Rembrandt's Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
When we chose to do a study on angels, I did a search in the NIV bible for each occurrence of the word angel. It occurs three hundred and nine times, by the way – eighty times in Revelation alone.* Occasionally angel is used to describe a personal attribute, like "My lord has wisdom like that of an angel". Usually though, angel describes a supernatural being who is interpreting a dream or vision, instructing , or doing awesome stuff. Then there is the designation, "Angel of the Lord".
It took a little while to sink in, but "angel of the Lord" seems to have a special utility. I initially took it to mean "an angel sent by God to enforce His will, but I've come to think of it differently. There are clear instances in the old testament when "the angel of the Lord" is speaking as God in first person, but there are are times when it is not so obvious. Instead of being an angel sent by God, this angel is acting in place of God, often engaging humans as God in the first person. God may even speak of them in the third person.
Also, there seems to be a difference between "An angel of the Lord" and "The angel of the Lord". The most obvious example is that An angel of the Lord only appears in the new testament whereas The angel of the Lord is almost exclusively old testament. (It's used in Matthew 1:24 subjective to Matthew 1:20.) In Luke 1:11 an angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah and is later identified as Gabriel. There are 65 instances of angel of the Lord.
Genesis 16:7-10 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." - verse 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."
Genesis 21:17-18 17. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."
FYI – Ishmael means "God hears". "The phrase "the angel of God" is used interchangeably with "the angel of the Lord".
Judges 6:12-14 12. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." 13. "But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian." 14. The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"
Genesis 32:24-30 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."
Exodus 3:2-6 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.
Judges 13:20-22 20. As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. 21. When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. 22. "We are doomed to die!" he said to his wife. "We have seen God!"
Exodus 14:18-20 18. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen." 19. Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20. coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
And of course,
Genesis 18:1-2 1. The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
*Ezekiel: despite all of the angels in Ezekiel, the word "angel" doesn't occur at all. Who knew?
That last one, with Abraham and his three visitors, is sometimes called a Christophany: Abraham is being visited by a pre-incarnate Christ. The bible calls the visitors men while they are in the presence of Abraham. Another example of an old testament Christophany would be the verse above where Jacob wrestles with God. Again, the bible refers to the wrestler as a man. It is not until after the struggle that Jacob realizes he has been wrestling with God. Old testament Christophanies are not universally accepted however, and the term is usually applied to new testament events.
Acts 22:6-9 6. "About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' 8. " 'Who are you, Lord?' I asked. 9. " 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
Acts 22:10-11 10. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. 11. The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.
Revelation 1:12-18 12. I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13. and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Genesis 3:8-9 8. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" 10. He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." 11. And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" 12. The man said, "The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
* I included a bit more than I needed to make my point. I've always liked this verse (12) because it's the first example of somebody throwing somebody under the bus.
Daniel 3:24-26 24. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king." 25. He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." 26. Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire,
Joshua 5 13-15 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.
There are examples where "the angel of the Lord" is not clearly defined:
Zechariah 1:11-1311. And they reported to the angel of the Lord , who was standing among the myrtle trees, "We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace." 12. Then the angel of the Lord said, "Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?" 13. So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
2 Samuel 24:15-16 15. So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
In the old testament, God made use of prophets when he wanted to communicate with the Israelites. Though the bible uses phrases like, "The Lord appeared to Abraham", God told Moses that "no one may see me and live." It may be that "The angel of the Lord" is simply a mechanism God uses to communicate with us; a way that we can see him in less than his full glory so as to receive his message in a non-lethal way.
John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.
Exodus 33:18-20 18. Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." 19. And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord , in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.
1 Timothy 6:13-16 13. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14. to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15. which God will bring about in his own time--God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16. who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
Exodus 24:9-11 9. Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10. and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
Genesis 12:7 7. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the Lord , who had appeared to him.