Tagged: preincarnate Christ

The angel of the Lord in the time of the judges

The Book of Judges introduces us to Israel’s arduous struggle to maintain control of the Promised Land between the death of Joshua and the anointing of King Saul. While conquest of the land is relatively quick, settlement of the tribal territories proves challenging. There are pockets of strong resistance, and worldly allures, that lead many of the Israelites to adopt a policy of coexistence rather than total conquest.

A loose tribal confederacy emerges after Joshua’s death. The Spirit of God empowers various leaders, called judges, to deliver the people from their common enemies. For the Israelites, there are six cycles of sin, distress, and salvation, which form the core of the book structured around six major judges and six minor ones (3:7 – 16:31).

The Hebrew word for judge (shophet) is closely related to the verb shaphat (“to judge”), and also to mishpat(“justice”). Judges maintain justice and settle legal disputes. The term also may apply to governors, and in the Book of Judges we see God raise up special leaders who judge, administer, and deliver. The word shophet in Judges is used once in reference to the LORD (11:27), six times in reference to those who deliver Israel under God’s power or Spirit (2:18; 3:9-10; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14), and seven times in relation to judges who serve as administrators (4:4; 12:8-9, 11, 13-14; 15:20). Throughout the Book of Judges, these Spirit-empowered leaders save the Israelites from their enemies as Yahweh judges their hearts and demonstrates divine grace. 

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Is Melchizedek the Preincarnate Christ?

Before the angel of the Lord appears to Hagar in Genesis 16, Abram encounters a curious king and priest named Melchizedek. He appears suddenly in the wake of Abram’s victory over King Chedorlaomer and his allies. We read about his brief visit to Abram in Genesis 14:17-24. 

Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem) and a priest of God Most High, presents bread and wine to Abram and his battle-weary men. He further bestows a blessing on Abram in the name of El Elyon, God Most High, and praises God for granting Abram victory. In response, Abram offers Melchizedek a tithe of all the items he has won in battle, an act that acknowledges the priest as one who ranks higher spiritually than Abram.

All of which begs the question: Is the story of Melchizedek the first recorded appearance of the angel of the Lord? Put another way, is Melchizedek the preincarnate Christ? 

While he could be, it seems more biblically faithful to see Melchizedek as a type, or prophetic preview, of Christ rather than as Jesus himself prior to the Incarnation. While we take the position that Jesus comes to Abram as the angel of the Lord in Genesis 17, 18, and 22, the preincarnate Christ does not materialize as an earthly priest or king in Genesis, or anywhere else in the Old Testament.

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The Angel of the LORD

Following is an excerpt from Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the LORD, released by High Street Press.

The female donkey sees him first: an ominous, sword-wielding figure appearing right in front of her. Startled, she veers off the path and into a field, prompting her rider to strike her in anger. Next, the mysterious swordsman cuts off the donkey’s escape route. Panicked, she presses against a stone wall, jamming her rider’s foot. A second beating ensues. After a third confrontation with the swordsman, the donkey crouches in surrender.

That does it. The rider, a mercenary prophet named Balaam, beats the donkey mercilessly – until the donkey speaks: “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?”

The prophet replies, “You have made me look like a fool. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now!” 

At last, Balaam’s eyes are opened and he sees what his donkey has seen all along: a divine person, called the angel of the LORD, standing in the path with a drawn sword in his hand. The prophet prostrates himself in worship before the angel, confesses his sin, and receives further instructions.

Numbers 22 records this strange scene involving a prophet for hire, a sword-brandishing angel, and yes, a talking donkey. In fact, we may be so charmed by the loquacious beast of burden that we overlook the angelic intruder. Who is the angel of the LORD?

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Jesus Before Bethlehem

High Street Press offers a unique resource for personal or group study titled Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the LORD.

Written by Rob Phillips of the Missouri Baptist Convention, 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.

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Who is the angel of the LORD?

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.
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