This is the 19th in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.
Identified as Yahweh and yet distinct from Him, “the angel of the LORD” appears numerous times throughout the Old Testament. This messenger is above all others. He is called “commander of the LORD’s army,” “the God of Abraham,” “Judge,” and “I AM WHO I AM” – a name only the one true God ever claims.
Who is this awe-inspiring messenger? Ancient Jews believed him to be a special angel, the highest revelation of the unseen God. Similarly, Roman Catholics generally regard the angel of the LORD as an angelic representative of God, as do some Protestants. Many evangelicals, however, consider him either as a manifestation of Yahweh – a theophany, derived from the Greek words theos (God) and pheino (to appear) – or as the preincarnate Son of God, a Christophany, the Lord Jesus.
We should note that the Hebrew word malak and the Greek term angelos, translated “angel,” mean “messenger.” While angels in Scripture normally are spirit beings of higher intelligence and power than humans, there are times when the term refers to human messengers, or to the Son of God. The context helps us determine the correct application.
Norman Geisler writes, “Jesus Christ appears in the Old Testament in His preincarnate state as ‘the Angel [Messenger] of the Lord’ … Once the Son (Christ) came in permanent incarnate form (John 1:14), never again does the Angel of the Lord appear. Angels appear, but no angel that is worshiped or claims to be God ever appears again. The Father and Holy Spirit never appear as a man. Hence, Jesus Christ, as a person, eternally existed and appeared as a man before His virginal conception on earth.”
Just as the Holy Spirit is active on the earth prior to the Day of Pentecost, so Jesus works collaboratively with the Father and the Spirit to bring a divine word, direction, and deliverance prior to His conception in a virgin’s womb.
The Missouri Baptist Convention, through its High Street Press imprint, has just released a new resource for personal or group study titled Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the LORD.
Written by the MBC’s Rob Phillips, the 338-page book explores dozens of Old Testament appearances by a figure often identified as “the angel of the LORD.” This figure not only speaks for God; he speaks as God. He appears as a man, a voice from heaven, a flame within a thorn bush, and a divine presence in a pillar of cloud and fire – all of which come to us as Christophanies, or appearances of Jesus before Bethlehem.
The book addresses the question: What was Jesus doing prior to his conception in Mary’s womb? While we see the Father and the Holy Spirit actively engaged in human affairs across the pages of the Old Testament, the other member of the Trinity (Jesus) is foreshadowed in messianic prophecies but otherwise absent from the earth. Or is he?
Jesus Before Bethlehem is designed to show how the eternal Son of God has always taken a personal interest in those he created to be his imagers on earth.
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 14 likely takes place at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign.
Isa. 14:27: The Lord of Hosts Himself has planned it; therefore, who can stand in its way? It is His hand that is outstretched, so who can turn it back?
Chapters 13-24 feature a series of divine oracles, or declarations, against the nations surrounding Israel. The great powers of Isaiah’s day, and days to come, that set themselves against the Lord of Hosts will be brought low; only the coming kingdom of the Messiah will endure the test of time.
Many Bible commentators point with fascination to verses 12-15. Do these verses speak of a Babylonian king, or of Satan? Perhaps both. In what is known as the “law of double reference,” Isaiah may be showing us Satanic qualities in evil earthly leaders, just as other Old Testament prophets use godly leaders to foreshadow the coming Messiah. In any case, both Satan and evil rulers will be brought low.
Israel’s Return (Isa. 14:1-2)
Although judgment will fall on God’s rebellious people, the Lord will “choose Israel again” (v. 1). Their restoration is grounded in their election as God’s chosen people (see Ps. 102:13-22). God’s choosing of Israel – as well as Judah, Jerusalem, David and Solomon – is an important Old Testament theme, especially in 1 and 2 Chronicles and the Psalms.
The fact that non-Israelites (“the nations”) will join Israel also is an important teaching in Scripture (see, for example, Isa. 56:6; 60:10; 61:5). Israel’s role will be reversed. Rather than captives, they will be captors. And rather than exiles, they will reside safely in their homeland, a nation restored to international prominence as in the days of King David.
Israel’s Taunt against Babylon (Isa. 14:3-23)
Verses 3-21 record a song, or a taunt, that will be sung by people freed from the clutches of the king of Babylon. “The song’s overall message is that people will be amazed that this great king is cast down like the monarchs of other cities. People will rejoice in his demise for they had lived in fear of him” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1061).
But who is this king of Babylon? Many commentators believe he is Satan, especially based on the description in verses 12-14. Tertullian (A.D. 160-230) and Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-604) were the first to offer this view, which is now widely accepted. In the New Testament, Jesus uses language similar to that of Isaiah’s to describe Satan (Luke 10:18). However, while verses 12-14, along with Ezek. 28:12-19, could describe Satan’s pride and subsequent downfall, the context of Isaiah 14 points squarely to an earthly king. It’s possible that Isaiah is employing the “law of double reference” in this passage, showing us Satanic qualities in evil earthly leaders, just as other Old Testament prophets use godly leaders to foreshadow the coming Messiah. In support of this view, let’s consider King Sennacherib.
Sennacherib rules Assyria from 705-681 B.C. By this time in history, Babylon is a vassal state under the authority of the Assyrian empire. For example, Tiglath-Pileser III, a predecessor of Sennacherib, crushes a Babylonian revolt and is crowned king of Babylon in 728 B.C. Though Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, Babylon becomes its cultural center and the Babylonian god Marduk is widely worshiped throughout the Assyrian empire. Assyria’s Sargon II (B.C. 722-705) and Sennacherib also call themselves kings of Babylon.
After Sargon dies in 705 B.C. and Sennacherib becomes king, there is much rebellion throughout the Assyrian empire, including Babylon. In 689 B.C., Sennacherib marches on Babylon to subdue the rebellion. He destroys the city and floods the ruins, although it is rebuilt years later. Sennacherib’s assassination in 681 B.C. (2 Kings 19:37) is welcome news to the surrounding nations, especially Judah.
The song-taunt of verses 3-23 features two dominant themes, according to D.A. Carson. “The broken oppressor is the first theme [vv. 4b-11]; his real epitaph is the unspeakable relief the world feels at his passing. God’s name for such thrusters is not ‘men of destiny’ but ‘he-goats’ (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word translated leaders [in verse] 9), a description almost as deflating as the pathetic state to which they are all seen to come…. The fallen morning star is the second theme [vv. 12-21], i.e. the tyrant’s fatal ambition rather than his oppression…. The idea of storming heaven … was certainly connected with Babylon (i.e. Babel; Gn. 11). One of its ironies is the idea that to be like the Most High (14) is to be self-exalted, whereas it is to be self-giving (cf. Phil. 2:5-11.). The ugliness as well as the brevity of the false glory is powerfully shown in vs 16-21″ (The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Is 14:3).
Judgment on Assyria (Isa. 14:24-27)
Though Assyria ultimately would fall to Babylon in 605 B.C., this prophecy refers to the kingdom’s defeat on the “mountains” of Israel (v. 25), a reference to the work of the Angel of the Lord who destroys 185,000 Assyrians in 701 B.C. (see 2 Kings 19; Isa. 37:36-38).
Judgment on Philistia (Isa. 14:28-32)
These verses tell of a critical test of faith for Hezekiah. Judah’s King Ahaz, who was pro-Assyrian, is now dead. The Philistines approach his successor, Hezekiah, and propose an allied rebellion against the weakened Assyria. Such a plot is tempting to Hezekiah, and even if it weren’t, the Philistines are not a people to be offended at this time (see 2 Chron. 28:18-19). What should the king do? The Lord provides a three-fold response. First, the Assyrians are not finished (v. 29). Second, the Philistines are a doomed people (vv. 30b-31). And third, true warfare is in the hands of God (vv. 30a, 32). The bottom line: trust God, not human alliances or intrigue.
Gary V. Smith comments: “Every generation of leaders is called to acts of faith, to choose a path of utter dependence on God rather than alternatives that initially look more defensible. People are challenged not to do what may seem the most reasonable thing from a human perspective, but to do what God instructs them to do…. The circumstances may be a health crisis, the loss of a job, or an international political crisis, but the answer is always the same: trust in God for refuge. Most of the time people know what God would want them to do. The really difficult question is: Are they willing to follow God’s direction?” (New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 326)
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips