Angel of the Lord

Angel of the Lord
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Gustave Doré, 1855, Granger Collection, New York.

The Angel of the Lord (or the Angel of God) is one of many terms in the Hebrew Bible (also: Old Testament) used for an angel. The Biblical name for angel, מלאך mal'ach, which translates simply as "messenger," obtained the further signification of "angel" only through the addition of God's name, as ("angel of the Lord," or "angel of God", Zech. 12:8).


Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible the noun malak "messenger" is used 214 times of which approximately (according to translations in the King James Version) 103 times concern human messengers and 111 times concern heavenly messengers.[1] In English versions the term malak YHWH is often transcribed with small caps "angel of the Lord."


In the Greek Old Testament, the term "angel of the Lord" is used, aggelos Kyrios, prefiguring usage in the New Testament.[2] The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo identified the Angel of the Lord (in the singular) with the Logos.[3]

Examples of the term "Angel of the Lord" in the Hebrew Bible

The term angel of the Lord occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Bible (always singular), whereas the term angel of God occurs 12 times (2 of which are plural).

  • Genesis 16:7-14. The Angel of the Lord appears to a woman named Hagar. The Angel speaks as God in the first-person, and in verse 13 Hagar identifies the visitor as God.
  • Genesis 22:11-15. The Angel of the Lord appears to Abraham and, again, refers to God in the first-person.
  • Exodus 3:2-4. The Angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a flame in verse two, and God speaks to Moses from the flame in verse four.
  • Numbers 22:22-38. The Angel of the Lord meets the prophet Balaam on the road. In verse 38, Balaam identifies the Angel who spoke to him as God.
  • Judges 2:1-3. The Angel of the Lord appears to Israel and identifies Himself as God.
  • Judges 6:11-23. The Angel of the Lord appears to Gideon. In verse 14 the Angel refers to Himself as God; in verse 21 the Angel allows Gideon to sacrifice to Him as to God ("Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight."), and in verse 22 Gideon fears for his life because he was in the presence of God.
  • Judges 13:3-22. The Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife, and, in verse 22, is identified as God.

Examples of the term "Angel of God" in the Bible

  • Genesis 31:11. The Angel of God calls out to Jacob in the dream, Where Jacob answered, ‘Here I am.’" And the Angel tells him "I am the God of Bethel".
  • Exodus 14:19. The Angel of God leads the camp of Israel, and also follows behind them, with the pillar of fire. This is the same "angel" referred to in Exodus 23:20-23, whose voice God instructs the Israelites to "obey", and who will "pardon transgressions", because God says that His Name is "within him."[citation needed]
  • Judges 13:9. The Angel of God approached the wife of Manoah while she was out in the field, after the Lord heard Manoah, but Manoah was not with her.

When a biblical character sees an angel identified as the angel of the Lord, this is often interpreted as a theophany.[4]

In the Hebrew Bible the term malak YHWH (Hebrew for "messenger of Yahweh", in English KJV "angel of the Lord" with small caps) occurs only in the singular, usually with the definite article, and often signifies a special self-manifestation of God (see Gen. 31:11-13, where the angel of God says, "I am the God of Beth-el"; Ex. 3:2-6, where the angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses in the flame of fire says, "I am the God of thy father"; compare Gen. 22:11; Judges 6:11-22).[citation needed]

At times the Angel of the Lord speaks in such a way as to assume authority over previous promises (see Gen. 16:11 and 21:17). Though appearing in human form (see Gen. 18:2 et seq., 32:25; compare Hosea 12:5), the Angel of the Lord may or may not have individuality.[citation needed]

However, there are subsequent passages that narrow the individuality by referencing man's ability or willingness to see or hear the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively.[citation needed] In the Old Testament, human servants of God and angels did receive homage from people. (Daniel 2:46; 8:16,17) However, after the ascension of Christ, angels specifically request that man not worship them (see Rev. 19:10, 22:9) while the Angel of the Lord and the angel of God make no such request.[citation needed]

The identity of the Angel of the Lord, is elsewhere comparable to "hammal'ak haggoel", "the redeeming Angel" or "the Angel the Redeemer" (see Gen. 48:16); "mal'ak panaiv", "the Angel of God's presence" (see Isaiah 63:9); and "mala'k habberith", "the Angel of the Covenant" (Malachi 3:1). These are also generally considered to be the same in identity with what the Septuagint calls "megas boule aggelos", "the Angel of the Great Counsel" (Isaiah 9:6), the one that is said to redeem man and fill the earth with righteousness.[5]

Within the Hebrew Bible, there is no uniform conception of angels. In Jacob's dream they ascend and descend the ladder (Gen. 28:12); in the vision of Isaiah (6:2) they[citation needed] are six-winged seraphim[citation needed]; in Ezekiel the cherubim and living creatures (ḥayyot) have the likeness of a man, are winged, and have feet (Ezek. 1:5-7, 10:19-21). As guests of the biblical patriarch Abraham, they eat (Gen. 18:8); in the house of Manoah the angel refuses to eat (Judges 13:16). Whether in the popular mind these angels took the place of the powers of nature deified by the heathen nations elsewhere, or whether the psychological process was a different one, the monotheism of Israel necessitated the assumption of beings representing a heavenly hierarchy ready to mediate between man and God.[citation needed][original research?]

Angel of his Presence

A related term is "angel of his Presence" used just once, in Isaiah 63:9. There it says that throughout the history of Israel, God has loved and been merciful to that nation and shared in its distresses, saving Israel with "the angel of his presence".[6] Some theologians believe that the Septuagint emphasizes that "Angel of the Presence" is simply a way of referring to God, not a regular or created angel.[7] In the Pseudepigrapha, in the Book of Jubilees, the Angel of the Presence explains to Moses the history of Israel.[8] Jubilees depicts this entity as one of God's special agents and does not provide him with a specific name.[9] In the Testament of Judah, Judah states that he has received blessing from the Angel of the Presence.[10] The Second Book of Enoch identifies Uriel as the Angel of the Presence or else as one of the Angels of the Presence.[11]

New Testament

In the New Testament the Greek phrase ἄγγελος Κυρίου (aggelos kyriou - "angel of the Lord") is found in Matthew 1:20, 1:24, 2:13, 2:19, 28:2; Luke 1:11, 2:9; Acts 5:19, 8:26, 12:7, 12:23. None of these are citations from the Old Testament. The "angel of the Lord" of Luke 1:11 identifies himself as Gabriel in Luke 1:19.[12]

Christian views

The KJV and NKJV capitalize "Angel", possibly to indicate that it is a specific angel. Most versions, including NASB, RSV, ESV, etc., do not capitalise angel of the Lord.

Roman Catholic

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) treats the Angel of the Lord as an angel bearing the name of God. The view is that this angel was probably Christ, "the Only-begotten Son, the Angel of great Counsel."[13]

Eastern Orthodox

Most Eastern Fathers followed the line of thought that the "Angel of the Lord" was "the Word of God", who was "foreshadowing the sublime character in which He is one day to reveal Himself to men", and that his appearances in the Old Testament were preludes to the Incarnation.[13]

Protestant and Evangelical Christianity

During the Reformation the Angel of the Lord was usually considered a general representative of God the Father, due to several verses stating that no one can look upon the face of YHWH and live.[14]

In Evangelical Christianity, some commentators interpret the phrase "Angel of the Lord" in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to a pre-human appearance of Jesus Christ or Christophany. Others comment the functions of the Angel of the Lord prefigure Christ, and there is no clear mention in the New Testament because the Messiah himself is this person.[15]

Jehovah's Witnesses

The official position of Jehovah's witnesses is that the "Angel of the Lord" who led the Israelites in the wilderness, and who had "God's Name within him", and who would pardon transgressions, was the pre-existent Christ. They believe that the Angel of the Lord is also the Archangel Michael, the Prince of Israel, who is mentioned in Daniel. They teach that this was "God's first-begotten Son".[16]

See also

  • angels


  1. ^ malak - frequency
  2. ^ Hugh Pope, Catholic Encyclopedia 1907 "Angels"
  3. ^ Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume 1, Continuum, 2003, p. 460.
  4. ^ Douglas K. Stuart Exodus 2006 p109 "Now, however, God, in the form of the "Angel of the LORD" (see excursus below, "The Angel of the Lord") appeared in a fire theophany (see excursus below, "Fire Theophany") to Moses"
  5. ^ Russell, Ryan. "God, Hagar and Authority". Christian Knowledge. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Mark Bredin (2006). Studies in the Book of Tobit: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 124. ISBN 0567082296. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  7. ^ Margaret Barker (2003). The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 110–111. ISBN 0567089428. Retrieved August 2, 2011. 
  8. ^ Margaret Barker (1992). The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 85. ISBN 0664253954. Retrieved August 2, 2011. 
  9. ^ Andrei A. Orlov (2005). The Enoch-Metatron Tradition. Mohr Siebeck. p. 126. ISBN 3161485440. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  10. ^ Gustav Davidson (1994). A Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels. Scrollhouse. p. 40. ISBN 002907052X. Retrieved August 2, 2011. 
  11. ^ Gabriele Boccaccini; Giovanni Ibba, Jason von Ehrenkrook, James Waddell, Jason Zurawski (2009). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 142. ISBN 0802864090. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  12. ^ Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible - << Luke 1:11 >> - - Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  13. ^ a b Pope, Hugh. "Angels." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. accessed 20 Oct. 2010
  14. ^ Exodus 33:20-23
  15. ^ Louis Goldberg Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Angel of the Lord "The functions of the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament prefigure the reconciling ministry of Jesus. In the New Testament, there is no mention of the angel of the Lord; the Messiah himself is this person."
  16. ^ "Your Leader Is One, the Christ" - The Watchtower - Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom - September 15, 2010, pg 21.

Further reading

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