodus 23:20-23:

I am going to send an angel before you to protect you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to him. Do not defy him, because he will not forgive your acts of rebellion, for my name is in him. But if you will carefully obey him and do everything I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. For my angel will go before you and bring you to the land …

Note several truths about God’s special angel in this passage:

Yahweh sends him. A holy angel never works alone. The LORD sends and the angel obeys.

The angel is a malak, a term meaning “messenger” and may apply to a human, a created spirit being, or in some cases to God himself.

He protects God’s people and brings them to the Promised Land. Deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage is something God does, as we note in other Scriptures. So, the LORD and the angel of the LORD are one in the purpose but may be distinguished as persons.

He must be listened to and obeyed. The angel of the LORD delivers divine instructions that come from God.

He has authority to pardon transgressions. Only God can forgive sins (Isa. 43:25-26; Mark 2:7), although we see in the New Testament it’s an authority Jesus claims for himself (Matt. 9:6). 

Yahweh’s name is in him. “The Name” (Hebrew, ha-shem) is another way of referring to God. For example, Isaiah 30:27-28 (NIV) uses “the Name” as a substitute for “Yahweh” and personifies “the Name.” The interchangeability of “Yahweh” and “the Name” also is evident in Psalm 20:1: “May the LORD [Yahweh] answer you in a day of trouble; may the name [ha-shem] of Jacob’s God protect you.”

Obedience to the angel is mandatory. If the people listen and obey, Yahweh will be an enemy to their enemies and a foe to their foes.

The language of Exodus 23:20-23 is clear. When the LORD describes for Moses the malak he is sending to lead the people to the Promised Land, he is telling Moses that his very presence – the divine name – is in this angel. This angel, though a distinct person from Yahweh, bears Yahweh’s name, authority, and purpose. Simply put, “the angel is the visible form of Yahweh himself,” according to Michael Heiser in Angels.

We examine Exodus 23:20-23 in more detail in a future post.

Next: The Word of the LORD appears