Erroneous beliefs and preconceived ideas are a lock on the door of the human mind; they have proven to be very effective in keeping the truth at bay. In the past, the belief systems of most people were acquired directly from their parents as they grew up. Countless generations clung to their inherited beliefs with great tenacity, vigorously promoting them as bequeathed truth. Yet in the vast majority of cases, the origin of these beliefs was not based on fact, but rather on supposition or hearsay.
Unfortunately, this has been doubly true in the case of religious convictions. Most who have professed to be Christians have not studied God's Word to prove or disprove their beliefs, as God commands and expects (I The. 5:21; Acts 17:11). Instead of the Bible, many have relied on their priest, pastor, or minister to explain God and His purpose to them. Some of those who did look into the Bible for themselves sought out "proof texts" that seemed to substantiate their original views. Usually taken out of context, these "proof text" verses were esteemed at the expense of the rest of the Bible. Any Scripture which appeared contradictory to their beliefs was ignored or rationalized away.
Satan the devil has used this prevalent flaw in human nature to deceive almost the entire world about one of the central topics of the Bible, the prophesied Messiah. The identity and activities of the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given (Matt. 28:18; I Cor. 15:27) remains a mystery to most of the world. However, the Bible discloses who this being is and what he's been doing to accomplish God's plan for mankind. In this article, we're going to see what God's Word has to say about the Messiah before his birth to Mary.
Many believe that God the Father was the one who interacted with ancient Israel personally, appearing and speaking to the patriarchs and to Moses. Yet the Bible plainly and absolutely contradicts this belief:
JOHN 1:18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (NKJV)
JOHN 5:37 "And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form." (NKJV)
JOHN 6:46 "Not that any man hath seen the Father, except he who is from God, he hath seen the Father." (RWB)
I TIMOTHY 6:14 . . . Our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 who at the due time will be revealed by God, the blessed and only Ruler of all, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal, whose home is in inaccessible light, whom no man has seen and no man is able to see: to him be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (Jerusalem Bible)
I JOHN 4:12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (NKJV)
As you can see, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that the Father has never been seen by mankind. So who was the one called "God" (Heb. 'elohim) or "the LORD" (Heb. YHVH) who appeared and spoke to Noah, Abraham, Moses and others in the Old Testament? The information we will examine in this article strongly indicates that it was the one who later came in the flesh as Yeshua of Nazareth!
Let's begin by reviewing some generally overlooked evidence from ancient Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures called Targums. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) gives us some background on what the Targums are and where they came from:
The most elementary meaning of the word targum is "translation" or "interpretation" . . . In later times the term targum became associated primarily with the various Aramaic translations of the OT . . . Often these translations tend to be paraphrastic, and sometimes they contain extensive annotations rather than pure literal renderings of the Hebrew text.
. . . The Hebrew Scriptures were the primary source and inspiration for the Jewish way of life. Thus it was imperative to interpret the meaning of holy writ. The oral tradition, like the Targums, provided a more or less official interpretation of the meaning of Scripture . . . The Targums, like the oral law, contain a wealth of information concerning the way the Jewish interpreters of late antiquity understood the Scriptures . . .
. . . Most scholars agree that the practice of translating the Bible into Aramaic was an early custom. Certainly the large Jewish community that remained in Babylon after the decree of Cyrus (537 B.C.) would have eventually required a translation of the sacred literature into Aramaic. . . . The Targums were indeed an actualization of the Bible, and they often elucidate the ancient Jewish understanding of particular texts.
The earliest Targums known are those discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. . . . It may well be that the Targums were preserved and transmitted as oral tradition long before they were committed to writing. Already the Mishnah and the Tosefta described the custom of reading the Hebrew Bible and having it translated into Aramaic . . .
The study of the Targums is of paramount importance, for they reflect early Jewish ideas, customs, and Halakah as well as Jewish interpretation of Scripture. Hence the Targums are relevant sources for the study of the Hebrew OT not only because they demonstrate how the text was translated and understood, in much the same way as the LXX and other ancient Bible translations, but also because the Targums preserve remnants of Jewish thought from late antiquity. In this respect . . . they can elucidate Jewish life and understanding of the Scripture from the time of nascent Christianity. (pp. 727, 728, 729, vol. 4, "Targum")
As the ISBE points out, the Targums can be helpful in understanding the way a first- century Jew at the time of Christ would have understood the Hebrew Scriptures. When the Tanakh shows God ('elohim) or the LORD (YHVH) conversing with human beings, who would Yeshua's Jewish contemporaries have understood this to be?
The Targums help us to answer this question. We're going to examine some Old Testament appearances of God and see how the Targums interpret these appearances. First, let's look at the story of Hagar's flight into the desert away from Sarai:
GENESIS 16:7 Now the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And He said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?" She said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." 9 The Angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand." 10 Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, "I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude." 11 And the Angel of the LORD said to her: "Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has heard your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." 13 Then she called the name of the LORD [YHVH] who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, "Have I also here seen Him who sees me?" (NKJV)
The name YHVH (also variously rendered "YHWH," "Yahweh," "Yahveh," "Yehovah," or "Jehovah") is found over 6,800 times in the Old Testament. A detailed review of the Hebrew Scriptures shows this name was applied to God the Father (Deu. 18:15; Psa. 110:1), the Angel of the LORD (Exo. 13:21; 19:20), and even to other angels (Gen. 19:18, original Hebrew text). So the appearance of this name, which seems to be used like a surname (Eph. 3:14-15), does not automatically identify the spiritual entity referred to here.
In verse 13 we see that Hagar called the "Angel of the LORD" who spoke to her by the name YHVH. However, the Targums record another name for this being:
GENESIS 16:7 And the Angel of the Lord found her at the fountain of waters in the desert; at the fountain of waters which is in the way to Chagra. 8 And He said, Hagar, handmaid of Sara, whence comest thou, and whither does thou go? And she said, From before Sara my mistress I have escaped. 9 And the Angel of the Lord said to her, Return to thy mistress, and be subject under her hand. 10 And the Angel of the Lord said to her, Multiplying I will multiply thy sons, and they shall not be numbered for multitude. 11 And the Angel of the Lord said to her, Behold, thou art with child, and thou wilt bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because thy affliction is revealed before the Lord. 12 And he shall be like the wild ass among men: his hands shall take vengeance of his adversaries, and the hands of his adversaries be put forth to do him evil; and in the presence of all his brethren shall he be commingled and shall dwell. 13 And she gave thanks before the Lord whose Word spake to her, and thus said, Thou art He who livest and art eternal; who seest, but art not seen! (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
GENESIS 16:13 And Hagar gave thanks, and prayed in the Name of the Word of the Lord, who had been manifested to her, saying, Blessed be Thou, Eloha, the Living One of all Ages, who hast looked upon my affliction. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (so named because of an initial misidentification of its composer by scholars) and the Jerusalem Targum both tell us that it was the Memra (Aramaic for "Word") of YHVH who came and spoke to Hagar.amed because of an initial misidentification
We know from the New Testament who first-century messianic Jews identified as the Word of the LORD:
JOHN 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (NKJV)
JOHN 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (NKJV)
REVELATION 19:11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. (NKJV)
Jewish knowledge of a high-ranking spirit being called the Word (Ara. Memra, Gr. Logos) is well attested at the time of Christ. Several of the Targums use this designation to describe the one who interacted with the patriarchs and the nation of Israel in the wilderness. Additionally, the writings of Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Yeshua, give us a lot of information about who this Word was understood to be (for additional details on Philo's discussion of the Word, see my article "Who is Jesus Christ?").
Next, let's examine the appearance of YHVH to Abraham at Mamre:
GENESIS 18:1 Then the LORD [YHVH] appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. (NKJV)
The Hebrew text of Genesis 18:1 says that YHVH was the one who appeared to Abraham. However, the Jerusalem Targum gives us further identification of who came to him:
GENESIS 18:1 Therefore was there a word of prophecy from before the Lord unto Abraham the Just, and the Word of the Lord was revealed to him in the valley of vision; and he sat in the door of the tabernacle, comforting himself from his circumcision in the fervour (or strength) of the day. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
The Jerusalem Targum records that YHVH who appeared to Abraham after his circumcision was actually the Word of YHVH.
Later, we see that God tested Abraham's commitment and obedience:
GENESIS 22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God [ha'elohim] tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." (NKJV)
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan further identifies the 'elohim who told Abraham to sacrifice his son:
GENESIS 22:1 The Word of the Lord at once tried Abraham, and said to him, Abraham! And he said, Behold me. And He said, Take now thy son, thy only one whom thou lovest, Izhak, and go into the land of worship, and offer him there, a whole burnt offering, upon one of the mountains that I will tell thee. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
Here we see that the 'elohim who told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was the Word of the LORD. Later in the story of Abraham and Isaac, we find Isaac asking his father where they were going to acquire a sacrificial animal. Abraham told Isaac that 'elohim would provide the sacrifice:
GENESIS 22:8 And Abraham said, "My son, God ['elohim] will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together. (NKJV)
The Jerusalem Targum identifies this 'elohim as the Word of the LORD:
GENESIS 22:8 And Abraham said, The Word of the Lord will prepare for me a lamb; and if not, then thou art the offering, my son! And they went both of them together with a contrite heart. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
The understanding that the Word, and not the Father, was the one who actually tested Abraham helps explain a puzzling statement found in Genesis 22:12:
GENESIS 22:10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" So he said, "Here I am." 12 And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for NOW I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." (NKJV)
If God is omniscient ("all-knowing"), wouldn't He have known already whether or not Abraham feared him enough to obey the command to sacrifice Isaac? Clearly, the scriptural answer to that question is "yes" (Isa. 46:10). But if we recognize that the one testing Abraham was not God the Father, but rather the Word of the LORD (also known as the Angel of the LORD), then this episode makes sense.
This same Angel is the one who appeared as YHVH to Jacob at Bethel, as the following two related passages of Scripture confirm:
GENESIS 28:10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. 12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the LORD [YHVH] stood above it and said: "I am the LORD God [YHVH 'elohey] of Abraham your father and the God ['elohey] of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you." 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." (NKJV)
GENESIS 31:11 "Then the Angel of God [mal'ak ha'elohim] spoke to me in a dream, saying, 'Jacob.' And I said, 'Here I am.' 12 And He said, 'Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God [ha'el] of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.' " (NKJV)
This is also the Angel that later wrestled with the patriarch Jacob:
GENESIS 32:24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks." But he said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!" 27 So He said to him, "What is your name?" He said, "Jacob." 28 And He said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God ['elohim] and with men, and have prevailed." 29 Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell me Your name, I pray." And He said, "Why is it that you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: "For I have seen God ['elohim] face to face, and my life is preserved." (NKJV)
The Targums give us a better understanding of who this Angel was that Jacob wrestled with, and why he could say that he had seen "God" ('elohim) face to face:
GENESIS 32:24 And Jakob remained alone; and a Man wrestled with him till the morning ascended. 25 And he saw that he prevailed not with him, and he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was dislocated in wrestling with him. 26 And he said, Let me go; for the morning ascendeth. And he said, I will not let Thee go, unless Thou bless me. 27 And He said to him, What is thy name? And he said, Jakob. 28 And He said, Thy name shall be no longer Jakob, but Israel; for a prince art thou before the Lord, and with men, and thou hast prevailed. 29 And Jakob asked Him, and said, Show me now Thy Name! And He said, Why dost thou ask My Name? And He blessed him there. 30 And Jakob called the name of the place Peniel: because I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face, and my soul hath been saved! (Targum Onkelos, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
GENESIS 32:24 And Jakob remained alone beyond the Jubeka; and an Angel contended with him in the likeness of a man. And he said, Hast thou not promised to give the tenth of all that is thine? And, behold, thou hast ten sons and one daughter: nevertheless thou hast not tithed them. Immediately he set apart the four firstborn of the four mothers, and there remained eight. And he began to number from Shimeon, and Levi came up for the tenth. Michael answered and said, Lord of the world is Thy lot. And on account of these things he (Michael) remained from God at the torrent till the column of the morning was ascending. 25 And he saw that he had not power to hurt him, and he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jakob's thigh was distorted in his contending with him. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the column of the morning ascendeth; and the hour cometh when the angels on high offer praise to the Lord of the world: and I am one of the angels of praise, but from the day that the world was created my time to praise hath not come until now. 27 And he said, I will not let thee go, until thou bless me. And he said, What is thy name? He answered, Jakob. 28 And he said, Thy name shall be no more called Jakob but Israel, because thou art magnified with the angels of the Lord and with the mighty, and thou hast prevailed with them. 29 And Jakob asked and said, Show me now thy name. And he said, Why dost thou ask for my name? And he blessed Jakob there. 30 And Jakob called the name of the place Peniel; for he said, I have seen the Angels of the Lord face to face, and my soul is saved. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
Targum Onkelos informs us that the 'elohim who wrestled with Jacob was actually the Angel of the LORD. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan goes a step further and identifies this Angel as Michael (cf. Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7). We will further discuss the identity of Michael a little later.
At the end of his life, during Jacob's adoption of his two grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own offspring, he speaks once more of the 'elohim who had blessed and redeemed him:
GENESIS 48:15 And he blessed Joseph, and said: "God [ha'elohim], before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God [ha'elohim] who has fed me all my life long to this day, 16 the Angel [hamal'ak] who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (NKJV)
In this passage, Israel parallels the 'elohim of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac with the Angel that wrestled with him and redeemed him from evil. This Angel is the one who changed his name from Jacob (lit. "supplanter") to Israel (lit. "God strives"). It was this Angel who was the 'elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Another ancient appearance of the Angel of the LORD took place at Mount Sinai when Moses saw the burning bush:
EXODUS 3:2 And the Angel of the LORD [mal'ak YHVH] appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn." 4 So when the LORD [YHVH] saw that he turned aside to look, God ['elohim] called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." 5 Then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." 6 Moreover He said, "I am the God ['elohim] of your father -- the God ['elohey] of Abraham, the God ['elohey] of Isaac, and the God ['elohey] of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God [ha'elohim]. (NKJV)
This 'elohim who appeared to Moses is called the Angel of the LORD in verse 2. Both the Old and New Testaments show that the Angel here was YHVH, also known as the Word of YHVH, who acted as the primary spokesman for God the Father.
In the book of Acts, Stephen, during his testimony before the Sanhedrin council, confirms that it was this Angel that spoke to Moses, and not God the Father:
ACTS 7:30 [Stephen said] "And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai." (NKJV)
ACTS 7:35 "This Moses whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?' is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. (NKJV)
A little later in their dialogue, Moses asked the Angel in the burning bush what he should tell the children of Israel when they asked him the name of the God that sent him to them:
EXODUS 3:14 And God ['elohim] said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' " (NKJV)
The Angel's reply has been understood in several different ways, but the Jerusalem Targum confirms that this 'elohim speaking to Moses was in fact the Word of the LORD:
EXODUS 3:14 And the Word of the Lord said to Mosheh, He who spake to the world, Be, and it was; and who will speak to it, Be, and it will be. And he said, Thus shalt thou speak to the sons of Israel, EHEYEH hath sent me unto you. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
Stephen, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also tells us that the Angel of the LORD was with the Israelites in their wilderness journey from Egypt:
ACTS 7:38 This [Moses] is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us. (RSV)
The apostle Paul makes mention of the spiritual being who brought the Israelites out of Egypt in his first epistle to the Corinthian church. Let's look and see who he identifies as the one who accompanied the Israelites:
I CORINTHIANS 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (NKJV)
In this passage, Paul is continuing an exhortation to the Corinthians to hold fast to their faith in Christ. He tells them that their ancestors, the ancient Israelites, were led out of Egypt by the Messiah. Paul says that those people who were under the supernatural cloud and passed through the parted Red Sea were spiritually fed by "that spiritual Rock that followed them." Paul clearly states that this Rock was none other than Christ himself!
According to Paul (I Cor. 10:4), the Angel of the LORD was the one who later became Yeshua the Messiah. Unfortunately, the term "angel" conveys a specific meaning to most people today. However, the Hebrew word mal'ak, usually translated "angel" in the Old Testament, merely means "messenger," one sent with a message. Haggai is called "the LORD'S messenger" (mal'ak) because he brought the words of God to the Jews (Hag. 1:13); Malachi says that people should seek the law from the mouth of a priest, who is a "messenger (mal'ak) of the LORD" (Mal. 2:7).
Let's look at a couple of key verses in the story of the Israelites' escape from Egypt:
EXODUS 13:21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. (NKJV)
EXODUS 14:19 And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. (NKJV)
In these verses we see the one who shepherded the Israelites out of Egypt identified. In Exodus 13:21 he is called YHVH. However, in Exodus 14:19, the being in the cloud going before the Israelites is called the "Angel of God" (Heb. mal'ak ha'elohim). How do we explain this apparent discrepancy? Are these two separate entities, or are they one and the same?
Evidence from several sources indicates that the being called YHVH in Exodus 13:21 is the same entity referred to as the "Angel of God" in Exodus 14:19.
The burning bush encounter wasn't the only occasion on which the Angel of the LORD talked to Moses on behalf of the Most High, God the Father. In Acts 7:38, Stephen states that it was this Angel who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai after the Israelites initial arrival there, and later on Sivan 6 when the Ten Commandments were delivered to all the people.
The Jerusalem Targum plainly identifies who this Angel was:
EXODUS 19:3 And Moses went up to God [ha'elohim], and the LORD [YHVH] called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: (NKJV)
EXODUS 19:3 And Mosheh went up to seek instruction from before the Lord; and the Word of the Lord anticipated him from the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou speak to the men of the house of Jakob, and teach the congregation of the sons of Israel. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
EXODUS 19:7 So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD [YHVH] commanded him. 8 Then all the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD [YHVH] has spoken we will do." So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD [YHVH] . 9 And the LORD [YHVH] said to Moses, "Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever." So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD [YHVH]. (NKJV)
EXODUS 19:7 And Mosheh came and called the sages of Israel and set in order before them all these words which the Word of the Lord had commanded him. 8 And all the people answered together in the fulness of their heart, and said, All that the Word of the Lord hath spoken, we will do. And Mosheh returned the words of the people in prayer before the Lord. 9 And the Word of the Lord said to Mosheh, Behold, My Word will be revealed to thee in the thickness of the cloud, that the people may hear while I speak with thee, and may also believe for ever in the words of the prophecy of thee, My servant Mosheh. And Mosheh delivered the words of the people in prayer before the Lord. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
EXODUS 19:20 Then the LORD [YHVH] came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD [YHVH] called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 And the LORD [YHVH] said to Moses, "Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the LORD, and many of them perish." (NKJV)
EXODUS 20:1 And God ['elohim] spoke all these words, saying: (NKJV)
We see here that the entity referred to as "the Angel" by Stephen is the same one called YHVH and 'elohim in these verses from Exodus. This proves that the terms "LORD" and "Angel of the LORD" were used interchangeably for the same being in the Bible.
The Jerusalem Targum rendering of Exodus 20:1 confirms that the 'elohim who spoke to Israel from Mount Sinai was the Word of the Lord, not God the Father:
EXODUS 20:1 And the Word of the Lord spake all the excellency of these words saying: (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
Exodus 23:20-23 confirms that the Angel who spoke to the Israelites from Mount Sinai was in the wilderness with Moses and the congregation of Israel during their wandering. This passage shows that the Angel's duties included keeping the Israelites in God's ways and bringing them into the Promised Land:
EXODUS 23:20 " Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. 21 Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. 22 But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23 For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. (NKJV)
This Angel was a messenger delivering God the Father's words to Moses and the children of Israel, and God's name ("YHVH") was upon him. Because of this role, at times he referred to himself in the third person when relaying God's words. Without an understanding and awareness of his role, things can get a little confusing when reading the statements and activities of this Angel. In fact, the Scriptures even show Moses himself becoming confused in one instance:
EXODUS 33:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'To your descendants I will give it.' 2 And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people." (NKJV)
God the Father, through His messenger the Angel, tells Moses that He will not accompany them into the Promised Land. The Angel so translucently communicates God's remarks to Moses that it appears as if he is talking to Moses himself, instead of God the Father speaking through him. This situation seems to confuse Moses, because he goes on to say that the Angel had not let him know whom he would send with him to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Exo. 33:12). He obviously didn't recognize that the Angel was speaking for the Most High God in verse 3 and not for himself. Moses apparently thought that the Angel of the LORD, who had accompanied them to this point, would be replaced by another angel. God, through the Angel, reassures Moses that His "Presence" would continue to accompany them:
EXODUS 33:14 And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 15 Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here." (NKJV)
The Angel of the LORD is the one referred to here as the "Presence" of YHVH. Moses proclaims this to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 4:37, and in Isaiah 63:9, the Angel of the LORD is called the "Angel of His Presence":
DEUTERONOMY 4:37 [Moses said] "Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength," (NIV)
ISAIAH 63:9 In all their [the Israelites'] affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old. (NKJV)
The Angel of the LORD was also called the Angel of God's Presence because he possessed the nature, character, and authority of God the Father. This concept has numerous parallels to Christ in the New Testament:
II CORINTHIANS 4:4 . . . Christ, who is the image of God . . . (NKJV)
COLOSSIANS 1:15 [Christ] . . . is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: (KJV)
HEBREWS 1:3 [Christ] . . . being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power . . . (NKJV)
In I Corinthians 10:9 Paul once more identifies YHVH who accompanied the Israelites in their desert sojourn as Christ. The incident he mentions here (recorded in Numbers 21:5-6) occurred while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years:
I CORINTHIANS 10:9 Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted [Christ], and were destroyed by serpents; (NKJV)
NUMBERS 21:5 And the people spoke against God ['elohim] and against Moses: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread." 6 So the LORD [YHVH] sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. (NKJV)
A comparison of the two Scriptures above makes it clear that Christ, "God" ('elohim) and "the LORD" (YHVH) mentioned in Numbers 21:5-6 are all the same entity.
Judges 2:1 confirms that it was the Angel of the LORD who led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land:
JUDGES 2:1 Then the Angel of the LORD [mal'ak YHVH] came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: "I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, 'I will never break My covenant with you.' " (NKJV)
Just as the Angel of the LORD was God's messenger to the people of Israel, Christ was also a "messenger" of God the Father in the New Testament. Regarding his role, Yeshua said "I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has told me what to say and what to speak" (John 12:49).
Another pair of Scriptures further identifies the Angel of the LORD as the Messiah. Recorded in Judges 13 is the story of Samson's parents being notified of his impending birth by the Angel of the LORD. Manoah, Samson's father, did not realize that the one who foretold the birth of his son was the Angel (Judges 13:16). He asked the Angel of the LORD what his name was, so that they might honor him when his prophecy came true. The Angel's answer is very revealing, if understood correctly:
JUDGES 13:18 And the Angel of Jehovah said to him, Why do you ask this about My name? Yea, it is Wonderful. (A Literal Translation of the Bible)
The Angel of YHVH answered Manoah by saying that his name was "Wonderful." When we compare the Angel's answer to the prophecy of the coming Messiah recorded in Isaiah 9:6, the similarities are striking:
ISAIAH 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NKJV)
The name the Angel gave Manoah is one of the names prophesied to be applied to Yeshua the Messiah. By itself, this could simply be discounted as a coincidence. However, when considered with the weight of the other evidence we've examined, it's clear that the Angel of the LORD is the one who became Christ.
In the first century C.E., the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX) was widely used by Greek-speaking Jews. In the LXX, this same verse is rendered somewhat differently:
ISAIAH 9:6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger [aggelos] of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him. (Brenton's LXX)
As you can see, the Septuagint calls the coming Messiah the "Aggelos (Angel) of Great Counsel." Both the Hebrew and Greek versions of this verse link the coming Messiah to the Angel of the LORD. The evidence is substantial that the Angel of the LORD and Yeshua the Messiah are one and the same!
Some people have trouble with using the designation "Angel" for the preincarnate Messiah. However, the Scriptures clearly show that this is a description that applies to him:
MALACHI 3:1 "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger [mal'ak, lit. "Angel"] of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. (NKJV)
In Malachi, we see that "the Lord" who "will suddenly come to His temple" is also called the "Angel of the covenant." Plainly, the Scriptures indicate that "Angel" is one of the titles of the coming Messiah.
Another appearance of the being we know as Christ is recorded in Joshua 5:13-15. Here he calls himself the "Commander of the host of YHVH":
JOSHUA 5:13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood 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?" 14 So He said, "No, but as Commander of the army [tseva', "host"] of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, "What does my Lord say to His servant?" 15 Then the Commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so. (NKJV)
From Revelation 22:8-9, we know that worship of angels is forbidden. However, here we see Joshua bowing before and worshiping this Angel. Indeed, just as with the Angel of the LORD in the burning bush on Mount Sinai (Exo. 3:5), the ground where this Angel stood was considered holy. Clearly, this is no ordinary spirit being!
In their commentary on this passage of Scripture, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown state: ". . . The address and the adoration of Joshua, the holiness communicated to the spot by the presence of this Personage, and the application to him of the name Jehovah (ch. vi. 2), identify Him with the Angel of the Lord . . . " (p. 13, vol. I, part 2, A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical).
This Scripture identifies another role the Messiah plays in God's plan: that of the commander of His holy angels. Several New Testament passages show that the Messiah is the commander of the army of God's loyal angels:
REVELATION 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." (NASU)
JUDE 14 It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him." (NRSV)
MATTHEW 25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory." (NKJV)
MARK 8:38 "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." (NASU)
The Messiah's position as the commander of the army of holy angels goes hand-in-hand with his role as guardian of the nation of Israel, as we will see.
Is there any other character identified in the Bible as the commander of the holy angels and the protector of the nation of Israel? Yes, there most definitely is!
DANIEL 12:1 "At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people [Israel], shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. (NRSV)
REVELATION 12:7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon [Satan]; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. (RSV)
Most people believe that Michael is one of several high-ranking "archangels" that serve God. Yet a look at what the Bible says about this topic shows that this belief is not scripturally substantiated. The term "archangel" is found only twice in the Bible.
JUDE 9 But Michael the archangel [ho archaggelos], when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" (NASU)
I THESSALONIANS 4:16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel [archaggelou] and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (NASU)
The word "archangel" is simply a transliteration into English of the Greek word archaggelos. This compound word is comprised of the Greek words arche and aggelos. Arche means primacy, either in relation to time or rank; aggelos has the same meaning as the Hebrew word mal'ak; it refers to a messenger or an envoy. The literal meaning of archaggelos is "chief messenger." The Bible clearly shows that Christ was God's "chief messenger" to mankind.
JOHN 8:26 " . . . He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him." (NKJV)
JOHN 12:49 [Christ said] "For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak." (NKJV)
In I Thessalonians 4:16, we see that the Lord Yeshua will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel. It is Yeshua who is shouting, and it is his voice that will raise "the dead in Christ." This is confirmed by Yeshua's own words, recorded in John 5:25:
JOHN 5:25 "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (NASU)
This Scripture clearly shows that ONLY Yeshua's voice will initiate the resurrection of the dead. Paul tells us in I Thessalonians 4:16 that it is the voice of "archangel" that sounds at Yeshua's return and raises "the dead in Christ." Therefore, logic leads us to the conclusion that "the voice of the archangel" belongs to Yeshua. Additionally, Daniel records that the appearance of Michael the archangel at the end of the age will be accompanied by a resurrection (Dan. 12:1-2).
As we saw in the Scriptures above, Michael is the only "archangel" specifically referenced in the Bible. The belief in multiple "archangels" is not scriptural. A belief in archangels appears to have developed in early Judaism; a similar belief evolved in the Catholic church. The concept seems to have been derived from a passage in the book of Daniel:
DANIEL 10:13 "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one ['echad] of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia." (NKJV)
In this verse, Michael is called "one" of the chief princes. The majority of translations render the Hebrew word 'echad as "one" here. Most scholars take this to mean that he is only one of an unspecified group of equivalent rank. However, 'echad can also be translated "first," as it is in Young's Literal Translation, shown below:
DANIEL 10:13 'And the head of the kingdom of Persia is standing over-against me twenty and one days, and lo, Michael, first ['echad] of the chief heads, hath come in to help me, and I have remained there near the kings of Persia;' (YLT)
When this meaning of 'echad is applied, Daniel 10:13 takes on an entirely different context. In Young's translation, Michael's position is shown to be above the other "princes." The Bible reveals that these rulers are actually powerful spirit beings (commonly called "angels") who have been given authority over the various nations of the earth. For additional details on this topic, see my article "The Heavenly Divine Council."
In Daniel 10:21 and 12:1, Michael is designated as the spiritual prince ruling over the nation of Israel:
DANIEL 10:20 Then he said, "Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come. 21 But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince. (RSV)
DANIEL 12:1 "At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (RSV)
When all the Scriptures on this topic are objectively examined, we can see that the belief Michael is one of several archangels is not supported. In fact, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary states this about the Jewish understanding of the identity of Michael in first-century Judaism:
Michael was sometimes spoken of as the angel who mediated between God and Moses in the giving of the law at Sinai (cf. Jub. 1:27; 2:1) and so may be the angel mentioned at Acts 7:38. (p. 716, "Michael")
As we have already seen, the angel mentioned by Stephen in Acts 7:38 is the Angel of the LORD, who has been identified with Yeshua the Messiah. Additionally, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan says the Angel who wrestled with Jacob was Michael.
The first-century messianic Jewish understanding of who Yeshua had been before his incarnation was one of the reasons the distinction between the Messiah and the other angels had to be drawn in the first chapter of Hebrews. Rather than denigrating the position of the angels, this chapter was meant instead to elevate the status of Michael (Christ) in order to clarify his role to the messianic Jews of that day.
There is another pair of Scriptures, one from the Old Testament and the other from the New Testament, that seem to connect the Angel of the LORD with Michael:
ZECHARIAH 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?" (NKJV)
JUDE 9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" (NASU)
As you can see, in both instances Michael and the Angel of the LORD reacted identically to Satan. Taken with the other Scriptures we've examined, this is further evidence that Michael is another name for the Angel.
In fact, the Hebrew name "Michael" literally means "one who is like God." This name fits perfectly with the Angel of the LORD, who had God's name in him (Exo. 23:21) and was the "Presence" of YHVH (Exo. 33:14; Deu. 4:37; Isa. 63:9). It also fits perfectly with Christ, who was the exact image of God (II Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Michael, the one who will "appear" at the time of trouble at the end of this age and raise the dead with his voice, is surely another name for Yeshua the Messiah. The Bible shows it is the Messiah who will return at the end of the age and rule over his people, all the tribes of Israel, after they have been brought back into the Promised Land.
As we've seen from various translations of the Old Testament, the Messiah has had numerous roles in God's plan for mankind. He acted as the guardian of Israel when they came out of Egypt, traveling with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The Messiah was the one who delivered God's words to the Israelites from Mount Sinai. He protected them in the wilderness and punished them when they sinned. This Angel stood up for God's people when Satan slandered them before the heavenly throne. As the commander of the holy host, Christ has battled against Satan and his demons and triumphed. It's time to realize and appreciate the central role that God designated in His plan for the one we know as Jesus Christ, Yeshua the Messiah. He's our Savior, Redeemer, Shepherd, Protector, Brother, and Lord.
Bryan T. Huie
December 24, 1999