by Loren Jacobs

The modern mind cannot conceive of angelic beings. This is due in part to medieval art and literature, which relegate belief in angels to the realm of superstition. Or perhaps we like to try to explain away that which makes us uncomfortable. Indeed, there are those who would even dismiss the belief in God as mere superstition.

Yet virtually every philosopher who has recognized the God of the Bible has also believed in angels-not the cute cherubs of Christmas cards, but mighty and powerful spiritual beings who are servants of the Most High God.

In Hebrew, the word for "angel" is malakh.. A malakh is a messenger, either human or angelic. Yet there is one malakh who stands out from all the rest. The Bible calls him simply, "the angel of the Lord."

Since the time of Abraham, our people have known about the angels of the Lord. In the Talmud he is given the name Metatarsus, which indicates a special relationship with God. One meaning of meta and thronos, two Greek words, gives the sense of "one who serves behind the throne of God." He is also known as the "Prince of the Countenance" because of the close proximity between this angel and God Himself. The implication for the malakh of the Lord is that He is, above all, the messenger of God, the one sent by God, the one who represents God Himself.

Throughout the Tanach, the angel of the Lord often appeared in human form. He served in three ways---guiding the people of Israel, effecting miracles, and executing judgment on Israel's enemies.

He is first mentioned in Genesis 16. After Hagar fled into the wilderness to escape from Sarah, Abraham's wife, the angel of the Lord found her and admonished her to return to her mistress. He then promised to greatly multiply her descendants and prophesied the birth of Ishmael, who became the progenitor on the Arab nations.

In Genesis 22, read every Yom Kippur, it is the angel of the Lord who called from heaven to stay the hand of Abraham as he took the knife to slay his son Isaac. In Exodus 14, he was in the pillar of cloud guiding the Israelites through the wilderness after their flight from Egypt. In Numbers 22:22-35, the angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam, the non-Jewish prophet, and gave him orders to be followed.

He instructed Gideon in Judges 6, telling him to deliver Israel from Midian. He prophesied the birth of Samson (Judges 13), directed Elijah to Mt. Horeb (I Kings 19), and commanded King David to build an altar in Jerusalem which later became the site of the temple of Solomon (I Chronicles 21:18).

The angel of the Lord is also presented to us as an avenger of evil, a judge. When Assyria, which was one of the ancient super powers, threatened to destroy Israel (700's BCE), it was the angel of the Lord who killed the 185,000 Assyrian soldiers besieging Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35). This angel, powerful in battle, was gentle enough to succor a fleeing and frightened Hagar in the wilderness.

This angel was perceived in a unique and remarkable way by those with whom he came in contact. In ancient times it was common knowledge that if one saw God, it meant death for the individual. God stated this directly to Moses on Mt. Sinai: "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). After Hagar saw the angel of the Lord, it is recorded that she called him Lord and marveled that she was still alive after having seen him (Genesis 16:33).

Jacob reacted in a similar fashion when he wrestled with a "man" during the night. The man blessed Jacob and changed the patriarch's name to Israel. Jacob responded by calling the place of this encounter Peniel, saying, 'it is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.' (Genesis 32:30). Jacob identified the "man" as God. Later in his life, when Jacob blessed his son Joseph and his children, he 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 delivered me from all harm..." (Genesis 48:15,16). The parents of Samson, likewise, recognized the angels of the Lord to be God, "We are doomed to die!...We have seen God!" (Judges 13:22).

The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the midst of a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) but then in verse 4, "God called to him from with the bush..." When the Lord delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, the Bible says, "By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light..." (Exodus 13:21). But we read again in Chapter 14, verse 19, that the "angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming in between the armies of Egypt and Israel" (Exodus 14:19,20). And then in verse 24 we are told that the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and cloud, and fought against Egypt! Who is involved in this pillar--the angel of the Lord or God Himself?
In Judges 6, the angel of the Lord appeared to a timid Gideon and sat down under an oak tree to initiate a conversation with him (vss. 11,12).

In verse 13, we see Gideon responding, but in verse 14 something strange happens: all of a sudden it is the Lord who is seen talking to Gideon! In verse 16, the conversation continues, but in verse 20, it is the angel of God who is in conversation. The next verse relates a miracle is performed by the angel. Then Gideon responds: 'Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!' But the LORD said to him, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die!" (Judges 6:22,23)

Are there two or three characters in this passage? One, of course, is Gideon. In verses 11 and 12 we have the angel of the Lord, then the Lord in verses 14 and 16, then the angel of God in verse 20 and again the angel of the Lord in verse 21. This writer maintains that the angel of the Lord must be the Lord God. Yet in some sense, the angel of the Lord, even though He Himself is deity, must be distinguished from the totality of the Godhead. For in Zechariah 1:12, the angel of the Lord is seen interceding on behalf of Israel, calling out to the Lord of hosts! The Holy Scriptures have given us a paradox: The Angel of the LORD is distinct from God, yet is Himself very God!

This paradox is consistent with God's very nature. God, who is involved with His creation and interested in our welfare (Psalm 139:3, 13) is also high above (Isaiah 55:8,9). God is a vengeful God to those who flaunt His revealed will (Deuteronomy 32:35), and yet He is merciful (Exodus 33:19). God is all-important (Psalm 139), and yet He willingly "forgets" (Jeremiah 31:34, Isaiah 64:9). God is an advocate, a defender of His people (Psalm 59:1, Job 16:19), but He is also a prosecutor and judge (Psalm 50:6), Ecclesiastes 3:17). When we study the nature of God, we find paradoxes.

The angel of the Lord, God Himself, revealed Himself in a visible, personal way-taking the form of a human being.

This writer maintains that not only could the angel of the Lord assume human form, but that, in time, he took on true humanity by being born into the human race!

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:6,7) (NIV)

This writer also maintains that the Old and New Testaments are intrinsically connected and make up God's revelation to man. The claims in the New Testament portion concerning Jesus correspond to those claims in the Old Testament portion which refer to the angel of the Lord. Jesus claimed to be the supreme malakh of God. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). The angel of the Lord did miraculous acts; so did Jesus. (See John 2:9, Matthew 8:3, Luke 7:11, Matthew 15:32, etc.) The angel of the Lord taught and instructed people; Jesus was called "rabbi" (John 20:16). The angel of the Lord is a judge of mankind; in John 5:22 we see "The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son." Is Jesus of Nazareth and the angel that wrestled with Jacob one and the same? Carefully study the Scriptures for God's answer.

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Question: Did Christians just make up the THE in "The Angel of YHWH"?

by Glenn Miller

[created Aug 2, 1999]

This question came in:

Hi Glen,

My name is XXX i live in YYY. I've been a Born Again Christian for over 30 years, thanks to Gods marvelous grace made available in Jesus name.

Some 2 years or so ago I was busy enlightening some poor JW's when guess what the trinity come up - especially the OT phrase "the angel of the Lord" . They very sweetly and nicely informed me there was no definite article attached to "angel" in the Hebrew.

This has bothered me ever since, the Hebrew has the phrase "malak yhwh" (4397) this would on purely linguistic terms be translated (a/an) angel of the LORD the 'of the' attached to YHWH is perfectly justified because of the very special nature of LORD, but 'malik' is a different matter I have two separate Hebrew text's and in no case can I find the definite article ie 'hamalak' used. I understand that there are compelling reasons of theology for translating "the Angel of the Lord" but JW's seem right in this instant for translating "an angel of Lord"

But as my knowledge of Hebrew is slight, may be I am missing something obvious to everyone else. I would under line I'm familiar with the evidence you present in your article and agree whole heartedly with it. Just seems to me that Christians are in this instance 'lying for Jesus' If the word (the) is not represented in the original it ought not be their, or translated (a / an) or omitted altogether 'angel of the LORD'

I do hope this doesn't appear trivial or nit picking, but sometimes an awful lot seems to hang on one small article.

Would look forward to your reply in due course, given you can some how find time. In the meantime The Lord Bless You and yours.


The basic answer is: there are more ways to say 'the' in Hebrew than just 'the' (In fact, MOST of the ways to say 'the' are NOT by using the word 'the'!)

If you consult a standard Hebrew language grammar (e.g., GKC or Waltke/O'Connor [OT:IBHS]), this topic will be discussed under 'determination' which refers to definiteness ('the') or indefiniteness ('a, an'). In English, we (mostly) express definiteness by use of the article 'the', but in Hebrew there were other ways of indicating this.

The rules given in the grammars (I cite from Waltke/O'Connor below, section 9.7a) are as follows:

"In Hebrew the definiteness of a noun and that of its modifiers are in agreement."

So, if I used the phrase "city of the night", the word city would be definite, because 'the night' was definite. It would be translated into English as 'THE city of the night'. If, on the other hand, I used the phrase "city of a night", the word city would be indefinite, because 'a night' was definite. It would be translated into English as 'a city of a night'.

So, in our case, with 'angel of YHWH', if YHWH is definite, then angel is definite (i.e., 'the angel' in English).

The next rule goes like this:

"If the genitive is definite, the phrase is definite; the genitive may be definite because it bears the article or a suffix or because it is a name."

Some of the examples they give:

2 Sam 9.11: bene (ha)melek -- THE sons of THE king (the first the is due to the 2nd the )

Lev 18.8: ish abi(ka) -- THE wife of your father (the first the is due to the suffix your)

1 Kgs 8.15: elohe israel -- THE God of Israel (the first the is due to the proper name Israel)

Since YHWH is treated as a proper name in the OT (and sometimes like a title), it is always definite as 'intrinsically definite' (Waltke/O'Connor, section 13.4a). [The same applies to Elohim, but it, as more of a title than a name, is sometimes used with the definite article he.]

This would mean that ANYTIME you see 'malik YHWH' it is to be translated as "THE angel of YHWH" or "THE angel of THE LORD" (both definite).

This is why it is incorrect to say that it says 'AN angel of YHWH', because it doesn't.

Now, perhaps you see an obvious problem here--how would we say 'an angel of YHWH' if we wanted to?!

The Hebrew actually has to use a 'round about' way to say this!

"Hebrew cannot use a construct with a definite article in such circumstances (tn: trying to say 'A son of THE king') but rather resorts to a periphrastic genitive with lamed."

So, the phrase 'a psalm of David' (with David as a name being definite, obviously) has to use a lamed preposition to 'distance' the definite 'David' from the indefinite 'psalm'.

Mizmor leDawid (A psalm of David)..the le (lamed) lets us know the phrase is indefinite.

Ben leIise (A son of Jesse)..the le (lamed) lets us know that the phrase is indefinite.

And, in fact, this construction of 'an angel of YHWH' does not occur in the Hebrew bible at all. The only phrases that are translated into English with "an angel of YHWH/God" are comparisons, in which someone is being compared with 'the angel of the Lord' (see Waltke/O'Connor 13.5.1f). In these cases, the definiteness of the noun is NOT translated as such--it is used as a 'class':

Like the heart of a lion (THE lion in Heb) [2 Sam 17.10]
As one hunts a partridge
(THE partridge) [1 Sam 26.20]
As when someone dreams in a famine
(THE famine) [Is 29.8]
Like the appearance of an angel of Elohim
(THE + Elohim!) [Jud 13.6]
You are pleasing in my eyes like an angel of God
(Elohim) [1 Sam 29.9]
For like an angel of God
(THE + Elohim!) [2 Sam 14.17]

What this means is that the translation "THE angel of the Lord" is the grammatically correct one, and that your understanding is correct.

Hope this helps, Glenn Miller
August 2, 1999
The Christian Think Tank

Posted by Lambert Dolphin