In the Bible, reality is made up of two overlapping realms: the heavens and the earth; our space and God’s space. And while life, here on earth, may seem ordinary, sometimes we can encounter heaven right here in our own realm. This happens several times in the Bible, and when it does, we often encounter a fascinating character: the Angel of Yahweh. Or, in most translations of the Bible, the Angel of the Lord.
You know about angels; how they are spiritual messengers who perform missions for God. But the Angel of the Lord is no mere angel.
Every time he appears, he is described in a purposefully puzzling way. It leaves you wondering, was that an angel sent by Yahweh, or was that Yahweh himself?
Here is one of many examples:
In the book of Genesis, there is a story about Hagar, Abraham, and Sarah’s run-away Egyptian slave. We read this: “The angel of Yahweh called to Hagar.”
But then this angel speaks as if he is Yahweh saying, “I will give you many descendants.” And then Hagar responds and says, “You are God who sees me.”
In the Bible, you cannot see Yahweh, or you will die. So this story and others like it are inviting us into a paradox. That Yahweh is above all inaccessible to us, but sometimes he reveals himself to us in ways that we can see and understand.
He is Yahweh made visible to us. Distinct from Yahweh and also Yahweh. This is very similar to other biblical stories about prophets who get a glimpse into God’s space like Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel. What they see is a glorious human figure on a throne who is called Yahweh.
Moses and the Burning Bush
Watch all this come together in the famous story of Moses and the burning bush. Where we read, “The angel of Yahweh appeared to Moses in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush. When Yahweh saw that Moses stopped to look, God called to him from the midst of a bush.”
So this person in the bush is called the Angel of Yahweh, then Yahweh and then God. Later in the story, Moses learns that the figure in the burning bush is the one leading Israel out of Egypt in the pillar of fire and cloud, and that is the one who later takes up residence in the tabernacle. This is the throne room of God himself.
The Angel of the Lord is the royal glory of Yahweh appearing as a human.
Keep all this in mind as we start talking about Jesus.
In the opening of the Gospel of John, we are told that from all eternity Jesus was with God and was God. Distinct from God and also God. The same paradox we saw with the Angel of Yahweh.
Then John says that God’s Word became human and set up a tabernacle among us. The temple presence of the invisible God.
There is a story about when Jesus took three of his followers up to a mountain and his true identity was revealed. He was transformed into a glorious human figure.
The Angel of the Lord was God appearing like a human, and Jesus is God now become a human.