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The "Angel of the Lord"


A Trinitarian Precursor

"Nick P."


There are many beliefs that the Trinity came about in the NT or even worse, that the Catholics dreamed it up from pagan notions. Is this really accurate? If the Trinity is a biblical doctrine, surely we'll find it, or some precursor to it, in the OT also. Thus, I have decided to write and see if I can shed some light on this topic.

First off, the OT term used often for God is Elohim. Now some have said this refers to a plural majesty, but see what Glenn Miller of the Christian-thinktank has to say about this:

This has been generally explained as a 'plural of majesty' or 'singular of intensity' . But all the related ANE cultures use the singular form "El" without a single case of 'Elohim'--there are no ANE parallels to support this usage. If this incipient plurality-in-unity was either an implication of religious experience (e.g. "we experience Him as multiple-agents in One God") or simply a revelation, THEN there would be no better way to 'say it' in the text than Elohim(plural)+verb(singular)! (see TWOT, s.v. 'Elohim').

As we move on, we see many instances where God appears in various forms. This is mainly in the OT in the form of the Angel of the Lord. I am in debt again to the Christian-thinktank for much of my info but some I have gotten on my own. Look at what happens in Genesis 16 though when Hagar speaks to the Angel of the Lord.

7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. 9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." 10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." 11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
"You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers."
13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."

Let's notice a few things here.

  1. The AOTL (Angel of the Lord) definitely possesses personality.
  2. The angel makes a promise that only God can make
  3. The angel doesn't give a "Thus sayeth the Lord" but speaks on his own
  4. In verse 13, Hagar recognizes this figure as the Lord and says she has seen the One who sees her who she says is God.

This tells us a lot about this figure who won't show up for a few more chapters but let's turn to Genesis 18. I won't copy and paste all of it but I invite you to read it for yourself.

Some things to note in this passage.

  1. Three seperate persons come forth but not one of them specifically is mentioned as addressing Abraham.
  2. The divine name of YHWH is used for the words of the speaker
  3. Their speaking is sometimes used in the plural, "They asked him" but the singular of "The Lord said" is also used.
  4. The men are often interchanged with the name of YHWH.
  5. In the next chapter it could be that two angels could be equated with YHWH as well.
Genesis 22: 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. 12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD , that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

Some things worth noting:

  1. The AOTL gives the same promise of YHWH at the beginning.
  2. The AOTL swears by himself and says "YHWH" for his name.

We move on there to Genesis 32 where not the AOTL appears but a man.

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." 27 The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. 28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." 29 Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."

Some observations.

  1. This man is definitely a theophany (An appearance of God in the OT)
  2. God could be a man if he wants to and wrestle if he wants to.
  3. Apparently one could see God in a lesser way and still be spared. (All the other passages had this so someone who wants to use John 1:18 against Jesus will have to relook at that one.)

Exodus 3: I'm not going to put the whole passage up for this one either but the AOTL appears in verse 2 and appears from the bush. Some observations assuming that the AOTL is routinely interchanged with "the Lord" as it is in other passages:

  1. The AOTL has the power to prophesy the future. (verse 12)
  2. The AOTL identifies itself with the divine name.
  3. The AOTL makes the promise of fulfilling the covenant.
  4. The AOTL is capable of doing miracles. (Chapter 4)

When we reach Numbers 22, something fascinating happens! We have the Lord interacting with the AOTL. Following the AOTL's being equated with God in earlier passages we can garner some things:

  1. There are at least two seperate persons. (Genesis 18 could show three.)
  2. They are capable of interaction
  3. They can perform services for one another.
  4. They can still both be deity.

The phenomenon continues more in Joshua:

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" 14 "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" 15 The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.
Joshua 6 1 Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. 2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in." 6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, "Take up the ark of the covenant of the LORD and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it." 7 And he ordered the people, "Advance! March around the city, with the armed guard going ahead of the ark of the LORD ."

Some observations:

  1. God can again appear as a man.
  2. Joshua had no problem worshipping this figure and calling him Lord.
  3. Joshua is told to take off his sandals as he is on holy ground before the AOTL.
  4. In 6:2 the man is equated with the Lord.

The phenomenon goes on in Judges starting with chapter 2:

1 The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you." 4 When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5 and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.

Again, some observations:

  1. The AOTL declares that he brought them out of Egypt.
  2. The AOTL declares that he made the covenant.
  3. The people as a whole apparently recognize this as the word of the Lord as they weep aloud.
  4. The people apparently had no problem with recognizing the AOTL as deity then.

In chapter 5 we have a small tidbit from a poem dedicated to the Lord where this figure is again mentioned.

'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the LORD . 'Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the LORD , to help the LORD against the mighty.'

Apparently, cursing can reside in the AOTL as well. More is revealed in Gideon's encounter in the next chapter though. I won't post it all as it is a long chapter but some things can be noted.

  1. The AOTL speaks of the Lord in third person. (God often did this of himself also in the OT)
  2. In verse 14 the AOTL is interchanged with "The Lord" who, the text says, turned to Gideon.
  3. Gideon started addressing the AOTL as the Lord. (Some could say sir however.)
  4. Gideon offers sacrifices to the AOTL.
  5. Gideon fears he will die for seeing the AOTL face to face.
  6. Gideon also uses the term "Sovereign Lord."
  7. The AOTL assures Gideon he won't die.

The story gets even more fascinating in chapter 13. It is a long chapter so I will just hit on the highlights again.

  1. The AOTL makes a prophecy.
  2. They offered up a burnt offering.
  3. Apparently the AOTL could shroud his appearance as he wanted to.
  4. The AOTL says "Why do you ask my name?" This is the exact question the man Jacob wrestled with asked when Jacob asked his name.
  5. The AOTL says his name is Wonderful which is used in Isaiah 9:6
  6. The wife fears they will die because they have seen God.

There are two parallel accounts of the plague sent upon Israel as a result of the Census. The one in 1 Chronicles 21 reveals much though.

14 So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 16 David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown. 17 David said to God, "Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O LORD my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people." 18 Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the LORD . 20 While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground. 22 David said to him, "Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the LORD , that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price." 23 Araunah said to David, "Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this." 24 But King David replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing." 25 So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. 26 David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the LORD , and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. 28 At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there. 29 The tabernacle of the LORD , which Moses had made in the desert, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.

There are some observations here.

  1. The AOTL is not explicitly equated with deity but we have several references prior that indicate this could be deity indeed.
  2. There is interaction again.
  3. The Lord can give orders to the AOTL
  4. David sees the AOTL and then speaks to God. In response, the AOTL gives an order to a prophet on what to say.
  5. David fears the AOTL. (At least his sword!)

AOTL appears to Elijah also in 1 Kings 19 and we see much of the same thing. The names are interchanged and the AOTL is at first seen as "An angel." but the AOTL gives orders Elijah follows.

The same thing happens in 2 Kings 1. The AOTL is often equaled with the Lord and his word is authoritative as in verse 15. The AOTL makes a prophecy also in verses 3-4.

AOTL shows up again in 2 Kings 19:35. This time he is the giver of divine judgment.. When we read the Psalms we will find another view of the AOTL.

Psalm 34 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Note that:

  1. The AOTL is seen to deliver from trouble. (Psalm 40:17 and Psalm 144:2 say the Lord is our deliver.)
  2. Fear of the AOTL is instructed. (Proverbs 1:7 encourages the Fear of the Lord.)

In Psalm 35:6, we see the AOTL pursuing those who do evil. (Psalm 18:37 says God pursues his enemies.) The next great vision we see is that of Isaiah in the temple.

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" 9 He said, "Go and tell this people:
" 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."
11 Then I said, "For how long, O Lord?" And he answered:
"Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. 13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land."

It is worthwhile to note that Isaiah definitely saw a figure of deity. Let's see what it says about him.

  1. He sits on a throne.
  2. He is high and exalted. (Isaiah 52:13 promises the same about the Messiah.)
  3. Angels surround him.
  4. Angels declare him holy.
  5. Angels say he is the Lord Almighty.
  6. Angels say the Earth is full of his glory.
  7. In John 12:41 says that Isaiah saw Jesus's glory and spoke of him. after quoting Isaiah 6:10.

When we come to Daniel 7 we see something else happening.

9 "As I looked,
"thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
11 "Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) 13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Observations:

  1. There are two seperate figures.
  2. The Ancient of Days is definitely deity.
  3. Another figure comes as the Son of Man.
  4. The figure comes on the clouds of heaven. (When Jesus said this in Matthew 26:64-65 he was accused of blasphemy.)
  5. The Son of Man interacts with the ancient of days.
  6. The Son of Man is given authority, glory, and sovereign power.
  7. The Son of Man is nevertheless, worshipped. (YHWH clearly only accepts worship to himself in the Bible.)
  8. Off the subject but in chapters 8-12 Michael and Gabriel both appear and in no way give any indication they are equal to YHWH.

In Zechariah 1:8-13, we again see interaction with the AOTL and the Lord and prophecy coming. The same interaction is seen in Zechariah 3 where it's possible to see the AOTL and the Lord as the same. In Zechariah 12, David is told he will be like the AOTL followed incidentally by saying that the people would like on YHWH, the one they had pierced.

It's my conclusion then that the Trinity is not merely a NT doctrine. It is taught throughout both the OT and the NT.