The Malak Yahweh:
Jesus, the Divine Messenger of the Old Testament
[Continued from Part IIIa]
When “the Captain of Yahweh’s host”, whom we have already discovered to be the Malak Yahweh,1 appears to Joshua prior to the battle of Jericho, He says: “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors. You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days” (Joshua 6:2-3). While it might be said that a high ranking created angel could have been sent by God to aid Israel, a fact that would be true in any case, for wherever the Captain of the heavenly host can be found, archangels and other high and low ranking angels would be part of His train and in attendance upon Him, ready to do His bidding, and that the words above are not inconsistent if spoken in the first person by an angel who came with such a charge and a guarantee of success from God, the most natural reading is to take them as God’s words, thus identifying the Captain as truly divine. In fact, the whole passage read in context rules out seeing it any other way:
Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD” [Heb. sar tsaba YHWH]. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. The LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors. You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days.” (Joshua 5:13-6:1-3)
And so while the first person speech in Joshua 6:2-3, abstracted from the context, might seem to be amenable to either interpretation, i.e. it could just as well be Yahweh or a created angel who is speaking, the context makes it plain that the former is correct, for it plainly calls Him Yahweh or LORD. This means that the Captain of Yahweh’s host/the Malak Yahweh/Yahweh directly claims to have given Jericho into the hands of Joshua and not that a created angel had appeared to Joshua and was saying that he was commissioned for such a task.
Any attempt to drive a wedge between the appearance of the Captain of Yahweh’s host and Yahweh who spoke to Joshua, as some have tried to do, would result in profound incoherence, “because, in that case, the appearance of the Captain [Joshua 5:13ff], who only now gives command to Joshua [6:2], would have been without an object. In chap. v. the directions would be wanting; in chap. vi. we should have no report of the appearance.”2 In other words, unless the Commander of heaven’s host who appears at the end of chapter five is also the one who spoke to Joshua at the beginning of chapter six, it would mean the Commander appeared to Joshua but did not inform him of anything, and that Yahweh spoke without any indication that He first appeared or came to Joshua.
The fact that He is specifically called the Captain or Prince of the Host of Yahweh in chapter five is no obstacle to this contextually settled conclusion, for not only do the Dead Sea Scrolls provide evidence that the word “prince” was used for God, i.e. “Prince of Gods and King of the glorious ones, Lord of every spirit, Owner of every creature,”3 not to mention that the “Mighty God” of Isaiah 9:6 is also called the “Prince of Peace”, but the full title found in Joshua 5 is used for God elsewhere in Scripture:
Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great. … It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host [Heb. sar ha-tsaba]; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. (Daniel 8:9-11; cf. 8:25 and 11:36-37)
By the small horn, Daniel is clearly talking about an eschatological figure who would oppose “the Commander of the host”, and that part of the opposition of this “small horn” would involve the removal of the sacrifices “from Him”, i.e. the Commander of the Host, and that the very place of sacrifice, the sanctuary, i.e. the temple in Jerusalem, which is here called “His sanctuary”, meaning the sanctuary of the Commander, would be thrown down. Since the sacrifices offered in the temple are made to God, and since the temple is God’s temple, the Commander of the Host here can only be God.
This latter observation is confirmed again in the book of Malachi, where the Messenger (Heb. Mal’ak, i.e. Angel) of the covenant is identified as “the Lord” who will come to “His temple” (Malachi 3:1ff). Here again we see the Messenger brought together with “the covenant”, “the temple”, and identified as “the Lord”, the very thing said by Daniel about the Prince of the Host. And so by multiple lines of confirmation, not only is the “Prince of the Host of Yahweh” known to be the Malak Yahweh, He is shown to be the Lord, thus positively establishing the significance of the first person speech of the Prince to Joshua.4
In a later appearance of the Angel of Yahweh “to all the sons of Israel”, He once again spoke in the first person, and said things that only God can say:
Now the angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’” When the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the LORD. (Judges 2:1-5)
The things the Angel says in the first person are striking, and clearly identify Him not only as the Malak Yahweh who appeared to the patriarchs, to the generation of Israelites who were delivered from Egypt, and to the generation that was brought into the land of Canaan, but as very God.
To begin with, the Malak Yahweh identifies Himself as the one who swore on oath to “your fathers” (v. 1), i.e. the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He would give the land to them and to their descendants. It is evident throughout the patriarchal narrative that it was God who swore this very thing to them: “By Myself I have sworn, declares Yahweh, …” (Genesis 22:16); and “Yahweh appeared to him [i.e. Isaac] and said: … ‘I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham …’” (Genesis 26:2, 3).
Secondly, He directly identifies Himself as the one that “brought you up out of Egypt” in fulfillment of the oath (v. 1), another statement that could only be said in this sense by God Himself: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). In fact, the same thing is reiterated just a few chapters later in Judges 6:8.
Thirdly, He says: “I will never break my covenant with you” (v. 1); thus identifying Himself as the owner and guarantor of the covenant, that is, as the one who sovereignly determined its character, established it with Israel, and secures its fulfillment. Throughout Scripture the covenant made with Israel is said to belong to God alone. For example, at its commencement, God refers to the covenant He made with Abraham as “My covenant” nine times:
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 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. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him. Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (Genesis 17:1-27; cf. Exodus 6:4-5, 19:5, Leviticus 26:9, 15, 42-44, Deuteronomy 31:16, 20, Joshua 7:11, Isaiah 56:6, Ezekiel 17:19)5
Fourthly, the Angel of Yahweh alludes to words that He spoke earlier to Israel after He brought them out of Egypt: “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you’” (vv. 1-3). When we look back to the occasion when these words were spoken, they are plainly attributed to God:
After speaking of the fact that He would punish the people of Israel if they rebelled against Him, nevertheless Yahweh told them that He would not break His covenant with them:
… then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. For the land will be abandoned by them, and will make up for its sabbaths while it is made desolate without them They, meanwhile, will be making amends for their iniquity, because they rejected My ordinances and their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 26:42-45)
And the command not to make a covenant with idolaters in the land but to break down their altars was also spoken directly by God:
Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you. Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim – for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God-- otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.” (Exodus 34:10-16; cf. Exodus 23:31-32, and Leviticus 26:42-44)
No mere creature could say what the Malak Yahweh says in Judges 2.
Similar to the words spoken to Joshua by the Prince of the Host of Yahweh, the Angel of Yahweh appears to Gideon and utters the command to go up against Midian, followed by a rhetorical question, which is obviously intended to engender confidence in Gideon that he will be successful: “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you” (Judges 6:14). After Gideon protests his own inability and insignificance as reason to doubt that he will be able to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian, the Malak Yahweh quells his fear with the declaration, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man” (Judges 6:16). Because the Malak Yahweh has sent him, and because the Malak Yahweh will be with him, Gideon’s success is guaranteed.
In response to the above, two main objections have often been put forward by an assortment of unitarians: 1) the Malak Yahweh sometimes speaks of God in the third person and therefore cannot be God; and 2) according to the “principle of agency”, in certain situations one person can speak in the name or authority of another, i.e. a person who is sent can speak as if he is the one who sent him.
1) Regarding the objection that the Malak Yahweh also speaks of God in the third person, it is of no consequence for at least two significant reasons:
First, while it is true that the Malak Yahweh sometimes speaks of God in the third person, it is also true that when the text only says that Yahweh is speaking, i.e. it does not explicitly identify Him with the title Malak Yahweh, as in Genesis 18 and 26, it often times presents Yahweh speaking of God in the third person.
A third person reference in first person speech naturally indicates a grammatical distinction of persons and normally indicates an actual or ontological distinction of persons as well. But a third person reference need not indicate such a distinction. On the assumption that the Angel of the LORD is a created being distinct from YHWH, third person references to YHWH in the first person speech of this angel are to be expected. This phenomenon is ubiquitous in the speech of God’s agents and it would be tedious to adduce examples. Contrary to expectation, however, a third person reference to YHWH in the first person speech of this angel is equally consistent with the opposite assumption: namely, that the Angel of the LORD is himself YHWH and not a created being distinct from YHWH. In fact, hundreds of third person references to YHWH in the first person speech of YHWH can be found in the Old Testament. These references not surprisingly predominate in the Pentateuch and in the prophetic books where YHWH’s first person speech is most commonly reported. But they may also be found in the historical books and in the Psalms—in fact, wherever first person speech by YHWH is reported.6
Second, even if a distinction is intended on such occasions, as it will be shown in some passages (especially later ones) that it certainly is, in light of the Angel calling Himself God as well as being called God by others (both those within the narrative and the prophetic authors of those narratives), and speaking in the first person as well as the third person, then what we have here is evidence both for identifying the Angel as God and distinguishing Him from God, which is just to say, evidence for personal distinction within the Godhead, the very thing some people assume in advance cannot be found in the Old Testament. From the Christian perspective, neither aspect of the way the Angel speaks presents any difficulty. No theological artifice, construct or string of conjectures is necessary to make it harmonize with what the rest of the Bible teaches or Christians believe.
2) As for the second objection, i.e. representatives can also speak in the first person, it also fails to present any serious challenge to the true deity of the Angel. We have already seen many significant reasons why the Angel of Yahweh cannot be reduced to the status of a non-divine representative of God, such as the fact that no mere representative would call Himself Yahweh or be called such by others, a fact that is true of the Malak Yahweh who does not shrink from making such claims and never eschews such positive attributions of deity to Himself, and He never identifies Himself to anyone as a mere representative. Furthermore, the Angel who declares Himself to be God, even Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel, speaks in the first person with such regularity that it is difficult to conceive of this as a normal way for a mere creature or representative to speak.
There are many more reasons why the Angel’s declared divinity and first person speech cannot be written off on the basis of a “principle of agency”, as some call it, including, as we will see in the next installment, the fact that He is ascribed divine attributes, performs divine works, exercises divine prerogatives, as well as commands, is given, and receives divine worship, none of which can be said of a mere representative.
To be continued ...