Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm– Part Five


BEN: Another thing that puzzled me was you don’t ever discuss the Hebrew concept of shaliach, or agent— “a man agent is as himself”. The agent of a person who sends him out as a messenger or active emissary has authorized the agent to speak for him and as him and act for him, but his is clearly a derived authority. It seems to me that this better explains the places where the ‘malak’ who is clearly not God in any sense, speaks and acts for God, for instance in the Abraham and the three visitors story. The fact that the angel has ‘the name of God’ in him, no more makes him God or divine than the fact that the ark of the covenant also bore the divine name. It simply meant that the angel had God’s seal of approval to speak etc. For example, in Gen. 32. 22-32 where Jacob wrestles with a ‘man’ who will not tell Jacob his name, and is called in Hos. 12.4 an angel, he is clearly an angel who can speak and act for Yahweh. Jacob gushes and says he has seen God face to face and lived to tell the tale, but in fact what he saw was a visible manifestation of God’s agent— the angel, perhaps the angel of the Lord. Or again turn to the burning bush story. Exod. 3.1-6 clearly says the angel of the Lord is in the bush, and that he speaks for and as God, and that Moses assumes God is addressing him. What the text does not say is N.B. you should simply equate the angel of the Lord with Yahweh in human form. Acts 7 clearly identifies the speaker as the angel of the Lord, speaking as the Lord. What Stephen doesn’t go on to say is ‘by the way, that angel was actually Yahweh in physical form’ not merely speaking for or as God, but actually being God. Your thoughts?

MIKE: I think this idea is as you say – a spirit being sent out to represent God – but you add “when it’s not God himself.” I’d agree. In those cases—not because of the term, but because of the context and unique ontology of Yahweh—the term mal’ak is clearly functional. I’m saying it’s always functional except when the mal’ak (or any “sent” terminology) is used of a being who isn’t Yahweh—but when it is Yahweh, there’s ontology involved in the discussion.

Put another way, I don’t think any of the sending labels denote ontology, yet evangelicals use the terms that way. In the case of the angel of Yahweh (or “sent one of Yahweh” if you prefer), the sending terminology still isn’t ontological. The ontology that becomes part of the discussion of that being doesn’t arise from the vocabulary. It arises from what else is said or know about that sent being. In the case of Jacob, the “man” is considered a mal’ak by Hosea as you note, and is also called elohim by Hosea. One needs to go beyond the vocabulary here, as even elohim need not of necessity point to Yahweh. But Hosea in fact does identify this “man” / “angel” / elohim as Yahweh – in Hosea 12:2 (“The LORD [Yahweh] has an indictment against Judah…”). Other scholars have argued that there is a connection between Yahweh having an indictment against Jacob and the elohim Jacob wrestles with. For example, part of the struggle involves changing Jacob’s name to Israel (Gen 32:28). Elsewhere that name change is referred to it is clearly the God of Israel speaking about that (Gen 35:10). Since it was Yahweh himself (both divine names are used) who changed Abram’s name (Gen 17:5, 15), why would God relegate this task to a lesser being than himself (i.e., it is more consistent to have the angel in these instances with Jacob be Yahweh)? My point is that there are wider contextual associations that need consideration, not just vocabulary. The same goes for Exod 3 and the burning bush. If you asked an Israelite, “who appeared to Moses and sent him to pharaoh, delivered, Israel, and took them to the promised land—Yahweh, Elohim, or the Angel?” you might get different vocabulary, but you’d also get “yes” for an answer – they didn’t see them as different entities. That this is the case for a number of Jews is evident from the two powers in heaven teaching (and subsequent debate). Jews took such passages not as securing the differentiation of God and his angel, but as two sides of the same coin. The issue of identification is simply wider than and more far-reaching than vocabulary. Your readers should note the grammar of Gen 48:15-16 in this regard, which I discussed in the book in the discussion of this material. This was the perfect place to distinguish the angel of Yahweh from Yahweh, and yet the writer doesn’t – he uses a singular verb to blur the two grammatical subjects. Had there been a clear theology against doing that, the writer would have used a plural to avoid confusion. He doesn’t.

This actually highlights something I note in the introduction to the book. I’m doing what I’m doing taking the whole canon into consideration (a necessity for a big picture book).

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!