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Who was “The Angel of the LORD”?

By David Sproule

The following question was submitted:

“In Zechariah 3:6, it says ‘The Angel of the LORD…’” (NKJV).  Why is it that the ‘a’ in Angel is capitalized?  I’ve noticed it in others parts of the O.T. as well.  In Zechariah 4:1, it is a lowercase ‘a.’  In the ESV, ‘angel’ is not capitalized in Zechariah 3:6 but all letters of ‘LORD’ are.  So, why all the differences?”

The Old Testament was originally written in the Hebrew language, which does not have capital letters; therefore, it was the prerogative of the translators to capitalize or not capitalize a word.  An example of this is seen in the above citation, which mirrors a translation’s choice to capitalize (or not) pronouns referring to deity.  While many translations (ex: KJV, ASV, ESV) do not capitalize pronouns (like “he,” “his,” “him”) as they refer to deity, some other translators (ex: NKJV, NASB) chose to capitalize any pronoun (or any word for that matter) that they believed was a reference to deity.  Thus, when a Bible reader of a NKJV or NASB comes across “the Angel of the LORD,” those translators capitalized “Angel,” because they believed “the Angel of the LORD” was a representation of deity, but they did not capitalize “angel” (for example, in Zech. 4:1) when they believed it was not a reference to deity.  In the early chapters of Zechariah specifically, whether capitalized or not, the prophet did make a distinction between “the Angel of the LORD” and “the angel who talked with me.”  Now, was “the Angel of the LORD” deity?  (Remember: In Scripture, the word “angel” simply means “messenger.”)

Reference is made to “the Angel of the LORD” more than sixty times in the Old Testament, with a few of those as “the Angel of God.”  What can we know from these passages about “the Angel of the LORD”?  Let’s take just a few notes.

The first time “the Angel of the LORD” is found in Scripture is in conversation with Hagar in Genesis 6.  “The Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendents exceedingly…” (16:10).  Hagar’s reaction was to call “the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” (16:13).  Was “the Angel of the LORD” really God Himself?  Look in the next chapter (Gen. 17) at a conversation between Abraham and God.  “The LORD appeared to Abraham and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God’” (17:1).  “Then God said: ‘And as for Ishmael…I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly” (17:20).  The very thing that “the Angel of the LORD” promised to do for Ishmael (16:10) is the very same thing that Jehovah promised to do for Ishmael (17:20).  “The Angel of the Lord” is deity.

Note just a few other brief examples.  “The Angel of the Lord appeared” to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2), but for the next two chapters He is called “God” (23 times), “LORD” (23 times) and “I AM” (3:14).  (Note that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is “God,” “LORD” and “I AM” [Heb. 1:8-10; John 1:1-14; 8:58].)  “The Angel of God…went before” and protected Israel by “the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night” (Ex. 14:19-20; 13:21-22), but Exodus 13:21 says it was Jehovah, the LORD who “went before them.”  (Note that the New Testament teaches that it was Jesus who went with them [1 Cor. 10:1-4].)  One final example (of the dozens that could be examined) is in Joshua 5-6.  This time, “the Commander of the LORD’S army” stood before Joshua and commanded him to do the exact same thing (i.e., “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy”) that “the Angel of the LORD” commanded Moses to do (Josh. 5:15; cf. Ex. 3:2-5), but two verses later the text says it was “the LORD” speaking to Joshua (6:2).  “Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped” Him (5:14), and his worship was proper and accepted, unlike the worship of angels (cf. Col. 2:18; Rev. 22:8-9).  (Note that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is the “Commander” [Matt. 17:5] and He is to be worshiped [Matt. 4:10; 14:33; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 5:12-13]).

The extensive evidence lends credible and substantial support to the conclusion that “the Angel of the Lord” (or “the Angel of God” or “the Angel of His Presence”) was, in fact, deity and even pre-incarnate appearances and interactions of the Christ to man.  Interestingly, Manoah asked “the Angel of the Lord” for His name, and “the Angel of the Lord” said, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful” (Judg. 13:17-18).  Do you know anyone else whose name is “Wonderful” (cf. Isa. 9:6-7)?  What a thrilling study!