Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Exodus and for the last month or two we have been studying case laws about all kinds of different topics. We looked about laws about slavery, and immigration. We looked at laws about crime and punishment. We looked at laws about witchcraft and the occult. We even looked at laws about self defense. It is a section that most Christians do not read too much.
Today, we end this case law section of Exodus and we come to a new section of Exodus. Today we will be looking at Exodus 23:20-33. We move from talking about laws to talking about angels. It is a powerful section. It contains incredible promises. It also contains some exhortations. Today, we will be looking at one promise in this section. It is the promise of a mysterious angel.
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.
If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. (Exodus 23:21-23 NIV)
Who is this angel? What do we know about this angel? What does he do? How does he relate to us today? What ministry do angels have today?
Interesting Facts about this Angel
1. This angel had a special mission.
God called this angel MY ANGEL (23:23, 34). This angel was sent by God and was given a special mission. Angels are spirits but this angel is referred to in the masculine. Exodus 23:21-22 says, “Pay attention to him and listen to what HE says. Do not rebel against HIM; HE will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in HIM. 22 If you listen carefully to what HE says” (NIV).
This angel was given two specific jobs by God. He had two assignments. Notice the two verbs used in Exodus 23:20. “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to GUARD you along the way and to BRING you to the place I have prepared.”
What were the two jobs of this angel? His first job was to protect the Jews in the wilderness. His second job was to guarantee their safe arrival in the Promised Land. He would not only protect them in the wilderness. This angel was both a security guard and an escort to their promised destination. That is interesting.
This was an angel sent to GUARD the Jews in the wilderness, which makes this angel a guardian angel. Are guardian angels biblical? It is not a biblical term. The words “guardian angel” is not found in the Bible but the Bible does teach that angels guard believers. Throughout the Bible, this is one of the ministries of angels. They still do this today. Angels have many jobs.
Ministry of Angels Today
1) Angels MINISTER to believers
Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” This verse says two things about angels. This verse says that they are SPIRITS. Angels are spirits. We are not spirits. We have a physical body. Angels do not have a physical body. Angels are not only spirits; they are SERVANTS. Here is the shocking thing. They serve US.
If you are a believer, you have angels who serve YOU. They do not serve unbelievers but they do minister to believers. We have no idea how much they help us. They are involved in our life far more than we realize but they work behind the scenes. They do big jobs and little jobs.
They helped Abraham’s servant find a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham said, “For the LORD, the God of heaven… will send his angel ahead of you, and he will see to it that you find a wife there for my son” (Gen. 24:7). They served as a heavenly matchmaker.
An angel provided water for Hagar and her son when they went into a desert and her son became very thirsty, began to cry and thought he was going to die. An angel provided a well of water for them in the desert (Genesis 21:14-19). They provided food for Elijah when he needed it. They even did some cooking. You say, “I didn’t know that angels knew how to cook.”
Angels did something else in I Kings 19. After defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah ran for his life. He became a wanted man. The king and queen of Israel wanted to kill him.
He went from a huge victory to a massive defeat. He was afraid. He was alone in the wilderness. He looked at himself as a failure. He thought he was the only Jehovah worshiped left in the country. He was depressed.
He did not want to live anymore. He became the prophet who wanted to die. This is the bipolar prophet. He went in twenty-four hours from being on top of the world to being completely depressed and even suicidal. He lay down under a bush and fell asleep.
An angel touches him, wakes him up. Angels had to do that for several people in the Bible. They functioned as an alarm clock. That is a real important job. Then the angel tells him to get up and eat. “He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again” (I Kings 19:5-6 NIV).
This angel not only woke him up, he did some cooking. He made some angel bread and an angel food cake for Elijah. They are also involved in another activity.
On Easter Sunday, angels were involved in a different activity. God used them to do some heavy lifting. A bunch of distraught women went to Christ’s tomb early Sunday morning and were talking about what they would do when they got there because there was a big stone in front of it blocking their entrance.
They were not strong enough to move it themselves. They did not have any tools. They did not have any heavy equipment. They did not have two men and a truck. God sent an angel from heaven just to move a big rock.
An angel rolled the stone away and then sat on it. Matthew 28:2 says, “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it” (NIV) . I wonder if they ever help you start a car?
In Exodus 23, an angel is involved with travel safety and navigation. The angel in our section travels with them and protects them. One of the jobs of angels is to minister to us, which is a little ironic. Angels are greater than us. They are wiser than us and more powerful than us and yet they serve us. We do not serve them.
2) Angels GUARD believers.
“No harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to GUARD you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (Psalm 91:10-13 NIV).
Hebrews 1:14 says that angels are ministering spirits who serve us. Here we see that angels are not only servants. They are security guards. They guard believers. They protect believers from danger, all kinds of danger. Danger comes in many forms (disease, violent crime, sickness, and accidents).
We have no idea what dangers angels have kept us from. Sometimes, we not only have one guardian angel, we have more than one. Our verse says “He will command his ANGELS (plural) concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (cf. 91:11).
When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, he was protected by an angel. It was an angel that shut the mouths of the lions (Daniel 6:21-22). When Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were tied up and thrown into the fiery furnace, they were protected by an angel (Daniel 3:24-28).
3) Angels DELIVER believers
Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” (NIV) Angels not only keep us FROM trouble, they sometimes get us OUT OF trouble. In Acts 12, Peter was in prison and he was delivered by an angel. Peter was supposed to be executed the next day. The angel let him out of jail. They were involved in prison release for a persecuted saint.
The city of Sodom and Gomorrah was going to be completely destroyed. An angel took Lot and his family out of the city before that happened. The angels had to almost drag them out of the city because they did not want to go. They did not even understand the danger they were in. They thought it was all a big joke. Psalm 34 says that they encamp around us if we fear God. We have angels around us far more than we think.
2.This angel has special authority
Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. (23:21-22 NIV).
This is very interesting. God tells the people to listen to this angel and do what he says. He tells them to fear this angel. To disobey this angel is to disobey God himself. God even says if you rebel against this angel, he will not forgive you. Who will not forgive you? The angel. God does NOT say, “If you rebel against him, I will not forgive you.” He says, “If you rebel against this angel, HE will not forgive you.”
This angel had the authority to forgive sins. He had the power to forgive and not to forgive sins committed against the LORD’s Name. That is strange. No created being has the power to forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins. An ordinary angel has no power to forgive sins. The angel Michael cannot forgive sins and neither can the angel Gabriel
God said in the OT, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25 NIV). This angel could forgive sins. That is a sign that this was no ordinary angel. This angel had God’s authority.
In fact, he had God’s name inside Him, which shows the deity of this angel. Jehovah’s name is in Jesus! This angel is a divine being. It is the pre-incarnate Christ. If this is Jesus, why is he called an angel?
Is Jesus an Angel?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is just an angel. Is this true? Yes and No. Jesus is the angel of the Lord of the OT. The word “angel” in both Greek (ἄγγελος) and Hebrew (malak) simply means messenger. It can be a human, or angelic or even a divine messenger.
We already saw another angel in Exodus who was divine. It was the angel who appeared to Moses at the Burning Bush. He also was called an angel. Exodus 3:2 says, “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.” The bush began talking to Moses but the text says that it was God talking to him from the bush (3:4). In fact, the bush identifies himself as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (3:6).
Every time you see the phrase “THE angel of the Lord” it is a divine being. Gabriel is called “an angel of the Lord” (Luke 1:11) but that is not the same thing. Jesus is THE angel or messenger of the Lord but that does not mean that Jesus is not in the class of beings called angels. How do we know? One, Jesus is not an angel because He was the one who created the angels.
Colossians 1:16 says, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (NIV). ALL THINGS were created by Jesus, not some things. John 1:3 even says, “without him NOTHING was made that has been made.” Jesus not only created angels, He created ALL of them
Two, Jesus is not an angel because the NT contrasts Jesus and the angels. He is infinitely superior to them. Hebrews 1:4 says that Jesus has a more excellent name than the angels. It says, “So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs” (NIV). He is not called an angel but a son.
Hebrews 1:5-8 says, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’ In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.’ But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.’” (NIV).
Jesus is superior to the angels. He created them. They worship Him. Angels do not receive worship (Revelation 22:8-9) but Jesus does receive worship. In fact, Hebrews 1:6 says, “let ALL God’s angels worship Him” (not some of them but all of them). Jesus does not worship angels but angels worship Him.
Application for Today
How does this apply to us today? How does it apply to Christians? As I think about this passage, I am struck with how it still applies today in many different ways to Christians.
1) We have enemies like they did.
The Jews in the OT had enemies. They are listed by name in this chapter. There were six Canaanite nations mentioned in this section (Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites). Their enemies were dangerous. We have enemies as well but we struggle not with flesh and blood like they did. Our enemies are greater.
2) We have angels who help us today.
We are still in danger today and still need protection from danger. God uses angels to guard and protect us today like He did then.
3) Jesus is with us today.
In fact, He said that He is with us always even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20 NIV). Jesus is “God WITH us.” That is what Immanuel means. Jesus is indeed the same yesterday, today and forever.
4) Jesus leads us to a place today.
He led his people in the OT to the Promised Land. It was a place a land of abundant blessings. It was a land flowing with “milk and honey” and not just with necessitates, like bread and water. He is leading us to another place of unimaginable blessings. In fact, He went to prepare it for us. Before he died, He said, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
5) Jesus preserves people today.
This angel preserved them in the wilderness and preserves us as well. Jude 24-25 says, “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (NIV). We are kept by the power of God (I Peter 1:5). The Jews made it to the Promised Land and believers will make it to heaven.
6) Jesus forgives sins today.
The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). Jesus said at the Last Super, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The apostle Peter said, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).
If you want your sins forgiven, you have to come to Jesus. They cannot be forgiven any other way. There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). If you reject Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins. There is no other way to God. You have to go through the door.
7) Jesus needs to be obeyed today.
The words, “Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion” are still true today. People need to listen to Jesus. At the Transfiguration, God said from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5 NIV). We need to listen to Jesus’ voice today, just as the Jews needed to listen to the voice of this angel in the OT. Do not just listen to your pastor and to your Christian friends, listen to Jesus when he speaks.
There is a famous Joan of Arc quotation. Someone once asked Joan of Arc why God spoke only to her. She responded, “Sir, you are wrong. God speaks to everyone. I just listen.” We need to listen as well when Jesus speaks to us. We need to not only listen to him but to listen to him TODAY. There is urgency here. Hebrews 3:7-15 says:
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’
”See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion. (NIV).