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Christ in the Old Testament 3

The Angel of the LORD continued...

Let's look at the Angel in action in Genesis and Exodus.

His first appearance is to the Egyptian, Hagar:

Then the Angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The Angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." 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... 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." (Gen 16:9-14)

Here the Angel speaks of another Person called the LORD who has heard Hagar.  This is typical in the OT - God hears and sends His Angel to deliver.  See Gen 21:17; Ex 2:23ff; Num 20:16; Judges 13:9 - also similar is Dan 3:28; 6:22.

But even though the Angel is distinctly called of the LORD He can also own the name 'LORD' Himself.  In verse 13 even the narrator calls the Angel "LORD" and Hagar calls Him "the God who sees me."  He is from God but He also is God - in fact He is the visible God for Hagar is astonished that she has seen Him.

Read on to Genesis 22 and here we see that the Angel of the LORD is the One who intercepts the judgement of father Abraham on his son.

But the Angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. "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." 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. 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." The Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.

Difficult to read these verses if you're a unitarian!  'Now know that you fear God because you haven't witheld your son from Me.'  The Angel clearly thinks the offering is to Himself and later in v16 He clearly thinks that He is the LORD who will bless Abraham.  But He also clearly speaks of 'God' as another Person in the equation.  There's much more to be said about Genesis 22, but we must move on.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man ('ish) who is clearly a source of blessing (v26) and is in fact God (v28).  Jacob rightly identifies Him as 'God face to face' (perhaps best understood as a divine title?).  Why are we looking at this passage while considering the Angel?  Because of what Hosea 12:3-5 makes of this incident.

...[Jacob] struggled with God. He struggled with the Angel and overcame Him; he wept and begged for His favour. He found Him at Bethel and talked with Him there-- the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is His name of renown!

Hosea knows how it is that Jacob could actually wrestle with God and see Him face to face.  He knows that Jacob wrestled with the Angel.  But Hosea also knows that such a name is not a diminutive title for this figure. The Angel is Himself the LORD God Almighty (Yahweh the God of Hosts).  What's interesting is not only Hosea's high christology but also how OT saints thought through the issues of how God is mediated.  It was clear to Hosea, even though Genesis does not mention the name, that Jacob wrestled 'the Angel.'  OT saints are able to make such distinctions and properly interpreted their own Scriptures christologically centuries after the events and centuries before the incarnation.

Moving on in Genesis we come to Jacob's blessing of his grandsons.  Just as he sought the Angel's blessing for himself (Gen 32:26,29) so now he wants the Angel's blessing for Ephraim and Manasseh:

"May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm--may He bless these boys.  (Gen 48:15-16)

Who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  This is a massive question today.  Can we please have the courage to proclaim from Genesis that Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He is the Deliverer God before Whom the patriarchs walked.  The Angel is God and Shepherd, Deliverer and the Source of all blessing.  The Angel is God from God and the One to Whom the patriarchs looked.

I can't see a) any way around this, b) any reason you'd want to get around this!

Let's move on briefly to Exodus.  And here again we see the pattern whereby people call out to God, God hears (Exod 2:23-24) and in response He sends His Deliverer.  And who is the Deliverer?

2 There the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight-- why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." 5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:2-6)

The Angel is Him who dwelt in the burning bush (Deut 33:16).  He is, v4,  LORD and God and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Furthermore He is the great I AM (v14) who saves His people.  When Jesus claims to be I AM He isn't (as many seem to say) audaciously applying to Himself a title belonging to ""God"".  He's saying - I'm 'Him who dwelt in the burning bush.'  He's not just saying 'I have the same name as Israel's Redeemer, He's saying - You know the whole burning bush, plagues, Red Sea thing?  That was me!'

Notice how in Exodus 3:12 the Angel says:

"I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

The Angel will save a people and bring them to God.  That is the story of salvation.  And does the Angel deliver on His promise?  Yes! He is the LORD who goes at their head:

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Ex 13:21)

How do we know that this is the Angel?

Then the Angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them (Ex 14:19)

So the Deliverer is the Angel who is of the LORD and who is the LORD.  Exodus 23:20-23 tells us how the Angel relates to the Most High God: 'My Name is in Him' says the LORD on top of the mountain.  The Angel is the One the people should follow knowing that He has been sent from the LORD on high with the very character of the unseen God.  To hear the Angel (v22) is to know the favour and salvation of God Most High.

The Exodus was wrought at the initiative of God the Father hearing His people’s cries for mercy.  Out of His compassion He sent His Angel to deliver His people and bring them back to the Mountain to worship Him.

And just to drive home the point even further, let's look at one last reference.  When all is done and dusted and Scripture looks back on the redemption out of Egypt, who is it who takes the credit?

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, 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? 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."  When the Angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud. (Judges 2:1-4)

At this point I feel like pulling a CS Lewis - when the Angel makes such incredible claims, He's either mad, bad or the LORD.  So who is He??

I hope it's obvious.  But I hope we also see that these things are plain on their own terms and in their own context.  I haven't needed to do any NT 're-reading'.  I hope you see this isn't a conjuring act it's simply taking these verses seriously. And allowing them to say what they say without forcing them into a pre-fab unitarian mould.

I think it's clear (don't you?) the Angel is clearly divine, clearly Israel's Deliverer, clearly trusted in.  But also note - He is also clearly distinct from another called LORD or God (we'll see this more and more as we go on).  And He has His identity as the Sent One (malak - Messenger). To see Him is to be immediately drawn into knowledge of the Sender whose Name He bears.  His very being is defined by relationship to Another.  He is a divine Person who belongs to another divine Person.  Israel's LORD is God from God.

And if this is true then the OT doctrine of God is nothing like the modern Jew's god, nothing like the philosopher's god, nothing like allah.  The God of the OT is inescapably and irreducibly trinitarian in nature and christocentric in focus.

One more post on the Angel to come and then we'll look at some other fun stuff.

Next post...

15 thoughts on “Christ in the Old Testament 3

  1. jacky

    hi glen,

    thanks for the previous post on adam's faith in christ, looking fwd to any future entries on the tree of life (if that becomes part of the series).

    now the problem which some people face is the reading of the Trinity in the OT... some obviously (as you have rightly stated) believe that without the NT, we cannot even imagine that the OT is so explicit with the Trinity, that (you even proclaim) it is even more clear on the divinity of the Angel, the Christ, than the NT. and in some sense i understand how Blackham, in his essay on the Trinity in OT (in Metzger's "Trinitarian Soundings") finds it weird how people think that Christ's coming is an issue of revelation, when it is really an issue of fulfillment and redemption long foretold.

    why do you think other theologians have difficulty accepting that without the NT, we can't even have as much ability to interpret the OT (like Hosea with Jacob's struggle with the Son) as Trinitarian? is this again another issue of widespread dispensationalism wreaking some type of havoc on OT & NT exegesis, and rather they've decided to eisegetically believe that Christ's coming is more revelation of his own deity and explanation of 'mysteries' (a la Ephesians 3:3-4), than fulfillment of the new covenant, mysteries and already-proclaimed-deity which therefore doesn't make the NT "new" (2 John 5)?

  2. Dan Hames

    Hi Jacky,

    I know you asked Glen, but I wonder if I can raise one possibility towards answering that question.

    I think we tend approach things sociologically, culturally, and historically rather than theologically. So on example is that we look at modern Judaism and assume that it's the religion of the OT just having made the tragic mistake of 'missing the Messiah'; of course that's really not the case! The truth is that Christ was the centre of the religion of the OT, and modern Judaism is a perversion of that.

    But as Christians we look at it from a socio-historical angle and assume: they're Jewish, the first of 'the three great monothestic faiths' and that our Christianity is an offshoot of their religion. We say that Christianity was founded 2000 years ago by Jesus, when it has in reality always been the only truth about God and reality since day one!

    I guess the biggest thing is the impact of this on a great deal of hermeneutics. We read the Bible plainly historically without taking into account the weight of typology, prophecy, and God's sovereignty. So we squash it into a pre-cooked system of progressive revelation, use the 'they spoke better than they knew' clause, and iron-out Christ before he 'existed' come year 0! I guess that's the impact of historical criticism on our reading of the Bible, and it's extremely widespread in the Church today.

    Have a read of a great piece by Carl Trueman on this kind of issue here:

    I suspect Glen will have some more insightful things to say on this!


  3. glenscriv

    Hi Jacky, again it's difficult to speculate on why others hold contrary positions. Obviously I think they're wrong and I happen to think the position I hold is pretty plain to see when you just lay out the Scriptures (as I've been trying to do). It's always difficult to give reasons for a belief you think is unreasonable!

    But I suppose I can think of two enormous prejudice's in our 'common sense' thinking that contribute to progressive views. I've already spoken about the myth of progress. Dev's last comment is spot on - that's the view of our day and to the vast majority such a contention is plain as the nose on my face (which is extremely apparent I assure you).

    The other 'common sense' prejudice (certainly among Christians) is that the non-Christian knows God, at least the basics. From creation it is supposed that non-Christians apprehend the one, good, almighty uncreated Creator - they just don't happen to know more nuanced truths (like Jesus and the trinity). It's this two-step knowledge of God that is like the air we breathe. It is presumed by most Christians that the bedrock truth about God is not the relationship of Persons but the omnis etc. The standard testimony of a godfearer in the west is: "I always believed in God but then the preacher showed me that Jesus was actually this God that I'd always believed in. So now I confess that Jesus is God (the God I'd always believed in)." Ask such a person what this god is like who they'd always believed in and it will look very much like the god of western philosophy. And their conversion has oftentimes not been the conversion of their old views of god to learn again what deity is in Jesus. Their conversion, far more often, is to fit Jesus into the mould of the god they've always known. So we go from god => Jesus (and in fact 'god' has been such a controlling bedrock truth that Jesus is never allowed to challenge 'god').

    Now such a view of "god-then-Jesus-as-the-cherry-on-the-cake" is readily mapped onto the bible. OT = the revelation of god. NT brings the added nuances of Jesus, trinity etc. I think that there is a large degree to which this is going on behind the scenes in people's thinking. When you read books on biblical theology or listen to sermons you'll hear them describe the OT's doctrine of God as something roughly similar to Aristotle's! This can't be right - as these posts are trying to show.

    I think if people really got hold of the revolutionary truth that God is known in Christ alone then we'd demolish the whole two-step myth. And if we did that then no-one would bother arguing about a progression *towards* Christ. Christ is the Rock, the foundation Stone! To really grasp this means letting go of many false shemes of prog rev. But I think people don't want to truly confess that Christ is THE Truth by which we come to God. Hence this blog!

    I think Dan has also pointed to two other massive factors. Politically and socially there is *huge* pressure a) to say only nice things about the Jews post-holocaust and b) to say monotheistic faiths are all talking from roughly the same page. Secondly the lauding of the grammatical-historical method of hermeneutics (which is massively exacerbated by doing biblical studies in the universities rather than the church) leads to a very impoverished view of revelation. This plugs readily into a progressive schema that wants to see only the basics (esp early on).

    And let's not forget the influence of Augustine (you can never underestimate his influence in western theology). He quite often fell for the whole two-step myth outlined above and was forever saying things like 'the new is in the old concealed and the old is in the new revealed.' And we say - nice, it rhymes. but where do you get that from? It's scary how often in discussions about New and Old Testaments this aphorism is trotted out as though it were Scripture. But then, of course it's quickly trotted out. There just aren't actual Scriptures that say that!

    Thanks very much for those answers Dan - I'll have too check out the Trueman thing.

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Dev, hmm. Are you thinking perhaps of Gen 24:7,40? That's an instance of God sending the Angel but the Angel not being seen (or at least it doesn't say the Angel was seen).

  5. Dev

    well dunno about the Gen 24 thing... not entirely sure where, but in the NT it is kind of implied that the Spirit is sent out from God, no doubt to proclaim about the Son

    what do you think of Acts 10?

  6. glenscriv

    i want a quiet life so i just reckon it's *an* angel. there's no definite article and matt 1 tells me there are angels without the article who aren't Christ. As for whether he's the Spirit??? To say anything more will take me *way* out of my depth so I'll shut up or you'll only get speculative nonsense!

  7. glenscriv

    Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the Trueman link, just read it. Very interesting. Of course doing bib theology doesn't mean you'll become unitarian - there are different kinds of biblical theology! We needn't assume progression from God => LORD => Trinity as does Goldsworthy. That's a pre-supposition of his grounded in other systematic commitments. I guess that's the problem - bib theologians claim to be doing 'pure' exegesis when there is no such thing. I engage in those sorts of issues in this post:

  8. Dev

    you sure it's just about the definite article and stuff?
    even the Matt 1 angel?
    ok.. let's not get into this... as yet =)

  9. Si

    It seems ironic that biblical theologians who have wanted to demonstrate the unity of the Bible have done this essentially by insisting on how different the Old and New Testament are. Perhaps starting with an agenda has been the problem. Whereas if we just keep proclaiming Christ through all the scriptures as he suggest we ought, we wouldn't run into such deep water. Enjoying the posts.

  10. glenscriv

    Thanks Si,
    Glad you came by and commented. I think that's absolutely right. It seems to me like 'progress' itself has become the point of continuity in the Scriptures rather than Christ. And there's all the difference in the world between 'progress towards Christ' and 'Christ' Himself as the point of unity.

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  12. John

    I love your study on the Angel of the LORD. I have composed a similar study and am delighted to see that I'm not the only one to see this glorious truth on display in the OT. In a sense, seeing the actual presence and mediatorial work of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the OT transforms your Bible and makes the Savior even more wonderful, if that is possible. One Mediator, one story, one Book.

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