In Exodus 23:21, why won’t the angel forgive?
There are a couple of important points to make about this angel in Exodus 23:21. As you may have guessed, there are different types of angels in the Old Testament. The word, “angel” means “messenger.” Even a human being can be a messenger.
The word for angel typically refers to a celestial or heavenly being of some sort. Generally, these may be part of God’s divine counsel (Psalm 86:2 and others). Angels serve God and do whatever he wants them to do. We know there are at least two types of angels in the Bible.
Gabriel is a messenger angel for the Lord, delivering his messages to humanity. Michael is an archangel in the New Testament to is also mentioned in the Old Testament as one who fights battles for God.
But the angel in Exodus 23:21 is a different type of angel. This may be referred to as the angel of the Lord. He has special capabilities that no other angel has, namely two. The first is that he is able to forgive or not forgive. The second is that he carries “the Name” of God.
Actually, let’s start with the Name. I keep capitalizing this because the Name is another way of referring to God himself and his presence. Throughout the Old Testament and some of the New Testament, there are times that “the Name” stands in as a reference for God himself.
Second, the angel has the ability to forgive. In the New Testament, the Pharisees are correct in saying that no one can forgive sins but God (Mark 2:7). Forgiveness is only in the power of God’s hands as far as sins go.
So after hearing these pieces of evidence, you can guess who I’m about to tell you the angel really is. This angel is none other than the presence of God himself, Jesus in pre-incarnate form in the Old Testament. Scholars call them theophanies, or, “Showings of God.”
Jesus appears at certain times as the angel of the Lord throughout the Old Testament. You always know it is Jesus when he accepts worship as the angel of the Lord. Otherwise, angels refused to be worshiped by human beings.
Now for the other part of this question. Why does this angel refuse to forgive the Israelites? God, the angel, would not forgive the people of their transgressions, a better word may be pardon, because the rebellion results in idolatry. He does not forgive when his people, the nation of Israel, turn against him and follow false gods.
God sent his people free and made them his people on earth to represent him. When they turn away from him, they are no longer his people. So he will not accept the rebellion against him. It is because of him that they are free and receive all of his blessings, including the Promised Land he would give them.