In Exodus 3:2 it says the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses. Then later it refers to the Lord speaking. It is confusing. Are the angel of the Lord and The Lord the same personality? Why the switch of terminology? Or did the angel of the Lord make the introduction to Moses for God? -- Jason Reichert

Reply by John Oakes:

I have seen a couple of ideas on this one. The scene here is not completely unlike what we find in Daniel chapter 10. In this vision, it appears that Daniel sees Jesus (10:4-6) or perhaps the Father, but we cannot be certain. In the vision, Daniel also is spoken to by an angel (10:10-14), who is likely an archangel. Is the figure in 10:4-6 the same as that in 10:10-14? We cannot be absolutely sure, but it seems not.

About Exodus 3:2, it is possible that Moses saw an angel of the Lord, but was spoken to by God.

Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as ministering spirits. The Jewish concept was that they were messengers of God. In other words, when God spoke to them, he did it through the medium of angels. Hebrews 2:2 brings this out. The Hebrew writer refers to the Law given by God on Sinai as "the message spoken by angels." Was the Law spoken by angels, or was it spoken directly by God? Exodus seems to imply it was God speaking to Moses directly; Hebrews 2 implies that God spoke to Moses through an angel. Apparently, for the Jews there was little difference between saying a message was spoken by God and saying a message was spoken by God through an angel. For this reason, I believe that you will not be able to find a definitive answer to your question.  As in Daniel 10, I believe it is not possible to say with absolute certainty whether it is the Lord speaking or an angel. Similarly, it will be difficult to say for sure if "The angel of the Lord" is not a different way to say "the Lord" in Exodus 3:2.

Reply by Jim McGuiggan:

The word, both in Hebrew and in Greek, has the central idea of a messenger, a deputy, sent to speak/do the will of the one sending the representative. In the Bible, the word is used of celestial beings, human beings and any natural element that God wants to use to carry a message from him [see below].

The scriptures often speak of angels to say something about God and what he is doing rather than to say something about angels. God doesn’t need to send anyone to say or do anything for him—he could simply will it and it would be done, but he refuses to do that.

His sending messengers functions to stress his unapproachable glory. When an angel is present, we’re reminded that God is absent, that he is not personally available to us; we can’t speak to him as we can address his messenger. The stress, then, is not on the person of the angel, what he is “made of” or what power he has as an angel; the stress is on God, who is making his will known through the angel.

The more impressive our messengers are, the more impressed people are with us because these messengers go/come to do our bidding. So it is with God and his angels (compare Psalm 104:4, a psalm that is entirely devoted to describing the glory and majesty of God).

In Revelation, angels are pictured as having power over planets, stars, and all the many elements of creation, but we’re not supposed to think they have creative or even autonomous power. The texts let us know that the angels await instructions from a higher source and that they function as God’s powerful servants. [And even this is a way of saying that all the natural elements and the twists of history are under God’s control.]

None of this means that God is not involved in our lives. A surgeon uses a scalpel to perform surgery on us, but we wouldn’t dream of saying the surgeon didn’t engage with us; so it is with God. 1 Timothy 6:16 insists that God is unapproachable, but we’re assured in Ephesians 2:18 that we have access to God by Jesus through the Spirit. Texts like these remind us of God’s sovereign, glory and majesty, and they do it by showing us the way he has structured our spiritual experience with and access to him.

See Daniel 7:9-10.

One important function of angels is to represent God before humans. This would be true of any angel, but it seems clear that there are levels of authority and prominence in the angelic hosts, just as there are levels of authority among humans.

Michael is said to be an archangel, and that implies that he has authority over other angels (this is corroborated by Revelation 12:7). Gabriel is obviously of note among the angels, as we can see from the service he carries out for God in the Gospels and the book of Daniel.

This same truth is implied in texts like Exodus 3:2-4, where we’re told that God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and yet we’re told it was an angel that appeared to Moses. Exodus tells us that God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, but Stephen tells us it was an angel that spoke to him (Acts 7:30, 38). It’s clear from the book of Exodus that God gave the law, and yet Paul speaks of the law as given by angels (Galatians 3:19). And in Exodus, while we’re told that God went with the people, we’re assured that it was God’s angel that went with them.

Piecing all these texts (and more) together, it seems clear that there were exalted angelic beings who spoke for and as the Lord and were to be treated as if they were in fact the Lord rather than merely his exalted representatives.

People saw the angel of the Lord, but the NT insists that no one ever saw God. We need to integrate these two claims.