Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
Overt Christology in the Old Testament, part 2: the angel of Yahweh

Let me show you Jesus, hiding in plain sight…

Continued from part 1, on the word of Yahweh

We’ve seen that the word of Yahweh looks suspiciously like he is less of a voice heard by prophets, and more like—in John’s words—a person who is with God and is God.

But it would be nice if we had other passages to confirm that we’re reading Genesis 15, 1 Samuel 3 and Jeremiah 1 correctly. We can definitely see that the word is Yahweh; and it seems like he is also distinct from Yahweh. But are there any other places that more overtly illustrate this? Places where the word of Yahweh appears as a personal agent distinct from Yahweh?

Yes. And…no.

No in the sense that while there are other places in the Old Testament where the word of Yahweh appears, none of them are more clear than the ones I’ve already shown.

But yes in the sense that there are many places where a personal agent shows up, who is quite obviously with Yahweh, and is Yahweh.

He isn’t called the word. But he has a similar name: the malakh yahweh, the messenger of Yahweh. Or, more commonly, the angel of Yahweh (again, most translations substitute LORD for Yahweh, so will say the angel of the LORD).

The messenger of Yahweh as a parallel to the word of Yahweh

As with the word of Yahweh, we see the angel from very early on in the Old Testament. In fact, he appears in the very next chapter after the word does:

7 The angel of Yahweh found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur … 10 The angel of Yahweh also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of Yahweh said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because Yahweh has listened to your affliction. 13 So she called the name of Yahweh who spoke to her, “You are a god of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Genesis 16:7, 10, 11, 13

This looks very similar to the situation with the word of Yahweh. The messenger of Yahweh, the angel, has a title which indicates he is distinct from Yahweh—when you send a messenger, you do not send yourself. Moreover, he speaks of Yahweh in the third person (v 11)—when you speak of yourself, you speak in the first person. Yet at the same time, he also speaks in the first person, as if he were Yahweh (v 10); and Hagar calls him Yahweh, the god of seeing (v 13).

By the same token, the angel of Yahweh calls to Abraham as he is about to sacrifice Isaac, and says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12). This must refer to God himself, since he is the one who tested Abraham by commanding the offering in Genesis 22:1-2.

Then, later in Genesis, Jacob blesses his sons as follows:

the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys… Genesis 48:15-16; cf Genesis 31:11

And this pattern appears in Exodus 3: the angel of Yahweh appears to Moses in a fire in the bush, but when Moses comes to look, God calls to him out of the bush (Exodus 3:2, 4), and from that point on it is Yahweh himself speaking.

In Judges 6, the distinction between the angel and Yahweh himself is even more blurred:

11 Now the angel of Yahweh came and sat under the terebinth … 12 And the angel of Yahweh appeared to Gideon and said to him, “Yahweh is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 14 And Yahweh turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do I not send you?” 16 And Yahweh said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” …

19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes … 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of Yahweh reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of Yahweh vanished from his sight.

22 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of Yahweh. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord Yahweh! For now I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face.” 23 But Yahweh said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh and called it, Yahweh Is Peace. Judges 6:11-24, with omissions for clarity

Obviously the angel of Yahweh is the same character as the angel of God—it is common in Hebrew, as in English, to vary descriptions for the sake of interest. But is he the same character as Yahweh himself? You might imagine so, and the passage overall certainly implies that—especially since it is a common motif that you cannot see God and live (cf Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5; Revelation 1:17), which indicates that Gideon himself understood the angel to be Yahweh (v 22). This is corroborated by Judges 13:22, where Manoah clearly understands the angel to be God himself—something we’ll look at later. The point here, however, is that in verse 23, Yahweh then speaks to Gideon after the angel has vanished. Was he merely speaking from heaven? Or was he another character present simultaneous with the angel, as verse 14 implies—perhaps along the lines of Genesis 18:1-2? I’m not sure we can say for certain.

The word, the angel, and Yahweh together

Finally, we’re ready to look at the most interesting confabulation—a passage where not only is there ambiguity about whether the angel and Yahweh are different characters, but the word also gets added to the mix. This puts cement between the pieces of evidence we’ve pieced together so far—we can see we’re on the right track in thinking that the angel is the same person as the word.

Let me again quote at length to illustrate. I’ve made some minor changes so it’s easier to track what’s going on—so feel free to compare with your own Bible. Since the full content of the vision is not the point here, I’m going to splice bits together as usual; and I’ve included a couple of my own comments in brackets as well, because the vision is confusing as to who is speaking. Indeed, that is exactly the point:

7 …the word of Yahweh came to Zechariah the prophet: 8 I had a vision in the night, and look, a man riding on a red horse. And he was standing between the myrtle shrubs that were in the ravine, and behind him were red, brown, and white horses. 9 And I asked, “What are these, sir?”

And the angel who was talking with me said, “I will show you what these are.” 10 So the man standing between the myrtle shrubs [that is, the angel?] answered and said, “These are those whom Yahweh has sent to patrol the earth.”

11 And they answered the angel of Yahweh who was standing between the myrtle shrubs [that is, the man] … 12 The angel of Yahweh answered and said, “O Yahweh of hosts, how long will you have no compassion” …

13 Yahweh answered the angel who was talking with me. 14 And the angel who was talking with me said to me, “Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts:…’ ”

18 And I looked up and I saw, and look, there were four horns! 19 And I said to the angel who was talking with me, “What are these?”

And he said to me, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah…” 20 Then Yahweh [the angel?] showed me four skilled craftsmen, 21 and I asked, “What are these coming to do?”

And he answered, saying, “These are the horns that scattered Judah … but these have come to frighten them…” Zechariah 1:7-14, 18-21

The first thing to notice is how many translations fall foul of treating the word of Yahweh as a voice in the ear—they place quote marks at the beginning of verse 8. The fact that this renders the entire passage incomprehensible doesn’t seem to faze them. Clearly, given what we’ve learned about the word elsewhere, Zechariah is not saying that God recounted this vision to him. Rather, he is saying that the manner in which the word appeared to him was in the form of this vision.

This, of course, raises the question of which character the word is. Which in turn raises the question of who is speaking at any given time—a question we could fruitfully pursue throughout Zechariah’s visions, since the same pattern emerges where the distinction between the word of Yahweh, the angel of Yahweh, and Yahweh himself are highly ambiguous. Depending how you read this vision, and others, the word, the angel, and Yahweh could all be different characters—or they could all be the same character—or, more likely, there is genuine confusion as they seem to merge and separate throughout the course of the narrative.

The word who comes to Zechariah (v 7) is implicitly identified with the man on the horse (v 8), who in turn is identified as the angel of Yahweh (v 11). There could be a second angel present also (v 9), but that seems needlessly complex—the grammar doesn’t require it. More likely there is just the one. Yahweh himself is implicitly identified with the angel given the flow of thought in v 20, and elsewhere of course we’ve seen that they undoubtedly are identical—but there’s no escaping that they are separate characters who speak to each other in vv 12-13. I would not care to guess exactly how many characters are actually present in this vision, or even whether there are a set number throughout!

What does all this have to do with Jesus?

Obviously I am gunning for the conclusion that the angel and the word are both Jesus. I think that’s undeniable just from the structure of events. But before we move into New Testament evidence, there are at least three more ways in which God reveals Jesus in the Old Testament. The first is closely related to the angel—we’re not done with him yet.

There is admittedly a certain amount of anachronism to calling the second person of God Jesus prior to the incarnation. However, it is a biblical anachronism, and I am following Jude 1:5 (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4, 9).

Continued in part 3, on the face of Yahweh

4 comments

  1. Kent McDonald

    Thanks for another great lesson on Christophanies. I am enjoying your posts.

  2. Olive Anthony

    My mother taught me these truths about Christ in the Old Testament when I was a little girl. That understanding gave me the ability to understand the whole of scripture. This knowledge is from the Holy Spirit revealing Christ to our hearts. I pray that your wonderful opening up of these scriptures will be read by many. I plan to pass them on to whoever will receive them.

  3. Andrew

    Nitpick question: is it “Jesus”, or is it “the Son, whom will be named Jesus in his incarnation”?

    Or, to put it another way, was the Word named “God Saves” from the beginning, or is this name given him at his incarnation?

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    While Jesus is most correctly the name referring to the incarnate Word, I’m using it colloquially to refer to any appearance of the Son in human history.

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