Genesis 21:17-21 – Hagar Encounters the Angel of the Lord




“God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink. God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

Previously in Genesis 16:7-13, the figure of “the messenger/angel of the LORD” or malakh YHWH assured Hagar that her son Ishmael would become a great nation (Genesis 16:10), and Hagar herself had identified the entity speaking to her as the LORD or God proper (Genesis 16:13). Further on, it is witnessed in the record of Genesis 21:9-16 that the Matriarch Sarah has Hagar and her son Ishmael expelled from the camp of Abraham, especially given how the child of promise was supposed to be Isaac (Genesis 21:12). Hagar leaves as far as the wilderness of Beersheba, and she prepares to leave her boy Ishmael in the bushes, as their water runs out (Genesis 21:15-16). Crying about what she must think is an inevitable death, God hears her cries. The text states how a malakh Elohim, “messenger/angel of God,” speaks to her: “But God heard the voice of the lad, God’s messenger [malakh Elohim] called to Hagar from heaven and said to her: What ails you, Hagar? Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is” (Genesis 21:17, Fox).

On first glance, one might assume that this malakh Elohim or “messenger/angel of God,” is just a supernatural intermediary sent by God to communicate an encouraging word to Hagar. But the encouraging word is, “Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him” (Genesis 21:18, NJPS), ki-l’goy gadol asimennu employing the first person singular “I” for “God”: “for into-nation great I-will-make-him” (Kohlenberger).[1] If this malakh Elohim were just an ordinary, created angel, would it be appropriate for such a created being to provide first person, “I” assurance, for Ishmael’s progeny to be great? It would make far more sense for such a figure to say in the third person, “for God will make a great nation of him.” Further on, God proper is noted to be the One performing the actions, as their water is replenished (Genesis 21:19), and God is the One who oversees Ishmael’s future.

Some might immediately conclude that a figure known as malakh Elohim or “messenger/angel of God,” which is sent from God, but then communicates in the first person “I” as God, and then looks over the lives of mortals—could actually be a pre-Incarnate Yeshua the Messiah. More basic is the principle of what Bible readers are to do when God communicates to people via some kind of a supernatural agent sent from Heaven, which from one side is to be differentiated from God, but then on the other side speaks as God in the first person, when it would certainly be appropriate to see third person dialogue along the lines of “God says…” Further investigation into the entity labeled as either malakh YHWH or malakh Elohim is necessary, in order to weigh whether just a created supernatural agent is being depicted, or whether we are dealing with a God who is a unity in plurality, making Himself known to human beings.


[1] John R. Kohlenberger III, trans., The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 1:49.