In a previous post replying to Ijaz Ahmad, I demonstrated that Zechariah’s overall theology is generally supportive of my thesis that the Angel of the Lord is the distinctive title for a second divine person in the Godhead in so far as the book of Zechariah teaches that there are two divine persons. In this post I will show not only that Zechariah teaches that there is a second divine person, but that the Angel of the Lord in particular is identified as Yahweh.
The first passage that can be mentioned is found in Zechariah 3, which presents a courtroom scene in heaven. The passage reads:
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. 4 He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “ Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” 5 Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the Lord was standing by.
6 And the angel of the Lord admonished Joshua, saying, 7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.
Here an interpreting angel shows Zechariah what took place between three named figures and several who are not named: the Angel of the Lord, Satan, Joshua the high priest, and those who are told to remove Joshua’s filthy garments and replace them with clean clothes and also a clean turban.
While a clear distinction is drawn between the Angel and Yahweh, as is evident when the Angel refers to the Lord in the third person:
“The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!...” (v. 2)And when the Angel prefaces His statement with the prophetic refrain:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts…” (v. 6)
Nevertheless the Angel in this same vision is also identified as Yahweh. Verse 2 reads in full:
The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
So it is not simply that the Angel speaks about the Lord in the third person, but that it is as the Lord that He does so. Both the one who speaks, i.e. the Angel, and the one about whom He speaks, i.e. the one called on to rebuke Satan, are Yahweh.
This accounts for why the Angel is cast in the role of heavenly judge, the one who presides over the whole affair. Note, in this courtroom scene everyone is standing before the Angel, and it is before the Angel that Satan accuses Joshua:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. (v. 1)
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him… (v. 4)
As commentator Eugene H. Merrill rightly observes:
The setting of the vision is quite clear. Joshua is standing in a tribunal, where he is being accused of unfitness for the priestly ministry. The judge is the messenger (or angel) of YHWH. The implied definite article [based on the construction in Hebrew – AR] makes it virtually certain that this being is the same as the messenger of YHWH in 1:11, 12. There he was distinguished from YHWH Himself (v. 12), but here he is identified with Him (v. 2).6 This [i.e. that the Messenger is being identified with YHWH – AR] appears even more likely inasmuch as Satan is accusing Joshua before the messenger, a notion that finds NO SUPPORT ELSEWHERE in the Bible. The adversary ALWAYS argues his case BEFORE GOD, not a representative of God, as the very similar scene in the prologue of Job establishes beyond doubt. (Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi [Chicago: Moody Press, 1994]), pp. 131-132.
6. This is so obviously true, and problematic, that most modern scholars following the Syriac…, emend “YHWH” to “Angel of YHWH.” See, e.g. H. G. Mitchell, A Commentary on Haggai and Zechariah, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912), 143. Such special pleading is oblivious to the witness of the OT to the interchangeability of YHWH and the Angel of YHWH.
Shortly after saying the above, Merrill goes on:
A possible objection to the identification of the messenger with YHWH in our passage is that the messenger appears to quote YHWH in vv. 6-7, thus differentiating himself from YHWH. However, this is not a serious problem at all, for a careful reading of Angel of YHWH passages makes it clear that the messenger, though distinguished from YHWH, often speaks as YHWH (cf. Gen. 16:7-13; 21:17; 22:11-12; 15-16; 31:11-13; Judg. 6:11-24; 13:15-20). That is, the messenger of YHWH is YHWH as He discloses Himself to human beings. (Merrill, ibid.), p. 132
What is said above about the Angel/Yahweh is similar to what we see in another courtroom scene, where once again Satan appears to accuse a godly man, and once again it is before Yahweh that He does so:
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” 8 The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” 12 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12)
Another passage relevant to the above is found in 1 Kings, where once again it is the Lord who presides as heavenly judge:
Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord SITTING ON HIS THRONE, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. (1 Kings 22:19; cf. 2 Chronicles 18:18)
These passages about the Lord presiding over the heavenly council evince the deity of the Angel who is called Yahweh and who is seen in Zechariah 3 doing this exact thing. Anyone who heard or read the words of this later prophet who was familiar with the previous Scriptures would have recognized the equation that Zechariah makes when he speaks of the Angel of the Lord the same way the Scriptures spoke of Yahweh. Of course those acquainted with what had already been revealed up to the time of Zechariah would not have been stumbled by this, for the Angel is repeatedly identified as Yahweh throughout Israel’s history.
That the Angel is Lord also accounts for why He exercises the exclusively divine prerogative of forgiving sin in this passage, which is symbolically enacted under the Angel’s/Lord’s direction by the removal of Joshua’s filthy garments and Joshua being outfitted with festal robes for God’s service, an utterly gracious act that results in the Lord of Hosts promising Joshua, as high priest, free access among those who stand in God’s court:
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again He said to him, “See, I HAVE TAKEN YOUR INQUITY AWAY from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” (v. 4)
We see that the Angel of the Lord has the power to exercise this divine prerogative elsewhere as well, and once again He is identified as the one who bears the very name of God.
20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. (Exodus 23:20-21)
In fact, the Lord in the very next chapter of Exodus refers to the Angel as Yahweh:
1 Then He said to Moses, “Come UP TO the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and WORSHIP from afar. 2 Moses alone shall come NEAR TO the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” (Exodus 24:1-2)
This was well understood by ancient Jews, as the later efforts of the Talmudic rabbis to suppress this teaching among Jews demonstrates. For example, the Babylonian Talmud records the following conversation between Rav Idi and a min, i.e. a “heretic.”
Rav Nahman said: A person who knows how to answer the minim as Rav Idi, let him answer, and if not, let him not answer.
A certain min said to Ravi Idi: “It is written, ‘And to Moses he said, come up unto the LORD [Exod. 24:1].’ It should have said, ‘Come up to me’!”
He [Rav Idi] said to him: “This was Metatron, whose name is like the name of his master, as it is written, ‘for My name is in him’ [Exod. 23:21].”
“But if so, we should worship him!”
“It is written, ‘Do not rebel against him’ [Exod. 23:21] — Do not confuse him with me!”
“If so, then why does it say ‘He will not forgive your sins’”?
“We have sworn that we would not even receive him as a guide, for it is written ‘If Your face goes not [do not bring us up from here]’ [Exod. 33:15].” (Babylonian Talmud, 38b)
Orthodox Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin offers the following penetrating analysis of this portion of the Talmud:
God has been addressing the Jewish people as a whole (in Exodus chapter 23), informing them that he will send his angel before them and instructing them how to behave with respect to this angel. He then turns to Moses and tells him to come up to YKWK (the Tetragrammaton), implying quite strongly that “YKWK” of whom he speaks is not the same “YKWK” who is the speaker of the verse: Two YKWKs. This is, in fact, precisely the sort of argument that a Justin Martyr would have produced from Scripture to argue for a “second person” (the Logos). And so the minim conclude that there is a second power in heaven. Rav Idi, in refuting them, turns back to the previous chapter and remarks that verse 21 there explicitly says that “My name is in him [that is in the angel].” Metatron, that angel, therefore, could be called by the name “YKWK,” and it is to him that Moses is being instructed to ascend. What this amounts to is claiming that there are not two divine powers in heaven but only God and an angel whom he has named as God as well.
At this point, the min responds by saying that if Metatron is indeed called by the ineffable name, then we ought to worship him as well; in other words, that Rav Idi’s own answer can be turned against him. To this, Rav Idi retorts that the verse also says “Do not rebel against him,” which by a typical midrashic sleight of hand can be read as “Do not substitute him,” that is, even though Metatron is called by God’s name, do not pray to him. Al tamer bo [Do not rebel against him] has been read as Al tamireni bo: Don’t substitute him for me. The very verse in which Israel is enjoined to obey the second YKWK has been turned by a pun into its exact opposite. The min says if that is what is meant, then why does it continue in the verse and say that he, Metatron, will not forgive sins? The min is arguing that if the people are being warned not to rebel against Metatron, because he is as powerful as God, then it makes sense to tell them that he will not forgive their sins if they do rebel, but if he is not God at all, then it is otiose to tell them that he will not forgive sins. Only if he has the power to redeem sins does it make sense to declare that he will not rebel [sic; forgive?] their sins if they rebel against him. (Of course, the rabbinic reading is: Don’t confuse him with me for he cannot redeem sins but only I can. The “heretical” reading, I’m afraid, is much stronger and more adequate to the language) …
I would suggest, moreover, that, in typical midrashic fashion, another verse lies underneath this comment of the min. Joshua 24:19 reads: “It will be very difficult for you [lit. you will not be able to] worship YKWK, for He is a holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your sins and your iniquities.” In other words, the logic would run: if there it remarks of YKWK that he will not forgive sins and iniquities, then if the same language is being used here, ought it not indicate that the divine figure being spoken of has the same attributes as YKWK? Moreover, if there the context is one of worshipping YKWK, then here too worship of Metatron, the second Lord or lesser Yahu [as the Talmud calls him – AR], would seem to be implicated as well. The comparison is rendered even stronger when we notice that exactly the same context is involved in both the Exodus and the Joshua verse, namely the expulsion of the Canaanites from the land of Israel and the warnings to the people of Israel to be worthy of this benefit and to worship YKWK, or their sin will not be forgiven at all. It certainly seems as if this verse in Exodus can be read as equating Metatron to YKWK and therefore demanding worship for both figures.To this answer comes that “we” the Jews, through our leader Moses, already have declared that we do not even want him, Metatron, to be our guide in the desert, as the cited verse says: “If your face goes before us not.” In other words, the angelic regent was of such non importance that, far from considering him worthy of being worshipped, Moses would not even accept him as a guide.
In this, as in many other cases of such hermeneutical encounters, the min certainly seems to have the upper hand to begin with, for there are many scriptural texts that plausibly can be read as supporting the notion of an angelic vice-regent with many of the powers of God, or even the notion of a virtual second God. Indeed, more than anything else, this very scriptural background may have given the greatest impetus to the various second-God theologies of Jews, including Logos, Memra, Sophia, Metatron, Son of Man, Son of God, and Christ. Rav Idi, the clever Midrashist, exploits all the tricks in his bag in order to discredit the min’s quite straightforward interpretation of the verses in question: “Behold I send before you an angel, to watch over you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Be careful before him and obedient to him. Do not disobey him, for he will not forgive your sins, for My name is in him.” Although, to be sure, the second of these two verses presents difficulties, at the very least it would seem that this — fairly straightforward — translation does imply that this angel has the power to command and to remit sins (which he will not employ), as God has delegated to him something of divine power. Just as in the Joshua verse, we are told that God … “is a jealous God; He will not forgive your sins and your iniquities,” so here, Metatron is such a divine being too. The min quite reasonably suggests that one ought to pray to such a divine being, Metatron, on Rav Idi’s showing.
In order to escape this seeming ineluctable conclusion, Rav Idi proposes to read the verse as if saying, “Be careful before him and obedient to him. Do not confuse him with me, for he will not forgive your sins, for my name is in him.” Aside from the fact that this translation renders the verse considerably less coherent in its logic, it also makes this angel seem absolutely insignificant, hardly worthy of mention, to which Rav Idi answers (and this is his brilliant move) that indeed that is so. The Israelites have already registered their rejection of any interest in this insignificant angel when they insisted that God Himself must go before them and no other, thus dramatizing the rejection of the Son of Man theology, a rejection that the Rabbis themselves perform. (Boyarin, The Genealogy of Rabbinic Judaism; or, the Death and Resurrection of the Son of Man, p. 2-5)
To this rather unflattering look at one example of how the Rabbis sought to counter the Biblical evidence that many Jews at one time believed, it should be added that Rav Idi’s so-called “brilliant move,” one that rests on a manipulation of the Hebrew text that “renders the verse considerably less coherent in its logic,” involves a colossal mistake, or perhaps another example of exegetical sleight of hand. This is because it wasn’t the name-bearing Angel that the Israelites rejected by saying they wanted God’s very presence/face to go before them. The promise that the Angel would go before them is given in Exodus 23, and no such complaint as Rav Idi mentions occurs at the time when this is announced. It is only after the incident of the golden-calf (Exodus 32), when God says He will not in fact go with them as previously announced (Exodus 33), which can only refer back to Exodus 23, that God says He will not accompany them but will send what is evidently an ordinary angel instead. For Moses this punishment is too severe, so he intercedes with God and beseeches Him to go up with them. Moses would rather die than for God not to go before them Himself. At the intercession of Moses, the Lord relents and renews the promise that He will go with them.
In other words, if the sin of the golden-calf led to a change from the name-bearing Angel going before them to simply an angel rather than God Himself going before them, something Moses found intolerable, then it is evident that the Angel is God. So in the sweep of the entire narrative the Angel is shown to be the very presence or face of God.
And this is exactly how the prophet Isaiah presents the matter when reflecting back on the Lord’s prior dealings with His people, for in the following passage he refers to the Angel of the Exodus, the one who saved them, as “the Angel of His presence/face”:
7 I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord,According to all that the Lord has granted us,And the great goodness toward the house of Israel,Which He has granted them according to His compassionAnd according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.8 For He said, “Surely, they are My people,Sons who will not deal falsely.”So He became their Savior.9 In all their affliction He was afflicted,And the angel of His presence saved them;In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them,And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.10 But they rebelledAnd grieved His Holy Spirit;Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy,He fought against them.11 Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses.Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock?Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them,12 Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses,Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name,13 Who led them through the depths?Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not stumble;14 As the cattle which go down into the valley,The Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.So You led Your people,To make for Yourself a glorious name. (Isaiah 63:7-14)
A final passage in Zechariah that will be mentioned here relevant to the deity of the Angel of the Lord is the following, where the Lord declares:
6 “In that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot among pieces of wood and a flaming torch among sheaves, so they will consume on the right hand and on the left all the surrounding peoples, while the inhabitants of Jerusalem again dwell on their own sites in Jerusalem. 7 The Lord also will save the tents of Judah first, so that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem will not be magnified above Judah. 8 In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. 9 And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. (Zechariah 12:6-9)
In the above passage the Lord says that a day is coming when the weak will become strong. The way the prophet says this is striking: He says that the feeble of Jerusalem “will be like David,” and the house of David “will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them.” What is so striking about this is that the statement “will be like God” is set in apposition to “like the Angel of the Lord before them.” An appositional statement is one where one statement follows another, with the latter serving as the explanatory equivalent of the first. In other words, according to Zechariah 12:9, “to be like God” is the equivalent of and means precisely to be “like the Angel of the Lord.”
When Zechariah says the house of David would be “like the Angel of the Lord before them,” the final words recall those of the Exodus, where God promises that the Angel who bears His name would go “before you,” i.e. Israel.
This means for all my opponents appeal to Zechariah one in an effort to deny the deity of the Angel, it is clearly out of touch with what Zechariah in fact taught. Zechariah was not a unitarian, and that’s why Muslims are only giving lip-service when they say they believe in all the prophets and all the previous books. In fact they don’t, and the testimony of Zechariah is only the tip of the Old Testament ice-berg that demonstrates this to be the case.