"Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries." (Exodus 23:20-22)
THE testimony of Jesus is the substance of the word of God. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev. 19:10) A plurality of persons in the Godhead made known from the beginning. (See Gen. 1:2,26) All things were created by the Son. Immediately upon the fall, a Saviour was revealed. He was to take away the sin of the world! He could not be a mere man; but he must be a man. Eve held this fast, and said, "I have gotten a man," that very Jehovah. (See Isa. 48:16; Zech. 2:8,9) He was sent of the Father. (John 8:29) Sacrifices pointed to a substitute.
The first time we read of this Angel of the Covenant is in Gen. 16:13. Hagar calls the angel Jehovah. God showed here how careful he was respecting the future incarnation of the Son of God. The promised seed was not to come by Hagar, but by Sarah. On this important occasion the Lord first interfered. The Lord appeared to Abraham as a man. (Gen. 18) He is called Jehovah. The Lord said to Abraham, "Shall I hide from Abraham?" He appeared to Abraham for the express purpose of declaring to him that Sarah, from whom the promised seed was to come, should, contrary to nature, have a son. Why all this circumstantial account given in the word of God, but to show how weighty a matter was the appearing of the Lord in the flesh, and that he, the Lord, was the Angel of the Covenant, now appearing to Abraham, to assure him of this blessed promise to be made good in due time? Abraham's peace and happiness lay in believing this report. He, as well as others, received cordially the promise, and saw it as if it was actually accomplished. Although the time was deferred, afar off, he was persuaded fully of the truth of it, and heartily embraced it.
The next remarkable appearance of this Angel was when the only-begotten Son of God was to be typified by Isaac, who was ordered to be offered up as a sacrifice. The Lord interfered, and is called the Angel of the Lord, and the place is called Jehovah-Jireh,--"The Lord will be seen." And though called an angel, he swears by himself, which Paul affirms is true, not of an angel, but of God, and he is called Jehovah, making this conspicuous manifestation of himself on this singular and truly remarkable occasion; none more so.
This Angel made himself familiarly known to the patriarch Abraham, and afterwards more openly discovered himself to Jacob, to whom he expressly affirms that the Angel of God who spake unto him in a dream was the very same that appeared to him at Bethel. (Gen. 28:13) After this, he appeared to him as a man, (Gen. 32:24) and tells Jacob that, as a prince, he had power with God, and blesses him; which none can do but God. Jacob declares that he had seen God face to face, and calls the name of the place Peniel. This is most beautiful set forth by Hosea, who says that by his strength he had power with God; that he had power over the Angel and prevailed; and adds that he was the Lord God of hosts: "The Lord is his memorial." (Hos. 12:4)
Jacob calls this Angel his Redeemer, one near of kin to him; and truly the Son of God is most near of kin to us. Jacob is the first person in Scripture who called the Lord God a Redeemer; and a beautiful name it is. The book of Ruth explains the word. The near kinsman was to purchase the land of the dead man and to take his widow to wife. This near kinsman, the Lord Jesus, has purchased his people and taken the widow. All this was shown to Jacob to familiarize the appearance of the promised seed. The church of God, I mean the spiritual seed of Abraham, fed upon the word delivered to them, and by the Holy Spirit were always sufficiently enlightened to see him who is only known by the word and by the instruction of the Holy Spirit.
We read of no particular revelation of this Angel personally to any one from this time to the death of Joseph, and till after that time, which was 248 years, that is from the time that Jacob was about to enter on the promised land to the time that his posterity was about to take possession of it. Then again, did this Angel, whom Moses knew by the tradition of his fathers had appeared to them, appeared to him in the bush, as much as to say, "Here am I, the God of Jacob, I will now again manifest myself to the chosen seed as their Redeemer. And keep this in mind, Moses. I dwell in the bush that burned with fire; I dwell with my people in Egypt who are in an iron furnace; (Deut. 4:20) and I, who am the self-existent Jehovah, a consuming fire, will one day dwell in human nature and yet that nature shall be unconsumed." He now appears in a most illustrious manner to Moses. He is expressly called the Angel of the Lord, and as expressly calls himself, "I am that I am." This is the name which is incommunicable; and this settles it beyond all doubt that he was to be future Man and Mediator, the most high God. "That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth." (Ps. 83:18)
Who are they that men have hated and persecuted from the beginning? They who have showed beforehand the coming of the Just One, believed on him and loved him. It is Christ, the promised seed, who has been hated, persecuted, and reproached from the beginning. Take away his testimony, and there will be no reproach. Why? Because Satan knows full well that God, absolutely considered, would never bruise his head or destroy his power. This was owned by Moses and now revealed to him by the paschal lamb. As soon as ever the children of Israel began to pass out of Egypt, this faithful and true witness appeared as their commander: "Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people." (Isa. 55:4) Here he appeared as the Angel of the Covenant, faithful to his blessed charge which he received of the Father. He was in the cloud, and guided them through the Red Sea. (Exo. 14:24,25) He was with them in the wilderness, in a cloud by day, and in a light of fire by night. (Ps. 78:14) When the cloud moved, they moved. Mind, the cloud in which the Angel dwelt was always in the tabernacle, to show that God was in Christ the true tabernacle, and is to be found nowhere else. Moses wrote of him. The whole-hearted among the Jews took up with an absolute god called Moloch, or Baal. They were weary of the tabernacle service, which testified of what they never felt their need: "But thou hast been weary of me, O Israel." (Isa. 43:22) You are not weary; you are not sick; soul trouble is not your lot, nor poverty of spirit, which proceeds from life imparted. During 40 years the Lord witnesses they offered no sacrifices to him. (Amos 5:25) Moses showed that one divine Person in the Trinity is to be believed as he that would one day appear in the flesh and make reconciliation for iniquity: "A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you." (Deut. 18:15; John 1:45; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37) He was present in the cloud, and it was his voice on Mount Sinai. And he is the Person spoken of in the text. Hannah calls him the King, or the Lord's King and Messiah. David calls him a King and his Lord. Isaiah saw his glory and prophesied that all the elect should see his beauty, which they do in the vision of faith. The Father bids his disciples to hear him. (Luke 9) Devils know him and tremble at him. He told the disciples to believe in him as much as in the Father; and, if so, can we wonder at the words in the text as applied to the Son of God? If any one say they are to be applied to a created angel, I answer, "Then God is directing unto plain downright idolatry. Our thoughts are, if you understand them so, to be taken up with a mere literal angel. We are to wait on him, for that is the meaning of the word 'Beware.' We are to obey him, or hear him, which was Abraham's commendation: 'Because that Abraham obeyed my voice,' (Gen. 26:5) or heard. We are not to provoke him. We are told that he has power to pardon sin. We are told that the Lord's name is in him, that God will take part with all such and will defend them. What could be said more of the Lord Jesus? 'That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.' (John 5:23) Can all this be true of a created angel? I am sure it cannot. He to whom such obedience is due cannot but be God over all, and for ever blessed." "But," say you, "why all this caution?" I answer, "There is need enough in our day; for few are chaste to the Lord Jesus, none but they who are lean at heart. The Galatians were not lean at heart, they were not poor in spirit; therefore they turned aside. He is the self-existent Jehovah in my nature. 'See that ye refuse not him that speaketh' is the counsel of Paul to the posterity of those very Jews."
It is said in the text that he can forgive sins; but who can forgive sin but God only? (Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21) Prayer is to be made to him.
"Beware of him," or wait upon him; honor him by prayer, by supplication, by believing in him as the end of the law, the lawgiver and the law fulfiller. "Beware of him;" wait upon him, for so it is translated: "So the poor of the flock that waited upon me that day knew that it was the word of the Lord, or the word of Jehovah." (Zech. 11:11)
The Godhead of Christ is the foundation of our faith. There is no salvation in the son of man, abstractedly considered: "Put not your trust in princes nor in the son of man, in whom is no help." Our faith is to be in him who is man as well as God, and God as well as man, two distinct natures in one divine Person.
"Beware of him, and obey his voice." Is the soul of a quickened sinner obedient to this word? "Yes; he labors hard to enter into this rest, by believing on him; and ever after he labors to abide in him; and Satan labors as hard to turn him aside, blind his eyes, harden his heart; aye, often he has lost his prey. Satan will not desist endeavoring to seduce us from that new thing, from "Emmanuel, God with us," and to beguile us; but let us cry out of violence. (Hab. 1:2) In him we are complete, and he that abides in him brings forth much fruit. There is nothing but deficiency, barrenness, and misery out of him. He is the first husband and he will be chief. (Hos. 2:7) He is the way; walk ye in it. You received him first as God over all. He is able to save to the uttermost. "Beware of him." But they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit by not receiving his testimony; and so do thousands now; and he fights against them. He ministers the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit in return glorifies the Lord Jesus. Therefore the counsel is good: "Beware of him." We are continually straying and he is continually showing us that the cause of all our leanness is not cleaving to him. Barnabas exhorted them at Antioch with full purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord. Abraham knew the voice of the Son of God who called to him out of heaven. Jacob heard his voice when he blessed him. Moses knew him; and so did David, calling him Lord. Solomon in his song says, "Cause me to hear thy voice;" and he tells you that the spouse said, "It is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh."
To obey his voice is to look to him for salvation, for righteousness, for strength. While you listen to him, and not to a stranger, all will go well, and the Holy Spirit will bear witness to your sonship. If we obey him, we shall be at war with his enemies; he conquered them for us, and he imputes the victory to us. The work of faith is here called hearing, called the obedience of faith: "And a great multitude of the priests were obedient to the faith." God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ, and in yielding obedience to him we are justified from all charge. Sin shall not reign if you are enabled to look to him. He is the strength of your heart. Call upon, look to, cleave to the Lord Jesus.
"For he will not pardon your transgressions." This transgression is unbelief, the worst of sins, and that which binds every other sin on the back of the sinner. Unbelief is a sin outdoing the old in malignity. They who turn their back upon Christ will one day find themselves without a shelter. They who add anything or detract anything from his work are liars, and shall be banished from the presence of the Lord. Final unbelief is a damning sin: "They could not enter in because of unbelief." If so, it was not pardoned. He died for transgressions under the Old Testament, or first covenant. (Heb. 9:15) Unbelief bears rule in the most of men and plagues the best. They who die in final unbelief must perish.
"For my name is in him." The reason assigned is, for he is the great lawgiver, and his law is faith, and you sin against the self-existent Jehovah in your nature, who is set before you as Jehovah your Righteousness. You cannot dishonor the Father more than by not honoring the Son: "He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him." (John 5:23) "My name is in him." He has all the essential properties of my nature. He is one with me in essence. He is my only-begotten Son; I am his Father.
"But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice and do all that I speak." Here the obedience of faith is highly commended. Well may it be called "precious faith,"--precious indeed! and most "holy faith." The obedience of faith includes all the obedience of the moral law; for Christ has fulfilled that wholly and entirely in thought, word, and deed, and he has suffered the penalty due to the transgression of it; and you, by believing, make it yours. "If you make the Son of my love your only stay, hope, confidence, and delight, then you delight in that which I delight in. You shall be to me Hephzibah.
"I will be an enemy to thy enemies." Your enemies are counted his. Not any of those who live and die in unbelief shall ever be able to say that any one thing they ever did was done to Christ. He says, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me." But he that out of love to Christ ministers even the least to the saints, God will not be unmindful of him. The Lord takes the part of all those who love him in sincerity.