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In scripture the word "angel" comes from the Hebrew word: malak" מֲלְאָךְ. It has a broader meaning then is generally understood in popular parlance.

Strong's definition of the word is

"From an unused root meaning to despatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically, of God, i.e. An angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher) -- ambassador, angel, king, messenger.

So essentially if a being has been sent by God on his behalf - regardless of whether they are a human physical being or spiritual they become an "angel"/"messenger". When reading scripture I often find what type of being the "angel" is (human or spiritual) is ambiguous. Sometimes it's explicitly indicated by their appearance or the angel tells you such as Gabriel (Luke1:19) but many times it is not.

But I wanted clarification regarding a specific instance here on Genesis chapter 19 when two "angels" visit lot in the city of Sodom. Here I personally find evidence that could point to both interpretations.

I've often heard people say they were "spiritual angels disguised as men". I've even heard it proposed that the use of the word "Lord" in Gen 18-19 potentially indicates that it could even be the preincaranate Christ. But couldn't they equally just have been men of God with spiritual gifts like we see in other Prophets in the Hebrew Bible or Apostles in the New Testament?

This broader topic is covered in the related question Angel or Messenger?

So my question is specific to Genesis 19: Were these "angels" spiritually empowered "men" sent by God or actual heavenly spiritual beings sent to earth ? Is there a way to determine this confidently from the text?

Genesis 19

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    I’d be curious to see the passages you think malak refers to a human. Especially in the OT Jan 10, 2022 at 14:04
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    Sorry I mis understood your question: Reposting. There are numerous instances outside this passage where malak or a variation of it refers very clearly to humans. Eg Gen 32:6. The messengers Jakob sends ahead to his brother Esau. Joshua 6:17 the messengers / spies that the harlot Rahab hides. 1 Samuel 11:4 The messengers sent out by the elders of Jabesh across Israel. Also the name of the prophet "Malachi" ;) Thats just a small sample there are many occurances - nearly as many uses of the word in scripture clearly for humans vs spiritual beings. Close to 50/50 but sometimes it's ambiguous.
    – Marshall
    Jan 10, 2022 at 15:18
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    Frequently in modern translations when it obvious it's a human they will translate as "messenger". When it's a spiritual being or unclear they will usually translate as "angel"
    – Marshall
    Jan 10, 2022 at 15:23
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    Possible duplicate of Angel or Messenger
    – Steve can help
    Jan 10, 2022 at 16:05
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    Thanks Marshall - I think for scope purposes, it might be worth doing a little bit of restructuring to avoid duplication. Perhaps you could state that the wider topic of 'how to read the word generally' is handled by the other question, and that this question is specifically focused on what the word means in Genesis 19. Just to avoid having two questions with duplicate answers trying to explain at length how the words are used across scripture. Does that make sense?
    – Steve can help
    Jan 10, 2022 at 17:26

4 Answers 4

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As already mentioned the Hebrew word for angel is "malak," and it means "angel/messenger/sent one." How the word is used depends on the context. Someone ask where the word is used in reference to humans.

A good example is at Malachi 3:1. "Behold I am going to send my "malak/angel/messenger," and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the "malak/angel/messenger" of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold He is coming, says the Lord of hosts."

The person/messenger that will clear the way of the Lord is John the Baptist. This is confirmed at Mark 1:1-4. So who is the "messenger" of the covenant in whom we will delight that is coming to HIS temple? I'll get to that a little later. As a side note the prophet Malachi who is human, well his name is from the word "malak."

Now, getting to your example of Genesis 19:1. The best way to explain it to start at Genesis 18:1 through the end of the chapter which you can read on your own. I will highlight the main points.

At Genesis 18:1, "Now the Lord appeared to him/Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day." Vs2, Abraham looks up and three men were standing opposite him and he bowed himself.

Vs3, and said, My lord if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by. Vs4, Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet and rest yourselves and Abraham offered them bread etc. They ask where is your wife Sarah?

Notice vs10 where one person is speaking and he says, "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son." Sarah laughed to herself. At vs13, "And the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old." Vs14, "Is there anything to difficult for the Lord.

Let me be "blunt" here and say the Lord that physically appeared to Abraham was the "angel of the Lord" who is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. He first appears as the angel of the Lord at Genesis 16:7. He appears to Hagar and tells here He will multiply her seed and she shall bear a son. Genesis 16:7-12.

At vs13 Hagar says, "Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, "Thou art a God who sees; for she said, Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?" Vs15, "So Hagar bore a son and Abraham called him "Ishmael"

Now comes one of the interesting parts as far as I'm concerned. Genesis 17:1-3. "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless, Vs2, And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly." Vs3, "And Abram fell on his face, and GOD talked with him, saying etc"

This was a physical/visible appearance of God to Abram and is verified at Genesis 17:22. "And when He/God finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham." Two things to notice here. One is the fact that I believe that the angel of the Lord who multiplied Hagar's descendants is the same being here at Genesis 17-1-3 that will multiply Abraham's descendants.

The second thing to notice is at Genesis 18 the Lord again physically appears to Abraham and God explains that Sarah will have a child who will be named Isaac. Getting back to your example at Genesis 1:1, notice what Genesis 18:33 says, "And as soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the Lord departed; and Abraham returned to his place.

Genesis 19:1 says, "Now the TWO ANGELS came to Sodom on the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. These two angels are the same two men that appeared with the Lord at Genesis 18. So from Malachi 3:1 who do you think is the "messenger" of the covenant? I know for a fact it's surely not an actual angel.

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  • Three angels to Abraham with a presence whom Abraham calls 'Lord'. Then two to Lot who perform a different function. I agree this mysterious situation is very enlightening. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 11, 2022 at 2:21
  • Thanks for the answer. Think I get you. So the 3 angels that appear to Abraham in Gen 18 the primary one Abraham converses with is the "Angel of the Lord" essentially God. The 2 others are angels he brings to perform the functions of inspection and judgement on Sodom. These are the two men/angels that speak with Lot. So we essentially have the "angel of the Lord" + 2 additional heavenly spiritual beings. Makes sense. Thanks for the clarification. Related side question: 😊 what's your understanding of the "angels" of the 7 churches in revelation? Rev2:1 Spiritual beings or human church leaders?
    – Marshall
    Jan 11, 2022 at 6:10
  • @Marshall Your welcome. Honestly I'm not sure regarding Revelation 2:1. There are various views according to the following site: gotquestions.org/angels-seven-churches-Revelation.html and of course there are other sites on this issue. As a side note, I do know that "the angel of the Lord never appears in the NT as the angel of the Lord. At Acts 7 Stephen mentions him, verses 30-40, specifically vs 30 and vs38. Read Exodus 3:6. In my opinion the "BEST" proof that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ is at Genesis 22.
    – Mr. Bond
    Jan 11, 2022 at 15:09
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There is no dispute that the word מֲלְאָךְ (malak) means messenger or one sent with a message. The question is: What kind of person the messenger is. We have three basic options:

  1. Human

A human messenger could be:

  • Sent by another human, eg, Gen 32:3, 4, 6, 1 Sam 11:3, 4, 9, 1 Kings 19:2, 2 Kings 5:10, etc
  • A prophet of God, eg, Isa 44:26, Hag 1:13,
  • A priest with a message from God, eg, Eccl 5:6, Mal 2:7, etc
  • The whole nation of Israel, Isa 42:19
  1. A supernatural/heavenly "Angel"
  • An angel that appears in human form or as a glorious being Gen 19:1, 15, 24:7, 1 Kings 13:8, 19:5, Ps 34:7, 91:11, 103:20, 148:2, etc.
  1. The LORD Himself

The following passages make it clear that the “Angel of the LORD” is often (not always), the LORD (Jehovah) Himself. Gen 16:7-13, 22:11-17, 32:24-30, 48:16, Ex 3:2-6, 32:34, Num 22:22-35, Josh 5:13-15, Judg 2:1-4, 6:11-23, 13:3-23, Isa 63:9, Dan 3:25, 28, Hos 12:4, 5, Zech 3:1-7, Mal 3:1, Rev 8:3-5, 10:1-10, 18:1, 20:1-4.

A closely related phrase, “Angel of God” who is clearly God as in Gen 6:13, 8:15, 9:8, 17, 15:13, 17:3, 4, 21:12, 16-21, 35:1, 10, Ex 4:3-8, 6:2, 23:20, 21, Deut 1:6, 1 Kings 12:22, etc.

Thus, in Gen 18 and 19, the three "men" (Gen 18:2) that appeared to Abraham were

(a) The LORD Himself (Gen 18:1, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 26, 29, 33)

(b) Two heavenly angels (Gen 19:1, 11, 13)

Note two things:

  1. The above division of three types of messenger, human, heavenly angel and the LORD Himself, is corroborated by BDB
  2. The default position (based on sheer statistics and numbers) is that meaning #2 above, heavenly angel, is the most common and should be the default meaning. However, each case must be evaluated on its own merits.
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I haven't made a big study of it but I think you should look at the times hamalak is used as opposed to malak. Hamalak means the angel and malak simply means an angel. "The angel of the Lord" is the pre incarnate Christ. All other angels or messengers should be defined based on context.

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    Jan 20 at 15:02
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"Angel" | מַלְאַךְ Malak - essentially is an [autonomous revelator of knowledge] created with moral duties to glorify YHVH through emissions of wisdom (which does not consume the object it may inhabit).

[Exodus 3:2, Numbers 22, Job 38:7, Judges 13:3-20, Psalm 68:7 103:20, 104:4, Matthew 4:11, Luke 22:3, John 13:27] - These verses highlight both Good & Bad מַלְאָכִים 'malakim'.

In [Genesis 19:1], the Malakim are [Men] based on their description in [Genesis 18:2] - "And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three [men] were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground." (וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָֽרְצָה)

The Angels of Genesis 18-19 inhabited אֲנָשִׁים "Anashim" [Men].

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