Who is the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament?
The angel of the Lord is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. We want to briefly answer the question as to his identity.
Let’s read the beginning of the report of the burning bush:
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 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. 7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. (Exod 3:1–7 NIV)
The name of God “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” (exact spelling unknown) denotes God, our heavenly Father, and is translated as “Lord”.
God was within the burning bush (verses 2+4) and spoke to Moses. Moses was afraid to look at God whom he saw (see also Exod 4:1+5). He saw God (in Hebrew “elohim”); it is not written that he would had seen Yahweh.
Later Yahweh said to Moses: “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exod 33:20); so it is not possible that Yahweh would had shown him his face. It is written here that he saw God and not that he would had seen a part of God; so I do not believe that he saw a part of Yahweh like his back or a part of his front. Further, if he had seen Yahweh (or a part of him), he would not have asked Yahweh later “show me your glory” (Exod 33:18). Later Moses was greatly honored by Yahweh passing by and allowing him to gaze upon him (Exod 33:19–23).
Moses didn’t see Yahweh in the bush, but he saw God. So whom did he see? I only know one who comes into question: Jesus is God (Isa 9:5; Ps 45:7+8 with Heb 1:8+9; Isa 40:3 with Mt 3:3; Ps 50:6 or Ps 82:1+8 with Jn 5:22; Jn 20:28+29; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; 1 Jn 5:20; Rev 1:8 with Rev 22:13) and he already existed “before the creation of the world” (Jn 17:24; Jn 8:58; Jn 1:1–3 with 1 Jn 1:1 or Rev 19:13).
So Jesus is the angel of the Lord.
The Hebrew word for God (“elohim”) is in the plural. Therefore, verse 6 literally says:
Then he said, “I am the Gods of your father, the Gods of Abraham, the Gods of Isaac and the Gods of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at Gods.
Moses saw Jesus and indirectly Yahweh; to that extent he saw gods.
There is another piece of evidence that Jesus is the angel of the Lord: The angel of the Lord announced the birth of Samson, informed his parents about his calling and instructed them. Then Samson’s father Manoah sacrificed a burnt offering to Yahweh and the following happened:
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!” (Judg 13:20–22 NIV)
Manoah realized that they did not just see an angel sent by Yahweh, but even God. He realized: The angel of the Lord is God. Here, as in most other Old Testament passages, the Hebrew word for God (“elohim”) is plural.
Also the following scriptures show that the angel of the Lord is God. First, we read the Bible passage where the angel of the Lord met Hagar, the slave of Abram’s wife Sarai, after Hagar became pregnant by Abram:
11 And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael…” 13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Gen 16:11–13 ESV)
So the angel of the Lord is a “name of the Lord”, that is a name of Yahweh, that is a name of God. Hagar also recognized that she saw God.
Another Bible passage is about Balaam when Balak, king of Moab, wanted him to curse Israel. Balaam met the angel of the Lord on his journey:
The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials. (Num 22:35 NIV)
A few verses after that we read:
4 and God met Balaam… 5 And the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said… (Num 23:4+5 ESV)
Balaam was only allowed to speak what the angel of the Lord would tell him. And then God or Yahweh told Balaam what he should speak (also in Num 23:16; see also Num 24:2+4). So the angel of the Lord is God.
Finally, we look at the following scripture:
1 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 ancestors. I said, “I will never break my covenant with you… 2 …” Yet you have disobeyed me… 3 And I have also said, “I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.” ’ 4 When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, (Judg 2:1-4 NIV)
Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt and with whom did the Israelites make a covenant? That was Yahweh who is God. The angel of the Lord again delivered messages from God in the first person. Here it shows again that the angel of the Lord is God.
Above we have shown in connection with the report of the burning bush that the angel of the Lord is not our heavenly Father Yahweh but Jesus.