Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
"And the whole earth (i.e., the population of the earth, vid., Gen 2:19) was one lip and one kind of words:" unius labii eorundemque verborum. The unity of language of the whole human race follows from the unity of its descent from one human pair (vid., Gen 2:22). But as the origin and formation of the races of mankind are beyond the limits of empirical research, so no philology will ever be able to prove or deduce the original unity of human speech from the languages which have been historically preserved, however far comparative grammar may proceed in establishing the genealogical relation of the languages of different nations.
As men multiplied they moved from the land of Ararat "eastward," or more strictly to the south-east, and settled in a plain. בּקעה does not denote a valley between mountain ranges, but a broad plain, πεδίον μέγα, as Herodotus calls the neighbourhood of Babylon. There they resolved to build an immense tower; and for this purpose they made bricks and burned them thoroughly (לשׂרפה "to burning" serves to intensify the verb like the inf. absol.), so that they became stone; whereas in the East ordinary buildings are constructed of bricks of clay, simply dried in the sun. For mortar they used asphalt, in which the neighbourhood of Babylon abounds. From this material, which may still be seen in the ruins of Babylon, they intended to build a city and a tower, whose top should be in heaven, i.e., reach to the sky, to make to themselves a name, that they might not be scattered over the whole earth. שׁם לו עשׂה denotes, here and everywhere else, to establish a name, or reputation, to set up a memorial (Isa 63:12, Isa 63:14; Jer 32:20, etc.). The real motive therefore was the desire for renown, and the object was to establish a noted central point, which might serve to maintain their unity. The one was just as ungodly as the other. For, according to the divine purpose, men were to fill the earth, i.e., to spread over the whole earth, not indeed to separate, but to maintain their inward unity notwithstanding their dispersion. But the fact that they were afraid of dispersion is a proof that the inward spiritual bond of unity and fellowship, not only "the oneness of their God and their worship," but also the unity of brotherly love, was already broken by sin. Consequently the undertaking, dictated by pride, to preserve and consolidate by outward means the unity which was inwardly lost, could not be successful, but could only bring down the judgment of dispersion.
"Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had built" (the perfect בּנוּ refers to the building as one finished up to a certain point). Jehovah's "coming down" is not the same here as in Exo 19:20; Exo 34:5; Num 11:25; Num 12:5, viz., the descent from heaven of some visible symbol of His presence, but is an anthropomorphic description of God's interposition in the actions of men, primarily a "judicial cognizance of the actual fact," and then, Gen 11:7, a judicial infliction of punishment. The reason for the judgment is given in the word, i.e., the sentence, which Jehovah pronounces upon the undertaking (Gen 11:6): "Behold one people (עם lit., union, connected whole, from עמם to bind) and one language have they all, and this (the building of this city and tower) is (only) the beginning of their deeds; and now (sc., when they have finished this) nothing will be impossible to them (מהם יבּצר לא lit., cut off from them, prevented) which they purpose to do" (יזמוּ for יזמּוּ from זמם, see Gen 9:19). By the firm establishment of an ungodly unity, the wickedness and audacity of men would have led to fearful enterprises. But God determined, by confusing their language, to prevent the heightening of sin through ungodly association, and to frustrate their design. "Up" (הבה "go to," an ironical imitation of the same expression in Gen 11:3 and Gen 11:4), "We will go down, and there confound their language (on the plural, see Gen 1:26; נבלה for נבלּה, Kal from בּלל, like יזמו in Gen 1:6), that they may not understand one another's speech." The execution of this divine purpose is given in Gen 11:8, in a description of its consequences: "Jehovah scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city." We must not conclude from this, however, that the differences in language were simply the result of the separation of the various tribes, and that the latter arose from discord and strife; in which case the confusion of tongues would be nothing more than "dissensio animorum, per quam factum sit, ut qui turrem struebant distracti sint in contraria studia et consilia" (Bitringa). Such a view not only does violence to the words "that one may not discern (understand) the lip (language) of the other," but is also at variance with the object of the narrative. When it is stated, first of all, that God resolved to destroy the unity of lips and words by a confusion of the lips, and then that He scattered the men abroad, this act of divine judgment cannot be understood in any other way, than that God deprived them of the ability to comprehend one another, and thus effected their dispersion. The event itself cannot have consisted merely in a change of the organs of speech, produced by the omnipotence of God, whereby speakers were turned into stammerers who were unintelligible to one another. This opinion, which is held by Bitringa and Hoffmann, is neither reconcilable with the text, nor tenable as a matter of fact. The differences, to which this event gave rise, consisted not merely in variations of sound, such as might be attributed to differences in the formation in the organs of speech (the lip or tongue), but had a much deeper foundation in the human mind. If language is the audible expression of emotions, conceptions, and thoughts of the mind, the cause of the confusion or division of the one human language into different national dialects must be sought in an effect produced upon the human mind, by which the original unity of emotion, conception, thought, and will was broken up. This inward unity had no doubt been already disturbed by sin, but the disturbance had not yet amounted to a perfect breach. This happened first of all in the event recorded here, through a direct manifestation of divine power, which caused the disturbance produced by sin in the unity of emotion, thought, and will to issue in a diversity of language, and thus by a miraculous suspension of mutual understanding frustrated the enterprise by which men hoped to render dispersion and estrangement impossible. More we cannot say in explanation of this miracle, which lies before us in the great multiplicity and variety of tongues, since even those languages which are genealogically related - for example, the Semitic and Indo-Germanic - were no longer intelligible to the same people even in the dim primeval age, whilst others are so fundamentally different from one another, that hardly a trace remains of their original unity. With the disappearance of unity the one original language was also lost, so that neither in the Hebrew nor in any other language of history has enough been preserved to enable us to form the least conception of its character.
(Note: The opinion of the Rabbins and earlier theologians, that the Hebrew was the primitive language, has been generally abandoned in consequence of modern philological researches. The fact that the biblical names handed down from the earliest times are of Hebrew extraction proves nothing. With the gradual development and change of language, the traditions with their names were cast into the mould of existing dialects, without thereby affecting the truth of the tradition. For as Drechster has said, "it makes no difference whether I say that Adam's eldest son had a name corresponding to the name Cain from קנה, or to the name Ctesias from κτᾶσθαι; the truth of the Thorah, which presents us with the tradition handed down from the sons of Noah through Shem to Abraham and Israel, is not a verbal, but a living tradition - is not in the letter, but in the spirit.")
The primitive language is extinct, buried in the materials of the languages of the nations, to rise again one day to eternal life in the glorified form of the καιναὶ γλῶσσαι intelligible to all the redeemed, when sin with its consequences is overcome and extinguished by the power of grace. A type of pledge of this hope was given in the gift of tongues on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church on the first Christian day of Pentecost, when the apostles, filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke with other or new tongues of "the wonderful works of God," so that the people of every nation under heaven understood in their own language (Act 2:1-11).
From the confusion of tongues the city received the name Babel (בּבל i.e., confusion, contracted from בּלבּל from בּלל to confuse), according to divine direction, though without any such intention on the part of those who first gave the name, as a standing memorial of the judgment of God which follows all the ungodly enterprises of the power of the world.
(Note: Such explanations of the name as "gate, or house, or fortress of Bel," are all the less worthy of notice, because the derivation ἀπὸ τοῦ Βήλου in the Etymol. magn., and in Persian and Nabatean works, is founded upon the myth, that Bel was the founder of the city. And as this myth is destitute of historical worth, so is also the legend that the city was built by Semiramis, which may possibly have so much of history as its basis, that this half-mythical queen extended and beautified the city, just as Nebuchadnezzar added a new quarter, and a second fortress, and strongly fortified it.)
Of this city considerable ruins still remain, including the remains of an enormous tower, Birs Nimrud, which is regarded by the Arabs as the tower of Babel that was destroyed by fire from heaven. Whether these ruins have any historical connection with the tower of the confusion of tongues, must remain, at least for the present, a matter of uncertainty. With regard to the date of the event, we find from Gen 11:10 that the division of the human race occurred in the days of Peleg, who was born 100 years after the flood. In 150 or 180 years, with a rapid succession of births, the descendants of the three sons of Noah, who were already 100 years old and married at the time of the flood, might have become quite numerous enough to proceed to the erection of such a building. If we reckon, for example, only four male and four female births as the average number to each marriage, since it is evident from Gen 11:12. that children were born as early as the 30th or 35th year of their parent's age, the sixth generation would be born by 150 years after the flood, and the human race would number 12,288 males and as many females. Consequently there would be at least about 30,000 people in the world at this time.
After describing the division of the one family which sprang from the three sons of Noah, into many nations scattered over the earth and speaking different languages, the narrative returns to Shem, and traces his descendants in a direct line to Terah the father of Abraham. The first five members of this pedigree have already been given in the genealogy of the Shemites; and in that case the object was to point out the connection in which all the descendants of Eber stood to one another. They are repeated here to show the direct descent of the Terahites through Peleg from Shem, but more especially to follow the chronological thread of the family line, which could not be given in the genealogical tree without disturbing the uniformity of its plan. By the statement in Gen 11:10, that "Shem, a hundred years old, begat Arphaxad two years after the flood," the chronological date already given of Noah's age at the birth of his sons (Gen 5:32) and at the commencement of the flood (Gen 7:11) are made still more definite. As the expression "after the flood" refers to the commencement of the flood (Gen 9:28), and according to Gen 7:11 the flood began in the second month, or near the beginning of the six hundredth year of Noah's life, though the year 600 is given in Gen 7:6 in round numbers, it is not necessary to assume, as some do, in order to reconcile the difference between our verse and Gen 5:32, that the number 500 in Gen 5:32 stands as a round number for 502. On the other hand, there can be no objection to such an assumption. The different statements may be easily reconciled by placing the birth of Shem at the end of the five hundredth year of Noah's life, and the birth of Arphaxad at the end of the hundredth year of that of Shem; in which case Shem would be just 99 years old when the flood began, and would be fully 100 years old "two years after the flood," that is to say, in the second year from the commencement of the flood, when he begat Arphaxad. In this case the "two years after the flood" are not to be added to the sum-total of the chronological data, but are included in it. The table given here forms in a chronological and material respect the direct continuation of the one in Gen 5, and differs from it only in form, viz., by giving merely the length of life of the different fathers before and after the birth of their sons, without also summing up the whole number of their years as is the case there, since this is superfluous for chronological purposes. But on comparing the chronological data of the two tables, we find this very important difference in the duration of life before and after the flood, that the patriarchs after the flood lived upon an average only half the number of years of those before it, and that with Peleg the average duration of life was again reduced by one half. Whilst Noah with his 950 years belonged entirely to the old world, and Shem, who was born before the flood, reached the age of 600, Arphaxad lived only 438 years, Salah 433, and Eber 464; and again, with Peleg the duration of life fell to 239 years, Reu also lived only 239 years, Serug 230, and Nahor not more than 148. Here, then, we see that the two catastrophes, the flood and the separation of the human race into nations, exerted a powerful influence in shortening the duration of life; the former by altering the climate of the earth, the latter by changing the habits of men. But while the length of life diminished, the children were born proportionally earlier. Shem begat his first-born in his hundredth year, Arphaxad in the thirty-fifth, Salah in the thirtieth, and so on to Terah, who had no children till his seventieth year; consequently the human race, notwithstanding the shortening of life, increased with sufficient rapidity to people the earth very soon after their dispersion. There is nothing astonishing, therefore, in the circumstance, that wherever Abraham went he found tribes, towns, and kingdoms, though only 365 years had elapsed since the flood, when we consider that eleven generations would have followed one another in that time, and that, supposing every marriage to have been blessed with eight children on an average (four male and four female), the eleventh generation would contain 12,582,912 couples, or 25,165,824 individuals. And is we reckon ten children as the average number, the eleventh generation would contain 146,484,375 pairs, or 292,968,750 individuals. In neither of these cases have we included such of the earlier generations as would be still living, although their number would be by no means inconsiderable, since nearly all the patriarchs from Shem to Terah were alive at the time of Abram's migration. In Gen 11:26 the genealogy closes, like that in Gen 5:32, with the names of three sons of Terah, all of whom sustained an important relation to the subsequent history, viz., Abram as the father of the chosen family, Nahor as the ancestor of Rebekah (cf. Gen 11:29 with Gen 22:20-23), and Haran as the father of Lot (Gen 11:27).
The genealogical data in Gen 11:27-32 prepare the way for the history of the patriarchs. The heading, "These are the generations of Terah," belongs not merely to Gen 11:27-32, but to the whole of the following account of Abram, since it corresponds to "the generations" of Ishmael and of Isaac in Gen 25:12 and Gen 25:19. Of the three sons of Terah, who are mentioned again in Gen 11:27 to complete the plan of the different Toledoth, such genealogical notices are given as are of importance to the history of Abram and his family. According to the regular plan of Genesis, the fact that Haran the youngest son of Terah begat Lot, is mentioned first of all, because the latter went with Abram to Canaan; and then the fact that he died before his father Terah, because the link which would have connected Lot with his native land was broken in consequence. "Before his father," פּני על lit., upon the face of his father, so that he saw and survived his death. Ur of the Chaldees is to be sought either in the "Ur nomine persicum castellum" of Ammian (25, 8), between Hatra and Nisibis, near Arrapachitis, or in Orhoi, Armenian Urrhai, the old name for Edessa, the modern Urfa. - Gen 11:29. Abram and Nahor took wives from their kindred. Abram married Sarai, his half-sister (Gen 20:12), of whom it is already related, in anticipation of what follows, that she was barren. Nahor married Milcah, the daughter of his brother Haran, who bore to him Bethuel, the father of Rebekah (Gen 22:22-23). The reason why Iscah is mentioned is doubtful. For the rabbinical notion, that Iscah is another name for Sarai, is irreconcilable with Gen 20:12, where Abram calls Sarai his sister, daughter of his father, though not of his mother; on the other hand, the circumstance that Sarai is introduced in Gen 11:31 merely as the daughter-in-law of Terah, may be explained on the ground that she left Ur, not as his daughter, but as the wife of his son Abram. A better hypothesis is that of Ewald, that Iscah is mentioned because she was the wife of Lot; but this is pure conjecture. According to Gen 11:31, Terah already prepared to leave Ur of the Chaldees with Abram and Lot, and to remove to Canaan. In the phrase "they went forth with them," the subject cannot be the unmentioned members of the family, such as Nahor and his children; though Nahor must also have gone to Haran, since it is called in Gen 24:10 the city of Nahor. For if he accompanied them at this time, there is no perceptible reason why he should not have been mentioned along with the rest. The nominative to the verb must be Lot and Sarai, who went with Terah and Abram; so that although Terah is placed at the head, Abram must have taken an active part in the removal, or the resolution to remove. This does not, however, necessitate the conclusion, that he had already been called by God in Ur. Nor does Gen 15:7 require any such assumption. For it is not stated there that God called Abram in Ur, but only that He brought him out. But the simple fact of removing from Ur might also be called a leading out, as a work of divine superintendence and guidance, without a special call from God. It was in Haran that Abram first received the divine call to go to Canaan (Gen 12:1-4), when he left not only his country and kindred, but also his father's house. Terah did not carry out his intention to proceed to Canaan, but remained in Haran, in his native country Mesopotamia, probably because he found there what he was going to look for in the land of Canaan. Haran, more properly Charan, חרן, is a place in north-western Mesopotamia, the ruins of which may still be seen, a full day's journey to the south of Edessa (Gr. Κάῤῥαι, Lat. Carrae), where Crassus fell when defeated by the Parthians. It was a leading settlement of the Ssabians, who had a temple there dedicated to the moon, which they traced back to Abraham. There Terah died at the age of 205, or sixty years after the departure of Abram for Canaan; for, according to Gen 11:26, Terah was seventy years old when Abram was born, and Abram was seventy-five years old when he arrived in Canaan. When Stephen, therefore, placed the removal of Abram from Haran to Canaan after the death of his father, he merely inferred this from the fact, that the call of Abram (Gen 12) was not mentioned till after the death of Terah had been noticed, taking the order of the narrative as the order of events; whereas, according to the plan of Genesis, the death of Terah is introduced here, because Abram never met with his father again after leaving Haran, and there was consequently nothing more to be related concerning him.
Character of the Patriarchal History
The dispersion of the descendants of the sons of Noah, who had now grown into numerous families, was necessarily followed on the one hand by the rise of a variety of nations, differing in language, manners, and customs, and more and more estranged from one another; and on the other by the expansion of the germs of idolatry, contained in the different attitudes of these nations towards God, into the polytheistic religions of heathenism, in which the glory of the immortal God was changed into an image made like to mortal man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things (Rom 1:23 cf. Wis. 13-15). If God therefore would fulfil His promise, no more to smite the earth with the curse of the destruction of every living thing because of the sin of man (Gen 8:21-22), and yet would prevent the moral corruption which worketh death from sweeping all before it; it was necessary that by the side of these self-formed nations He should form a nation for Himself, to be the recipient and preserver of His salvation, and that in opposition to the rising kingdoms of the world He should establish a kingdom for the living, saving fellowship of man with Himself. The foundation for this was laid by God in the call and separation of Abram from his people and his country, to make him, by special guidance, the father of a nation from which the salvation of the world should come. With the choice of Abram and revelation of God to man assumed a select character, inasmuch as God manifested Himself henceforth to Abram and his posterity alone as the author of salvation and the guide to true life; whilst other nations were left to follow their own course according to the powers conferred upon them, in order that they might learn that in their way, and without fellowship with the living God, it was impossible to find peace to the soul, and the true blessedness of life (cf. Act 17:27). But this exclusiveness contained from the very first the germ of universalism. Abram was called, that through him all the families of the earth might be blessed (Gen 12:1-3). Hence the new form which the divine guidance of the human race assumed in the call of Abram was connected with the general development of the world, - in the one hand, by the fact that Abram belonged to the family of Shem, which Jehovah had blessed, and on the other, by his not being called alone, but as a married man with his wife. But whilst, regarded in this light, the continuity of the divine revelation was guaranteed, as well as the plan of human development established in the creation itself, the call of Abram introduced so far the commencement of a new period, that to carry out the designs of God their very foundations required to be renewed. Although, for example, the knowledge and worship of the true God had been preserved in the families of Shem in a purer form than among the remaining descendants of Noah, even in the house of Terah and worship of God was corrupted by idolatry (Jos 24:2-3); and although Abram was to become the father of the nation which God was about to form, yet his wife was barren, and therefore, in the way of nature, a new family could not be expected to spring from him.
As a perfectly new beginning, therefore, the patriarchal history assumed the form of a family history, in which the grace of God prepared the ground for the coming Israel. For the nation was to grow out of the family, and in the lives of the patriarchs its character was to be determined and its development foreshadowed. The early history consists of three stages, which are indicated by the three patriarchs, peculiarly so called, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and in the sons of Jacob the unity of the chosen family was expanded into the twelve immediate fathers of the nation. In the triple number of the patriarchs, the divine election of the nation on the one hand, and the entire formation of the character and guidance of the life of Israel on the other, were to attain to their fullest typical manifestation. These two were the pivots, upon which all the divine revelations made to the patriarchs, and all the guidance they received, were made to turn. The revelations consisted almost exclusively of promises; and so far as these promises were fulfilled in the lives of the patriarchs, the fulfilments themselves were predictions and pledges of the ultimate and complete fulfilment, reserved for a distant, or for the most remote futurity. And the guidance vouchsafed had for its object the calling forth of faith in response to the promise, which should maintain itself amidst all the changes of this earthly life. "A faith, which laid hold of the word of promise, and on the strength of that word gave up the visible and present for the invisible and future, was the fundamental characteristic of the patriarchs" (Delitzsch). This faith Abram manifested and sustained by great sacrifices, by enduring patience, and by self-denying by great sacrifices, by enduring patience, and by self-denying obedience of such a kind, that he thereby became the father of believers (πατὴρ πάντων τῶν πιστευόντων, Rom 4:11). Isaac also was strong in patience and hope; and Jacob wrestled in faith amidst painful circumstances of various kinds, until he had secured the blessing of the promise. "Abraham was a man of faith that works; Isaac, of faith that endures; Jacob, of faith that wrestles" (Baumgarten). - Thus, walking in faith, the patriarchs were types of faith for all the families that should spring from them, and be blessed through them, and ancestors of a nation which God had resolved to form according to the election of His grace. For the election of God was not restricted to the separation of Abram from the family of Shem, to be the father of the nation which was destined to be the vehicle of salvation; it was also manifest in the exclusion of Ishmael, whom Abram had begotten by the will of man, through Hagar the handmaid of his wife, for the purpose of securing the promised seed, and in the new life imparted to the womb of the barren Sarai, and her consequent conception and birth of Isaac, the son of promise. And lastly, it appeared still more manifestly in the twin sons born by Rebekah to Isaac, of whom the first-born, Esau, was rejected, and the younger, Jacob, chosen to be the heir of the promise; and this choice, which was announced before their birth, was maintained in spite of Isaac's plans, or that Jacob, and not Esau, received the blessing of the promise. - All this occurred as a type for the future, that Israel might know and lay to heart the fact, that bodily descent from Abraham did not make a man a child of God, but that they alone were children of God who laid hold of the divine promise in faith, and walked in the steps of their forefather's faith (cf. Rom 9:6-13).
If we fix our eyes upon the method of the divine revelation, we find a new beginning in this respect, that as soon as Abram is called, we read of the appearing of God. It is true that from the very beginning God had manifested Himself visibly to men; but in the olden time we read nothing of appearances, because before the flood God had not withdrawn His presence from the earth. Even to Noah He revealed Himself before the flood as one who was present on the earth. But when He had established a covenant with him after the flood, and thereby had assured the continuance of the earth and of the human race, the direct manifestations ceased, for God withdrew His visible presence from the world; so that it was from heaven that the judgment fell upon the tower of Babel, and even the call to Abram in his home in Haran was issued through His word, that is to say, no doubt, through an inward monition. But as soon as Abram had gone to Canaan, in obedience to the call of God, Jehovah appeared to him there (Gen 12:7). These appearances, which were constantly repeated from that time forward, must have taken place from heaven; for we read that Jehovah, after speaking with Abram and the other patriarchs, "went away" (Gen 18:33), or "went up" (Gen 17:22; Gen 35:13); and the patriarchs saw them, sometimes while in a waking condition, in a form discernible to the bodily senses, sometimes in visions, in a state of mental ecstasy, and at other times in the form of a dream (Gen 28:12.). On the form in which God appeared, in most instances, nothing is related. But in Gen 18:1. it is stated that three men came to Abram, one of whom is introduced as Jehovah, whilst the other two are called angels (Gen 19:1). Beside this, we frequently read of appearances of the "angel of Jehovah" (Gen 16:7; Gen 22:11, etc.), or of "Elohim," and the "angel of Elohim" (Gen 21:17; Gen 31:11, etc.), which were repeated throughout the whole of the Old Testament, and even occurred, though only in vision, in the case of the prophet Zechariah. The appearances of the angel of Jehovah (or Elohim) cannot have been essentially different from those of Jehovah (or Elohim) Himself; for Jacob describes the appearances of Jehovah at Bethel (Gen 28:13.) as an appearance of "the angel of Elohim," and of "the God of Bethel" (Gen 31:11, Gen 31:13); and in his blessing on the sons of Joseph (Gen 48:15-16), "The God (Elohim) before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God (Elohim) which fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads," he places the angel of God on a perfect equality with God, not only regarding Him as the Being to whom he has been indebted for protection all his life long, but entreating from Him a blessing upon his descendants.
The question arises, therefore, whether the angel of Jehovah, or of God, was God Himself in one particular phase of His self-manifestation, or a created angel of whom God made use as the organ of His self-revelation.
(Note: In the old Jewish synagogue the Angel of Jehovah was regarded as the Shechinah, the indwelling of God in the world, i.e., the only Mediator between God and the world, who bears in the Jewish theology the name Metatron. The early Church regarded Him as the Logos, the second person of the Deity; and only a few of the fathers, such as Augustine and Jerome, thought of a created angel (vid., Hengstenberg, Christol. vol. 3, app.). This view was adopted by many Romish theologians, by the Socinians, Arminians, and others, and has been defended recently by Hoffmann, whom Delitzsch, Kurtz, and others follow. But the opinion of the early Church has been vindicated most thoroughly by Hengstenberg in his Christology.)
The former appears to us to be the only scriptural view. For the essential unity of the Angel of Jehovah with Jehovah Himself follows indisputably from the following facts. In the first place, the Angel of God identifies Himself with Jehovah and Elohim, by attributing to Himself divine attributes and performing divine works: e.g., Gen 22:12, "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me" (i.e., hast been willing to offer him up as a burnt sacrifice to God); again (to Hagar) Gen 16:10, "I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude;" Gen 21, "I will make him a great nation,"-the very words used by Elohim in Gen 17:20 with reference to Ishmael, and by Jehovah in Gen 13:16; Gen 15:4-5, with regard to Isaac; also Exo 3:6., "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry, and I am come down to deliver them" (cf. Jdg 2:1). In addition to this, He performs miracles, consuming with fire the offering placed before Him by Gideon, and the sacrifice prepared by Manoah, and ascending to haven in the flame of the burnt-offering (Jdg 6:21; Jdg 13:19-20).
Secondly, the Angel of God was recognised as God by those to whom He appeared, on the one hand by their addressing Him as Adonai (i.e., the Lord God; Jdg 6:15), declaring that they had seen God, and fearing that they should die (Gen 16:13; Exo 3:6; Jdg 6:22-23; Jdg 13:22), and on the other hand by their paying Him divine honour, offering sacrifices which He accepted, and worshipping Him (Jdg 6:20; Jdg 13:19-20, cf. Gen 2:5). The force of these facts has been met by the assertion, that the ambassador perfectly represents the person of the sender; and evidence of this is adduced not only from Grecian literature, but from the Old Testament also, where the addresses of the prophets often glide imperceptibly into the words of Jehovah, whose instrument they are. But even if the address in Gen 22:16, where the oath of the Angel of Jehovah is accompanied by the words, "saith the Lord," and the words and deeds of the Angel of God in certain other cases, might be explained in this way, a created angel sent by God could never say, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," or by the acceptance of sacrifices and adoration, encourage the presentation of divine honours to himself. How utterly irreconcilable this fact is with the opinion that the Angel of Jehovah was a created angel, is conclusively proved by Rev 22:9, which is generally regarded as perfectly corresponding to the account of the "Angel of Jehovah" of the Old Testament. The angel of God, who shows the sacred seer the heavenly Jerusalem, and who is supposed to say, "Behold, I come quickly" (Rev 22:7), and "I am Alpha and Omega" (Rev 22:13), refuses in the most decided way the worship which John is about to present, and exclaims, "See I am thy fellow-servant: worship God."
Thirdly, the Angel of Jehovah is also identified with Jehovah by the sacred writers themselves, who call the Angel Jehovah without the least reserve (cf. Exo 3:2 and Exo 3:4, Jdg 6:12 and Jdg 6:14-16, but especially Exo 14:19, where the Angel of Jehovah goes before the host of the Israelites, just as Jehovah is said to do in Exo 13:21). - On the other hand, the objection is raised, that ἄγγελος κυρίου in the New Testament, which is confessedly the Greek rendering of יהוה מלאך, is always a created angel, and for that reason cannot be the uncreated Logos or Son of God, since the latter could not possibly have announced His own birth to the shepherds at Bethlehem. But this important difference has been overlooked, that according to Greek usage, ἄγγελος κυρίου denotes an (any) angel of the Lord, whereas according to the rules of the Hebrew language יהוה מלאך means the angel of the Lord; that in the New Testament the angel who appears is always described as ἄγγελος κυρίου without the article, and the definite article is only introduced in the further course of the narrative to denote the angel whose appearance has been already mentioned, whereas in the Old Testament it is always "the Angel of Jehovah" who appears, and whenever the appearance of a created angel is referred to, he is introduced first of all as "an angel" (vid., Kg1 19:5 and Kg1 19:7).
(Note: The force of this difference cannot be set aside by the objection that the New Testament writers follow the usage of the Septuagint, where יהוה מלאך is rendered ἄγγελος κυρίου. For neither in the New Testament nor in the Alex. version of the Old is ἄγγελος κυρίου used as a proper name; it is a simple appellative, as is apparent from the fact that in every instance, in which further reference is made to an angel who has appeared, he is called ὀ ἄγγελος, with or without κυρίου. All that the Septuagint rendering proves, is that the translators supposed "the angel of the Lord" to be a created angel; but it by no means follows that their supposition is correct.)
At the same time, it does not follow from this use of the expression Maleach Jehovah, that the (particular) angel of Jehovah was essentially one with God, or that Maleach Jehovah always has the same signification; for in Mal 2:7 the priest is called Maleach Jehovah, i.e., the messenger of the Lord. Who the messenger or angel of Jehovah was, must be determined in each particular instance from the connection of the passage; and where the context furnishes no criterion, it must remain undecided. Consequently such passages as Psa 34:7; Psa 35:5-6, etc., where the angel of Jehovah is not more particularly described, or Num 20:16, where the general term angel is intentionally employed, or Act 7:30; Gal 3:19, and Heb 2:2, where the words are general and indefinite, furnish no evidence that the Angel of Jehovah, who proclaimed Himself in His appearances as one with God, was not in reality equal with God, unless we are to adopt as the rule for interpreting Scripture the inverted principle, that clear and definite statements are to be explained by those that are indefinite and obscure.
In attempting now to determine the connection between the appearance of the Angel of Jehovah (or Elohim) and the appearance of Jehovah or Elohim Himself, and to fix the precise meaning of the expression Maleach Jehovah, we cannot make use, as recent opponents of the old Church view have done, of the manifestation of God in Gen 18 and 19, and the allusion to the great prince Michael in Dan 10:13, Dan 10:21; Dan 12:1; just because neither the appearance of Jehovah in the former instance, nor that of the archangel Michael in the latter, is represented as an appearance of the Angel of Jehovah. We must confine ourselves to the passages in which "the Angel of Jehovah" is actually referred to. We will examine these, first of all, for the purpose of obtaining a clear conception of the form in which the Angel of Jehovah appeared. Gen 16, where He is mentioned for the first time, contains no distinct statement as to His shape, but produces on the whole the impression that He appeared to Hagar in a human form, or one resembling that of man; since it was not till after His departure that she drew the inference from His words, that Jehovah had spoken with her. He came in the same form to Gideon, and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah with a staff in His hand (Jdg 6:11 and Jdg 6:21); also to Manoah's wife, for she took Him to be a man of God, i.e., a prophet, whose appearance was like that of the Angel of Jehovah (Jdg 13:6); and lastly, to Manoah himself, who did not recognise Him at first, but discovered afterwards, from the miracle which He wrought before his eyes, and from His miraculous ascent in the flame of the altar, that He was the Angel of Jehovah (Jdg 13:9-20). In other cases He revealed Himself merely by calling and speaking from heaven, without those who heard His voice perceiving any form at all; e.g., to Hagar, in Gen 21:17., and to Abraham, Gen 22:11. On the other hand, He appeared to Moses (Exo 3:2) in a flame of fire, speaking to him from the burning bush, and to the people of Israel in a pillar of cloud and fire (Exo 14:19, cf. Exo 13:21.), without any angelic form being visible in either case. Balaam He met in a human or angelic form, with a drawn sword in His hand (Num 22:22-23). David saw Him by the threshing-floor of Araunah, standing between heaven and earth, with the sword drawn in His hand and stretched out over Jerusalem (Ch1 21:16); and He appeared to Zechariah in a vision as a rider upon a red horse (Zac 1:9.). - From these varying forms of appearance it is evident that the opinion that the Angel of the Lord was a real angel, a divine manifestation, "not in the disguise of angel, but through the actual appearance of an angel," is not in harmony with all the statements of the Bible. The form of the Angel of Jehovah, which was discernible by the senses, varied according to the purpose of the appearance; and, apart from Gen 21:17 and Gen 22:11, we have a sufficient proof that it was not a real angelic appearance, or the appearance of a created angel, in the fact that in two instances it was not really an angel at all, but a flame of fire and a shining cloud which formed the earthly substratum of the revelation of God in the Angel of Jehovah (Exo 3:2; Exo 14:19), unless indeed we are to regard natural phenomena as angels, without any scriptural warrant for doing so.
(Note: The only passage that could be adduced in support of this, viz., Psa 104:4, does not prove that God makes natural objects, winds and flaming fire, into forms in which heavenly spirits appear, or that He creates spirits out of them. Even if we render this passage, with Delitzsch, "making His messengers of winds, His servants of flaming fire," the allusion, as Delitzsch himself observes, is not to the creation of angels; nor can the meaning be, that God gives wind and fire to His angels as the material of their appearance, and as it were of their self-incorporation. For עה, constructed with two accusatives, the second of which expresses the materia ex qua, is never met with in this sense, not even in Ch2 4:18-22. For the greater part of the temple furniture summed up in this passage, of which it is stated that Solomon made them of gold, was composed of pure gold; and if some of the things were merely covered with gold, the writer might easily apply the same expression to this, because he had already given a more minute account of their construction (e.g., Gen 3:7). But we neither regard this rendering of the psalm as in harmony with the context, nor assent to the assertion that עשׂה with a double accusative, in the sense of making into anything, is ungrammatical.)
These earthly substrata of the manifestation of the "Angel of Jehovah" perfectly suffice to establish the conclusion, that the Angel of Jehovah was only a peculiar form in which Jehovah Himself appeared, and which differed from the manifestations of God described as appearances of Jehovah simply in this, that in "the Angel of Jehovah," God or Jehovah revealed Himself in a mode which was more easily discernible by human senses, and exhibited in a guise of symbolical significance the design of each particular manifestation. In the appearances of Jehovah no reference is made to any form visible to the bodily eye, unless they were through the medium of a vision or a dream, excepting in one instance (Gen 18), where Jehovah and two angels come to Abraham in the form of three men, and are entertained by him-a form of appearance perfectly resembling the appearances of the Angel of Jehovah, but which is not so described by the author, because in this case Jehovah does not appear alone, but in the company of two angels, that "the Angel of Jehovah" might not be regarded as a created angel.
But although there was no essential difference, but only a formal one, between the appearing of Jehovah and the appearing of the Angel of Jehovah, the distinction between Jehovah and the Angel of Jehovah points to a distinction in the divine nature, to which even the Old Testament contains several obvious allusions. The very name indicates such a difference. יהוה מלאך (from לאך to work, from which come מלאכה the work, opus, and מלאך, lit., he through whom a work is executed, but in ordinary usage restricted to the idea of a messenger) denotes the person through whom God works and appears. Beside these passages which represent "the Angel of Jehovah" as one with Jehovah, there are others in which the Angel distinguishes Himself from Jehovah; e.g., when He gives emphasis to the oath by Himself as an oath by Jehovah, by adding "said Jehovah" (Gen 22:16); when He greets Gideon with the words, "Jehovah with thee, thou brave hero" (Jdg 6:12); when He says to Manoah, "Though thou constrainedst me, I would not eat of thy food; but if thou wilt offer a burnt-offering to Jehovah, thou mayest offer it" (Jdg 13:16); for when He prays, in Zac 1:12, "Jehovah Sabaoth, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem?" (Compare also Gen 19:24, where Jehovah is distinguished from Jehovah.) Just as in these passages the Angel of Jehovah distinguishes Himself personally from Jehovah, there are others in which a distinction is drawn between a self-revealing side of the divine nature, visible to men, and a hidden side, invisible to men, i.e., between the self-revealing and the hidden God. Thus, for example, not only does Jehovah say of the Angel, whom He sends before Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire, "My name is in Him," i.e., he reveals My nature (Exo 23:21), but He also calls Him פּני, "My face" (Exo 33:14); and in reply to Moses' request to see His glory, He says "Thou canst not see My face, for there shall no man see Me and live," and then causes His glory to pass by Moses in such a way that he only sees His back, but not His face (Exo 33:18-23). On the strength of these expression, He in whom Jehovah manifested Himself to His people as a Saviour is called in Isa 63:9, "the Angel of His face," and all the guidance and protection of Israel are ascribed to Him. In accordance with this, Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, proclaims to the people waiting for the manifestation of Jehovah, that is to say, for the appearance of the Messiah predicted by former prophets, that the Lord (האדון, i.e., God), the Angel of the covenant, will come to His temple (Gen 3:1). This "Angel of the covenant," or "Angel of the face," has appeared in Christ. The Angel of Jehovah, therefore, was no other than the Logos, which not only "was with God," but "was God," and in Jesus Christ "was made flesh" and "came unto His own" (Joh 1:1-2, Joh 1:11); the only-begotten Son of God, who was sent by the Father into the world, who, though one with the Father, prayed to the Father (John 17), and who is even called "the Apostle," ὀ ἀπόστολος, in Heb 3:1. From all this it is sufficiently obvious, that neither the title Angel or Messenger of Jehovah, nor the fact that the Angel of Jehovah prayed to Jehovah Sabaoth, furnishes any evidence against His essential unity with Jehovah. That which is unfolded in perfect clearness in the New Testament through the incarnation of the Son of God, was still veiled in the Old Testament according to the wisdom apparent in the divine training. The difference between Jehovah and the Angel of Jehovah is generally hidden behind the unity of the two, and for the most part Jehovah is referred to as He who chose Israel as His nation and kingdom, and who would reveal Himself at some future time to His people in all His glory; so that in the New Testament nearly all the manifestations of Jehovah under the Old Covenant are referred to Christ, and regarded as fulfilled through Him.
(Note: This is not a mere accommodation of Scripture, but the correct interpretation of the obscure hints of the Old Testament by the light of the fulfilment of the New. For not only is the Maleach Jehovah the revealer of God, but Jehovah Himself is the revealed God and Saviour. Just as in the history of the Old Testament there are not only revelations of the Maleach Jehovah, but revelations of Jehovah also; so in the prophecies the announcement of the Messiah, the sprout of David and servant of Jehovah, is intermingled with the announcement of the coming of Jehovah to glorify His people and perfect His kingdom.)