The Ministry of the Angel of the LORD from the Period of the Judges to the Post-Exilic Period

(This article is a continuation of a previous post. For a fuller exposition of these passages, see my dissertation.)

Many writers and commentators agree that the Angel of the LORD described in the book of Judges is the same as the Angel of the LORD in the books of Moses and Joshua. Not all would agree that His ministry continues beyond the period of the Judges. Nevertheless, the Biblical evidence indicates that His ministry indeed continues. His identity is so well established, moreover, that even the common people (i.e., not just the leaders and prophets) speak of His divine identity and attributes (Jdg 6, 13; 2 Sam 14:17, 20; 19:27). During and after the period of the Judges, the involvement of the Angel of the LORD in the history of the nation continues in His calling of leaders, His establishment of the temple location, His protection of Jerusalem, His deliverance of individuals and His judging of idolatry. In addition, the prophets continue to speak of the Angel of the LORD both in terms of their history and their future as a nation. The remainder of this article presents both an outline and commentary on the passages in which the Angel of the LORD is mentioned explicitly and passages where there are strong indications that the Angel of the LORD is present.

C.       The Angel of the LORD from the period of the Judges to the establishment of the Temple at Jerusalem

  1. The Angel of the LORD judges Israel at Bochim (Jdg 2:1-5)
  2. The Angel of the LORD commands Israel to curse Meroz (Jdg 5:23)
  3. The Angel of the LORD calls Gideon (Jdg 6:11-24)
  4. The Angel of the LORD appears to Samson’s parents (Jdg 13:1-24)
  5. The LORD calls Samuel to the prophetic ministry (1 Sam 3)
  6. The Angel of God is described by common Israelites (2 Sam 14:17, 20; 19:27)
  7. The Angel of the LORD establishes the location of the “House of God” at Jerusalem (2 Sam 24; 1 Chron 21)

    As He had indicated in the book of the covenant (Exodus 23:20-23), God promised that His Angel would go with the people into the Promised Land. The presence of the Angel of the LORD (Captain of the LORD’s Host, Josh 5:23-25) with Joshua and Israel at the beginning of their military operations is complemented by His holding the people to account at the end of their campaign (Jdg 2:1-5). This brief passage shows His active and leading role in the life of the nation by detailing His movement from the temporary capital of Israel at Gilgal to a place of weeping (the meaning of the Hebrew word bochim) and by recording His rebuke of the people. In His rebuke, the Angel of the LORD Himself claims responsibility for leadership in the Exodus and declares the guilt of the people in disobeying Him personally (v.2). The sacrifice offered to Him at Bochim additionally emphasizes His identity as the God of Israel (Jdg 2:5). In Deborah’s song, which records the events of the Israel’s victory over Sisera, the Angel of the LORD directs Israel to curse a city called Meroz for failing to aid Israel in a battle against its enemies. This instruction further demonstrates the role of the Angel of the LORD as divine Judge (v.23; comp. Gen 18:25). A more familiar passage is the call of Gideon by the Angel of the LORD (Jdg 6). The narrator identifies Him as the LORD early in the narrative (v.14), and Gideon’s suspicion that He is indeed the LORD is proven true after he offers a sacrifice to Him and watches Him disappear. Knowing that He has seen the Angel of the LORD (i.e., the LORD), he believes he is going to die (v.22). After the LORD proclaims peace to him, Gideon builds a memorial altar for the appearance of God and names it “Jehovah-Shalom,” the LORD is peace. The Angel of the LORD also appears to the parents of Samson to give them instructions about the birth and life of this judge of Israel. At the end of this narrative, the Angel of the LORD again receives sacrifice from Samson’s father Manoah, and once again He is recognized as God (v.22).

    Careful attention to the call narrative of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 indicates the personal presence of the LORD in the tabernacle on the night He called Samuel to service. Verse 10 says that the LORD “came and stood, as at other times,” and spoke to him. In addition, verse 21 indicates that the LORD indeed appeared in Shiloh and revealed Himself “by the Word of the LORD.” Although the phrase “Word of the LORD” in the Old Testament refers frequently to abstract communication from God, it may also refer to the personal “Word of the LORD,” a name that is linked to the Angel of the LORD. (Compare Gen 5:1; Gen 32:28; 1 Kgs 18:31; Hos 12:2-6; see also Jer 1:4, 9.)

    A very significant act of the Angel of the LORD in the history of Israel and the Old Testament is His establishment of the location of the temple of the LORD. In this dramatic series of events, the Angel of the LORD executes judgment upon the nation after David numbers the people (2 Sam 24; 1 Chron 21), and then He appears to David at the threshing floor of Ornan on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (2 Sam 24; 1 Chron 21; see also Gen 22:2, 9). David offers sacrifice to Him, and declares the location to be the “house of the LORD God” and the altar he builds as the “altar of the burnt offering of Israel” (2 Chron 22:1). Solomon later builds the temple on this very spot (2 Chron 3:1), further indicating that Jerusalem is to be Israel’s place of worship.

    D.       The Angel of the LORD in the period of the Divided Kingdom

    1. The Angel of the LORD strengthens Elijah (1 Kgs 19:4-8)
    2. The Angel of the LORD confronts Ahaziah’s idolatry (2 Kgs 1:1-17)
    3. The Angel of the LORD defends Jerusalem (Isa 37; 2 Kgs 19; 2 Chron 32)
    4. Hosea prophesies of the Angel named Jehovah, the God of Hosts (Hos 12:2-6)
    5. Isaiah prophesies of the Angel of His [Jehovah’s] Presence (Isa 63:9)

    The division of the kingdom of Israel during the days of Rehoboam did not discontinue the ministry of the Angel of the LORD to either the northern or the southern kingdom. His ministry to the northern kingdom is evident from His ministry to Elijah the prophet (1 Kgs 19) and His judgment of Ahaziah for his idolatry (2 Kgs 1). In the days of Hezekiah, the Angel of the LORD also protected Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah from Sennacherib and his armies. The three-fold repetition in the Biblical record of this event demonstrates the magnitude of this deliverance by the Angel of the LORD (Isa 37; 2 Kgs 19; 2 Chron 32).

    In addition to His activity in the life of the nation, the Angel of the LORD appears in prophecy during this period of the divided kingdom. Hosea from the northern kingdom and Isaiah from the southern kingdom both speak of the Angel in terms of His historical ministry to the people of Israel. Isaiah identifies Him as the Angel of God’s Presence (lit., Angel of His Face) who led the nation out of Egypt (Isa 63), and Hosea identifies Him as the One with whom the patriarch Jacob wrestled. Isaiah’s title “Angel of His presence” indicates that the Angel mediates the presence of God with His people. When the Angel is present, God is present. Hosea also identifies the Angel as God, declaring that the Angel bears the memorial name of God, Jehovah. Indeed, He is Jehovah, God of hosts (Hos 12:5).

    E.       The Angel of the LORD in the Exilic and Post-Exilic Periods

    1. The Angel delivers the three Hebrew children (Dan 3)
    2. The Angel delivers Daniel (Dan 6)
    3. The Angel of the LORD intercedes for Jerusalem (Zech 1:6-7)
    4. The LORD who dwells in Israel’s midst (Zech 2:1-13)
    5. The Angel of the LORD cleanses Joshua the High Priest (Zech 3:1-10)
    6. The Angel of the LORD who went before Israel (Zech 12:8)
    7. The Angel of the Covenant who is coming (Mal 3:1)

    In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, the designation “Angel of His presence” applies to the deliverance of Israel out of the land of Egypt. It may also be understood as a timeless description of His ministry to His people. The Angel of Jehovah’s presence did indeed rescue Israel from Egypt, but He also rescued the city of Jerusalem from Sennacherib. The same Angel of Jehovah who delivered the nation and the capital of the nation, delivered individual Israelites when they were exiled from the land. During the exilic period, the Angel of the LORD rescues Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace and Daniel from the lion’s den (Dan 6). In the account of the fiery furnace, Daniel details Nebuchadnezzar’s description of the One in the fire with the three Hebrew children (Dan 3:25) as well as Nebuchadnezzar’s word of praise for the God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego who sent His Angel to rescue them (Dan 3:28; compare Isa 43:2). The Angel was the Agent of their deliverance.  In an equally dramatic deliverance, Daniel declares that God had saved from the lions by sending His Angel (Dan 6:20), the same word recorded in the earlier deliverance narrative (Dan 3:28).The parallel narratives of deliverance suggest the possibility that this is indeed the same divine Angel who delivered the three Hebrew children.

    Following the exile of Israel, the Zechariah prophesied to encourage the people during their return to the land and the building of the temple. Zechariah’s prophecy shows the Angel of the LORD as initiating that return by interceding for Judah (Zech 1). Although the Angel of the LORD is not mentioned explicitly in chapter 2, the distinction between the two divine Persons named Jehovah has led many to suggest that Jehovah who is sent to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem is indeed the Angel of the LORD. In Zechariah 3 the Angel of the LORD cleanses the sins of Joshua the son of Jehozadak and installs him as the new high priest of Israel. A final reference in Zechariah directly identifies the Angel of the LORD as God (Zech 12:8). Concluding the Old Testament doctrine of the Angel of the LORD is Malachi’s prophecy of the Angel of the Covenant. Malachi prophesies that the Lord (Hebrew: Adonai), also identified as the Angel (Hebrew: malak) of the Covenant, will suddenly come to His temple and purify the people (Mal 3:1). Prior to His arrival at the temple, however, He will send a messenger before Him to prepare the people for His coming (Mal 3:1). This prophecy of a messenger, which the New Testament applies to John the Baptist, directly links the Angel of the LORD to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

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