THE APPEARANCES OF YAHWEH
The Rev’d. Allen Fisher
When the LORD Comes
For many today, one of the most beneficial things for them to do is to actually see what the Bible says about the God who saves us. So many today have this notion that when they get to heaven they are going to see an old, bearded white man on a throne, a 30-year-old Jew next to Him and maybe the likeness of a bird flapping around them. One of the first steps for correcting this is to review all, or most, of the other times Yahweh the LORD has come to earth in order to commune, lead, protect, and provide for His people.
The Old Testament records many such events of the LORD taking on visible forms to show Himself and be with His people – sometimes in human form, other times as a non-human form, and sometimes in visions. Out of the three forms of theophanies (God-manifestations/appearances of God) visions are probably the easiest for us to grasp, but the Bible makes it clear that the other two are equally appearances of Yahweh. All of them happened long before “the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991]111).
Letting Yahweh Be God
All of the passages that record these events begin to show us something about the LORD that will cause us to realize that our spiritual imaginations must be brought into line with God’s revelation of Himself. Like Job and his friends we have imagined God to be a certain way based off of contemporary religious education, but then when we actually see how God works we need to simply put our hands over our mouths (see Job 40:4). In this regard, when we see the LORD spoken of, or revealed, in the Old Testament it shows Him in two different personages – one invisible/ unbeholdable and the other visible/beholdable – both equally identified as the presence of Yahweh, which is where we get the concepts of God the Father and God the Son (cf.Gen.19:24; Amos 4:11).
The invisible/unbeholdable Father (Inner Will/Mind)
The invisible personage of Yahweh, most commonly known as the Father, is spoken of in passages like Exodus 33:20, which says, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (even the seraphim veil their faces, Isa.6:2), and not much changes in the New Testament. Paul described this personage as “unapproachable light” and John likewise says, “No one has ever seen [Him]” because “[He] is Spirit” (1Tim.6:16; 1Jhn.4:12; Jhn.4:24; 5:37; 6:46). The only things we know about this aspect of God is proclaimed, or demonstrated, indirectly by parts of His creation (cf.Rom.1:20; Ps.19:1-6; 18:7-9), for this aspect of God is essentially His fullness and completeness. In theological terms we best describe Him as He is with all the “omni’s” (omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc.), and because of this we read in John’s Gospel that “no one has ever seen God; the only God who exists in the heart of the invisible Father has made him known” (Jhn.1:18). This is where the visible personage of the LORD comes into reality.
The visible/beholdable Son (Outer Expression)
From the beginning of creation, no created entity (be it man or god) could ever behold the fullness of God, but in His goodness He made Himself beholdable to His created beings (cf.Jhn.1:18). We know this is the case because people since the beginning of creation have seen God and lived to tell about it. In the fullness of time, His people were able to understand that Yahweh had managed to do this through the personage of the Son by whom all things were created in the first place (Col.1:16), but before that revelation was made clear this visible-personage of Yahweh visited His people and judged the rebellious through both the human forms of “the Angel of the LORD,” “the Presence of the LORD,” and “the Word of the LORD” and in the nonhuman forms of natural phenomenon (i.e. a pillar of cloud and fire). Nonetheless, in whatever manifestation, “he is the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15) maintaining perfect unity with the Father (cf.Jhn.5:16-23). Here are some of the instances the Son appears before the Incarnation:
[H.F.] “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God” (Gen.3:8).
[H.F.] “1And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, ‘I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect…’ 22 And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham” (Gen.17:1,22).
[H.F.] “1The LORD appeared to Abraham [with two others] by the oaks of Mamre… 8And Abraham stood by them under the tree while they ate…” (Gen.18:1-33).
[V. of H.F.] “12And Jacob dreamed… 13 And behold, the LORD stood above [the ladder]…” (Gen.28:12-14; see with 31:11).
[H.F.] “24And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him…30So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Gen.32:24-30).
[N.H.F.] “2The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush… 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod.3:1-6).
[N.H.F.] “21 The LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light… 22[that] did not depart from before the people” (Exod.13:21-22; cf. Exod.14:19, 24; 33:9-10; Num.12:5; 14:14; Deut.31:15; Neh.9:12; Ps.99:7).
[H.F.] “9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel… 11they beheld God, and ate and drank” (Exod.24:1-11).
[H.F.] “12 And the LORD said to Moses… 18And he gave to Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exod.31:12-18; comp.Dan.5:5).
[H.F.] “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod.33:11; see also Num.12:6-8 & Deut.4:12-15).
[H.F.] “21The LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Exod.33:16-23).
[H.F.] “1Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers’” (Jdgs.2:1-5).
[H.F.] “11Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah… [and] 12appeared to [Gideon] (Jdgs.6:11-24; note the presence of both Yahweh and His angel simultaneously).
[H.F.] “21 The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (Judg.13:21-22).
[H.F./V.] “10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’… 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his Word.” (1Sam.3:10,21; note the Word appears, stands, and talks to Samuel).
[V.] “1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne” (Isaiah 6).
[V.] “1 The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezek.1)
[H.F.] “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Dan.3:25).
[V.] “1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed (Dan.7).
[By His Name] “You shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there” (Deut.12:5; cf.Ps.102:15; Isa.30:27; 59:19).
The affectual/revealing Spirit (Influencing Energy)
The Spirit is the energy that manifests the visible image of the invisible God. When the omnipresent becomes a localized expression, the Spirit is the energy that brings forth the fullness of deity into bodily form (Col.2:9). The life Jesus lived and modelled demonstrate how perfect at-one-ness with the Father by the Spirit is done. The Incarnation happened first providing humanity the model, then Pentecost (the whole reason He ascended) happened providing humanity the means to model the Incarnation ourselves. The example He leaves us, the power He offers us, and the school for living He calls us to join is everything we need to begin letting the Holy Spirit become such a part of our lives that we can fulfill God’s will in our personal lives and worlds.
Seeing God Clearly
Getting God correct requires the revelations the LORD has provided His people throughout the centuries, because there, if we slow down and pay attention, can see that the LORD has chosen to reveal Himself in two different but equal personages (one unbeholdable and the other beholdable). Now, of course, the clearest revelation of the LORD is given to humanity by Jesus – the unique Son – but most people need to understand that this unique Son had been coming to earth long before He took on the name “Jesus.”
Furthermore, in those places where the LORD physically manifests Himself to His people, either in bodily or non-bodily form, He does not do so for small talk. Every manifestation is a part of His mission to roll back all evil from His creation. While respecting the free regency of His creatures (those physical and those spiritual), He still shows Himself stepping in and taking things into His own Hands if you will. This mission required a people, a nation, and a Messiah to bring His blessing back into a world that had rebelled, fallen into corruption, and subsequently been disinherited from God’s blessing. So, in survey form, we can see that:
- Following the rebellion of man (Gen.3), the sons of God (Gen.6:1-4), and the nations (Gen.11), the LORD came in bodily form to eat with Abraham and judge the wicked nations that threatened His covenant people’s faithfulness, demonstrating that He would have peace with Abraham and judge those who opposed His plan/ways (Gen.18).
- The LORD wrestled with Jacob making sure to bring him into line showing him where true blessing was to come from and where it was to be sought (Gen.32:24-30).
- The LORD took on the form of a flame in a bush to show He had come down to deliver His new nation from slavery to safety (Exod.3:1-6).
- The LORD took on the protective form of a fiery/cloudy pillar in order to protect His people from threats and lead them to where they could serve Him (Exod.13:21-22).
- The LORD walked before the elders of Israel in bodily form in order to confirm His covenant of peace with His people (Exod.24:1-11).
- The LORD met “face to face” with Moses in order to institute a way of life and blessing for His people in a hostile and rebelliously wicked world (Exod.31:12-18;33:11).
- The LORD gloriously walked before Moses in bodily form to give confidence to His covenant representative and show He would indeed dwell with His people (Ex.33:16-23).
- The LORD came down bodily to confront His people’s apostasy (Jdgs.2:1-5).
- The LORD appeared bodily to raise up deliverers for His people (Jdg.6:11-24;13:21-22).
- The LORD came as the Word and stood calling for and talking to Samuel (1Sam.3:10, 21; see also verses 1,7,19-21 and compare Gen.15:1-2; Jer.1:4,6,9).
- The LORD came in bodily form in the furnace to show His people He isn’t a localized deity but would be with His people wherever they found themselves (Dan.3:25).