In the Old Testament we find numerous references to a heavenly messenger called “the Angel of the Lord.” Twice He helped Hagar, the Egyptian slave girl, as she tried to find her way through the wilderness (Gen. 16:7; 21:17). He called from heaven, stopping Abraham as he was about to sacrifice Isaac on an altar (Gen. 22:11-12) and then spoke again, assuring the patriarch of God’s covenant blessings (Gen. 22:15-18). He spoke to Abraham again in connection with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:1–19:1).
He accompanied Eliezer on his journey to Haran for Isaac’s bride (Gen. 24:7,40). He appeared to Jacob, identifying Himself as the God of Bethel (Gen. 31:11- 13). He wrestled with Jacob, drawing from this old warrior the declaration, “I have seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:24-30).
He spoke to Moses (Ex. 3:2-6), guided and guarded the Israelites (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19), appeared to the prophet Balaam (Num. 22:22), declared Himself to be the “Commander of the army of the Lord” (Josh. 5:14-15). He spoke to the Israelites at Bochim (Jud. 2:1-5), to Gideon (Jud. 6:11- 14), to Samson’s parents (Jud. 13), and to David at the threshing floor of Ornan, where He also stopped a destroying angel (1 Chr. 21:15,18,27).
He ministered to Elijah when he was fleeing from Jezebel (1 Ki. 19:5,7) and spoke to him on other occasions (2 Ki. 1:3,15). He killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (2 Ki. 19:35). He appeared as an authority figure in Zechariah 1:10, receiving a report from angels who patrolled the earth (Zech. 1:11).
Who is this Angel? All agree that He stands out among the angels and sometimes identifies Himself with God when He speaks. Some Bible scholars affirm that He is an angel through whom God manifested Himself in a unique way.Others are convinced that this angel was the Second Person of the Trinity, making Himself visible long before He became a human baby who was born of the virgin Mary. That is why He could let Abraham call Him Lord and could speak with the authority of God (Gen. 18:16-33). That is why He could refer to His name as “wonderful,” allow Samson’s parents to offer a sacrifice to Him, and let them think they would die because they had seen God (Jud. 13:3- 23). This perhaps also accounts for the fact that His appearances sometimes were terrifying and awesome—very similar to the portrayal of Christ in Revelation 1:12-19.
We believe “the Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament is indeed the Second Person of the Trinity. He, who is depicted in John 1:1 as the eternal Word, kept in close touch with His people during the Old Testament era. He appeared in human form. He spoke face to face with people. He showed them again and again that they were the objects of His love and care. Therefore the prophet could say, “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” (Isa. 63:9).
We today do not need such visible tokens of His love, power, and presence. The New Testament Scriptures tell us the story of God’s coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ to show us what He is like, to prove His love, and to provide salvation. The Holy Spirit will use this record to make God and His presence very real to us if we read it, believe it, and obey it.