And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Genesis 48:15-16 ESV)

I'm curious as to what is meant here by the word angel. It's interesting that in the ESV, it is not capitalized. But I find in the NLT and KJV it is capitalized. My Reformation Study Bible notes that there a multiple instances in Genesis where it is debated if some encounters have been with angels or the pre-incarnate Christ (See Genesis 16:7 for one example).

If you read the earlier context, Jacob is speaking repeatedly of God's faithfulness so I feel as though he rightly speaking of God and not just one of his messengers. Rather, using a metaphor for God's faithful and salvific work.

So to state again, what is meant by "angel" in this context?


4 Answers 4


In the context of Genesis 48

The word "Angel" in Genesis 48:16 (KJV) is the Hebrew word הַמַּלְאָךְ֙ (ham-mal-’āḵ). This particular form of the Hebrew root מַלְאָךְ (mal-’aḵ) is found 23 times in the KJV, but only in this instance does it have a capital letter.

I'm not an expert in the Hebrew language, but I'm pretty sure there isn't anything special about the word הַמַּלְאָךְ֙ (ham-mal-’āḵ) that would justify a capital. It is likely just a preference of the KJV translators because Jacob wrestled with what he thought was a man, but about whom he declared:

...I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
-- Genesis 32:30 (KJV)

In other contexts

Other instances of הַמַּלְאָךְ֙ (ham-mal-’āḵ)

  • 2 Samuel 11 -- four times translated as "messenger" in reference to a human being (vv. 19, 22, 23, 25).

  • 2 Kings 6 -- twice translated as "messenger" in reference to a human being (vv. 32, 33).

  • 2 Kings 9:18 -- translated as "messenger" in reference to a man on horseback.

  • 2 Kings 10:8 -- translated as "messenger", but there is nothing to suggest he is anything other than human.

  • 1 Chronicles 21:20 -- translated as "angel" in reference to an angelic being God sent to destroy Jerusalem.

  • Ecclesiastes 5:6 -- translated as "angel". The reference here isn't clear, but the sense of it is: "the presence of God".

  • Zechariah 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 -- 12 instances, all translated as "angel" in reference to angelic beings with whom Zechariah converses. The references are very reminiscent of John's encounters recorded in Revelation.

  • Thanks so much for the answer @enegue. I think I've come to the same conclusion that Jacob is referring to God in this use of the word.
    – Lin Wang
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 22:30
  • 1
    Thank you for asking the question. I hadn't noticed the capital until you'd drawn it to my attention.
    – enegue
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 5:01

A similar question could be asked of Eccl 5:6 (Jewish 5:5)

אל תתן את פיך לחטיא את בשרך 
  Let not your lips deviate from your flesh
  (otherwise: Let not your lips sin against your flesh)

ואל תאמר לפני המלאך 
  and should not say before the {מלאך MLAKh}

כי שגגה היא
  that she/it is ignorant/erroneous

למה יקצף האלהים על קולך 
  why Elohim should anger upon your voice

וחבל את מעשה ידיך
  and harm works of your hand

From Jewish Bible fundamentalist perspective (meaning reading the Hebrew as-is, without influence or respect to any other scriptures written post-Malakhi), there is no concept of "angels".

A {מלאך MLAKh} can be a human agent, a divine being, or according to Maimonides, an act of G'd or projection of the law/power of G'd, or even G'd Himself.

The {מלאך MLAKh} in Gen 48:16 is highly correlatable to Gen 31:11 and Gen 32:24-32 (Jewish 32:25-33).

The fundamental constraints and boundaries of the meaning of the word {מלאך} can be found in Genesis 2:2-3

ויכל אלהים ביום השביעי מלאכתו אשר עשה 
 so completes Elohim on 7th day His {מלאכת MLAKheT} which He did

וישבת ביום השביעי מכל מלאכתו אשר עשה
 and so He rests on 7th day from all His {מלאכת MLAKheT} which He did
ויברך אלהים את יום השביעי ויקדש אתו 
 and so blesses Elohim the 7th day and sanctifies it

כי בו שבת מכל מלאכתו אשר ברא אלהים לעשות
 because He rested in it from all His {מלאכת MLAKheT}
 which Elohim began, in doing

 *more precisely*:
 because He rested in it from all His {מלאכת MLAKheT}
 the beginning/creation of which Elohim did

Observe the word {מלאכת MLAKheT}, which the verses pointedly indicate were tasks that Elohim did/does.

Verse 3 is even more pointed, where His {מלאכת MLAKheT} was created/begun.

Abandon what Wikipedia says, or whatever Jewish or Christian Lexicon says, by just understanding the verse plainly by their context and structure, you should agree that the phrase {מלאכת MLAKheT} in Genesis 2 would in no way have the meaning of {message} or {messenger}.

Unless you add onto Philo's Hellenistically inspired abstract philosophy of Logos being the intermediary of creation, the 2nd person in the divine, where the 1st person is incapable of communion with creation.

Where you would somehow associate the {λογος} with {מלאכת MLAKheT}. AFAIK, there has been no one who has made this association. Perhaps Philo did implicate that equation. However, Philo's esoteric religious thought is not acceptable by Jewish standards. If his authoritativeness is accepted by Christianity, it would mean the John 1:1 is admittedly plagiarised from Philo.

That is, we all agree, that the lexical equation

{מלאכת MLAKheT} = {λογος}

is not acceptable.

Other examples,

  • The same word is used in Gen 39:11, where Joseph was to do his {מלאכת tasks/chores}.

  • The same word is used in 1 King 7:14, where king Solomon had a craftman do his workmanship {מלאכת}.

  • As well as in 2 Chron 16:5, where king of Israel ceased from his task {מלאכת}.

  • And in Nehe 4:15 (Jewish enum 4:9).

Etymological chain of the word {מלאכת MLAKheT}

Let us analyse the grammatical declension, the way we would any usual Hebrew root word.

  • {לאך} = {task}
  • {מלאך} = piel, intensive / weak-causative
    • committed to a task, being given a task
    • when used as a present participle = an agent who is given a task
  • {מלאכת} = verbal-noun = state of having been committed to a task
    • commitment/commission to a task

Even though the above declension analyses are somewhat approx, they get the point across. That in no way would the word {מלאך} mean {message} or {messenger}.

The meaning of {מלאכת MLAKheT} = {commission} is affirmed in Jonah 1:8, when his shipmates asked Jonah {מה מלאכתך}, "what is your {מלאכת commission/profession-work}?" before throwing him overboard. It would be silly and awkward to translate that as asking Jonah "what is your message?"

To translate {מלאך} as {messenger} you would have to ignore the existence of Genesis 2:2-3. And the existence of Gen 39:11, 1King 7:14, 2Chron 16:5 and Nehe 4:15/4:9, and Jonah 1:8.

But then one could, against all odds argue that {מלאכת} has nothing to do with {מלאך}.

  • That is a grammatically untenable argument.
  • That argument is also demolished by Nehe 6:3. Where the {מלאכים workers} sent by Nehemiah were to declare they had too much {מלאכה work} that they could not stop from their {מלאכה work}.
  • As well as having to contend against Maimonides, who held the opinion that all {מלאכים} emanating from Hashem are actually laws and forces of the Universe each with its task and purpose. Such that when someone says, "a {מלאך} conceived a baby in her womb", would merely mean "the woman conceived by a law of nature created/tasked by Hashem."

No doubt that in most of the instances of {מלאך/מלאכים} found it the Bible, they did verbalize either a message or edict from the sender, but one cannot ignore the instances where the cited {מלאך/מלאכים} were obviously not message bearers. Otherwise that would be forcibly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, just to satiate one's hunger for the doctrines of angelology.

  • Josh 7:22: Joshua sent {מלאכים} to perform the task of retrieving some loot.
  • Numbers 22:22: where a {מלאך} took on the task to be satan against Balaam. If by having a mere conversation with Balaam would ascribe specific purpose of being a "messenger", then every Hebrew word for any entity, king, servant who had a conversation would have to be ascribed the meaning of "messenger".
  • 1Sam 19:11,14,15,16: Saul sent {מלאכים} as assassins, certainly not messengers, with a task of observing and assassinating David. What "messenger ?
  • 1Sam 19:20,21: Saul again sent {מלאכים} to arrest David, but those {מלאכים} instead were arrested by the spirit of Elohim.

Also, across the whole Bible, the overwhelming majority instances of {מלאך/מלאכים} were clearly humans.

We cannot accept the authority of the septuagint simply because the septuagint was initiated, under the charter of a pagan king of Egypt, by a group of Hellenized Jews who were too ashamed of their primitive religious scriptures for being devoid of the abstract ideas and sophistry of Hellenism. The Septuagint was Jewish Hellenistic progressivism pandering to be "inclusive" and "ecumenical" to the pagan cultures that surrounded them. That is why it has whole phrases, concepts, principles and even mystical beings not found in the Hebrew masoret. An inclusiveness that unified all the pagan religious ideologies surrounding Israel, but rejected from the masoret.

One should also note that the term {angel} originated from pagan Greek mythology, which in turn was borrowed from Persian mythology of Persian messenger demigods. The very doctrine of ranking angelic beings were of Zoroastrian origins. A doctrine not found in the textual and literal fundamentals of the Hebrew of the Bible. A doctrine rejected by the Author of the Hebrew text of the Bible.

The whole doctrine of angelology and demonology was due to contention between ancient Persian and Hindu mythology calling each other's gods demons. To accept the doctrines of angelology and demonism is to buy into mythological ideas of ancient Persian and Hindu religions.

The word {מלאך/מלאכים} should have been translated as {commissioners, commission, tasking } in light of the word {לאך} and its declensions. There is no definiteness if any instance of {מלאך/מלאכים} in the Bible were human or non-human agents/vectors.

In conclusion

AS mentioned, the {מלאך MLAKh} in Gen 48:16 is highly correlatable to Gen 31:11 and Gen 32:24-32 (Jewish 32:25-33).

Gen 31:11: In the light of Gen 2, with G'd Himself being the MLAKh of the MLAKheT/task/work, and that the MLAKh of Gen 3:11 spoke personally as G'd, the MLAKh was the personal involvement of G'd in speaking to Jacob.

Just as the ruaX {רוח spirit} of G'd, found thro out the Hebrew of the Bible, is not a separate person, but a personal effect and projection of G'd.

In Gen 32, the {איש} is also another projection of G'd.

{איש} does not need to be specifically a human. Rather it means "someone", a "person" or "personality". The term for human is {אנוש}.

In Hosea 2:16 (Jewish 2:18): Hashem expresses the ultimate desire of being one and equal with humankind:

והיה ביום ההוא נאם יי 
And shall be on that day declares Hashem

תקראי אישי 
shall you call Me my-person/my-peer-husband

ולא תקראי לי עוד בעלי
and not call Me any longer my-master/my-master-husband

In Genesis 32, a {איש} raised dust (by implication "struggled") with Jacob. The same {איש} Person in Hosea 2 wanting to be in unity with humankind.

Therefore, Gen 48:16 the {מלאך MLAKh} Jacob refers to, for all intents and motivations, is Elohim Himself.

  • Ms. Cynthia, thank you for your long and highly detailed answer. However, I feel unqualified to currently comprehend nor critique it. Though, I will give you an upvote for your contribution.
    – Lin Wang
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 22:13

If you read Genesis 48:15-16 through, in context, it becomes quite clear that this "Angel which redeemed me from all evil" is just one poetic description of God. God, or the Angel of the Lord, redeemed—saved or rescued—Jacob throughout his life, from the fury of Esau (twice), from the machinations of Laban, from the threat of revenge by the Canaanites in response to the slaughter of Shechem, and finally from the famine and enslavement by the Egyptians.

That is the short answer. But what is meant by "the Angel" in the phrase "the Angel of the Lord"? Answering that will shed light on what is going on here. There are many instances in the OT in which a being called "the Angel of the Lord" speaks, and sometimes appears, to various people.

The description suggests a messenger of the Lord. The word for “angel” here, מֲלְאָךְ or malak, could be glossed “a messenger,” and while all the literal and standard translations use the phrase “the angel of the Lord,” the definite article is not actually appended to malak. But the definite article is appended at 48:16: הַמַּלְאָךְ֩ means "the angel." So, you might wonder, why not use indefinite article, a (not the) messenger? Couldn’t this have been an ordinary angel? The context of the present verse makes it clear that this is another description of God himself. After all, the description is preceded by "God, before whom my fathers...did walk" as well as "the God which fed me". These are all intended to describe the same being. Other evidence for the meaning of "the Angel of the Lord" is, as we will see, similar.

That explains why theologians appear united in maintaining that various other instances of this word, followed by "of the Lord" (malak Yahweh) is best rendered “the angel of the Lord”: there's only one, so it's "the," and it's God. See, just for example, Gen 16:7, when the angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar. Because the phrases malak Yahweh and (the closely related) malak Elohim (“angel of God”) are often described as God or the Lord himself. This angel of the Lord consistently offers help, commands, advice, visions of the future, etc., in ways that indicate this is indeed God at work.

In the case of Gen 16:7, although the said angel does not do anything other than to speak to Hagar, what he says is, “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly.” (16:10) That is a thing only the Lord could do. Later, the text says “she called the name of the Lord”—no mere angel—“who spake unto her, Thou God seest me.” (16:13)

In a later chapter, we will again find that “the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven” (Gen 21:17); this suggests that this is a disembodied voice representing the word of God himself. But the angel of the Lord does not only speak. The phrase is used, in Exodus, to refer to the pillar of fire and of smoke leading and following the fleeing Israelites (Ex 14:19); and to Manoah, the mother of Samson, the “angel of God” appears in the form of a man (Judg 13:9).

One of the more telling passages is this: “the angel of the Lord appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Ex 3:2). Then, just two verses later, we have “God called unto him out of the midst of the bush” (Ex 3:4). This indicates that this is God himself, or an earthly appearance (a theophany, and in particular, a shekhinah, again) of God. Many commentators have inferred that such theophanies, if not strictly identifiable with God himself, could be an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ, especially insofar as the angel of the Lord is sometimes spoken of as being distinct from the Lord (or, as Christians say, from God the Father). But to really sort out this question would require that we get quite deep into theology.


Simply put,only God can redeem. It is God or more specifically "The Son of God". The same as the "Angel of The Lord" that spoke to Hagar by the spring. Gen. 16:7. The same "Angel of The Lord" that spoke to Manoah, Who's name was Wonderful". Judges 13:17,18.

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