“Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭23‬:‭21‬ ‭

Is this saying the messenger has the ability to forgive but won’t or is it saying the messenger won’t forgive because he can’t?

The Messenger Angel

““Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out,” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭23‬:‭20‬, ‭23‬ ‭

Compare the messenger sent in chapter 33 and consider if this is not the same messenger

I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭33‬:‭2‬ ‭

The Similarities

  • God sends a messenger in both verses
  • The messenger brings them to the same groups in Canaan in both verses
  • It is God who drives out/blots out the Canaanite groups not the messenger

If then this messenger is the same messenger both in chapter 23 and chapter 33 in whom the Name of God is, why then would Moses request for God’s presence, is this an indication that the messenger was not divine?

To borrow from the NT

““Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭2‬:‭7‬ ‭

“For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. ’”” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭33‬:‭5‬ ‭

“Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭33‬:‭12‬, ‭14‬-‭15‬ ‭

So Moses was told that the messenger in whom the Name of the Lord was present would go but Moses says he doesn’t know who the messenger is and it wasn’t enough for Moses that the Lord’s Name was in the messenger (reason to believe this is not The Angel of the Lord) and if it were The Angel of the Lord, would not the presence of the Lord already be in Him?

So I ask again this messenger could he forgive but will not forgive or can he not forgive because he can’t forgive?

  • unlike similarly phrased questions the emphasis is placed on “the name of the Lord is in Him”. I am asking a more pointed question about the messenger’s abilities could he or could he not forgive?

2 Answers 2


The text itself is unambiguous. It states that this One will not pardon the transgressions of those who disobey him. The text also clearly states why this One shall not pardon certain ones.

It says that to disobey that One is to disobey what God has actually stated (through this One). It also says that this One has God's name in him. This confirms that it is this One who will either pardon, or refuse to pardon - verses 21 -22.

This One is God's spokesman and representative on earth. In human terms, Pontius Pilate represented the highest authority in the Roman Empire when he was ruling in Judea, so that when he spoke judicially, in his appointed capacity, it was as if the Caesar was speaking. Pilate had a legal power to either pardon (as he did for Barabbas) or to condemn to death (as he did for Jesus Christ).

Far more so is Exodus 23:21-22 warning the Israelites that they dare not disregard this One, but that they must obey him, for fear of that one not pardoning them. The significance of this is that to disobey him is to disobey God. Yet it is this One who either forgives, or is provoked not to forgive, because he has within him the very name of God. The text is very clear.

  • I don’t see ANYWHERE where it says this one has the capacity to forgive, solely that he cannot or will not. If Anne you can point to where it says he can forgive but not by deduction or inference then it would be clear that he is able to forgive. Example. If I say as owner of the company to my employees, listen to the manager because if you don’t he can’t pardon you. (And you’ll be fired). I have authorized him to represent me. That doesn’t mean the manager can choose not to fire the employee, it means he has no choice but to fire the employee, and that’s the extent of his authorization Mar 28, 2023 at 17:26
  • @Nihil Sine Deo How you are thinking about this is not what I'm thinking. I don't think your illustration fits. There is no comparison in scripture between an employer and an employee, and God and this One. But we shall have to agree to see things differently, until one or the other of us has our eyes opened to something that was previously obscure to us. Perhaps some other answers will help to do this.
    – Anne
    Mar 28, 2023 at 17:34
  • +1. Agreed, God answer.
    – Dottard
    Mar 28, 2023 at 21:54
  • It is not established that the messenger in chapter 23 is THE Angel of the Lord merely on the grounds that His Name is in him. For chapter 23 speaks of this messenger and chapter 33:2 says God repeats the message that He will send a messenger but Moses insists that he wants God’s presence to go with them not the messenger. So the messenger is not necessarily The Angel of the Lord unless you assume it to be so. Mar 28, 2023 at 23:58
  • I would argue that the Lord that speaks to Moses is the Angel of the Lord a Christophany, see burning bush Exodus 3:2&4 and Stephen’s testimony Acts 7:38 Mt Sinai angel. And the angel being sent Exodus 23 &33 is merely an angel not divine but supernatural/spiritual. In light of the fact that you say “and God and this One” it appears you are assuming a Christophany which yes, if it were so, the angel could also forgive sins. But I don’t see how you built the argument that this indeed is a Christophany. I would welcome that missing link that assumes this to be proven. Thank you. Mar 29, 2023 at 0:44

I note that we have the traditional conservative veiw of this text in Ex 23:21 in numerous places like the Cambridge commentary:

  1. A warning against disobedience. hearken unto his voice] Cf. Exodus 15:26, Exodus 19:5. be not rebellious (or defiant) against him] Numbers 20:24, Psalm 78:40 al.

my name The manifestation of My being. The ‘name’ is almost objective reality; it is almost a personal manifestation of Jehovah (DB. v. 641a): cf. Psalm 20:1; Psalm 54:3, Deuteronomy 12:5, &c.; and esp. Isaiah 30:27. The ‘angel’ is Jehovah Himself ‘in a temporary descent to visibility for a special purpose’ (McNeile). Cf. on Exodus 3:2 : also Exodus 33:2; DB. v. 638 f.; and G. A. Smith, The Twelve Prophets, ii. 310–319.

The Pulpit commentary is similar:

Verse 21. - Provoke him not. On the disobedience of the Israelites to this precept, see Numbers 14:11; Psalm 78:17, 40, 56, etc. My name is in him. God's honour he will not give to another. He does not set His Name in a man. The angel, in whom was God's Blame, must have been co-equal with God - one of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Exodus 23:21

This all depends on the identification of the "Angel of the LORD" (see appendix below). I note there is an eerily similar idea about pardon of sins in Mark 2:5-11 -

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the scribes were sitting there and thinking in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like this? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?

At once Jesus knew in His spirit that they were thinking this way within themselves. “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?” He asked. “Which is easier: to say to a paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”

Thus, we have the following points of identification of the "Angel" in Ex 23:21 -

  • Only God/YHWH can forgive sins and Jesus can forgive sins as documented above
  • the "angel of the LORD" is often (not always) YHWH Himself (see appendix below). The difference can be easily detected by whether the Angel of the LORD has unique characteristics of God/YHWH. In this case, the authority to forgive sins
  • It was YJWH who promised to "go before" the Israelites as per this "Angel", see Ex 23:23, 32:34, Deut 1:30, 33, 31:3, 8, Josh 3:11, 2 Sam 5:24, 1 Chron 14;15, Isa 45:2, 52:12, etc.
  • Ex 23:21 is the only place where YHWH says of anybody, that, "My name is in Him". This is presumably a reference to Jesus being "I am" (John 8:24, 28, 58, 18:5-8, etc), Creator (John 1:3, 10, Col 1:16, 17, Heb 1:2), Savior (Matt 1:21, Acts 4:12, 2 Tim 1:10, Tit 1:4, 2:13, 3:6, 2 Peter 1:1, 11, etc), the Shepherd (John 10:11-16, Heb 13:20, 1 peter 2:25, 5:4, Rev 7:17), the First and Last (cf Isa 41:4, 44:6, 48:12 with Rev 1:17, 18, 2:8, 22:13, etc), and so forth.
  • Jesus claims many times to be sent by the Father and in Zech 2 we find that YHWH sends YHWH, see appendix below.

Thus, it appears that that Ex 23:21 is a Christophany. There are no other possibilities (ie, it could not have been an ordinary heavenly angel).

APPENDIX - Angel of the LORD

The following passages make it clear that the “Angel of the LORD” is almost always, the LORD (Jehovah) Himself, probably Jesus in particular. 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.

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.

In Isa 63:9, “the Angel of His [LORD’s] presence saved them”, and is almost certainly a reference to the same being. The same is true of Ex 23:20, 21, Josh 5:13-15.

In view of the clear statements in John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46, 1 John 4:12 that no one has seen God the Father, and the numerous cases listed above of people seeing the LORD and the Angel of the LORD, etc, it appears that these epiphanies were of the pre-incarnate Jesus.

In other places we see that the LORD sends the LORD:

  • Zech 2:6-12 – the LORD (= YHWH) claims three times that He has been sent by the LORD.
  • Isa 48:11-16 – again, the LORD has been sent by the LORD.

Thus, unsurprisingly, Jesus is the messenger to the human race and underlines the importance that the Godhead places upon such messages.

  • As someone who advocates for the manifestation of the second person in the Godhead in the OT, I did not find this compelling. There is no clear and obvious connections being made. And some of the references aren’t relevant like Psa54:3 for example. Mar 29, 2023 at 15:45
  • I had not said anything about a Christophany in my answer, nor did the question enquire about that, so thank you for detailing the biblical evidence, which certainly has a profound bearing on why this One with God's Name in him will not forgive certain people.
    – Anne
    Mar 29, 2023 at 17:04
  • @Anne what am I not seeing that you are? you said nothing about a Christophany but you said ”God and this One. Dottard used circular reasoning, he assumed the messenger is divine and concluded he was without showing how. So please one of you or someone else show me how they are bridging this gap in this text or context? The Name of the Lord is in him was not explained, the verses don’t illustrate anything the verse in Isaiah begins to… this is so frustrating. If I were a non believer I would not be persuaded in the least, and I am a believer and I am still not persuaded though I believe Mar 29, 2023 at 23:44
  • @NihilSineDeo - only God can forgive sins; the angel of the LORD is most often pre-incarnate Jesus; and the name of the LORD is in Him. It is difficult to put the dots much closer together.
    – Dottard
    Mar 30, 2023 at 0:29
  • 1
    @NihilSineDeo - I accept your honesty so I have added some further explanation. However, I still make no attempt to convince anyone.
    – Dottard
    Mar 30, 2023 at 10:57

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