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Christology Of The Old Testament by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD IN THE PENTATEUCH, AND THE BOOK OF JOSHUA.

The New Testament distinguishes between the hidden God and the revealed God -- the Son or Logos -- who is connected with the former by oneness of nature, and who from everlasting, and even at the creation itself, filled up the immeasurable distance between the Creator and the creation; -- who has been the Mediator in all God's relations to the world; -- who at all times, and even before He became man in Christ, has been the light of [Pg 116] the world, -- and to whom, specially, was committed the direction of the economy of the Old Covenant.

It is evident that this doctrine stands in the closest connection with the Christology, -- that it forms, indeed, its theological foundation and ground-work. Until the Christology has attained to a knowledge of the true divinity of the Saviour, its results cannot be otherwise than very meagre and unsatisfactory. Wheresoever the true state of human nature is seen in the light of Holy Scripture, no high expectations can be entertained from a merely human Saviour, although he were endowed even with as full a measure of the gifts of the Spirit of God as human nature, in its finite and sinful condition, is able to bear. But unless there exist in the one divine Being itself, such a distinction of persons, the divinity of the Saviour cannot be acknowledged, without endangering the unity of God which the Scriptures so emphatically teach. If, however, there be such a distinction, -- if the Word be indeed with God, we cannot avoid ascribing to God the desire of revealing Himself; nor, in such a case, can we conceive that He should content Himself with inferior forms of revelation, with merely transitory manifestations. We can recognise in these only preparations, and preludes of the highest and truest revelation.

The question then is, whether any insight into this doctrine is to be found as early as in the Books of the Old Testament. Sound Christian Theology has discovered the outlines of such a distinction betwixt the hidden and the revealed God, in many passages of the Old Testament, in which mention is made of the Angel or Messenger of God. The general tenor of these passages will be best exemplified by the first among them, -- the narrative of Hagar in Gen. xvi. In ver.7, we are told that the Angel of Jehovah found Hagar. In ver.10, this Angel ascribes to Himself a divine work, viz., the innumerable increase of Hagar's posterity. In ver.11, He says that Jehovah had heard her distress. He thus asserts of Jehovah what, shortly before. He had said of Himself. Moreover, in ver.13, Hagar expresses her astonishment that she had seen God, and yet had remained alive. -- The opinion that these passages form the Old Testament foundation for the Proemium of St John's Gospel, has not remained uncontroverted. From the very times of the Church-fathers it has been asserted by many, that where the [Pg 117] Angel of the Lord is spoken of, we must not think of a person connected with God by unity of nature, but of a lower angel, by whom God executes His commands, and through whom He acts and speaks. The latest defenders of the view are Hofmann in |Weissagung und Erfuellung| and in the |Schriftbeweis| and Delitzsch in his commentary on Genesis. -- Others are of opinion, that the Angel of Jehovah is identical with Jehovah Himself, -- not denoting a person distinct from Him, but only the form in which He manifests Himself. We shall not here discuss the question in its whole extent; we shall, in the meantime, consider only what the principal passages of the Pentateuch and of the adjacent Book of Joshua teach upon this point, and how far their teaching coincides with, or is in opposition to, these various views. For it is only to this extent that the inquiry belongs to our present object.

In Gen. xvi.13, these words are of special importance: |And she called the name of the Lord who spoke unto her, Thou art a God of sight: for she said, Do I now (properly here, in the place where such a sight was vouchsafed to me) still see after my seeing?| |Do I see| is equivalent to, |Do I live,| because death threatened, as it were, to enter through the eyes. (Compare the expression, |Mine eyes have seen,| in Is. vi.) [Hebrew: rai] is the pausal form for [Hebrew: rai]; see Job xxxiii.21, where, however, the accent is on the penultimate. Then follows ver.14: They called the well, |Well of the living sight;| i.e., where a person had a sight of God, and remained alive.

Hagar must have been convinced that she had seen God without the mediation of a created angel; for, otherwise, she could not have wondered that her life was preserved. Man, entangled by the visible world, is terrified when he comes in contact with the invisible world, even with angels. (Compare Dan. viii.17, 18; Luke ii.9.) But this terror rises to fear of death only when man comes into contact with the Lord Himself. (Compare the remarks on Rev. i.17.) In Gen. xxxii.31 -- a passage which bears the closest resemblance to the one now under review, and from which it receives its explanation -- it is said: |And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen GOD face to face, and my life has been preserved.| In Exod. xx.19, the children of Israel said to Moses, |Speak thou with us, and we will hear; and let not God speak with us, [Pg 118] lest we die;| compared with Deut. v.21: |Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die.| (Compare also Deut. xviii.16.) And it is Jehovah who, in Exod. xxxiii.20, says, |There shall no man see Me and live.| Israel's Lord and God is, in the absolute energy of His nature, a |consuming fire,| Deut. iv.24. (Compare Deut. ix.3; Is. xxxiii.14: |Who among us would dwell with the devouring fire? who among us would dwell with everlasting burning?| Heb. xii.29.) It is not the reflected light, even in the most exalted creatures, nor the sight of the saints of whom it is said, |Behold, He puts no trust in His servants, and His angels He chargeth with folly,| -- but the sight of the thrice Holy One, which makes Isaiah exclaim, |Woe is me, for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.|

So much then is clear, -- that the opinion which considers the Angel of the Lord to be a created angel is overthrown by the first passage where that angel is mentioned, if the exposition which we have given of vers.13, 14 -- an exposition which is now generally received, and which was last advanced by Knobel -- be correct. But Delitzsch gives another exposition: |Thou art a God of sight, i.e., one whose all-seeing eye does not overlook the helpless and destitute, even in the remotest corner of the wilderness.| Against this we remark, that [Hebrew: rai] never denotes the act of seeing, but the sight itself. |Have I not even here (even in the desert land of destitution) looked after Him who saw me?| |Well of the living one who seeth me,| i.e., of the omnipresent divine providence. In opposition to this exposition, however, we must remark, that God is nowhere else in Genesis called the Living One. But our chief objection is, that these expositions destroy the connection which so evidently exists between our passage and those already quoted, -- especially Gen. xxxii.31; Exod. xxxiii.20. (Compare, moreover, Jud. xiii.22: |And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen GOD.|)

It has been asked. Why should the Logos have appeared first to the Egyptian maid? But the low condition of Hagar cannot here come into consideration; for the appearance is in reality intended, not for her, but for Abraham. Immediately [Pg 119] before, in chap. xii.7, it is said, |And the Lord appeared unto Abraham;| and immediately after, in chap. xvii.1, |And when Abraham was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to him;| the appearance of the Lord Himself is mentioned in order that every thought of a lower angel may be warded off. The passage under consideration, then, contains the indication, that such appearances must only be conceived of as manifestations of the Deity Himself to the world. Just as our passage is preserved from erroneous interpretations by such passages as Gen. xii.7, xvii.1, so these receive from ours, in return, their most distinct definition. We learn from this, that wherever appearances of Jehovah are mentioned, we must conceive of them as effected by the mediation of His Angel. There is no substantial difference betwixt the passages in which Jehovah Himself is mentioned, and those in which the Angel of Jehovah is spoken of. They serve to supplement and to explain one another. The words, |In His Angel,| in chap. xvi.7, furnish us with the supplement to the succeeding statement, |And Jehovah appeared to him| (so, e.g., also in chap. xviii.1), just as the writer in Gen. chap. ii. iii. makes use of the name Jehovah-Elohim, in order that henceforth every one may understand that where only Jehovah is spoken of. He is yet personally identical with Elohim.

Let us now turn to Gen. xviii. xix. According to Delitzsch. all the three men who appeared to Abraham were |finite spirits made visible.| Hofmann (Schriftb. S.87) says: |Jehovah is present on earth in His angels, in the two with Lot, as in the three with Abraham.| We, however, hold fast by the view of the ancient Church, that in chap. xviii. the Logos appeared accompanied by two inferior angels.

Abraham's regards are, from the very first, involuntarily directed to one from among the three, and whom he addresses by [Hebrew: advni], O Lord (xviii.3); the two others are considered by him as companions only. But Lot has to do with both equally, and addresses them first by [Hebrew: advni], my Lords. -- In chap. xviii., it is always one only of the three who speaks; the two others are mute; while in chap. xix. everything comes from the two [Pg 120] equally. He with whom Abraham has to do, always, and without exception, speaks as God Himself; while the two with whom Lot has to do speak at first, as [Greek: leitourgika pneumata], distinguishing themselves from the Lord who sent them (compare ver.13); and it is only after they have thus drawn the line of separation between themselves and Jehovah, that they appear, in vers.21, 22, as speaking in His name. They do so, moreover, only after Lot, in the anxiety of his heart and in his excitement, had previously addressed, in them, Him who sent them, and with whom he desired to have to do as immediately as possible. The scene bears, throughout, a character of excitement, and is not fitted to afford data for general conclusions. We cannot infer from it that it was, in general, customary to address, in the angels, the Lord who sent them, or that the angels acted in the name of the Lord. In chap. xviii., from ver.1, where the narrative begins with the words, |And Jehovah appeared unto him,| Moses always speaks of him with whom Abraham had to do as Jehovah only, excepting where he introduces the three men. (He with whom Abraham has to do is called, not fewer than eight times, Jehovah, and six times [Hebrew: advni].) But in chap. xix., Jehovah, who is concealed behind the two angels, appears only twice in the expression, |And He said,| in vers.17, 21, for which ver.13 suggests the supplement: |through His two angels.| -- Even in ver.16, the narrative distinguishes Jehovah from the two men, -- and all this in an exciting scene which must have influenced even the narrator. If he who spoke to Abraham was an angel like the other two, we could scarcely perceive any reason why he should not have taken part in the mission to Sodom; but if he was the Angel of the Lord [Greek: kat' exochen], the reason is quite obvious; it would have been inconsistent with divine propriety. -- In chap. xviii. Moses speaks of three men; it is evidently on [Pg 121] purpose that he avoids speaking of three angels. In chap. xix.1, on the contrary, we are at once told: |And there came the two angels.| (Compare ver.15.) The reason why in chap. xviii. the use of the name angels is avoided can only be, because it might easily have led to a misunderstanding, if the Angel of the Lord had been comprehended in that one designation along with the two inferior angels, although it would not, in itself, have been inadmissible. -- If we suppose that he, with whom Abraham had to do, was some created angel, we cannot well understand how, in chap. xviii.17 seq., the judgment over Sodom could, throughout, be ascribed to him. He could not, in the name of the Lord, speak of that judgment, as not he, but the two other angels who went to Sodom, were the instruments of its execution. Hence it only remains to ascribe the judgment to him as the causa principalis. -- If the three angels were equals, it would be impossible to explain the adversative clause in chap. xviii.22: |And the men turned from thence and went to Sodom; but Abraham stood yet before the Lord.| Jehovah and the two angels are here contrasted. It is true that, in the two angels also, it is Jehovah who acts. This is evident from xviii.21: |I will go down and see| -- where the going down does not refer to descending to the valley of Jordan, the position of which was lower (thus Delitzsch); but, according to xi.7, it refers to a descent from heaven to earth. That Jehovah, though on earth, should declare His resolution to go down, as in xi.7, may be explained from the [Greek: ho on en to ourano] in John iii.13. God, even when He is on earth, remains in heaven, and it is thence that He manifests Himself. Moreover, the words immediately following show in what sense this going down is to be understood, -- that it is not in His own person, but through the medium of His messengers. The resolution, |I will go down,| is carried into effect by the going down of the angels to Sodom.

By the Jehovah who, from Jehovah out of heaven, caused brimstone and fire to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah (xix.24), we are not at liberty to understand the two angels only, but, [Pg 122] agreeably to the views of sound Christian expositors generally, Christ, -- with this modification, however, that the two angels are to be considered as His servants, and that what they do is His work also. It is true that the angels say, in xix.13, |We will destroy,| etc.; but much more emphatically and frequently does he with whom Abraham has to do, ascribe the work of destruction to himself. (Compare xviii.17, where Jehovah says, |How can I hide from Abraham that thing which I am doing?| vers.24-28, etc.) If in xix.24 there be involved the contrast between, so to speak, the heavenly and earthly Jehovah, -- between the hidden God and Him who manifests Himself on earth, -- then so much the more must we seek the latter in chap. xviii., as in ver.22, compared with ver.21, the angels are distinctly pointed out as His Messengers.

Delitzsch asserts that in Heb. xiii.2, the words, [Greek: elathon tines xenisantes angelous], clearly indicate that |all three were finite spirits made visible.| This assertion, however, which was long before made by the Socinian Crellius, has been sufficiently refuted by Ode de Angelis, p.1001. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews intends to connect the events which happened to Abraham and Lot equally -- [Greek: tines]; and for this reason he did not go beyond what was common to them both. Moreover, the Angel of the Lord is likewise comprehended in the appellation |angels,| for the name has no reference to the nature, but to the mission.

Footnote 1: The words in ver.9, |And they said to him,| are to be understood only thus: -- that one spoke at the same time in the name of the others; in the question thus put, it is, in the first instance, only the general relation of the guests to the hostess that comes into consideration. That such is the case, appears from ver.10, where the use of the plural could not be continued, because a work was on hand which was peculiar to the one among them, and in which the others were not equally concerned. If the words in ver.9 were spoken by all the three, then the one in ver.10 ought to have been singled out thus: |And one from among them thus spoke.| On account of the suffix in [Hebrew: aHriv], |And the door was behind him,| the [Hebrew: viamr] in ver.10 can be referred only to the one, and not to the Jehovah concealed behind all the three. This shows how the preceding, |And they said,| is to be understood.

Footnote 2: Delitzsch says: |As the two are really sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, it is evident that Jehovah, in ver.24, who causes brimstone and fire to rain from Jehovah out of heaven, is viewed as being present in the two on earth, but in such a manner that, nevertheless, His real judicial throne is in heaven.|

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