The Two Angels
After the scribal explanation in Deut. 10:6-9, Moses continues his speech in verse 10.
10 I, moreover, stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights like the first time, and the Lord listened to me that time also; the Lord was not willing to destroy you.
God “listened” to Moses' intercession after the people had worshipped the golden calf. He spared Israel as a group (nation), but nonetheless, each individual would be judged according to his works, for God also said in Exodus 32:33, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” This does not mean that the people were beyond forgiveness of sin, but rather that they would be removed from God's “book.” This is probably the same as the “book of life” in Rev. 20:12 and has reference to God's list of overcomers.
God Judges the Church
Those not found in that book are judged by the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2; Rev. 20:15). Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 3:15 that even believers, who have Christ as their foundation, may be judged by this “fire.”
15 If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.
Jesus said much the same thing in Luke 12:45-49, where he equates the law of whipping in Deut. 25:1-3 with “fire.” The fire represents the judgment of the law, each according to his works. If it is necessary to apply such correction to a believer in that day, it is because he is not an overcomer. The overcomers are “blessed and holy” (Rev. 20:4-6) and are raised in the first resurrection without having to undergo any further correction. The rest are raised in the general resurrection, both believers and unbelievers (John 5:28 and 29), and the fiery law will be applied to each according to their works.
The main difference, Jesus says in John 5:29, is that the believers' judgment will be short and will then result in immortal life, whereas the unbelievers will remain under judgment until the end of that age when the law of Jubilee takes effect. The Jubilee law cancels all debt to the law (Lev. 25:10 and 54).
A New Angel Takes the Lead
Moses continues, saying,
11 Then the Lord said to me, “Arise, proceed on your journey ahead of the people, that they may go in and possess the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.”
When Moses returned to the Mount to intercede for Israel, God told him to continue leading Israel to the Promised Land. However, a change was instituted at that point, as we see in Exodus 32:34,
34 But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin. 35 Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.
Even when God forgives, He brings discipline and correction to His children. Forgiveness does not automatically cancel all judgment. As parents, we see the wisdom in this as well in dealing with our own children. Children ought to be forgiven, of course, yet it is often wise to hold them accountable so that they learn the consequences of disobedience.
In the passage above, it is usually assumed that when God said, “in the day when I punish,” He was referring to the day when the 3,000 people died by the sword of the Levites earlier (Exodus 32:28). However, that day had already passed, and Moses had already gone back up the Mount to intercede for Israel. The wording implies a future punishment. On one level it prophesies of the Great White Throne judgment, wherein the church in the wilderness would be “saved yet so as through fire.” As believers, they are forgiven ultimately, but yet they will be judged with few or many lashes (Luke 12:48) according to their level of knowledge and accountability.
Yet there was also a more immediate punishment that is revealed in the statement, “My angel shall go before you.” Most people would find comfort at the prospect of being led by an angel of God. However, a few verses later in Exodus 33:4, we read,
4 When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments.
What “sad word” was this? It is found in the previous verses:
2 And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way.
In other words, God's personal presence was replaced by “an angel.” This was part of Israel's punishment for worshiping the golden calf. God did not reject them, but He refused to lead them personally, but only by an angel. What was the significance of this? Why did the people mourn? Isaiah gives us the answer in his commentary on this incident.
The Angel of His Presence
Isaiah 63:8-10 gives a brief history of Israel’s exodus and sin:
8 . . . So He became their Savior [from Egypt]. 9 In all their affliction He was afflicted [via the Passover Lamb, which was a type of Christ, as portrayed in Isaiah 53], and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them; and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. 10 But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy; He fought against them.
Isaiah said that “the angel of His presence saved them” by leading them out of Egypt. The Hebrew word paniym, or “presence,” is also the word for “face.” Hence, this was also the angel of God's FACE. This was the same angel that Jacob had wrestled at Peniel in Genesis 32. When Jacob asked the angel, “Please tell me your name,” the angel replied, “Why is it that you ask My name?” The implication is that Jacob ought to have discerned the name of the angel.
In fact, Jacob DID discern his name, for the next verse says,
30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”
The angel's name was Peniel, “God's Face” or “God's Presence,” so he named that place accordingly. This is the angel, Isaiah says, which saved Israel from Egypt. He represented the personal presence and face of God. This angel is referenced in Exodus 14:19, when Israel was being threatened by Pharaoh’s army at the shore of the Red Sea.
19 And the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.
The Angel of God’s Face was present in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night when they came out of Egypt. Again in 13:21 we read, “The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day” and “a pillar of fire by night.” The personal presence of God, then, was represented by the Angel Peniel.
Yet when the people rebelled against God by worshiping the golden calf, God became their “enemy,” Isaiah tells us. In other words, He punished Israel by withdrawing His personal presence and substituting another angel in His place, saying, “I will send an angel before you.” This was, therefore, an angel other than Peniel. It was to be a warring angel that would “drive out the Canaanite.”
Michael, the Warring Angel
It is plain from Revelation 12 that Michael is a warring angel. Likewise, Daniel 12:1 tells us that Michael was the angel standing guard over Israel. The context also shows that Michael is the angel of resurrection, for when he stands up, the dead follow his example.
Hence, when Israel was given this substitute angel, it meant that the church in the wilderness would have to enter the Promised Land through the Jordan River, signifying death and resurrection. Peniel would have led them directly into the Promised Land from Kadesh-barnea without having to cross the Jordan.
The New Testament continues this theme in the church under Pentecost, which too has had its wilderness experience as well as its golden calf. Most of the church will enter the Promise through death and resurrection.
At the end of the age, however, “we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). Both angels will play a role in that day, for “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), followed by the transforming change of “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” (4:15). Michael’s role is to be the mouthpiece of God to raise the dead. Peniel’s role is to transform the living overcomers without seeing death.
It is clear, then, that the people of Israel had reason to mourn over the loss of God's presence (Peniel). Even though they would be led by Michael, their path would take a different turn, and their entry into the Promised Land would also involve their death in the wilderness. Moses' advice is thus given in Deut. 10:12 and 13,
12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the Lord's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?
This is similar to the prophet Micah, who wrote in 6:8,
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
All of these things are the requirements of the law, which God has commanded “for your good.”