10-3 Angels at the Exodus
Angels On The Wilderness Journey.
Israel’s guardian Angel was to “keep” them in the way (Ex. 23:20), clearly echoing how the Angels kept the way to the tree of life in Eden. The same Hebrew word for “keep” occurs very often in Exodus in the context of Israel being told to keep God’s commands; but their freewill effort was to be confirmed by the Angel keeping them in the way of obedience. They were to “keep” themselves in the way (Dt. 4:9 and many others; s.w. “take heed”, “observe” etc.), but the Angel would keep them in it. This mutuality is developed in Ex. 23:21, where having said the Angel will keep them, Israel are told “Beware of him, and obey his voice”. “Beware” translates the same Hebrew word as “keep”. The Angel would keep them., but they were to keep to the Angel. This is an example of how we are intended to have a mutual relationship with our guardian Angel, leading to Him strengthening us in the one way. This word translated “keep” is also translated “spies” in Jud. 1:24; the spies were the keepers in the way of Israel, to bring them in to the land. And yet the Angel at the exodus was their ‘keeper’ to bring them into the land. The spies were working in harmony with their Angels; and thus they succeeded. Joshua and Moses too were working and walking in harmony with this same Angel in their work; for “By a prophet (Moses) the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet (Joshua) was he preserved [s.w. “keep”]” (Hos. 12:13). An Angel ‘brought Israel out of Egypt’ , and it was an Angel who ‘kept’ Israel (Ex. 23:20). This again shows how prophets and Angels were in tandem with each other. In the work of bringing out and ‘keeping’ a people for God’s Name, we too can have this sense of working in tandem with a guardian Angel every step of the way.
The clear parallels between the Israelites' journey through the wilderness to the promised land and our journey towards the promised land of the Kingdom are numerous. The significant amount of Angelic activity on their journey must be seen as representing the similarly vast Angelic work in our probations. The partnership between Moses and the Angel at the exodus to bring Israel out of Egypt is perhaps matched by that between Jesus and the Comforter Angel (see Chapter 13) to deliver us from spiritual Egypt. The fact that the Angels went ahead to prepare their entrance to the promised land shows how our place in the Kingdom is certainly possible, partly due to the work of our Angel in going ahead and paving the way. We saw earlier that in prospect all Israel's battles with the inhabitants of Canaan had been won by the Angels, and it was for them to live in a suitable way and to display enough faith to enable them to make use of these victories. "The LORD thy God (the Angel) walketh in the midst of thy camp (a phrase used by the Angel earlier and then repented of- "I will not go up in the midst of thee") to deliver thee and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that He see no unclean thing in thee and turn away from thee" (Deut 23:14).
Later Moses encouraged Joshua (and all uncertain journeyers through the wilderness) by commenting on the great work of the Angels in preparing the way to enter the promised land. There is a connection made between the fear of God among the Canaanite nations, the "hornet", and the Angel: "I send an Angel before thee. . . I will send my fear before thee. . . and I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee" (Ex. 23:21,27,28). Moses recalled how God had said to him "The LORD thy God He will go over before thee", and then said to Joshua "be strong and of a good courage, fear not nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God (the same Angel called 'the LORD thy God' in relation to Moses (1)), He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee nor forsake thee" (Dt. 31:3,6,7). These words are quoted in Heb. 13:5, and it is good to note the original Angelic context in which the words were used: "Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I (the Angel) will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord (i. e. the Angel) is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me". Later on we see that Joshua did conceive of God in terms of the Angel- he took Moses' exhortation.
Thus when it was Joshua's turn to die, like Moses his deathbed advice was to be mindful of the Angel that was with Israel: "The LORD our God, He it is that brought us up out of the land of Egypt. . and preserved us in all the way wherein we went. . the LORD drave out from before us all the people (all these things were done by the Angel at the exodus ). . He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins (this is alluding to Ex. 23:21 where God describes the Angel at the exodus going with Israel as not pardoning their transgressions). . if ye forsake the LORD . . then He will turn. . and consume you" (Josh 24:17-21). These last phrases are taken up in Is. 63, where speaking about the Angel of the presence with Israel in the wilderness we read "He turned to be their enemy. . He fought against (consumed) them" (v. 10). Earlier the book of Joshua commented "There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (21:45). The promises by the Angel at the exodus came true in prospect; but tragically Israel did not make them good, so that in reality only a fraction of the blessings were realized.
Psalm 78 brings out most clearly the enormous importance of the Angel's work in guiding the people through the wilderness. The whole Psalm has reference to Angelic activity at this time:
v. 1 "My people"- i. e. the Angel Michael's, the Angel of Israel.
v. 7 "That they might. . . not forget the works of God". Often Israel were told not to forget the works the Angel did for them on the Exodus.
v. 10 "The covenant of God. . . His law"- both given by Angels.
v. 11-13 They "forgat His works. . . marvellous things did He in. . . the land of Egypt. . . He divided the Sea"- the work of the Angel leading them.
v. 26 "He caused an East wind to blow in the Heaven" (to give manna, Angel-provided food, v. 25)- the Angel caused another wind or spirit-Angel to bring the manna. God ‘loosed’ the East wind / Angel and also the South wind / Angel. It may be that since the quail were migrating from Egypt at this time, the South wind / Angel carried them North and the East wind / Angel drove them into the desert where the Israelites were. The same language recurs in Rev. 9:14, where Angels are again loosed to bring about God’s purpose. And within Ps. 78 even, the idea recurs: “He unleashed against them his hot anger…a band of destroying angels” (:49 NIV).
v. 40 "How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert". This is the language of Is. 63:9,10 about the "Angel of His presence" leading Israel.
v. 41 "They. . tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel". God Himself cannot be tempted, and the 'language of limitation' used here must be relevant to the Angel, not to God Himself.
v. 38 "He being full of compassion forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not". This recalls the language of Ex. 33 and 34 concerning the Angels which were to go with the people- a "God full of compassion. . mercy. . truth" (R. V. ). The reference to destruction in the wilderness must refer to the 'destroyer' Angel which was with them, as shown earlier.
v. 36 "they did flatter Him with their mouth, and they lied unto Him with their tongues". 'Flattery' is the language of limitation- it must refer to an Angel rather than God Himself.
v. 43 "He had wrought His signs in Egypt". The plagues were actually executed by the Angels.
v. 14 "In the daytime also He led them with a cloud". We have seen that it was the Angel who led them.
v. 5 "He established a testament in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel". The Law was given ("appointed") by the Angels.
v. 19 "They spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?". The reference to "Angels food" (i. e. food provided by Angels) shows that the Angels provided the manna (and Christ likens the manna to the word, which as we have seen was also ministered by Angels). Thus the people were tempting the Angels.
v. 52-54 "His own people (Michael's) to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. . . He led them on safely. . . He brought them to the border of His sanctuary". The Angel was their shepherd, seen in the cloud and fire that guided them through the wilderness; as Ps. 80:1; Is. 63:9-11.
Thus as a shepherd leads and chases his sheep, so the Angel led Israel through the wilderness. “He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies” (:53 NIV). But the reality is, they were afraid. Yet due to the work of the Angels they were given the potential to be unafraid; and so it is with us. How often do we ‘waste’ or fail to use the potential which the Angels have provided for us! Gen. 49:24 describes "the mighty God of Jacob" (an Angelic phrase) as the shepherd and rock of Israel. The references in Deuteronomy to God being the rock that Israel forsook therefore refer to the Angel. It is worth noting that the shepherd and rock ("stone" of Gen. 49:24) are both clear titles of Christ- implying that this Angel specifically represented Jesus? Hence "that rock (Angel) was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4). See Chapter 12 for more ideas on this Angel.
Tale Of Two Angels?
It is very difficult to sort out exactly how many Angels travelled with them through the wilderness, and where they were located- between the cherubim, in the cloud, in the fire, and where the many Angels which we saw earlier accompanied them would have travelled, and also the place of the 'destroyer' Angel. It may be that the references to these various Angels only disguise the fact that they are talking about the same Angel, due to God being able to manifest Himself in a number of forms which if analysed with human logic appear contradictory- the great paradox of unity amidst diversity. There is a strong implication in the record that the one mighty Angel dwelt in the cloud and led Israel, especially in the record of the Red Sea crossing. Elsewhere the idea of a cloud is associated with a number of people or Angels- e. g. the "great cloud of witnesses" in Heb. 12:1 or the clouds of Angels with which Jesus will return. Ex. 40:37 is also significant: "If the cloud were not taken up"- as if "the cloud" was plural, implying it comprised many beings.
When Moses asked to see God's face, he was probably not asking to see God Himself in person; on nearly every occasion when men saw an Angel and thought they had seen God, they feared for their lives because they knew that man cannot see God and live. It seems almost Jewish culture to have believed this, and no doubt Moses had the same view. Dt. 4:11 (see A. V. mg. ) states that the Mount burning with fire when Moses ascended it was due to the pillar of fire standing there, appearing to reach to the "midst of Heaven", showing Heaven and earth were connected through this manifestation. The Angel led them through the wilderness, and elsewhere we read that the pillar of fire led them; the conclusion is therefore that the pillar of of fire was where the Angel dwelt. Thus the Angel literally "went before" them as God promised it would, in the form of the pillar. Angels are elsewhere associated with pillars of fire, e. g. the one which came to Manoah, and not least in that God came down in a pillar of fire to speak to Moses. Ex. 14:19 conclusively shows the pillar of fire/cloud and the Angel to be identical: "the Angel of God which went before the camp of Israel removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud (the Shekinah glory) went from before their face, and stood behind them".
So let us consider the record in Ex. 33 and 34 in more detail. It seems vital to recognize that the 'LORD' spoken of here is some form of Angelic manifestation. Moses asked to see the face of the Angel (33:18 cp. v. 20); presumably it was a different Angel to whom he spoke face to face (33:11), or perhaps the same Angel but manifesting God to a different degree or alternatively a different, more powerful Angel. The fact Moses saw the back parts of this 'LORD' shows that the 'LORD' was not God Himself in person- no man has ever seen Him, or even started to approach the light in which He dwells (1 Tim. 6:16 etc. ); this must include Moses. This conclusion chimes in with the type of statements about 'the LORD' which we read in these chapters, which suggest reference to the Angel rather than to God Himself:
33:1 "The LORD said. . the land which I sware unto Abraham. . ". We have seen that it was the Angel which made these promises.
33:2 "I will drive out the Canaanite. . "; this was done by the Angel of the LORD sent before to do this.
33:3 "I will not go up in the midst of thee (i. e. the Angel was saying He would no longer dwell in the Holiest): lest I consume thee"- the consuming of Israel for their sins on the journey was done by the 'destroyer' Angel. We can therefore suggest that the Angel was manifest in some way, perhaps through two separate Angels, in the following places:
- in the pillar of fire going before them
- in the Holy of Holies
In addition to this, there is the implication that a great number of Angels- perhaps the guardian Angels of each of the Israelites- were with them too: "great was the company of those that published it. . . even thousands of Angels" (Ps. 68:11), i. e. the word concerning Israel leaving Egypt and entering the promised land.
The idea of two Angels being present with Israel is found again in Ez. 20:17,22; God’s “eye”, which is definitely Angelic language, spread them from being destroyed- by the destroyer Angel. And therefore God “withdrew mine hand”, also Angelic language, in order not to destroy them. Note too how it is the Angelic “eye of the Lord” which is paralleled with God’s mercy in Ps. 33:18,22. And encouragingly, it is this “eye of the Lord” which is in the Angelic court of Heaven, and yet views the righteous on earth (Ps. 11:4).
(1) This shows the same Angel becoming personally associated with different men if their purpose is the same, because they need the help of the same Angel to achieve their goal.