The Angel of the LORD 


Creaturely angels are not hard to come by: "some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13:2). But attentive Old Testament readers will have encountered a unique and startling double identification. In some passages we meet with a party called the "angel of the LORD" who is also revealed to be the LORD. In His voice there is none of the prophet's 'Thus saith the Lord,' no indication that He is speaking for another, not Himself. When He speaks, God speaks.


Manoah and His Wife Gideon
Moses at the Burning Bush Definition
Sacrifice of Isaac Hagar
Jacob the Wrestler Captain of the Lord's Host
Wilderness Trek Jesus the Sent One

Manoah and His Wife

The parents of Samson encountered this theophanic angel of the LORD. Manoah's wife first encountered Him: "And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son." (Judges 13:7). When He returned, they understood it was the LORD:



  • “"Then Manoah said to the Angel of the LORD, 'Please let us detain You, and we will prepare a young goat for You.'
  • "And the Angel of the LORD said to Manoah, 'Though you detain Me, I will not eat your food. But if you offer a burnt offering, you must offer it to the LORD.' (For Manoah did not know He was the Angel of the LORD.)
  • "Then Manoah said to the Angel of the LORD, 'What is Your name, that when Your words come to pass we may honor You?'
  • "And the Angel of the LORD said to him, 'Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?'
  • "So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD. And He did a wondrous thing while Manoah and his wife looked on — it happened as the flame went up toward heaven from the altar — the Angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar! When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. When the Angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the LORD.
  • "And Manoah said to his wife, 'We shall surely die, because we have seen God!'
  • "But his wife said to him, 'If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these at this time.'”
  • (Judges 13:14-23).




They feared to die, though this is not what happens to a man who encounters a created angel. They knew that they had seen the LORD Himself, and feared, knowing, "And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." (Exodus 33:20), though God graciously preserved their lives. It was the will of the angel of the LORD to befriend, reveal and teach rather than destroy.

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Gideon

Gideon also encountered the theophanic angel of the LORD:

"And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. . . And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man. And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.
"And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. 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 when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites." (Judges 6:1-18).

Again we see the hallmarks of this theophany: the shifting identification,— is this an angel, or the LORD? Also the willingness to accept worship even including sacrifice, which a created angel will not do; see for instance the angel of Revelation, who said, "See thou do it not:" "And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God." (Revelation 22:8-9). This angel speaks the words of the LORD in first person, with no prophet's preface of 'thus saith the LORD,' and willingly accepts worship. Who is He?

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Moses at the Burning Bush

Not only is this theophanic "angel of the LORD" acclaimed as God by those who encounter Him, He Himself claims to be God:

"And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, 'I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.'...Moreover He said, 'I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God...Then Moses said to God, 'Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they say to me, "What is His name?" what shall I say to them?' And God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And He said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you."'" (Exodus 3:2-14).

To put the bluntest possible point on the issue, when the theophanic "angel of the LORD" says to Moses, "I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" — is He fibbing, or is He telling the truth?

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Definition

From the time of Justin Martyr, Christians have affirmed, He's telling the Bible truth — He really is God — and He is a 'sent messenger', which is what 'angel' means. What is an 'angel,' literally speaking? A messenger:

04397 mal'ak
from an unused root meaning to despatch as a deputy. . .
AV - angel 111, messenger 98, ambassadors 4, variant 1; 214
1) messenger, representative
1a) messenger
1b) angel
1c) the theophanic angel

'Angel' means messenger, envoy or ambassador, one sent,— even if just a man: "Then Jacob sent messengers [malak Strong's 0439] before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom." (Genesis 32:3).  In its most literal meaning, the word does not specify any order of created heavenly beings — though God does maintain a stable of created, ministering spirits to fill this task.  Literally, it identifies a messenger, envoy or ambassador, one sent by another.  Even human beings can be dispatched as God's messengers, as was the prophet Haggai: "Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger [malak] in the LORD’S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD." (Haggai 1:13).  John the Baptist is the first 'malak', 'messenger', of Malachi 3:1: "'Behold, I send My messenger ['malak'], and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger ['malak'] of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts.'"  The first 'malak', 'angel' or 'messenger', is a human being, John the Baptist, as identified by Jesus in Matthew 11:10: "For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.'  Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:10-11).  The second 'malak', 'angel' or 'messenger of the covenant', is God Himself, God incarnate, Jesus Christ.




There is no room in 'Father-only' theology for a 'sent messenger' of the LORD who is also the LORD, leading to speculation about creaturely impersonation:

"A third view, however, is that the angel of the LORD is never the LORD but always a literal angel...In this view, the people that acknowledged the visitation of God were either mistaken in their belief that they had seen God Himself or, more plausibly, they recognized that God was using an angel to speak to them and therefore addressed God through the angel." (David Bernard, The Oneness of God, Chapter 2).

But would a "literal" angel indeed be a creature, not the Creator?  Centuries of greeting card art have conditioned us to visualize 'angels' as a peculiar order of created being, with a distinctive physiognomy incorporating wings.  There is no such implication in the Bible's use of this term; God Himself can be called an 'angel'! The God whom Jacob served Jacob calls "the Angel:"



  • “And he blessed Joseph, and said: 'God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
  • (Genesis 48:15-16);


  • “In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel ['malak'] of the LORD before them.”
  • (Zechariah 12:8).




Is God a 'literal' angel or a 'non-literal' angel? Jacob was no idolater, serving and worshipping the creature rather than the Creator; he followed the living God. Anti-trinitarians must deny one or another of the theophanic angel's attributes: either He cannot be God, or He cannot be sent.  Thus the Jehovah's Witnesses deny that He really is God, though He says He is.  But what do we call someone who lets on that He is what He is not?  While they realize that the One who said to Moses, "I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob", was the pre-incarnate Word of God, they fearlessly deny that what He was saying was true.  Yet how can one impute imposture or fraud to the very Truth?: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6).  There is no deceit in Him:

"And they made His grave with the wicked — but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth." (Isaiah 53:9);

"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth'..." (1 Peter 2:22).

If President Bill Clinton were to dispatch an envoy to France who, upon arrival, presented himself before the French authorities and boldly announced, 'I'm Bill Clinton', what would he be but a liar and a fraud? Impersonating the one who sent you as ambassador is not part of the job description.  Yet it's this very scam which the new religious movements impute to the theophanic 'angel of the LORD'.

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The Sacrifice of Isaac

The Bible record testifies that God Himself appeared to the patriarchs, not any creaturely imposter:

"And he said, 'Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, "Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you."'" (Acts 7:2).

In some manuscripts, Galatians 3:17 confirms Abraham encountered God in Christ: "And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ..." (Galatians 3:17).

If Abraham had been willing to sacrifice his only son to a created angel, how could he be acquitted of the charge of idolatry? God commanded the sacrifice of Isaac, as a trial: "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." (Genesis 22:1-2). There on mount Moriah Abraham encounters the angel of the LORD:

"But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' So he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.'" (Genesis 22:11-12).

To worship the creature rather than the Creator is idolatry: "...who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 1:25).

To vindicate Abraham, God's friend, from the charge of idolatry, the angel of the LORD to whom he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac must actually be the LORD, just as those who encountered Him thought.

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Hagar

Hagar was sure she'd encountered the living God: "Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, 'I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.'...Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, 'Have I also here seen Him who sees me?'" (Genesis 16:10-13).

Thankfully, God Himself confirms her identification.  Visiting Abraham, He confirms that it is He who promised Hagar He would multiply Ishmael's descendants and make of Him a great nation:

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.'...And Abraham said to God, 'Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!'  Then God said: 'No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly.  He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.'" (Genesis 17:1-20).

It's God's prerogative to multiply nations, or to let them wither on the vine; He hasn't assigned the task to any subordinate: "He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them." (Job 12:23). This is what the angel of the LORD told Hagar He would do.

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Jacob the Wrestler

Jacob even wrestled with Him: "Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day... And He said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.'" (Genesis 32:24-30). Hosea confirms it was the LORD with whom Jacob wrestled — and reveals in passing that this was no Jesse Ventura-style body slam, but more like a Queen-for-a-Day crying jag: "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; he wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us — that is, the LORD God of hosts. The LORD is His memorable name." (Hosea 12:3-5).


Holy, Holy, Holy

Jacob asked the wrestler His name, without response, but realized in the end that He had encountered God: "And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." (Genesis 32:29-30). His name is Wonderful:

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  • "That the name was not revealed to Jacob implies no wrongful motive on his part but rather the mystery of that name. Its unfolding could proceed only in keeping with the purposes of God for the manifestation of His beloved One. When in his day Manoah asked the same One (the Angel of the Lord) His Name, He replied in words identifical (in the Hebrew text) with those spoken to Jacob, 'Why askest thou thus after my name?' (Judg. 13:18), but He added, 'seeing it is secret [i.e. wonderful, A.S.V.]?' Here again is an anticipation of Isaiah 9:6, 'His Name shall be called Wonderful.' The name could be declared only when the time had come for the revelation of His person. . .
  • "That infinite name is unfolded in every treasure of His creation, for creation is all His handiwork. His name is told out in every wonder of the universe, the vastness of which mocks our comprehension. Into its beauty of design and harmony earth's greatest minds have delighted to search, but behind all its phenomena is He who is its ultimate reality, for 'these are parts of his ways' (Job 26:14). The name is unfolded in all the wonders of redemption, for this, too, is the work of Him who redeemed us by His precious blood. In the depth of His stoop, in the sufferings of His Cross, in His exaltation from the tomb to God's right hand, and in the triumphs of His grace in human lives, the name is declared. But where else except in the heart of the Father is that redemptive work and its cost fully known?"


  • (H. C. Hewlett, The Companion of the Way, pp. 42-43).




The Captain of the Lord's Host

"And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so." (Joshua 5:13-15).

Paul and Barnabas, who were men, were worshipped and objected violently:

"And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways." (Acts 14:11-16).

Worship is forbidden the creature: "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen." (Romans 1:25). There is only One who may lawfully be worshipped: "Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." (Matthew 4:10).

There are many angels of God who are created beings like us. But they will not allow a man to worship them: "And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10). Something is different here, because the captain of the Lord's host accepts Joshua's act of worship.

So why did the man with a sword accept Joshua's worship? It is not permitted in Biblical religion that either men or angels may receive worship. Who is He?

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Wilderness Trek

The children of Israel sojourned in the wilderness, owing to their rebellion, forty long years.



  • “Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified, or afraid of them. The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet, for all that, you did not believe the Lord your God, who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.”
  • (Deuteronomy 1:29-33).




It was God who led them. But it is simultaneously true that God Himself accompanied the people, and that "When we cried out to the Lord, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt; now here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your border." (Numbers 20:16). The reader will recall a dispute on this point. God threatened to withdraw His presence from the tumultuous multitude:

And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:2-3).

He will not, or He will? Moses intercedes, and,

"And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence." (Exodus 33:14-15).

The evidence on this point is genuinely confusing: God, or an Angel? And yet, as with many of the apparent conundrums of the Bible, there is a lesson enfolded within. Israel's guide was both; He was God Almighty, and a Sent One. This party should be familiar by now.

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Jesus the Sent One

Recall that 'angel' means, not 'winged creature', but 'messenger, envoy, ambassador'.  The 'angel of the LORD' who visited the patriarchs was God Himself, not any creature masquerading as God: "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them." (Exodus 6:3).

Who might have been 'sent' to Moses? God the Father?  But He has never been seen: "And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form." (John 5:37); "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father." (John 6:46).

Jesus, we know, has been 'sent': "So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.'" (John 20:21); "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17); "That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him." (John 5:23); "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:38-39); "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him." (1 John 4:9).

Consequently it is reasonable to conclude that the theophanic angel of the LORD is the pre-incarnate Logos.  He is the angel of God's presence: "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them All the days of old." (Isaiah 63:9). He guided Israel in the wilderness:

"Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him.  But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.  For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off." (Exodus 23:20-23).

There are two things to be reconciled here which threaten to fly off in divergent directions: on the one hand, God Himself, His face and His presence, travelled with the children of Israel, as promised, and on the other, it was, after all, an 'angel' who led them: "And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night." (Exodus 14:19-20). There is only one party in whom these two characters combine: the angel of the LORD, who is both God Himself and also a sent messenger. And the angel of the LORD took credit: "And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you." (Judges 2:1).

The Angel of His Presence is Christ, who was with the children of Israel in their wilderness sojourn: "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness...nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents..." (1 Corinthians 10:1-9).

The Old Testament theophanic 'angel of the LORD' is a sent 'messenger', yet also Jehovah God Himself.  In Whom do these attributes combine most fittingly, but in the person of Jesus Christ? This office of the pre-incarnate Christ testifies to a relation of sender-sent in God: God sends and is sent.  It's this recurring theme of the Old Testament for which anti-Trinitarians have no answer: "'Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,' says the LORD. 'Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.'" (Zechariah 2:10-11).



  • "When at last we are at home with Him, we shall see Him to be the One who, unseen, often communed with us, as He did with Abraham His friend, who wrestled with us as with Jacob——and with like ennobling touch, and who sought not to consume but to irradiate with His beauty, as in the bush which Moses saw. We shall see Him as the One who gave victory over the foe, as He gave it to Joshua, and who succored us in depths of discouragement, as He succored Elijah under the juniper tree. We shall see Him as the One who prepared us for service, revealing and purging our iniquity, as He did with Isaiah, and who strengthened us in that service in the loneliest day, as He did Ezekiel. We shall know Him as the One who walked with us in our fiercest trial, as He did with the three Hebrews, and whose revelation waas the consummation of life, as it was with Daniel. Then we will find that it was no mirage of earth that comforted us but the sight of 'Jesus at God's right hand,' as Stephen saw Him; that it was 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ' which was the treasure we carried in earthen vessels, as in Paul's experience...
  • "With such realization and such company we shall be wonderfully at home in Heaven. Events of earth that once seemed so strange will be understood then as truly preparatory to that bliss. No longer through a glass darkly, but face to face, we shall behold Him in whose presence we have ever been in our pilgrimage, God's glorious Son, in whom God will be fully known.
  • "There no stranger-God shall meet thee—
    Stranger thou in courts above—
    He who to His rest shall greet thee,
    Greets thee with a well-known love."

  • (H. C. Hewlett, The Companion of the Way, pp. 14-15).




The 'angel of the LORD' theophanies remain controversial, even amongst confessing Christians. Does Hebrews 1:13 leave room for this identification?: "But to which of the angels has He ever said: 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool?' Are they not all ministering spirits..?" (Hebrews 1:13-14).

God does maintain a stable of created beings to fill the job description of 'messenger': "Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!...For He commanded and they were created." (Psalm 148:2-5). The 'angels' as a class are created beings. For that matter, shepherds are as a rule created beings,— but the Chief Shepherd is Creator, not creature. And physicians are, by and large, created beings,— yet not the Great Physician. One could not say Jesus is 'one of the shepherds' or 'one of the physicians,' because His nature is not theirs. Yet He is pleased to share their job title, just as He shares that of 'messenger.'

The reader may wonder, how do the Rabbis, who do not believe in the Trinity, explain these texts? Their admitted answer is that they have no logical explanation for them:

"We read in Exod. 24.1, 'And unto Moses he said, Come up to the Lord.' Said the heretic to the Rabbi, 'If it was God who called Moses, it ought to be: And unto Moses he said, Come up to me.' The Rabbi answers that by the word he is meant the angel Metatron who commanded Moses to ascend to God, the Rabbi identifying this angel, 'whose name is like that of his master,' with the angel spoken of in chapter 23:20, 21. What follows now is not quite clear, but we see the heretic claiming quite logically worship for Metatron (and perhaps also the power of forgiving sin), whilst the Rabbi retorts, 'Faith in thy hands! We have not accepted him even as a messenger, as it is written, "If thy presence go not (with us), carry us not up hence"' (Exod. 33:16). The heretic thus urges logical consistency and is ready to develop a whole theology from a doubtful interpretation; the Rabbi is less logical, but merely insists upon the fact that Israel refused to give angels divine honors or divine prerogatives." (Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, pp. 41-42)

The exchange is related in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 38b:

"Once a Min [heretic] said to R. Idith: It is written, And unto Moses He said, Come up to the Lord. But surely it should have stated, Come up unto me! — It was Metatron [who said that], he replied, whose name is similar to that of his Master, for it is written, For my name is in him. But if so, [he retorted,] we should worship him! The same passage, however, — replied R. Idith says: Be not rebellious against him, i.e., exchange Me not for him. But if so, why is it stated: He will not pardon your transgression? He answered: By our troth we would not accept him even as a messenger, for it is written, And he said unto him, If Thy [personal] presence go not etc." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhredin, 38b).

You can either read the Bible in a logically consistent manner, or you can be a unitarian! It is overly optimistic to assume that, just because the Christian Trinity allows readers to make an orderly reconciliation of Bible theophanies, then anyone operating on the basis of any assumption at all can also reconcile them. The synagogue could not agree on the canonicity of Ezekiel, because visions of God are a problem for unitarians: "Rab Judah said in Rab's name: In truth, that man, Hananiah son of Hezekiah by name, is to be remembered for blessing: but for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been hidden, for its words contradicted the Torah." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, 13b). In the same way the angel of the LORD theophanies can be only partly retained by anti-trinitarians, who can retain the angel of the LORD's self-identification as God, or His mission as a sent messenger, but not both together. Trinitarians can affirm, "The Word of God is a matchless harmony; it is complete; nothing is lacking. Like the sun, it is to be studied in its own light." (H. C. Hewlett, The Companion of the Way, p. 145). A theology which enables the reader to discover in the Bible a "matchless harmony" rather than a bedlam of contradiction is a better theology.