This episode continues our series on the development of God as a character in the Bible! Today Tim and Jon sit down and discuss angels, specifically the "Angel of the Lord.”
In part one (0:00-7:35), Tim outlines the biblical authors' idea that God is totally transcendent and above creation, but they also work hard to show that God gets involved in human activities through mediators. Tim briefly mentions that there are a lot of old Hebrew traditions surrounding different beings like “the watchers.” These figures are often portrayed in movies like the new Noah movie by Darren Aronofsky. and much of the literature written about them comes from other Hebrew literature and tradition.
In part two (7:35-17:25), Tim says that the Hebrew word “malak” means “messenger,” and it's the word used for “angel.” In the New Testament, the Greek word “aggelos” is used, which is then translated as “angel.” Jon asks if they have wings, and Tim says there is no winged angel depicted in the Bible.
Tim says there’s a particular elohim/spiritual being depicted in the Bible that is called “malak Yahweh,” or “messenger of Yahweh.” One notable appearance of this character is in the story of Hagar in Genesis 21. The story starts out with Hagar conversing with the Angel of the Lord, but then later she says she had conversed with God (Yahweh).
Jon asks if this is a sign of the literary seams of different sources as this story was told throughout the years. Tim says this is possible, but he also wonders if it’s intentional. Is the Angel of Yahweh Yahweh, or is it distinct from Yahweh? Tim thinks it's both.
Tim mentions the story in Exodus 23. Yahweh says, “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my name is in him.”
Jon asks what it means to have Yahweh’s name in someone. Tim says this is a really unique phrase in the Bible. Tim thinks the point is that there’s a balance beam the biblical authors are walking. They want to present Yahweh as distinct from the Angel of God, but also they can be the same.
In part three (17:25-26:55), Tim outlines the story of Gideon in Judges 6:11-23.
"The Angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.' 'Pardon me, my lord,' Gideon replied, 'but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.' The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?' 'Pardon me, my lord,' Gideon replied, 'but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.' The Lord answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.' Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.' And the Lord said, 'I will wait until you return.' Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The Angel of God said to him, 'Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.' And Gideon did so. Then the Angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the Angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the Angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, 'Alas, 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.'"
In this story, the character keeps alternating between “the Lord” and “the Angel of the Lord.” Why is this? Is this just lazy writing, or is it a biblical contradiction? Tim says he thinks this is a strange story on purpose. Tim thinks that this is a human figure that can appear, a figure that is Yahweh but also distinct from Yahweh. The point of this story is to form a mental shelf in the reader's mind that there is a human figure, a messenger who acts as God and also on behalf of God. This figure has “my name in Him,” according to Exodus 23.
In Part four (26:55-end), Tim outlines the history of the ideas surrounding this figure. Some traditions and scholars think that this figure is Michael, archangel or chief angel. Tim says there’s a book called “The Apocalypse of Abraham.” It's a second temple Jewish text that tries to give more background on this figure. In that text the figure is called “Ya-ho-el.”
In other Jewish traditions, the Angel of the Lord is known as Metatron. The early church fathers believed that this being was a pre-incarnated Jesus. Tim says there are lots of ideas, and the biblical authors, especially the New Testament authors, consider Jesus to be “greater than an angel.” This theme is especially noticeable in the book of Hebrews. To a modern reader, the meaning slips past us, but to an ancient Jewish reader, saying that Jesus was “greater than an angel” or that he was the Angel of Yahweh was equivalent to saying that he was Yahweh.