Thoughts on Hagar and the angel of the LORD

I’ve been thinking recently about the identity of the ‘angel of the LORD’/’the Commander of the LORD’s armies’ who turns up quite a lot in the OT. There are times when he seems to be identified so closely with God as to actually be God (e.g. Ex 3, Ex 23:201-21, Josh 5 etc), and many Christians would see him as the pre-incarnate Christ. If that’s the case, it makes me see the OT in a very different light.

One particularly interesting thing is that the angel of the LORD first turns up(I think, correct me if I’m wrong please) in Genesis 16 talking to…a gentile slave girl. Which seems kind of random. The representative of YHWH, the one who bears the very Name of God…and the first person he’s recorded as talking to isn’t Abraham, or Moses, or any other of the spiritual big boys. Instead, he talks to Hagar, on the run from domestic abuse. Hagar, who’s alone and vulnerable. Hagar, whose son isn’t going to be God’s miracle baby and become the father of Israel. Reading Genesis, I’d be tempted to think Hagar’s a nobody. But God didn’t.

Instead, to this abandoned, abused, apparently inconsequential girl, the angel of the LORD appears and he knows her name: ‘Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’ (Gen 16:8).  In fact, he doesn’t just know her name, he knows her – he knows exactly what she’s suffered as the ‘servant of Sarai’.  And the angel doesn’t just show that he knows her, he gives her a promise of amazing blessing: her son may be the direct result of Abraham’s faithlessness, but God will still ‘multiply [her] offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude’ (Gen 16:10). Wow. Remind you of anything (Gen 15:5)?

No wonder that, at the end of it all, Hagar’s calls ‘the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me.” (Gen 16:13) This is God taking notice of one who, perhaps all her life, has been beneath anyone’s notice. And if this angel of the LORD whom Hagar calls ‘God’ is the pre-incarnate Christ then it all makes sense. This is Jesus: our God who sees the abandoned of our society, who takes notice of the mess-ups, who comes and meets the abused and rejected.

And not only that, Hagar is not just the victim here, she’s also implicated: she’s the one who ‘looked with contempt on her mistress’ (Gen 16:4) when she got pregnant after Sarai had been unable to. More than that, the angel of the LORD tells her that she hasn’t just sinned in the past, right now she’s running in the wrong direction: she was to ‘return to [her] mistress and submit to her’ (Gen 16:9). So here we see Jesus who finds us in our sin, as we’re fleeing from the right path, and stops us and asks, out of love for us, ‘where have you come from and where are you going?’,What are you doing? You don’t want to go that way.

And when he came to earth to live a human life, thousands of years later, another woman who had sinned and been rejected found him waiting for her, ready to show her just how well he knew her (John 4:16-19).

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