In Exodus 23:20-23, we read about “an Angel” who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and who would keep them safe throughout their travels. Can we identify this Angel?
Before we answer this question, we will briefly look at other passages in the Bible where angels are mentioned.
In our free booklet, Angels, Demons and the Spirit World, we state the following on pages 5-6:
“We read in Hosea 12:3–4 that Jacob ‘…struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed.’ We also read in Genesis 32:28, 30 that Jacob ‘…struggled with God,’ and that he had seen ‘…God face to face.’
“In addition, we are told in Exodus 3:2 that ‘…the Angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire.’ In verse 4, we are told that Moses was called by God from the midst of the bush. However, in Acts 7:35, Stephen said that ‘…the Angel… appeared to him in the bush.’
“As a third example, Exodus 19:18–21 tells us that ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ spoke to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai. Stephen said in Acts 7:38 that ‘the Angel… spoke to him on Mount Sinai.’
“How do we explain these apparent contradictions?
“In Hebrew, the word for ‘angel’ is ‘malak’ or ‘malech,’ which is derived from the Hebrew, ‘l’k,’ meaning, ‘to deliver a message,’ or ‘to carry out an assignment.’ The word ‘malak’ can be translated as ‘angel’ or as ‘messenger.’ The Greek word for ‘angel’ is ‘angelos,’ which also means ‘messenger.’ The Latin word ‘angelus’ is derived from the Greek word, ‘angelos,’ and means, ‘angel.’ Therefore, the words ‘malak’ and ‘angelos’ can refer to a created angelic being, and they can refer to human messengers. (Compare Genesis 32:3; Haggai 1:13; Matthew 11:10; and James 2:25. In these passages, the words ‘malak’ and ‘angelos,’ referring to human beings, are translated as ‘messenger.’) These words can also refer to Jesus Christ, the ‘Messenger’ of God the Father, as is the case in Malachi 3:1.
“The ‘angel’ or ‘messenger’ who appeared to Moses and Jacob was Jesus Christ. It was Christ who dealt directly with ancient Israel and Judah. (For Biblical proof, please read our free booklet, God is a Family.) Therefore, the above-quoted passages in the books of Hosea, Genesis and Exodus identify the Person within the God Family who struggled with Jacob and who spoke with Moses—Jesus Christ, the ‘messenger’ of the Father. In other passages… the Bible may say that God did certain things, but the context reveals that He did it through His angels.”
We see that we always have to view the context to determine who is meant with a particular “angel.” In Genesis 16:7-13 we find the story of Hagar who has an encounter with “the Angel of the LORD.” The reference to the Angel of the LORD shows that God had a plan for Hagar’s son and that he would become a nation alongside Abraham’s other son.
Reading the account in Genesis 22:10-18, when Abraham was about to kill his son Isaac, we notice that “the Angel of the LORD” is referenced twice. Only God and Christ have the power to make the type of promises to Abraham that are being made here. As nobody has ever heard the voice of the Father or seen His form (John 5:37), the Angel of the LORD could not refer to the Father—but could refer to Christ, the Messenger of the LORD–God the Father; or it could be that the angel was a messenger of the LORD–Jesus Christ. (For proof that the word “LORD” can refer to the Father and the Son, please read our free booklet, God Is a Family, page 21.)
As mentioned above, Genesis 32:24–30 describes how Jacob wrestled with a Man, who is identified in verse 30 as “God” and in the book of Hosea 12:3-4 with God and with the Angel. In this case, the “Angel” was clearly Jesus Christ. This incident had a profound effect on Jacob’s life. It signified his repentance. His name was changed from Jacob to Israel, and he came to realize that he needed to obey God in his life from that point on. He had had a rough life and was at a place where he really needed God and His blessings.
Continuing on in Exodus 3:2, we find, as mentioned above, that “the Angel of the LORD” appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and that “the LORD” saw him and that “God” talked to him (verse 4). The personage told Moses to remove his shoes because he was in a holy place. Joshua had a similar experience in Joshua 5:13-15. When created angels have come and talked to people in the Bible, removing one’s shoes was never required. Also, we note that when God sent an angel to John and he fell down to worship the angel, the angel quickly told him not to do such things (Revelation 22:8-9). From this it follows that Moses and Joshua were in fact communicating with Jesus Christ, “the ‘Angel’ of the LORD”—God the Father.
Another passage where “the Angel of the LORD” is identified with God—Jesus Christ—can be found in Judges 13:21-22.
Let us now go back to Exodus 23:20-23, where we read the LORD’s words: “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. 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. 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.”
Note the capitalization of the word Angel here in the New King James Bible, whereas in other places in the Bible, we read about angels in the lower case. However, this is just a matter of interpretation of the translator.
We state in our free booklet, Angels, Demons and the Spirit World, on pages 25-26:
“God promised Moses that He would send an angel to go with Israel, to protect them and to bring them to the Promised Land… It is possible that this angel, sent by God, was the archangel, Michael. We read about this powerful angel in Daniel 12:1. Daniel is told in this Scripture that Michael ‘stands watch over the sons of your people.’ We also find another reference to this particular angel, used by God to protect Israel, in Exodus 19:4: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.’ Compare this with Isaiah 63:9: ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old’ (Authorized Version).
“… when Israel left Egypt, God used His angel to save them from harm: ‘And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night’ (Exodus 14:19–20, Authorized Version).”
There is also another possibility as to the identity of this particular Angel. We read that the LORD said in Exodus 23:21: “For My name is in Him.” In Psalm 78:14 we read about the “LORD” (compare verse 4): “Then He led them with the cloud by day and all the night with a light of fire.” This correlates with 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.”
As it was Christ—the second Member of the God Family—who led Israel out of Egypt, could it be that He is the one who is referred to as “an Angel” or “My Angel” in Exodus 23:20-23?
But how can this be? How could Christ speak about Himself as “My Angel”?
There are other places in the Bible where something similar is described. In Revelation 2:28 we read that Christ will give us the Morning Star. In Revelation 22:16 we read that Christ is the Morning Star. In other words, Christ will give Himself to us, so that the Morning Star may rise in our hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
However, a more compelling answer would be that Christ communicated the words of the Father. Christ is the “Logos,” the “Word of God” or the Spokesman, and He passes on what He hears from the Father (compare John 12:49; Revelation 1:1). Something similar occurred when a voice was heard from heaven at the time of Christ’s baptism (Matthew 3:17) and on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). In both incidents, the voice from heaven said: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 2 Peter 1:17 even reports that Christ “received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory.” As no one has ever heard the voice of the Father, the words which were heard were communicated, in this case, by an angel, but the angel conveyed the words of the Father.
In the same manner, Exodus 23:20-23 could refer to Christ communicating the words of the Father to Moses. This would mean that it was the Father addressing Christ as “My Angel” or “My Messenger,” and that the “Angel” referred to in Exodus 23:20-23 was in fact Jesus Christ who would not forgive the people if they sinned and refused to repent.
This conclusion could be confirmed by the fact that the LORD told Moses that “My Presence” will go before the people, and Moses answered: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:14-15), continuing that he wanted to see the LORD’s glory. God answered that he could not see His glorified face, but that He would allow Moses to see His glorified back (verse 18-23). In the Hebrew, the words for “presence” and “face” are the same, i.e., “panim.” We read in Isaiah 63:9 that “the Angel of His Presence” saved the people. Again, the Hebrew word for presence is “panim.” Young’s Analytical Concordance defines “panim” as “face” or “countenance.”
All of this could imply that it was indeed Jesus Christ who is being identified in these passages as the “Angel” of the LORD, or the Angel of God the Father’s Presence, because Christ said later that those who have seen Him, have seen the Father (John 14:8-9). When the LORD said that “My Presence” would go with the people, this could imply that it was Jesus Christ’s “Presence” leading the people. Isaiah’s reference to the “Presence of the Angel” saving the people would then apply to the “Presence” of God the Father, who would have been present through His “Messenger,” Jesus Christ.
Lead Writers: Kalon Mitchell and Norbert Link