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The Angel of the Lord (or the Angel of God) is one of many terms in the Hebrew Bible (also: Old Testament) used for an angel. The Biblical name for angel, מלאך mal'ach, which translates simply as "messenger," obtained the further signification of "angel" only through the addition of God's name, as ("angel of the Lord," or "angel of God", Zech. 12:8). Other appellations for angels are Benei Elohim, "Sons of God," Gen. 6:4; Job 1:6; and k'doshim, "the Holy Ones".

In the Hebrew Bible angelic messengers often appear to people in the shape of human beings of extraordinary beauty, and are not at once recognized as angels (Gen. 18:2, 19:5; Judges 6:17, 13:6; II Sam. 29:9). Some angels are said to fly through the air; they become invisible; sacrifices touched by them are consumed by fire; they disappear in sacrificial fire, like Elijah, who rode to heaven in a fiery chariot; and they appear in the flames of the thornbush (Gen. 16:13; Judges 6:21, 22; II Kings 2:11; Ex. 3:2).

When a biblical character sees an angel identified as the angel of the Lord, this is often interpreted as a theophany.

Hebrew view

Historical development of the term within the Hebrew Bible
In the earlier Biblical writings the term "Malakh YHWH" (messenger of the Lord) occurs chiefly in the singular, and signifies a special self-manifestation of God (see Gen. 31:11-13, where the angel of God says, "I am the God of Beth-el"; Ex. 3:2-6, where the angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses in the flame of fire says, "I am the God of thy father"; compare Gen. 22:11; Judges 6:11-22).

At times the angel clearly distinguishes himself from the Lord who sends him (see Gen. 16:11, 21:17; Num. 22:31; Judges 13:16). Though appearing in human form (see Gen. 18:2 et seq., 32:25; compare Hosea 12:5), the angel of the Lord has no individuality. Being only a temporary manifestation of God, the angel can never replace God's presence; wherefore Moses, not satisfied with the Lord's saying "I will send an angel before thee" (Ex. 33:2), replies: "If thy presence {face} go not with me, carry us not up hence" (Ex. 33:15).

Within the Hebrew Bible, there is no uniform conception of angels. In Jacob's dream they ascend and descend the ladder (Gen. 28:12); in the vision of Isaiah (6:2) they are six-winged seraphim; in Ezekiel the cherubim and living creatures (ḥayyot) have the likeness of a man, are winged, and have feet (Ezek. 1:5-7, 10:19-21). As guests of the biblical patriarch Abraham, they eat (Gen. 18:8); in the house of Manoah the angel refuses to eat (Judges 13:16). Whether in the popular mind these angels took the place of the powers of nature deified by the heathen nations elsewhere, or whether the psychological process was a different one, the monotheism of Israel necessitated the assumption of beings representing a heavenly hierarchy ready to mediate between man and God.

Christian view

In Christianity, many commentators interpret the phrase "Angel of the Lord" to refer to a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ (see "Christophany"). Some point out that although many angels appear in the New Testament, the specific, divine "Angel of the Lord" never appears, therefore they conclude that he is now been incarnated as Jesus Christ.

Among others in Christianity, the Angel of the Lord is considered a general representation of God the Father, due to several verses stating that no one can look upon the face of the LORD and live.

Some Christian translations capitalize "Angel" to indicate the being's divinity.

Examples of the term in the Bible

  • Genesis 16:7-14. The Angel of the LORD appears to a woman named Hagar. The Angel speaks as God in the first-person, and in verse 13 Hagar identifies the visitor as God.
  • Genesis 22:11-15. The Angel of the LORD appears to Abraham and, again, refers to God in the first-person.
  • Genesis 31:11-13. The Angel of God speaks to Jacob in a dream and tells him "I am the God of Bethel".
  • Exodus 3:2-4. The Angel of the LORD appears to Moses in a flame in verse two, and God speaks to Moses from the flame in verse four.
  • Numbers 22:22-38. The Angel of the LORD meets the prophet Balaam on the road. In verse 38, Balaam identifies the Angel who spoke to him as God.
  • Judges 2:1-3. The Angel of the LORD appears to Israelmarker and identifies Himself as God.
  • Judges 6:11-23. The Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon. In verse 14 the Angel refers to Himself as God; in verse 21 the Angel allows Gideon to sacrifice to Him as to God ("Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight."), and in verse 22 Gideon fears for his life because he was in the presence of God.
  • Judges 13:3-22. The Angel of the LORD appears to Manoah and his wife, and, in verse 22, is identified as God.


References

Further reading




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