Judges 6:11-23 – Gideon Interacts With the Angel of the Lord


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POSTED 03 NOVEMBER, 2017

“Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, ‘The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.’ Then Gideon said to him, ‘O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, “Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?” But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’ The LORD looked at him and said, ‘Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?’ He said to Him, ‘O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.’ So Gideon said to Him, ‘If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.’ And He said, ‘I will remain until you return.’ Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’ And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, ‘Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.’”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

People who survey the Book of Judges tend to encounter a repetitive pattern of the Ancient Israelites forgetting God and falling into idolatry, God being required to judge His people often by one of Israel’s pagan neighbors, and then God raising up a leader from among them who will turn them back to a state of fidelity to Him. In Judges 6, the backdrop is how the Israelites had fallen into sin and found themselves oppressed by Midian (Judges 6:1-10). An unnamed prophet or navi is sent to the people, a human agent sent by the Lord, who is unambiguously seen speaking in the third person on behalf of the Lord:

“Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me’”’” (Judges 6:7-10).

The key statement prefacing the different remarks where God is quoted speaking in the first person “I,” is the prophet’s word koh-amar YHWH Elohei Yisrael, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel” (Judges 6:8, Fox).

Following this, when the interactions between Gideon and the figure of the malakh YHWH, the “messenger of YHWH” (Judges 6:11, Fox) or “the LORD’s messenger” (Alter), and then subsequently the LORD or YHWH proper, are evaluated—there are significantly overlapping dialogues, where it is difficult to determine which entity is actually speaking. Important factors are raised about how God can legitimately manifest Himself to people, which do carry over into the nature of Yeshua the Messiah in the Apostolic Writings.

Upon first encounter for readers, it would seem that the entity with whom Gideon interacts, has been sent from the Lord or God proper, given how there is some differentiation: v’yeira eilayv malakh YHWH v’yomer eilayv YHWH imekh, “And YHWH’s messenger was seen by him; he said to him: YHWH is with you” (Judges 6:12, Fox). Gideon is certainly respectful as he speaks to this figure, something seen in the questioning statement adoni v’yeish YHWH immanu, “my lord, if YHWH is with us…?” (Judges 6:13a, Fox). The consonants adny are frequently taken along the lines of it being an improper “lord” or “sir” (RSV/NRSV/ESV; HCSB has the proper “Sir”), although the KJV has the proper “Lord.” In the dialogue of Judges 6:13b, the LORD proper or YHWH is being differentiated from the entity of the malakh YHWH or “messenger/angel of the LORD present.” As Gideon reported to this figure, v’attah nettashanu YHWH v’yit’neinu b’kaf-Midyan, “Yet now, YHWH has forsaken us and has given us into the grasp of Midyan!” (Fox).

A demonstrable shift in the identity of the speaker is narrated in Judges 6:14: v’yifen eilayv YHWH v’yomer, “YHWH faced him and said…” (Fox), as Gideon is given the commission to go and provide deliverance for Israel. In Judges 6:15, there is little difficulty as to representing the title of honor employed in v’yomer eilayv bi Adonai, as the “Lord” (NASU, RSV/ESV) proper is being addressed by Gideon, who wonders about this given his family’s place among the least in the tribe of Manasseh. It follows in Judges 6:16, v’yomer eilayv YHWH, “YHWH said to him…” (Fox), and in the first person “I” the LORD proper says, “But I will be with you, and you shall smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16b, RSV). Gideon then leaves to prepare a special offer to present before the Lord (Judges 6:17-19).

A further overlap of the identity of the figure to whom Gideon has been speaking is seen when he presents his offering. It is recorded, v’yomer eilayv malakh ha’Elohim, “And God’s messenger said to him…” (Judges 6:20a, Alter). Actions performed by this entity are further recorded in Judges 6:21a, v’yishlach malakh YHWH et-qetzeih ha’mish’enet, “And YHWH’s messenger stretched out the tip of the crook” (Fox). And also in Judges 6:21b it is stated, u’malakh YHWH halakh m’einayv, “while YHWH’s messenger went away from his eyes” (Fox). The conclusion reached by Gideon is somewhat perplexing:

“Gid’on saw that he was YHWH’s messenger, so Gid’on said: Alas my Lord YHWH, for now I have seen YHWH’s messenger face to face!” (Judges 6:22, Fox)—v’yar Gid’on ki-malakh YHWH hu, v’yomer Gid’on: a’hah Adonai YHWH ki-‘al-kein ra’iti malakh YHWH panim el-panim.

In the conclusion of the interaction, we read the statement v’yomer lo YHWH: shalom lekha, “YHWH said to him: Peace be to you” (Judges 6:23a, Fox), as Gideon has no reason to be fearful that he could die. Gideon then proceeds to build an altar to “The LORD is Peace” (Heb. YHWH shalom; “YHWH is peace” [Judges 6:24, Fox]), and will sacrifice to Him (Judges 6:25-27).

While Jewish examination of the scene in Judges 6:11-23 might manuever around the idea that the malakh YHWH or “messenger/angel of the LORD” as depicted, is something more than a mere supernatural yet created agent sent by God proper—some evangelical Christian examination of this scene, noting the different characters and the dialogue which takes place, has raised the significant issue of this being a theophany. In his book The God who became Human: A biblical theology of incarnation, Graham A. Cole makes these critical observations from the interactions which have taken place between Gideon and the malakh YHWH:

“Gideon’s encounter with the mysterious angel of the Lord in Judges 6:1-40 brings an important set of questions into sharp relief. Who is this angel of the Lord? How is the angel of the Lord related to Yahweh? The angel of the Lord is introduced as such by the narrator in Judges 6:11. The language is anthropopraxic. The angel of the Lord comes and sits under the oak (Judg. 6:11). The angel speaks to Gideon (Judg. 6:12). However, the speaker becomes the Lord (Judg. 6:14, 16, 18) before the narrative returns briefly to the angel as Gideon’s conversation further references the angel of the Lord in the Gideon cycle, though there are references to the Lord as speaker (Judg. 6:23, 25; 7:4, 7).”[1]

It is reasonable to deduce, based on how the dialogue directed to the human Gideon, fluctuates between the “messenger/angel of the LORD” and the LORD or YHWH proper, for the malakh YHWH to be an entity integrated into the Divine Identity as a distinct manifestation of the LORD or YHWH. Cole raises the issue of whether such a manifestation of a figure differentiated from, but uniquely tied together with, the LORD or YHWH, could be a pre-Incarnate appearance of Yeshua the Messiah:

“[W]hether the anthromorphic theopanies in the Old Testament are in fact Christophanies is an important question…The question is important because if these anthromorphic theophanies are appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ, then there are indeed anticipations of the incarnation in the Old Testament.”[2]

Indeed, when Gideon first encountered the “messenger/angel of the LORD,” there is every indication that he perceived this figure to just be a man (Judges 6:11). If God proper can take the form of a messenger here, then He is surely capable of being born as a human later on, as is seen in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 1:23).

Kaiser guides how the “messenger/angel of the LORD” is not a mere, created or finite being, but also discusses how if such a figure is more than just a standard member of the angelic host, such has to be determined on the basis of the Scriptural data presented:

“If Gideon only saw an angel, why did he fear that he might die? Many interpreters believe that an angel takes God’s place and acts as his representative. However, others do not feel this explanation fits all the data….Since the root meaning of angel is ‘messenger’ or ‘one who is sent,’ we must determine from context whether the word refers to the office of the sent one or to the nature of created angels as finite beings.

“Initially, some contexts of the term ‘angel of the LORD’ appear to refer to nothing more than any other angel (as in Judg 6:11). But as the narrative progresses, that angel soon transcends the angelic category and is described in terms suited only to a member of the Trinity. Thus in the Judges 6 episode, we are startled when verse 14 has the Lord speaking to Gideon, when previously only the angel of the Lord had been talking.”[3]

For Kaiser, there is no difficulty extrapolating the figure of the “messenger/angel of the LORD” being a manifestation of the LORD or YHWH proper, to this actually being a Christophany, an appearance of a pre-Incarnate Yeshua the Messiah:

“It is clear…that the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament was a preincarnate from of our Lord Jesus Christ, who would later permanently take on flesh when he came as a babe in Bethlehem. But mark it well: the one who came after John had already been before—he was that angel of the Lord. His full deity was always observed and yet he presented the same mystery of the Trinity that would later be observed in ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn 10:30) and ‘my other witness is the Father, who sent me’ (Jn 8:18). It is that word sent that ties together the angel, messenger or sent one into an Old Testament theology of christophanies, appearances of God in human form.”[4]


NOTES

[1] Graham A. Cole, The God who became Human: A biblical theology of incarnation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2013), 64.

[2] Ibid., pp 65-66.

[3] Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible, 191.

[4] Ibid., 192.


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