How can the Messenger of God be God?
The Apostle’s message of Christ in the Old Testament may be appealing to Christians, but how about the Jewish people? Can they see Christ without referring to the New Testament, or to the Targums?
Yes, they can.
This was the effort of Justin Martyr’s famous book in 135 AD, “A Dialogue with Tryphos, a Jew.”
By the second century, the Jewish Rabbis had suppressed the meaning of the Word found in the Targums. The Babylonian Talmud records that the Rabbis explained Psalms 33:6, “by the Word of YHVH, the heavens were made,” as “speaking is equal to acting” (Tract Sabbath, Chapter XVI).
So, Justin Martyr challenged the Jewish people of his day with these questions: Why was the Messenger, who appeared to Jacob, called God? How can one who is sent, really be God? For the One who sent Him must be greater than Him?
This was also Christ’s message to the Jewish people:
“No one is greater than the One who sent Him.”
“The Father is greater than I.”
John 13:16; 14:28
The Messenger of God speaks as God, and as an Angel
The Messenger of God sometimes spoke as God, and sometimes spoke as Himself.
The very first appearance of the Messenger, was to Hagar, in Genesis 16:7-13, where the Angel was first called “God.” There we read:
“Then she called the name of YHVH who spoke to her, You-are-the-ELOHIM-who-Sees, for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’”
In Genesis 21:17, the Messenger spoke to Hagar as Himself, saying “God has heard the voice of the lad” and then He spoke as God saying, “Arise, lift up the lad…for I will make a great nation of him.”
In Genesis 22:12, the Messenger spoke as God to Abraham, saying: “you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Of course, the most dramatic evidence that the Messenger of God Himself was not the one true God is found in Zechariah, where we see the Angel of YHVH, praying to God. (Zechariah 1:12).
The Messenger was called YHVH and ELOHIM
The Jewish people, in Justin Martyr’s day, understood that the Messenger was not the one true God, but they could not explain why YHVH, and the Messenger of YHVH, were equated as the one in the pillar of fire and cloud, as we read in Exodus 13:21, and 14:19:
“YHVH was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night…”
“The Angel of YHVH, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.”
The Jews could also not explain why the One who met with Balaam was alternatively described as the Angel of YHVH, ELOHIM, and YHVH:
“But the Angel of YHVH said to Balaam, “Go with the men….” (Numbers 22:35)
“Now ELOHIM met Balaam,” (Numbers 23:4)
“Then YHVH met Balaam and put a word in his mouth…” (Numbers 23:16)
The God of Jacob
Today, the greatest challenge for the Jewish people is the truth that the Messenger was their God.
In Genesis 31:13, the Angel of God said to Jacob, “I am the God of Bethel where you anointed an altar.” The Greek Septuagint translated this as:
“I am God that appeared to you in the place of God..”
In Genesis 35:1, God told Jacob to “make an altar to the EL who appeared you at Bethel.” Here, God actually used the singular form “EL,” to identify the Messenger as Jacob’s God.
Therefore, before Jacob died, he blessed Joseph’s sons, saying: “the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless these boys” (Genesis 48:15-16).
But most significantly, God called the Messenger, the God of Jacob, in His meeting with Moses in Exodus Chapter 3, where God named the Messenger: “YHVH your ELOHIM.”