When dealing with the person of God you find yourself in deep waters very quickly.
We dealt in detail with the doctrine of the trinity, but in no way did we exhaust the topic.
Whenever the subject of God comes up there invariably comes questions about His nature and work. This is natural due to the vastness of the concepts revealed in the bible.
We made the point in various ways when dealing with the Trinity, that though God is beyond our comprehension, it does not mean He is unknowable. He has revealed Himself in and through the Word, and to a much lesser extent He is seen even in creation.
So, we embrace the fact that there are ways that He is beyond comprehension, but that He has also revealed Himself; and we are to know Him through and in that revelation.
In the end we must be content with what is revealed and be very cautious about the many questions that may come to mind.
This is what makes books like Job and Habakkuk so precious.
Both pull back the curtain of God’s dealings with humanity in rather shocking and humbling ways. We watch a whole different perspective about the invisible realm as we see Satan and God interact with Job in the middle. With Habakkuk, we watch a godly prophet become confronted with his limited understanding of God and how God acts.
The bible is clear that there are simply places we do not belong with our thinking and assertions.
Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that the secret things belong to God. They are not ours to know and only our arrogance leads us into those subjects.
“Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Thy works to another, And shall declare Thy mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Thy majesty, And on Thy wonderful works, I will meditate.”
Notice, His greatness is defined as unsearchable.
But also, we are to declare His mighty acts. And yet, this is not the same as understanding them.
And finally, we are to meditate on those acts, let them stretch us, and push us deeper into a sense of wonder and fear of the Lord.
In Romans 11 Paul unfolds God’s plan of redemption through His willful choice to harden the bulk of Israel. Why? So that instead He might bring salvation to the Gentiles.
Does this mean that God is finished with Israel? Paul says absolutely not.
He points out that if it was good for Gentiles to have Israel hardened how much better it will be for the Gentiles when God visits Israel yet again (12).
Paul even explains that what drives him as the apostle to the Gentiles is the desire to see God’s saving grace to be again manifested upon the nation of Israel again.
He warns the Gentiles not to be arrogant, assuming that they are now the favored ones by God for we cannot know all of God’s plans. Therefore we are called to remain in His kindness, but when the fullness of the Gentiles are gathered to God then God shall turn again to Israel.
What is interesting to note is at the end of chapter 11 Paul is left breathless as he considers the ways of God that he can understand. His summation?
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?" (Rom. 11:33-35)
Our point in this is simply that God is not easily boxed and contained and often we create problems when we approach Him in a simplistic way. And this is a common problem today. There is not a willingness to think carefully on any specific point of theology well.
With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to reflect on some passages that are often passed over without the level of notice they deserve.
We have clear statements in the bible about the fact that God is unseeable by us.
"No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." (Jn. 1:18)
"Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father." (Jn. 6:46)
But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" (Exod. 33:20)
Paul describes God as the “invisible God” in Colossians 1:15.
“ . . . [God] alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. . . ." (1 Tim. 6:16)
But we also know that Jesus Christ is the revelation of the Father to us. To see Him is to see the Father. This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is important to get your head around. The Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son. We cannot see the Father but the Son was seen.
We want to talk about some passages in the OT that give some additional glimpses to this unique reality that will help us grow in wonder of the Creatore.
The Invisible God made Visible:
Abraham is our first stop.
He was living in a place called Haran, according to Gen 12:4. But before he was there he had an encounter with God. In Acts 7, Stephen says that God appeared to Abraham before he was in Haran, while he was living in Mesopotamia.
In Gen. 12:6-7 we see twice the statement that God appeared to Abraham. In what way? What is meant by “appearing?”
We will argue that this was the Second person of the Trinity who appeared to him.
In Gen 15 we read about the covenant God made with him.
What is interesting is that in vs 1 and in vs 4 it doesn’t say that God appeared but rather something else. Listen to vss 1-7.
"After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great." Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir." Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it." (Gen. 15:1-7)
Notice that this is no simple vision nor is it merely auditory. The Word appears and speaks and leads him outside. Then the Word is specifically identified as being YHWH.
The apostle John appears to refer to this even in John 8:56 as when Abraham saw His day and was glad of it. This also harkens to John 1:1.
This early story tells us that somehow the invisible God is visible in some way that is more than merely a light or something.
In Genesis 18 we have another event in Abraham’s life. In vs 1 it says that YHWH appeared to Abraham, but the story develops that God is with two other men, presumably angelic beings.
Even more interesting is that Abraham then feeds them, showing they are much more than apparitions. What follows is then a conversation between YHWH and Abraham about the birth of his son and the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Never it is indicated that this is someone representing YHWH.
Samuel is another example of this idea:
"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent. (1 Sam. 3:1)
From there we read about YHWH calling out to Samuel over and over and he is confused.
Then listen to verse 10, “Then the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for Your servant is listening." (1 Sam. 3:10)
But the key verses are 19-21, “Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail. All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, because the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD." (1 Sam. 3:19-21)
So here we have the idea of the “word of the LORD” calling and then coming to Samuel. Also that He was with Samuel and that this revelation of Himself to Samuel was “by” the word of the LORD.
One more example is Jeremiah.
"The words of Jeremiah . . . to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah" (Jer. 1:1-2)
"Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, 'Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.'" (Jer. 1:9)
So vs. 2 you might just say that Jeremiah heard God. But by the time you get to vs. 9, you realize it was an actual appearance of YHWH because He actually touched Jeremiah.
Summary: So the OT is not silent on this idea of the invisible God being visible. We would argue that these are strong indications that God would appear to people, and not merely in some sort of vision or in merely some audible manner. Rather, He would come in a bodily form and was described and known as the Word of YHWH.
The Angel of the Lord:
Here we come to another way God would appear. This is the more common way the OT describes it, and it is no less fascinating.
The first example is that of poor Hagar, who’s the servant of Sarah (Sarai), and the mother of Ishmael, in Genesis 16.
She is dealt with in such a harsh way by Sarai that she flees into the wilderness. There she is in a difficult situation with no people and no place to go. But the story is not about her, nor Sarai, nor even Abraham. Rather, it’s about YHWH. And here we meet this unique figure - the angel of the LORD.
Genesis 16:7, 9-11 "Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur... Then the angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they shall be too many to count." The angel of the LORD said to her further, "Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.
Genesis 16:13 "Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, 'Thou art a God who sees'; for she said, 'Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?'"
So notice how it is the angel of the Lord who will multiply her descendants. And then he says that YHWH has heard her affliction. And then finally that she recognizes what and who she has seen and is amazed she survived because she has seen God.
The next stop is Genesis 22 and the offering of Isaac by Abraham.
Abraham has faithfully followed through with the command of God to offer his only son as a sacrifice. But he is stopped just short of the act by the angel of the Lord.
“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.'" (Gen. 22:11-12)
"Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, 'By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.'" (Gen. 22:15-18)
Some quick observations:
Here the angel does not appear, but rather He calls from heaven.
And yet, the way that He refers to Himself and God is indistinguishable.
In fact, in verse 16, He swears by Himself and refers to Himself as YHWH.
Even more interesting is that it is the Angel who reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant but in the first person. “I will” and “I will.” And it is premised upon the fact that Abraham had obeyed His voice.
So there is no way to extract the Angel of the Lord from YHWH, Himself.
Now we can look at Moses and the famous burning bush experience.
“And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, 'I must turn aside now, and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.' When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.' He said also, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exod. 3:2-6)
Then there is the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22. Balaam is headed to speak to the leaders of Moab to be paid to bring a curse upon Israel.
“But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him.” (Num. 22:22)
So then what happens is he starts beating the donkey because it won’t move. Apparently he could not see the angel of the Lord but the donkey could.
Then in verse 30 the Lord opens the mouth of the donkey to rebuke Balaam and then he is able to see the angel of the Lord.
After repenting we read this, “But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, 'Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I shall tell you.' So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.” (Num. 22:35)
Notice that the prophet will speak the “word” which the Angel will give him.
This connects back to the “Word of the Lord” that we just discussed earlier.
Finally, in verse 38 Balaam tells the Moabite leaders that he is only able to speak the words that God gives him.
What we have in these types of passages (and several others as well) are instances where the invisible God who is unapproachable and all-together glorious, appearing to people. So what do we do with them?
We simply argue that these are Christophanies.
The bible is clear that it is the Son - the second person of the Trinity, who is the Word and the revelation of God.
This is explicitly stated in Jn. 1:16-18.
“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
(the irony of v. 18 coming immediately after mentioning Moses in v. 17 [Ex. 33:11]).
This was not only in the NT with the first advent, but it happened throughout the OT as well.
This is who met Adam and Eve and walked with them in the Garden.
This is the one who ate with Abraham prior to sending the angels to warn Sodom and Gomorrah.
This is who wrestled with Jacob.
This is who guided Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of fire and a shining cloud.
And this is who Moses knew “face-to-face.”
But these were appearances. He was not yet human. He was not yet incarnate. He was still all-glorious and had not yet emptied Himself and took on the flesh of humanity. That would come later.
We hope that this small journey into the person of God was helpful and even a bit intriguing. It is our desire for all who love God to seek to expand their knowledge of Him in every way possible. The reason is that our worship is properly tied to how we perceive God.
So think on these things. As we read the bible, we should ask ourselves how God is seen in what we read. We should be constantly asking God to open your eyes a bit more every time we read.