God's Strange Angel

Examining the Trinity in the Light of the Tanakh I

Introduction

Believers in Jesus hold to the view that there is one God, while also maintaining that God is a Trinity. Dr. James White defines the Trinity as follows:

Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Is this some crazy doctrine that pagan Christians thought up? I will attempt to show that there are hints of this in the Tanakh, the Jewish Scriptures, which predate any 1st century teaching of any follower of Jesus.

This article will focus on the angel of the LORD and how he is described in the Tanakh. Once we do this, we can see how the doctrine of the Trinity is in harmony with the teachings of the Tanakh.

I have added some comments between texts, but I am not at all eloquent. Please overlook my clumsy writings and concentrate on the relevant Scripture portions. (In the grand scheme of things, that is the proper thing to do anyway.)

Note: the Lord's personal name is translated as "LORD" in the translation I am using. I will also use that convention in my comments.

The Angel and God's Name

In the book of Exodus, we notice an angel that has a special relationship with God's name.

Exodus 23:20-22

20"Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

22"But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

Judaism 101 states: "In Jewish thought, a name is not merely an arbitrary designation, a random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the being named." The Talmud notes about the angel: "It was Metatron [who said that], he replied, whose name is similar to that of his Master, for it is written, For my name is in him." (Sanhedrin 38b)

The Angel and the Burning Bush

In one of the most famous passages in the Bible, when God calls Moses, we find the angel of the LORD.

Exodus 3:1-6

1Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, "I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned." 4When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." 5Then he said, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

We see that the angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in the Bush. Later in verse 4, the text reads that God calls to Moses out of the Bush. Now, one might say that although the angel appeared to Moses the voice coming from the bush is not the angel's.

But let's keep reading...

Exodus 4:1-5

1Then Moses answered, "But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, 'The LORD did not appear to you.'" 2The LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" He said, "A staff." 3And he said, "Throw it on the ground." So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. 4But the LORD said to Moses, "Put out your hand and catch it by the tail"--so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand-- 5"that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you."

In Exodus 3:2, it was the angel of the LORD that appeared to Moses. In this section, the text reads that the LORD Himself appeared to Moses.

Compare this episode with the visitation of the commander of the LORD's army to Joshua.

Joshua 5:13-15

13When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" 14And he said, "No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, "What does my lord say to his servant?" 15And the commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.

In the presence of the burning bush and the angel of the LORD, the LORD commanded Moses to take off his sandals. In the presence of the commander of the LORD's army, Joshua receives the same command.

The Angel in Genesis

Genesis 16:7-14

In the book of Genesis, we continue to see the angel of the LORD.

7The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?" She said, "I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai." 9The angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress and submit to her." 10The angel of the LORD also said to her, "I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude." 11And the angel of the LORD said to her,

"Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. 12He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen."

13So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, "You are a God of seeing," for she said, "Truly here I have seen him who looks after me." 14Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

The angel of the LORD who spoke to Hagar in verse 9 is simply "the LORD who spoke to her" in verse 13.

Later, Hagar has another encounter with an angel, described as "the angel of God."

Genesis 20:15-20

15When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, "Let me not look on the death of the child." And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation." 19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow.

This angel promises to make Ishamael into a great nation, which is the promise given to Abraham in chapter 12.

Compare with Genesis 12:1-2

1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.  2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

When Abraham sacrifices Isaac, we see the angel of the LORD speaking on behalf of God with promises to bless Abraham's offspring.

Genesis 22:11-18

11But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 12He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."

15And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."

The Angel and the Book of Judges

In the following passage, the angel of the LORD says he brought Israel out of Egypt and he mentions his covenant with Israel.

Judges 2:1-4

1Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, "I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, 2and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.' But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you." 4As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.

In the following text, the angel of the LORD appears to Gideon. When Gideon realizes the person who appeared to him is the angel of the LORD, he is afraid for his life. Why? He has seen the angel's face. It seems there is something more in Gideon's mind.

You cannot see God's face and live. (Exodus 33:20)

Judges 6:11-24

11Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor." 13And Gideon said to him, "Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian." 14And the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?" 15And he said to him, "Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." 16And the LORD said to him, "But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man." 17And he said to him, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speaks with me. 18Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you." And he said, "I will stay till you return."

19So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20And the angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them." And he did so. 21Then the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. 22Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face." 23But the LORD said to him, "Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die." 24Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it, The LORD is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

Again, when the angel of the LORD appears to Manoah and his wife, they identify the angel as God Himself.

Judges 13:15-23

15Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you." 16And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, "If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD." (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) 17And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?" 18And the angel of the LORD said to him, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" 19So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works[a] wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. 20And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.

21The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22And Manoah said to his wife, "We shall surely die, for we have seen God." 23But his wife said to him, "If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these."

The Angel in Zechariah

In our last passage for your consideration, the house of David "shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD."

Zechariah 12:7-10

7"And the LORD will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah. 8On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them. 9And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.

10"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

With the LORD speaking, He says that He will be pierced while at the same time saying "they will morn for him."

Conclusion

In these passages, we have seen that the angel of the LORD is distinct and yet considered the LORD at the same time.

Is this so different from what the apostle John wrote? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)

The concept of diversity within the one Being of God is not a Christian invention. It is indeed rooted in the Torah, in the Tanakh.

Other Passages of Note

Zechariah 1:7-21

Zechariah 3:1-5

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