The use of the phrase, angel of the Lord, is confusing and often misleading. Part of the confusion stems from scripture itself using angel of the Lord interchangeably for God/Lord within the same passages. This problem has led some scholars to adopt multiple viewpoints about the passages using this phrase for a particular angel. I shared in the Week 3 Lesson Plan that some have viewed the angel of the Lord as one of the many angels that serve God. Others have determined that certain passages containing this being must be the angel, Gabriel. While still others have ascribed many of the references in the Old Testament to the work of the angel of the Lord as none other than Jesus in a pre-incarnate form called a theophany.
The problem that I see with trying to make a determination is that after careful reading they do not hold up. The angel of the Lord can not be a pre-incarnate Jesus in the Old Testament and then not be the same in the New Testament. The angel Gabriel might fit except that Gabriel identifies himself in every passage pertaining to him. I think the best solution is to recognize that this angel holds a special assignment for God and serves when called. To view this entity separately eliminates the entanglements found in trying to make the angel of the Lord fit into a neat box.
The focus scripture for today contains such a conundrum about the angel of the Lord. The Israelites had fought to gain possession of their land from the inhabiting nations since their return from Egypt. Unfortunately, they had not been successful in driving out all of these nations. By the period of the judges in Israel’s history, some of these gentile nations had become quite powerful. The Israelites had resorted to dwelling in mountain clefts, caves, and strongholds since they were being oppressed to the point of extinction by the Midianites. Under continual invasion for seven years by this group of people, the Israelites were ruined. Their crops were constantly being destroyed and their livestock consumed. Scripture describes this opposing nation as a swarm of locusts ravaging the land. (Judges 6:5)
Impoverished, God’s people cry out to Him for help. He sends a prophet that reminds them of how and why they got into the situation they are in. Then, He sends help.
An angel of the Lord arrives and sits down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash. Joash’s youngest son, Gideon, was busy threshing wheat in a winepress. Times are definitely tough when you have to thresh wheat in something used for grapes.
“When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior,’” Judges 6: 12
The angel of the Lord sees beyond what is before his eyes into the promise of what Gideon is to become. Gideon claims his clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh and then he confesses that he is the least in his family. A perfect situation for God to use a reversal of the world’s standards and show how He takes the impossible and makes it possible. God has told Gideon through the angel that He will be with him and that they will strike down the Midianites together. In response, Gideon wants a sign that God will do what He says so Gideon prepares an offering to God. He places the meat and unleavened bread on the rock as instructed by the angel.
“With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, ‘Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’ So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace.” Judges 6:21-24
Gideon’s offering was consumed in a fiery blaze confirming that God was indeed pleased with him and would help him in his undertaking. The angel of the Lord instructs Gideon on his course of action and ultimately, Gideon and his people defeat the Midianites.
Another interesting item in the passage above is that the angel of the Lord carries a staff. Typically, a staff would bring to mind a shepherd’s staff or a walking stick. The staff might also allude to support or sustenance. Interesting to consider why an angel would carry a staff, isn’t it? Maybe, this angel was sent to give support, to sustain Gideon in his lack of belief in himself and to serve as a shepherd to see him through all that was to come and thereby molding him into the mighty warrior that God knew him to be. The angel becomes the walking stick that helps Gideon defeat the Midianites.
John Wesley wrote that the angels serve us “in a thousand ways … They may assist us in our searching after truth, remove many doubts and difficulties… they may warn us of evil in disguise, and place what is good in a clear strong light. They may gently move our will to embrace what is good, and to fly from that which is evil.”
We can rest assured that God will provide help to His children when they call out in need. Gideon received assistance in a way that he would not have dreamed. The angel of the Lord supported and encouraged Gideon each step that he took helping him to achieve his calling as a mighty warrior.
The Week 4 Lesson Plan will continue the journey of exploring in more detail passages that highlight the work of an angel of the Lord on God’s behalf.