Genesis 16:5-7 "And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence. 7 Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur."
"The Deity, in Old Testament times, revealed Himself to man in varied forms. There were occasions when He manifested Himself through the elements of nature, such as fire and cloud. At other times He was seen of men in the form of a created being, such as man or angel."
Finestone later notes in the same article:
"But perhaps the more frequent mode of theophany found in the Old Testament is seen in the appearances of 'The Angel of Jehovah.'"
Whenever you study the Bible, the aim is to see where you can find either the Person of, prophecies about or promises concerning Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament we find at least fifteen references to a mysterious figure that is identified as the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 21:17; 22:11; 32:24-32; 48:16; Exodus 3:2; 14:19; Joshua 5:23; 6:12; 13:3; Psalm 34:17; Isaiah 63:9; Zechariah 12:8; Hosea 12:4). Sometimes the Angel of the Lord will be alternately referred to as "The Angel of God" or the "Angel of Jehovah" - with this same figure having Divine attributes and authority.
In today's post we want to explore some of the first texts that have to do with the Angel of the Lord. This post will submit that the figure known as the "Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament was none-other than a pre-incarnate (that is, the Eternal Son's pre-existence prior to His virginal conception and incarnation as the man Jesus of Nazareth) appearance of the Son of God to various Old Testament persons. The purpose of today's study will be: to discover what Jesus did in the Old Testament, and how those activities served to point the way to what He would do in the New Testament.
Meet the Angel of the Lord - Genesis 16-21
It had been nearly ten years since God had promised them both that Abraham and she would be a blessing to many nations through the promised seed of Genesis 12. Abraham was 86 years of age and Sarah would had been in her late seventies when the events of Genesis 16 occurred.
Sarah decided it was time to intervene and so she convinced Abraham to take her Egyptian maid Hagar as a second wife and sire a child. Abraham did that and when Hagar conceived the child, she began to look down on Sarah, with Sarah in turn resenting Hagar (see Genesis 16:1-6). The boiling point would be reached thirteen years later in Genesis 21 with Sarah (provoked by Ishmael's relentless treatment of Isaac) urging Abraham to compel Hagar and her son Ishmael to leave. And so Hagar and Ishmael leave as outcasts. In both Genesis 16 and Genesis 21 we see the mysterious figure of the Angel of the Lord appear and discover the following truths about Him:
1. Appears at the right time. Genesis 16:7; Genesis 21:17
The first thing we notice about the appearance of the Angel of the Lord is that He appears at the right time. Here in Genesis 16 and 21, Hagar at both times is on the run with her son to escape the scorn of an angry Sarah. Both times it seems as if both Hagar and Ishmael are going to perish. Hagar, whose name in the Hebrew comes from a root meaning "to forsake, to flee, to wander" is in the greatest of need. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible notes: "It is amazing how often the appearance of the 'Angel of the Lord' marked a turning point in history, or sparked the innovation of some project with long-lasting consequences."2
The Angel of the Lord appearing at the right time in Hagar's life foreshadows another incident in which Jesus would meet with the woman at the well in John 4. Theologian Dr. Sinclair Ferguson made the observation in a sermon one time that what Jesus was doing in Genesis 16 with Hagar was almost like a test run for what He really wanted to do later on in ministering to people like the woman at the well. Galatians 4:4 reminds us that the Son came in human flesh in the fullness of time. No doubt the Son's pre-incarnate (again, "before the flesh") appearances as the Angel of the Lord would foreshadow His ultimate timing as the Messiah, the sin bearer, God incarnate.3
Hagar bears witness to the fact of the Angel's Deity and saving power by the names she ascribes to the well of water provided by Him. Genesis 16:13 states - "Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered." So from the Angel of the Lord's ability to appear at the right time, we can see the first parallel and proof that this is an appearance of the Divine Son before the flesh. In the Son's incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, we find Him appearing at the right time. But notice a second truth about the Angel of the Lord, and how we see Jesus...
2. Brings forth Divine words. Genesis 16:8-12; 21:18
Genesis 16:10-12 is a prophecy spoken directly by the Angel of the Lord to Hagar. Whenever you go throughout the rest of scripture, you will find the prophetic formula: "it is written" or "thus saith the Lord" as indicative of Divine utterance. When the Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, began His first sermon (the Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew 5-7, a third phrase was uttered from His lips that revealed Divine authority. In His teaching, Jesus told the crowds of how they "heard it said" from the Jewish traditions such and such, but then Jesus said next: "But I saw to you" (Matthew 5). That phrase "But I say to you", is equal in authority to the statements: "it is written" and "thus says the Lord".
On some of the other occasions where we see the Angel of the Lord throughout the Old Testament, we find Him speaking Divine words. For example, His speaking forth from the burning bush to Moses in Exodus 3 reveals that He is Jehovah, Yahweh, I AM who I AM. That same title "I am" is spoken by Jesus about Himself is the basis for the seven "I am" statements throughout John's gospel.
When Jesus appeared in the Old or New Testament, that is, "before the flesh" as the Angel of the Lord or "in the flesh" as God incarnate, He would bring forth Divine words and appear at just the right time. But notice one more one more truth about the Angel of the Lord...
3. Clearly is God revealed. Genesis 16:13-15; 21:19-21
We also know from Hagar's specific statements in Genesis 16 that she really believed she saw Yahweh, God Himself. Hebrews 1:1-2 aids us in making these connections: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." Jesus says of course in John 14:9 "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father". The question of course is: does the New Testament and Old Testament alike draw a straight line directly from the Angel of the Lord to Jesus Christ as being one and the Same person? we can answer this question in the affirmative. If the reader is interested in the details of showing the connection between "The Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the New Testament, just follow endnote "4" at the end of this post.4
The Bible's internal logic dictates that we interpret the Angel of the Lord to be none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. When you meet the Angel of the Lord throughout the Old Testament, you are getting a glimpse into the pre-incarnate life of the Divine Son - Jesus Christ. The following three-fold pattern was discovered, showing how the Angel of the Lord is none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God:
1. Appear at the right time
2. Brings Divine words
3. Clearly reveals God
1. Daniel G. Finestone. Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra - Volume: BSAC 095:379 (Jul 1938). Is the Angel of Jehovah in the Old Testament the Lord Jesus Christ?
2. Merrill C. Tenney, editor. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Volume 1. Zondervan. 1976. Page 163
3. But why Hagar? Why would the Son make such a special appearance to this slave woman and her son? What could be the possible benefit to preserving both she and her son? Two observations that may shed light on the significance of the Angel of the Lord first appearing to Hagar. First, if Hagar and Ishmael would had died, prophecy and God's Ultimate will for Israel and the middle east would had been interrupted. God's plans for Israel's future restoration includes the hostilities and pressure that would be brought on by the conflict between the descendants of Isaac (Israel) and those of Ishmael (the Arab nations). All that is going on over in the middle East today is a result of the events and prophetic predictions of both Genesis 16 and 21.
4. Consider for a moment Jacob's historic wrestling match with the mysterious "man" of Genesis 32:24-32. After that match Jacob calls the place where they wrestled :"Peniel" in recognition of the fact He saw God face to face and lived to tell about it. (Genesis 32:30) Draw the line from Genesis 32 to what we read in Hosea 12:4 - "Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed;He wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel and there He spoke with us". The text unmistakably calls the mysterious opponent of Jacob "The Angel" and identifies that personage as God. Now connect the dots once more to 2 Corinthians 4:6 "For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Thus the connection is complete: Jacob saw God's face in Genesis 32, with what Hosea 12 describes as "the Angel" and who now being incarnate has a face in which we see God in human flesh in 2 Corinthians 4:6.