The Angel of Jehovah carries with him an air of mystery. Who is he? He seems far more than an ordinary angel. Some identify him with Jehovah and even with Christ. If this is so, then the angel is a theophany, a manifestation of God in visible and bodily form before the incarnation of Christ. What evidence is there that this angel might be Jehovah or even the eternal Son of God?
His Identity With Jehovah
The title Elohim (“the mighty one”) was used of both the true God and the gods of the heathen. But the title Jehovah (Heb. Yahweh) was reserved for the God of Israel, the eternally self-existent One who made the heavens and the earth. The angels in general are called “the sons of God” (bene elohim), but never “the sons of Jehovah.” Therefore, since this one has a singular and peculiar title, “the Angel of Jehovah” (malak Yahweh), we may suspect that he was more than an angel.
From a number of appearances throughout biblical history, we notice this angel consistently presented as Jehovah. He found Hagar (Genesis 16:7) and promised to do himself what God alone can (v. 10). Moses, the writer, identifies the angel as “Jehovah that spake unto her” (v. 13 ASV).
When this angel appeared to Moses “in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2), verse 4 says “God called unto him out of the midst of the bush.” The one who spoke with Moses is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses hid his face for fear of looking upon God (v. 6).
The record of Gideon’s commission identifies the one who spoke to him as “the angel of Jehovah” (Judges 6:12 ASV) and as “Jehovah” (v. 14 ASV) without any notice of change of speaker.
His Distinction From Jehovah
This angel, while identified as Jehovah, is presented as distinct from Jehovah. In Zechariah 1:9-11 we see that the man among the myrtle trees was the Angel of Jehovah and that Jehovah had sent the horsemen who were to report to this angel. Their separate identity also appears in verses 12 and 13 where the Angel of Jehovah intercedes for Jerusalem as he speaks to Jehovah.
In the visions of the cleansing of Joshua, Zechariah saw the Angel of Jehovah defending this priestly leader of Israel against the accusations of Satan in the presence of Jehovah (3:1,2). How can there be more than one person called Jehovah?
His Identity With Christ
Christ, the eternal Son, is Jehovah in essence, yet a distinct person within the Trinity (note John 1:1,2; Hebrews 1:8,9). He is the visible God of the New Testament, just as the Angel of Jehovah was in the Old Testament.
The ministries of the Angel of Jehovah were many and varied. He was obviously God’s special representative to His people in the Old Testament, just as Christ was in the New Testament. Their ministries were surprisingly parallel and argue for the identification of the angel with Christ.
1. Revelation. Outstanding in this angel’s ministries of revelation was that of disclosing God’s name, Jehovah (Exodus 3:2,4,6,14). Jesus Christ is the permanent revelation of God in bodily form (John 1:14,18; Colossians 2:9), and He also revealed God’s name (John 17:6) by word and person.
2. Commission. On the same occasion, the angel commissioned Moses to deliver God’s people from Egyptian bondage and lead them to the promised land (Exodus 3:7,8). He also called and commissioned Gideon (Judges 6:11-23) and Samson (Judges 13:1-21). Jesus Christ called and commissioned His disciples and us to deliver men from sin with the Gospel (Matthew 28:19,20; John 20:21).
3. Protection. His protecting ministry was renowned in David’s days. Psalm 34:7 declares, “The angel of Jehovah encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (ASV). Jesus Christ is our Protector. We need not fear man because “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).
4. Intercession. The Angel of Jehovah interceded for Israel when they were oppressed by their enemies. He asked God to act to deliver them (Zechariah 1:12,13). Our High Priest ever lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).
5. Advocacy. Zechariah pictures the angel as the advocate of God’s imperfect believers, defending them against the accusations of Satan (Zechariah 3:1-7). Jesus Christ the Righteous is our Advocate (1 John 2:1,2).
6. Confirmation of the covenant. The angel confirmed the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 22:11-18). Christ was sent to confirm the promises to Israel for their deliverance, and the forgiveness of sins for all (Matthew 26:28; Romans 15:8,9; Hebrews 9:15).
7. Comfort. The Angel of Jehovah found and comforted the outcast slave woman Hagar, promising her safety and a great progeny (Genesis 16:7-13). Christ came with comfort and blessing (Luke 4:16-19) and ministered to the outcast (John 9:35-38; 16:1-4).
8. Judgment. When Satan had provoked David to number Israel, God was displeased and sent the Angel of Jehovah to partially destroy Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21:1,14-16). During the Great Tribulation, the Lord Jesus shall judge His people Israel along with unbelieving earth-dwellers (Matthew 24:44-51; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
The Angel of Jehovah is equal in essence with Jehovah and yet distinct from Jehovah. The only answer to this seeming contradiction is that he is a preincarnate appearance of our Lord Jesus. Some of his ministries are those that only God Himself can do and are so extensively parallel with Christ’s ministries that they argue further for his identity as the preincarnate Christ.
—From Angels Elect and Evil by C. Fred Dickason, Moody Publishers, copyright © 1975, 1995.