Category: Angel of the Lord

Walking in the Garden

There is intimacy between God and humans from the moment God forms Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes life into his body (Gen. 2:7). The Lord blesses Adam and Eve, speaks with them, commands them, and offers them dominion over the created order. All is well until the serpent enters the scene. He deceives Eve, who successfully beckons Adam to disobey God. At the point of sin, everything changes.

Even so, there is an interesting encounter between God and his fallen human creatures beginning in Genesis 3:8. Adam and his wife hear the sound of the Lord walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hide from him. This is the earliest theophany in Scripture after the Fall, and it indicates a physical manifestation of the Lord.

Could this also be the first recorded Christophany – the first appearance of the preincarnate Christ? We can’t say with certainty. He is not depicted as the angel of the Lord in this passage. But God does appear physically and speaks personally with Adam and Eve. He asks them questions in which they confess their sin, although they also make excuses for it.

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Jacob meets the angel of the LORD

Previously, we explored Abraham and Sarah’s encounters with the angel of the LORD. Now, we learn about three visits Jacob has with the angel, including Jacob’s classic wrestling match with the pre-incarnate Christ.

The angel appears to Jacob

Genesis 28:10-22

Isaac has blessed Jacob and sent him to find a wife from the family of Jacob’s uncle, Laban. While on his journey, Jacob stops for the night and, having fallen asleep, experiences a most remarkable dream. He sees a ladder extending from earth into heaven. Angels are moving up and down the ladder. Above it all (or perhaps beside Jacob; English translations differ) stands Yahweh, who identifies himself as “the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Gen. 28:13). 

The LORD promises Jacob and his offspring the land on which he sleeps. He also assures Jacob of descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. And he promises that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through Jacob and his descendants. Finally, the LORD tells Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (v. 15).  The description of the LORD as standing evokes images of a human-like figure, so it’s possible we are witnessing a Christophany.

Lending credence to this view is Jesus’ conversation with Philip and Nathanael in John 1:51. Jesus says to these disciples, “Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Perhaps Jesus is urging his new followers to see him as the one who appeared to Jacob in the vision, especially as he connects the heavenly ladder with the Son of Man. 

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Abraham and Sarah’s encounters with the angel of the LORD

Previously, we examined Hagar’s visits with the angel of the LORD. Now, we turn to the angel’s encounters with Abraham and Sarah.

To Abram

Genesis 17:1-22 

After the angel of the LORD’s visit to Hagar in Genesis 16, Yahweh appears to Abram saying, “I am God Almighty [el Shaddai]. Live in my presence and be blameless. I will set up my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you greatly” (Gen. 17:1-2). We are not told how Yahweh appears, yet this seems to be a visible manifestation, for Abram twice falls facedown as God speaks with him. So, it’s possible Yahweh appears as the angel of the LORD, but we are not explicitly told so. 

In any case, the LORD lays out his covenant promises to Abram: (1) Abram is to become the father of many nations; (2) his name is no longer Abram, but Abraham, with a portion of God’s name – YHWH – given to him; (3) God is to make Abraham extremely fruitful so that nations and kings come to him; (4) God makes a permanent covenant promise to be Abraham’s God and the God of his offspring; and (5) God promises to give all the land of Canaan as a permanent possession to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17:3-8).

Then, God orders Abraham and his male descendants to be circumcised as a permanent sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14). He also announces that Sarai’s name is now Sarah, which means “Princess.” Again, note the portion of YHWH given to her. God is to bless her with a son in her old age, and “she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Gen. 17:16).

When Abraham wonders how a hundred-year-old man and a ninety-year-old woman can possibly bear children, the LORD assures Abraham that his covenant is not through Ishmael but through a child yet to come, a child they are to name Isaac. God promises to confirm the covenant with Isaac, who is to be born the next year (Gen. 17:19-21). 

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Hagar’s encounter with the angel of the LORD

A figure identified as the angel of the LORD appears to four different individuals in the Book of Genesis. He first comes to Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian handmaiden; then to Abram; then to Abram and Sarai, whom he renames Abraham and Sarah; then again to Abraham; and finally on two occasions to Jacob. 

In these personal encounters with human beings, the angel appears in human form yet is recognized as God. He comforts, prophesies, commands, delivers, prevents a human sacrifice, and even disables an opponent in a wrestling match. In these visits, we capture our first glimpses of a second Yahweh figure – one who bears the name, presence, and power of God, yet is a distinct person from the unseen Creator.

To Hagar

Genesis 16:7-13 

Genesis 16 records the first undisputed appearance of the angel of the LORD in Scripture, and he comes to a fleeing Egyptian handmaiden. A little background may help set the stage. God has promised Abram a child through whom many descendants are to come, and a land they are to possess (Gen. 15). The LORD even appears as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch in a theophany to seal his covenant promises (Gen. 15:17-21). But after a decade, the LORD has yet to deliver on his promise. So, Sarai takes matters into her own hands, offering her handmaiden Hagar to Abram, who agrees with his wife’s plan. But when Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai burns with jealousy, mistreats her servant, and banishes the Egyptian from her tent. 

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The Word of the Lord appears

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.

Yahweh breaks into the physical realm in many ways through what are known as theophanies. He appears in human form, or cloaked in dark clouds, or as a rider on a chariot-throne. But sometimes he simply speaks – that is, one or more persons on earth hear God’s voice. 

For example, God tells Noah he is about to destroy the earth (Gen. 6:13). The LORD proclaims divine judgment on King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:31). And at Jesus’ baptism, the Father declares from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (Mark 1:11). 

Further, the word of the LORD or the word of God comes to divinely appointed prophets dozens of times throughout the Old Testament. They receive God’s message and proclaim it as:

… an expansion of a living personality, who in this case is Yahweh Himself; and it has the power which only that uniquely powerful personality can give it…. The word of Yahweh, like the word of man, is a release of the power of the personality which utters it. He who receives the word is invaded by the personality of the speaker; when the speaker is Yahweh, the transforming influence of the word exceeds the influence of any human speech. 

John L. McKenzie, The Word of God in the Old Testament

But occasionally in the Old Testament, God shows up, not with a word, but as the word. These are known as Christophanies, or appearances of the preincarnate Christ. Often, he appears as the angel of the LORD, who is the focus of our study. Sometimes, however, Old Testament writers call him the word of the LORD. We should take note of this.

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