Angel - Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words

Usage Number: 1
Strong's Number: H4397
Original Word: mal’ak

Usage Notes: "messenger; angel." In Ugaritic, Arabic, and Ethiopic, the verb l'ak means "to send." Even though l'ak does not exist in the Hebrew Old Testament, it is possible to recognize its etymological relationship to mal’ak. In addition, the Old Testament uses the word "message" in Hag. 1:13; this word incorporates the meaning of the root le’ak, "to send." Another noun form of the root is mela’kâ, "work," which appears 167 times. The name Malachi, literally, "my messenger", is based on the noun mal’ak.

The noun mal’ak appears 213 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Its frequency is especially great in the historical books, where it usually means "messenger": Judges (31 times), 2 Kings (20 times), 1 Samuel (19 times), and 2 Samuel (18 times). The prophetical works are very moderate in their usage of mal’ak, with the outstanding exception of the Book of Zechariah, where the angel of the Lord communicates God's message to Zechariah. For example: "Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked to me, 'What are these, my lord' And the angel answered and said unto me, 'These are the four spirits [pl. of mal’ak] of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth'" (Zech. 6:4-5).

The word mal’ak denotes someone sent over a great distance by an individual (Gen. 32:3) or by a community (Num. 21:21), in order to communicate a message. Often several messengers are sent together: "And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers [pl. of mal’ak] and said unto them, Go, inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease" (2 Kings 1:2). The introductory formula of the message borne by the mal’ak often contains the phrase "Thus says…," or "This is what … says," signifying the authority of the messenger in giving the message of his master: "This is what …says," signifying the authority of the messenger in giving the message of his master: "Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon" (Judg. 11:15).

As a representative of a king, the mal’ak might have performed the function of a diplomat. In 1 Kings 20:1ff., we read that Ben-hadad sent messengers with the terms of surrender: "He sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad…" (1 Kings 20:2). These passages confirm the important place of the mal’ak. Honor to the messenger signified honor to the sender, and the opposite was also true. David took personally the insult of Nabal (1 Sam. 25:14ff.); and when Hanun, king of Ammon, humiliated David's servants (2 Sam. 10:4ff.), David was quick to dispatch his forces against the Ammonites.

God also sent messengers. First, there are the prophetic messengers: "And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy" (2 Chron. 36:15-16). Haggai called himself "the messenger of the Lord," mal’ak Yahweh

There were also angelic messengers. The English word angel is etymologically related to the Greek word angelos, whose translation is similar to the Hebrew: "messenger" or "angel." The angel is a supernatural messenger of the Lord sent with a particular message. Two angels came to Lot at Sodom: "And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground …" (Gen. 19:1). The angels were also commissioned to protect God's people: "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways" (Psa. 91:11).

Third, and most significant, are the phrases mal’ak Yahweh, "the angel of the Lord," and mal’ak ’elohîm, "the angel of God." The phrase is always used in the singular. It denotes an angel who had mainly a saving and protective function: "For mine angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hevites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off" (Exod. 23:23). He might also bring about destruction: "And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces" (1 Chron. 21:16).

The relation between the Lord and the "angel of the Lord" is often so close that it is difficult to separate the two (Gen. 16:7ff.; Gen. 21:17ff.; Gen. 22:11ff.; Gen. 31:1ff.; Exod. 3:2ff.; Judg. 6:11ff.; Judg. 13:21ff.). This identification has led some interpreters to conclude that the "angel of the Lord" was the pre-incarnate Christ.

In the Septuagint the word mal’ak is usually translated by angelos and the phrase "angel of the Lord" by angelos kyriou. The English versions follow this twofold distinction by translating mal’ak as simply "angel" or "messenger" (kjv, rsv, nasb, niv).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words