The Angel of the Lord was God.
In Genesis 16, we are introduced to a new biblical character: the Angel of the Lord.
When Hagar fled from Sarah, we read:
7 Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. 8 Then He said, “Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She replied, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”
9 The Angel of the Lord then said to her, “Return to your mistress, and humble yourself under her hand.” 10 Again, the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will surely multiply your seed exceedingly, that it may not be counted because of its multitude.” 11 Once again, the Angel of the Lord said to her:
“Behold, you are with child,
And you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
For the Lord has taken notice of your humiliation.
12 He shall be a rustic man,
And his hand shall be against every man,
And every man's hand against him.
He shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”
(Genesis 16:7-12 OSB)
This Angel of the Lord spoke authoritatively and in the first person ("I will...") when it came to Hagar's future.
The phrase "the angel of the lord" appears some 50 times in the Bible, almost all of which are in the Old Testament.
This Angel of the Lord is next mentioned in Genesis 22 when Abraham offered Isaac upon the altar as GOD had tested Abraham to do.
10 Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” 12 He then replied, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him, for now I know you fear God, since for My sake you have not spared your beloved son.” 13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him a ram was caught in a thicket by its horns. So he brought it for a whole burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Thus Abraham called the name of the place The-Lord-Has-Appeared; as it is said to this day, “In the mountain the Lord was seen.”
(Genesis 22:10-14 OSB)
This passage makes it clear that the Angel of the Lord is, in fact, GOD.
Earlier, in Genesis 18, we are given some insight into how this Angel of the Lord might have appeared and interacted with humans.
1 Then God appeared to [Abraham] at the oak of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door during the noon hour. 2 So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood before him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have now found grace in Your sight, do not pass by Your servant. 4 Let water be brought, and let them wash Your feet, while You cool Yourselves under the tree. 5 And I will bring bread for You to eat. After that You may pass by, inasmuch as You have come to Your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” 7 Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a young calf, tender and good, gave it to his servant, and he hastened to prepare it. 8 He also took butter and milk and the calf he prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
9 Then He said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He replied, “Here, in the tent.” 10 Again He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door behind him.) 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.
12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “I have not yet had a child until now, and my lord is old also?” 13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh within herself, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ 14 Is anything impossible with God? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”
15 But Sarah denied she had laughed, for she was afraid, saying, “I did not laugh”; but He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
16 Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham went along and escorted them on their journey. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham, My servant, what I am about to do? 18 But Abraham shall surely become a great and populous nation, and in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. 19 For I know he will order his sons and his house after him. They will keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken to him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah has been completed, and their sins are exceedingly great. 21 Therefore, I will go down now and see whether or not they are carrying out the outcry coming to Me concerning them.”
22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained before the Lord.
19:1 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening ...
(Genesis 18:1-22, 19:1a OSB)
- GOD and two angels went to Abraham, but were described as "three men."
- GOD spoke to Abraham, even after sending the two angels into Sodom.
- Although the phrase "the angel of the lord" is not specifically in this text, GOD did appear to Abraham as a man here, just as the other two who were also specifically described in Genesis 19:1 as angels.
Beyond these, the phrase "the angel of the lord" is also seen:
- At the burning bush with Moses (Exodus 3:2; 4:24)
- With Balaam and the donkey (Numbers 22:20-35)
- Rebuking Israel for their failure to purge all Canaanites from the land (Judges 2:1-5)
- Referenced as a warrior for Barak in conversation with Deborah, the Israelite judge (Judges 4:8; 5:23)
- Encouraging Gideon to step up and lead (Judges 6:11-24)
- Announcing Samson's arrival and future to Samson's parents (Judges 13:1-23)
- Punishing Israel for David's unlawful census (2 Samuel [2 Kingdoms] 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:1-30 — note: this text does not indicate that this angel was GOD, but "the angel of the lord" is found in the text)
- Feeding Elijah while fleeing Jezebel (1 Kings [3 Kingdoms] 19:7 — no indication this was GOD)
- Instructing Elijah to confront the messengers of Ahaziah, King of Israel and the king himself (2 Kings [4 Kingdoms] 1:3, 15)
- Striking down 185,000 Assyrians who were threatening Jerusalem under King Hezekiah of Judah (2 Kings [4 Kingdoms] 19:35; Isaiah 37:36)
- In the Psalms (33 :8; 34 :5-6)
- In Zechariah's vision of the four horses (Zechariah 1:7-2:17)
- In Zechariah's vision of Joshua, the high priest, and Satan (Zechariah 3:1-10)
- In Zechariah's vision of the defense of New Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:8)
- In the fiery furnace with Shardrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:49)
- Announcing Jesus' birth, which we know was not GOD (possibly Gabriel), because Jesus was coming (or, depending upon the reference, already in Mary) in the flesh (Matthew 1:24)
So, if this Angel of the Lord was GOD, who exactly was He?
The word "angel" means a messenger. Many, including myself, believe that this Angel of the Lord was Jesus before Jesus was born. One major reason for this is that Jesus, as GOD the Word (or Logos), is the executor of the will of GOD. I'll have more to say about this in future Principles, but if the Father and the Holy Spirit are spirit Beings, it is the Logos who takes the form of a being (man) that can interact directly with other humans in unique ways that were (and are?) seemingly necessary in order to bring about GOD's desired outcome, for certain situations.