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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The Holy Spirit and Scripture

This is the last in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” published by the MBC’s High Street Press (visit highstreet.press).

The Holy Spirit is the primary agent through whom the Scriptures came to us. He superintended the thoughts and words of the prophets and apostles so that what they wrote were the very words of God. 

In a previous column, we looked at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. These two passages are key to our understanding of the Bible as the breathed-out Word of God given to men directed by the Holy Spirit. 

But in addition to these verses, the Bible reveals other ways the Holy Spirit works in concert with the Father and the Son to confirm biblical truths. Here are just a few examples:

Ezekiel 2:1-2 – “He [the Lord] said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak with you.’ As he spoke to me, the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and I listened to the one who was speaking to me.”

The same Spirit of God that energizes the chariot wheels (Ezek. 1:12, 19; 10:16-17) now enters Ezekiel and supplies the strength needed to carry out his prophetic ministry. This same Spirit superintends the prophet’s words as they are recorded in the book bearing his name. 

The Spirit appears along with “the likeness of the Lord’s glory” (1:28). Perhaps this is a rare vision of the preincarnate Christ. Or, at the very least, it’s a veiled view of Yahweh on His heavenly throne. 

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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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Jesus and Scripture

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” published by the MBC’s High Street Press (visit highstreet.press).

Although Jesus doesn’t leave us with words He penned, He speaks and acts in ways that become Scripture when faithful eyewitnesses record them. And He makes it clear He is working in concert with the Father and the Spirit. 

For example, Jesus claims to be sent by the Father: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). In addition, Jesus casts out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit: “And if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). 

Jesus claims not only to speak the truth, but to be truth incarnate: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

At the same time, Jesus confirms the inspiration and authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. He tells His listeners in the Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18). 

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