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The Angel Sent Before
Christ our Protector
“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. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off. Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. And ye shall serve the LORD your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil. I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.” (Exodus 23:20-33)
Have you ever looked at the rugged mountain ranges that those early American pioneers had to cross to get into this part of the world, and thought, — “What inspired them? What rare, rugged men and women they must have been!” With no promise of anything but warring Indians, rugged mountains, wild beasts, and permanent isolation from family, friends, and the rest of the world, they headed west. To me that is amazing.
But just suppose things had been different. Suppose that before leaving, those who followed the trail west had been assured, upon good authority, that there was a land beyond those rugged mountains of unimaginable peace and prosperity, indescribable life and health, a land that they could have simply by planting their feet upon the ground. Then, it was promised, upon that same good authority, that every enemy they might meet in the way would flee from them and every obstacle would be removed from their path. And then, one more promise, they were promised that God himself would send an Angel before them to lead the way, keep them in the way, and bring them into the land. With such assurances and promises as that, I would have signed up in a heartbeat.
As God’s ambassador to your soul, I call you to join me for such a journey to a land of unimaginable peace and prosperity, indescribable life and health, a land of immortality and glory.
After giving his law to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai, the chosen nation was about to proceed in their journey toward the land of Canaan. The Lord God had given them plain directions for the regulation of their lives. Now, at the end of Exodus 23, as he is about to thrust them into the wilderness where he will try them and prove them for forty years, he graciously encourages them. He promised his people the care of his infinite love and assured them that he would send an Angel before them to keep them in the way and to bring them into the land he had prepared for them.
As we read this portion of Holy Scripture, let us remember that these things were written “for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). This is more than a historic record. This is the Word of God to you and me. The promises contained here are not merely ancient promises to an ancient people. They are the present promises of our ever-present God to his “holy nation,” to his church, called by his Spirit “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). And, just as the Lord God fulfilled all his promises to that physical nation (Joshua 23:3, 9-12, 14), so he will fulfill every promise of his grace to us.
“Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)
The Land of Canaan was specifically created and prepared by God for the children of Israel. It is used in Scripture to represent two things. First, the Land of Canaan represents Heaven. That is obvious, because it is the Land of Promise; and it is used in Scripture to represent our final place of rest with Christ. But Canaan also represents the believer’s present life in Christ. That is obvious, because there were in the Land of Canaan many enemies and much trouble.
Canaan represents our whole experience of grace, culminating in Heaven’s everlasting glory. Here the lord God promises to send an Angel before us; and this Angel has two specific assignments, two tasks, two responsibilities. First, it is his responsibility to keep us in the way. Second, it is his responsibility to bring us into the place the Lord God has prepared for us.
Who is this Angel? This is not one of the created angels sent forth to minister to those who shall be the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14). This Angel is our dear Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Angel of God’s presence, that One who spoke to Moses out of the bush, the Angel who was with the Israelites at Sinai and in the wilderness, who saved them, redeemed them, bore them, and carried them all the days of old, the One against whom they rebelled against, and the One they tempted forty years in the wilderness.
To say that Christ is “an Angel” does not in any way contradict the fact of his eternal Deity. The word “angel” simply means “messenger.” And our Lord Jesus Christ is both Jehovah and Jehovah’s Messenger. In his eternal Deity, our Savior is God himself, over all and blessed forever. In his mediatoral capacity, as our Surety and Substitute, he is “the Angel of the Lord.” When the Scriptures speak of our Savior as “the Angel of the Lord,” appearing in the form of a man before he actually assumed our nature in the incarnation, they are telling us that God’s own Son, the Surety and Mediator of the covenant, the man Christ Jesus, is the Revelation of God. Jesus Christ, our Mediator, is, always was, and ever shall be the only one in whom and by whom God makes himself known to men. Christ is God’s Message; and Christ is God’s Messenger.
Two things in this passage make it unmistakably clear that this Angel is our Savior. I am certain that he is because in verse 21 we are told that this Angel has the authority and ability to forgive sin; and the Lord God declares, at the end of verse 21, “my name is in him.”
Christ our Lord is that Angel of whom the prophets so often spoke of as our Savior and Protector (Isaiah 63:9; Psalm 34:7). He is the Angel of the Lord standing among the myrtle trees, defending his people, interceding for us, Michael the Archangel who resisted Satan when he accused Joshua, and the Angel who stands as God to defend his feeble ones in the earth (Zechariah 1:11-12; 3:1-7; 12: 8).
This is what the Lord God declares to us about Christ as the Angel of the Lord sent before us. — “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.”
First, he declares “I send an Angel before thee.” Christ is an Angel (a Messenger, a Heavenly Proctor) sent before us. He was sent before us as our Surety in old eternity. He was sent before us to judgment as our Substitute, dying under the wrath of God to put away our sins. The Lord Jesus was sent before us as our Forerunner into heaven. He has walked this path before us and leads the way to Heaven. Blessed be God, just as “he must needs go through Samaria” to save the Samaritan woman at the appointed time of love, our Lord Jesus is sent before his chosen, as our Savior, to save the people of his choice at the appointed time of mercy. Our Lord Jesus was sent before us into Heaven to be our great Benefactor, our mighty Joseph.
Second, the Lord God here promises that our Savior, the Lord Jesus, his Angel, will keep us in the way. He is the Way. He put us in the Way. He leads us in the Way. And he keeps us in the Way.
Third, not only is it his work to keep us in the way, it is the work and responsibility of Jehovah’s Angel, Christ our Protector, to bring us at last into heaven. — “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” Is that not what he tells us in John 10?
“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” (John 10:14-18)
The Obedience Required
All God’s promises of grace are free and unconditional. But, in verses 21 and 22, a condition is set before us. Everything is conditioned upon obedience, obedience to the Angel who is God.
“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 23:21-22)
Does this mean that God’s grace is conditional? Does God require obedience from us as a condition of mercy? Does God’s promise depend upon our obedience? Certainly not! You may be thinking, “But, these verses seem to read that way.” Let’s see. Did the children of Israel obey the Lord? Did they obey his commands? By no means! He declares, again and again, that “they provoked him to anger” with their high places, with their counsel, and with their iniquities (Psalm 78; 106). Did their disobedience keep the Lord from fulfilling every word of his promise? By no means! (Psalm 106:8; Joshua 23:3, 9-12, 14)
What obedience does God require of us? It is not the obedience of our hands, but “the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26), by which we establish the law (Romans 3:31).
The Lord God declares that Christ, his Angel, “will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him” (v. 21). And in a strict, legal sense that is exactly the case. Our blessed Savior never just “pardons” sin. He put our sins away! He removed them altogether, so thoroughly so that they are not and never can be the slightest barrier to God’s fulfilment of his promised mercy!
The Angel sent before us was sent before us to make salvation sure; and he has done it. Christ our Angel, our Protector, our Savior gave the law, kept the law for us as our Representative, and satisfied the law as our Substitute. He has thereby (by his obedience and death) cut off and destroyed all our sins and will bring us into the land.
“For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.” (Exodus 23:23)
In verses 23-26 the Lord God again demands that we keep ourselves from idols and from idolatry, promising his unfailing grace to all who worship him.
“Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. And ye shall serve the LORD your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil.” (Exodus 23:24-26)
To our enemies, Christ is an enemy. To our adversaries, he is an adversary. He blesses our bread and water, making them nourishing and refreshing to us. He frees his own from sickness and disease, from all the consequences of sin. In the kingdom of grace there are no abortions, no miscarriages, and no barren, fruitless souls (Galatians 5:22-23). Every heaven born soul shall have his days fulfilled (Psalm 91:1-16).
“I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.” (Exodus 23:27)
Our enemies are not the people of this world. We spend our lives preaching the gospel to the people of this world, seeking their everlasting salvation. But if men set themselves in opposition to God’s church, they shall fail. If men and women resolve to hurt or injure God’s people, they shall find themselves fleeing, though no one is pursuing them (Proverbs 28:1).
“And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.” (Exodus 23:28)
Only God could drive out armies and destroy nations with hornets!
But, really, our greatest enemies, those with whom we must constantly do battle, those with whom we are continually at war, are like the Amorites and Hittites, the Perizzites and Hivites and Jebusites, enemies within. They are the Canaanites dwelling in our hearts, the lusts of our flesh. Yet, for wise and holy purposes known only to him, in his great mercy, the Lord our God, the God of all grace, promises that these foes shall not be quickly destroyed.
“I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.” (Exodus 23:29-30)
It is best that we live with our old, fallen, depraved nature, until we inherit the land of our inheritance. It is best for us to live in this world, struggling with the lusts of our flesh, that we might ever remember that salvation is God’s work of grace. It is best for us to live in this body of flesh, that we might ever be reminded that the only difference between us and others is the distinguishing grace of our God. It is best for us to live in this state of relentless warfare, that we might prove day by day that his grace is sufficient!
The Lord God has set the bounds of our habitation from the river to the ends of the earth, for these are the bounds of our Savior’s dominion (vv. 31-33; Psalm 72:8; Zechariah 9:10).
“And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.” (Exodus 23:31-33)
Does the Lord Jesus go before us? That thought should revive our hearts continually. Let everything in me remember him! Let me never lose sight of him going before me and having gone before me! — The Angel of the Lord! — The Angel of the Covenant! — The Angel of God’s Presence! Rejoice, my heart, Jehovah’s name, all his character and being, are in him who is my Savior, my Redeemer, and my Protector!
Oh, blessed Angel of Grace, oh, Son of God, send your Spirit in a constantly renewing work of grace to subdue and drive out the corruptions of my heart before you. Make me entirely the conquest of your omnipotent mercy, and do the same for my fellow-pilgrims in this hostile land! Safely carry us through the whole of this wilderness journey. Bring us soon into that heavenly Canaan prepared for us from eternity, that everlasting home you have gone before to prepare for us, where we shall see you face to face, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away forever!