Angel/Messenger/Sent One: malak- (masculine noun) (Strong’s 4397)
Sounds like: mal-awk
Angels we have Heard on High is a song that gets a lot of air play this time of year. It brings us to that glorious moment in the Bible announcing the Messiah’s arrival on earth:
And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Just then, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the City of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Messiah the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests!”
Messenger of Good News
This angel was a messenger of Good News and this is what the word malak means. Malak is a Messenger or Sent One and in certain instances translators have used the word Angel. But the truth is, anyone can be a malak. Often this word is used in the Bible to describe human messengers as political or military tools. For example, Jezebel used a messenger to deliver her threatening message to Elijah the Prophet:
1 Kings 19:2
So Jezebel sent a messenger [malak] to Elijah, saying, “May the gods deal with me, and ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like the lives of those you killed!”
However, malak was also used to describe those who were SENT from God, whether from the earthly realm or the heavenly realm. In the book of Haggai, the prophet was actually called a malak (messenger) of YHWH rather than a prophet of God:
Haggai, messenger [malak] of YHWH, delivered YHWH’s message to the people, saying: “I am with you,” declares YHWH.
Haggai the prophet was a messenger of YHWH, delivering His words to the people, but Haggai was not an Angel in the traditional sense. Why is this word translated in English, sometimes, as Angel?
The Angel that bears His Name
Messengers from the Kingdom of God were divine Sent Ones and these were the ones that translators commonly used the word “angel” for. When YHWH sent Moses on his way to the promised land He sent a particular malak, that didn’t just bring a message. This angel lead and protected:
Behold, I am sending an angel [malak] before you to protect you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to his voice; do not defy him, for he will not forgive rebellion, since My Name is in him.
This is the only expressed time that YHWH mentions an Angel who bears His Name. That is significant and deserves contemplation. A name is a very personal thing. Who was this angel? How closely was he connected to YHWH? What name did they share? Was this a form of YHWH… a familial connection?
This angel also had authority and YHWH expected the people to heed all the words of this angel. This was the only angel we hear of that bore YHWH’s name, but we do know the names of two other Angels: Michael and Gabriel.
In the Tanakh these two Angels were found, named, only in the Book of Daniel (chapters 8-12). In the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) they showed up in a few more books. Michael can be found in the book of Jude and the book of the Revelation. Gabriel is found in Luke chapter 1 (which we will look at, momentarily). Other named angels that you may be familiar with, such as Raphael or Uriel, are not found in the Bible, as we know it, and come from external sources.
The most frequent Messenger found in the Tanakh is commonly translated as Angel of the LORD (malak YHWH) or, less frequently, the Angel of God (malak ha-Elohim). In these examples English translators have chosen to use the word “Angel” over “Messenger”.
The Angel of YHWH shows up all over the place. When Abraham willingly offered to sacrifice his son Isaac, it was the Angel of YHWH who stopped him:
And the Angel of YHWH [malak YHWH] called to Abraham from heaven a second time, saying, “By Myself I have sworn, declares YHWH, that because you have done this and have not withheld your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will multiply your descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the gates of their enemies. And through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
This messenger/angel spoke on YHWH’s behalf, and had Good News for Abraham.
In another instance, when the Angel of YHWH visited Gideon, there was a back and forth discussion between Gideon and sometimes YHWH, sometimes the Angel of YHWH. The discussion ended and Gideon made a realization:
When Gideon realized that it was the Angel of YHWH [malak YHWH], he said, “Oh no, Lord YHWH [adonai YHWH]! I have seen the Angel of YHWH [malak YHWH] face to face!”
But YHWH said to him, “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid, for you will not die.”
So Gideon built an altar to YHWH there and called it YHWH is Peace [YHWH Shalom].
This fear of seeing the Angel of YHWH face to face was frightening for many Hebrew people in the Old Testament. Gideon feared it, Jacob feared it (Genesis 32), Moses feared it (Exodus 3), Samson’s parents feared it (which we will see shortly), and Isaiah feared it (Isaiah 6). They fully expected to die after seeing either YHWH’s face, or the Angel of YHWH’s face.
The Angel that bears His Face
Isaiah later went on to talk about a certain Angel called Malak Panaw… and it is the only time we come across this phrase in all of scripture. Most translations call this angel, the Angel of His Presence, but a more accurate translation of malak panaw is The Angel of His Face. The Hebrew word panaw means his face or his countenance:
I will make known YHWH’s loving devotion and His praiseworthy acts, because of all YHWH has done for us— even the many good things He has done for the house of Israel according to His compassion and the abundance of His loving devotion.
For He said, “They are surely My people, sons who will not be disloyal”; and so He became their Saviour.
In all their distress, He too was afflicted, and the Angel of His Face [u-malak panaw] saved them. In His love and compassion He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the everlasting days.
Who was this Sent One of YHWH’s Face? Could this be a representative of the Messiah to come? This Sent One was afflicted, but He redeemed the people. He had love and compassion for the people, and He saved them. God, through the angel (or Sent One) that bears His Face, became their Saviour.
Angels and Babies, Oh my!
One of the most consistent instances where we encounter the Angel of YHWH is in the announcement of a birth. In fact, the first time an Angel/Messenger appeared in the scripture he spoke to an Egyptian woman, not a Hebrew man as one would expect. The Angel of YHWH found the Egyptian handmaid, Hagar, who had run away from the harshness of her mistress Sarai. The Angel told her to return to Sarai, and that she would be rewarded:
The Angel of YHWH proceeded:
“Behold, you have conceived and will bear a son. And you shall name him Ishmael, for YHWH has heard your cry of affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, and his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” So Hagar gave this name to YHWH who had spoken to her:
“You are the God who sees me [ata El-roi],” for she said, “Here I have seen the One who sees me!”
It was the Angel of YHWH who made the announcement to Hagar, but Hagar recognized it as YWHW Himself who had spoken to her. She named Him “the God who sees me,” [El Roi] and beautifully claimed, “I have seen the One who sees me”.
In Judges 13 we are introduced to the wife of Manoah. The Angel of YHWH came to her and told her that even though she was barren, she would conceive a son. Manoah’s wife went and told her husband the news:
Then the woman went and said to her husband, “A Man of God came to me. His appearance was like the Angel of God, exceedingly awesome. I did not ask Him where He came from, and He did not tell me His name. But He said to me, ‘Behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son. Now, therefore, do not drink wine or strong drink, and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite to God from the womb until the day of his death.’”
Manoah and his wife continued to interact with this “Man of God” only to discover that it was the Angel of YHWH. Here was Manoah’s response after he came to this conclusion:
…Manoah realized that it was the Angel of YHWH.
“We are going to die,” he said to his wife, “for we have seen God!”
However, they were spared and Manoah’s wife conceived and gave birth to Samson. But the question remains: was this an Angel/Messenger of God, or God Himself. Manoah seemed to think they had seen more than YHWH’s messenger. They had SEEN God.
In the New Testament it was the angel named Gabriel who announced the birth of John the Baptist to his father, Zechariah:
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He shall never take wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.
The birth of John the Baptist mirrored that of the birth of Samson. These men were never to take wine or strong drink and both were filled with the Spirit of God even from the beginning of their existence in the womb.
According to Luke it is the Angel Gabriel who also announced the birth of Jesus to Mary:
The angel appeared to her [Mary/Miriam] and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. So the angel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. Behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end!”
This proclamation was very similar to the announcement that Hagar received from the Angel of YHWH (“Behold you will conceive and give birth to a son”). Both Hagar and Mary celebrated that God sees, or looked upon, them. The first lines of Mary’s song of praise pointed this out:
Then Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!
For He has looked with favour on the humble state of His servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Throughout Jesus’ life He was surrounded by angels. They announced his birth and they ministered to him after he was tested by Satan in the desert. After Jesus suffered on the cross it was angels that rolled the stone from his tomb and announced his resurrection.
One of the most touching moments between Jesus and an angel occurred the night before his crucifixion:
And He [Jesus] withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them [the disciples], where He knelt down and prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.
This messenger from God came to give strength to Jesus at the most vulnerable moment in his lifetime. We can expect this same kindness from YHWH. He does send angels to bring good news and to strengthen us when we deal with harsh news. Angels may very well be among us and we may have even been in contact with angels without knowing it:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
There certainly are Angels, Sent Ones from God, from the heavenly realm. But nowhere in the Scriptures are they identified as having wings. There are heavenly creatures, seraphim and cherubim, that are described as having wings, but they are not used as messengers. For the most part they surround God in heaven and continually praise him (see Isaiah 6) or they assist Him in some way (see 2 Samuel 22:11 & Ezekiel 10).
We Can All be Malaks
We cannot be seraphim or cherubim, but we can be a malak. Anyone who shares the message of God, or feels like they are sent to do something on God’s behalf, IS a malak!
Bless YHWH, you His angels [malak-aw], mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word! Bless YHWH, all you His Hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will.
Jesus/Yeshua was a malak. He was a Messenger and a Sent One to do the will of his Father. We should all be malak’s for God, obeying His voice, taking action with His word, sharing God’s love and message of hope, forgiveness and life everlasting.