Continued from part 2, on the angel of Yahweh
We’ve seen that the angel of Yahweh is actually Jesus. The way he is described in the Old Testament clearly reflects the Christology we get from the New Testament, where Jesus is God and is with God (John 1:1).
But the angel makes many other appearances in the Old Testament, and reveals Jesus in a couple of other ways. I’ll look at the first here, and the second next time. To start with, we need to talk about faces.
In Hebrew, the word for “face” is panim (pah-NEEM). But it is more flexible than “face”; so one of the ways it is used is to stand in for the identity of a person. Since we identify people personally by their faces, panim can be used to describe the personal presence of someone. Naturally enough, when used in this way, it is typically translated as presence in our English Bibles.
For example, in Genesis 4:14, 16, Cain complains:
“Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your panim I shall be hidden…” Then Cain went away from the panim of Yahweh and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
The point of the passage is that Cain is speaking to God in person; and he can no longer do this after being exiled. The same idea is behind the name Peniel—“face of God”—in Genesis 32:30: Jacob had a personal, physical encounter with God there. By the same token, the bread of the presence (Exodus 25:30 etc) is actually the bread of the panim, the bread of the face.
Now, obviously the Bible doesn’t exclusively use panim like this. For example, when Psalm 44:3 refers to the light of God’s face, it is probably a metaphor for a smile, rather than speaking of his presence per se. But it does use panim to speak of God’s personal, physical presence quite often; and in Exodus we find one especially instructive example:
When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and Yahweh would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus Yahweh used to speak to Moses panim to panim, as a man speaks to his friend…
Moses said to Yahweh, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
14 And Yahweh said, “My panim will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:9-14; cf Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 5:4
This is echoed in Deuteronomy 4:37, which says that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt “with his own panim, by his great power”.
We know from Exodus 33 that although God appeared as a man, he did so out of the pillar of cloud and fire which went with Israel out of Egypt:
And Yahweh went before them by day within a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night within a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22; cf Leviticus 16:2b
But here’s where this gets interesting (and returns us to our topic). Look at how the passage continues, describing what happens when Pharaoh pursues Israel:
Then the angel of God, who was going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp; it was a dark cloud and it lit up the night so that one camp did not come near the other the whole night. Exodus 14:19-20
Now, at first glance it looks like there was both an angel and a pillar of cloud/fire going before the camp. But that doesn’t do justice to what we have already seen in Exodus 3:2, where the angel appeared in the fire. Given that no angel has been mentioned in Exodus 12-14 up until this point, it doesn’t make sense to imagine Moses is introducing a new character. Since he has already shown in Exodus 3 that the angel of God appears in fire, and that the angel is conterminous with God (Exodus 3:2, 4), we should therefore understand Exodus 14:19 as saying that because the angel of God moved behind the camp, the pillar of cloud did also. It is taking for granted that the pillar “contains” the angel, or the angel is “producing” the pillar.
Once again, then, we see that the angel is Yahweh. Yet Numbers 20:16 clearly ascribes the deliverance of Israel to an angel sent from Yahweh:
And when we cried to Yahweh, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.
This, of course, all follows the typical pattern of “is-and-with” that we find in Christology. But to tie it all together, Isaiah directly connects God’s presence with the angel:
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his panim saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Isaiah 63:9
The reason this is important is that it provides a second line of evidence to solidify what should already have been obvious: that the angel is Yahweh, and the angel is with Yahweh. They are the same, yet distinct. Not only is this shown in the kinds of passages we saw in part 2, but it is explicitly stated in this language of God’s panim; his “face”.
Put succinctly, the Old Testament explicitly claims that the angel of God is Yahweh’s personal, physical presence; the exact thing we also find in the man Jesus.
With all this laid out, we should certainly not be surprised to read Jesus’ half-brother saying:
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. Jude 1:5
But there is still one more thing we can learn from the angel of Yahweh about how Jesus appears in the Old Testament. So that is the next thing to look at.