When we encounter the angel of the Lord in Scripture, he reveals himself primarily in four ways:
The angel of the Lord speaks
In his first recorded appearance, the angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar after she has been sent away from Sarai. The text strongly suggests a physical manifestation, for the angel finds Hagar by a spring in the wilderness. Later, Hagar names him El-roi, which means “God sees me,” and she asks, “In this place, have I actually seen the one who sees me?” (Gen. 16:13).
At the same time, the angel converses with Hagar. He asks where she has come from and where she is going. He tells Hagar to return to Sarai, and he promises to greatly multiply her offspring, although Ishmael is going to be a wild donkey of a man who battles with everyone around him (Gen. 16:8-12). Later, after Abraham has sent Hagar and her son away, the angel calls to Hagar from heaven and comforts her (Gen. 21:17-18).
When Abraham takes Isaac up Mount Moriah and is about to thrust his knife into the son of promise, the angel of the Lord calls from heaven to Abraham to spare the young man. Then, the angel calls a second time, promising to bless Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 22:11-18).
As one other example, the angel of the Lord sends Elijah to the messengers of King Ahaziah and later instructs the prophet to go with a captain of fifty soldiers to meet with the king (2 Kings 1:3, 15).
The angel of the Lord appears as a man
Quite often, when the angel manifests visually, he does so as a man. In Genesis 18, Abraham receives three visitors who appear as men. Two are angels, but the third is identified as the LORD (v. 10). When he finishes his visit, he simply departs (v. 33).
In Judges 6, the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon. He is seen sitting under an oak tree, appearing to Gideon, turning to him, and extending his staff to touch a sacrifice Gideon has offered. After the angel vanishes, Gideon realizes he has seen the angel of the LORD “face to face,” a realization that prompts the Lord to assure him he will not die (Judg. 6:22-23).
He appears with a drawn sword before Balaam, but only Balaam’s donkey can see him until the Lord opens the prophet’s eyes (Num. 22:22-35).
King David sees the angel of the Lord, evidently in human form, with a drawn sword standing between earth and heaven (1 Chron. 21:16).
The angel of the Lord appears in supernatural form
Some of the angel’s appearances are as non-human manifestations, or as a divine presence in a physical element. For example, he appears to Moses within the flame of a burning bush (Exod. 3).
He also is present in the pillar of cloud and fire that protects and provides for the Israelites in their lengthy journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.
The angel of the Lord appears in dreams and visions
Sometimes the angel of the Lord is seen in vivid dreams and visions. For example, before Jacob and his family separate from Laban, the angel of the Lord appears in a dream and assures Jacob that he is the recipient of God’s blessings through the multiplication of flocks (Gen. 31:10-13).
The prophet Zechariah experiences a series of night visions as the Lord reveals his messages. In the first vision, Zechariah sees “a man riding on a chestnut horse” (Zech. 1:8). This man also is called “the angel of the LORD,” “the LORD,” and “the LORD of Armies.” In the fourth vision, Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, with Satan standing there to accuse Joshua. The angel tells Satan, “The LORD rebuke you” (3:2), and then he removes Joshua’s iniquity and commands that he be clothed in clean robes and a clean turban (3:4-5).
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This post is excerpted from Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the Lord, available from Amazon and other retailers.