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Scholarly Support for Christ being the OT Angel of Yahweh

Sam Shamoun

The following is taken from the Holman Old Testament Commentary: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Max Anders & Stephen Miller (general editors), Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN 2004. This comes specifically from the section on Zechariah. It provides evidence which confirms that the Angel of Yahweh is not a creature, but a fully divine Person who just so happens to be the Lord Jesus in his prehuman existence.

B. The Angel of the LORD (3:1, 5-6)

In the Book of Zechariah, the prophet frequently interacted with angels. Sometimes these were ordinary angels (1:19; 4:1, 4, 11; 5:5, 10; 6:4-5), but in six cases “the angel of the LORD” designated God himself (1:11-12; 3:1, 5-6; 12:8). “Angel” means “messenger,” and in these instances the one who brought the message was deity. The rider of the red horse in 1:8 is identified as “the angel of the LORD” in 1:11. His preeminence is demonstrated by the fact that the other riders (angels) reported to him (1:11). In chapter 3 the angel of the Lord presided over the heavenly court. When he spoke in verse 2, he was identified as “the LORD.” In verse 4 the angel of the Lord forgave sins, a divine prerogative. In 12:8 the angel of the Lord was identified with both names – “the LORD” and “God.”

Elsewhere in the Old Testament the angel of the Lord is equated with deity. After Hagar, Sarah’s maid, encountered the angel of the Lord (Gen. 16:7-12), she called him “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13). In speaking to Abraham, the angel of the Lord said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD” (Gen. 22:16). The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exod. 3:2). When Moses investigated, God spoke to him from the bush (Exod. 3:4-6). In the angel of the Lord’s conversation with Gideon, the text repeatedly identifies the speaker as “the LORD” (Judg. 6:11-24). Samson’s parents recognized that in their visit with the angel of the LORD, they had “seen God” (Judg. 13:20-22).

Evangelical scholars usually identify the angel of the Lord as a preincarnate appearance of Christ – the second person of the Trinity. Paul Enns offers the following support for this interpretation:

The theophanies prove His [Christ’s] eternal existence. A theophany may be defined thus: “It is the Second Person of the Trinity who appears thus in human form.” … The identification of Christ with the appearances of the angel of the Lord (the theophany) can be demonstrated in the following manner. The angel of the Lord is recognized as deity. He is referred to as God (Judg. 6:11, 14; note in verse 11 He is called “the angel of the LORD,” while in v. 14 He is called “LORD”). The angel of the Lord in other instances is distinct from Yahweh because He talks to Yahweh (Zech. 1:12; 3:1-2; cp. Gen. 24:7). The angel of the Lord could not have been the Spirit or the Father, because neither the Spirit nor the Father [is] ever revealed in physical form (cp. John 1:18). The angel of the Lord no longer appears after the incarnation of Christ. There is no mention of the angel of the Lord in the New Testament; He ceases to appear after the birth of Christ (Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Chicago: Moody Press, 1989, p. 216).

In the appearance of the angel of the Lord, we are granted a glimpse of Christ’s glory before his incarnation. He is fully God with all the prerogatives of God at his disposal. For example, he forgives sin (3:4), makes descendants numerous (Gen. 22:17; see Gen. 16:10), brings Israel out of Egypt (Judg. 2:1; cp. Exod. 23:20-21), knows the future (Judg. 13:3), and performs miracles (Exod. 3:2; Judg. 13:20). These passages also preview the doctrine of the Trinity (three persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–one God). Even in the Old Testament era, it was revealed that our one God exists as more than one person. (Pp. 170-171)

1:8. Although it was night, the vision came not in a dream but while the prophet was awake. Zechariah saw a man riding a red horse. The word standing may refer to the horse upon which the rider sat or to the rider who had now stepped down from the horse. The man among the myrtle trees is identified in verse 11 as “the angel of the LORD,” yet he is no ordinary angel. Frequently in the Old Testament, the angel of the Lord is identified as God (Gen. 16:7-13; 22:11-12; Exod. 3:2-6; Judg. 6:14, 22; 13:9-18, 22). According to Lindsey, “That this ‘Angel’ (literally, ‘Messenger’) is a manifestation of the preincarnate Christ is established in chapter 3 where He is specifically called ‘the LORD’ who yet refers to ‘the LORD’ as another Person (3:2). Also He is seen exercising the divine prerogative of forgiving sins (3:4)” (Lindsey, 1550). Moreover, this person is plainly in command for the riders (angels) of the other horses report to him (v. 11). According to Feinberg, the Babylonian Talmud states: “This man is no other than the Holy One, blessed be He; for it is said, ‘The Lord is a man of war’” (Feinberg, Minor Prophets, 275). (P. 142)

In this verse one divine person (“the angel of the LORD” = preincarnate Christ) interceded to another, the LORD Almighty. Here we are afforded an Old Testament glimpse of the Trinity. This passage reminds us of Christ’s great intercessory prayer in John 17. (P. 144)

3:1. The phrase he showed me may refer to the interpreting angel or God. The words standing before the angel of the LORD have been interpreted to denote service, and the verb “to stand” does appear with this meaning in the Old Testament… We may observe the prominence of the angel of the Lord in this vision. He is plainly in charge. As in 1:11-12, the angel of the Lord is none other than the Lord himself. When the angel of the Lord speaks, verse 2 identifies him as “the LORD.” In verse 4 the angel of the Lord forgives sins, a divine prerogative. We may understand this divine person to be a preincarnate appearance of Christ. (P. 160) 

3:4. The Lord (the angel of the Lord) commanded the angels in the vision to remove Joshua’s filthy clothes, symbolic of his forgiveness of sin (“iniquity,” KJV, NKJV, NASB; “guilt,” NRSV). These filthy garments represent moral defilement rather than ritual defilement because by this act Joshua’s sin was cleansed. The fact that the angel of the Lord had the power to forgive sins affirms his deity. Here Joshua’s justification, the act whereby the judge declares a person righteous or pardoned, is depicted. Justification implies deliverance from the penalty of sin. It is noteworthy that this act of forgiveness was accomplished by the Lord alone. Salvation is a work of God. (P. 163)