The Malak Yahweh:
Jesus, the Divine Messenger of the Old Testament
[Continued from Part II]
Continuing our look at the evidence for the deity of the Malak Yahweh (i.e. the Messenger/Angel of the LORD) in the Old Testament, several other considerations may be added to that of the last paper. In addition to the Angel identifying Himself and being identified by others as God through the use of divine titles, as we saw in part two, which will also prove relevant in this article, the fact that the Angel speaks as God in the first person, possesses divine attributes, performs divine works, exercises divine prerogatives, receives divine honors, as well as the fact that death is feared upon seeing Him, also evince the Angel’s true and proper divinity. The first of these additional or supporting reasons will be taken up in this and the following article.
First Person Speech
The air about the Angel, the way He speaks in the first person, saying things that only God can properly say, and the entire way He conducts each conversation, exude divinity. Indeed, the Angel speaks with such unprecedented authority, commanding assent in His words, obedience to His commands, and issuing astounding promises, that those who do not initially know who He is are quickly led by His words to surmise His deity.
The first recorded appearance of the Malak Yahweh to someone in the Hebrew text was to Hagar, the maidservant of Sarai, sometime subsequent to fleeing from her mistress.1 After the Malak Yahweh orders Hagar to return and submit to the authority of Sarai, and before He tells her she is with child and that she is to name the boy Ishmael, the Angel said to her: “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count” (Genesis 16:10), a statement that is similar to what the Angel said in a later appearance to Hagar some time after the birth of Ishmael: “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him” (Genesis 21:18). In fact, this parallels the first person speech of God to Abraham in Genesis 17:20, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation”; and in Genesis 21:13: “And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.” In light of this it is difficult to deny that Hagar and Abraham, both of whom would no doubt have been apprised of what was experienced by the other, would have concluded that the same being appeared to each of them on these different occasions making the same promise(s). It is also apparent from this that it was the intention of the inspired author to equate the Angel of the LORD with Yahweh. According to the author of Genesis: what the Angel promised to do, Yahweh promised to do.
With a view to the above, it may be further asked, on the assumption of those who deny the identity of the Angel with God, if the Angel is not divine and is merely a created angel, then what purpose does the Angel serve seeing that Yahweh Himself is said to appear in alternating contexts speaking these very same words? And since the Angel does not use any distinguishing title in his appearance to Hagar, speaking the same words that God would later speak to Abraham, what other conclusion could Hagar be expected to deduce other than the very one that is ascribed to her: “You are a God Who Sees Me” (Genesis 16:13)? Would Abraham have been justified in concluding that the one who spoke these words in the first person to him was none other than God, as the reader knows to be the case from the context, while Hagar was not justified for inferring the same conclusion when the same promises were spoken in the first person to her? And does not the fact that the Angel’s manner of addressing Hagar, which no doubt was exactly as God had wanted it to be, which led Hagar to conclude that He is God, show that this is exactly the conclusion He intended for her to make? And since the Angel did not rebuff this response from Hagar after He had done everything, such as speak as God in the first person, to give the very impression that formed her conclusion, is this not a silence that shouts His deity, especially when silence on such an occasion would itself have been a tacit approval of what could only be considered idolatry on the supposition that the Angel is not God? The answer to these questions will be obvious to all but the most prejudiced reader.
After God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but before he could perform the deed, we read that the Angel of Yahweh appeared and said: “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12). The very fact that the Angel, who once again does not call Himself by that title, appears and countermands what God told Abraham to do, and does so on the grounds that Abraham’s fear of God has been proven by the fact that “you have not withheld your son … from me”, once again shows the Angel speaking as God in the first person. No one but God has the authority to relax a divine command, and no one but God could have claimed in this context that Abraham was offering his son as a sacrifice to him. Not only are sacrifices in general to be made to God according to the Old Testament, but the specific command by God to Abraham was to offer Isaac to Him. Furthermore, as a consequence of Abraham’s obedience to His voice, the Angel of Yahweh, after swearing by Himself, goes on to say: “… I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:17-18). Once again the Angel speaks in the first person, saying what only God can say, and identifies Himself as the one to whom Abraham obediently submitted or whose voice He obeyed. From this it is clear that the faith of Abraham consisted in submission to the Malak Yahweh.
The oath that the Angel of Yahweh made to Abraham in Genesis 22 for obeying His voice is repeated by God in Genesis 26 at a future appearance to Isaac:
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (Genesis 26:1-5)
A comparison of Genesis 22, where Abraham obeys the voice of the Angel, and where the Angel promises on oath to bless him and his descendants, with Genesis 26, where God declares that it was his charge that Abraham kept, and that He was the one who swore to Abraham that He would bless him and his descendants, yields the obvious conclusion that the same one who appeared speaking in the first person to Abraham is the same one who appeared speaking in the first person to Isaac. But even if a distinction is assumed, the fact that the Angel of Yahweh spoke (to Abraham) in the same way that God is later said to have spoken (to Isaac), shows at least a functional if not an ontological equivalence between the Malak Yahweh and Yahweh.
More than that, since there can be little doubt that Isaac would have known about the incident recorded in Genesis 22 when the Malak Yahweh spoke to Abraham from heaven, not only because his father would have told him, particularly since Isaac was to be the heir of the promises, and above all because Isaac himself was there on the occasion in question, we can be sure that Isaac would have concluded not merely a functional but an ontological equivalence of the Angel with Yahweh. It was by the Malak Yahweh’s voice that Isaac was saved in Genesis 22, and so when God appeared later to Isaac speaking the same words as those of the Malak Yahweh who spoke from heaven, and did so without saying anything to draw a distinction between Himself and the Malak Yahweh, the obvious conclusion that would have been drawn was that the same one who told his father, Abraham, to spare him, is the same one who has now appeared to him. In other words, not only does the simplest explanation of the passage lead to the conclusion that God here is the Angel of Yahweh who appeared previously, but this is the very conclusion that Isaac naturally would have made. And with this being the case, this means the above words in the first person were spoken by the Malak Yahweh on this occasion: “… Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Genesis 26:5). In any event, there is nothing added here in Genesis 26 to what we know about how the Angel of Yahweh speaks that has either not been shown to be the case already (i.e. Genesis 22) or that will not be shown to be the case from later appearances of the Malak Yahweh (e.g. Exodus 23:20).
When the Lord appears later to Jacob, in a place Jacob would rename Bethel because of this event, he identifies Himself as Yahweh, the God of his father Abraham and the God of Isaac, and he repeats to Jacob the same promises he made to his fathers aforetime:
… “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:13-15)
Since we know from a subsequent passage that it was specifically the Malak Yahweh who appeared to Jacob in Bethel, and who identified Himself as God – “Then the Angel of God said to me [Jacob] in a dream…. ‘I am the God of Bethel…’” (Genesis 31:11, 13) – then the above first person discourse must once again be attributed to Him. It was, then, the Malak Yahweh who said to Jacob, even as He said to Abraham and Isaac: “I will” give you and your descendants this land, “I will” keep you wherever you go, “I will” bring you back to this land, and “I will” not leave you.
From Jacob’s own mouth, in words of invocation to God and blessing upon his son, Joseph, and Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob confirms his understanding that it was the Angel who made these promises in the first person and who also kept them, and that it would be this very Angel who would be faithful to his descendants after him, upon whose heads the promises made to Jacob would devolve:
He [i.e. Jacob] blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, [may He] bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Genesis 48:15-16)
There can be no question that Jacob here reveals his understanding that the Angel is God, for the three parallel references here to “the God of my father Abraham”, “the God of my father Isaac”, and “the Angel who redeemed me from all evil”, are all joined together by the verb, unusually forestalled to the end of the sentence, which is singular in Hebrew: “may He bless the lads”, a fact that shows, among other things, that Jacob concluded from the first person promises made to him by this Angel, and no doubt from other things that will be pointed out later, that the Angel was none other than God, his shepherd and redeemer. Even liberal critics who are otherwise disinclined to believe the truth are constrained to agree that this passage teaches the deity of the Angel, as may be seen in the following comment upon this passage by a prominent twentieth-century advocate of the tradition-historical approach to the Bible, Gerhard von Rad:
Jacob’s invocation consists of three titles given to God, each one loftier than the preceding: (1) “God, before whom my fathers walked”; (2) “God, who has been my shepherd to this day”; (3) “The angel who has redeemed me from all evil.” The little hymn reaches the climax of its attempt to identify Jahweh in descriptive terms in the third title. Any idea that the “angel” means a being subordinate to Jahweh is of course ruled out. This [malak] too is Jahweh – but in contradistinction to the Jaweh of general providence, he is the Jahweh of the specific saving action …2
In what constituted His first appearance to Moses in the burning bush, the Angel of Yahweh (Exodus 3:2) once again speaks as God in the first person, saying what only God can say, and even identifies Himself by the Name that would forever after be associated by Jews and Christians with the true God and no one else.
Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the Priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush.... “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me,’ saying, ‘I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt. So I said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (Exodus 3:1-2, 7-17)
Given the incommunicable nature of the divine name, and given that this name is not only applied to, or, as is actually the case in this passage, arrogated by, the Malak Yahweh, which is done by Him alone in contradistinction to any and all other angels or representatives so-called, it is impossible to say that the Malak Yahweh would speak of Himself in this way were He not in fact Yahweh.
----- Excurus on the Divine Name and the Angel -----
According to the Bible (and classical Christianity3), no one can lay claim to the name Yahweh but Yahweh alone, for this is His distinctive name, His covenant name, His memorial name for all generations. In addition to Exodus 3 above, the following passages may also be cited as relevant:
“I am the LORD [Yahweh], that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images ...” (Isaiah 42:8)
“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11)
“Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, and let them be humiliated and perish, that they may know that You alone, whose name is the LORD [YHWH], are the Most High over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18)
“the LORD [YHWH], the God of hosts, the LORD [YHWH] is his memorial name.” (Hosea 12:5)
(See also: Genesis 4:26, 21:33; Exodus 15:3, 33:19; Leviticus 24:16; Psalm 7:17, 68:4, 102:1, 21, 135:1, 148:13; Isaiah 24:15, 42:8, 47:4, 54:5; Ezekiel 39:7; Jeremiah 33:2)
That the Jews have always considered from the Old Testament evidence that Yahweh, YHWH, is God’s distinctive name, i.e. Shem Hamephorash, is also clear-cut. In his distillation of what the Talmud teaches on many important subjects, Abraham Cohen says the following about the divine Name:
To the Oriental, a name is not merely a label as with us. It was thought of as indicating the nature of the person or object by whom it was borne. For that reason special reverence attached to ‘the distinctive Name’ (Shem Hamephorash) of the Deity which He had revealed to the people of Israel, viz., the tetragrammaton, JHVH.4 (Italics original)
Although he does not provide the relevant references on this point, Cohen’s remarks are borne out by numerous statements from the Talmud, among which can be found the following:
Another [Baraitha] taught: 'On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel' — with the use of the Shem Hameforash. You say that it means with the Tetragrammaton; but perhaps that is not so and a substituted name was used! There is a text to say: So shall they put My name — My name which is unique to Me. It is possible to think that [the Shem Hameforash was also used] in places outside the Temple; but it is stated here, 'So shall they put My name' and elsewhere it is stated: To put His name there — as in this latter passage it denotes in the Temple so also in the former passage it denotes in the Temple. R. Joshiah says: [This deduction] is unnecessary; behold it states: In every place where I cause My name to be remembered I will come unto thee. Can it enter your mind that every place is intended? But the text must be transposed thus: In every place where I will come unto thee and bless thee will I cause My name to be remembered; and where will I come unto thee and bless thee? In the Temple; there, in the Temple, will I cause My name to be remembered.5 (Emphasis mine)
For this reason it is all the more disagreeable and blameworthy that Rabbinic Jews would, on the one hand, when explicating this great truth from pertinent passages of Scripture, acknowledge and teach that Yahweh is the distinctive name of God, only to turn around and take this back with the other hand when trying to account for why the Malak Yahweh calls Himself by this name or is called this name by others, pretending that this is resolved by the principle that one who is sent can be called by the name of the one who sent him.
Even if it were true in other cases that a person is called by the name of the one who sends him, it would be precluded in this case on the above principle, that is, that the Name of Yahweh is incommunicable. Furthermore, mere agents or created angels, whether human or supernatural, are in fact never referred to with the ineffable Name of Yahweh. This glory belongs to the Malak Yahweh alone in contradistinction to others, and is, therefore, a conclusive, irrefutable proof of His deity.
The remarks of Rev. A. M’Caul are worthy of being quoted at length on this. After noting several other places where the Malak Yahweh is called Yahweh, he comes to Genesis 16, where he makes the following comments:
We read in the Law, that He appeared to Hagar, when she fled from her mistress; and after relating the vision, the sacred history adds, “And she called the name of the LORD, [YHWH], who spake with her,” so that He who was before called the angel of the Lord, is here called Jehovah. Rashi, Aben Ezra, Solomon ben Melech, and Nachmanides, all pass this over in silence. Individual Jews to whom I have proposed the passage, have almost always replied, that Hagar was mistaken, and from ignorance applied the name Jehovah to the angel. But this is not the fact, Hagar did not call the angel Jehovah, she called Him אַתָּה אֵל רֳאִי, or as our translation has it, “Thou God seest me.” It is the historian, in the course of his narrative, who applies to the angel the name Jehovah, and this is acknowledged by Abarbanel, who says that this is an exceedingly difficult passage, particularly “Because the peculiar name of God is employed, ‘She called the name of the LORD who spake with her;’ and how can it possibly be, that the First Cause, blessed be He, should speak with Hagar; when the law itself testifies and says, that it was the angel of the Lord who appeared unto her, and not the Lord Himself?” A little lower down he gives his solution of this difficulty thus; “The right answer here is, that all prophetic vision, whether mediate or immediate, is always attributed to God, blessed be He, for it is from Him and by His will, and on this account also the Messenger is sometimes called by the name of Him that sends him. In this point of view it is that the Scripture says, ‘And she called the name of the LORD that spake to her.’”. … His solution we shall consider presently, but now only remark that he admits that the angel of the Lord is here called Jehovah, and proceed to take a similar instance from the historical books.
In the book of Judges, vi. 11, we read that the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon. At verse 14, we suddenly find this person called Jehovah the LORD. “And the LORD, [YHWH], looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might.” And again, verse 16, “And the LORD, [YHWH], said unto him, Surely I will be with thee.” We refer to this passage, because the fact is admitted by the Rabbies. Kimchi says, in his commentary on the last quoted verse, “In the words, ‘The Lord said unto him,’ the angel is called by the name of the Lord, as is the case also with the angel who appeared to Joshua, of whom it is written, ‘And the Lord, [YHWH], said unto Joshua.’” (Josh. vi. 2) And in this passage of Joshua to which he refers, he says, ‘And the Lord said unto Joshua, that is, through the angel who appeared to him, and he is called by the name of the LORD who sent him. And we find a similar instance in the angel who appeared to Gideon, of whom it is written, ‘And the Lord said unto him, surely I will be with thee.’ Our rabbies of blessed memory have said, ‘My name is in him.’ R. Simeon ben Lakish says, ‘This teaches us, that the Holy One, blessed be He, associates his name to each of the angels.’” We have here the same admission made, and the same solution proposed, as in the former case by Abarbanel.
We now take a similar instance from the prophets. In the third chapter of Zechariah, Joshua the high-priest, is represented as standing before the angel of the LORD, and then it is added, “And the LORD, [YHWH], said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.” The person called in the first verse the angel of the Lord, is in the second verse called the LORD, as Kimchi himself acknowledges; “this is said of the angel, who is called by the name of his master, and so in the history of Gideon, and other places.”
From these three passages, selected from the law, the historical books, and the Prophets, it appears, the Being designated by the title “The angel of the Lord,” is also called [YHWH], Jehovah, the proper name of God; and from the rabbinical commentaries it appears, that this inference is not peculiar to Christians, nor forced from the text in order to suit their doctrinal views, but that those rabbies who made it their peculiar care to overthrow every interpretation favourable to Christianity, were nevertheless constrained by the plainness and frequency of such passages, to come to the same conclusion. They did not make this admission in ignorance, they evidently foresaw the use that would be made of it, and, therefore, endeavor to guard against it by saying, “that the messenger is called by the name of him that sends him.” But this explanation, taken as a general assertion, is, in the first place, contrary to the fact. In the eighth and ninth chapters of Daniel, an angel is sent to Daniel, but he is not called by the name of him that sent him, but is called Gabriel. In the prophecies of Zechariah we read of many angels of whom it is said, “These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth,” but they are not called by the name of their Lord. In like manner Isaiah saw an angel sent to him to remove his iniquity, but this angel is not called by the name of his master, but “one of the Seraphim.” In the second place, if taken with special reference to the particular case of the angel of the Lord, this explanation is no explanation at all, but a mere identical proposition in somewhat different words. When I say the angel of the Lord is called Jehovah, what else is intended but this, “That the messenger is called by the name of Him that sends him?” This last sentence is, therefore, no explanation of the first, and still less a removal of the difficulty. The difficulty is, why, for what reasons is the Messenger called by the name of Him who sends him? If this were the universal practice, if every angel were called Jehovah, we might say, it is the style of Scripture to ascribe the peculiar name of God to all his messengers, but this cannot be pretended. There are many instances where the angels have no names, and others, where a peculiar name is ascribed; the question then is, Why is the angel of the Lord called by His name? And this question acquires double force from what we have proved above, that there is but one Being who is called the Angel of the Lord, or The Angel of God. Why, then, is this one individual called by that august name, Jehovah, and the others not? And, observe, that it has not only been proved from the Scripture that the name Jehovah is ascribed to only one angel, but that it can be proved also that this was the opinion of the ancient Jews. The Talmud has the following passage, “The same heretic said to Rav Idith, It is written, ‘And he [i.e. God] said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD,’ (Exod. xxiv. l), but it ought to have been written, ‘Come up unto me.’ The rabbi answered, The speaker here is Metatron, whose name is the same as that of his master, for it is written, ‘For my name is in him.’ (Exod. xxiii. 21.) This passage is obviously the source whence Kimchi and Abarbanel borrowed the above explanation, but here the explanation is not general, applying to all angels, but only to one whose name is Metatron. And the occasion of this reply plainly shows that the other opinion, that the name Jehovah is ascribed indiscriminately to all angels was then unknown, for, if it had been, it would have been a more plausible answer to the heretics objection. The real difficulty, therefore, remains in all its force, why is the peculiar and proper name of God applied to the angel of the Lord?
After citing the Talmud and numerous rabbinic authorities on the fact that Yahweh is the proper name of God, and that the name applies to Him alone, M’Caul concludes thusly:
… when we combine the admissions of opponents with the plain words of Scripture, there can be no doubt of these two things, first, that the name Jehovah is the peculiar name of God; and, secondly, that God has claimed it for himself, because it has reference to that substance and essence peculiar to himself. Why, then, is it communicated to the angel of the Lord? There can be but one answer: because He partakes of that substance and essence which makes the communication of the name suitable; or, in other words, because the Angel of the Lord is very God. And this conclusion is confirmed.6
----- Excursus Ended -----
Continue with Part IIIb.