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Transcendence-immanence

Let us now study some of the instances in which God draws near to man. In the following section I quote some extracts from a transcript of a message I gave about a year ago to a group of church leaders.[32] The following extracts from that mess­age are edited and condensed for inclusion in this study, but the colloquial style is retained and not re-written in a more literary form:

— Start of Transcribed Excerpt —

Let us now try to understand Yahweh God as both immanent and transcendent in the Biblical sense of these terms, but not trans­cendent in the Greek sense of the word: a “dehumanized” God. Try to understand Him as immanent in the sense that “God is very near”, or in the words of Jacob’s awe-filled experience in Genesis 28.16, “Truly, Yahweh is in this place and I did not know!” (NJB) Try to re-read the Bible one more time, without your old concept of a transcendent God high up and far away in the heavens. Read it again and see what it is that you are reading. When I read it again, I was surprised by what I had read. Let’s try a bit of reading in Genesis. Let’s go back to Genesis and see if you really know your Bible as well as you may think you do. After all, you are in the ministry this long; surely you know your Bible, right? Go back to Genesis 1 to see whether God is that remote, that transcendent, that far away. Now, in verse 27 it says:

Gen 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (RSV)

“God created man in his own image”. Why would you create a person in your own image? Presumably it is so that you can com­municate with the person, is it not? Can you think of any other reason why God would create us in His image? What else but to commune with us?

And then it goes on. The next thing which I find very touching and which had never struck me before, is this: After God had created man, what was the first thing He did? He blessed them. This had never struck me before; I seem to have never seen this verse before. He blessed them! That’s the first thing God did to man. He blessed us. Look at verse 28:

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28, RSV)

Is God remote? Is He distant? According to the Greek idea of God, He doesn’t care much about earthly affairs. Not at all! But having created them, the first thing He does is to bless them. After that, He keeps on talking to them. Have you noticed that? Now, would a God who is very remote even bother to talk to the creatures He has made? In the next verse we read:

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. (Gen 1:29, NRSV)

And God said…” and you know what? I marked all these places in Genesis where it says, “and God said”, and I was amazed. Genesis was beginning to turn red with my markings of “and God said.” God spoke a lot to man! Did anybody listen to Him? God is still speaking to us today. And so, right from the beginning, He blessed us and spoke to us. In verse 7 of the next chapter, more detail is given:

Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Gen 2:7, NRSV)

Notice the words “the LORD (YHWH) God”—the LORD God. The first occur­rence of Yahweh is seen in verse 4, “…the LORD God made earth and heaven”—Yahweh God. Now, you can learn to stop saying just Lord, because with the word “Lord” you don’t know who you’re talking about, whether it’s the Father or the Son or someone else. Remember that every occurrence of the capitalized word LORD is Yahweh. “And Yahweh God made...”. So which God are we talking about? The God that is being referred to here is Yahweh. Why use the two words “Yahweh God” together? Because the Scripture wants to specify which God we are talking about: not the god of the Babylon­ians, nor the god of the Assyrians, but Yahweh God.

Chapter 2 verse 7, “Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.” Notice the word “formed”. What does it mean? To give shape to something. It is the word used in the Hebrew Old Testament for a potter who is forming the clay. Think of this: He did not just say the words, “Man, come into existence”, thereby bringing him into existence by a word of command (as He did with other things in Genesis 1) such that man immediately became a human being walking around with eyes, a nose and a mouth, and hair that stands up because he hadn’t got the chance to comb it yet. No, God took this clay, this mud, and formed it with His own hands. How does a potter form the clay? With his own hands! Here the word “formed” is specifically and purposely chosen. He formed the man. The shape of the man is formed by the very fingers of God. And if we didn’t get the point, it is repeated at the end of verse 8:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Gen 2:8)

…he placed (into the garden) the man whom he had formed.” There is the word again. Chapter 1 made the general statement that God created man. But now it tells us what that creating of man involved: Yahweh took the mud and, like an artist, carefully shaped his nose, his eyes, his ears. Every part of his body was made with the fingers of God. And Adam was formed. We too were formed, in Adam, by God’s fingers. Think about it. No word in the Bible is wasted. No word is put there for no reason. And if we don’t bother to look at what the word means, we won’t get the point. Our hair didn’t suddenly appear on our heads. Do you remember what the Lord Jesus said? “not a hair of your head will fall to the ground without your Father” (cf. Mt.10.29-31). He created every hair on your head. And how many strands of hair drop off every day when you comb it? How much does God care? How much does Yahweh care? We may not care too much about small things like sparrows (Mt.10.29), or the strands of hair that fall on the ground, but God does.

Is God transcendent in the sense that He is far away? Not accord­ing to the Bible. Yahweh cares about us because He was the one who formed us. That’s the beauty of it. Is man of any value? Well, God took the time to form man. How long does it take a potter to make a vessel? Not very long actually, because a vessel is relatively simple to make. But have you ever seen an intricate carving which took an artist weeks or months to carve?

In China I watched a program about the skills involved in the carving of ivory (which was legally obtained, or else it probably wouldn’t have been shown on state TV). The beautiful and exquis­itely de­tailed artwork could almost be described as ‘fantastic’. One such work could occupy the artist for weeks or months, depending on how detailed the work is and how many balls, one within another, were to be carved. They were all formed from a single piece of ivory. I didn’t know that there could be as many as 34 balls within the one ball. Can you imagine the skill and work that goes into carving this ball—34 layers—one within the other, each able to rotate within the next? I am told that 34 is the absolute maximum that has ever been achieved. A lesser work may have only 4 or 5 free floating balls within it. As remarkable as this is, just think how incomparably more complex is the living human body which Yahweh God made. Making it could have taken some considerable amount of time. The intricate details! The wonderful workmanship!

Contemplating these things, the Psalmist exclaims, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are won­derful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139.14, NIV) We can read this simply as an elated expression of praise and admiration for Yahweh’s works in the course of meditating upon it, or, on a higher level, it could express the elevation of the spirit of one who is carried into communion with Yahweh through having been granted a profound spiritual perception of the wonder of His Person as revealed in His works.

I say this because I was given such an experience—unexpect­edly—of Yahweh’s presence when, on one occasion, I was contem­plating His creation of man and some of His other wonderful deeds. I would suppose that this is what His Word is meant to accomplish for every one of us, namely, to lead us into an experience of Him as the living, loving, and creative God.

If God didn’t care about man, why would He waste time on us? Why doesn’t He just speak His almighty word, and presto, a man comes into existence? But that’s not what the word “formed” means. Presumably he could have done it that way, but He chose not to. Clearly the Genesis account shows how much God cares about man.

For this reason, too, God constantly speaks to man, and notice here, “the LORD God”—Yahweh Godcommanded”:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; (Gen 2:16, RSV)

Yahweh provided the food that man needed. He cares about what is good for man, so He provided him a companion:

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18, NASB)

More than that, Yahweh Himself comes to visit them, to be with them.

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:8, NRSV)

God was walking in the garden. What an amazing statement! What does He walk in the garden for? I mean, He’s got the whole of heaven to be in and He chooses to walk in the garden. Why? Well, if it’s not to commune with man, then he would have nothing to do in the garden. He, the almighty God, is indeed transcendent but not solely trans­cendent. In the Old Testament, the transcend­ence of God is spoken of much later on, as we shall see. But it begins with His immanence. He walks in the garden—we read about it and do not understand. It says that Adam and Eve had sinned, and they suddenly realized that they were naked. They tried to sew some fig leaves together, not exactly artwork I suppose, but quite an interesting way to get dressed. And then, “They heard ... God walking in the garden”. Note carefully the text: “They heard the sound of Yahweh”.

Let’s stop and think about that. Do we ever read our Bibles with any attention? Can you imagine that? Nowadays we wear shoes that make almost no sound. With these shoes I am wearing now, I can walk up to a person and he doesn’t hear me coming. But they heard Yahweh—“the sound of Yahweh”—walking in the garden. How did they manage to hear Him? Obviously Yahweh was not walking softly, softly, so that He could steal up on them and say “Boo!” and they jump! You can actually hear Him coming. Maybe it’s the sound of the leaves on the ground. Maybe it’s the sound of the grass that He is walking on. I presume they didn’t have paved roads in the Garden of Eden, on which you could walk with rubber-soled shoes that don’t make a sound. He is walking, and they hear Him coming.

Now, a God who is transcendent and “light as air” would surely make no sound as He walks on the ground, right? Can you imagine a ghost walking and making a boom-boom sound? Is it a special kind of ghost? You may think that God is just floating through the air, but no, He walks on the ground in such a way that there is contact with the ground. And this creates a sound of something moving, maybe the brushes, maybe the leaves of the trees. They heard Him coming and they hid themselves. If God had sneaked up on them, they wouldn’t have had a chance to hide; it would be like treating them as children—so cute and so sweet. Do you think God doesn’t know where you are, and that you can play hide and seek with Him? He comes along and, like a loving father, He says, “Adam! Eve! Where are you?” An all-knowing, omniscient God doesn’t know where they are? That must be a joke. But He relates to us at our level, sort of plays our game, if you like, as if to say, “You want to hide? Okay, I’ll play seek.” It’s really remark­able. And in case we miss that statement about “heard the sound of him”, it is stressed again in verse 10:

He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10, NRSV)

They could actually hear God walking in the garden? Do we ever think on these things? No, we were taught that God is transcend­ent and that we must not read this literally. It is all metaphor and sym­bolic language. But a symbol of what? Can you tell me what it is a symbol of? If it is a symbol, it must symbolize something. Why can’t we just read what is written there?

Going back to chapter 2 verse 8, we might not have noticed something else there. There it says, “Yahweh God planted a garden”. Think about it. He is doing the work of a gardener or farmer! Yahweh God planted a garden. It did not come into being simply by His “speaking the word”. He brought light into being, He brought the creation into being, with a word, but now He is working in the garden. Amazing! If this is symbolic of something, would you kindly tell me what it is symbolic of? And He planted a garden for whom? For man! He fashioned man into being, then He planted a beautiful garden for him. But we are told that what we read about God and His actions should not be taken literally. He is all transcendent and therefore somewhere else. Transcendent? What are we doing? Are we dismiss­ing God from His creation? That’s what we have been doing all the time because of the corrupted teaching we have received. God planted a garden (or assisted by angels, as some would have it)—can you imagine that? It means that He had to plan it and design it. He made a garden and put man there to enjoy it:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Gen 2:8, NRSV)

Then we come to the part about God walking in the garden and their attempt to hide from Him, as seen in the words “from the pre­sence of the LORD God” in chapter 3 verse 8:

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:8, NRSV)

How do you hide from an omnipresent God? Yet they tried to hide from Him anyway. Did they suppose that God was transcendent, high up in the heavens, and was unaware of what they had been doing on earth, so they could still try to hide from Him? They hadn’t read Psalm 139!

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. (Ps 139:7-8, NASB)

Sinners, to the extent that they believe in God at all, would undoubt­edly prefer to believe that He is transcendent, far away from human affairs, and does not concern Himself with their sins. Such an idea of transcendence would be a good way to hide from God, at least in the sinner’s mind. But even after Adam and Eve had sinned, we continue to see the words “Yahweh said”. He con­tinues to talk to this couple. God still talks to man after he has sinned; He mercifully did not completely close the door on com­municating with man.

And then what happens in chapter 4? Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy because Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and his was not. When I re-thought this whole passage, freeing myself from the theological concepts I had been taught from the beginning, I began to see things there which I hadn’t seen before. For example we read,

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?” (Gen 4:6)

Here it does not speak of “LORD God” but simply “LORD” (Yahweh). Yahweh says to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?” Then He goes on to warn him that if he does well, he will be accepted; but if he doesn’t, his desires will master him. Then Cain told Abel about what God had said to him. The story goes on to say that Cain, out in the field where he thought nobody was watching, killed Abel. Wicked guy! The first murderer. But wait, there’s something else. The account goes on to say that even after Cain had murdered his brother, Yahweh continues to talk to him. Have you noticed this? If Cain is such an evil person, why is Yahweh talking to him? In the following passage, we see that Yahweh (again the word “God” does not appear) talks to Cain:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Gen.4.9-10, NRSV)

That’s quite a conversation with Cain. And the amazing thing is that Yahweh protects Cain from being killed. Why would Yahweh do this? Doesn’t the Law say that if you kill someone, you must pay for it with your own life? That’s the Law of Yahweh. Yet Yahweh protects Cain from death, by putting a mark on him so that nobody will kill him:

Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. (Gen 4:15, NRSV)

Yahweh spoke to Cain. Notice again that “God” does not appear, so the focus is on the name “Yahweh” alone. Yahweh said to Cain: “Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance”. What a pro­tection He puts on Cain! But Cain’s a murderer. Why doesn’t some­body in Sunday school explain to us why Cain is protected? But it reminds us of someone who, in the New Testament, was called a friend of sinners, presumably including murderers. Jesus was indeed called a friend of sinners (Mt.11.19; Lk.7.34). How amazing!

Yahweh asked Cain, “Why are you angry?” God had rejected his offering and that disturbed him so much. He could not cope with Yahweh’s rejection. Cain took the rejection of his offering as an indi­cation that Yahweh had rejected him altogether. He could not accept being rejected by Yahweh. He was so desperate that it drove him quite insane, so that he killed Abel. Do you get what I’m saying? If God rejects you, does that worry you? Maybe, maybe not. The average person on the street would hardly be worried about being rejected by God. But Cain was so disturbed by Yahweh’s rejection that he couldn’t take it.

Now why should it disturb him that Yahweh didn’t accept him? Is there any reason but that he loved Yahweh? Can you think of another reason? You wouldn’t endure being rejected by somebody you love, would you? If you are rejected by someone who hates you, you couldn’t care less; you reject him back. But if you are rejected by someone who loves you or whom you love, you can’t cope with that. Some people commit suicide over rejection. Cain didn’t commit suicide, but he killed his brother instead. He was jealous because Abel was accepted. But jealousy comes from love, does it not?

In other words, Cain committed murder out of love, which is what people still do today. If somebody loves the girl you love, you may want to go and kill that guy so you can have the girl all to yourself. Cain wants Yahweh’s love and acceptance, but Yahweh doesn’t accept him. He accepts Abel instead! That won’t do, so remove Abel! I can’t think of any other explanation for God’s sparing Cain. God knew his heart. He knew that Cain loved Him, but loved Him in the wrong way. Otherwise God would have con­signed him to death for having killed his brother. But God put such a protection on him that anybody who dares to touch Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance. That’s frightening. What other pur­pose could there be in sparing Cain from immediate death than to give him the chance to repent of what he had done, and thus to be saved? Yahweh cares even for the worst sinner.

Let’s backtrack a bit. Adam and Eve too had sinned grievously. And what did Yahweh do? Why didn’t He immediately put them to death? After all, He had warned them, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”. Yet He doesn’t put them to death. What did He do instead? He did something extraordinary. Why I couldn’t see all this in the past, I don’t understand.

And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. (Gen 3:21, NRSV)

Read it again: Yahweh himself made garments! First He was a gar­dener, now He is a tailor! But more than a tailor. How do you get skins from animals? Well, you have to kill an animal to get its skin. You have to shed its blood. Do you get the picture? Yahweh was Himself the priest! The animals He had created, He slew in order to take their skins. He made garments from them as tailor and priest, and covered Adam and Eve. Covered! Do you know what the word atonement in the Old Testament means? It means “covered”. The Hebrew word for “cover” is the word we translate as “atonement, to atone for”. He covered their sins with the blood of these animals, taking the skins and covering them.

Yahweh is amazing. But is this too hard to swallow? Too down to earth and too bloody? We are told that He’s transcendent, that He doesn’t do such things as killing animals. But if you don’t kill an animal, how can you get the skin to make a garment? The blood of the animal has to be shed in order to get the skin. Certainly no one enjoys killing innocent animals. But that’s what the priests did in the temple. They slaughtered the animals and offered atonement (covering) for the sins of the people with the blood of the animals.

All this was already seen in this early Bible account. It’s not as though the Old Testament Law and the sacrificial system sprang out of nowhere. It was already there in Genesis in seed form. Even more amazing, we now realize that all this foreshadowed God’s plan of salvation for mankind which He accomplished when He “gave up His own Son for us all” (Ro.8.32), ransoming us “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1Pet.1.19).

Does it bring tears to our eyes to think that Adam and Eve—whom Yahweh formed with His own fingers, and for whom He planted a garden and gave this wonderful life in the garden—that they could go and sin? If Yahweh had been like most people (so perhaps He is transcendent in the sense of not being like most human beings in character), He would have blown up in anger: “Okay, I’m done with the two of you.” No, instead He takes an animal, slaughters it, and takes its skin to cover Adam and Eve. That’s amazing. But aren’t we reading it too literally? Can we read it in a non-literal or symbolic way which brings out the rich mean­ing of the passage? I haven’t found a way, have you?

What Yahweh did to cover and protect Cain from death was not something new. He had already done that kind of thing for Cain’s parents. He had provided a covering, an atonement, for Adam and Eve. Of course He couldn’t allow them to stay in the garden. They had to face certain serious consequences for their sins. They had to leave the garden, but they did so in the covering which Yahweh had given them to wear. For the rest of their lives these garments would remind them, “Yahweh was merciful to us. We did not die on the day we sinned; instead Yahweh clothed us and covered us in His mercy.”

Do you think Yahweh is very far, remote in the heavens? Or that only Jesus is very near? What have we learned about God? What have we learned about Yahweh? Not much? How close can Yahweh be? The love for sinners is not something new. It didn’t first come with Jesus. It came long, long before, right from the Garden of Eden. That is the beauty of Yahweh. Why was all this hidden from us? Was it because we thought that only Jesus is a friend of sinners who saves us from a wrathful God? If so, would the term “God our Savior” (1Tim.1.1; Tit.1.3, etc) have any meaning for us? Let’s begin to see how different from ours is the concept of Yahweh in the Old Testament, a God who is very close and very caring, who watches over us. And when we sin, He does not always condemn us, does He? He himself prepared a way by which He covered our sins.

When we come to chapter 6 of Genesis, we see that man is becoming thoroughly corrupted by his sins. But there is still one person that Yahweh can communicate with, and that is Noah. With mankind falling increasingly under the dominion of sin, we find that Yahweh still tries to communicate with man, but can do so only with certain individuals who are still open to Him, who have an ear that listens to Him, whose heart is what is called perfect in relation to Him—perfect in complete openness to Him. “And Noah found favor” it says in chapter 6 verse 8, “in the eyes of Yahweh.”

And then it goes on to say that Yahweh spoke to Noah. And oh, He spoke a lot with Noah. I counted over 30 verses in which Yahweh speaks to Noah. Yahweh kept on communicating with Noah. Doesn’t that tell us how close He was to Noah, and Noah to Him?

Then the floods came to wash away the awful corruption that had polluted the earth. Yes, Yahweh is holy. He will forgive sin but there is a measure of sin which, once you fill it up, He cannot do anything more about it. It is beyond rescue. And when people are beyond res­cue, there is nothing left for Yahweh to do but to deal with them in judgment. But even in judgment He shows mercy: there is still Noah and his family. You would remember that Noah built this huge ark that looks like a huge box, that floated on the water with pairs of animals of all kinds. It’s a cute story, right? But did you see what Yahweh did when Noah and all these animals had gone in into the ark and were ready to face the coming flood?

Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the LORD closed it behind him. (Gen 7:16, NASB)

Yahweh closed the door behind him. Have you ever noticed these words? This is amazing! He planted a garden, He made clothes. Like a priest He made atonement for the sins of Adam and Eve. Like a builder He designed an ark for Noah to build, in order to save Noah, his family, and a multitude of animals. But who shut the door of the ark? Why not let Noah close the door? Was it too big and heavy for Noah? Whatever the reason, Yahweh put the final touch on this huge saving operation: He himself shut the door of the ark. Or do we think that it would have been more appro­priate that He appoint an angel to do this sort of thing, rather than stooping to do it Himself? Such a thought would show that we don’t really know the Yahweh who is revealed in the Bible. The kings and presidents of this world do not open or shut doors for their subordinates, but that is precisely the point: Yahweh is not like them. His character was perfectly exem­plified in Jesus (“the image of God”, 2Cor.4.4), who not only washed his disciples’ feet and cooked breakfast for them by the Lake of Galilee even after his resurrection (Jo.21.9,12,13), but offered up himself on the cross for their salvation. As for shutting the door of the ark, it is some­what like a father standing at the door to say goodbye to the children going off to school in the morning.

These little touches show something beautiful about Yahweh. There is no detail that He has overlooked. He cares. Why does this verse mention that Yahweh closed the ark? It’s simply because that’s what He did. And why did He do it? Because He cared! Is there any other reason for what He did? Perhaps He wanted to make sure that the water won’t get into the ark and drown them, so He had to make sure the door was closed properly. It’s like when you’re taking your kids in a car, you make sure the door is closed properly for their safety. If we may say so reverently, all this reveals something very sweet about Yahweh. The way He does things is really amazing. If the Bible were of purely human origin, it would be hard to imagine that anyone would have dared portray God in this way.

As we go on in Genesis, who is the next person God talks to? There were others who walked with God. We won’t go in detail about Enoch, who walked with God for 300 years and was raptured. What does walking with God mean on Enoch’s part? Walking for 300 years! It wasn’t just a few days. For 300 years he walked with Yahweh. What an experience, what a life! No wonder he was lifted up!

Then Abraham came into the scene. He is known as the friend of Yahweh. Does God need a friend? Does He need you and me? No, He doesn’t need us, but He wants us to be friends; it’s not that He needs us. God finds a friend in Abraham. This whole story is truly beautiful: Abraham is sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18). He is probably trying to catch some breeze at the door of the tent. And he sees three men walking towards him. Being the gracious person that he is, he gets out of his tent and bows with his face to the ground, in much the same way as Muslims pray today. Abraham has his face to the ground as he welcomes the three men. And one of them turns out to be Yahweh, as the account reveals.

Then comes the amazing story in which Abraham bargains with Yahweh over Sodom which is about to be destroyed. “Now, if there are 50 good people, will you spare Sodom?” “Sorry, don’t be angry with me, Yahweh, but what about 40?” He is bargaining with Yahweh like he’s in an oriental market. And Yahweh is patiently going along with him. “Yahweh, please, don’t be angry with me. Will you spare Sodom for 30?” Yahweh says, “Yes, 30, I will.” One more time: “20?” “Yes.” “Please, please, bear with me, but how about 10?” He said, “Yes, 10.” And poor Abraham does not dare to go any lower than ten. Even when you bargain in the market, you have to be reasonable. I mean, if he is asking for $100, do you give him $2? Come on, don’t be ridiculous. You can bargain down from 50 to 30 and 20 and finally 10. Come on, it’s a whole city—you can’t go lower than 10, right? But Yahweh says, “Yes, even 10”. Abraham thinks, “Okay I’m content. Surely there must be at least ten good people in the city of Sodom.”

But there were not even ten. And even if Abraham had gone any lower, it wouldn’t have helped because there was only one: Lot. That doesn’t say much for Lot’s wife; she turned into a pillar of salt afterwards. There was no decent person left in all of Sodom except one. Can you imagine that? This sweet story about Abraham bar­gaining with Yahweh brings out His incredible patience! What makes us think of Him as a raging judge, a wrathful God up there, ready to destroy all sinners? Moreover, are sinners in fact fright­ened into repentance by our preaching the wrath of God? Or does God not rather draw us with His love, as can be seen in the gospels? He hardly tries to frighten us by His power. Do sinners really fear, or are they drawn more by love?

As we look at the panoramic picture of Yahweh in his relation­ship to man as seen in the Bible, we begin to discover that, as in the case of Sodom, the righteous are so few that there’s almost nobody for Yahweh to talk to. Nobody! Then Moses appeared on the scene, and it says that God talked with him face to face (Ex.33.11; Dt.34.10). Isn’t that beautiful? And there you see the account of how Yahweh God took the people—the Israelites—out of Egypt. What you see again is not a God who is transcendent in the sense of being remote, but a God who is constantly relating to the Israelites. Where? In a pillar of cloud, in a pillar of fire, He travels with them in the desert. While they walk, He walks with them in the desert, as a shepherd with his sheep as described in the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. He led them through the wild­erness as a shepherd leads his sheep. If you go to the wilderness in the Middle East today, you can still see shepherds leading their sheep.

And then He met with the people to commune with them. Do you remember how Yahweh came down on Mount Sinai? The whole mountain burned with fire! He revealed the greatness of His majesty and power to the multitudes—some two million Israelites in the wilderness—so that this homeless people wandering in the wilderness won’t need to fear for their future as they go forward under Yahweh’s leadership and under His constant care and prov­ision for their daily needs (“give us this day our daily bread”). How do you feed two million people in the desert? Yahweh provided the bread, the manna, daily. How else could two million people be fed in the desert? From a human point of view, the logistics of supplying for the needs of such a multitude is mind-boggling. What about water? The most desperately needed thing in the desert is water, if they are not to die of thirst in the scorching heat. And Yahweh saw to that need as well. He did this over a period of 40 years! Try leading two million people through the desert today and see how far you will get. You will soon realize that Yahweh did an amazing miracle, not just for a few days but for 40 years. More­over, He did all this for a stubborn and disobedient people who incessantly tried His patience. The prophet Micah put it beauti­fully: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over trans­gression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” (Mic.7.18)

This is clearly echoed in the New Testament. The feeding of the 5,000 or the feeding of the 4,000—what does it call to mind? It calls to mind what Yahweh did in the wilderness for His people. And Jesus was doing the very thing that Yahweh had been doing in the Old Testament. Or more precisely, Yahweh was doing through Jesus what He had been doing in the Old Testament. Wonderful! The same is true regarding water, but on the spiritual level. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If you had asked me for water, I would have given you water to drink that would well up within you into a fountain of living water” (Jo.4:10,14). It will keep on flowing like a river. Wonderful! John 6 refers to the events in the wild­erness, “I am the bread (manna) that Yahweh sent down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you won’t die. But those in the wilderness died. If you eat of this spiritual bread that Yahweh gives you—I being that bread—you will live forever.” (cf. Jo.6.51,58) He still provides the manna of life for those who, in the present time, look to Him for that provision.

In the wilderness, miracles occurred daily which the Israelites could see. So the miracle accounts in the gospels are not some­thing altogether new, though they were generally on a much smaller scale as compared to what happened in the wilderness (e.g. feeding 5000 as compared to feeding two million). These were not meant to match the scale of what had taken place in the wilder­ness, but to remind the people of what Yahweh had accomplished for His people in the past, thereby indicating that in some signifi­cant way Yahweh has again come to His people in the person of Jesus Christ, and is again doing the things they had heard were done by Him before.

As we go on from Genesis through the Old Testament, we see that there are gradually fewer and fewer people who commune with Yahweh or with whom He is able to communicate. That’s not because Yahweh was becoming less inclined to communicate with people, but because people were apparently becoming less and less sensitive to Him. After Moses it was a long time before an­other prophet of some spiritual stature appeared, but none com­muned with Yahweh with the kind of intimacy (“face to face”) which characterized Moses’ relation­ship with Him—that is, until Jesus came.

Regarding Moses, I want to show you another little touch that is quite remarkable. You know that the Torah, the five books of the Law, ends with Deuteronomy. The account of Moses’ death was added to the end of Deuteronomy. He was 120 years old, but he still had his health and strength, and was not sick. Apparently it is not always necessary for God’s people to fall sick in order to die. When the time comes, they just “fall asleep”, as one preacher said about his father who had been a faithful servant of the Lord. He was not known to have any sickness, but when his time came, he just sat in his chair. His head bowed down and he went to be with the Lord. That’s wonderful.

And so it was that “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated” (Dt.34.7). His work was complete, his time had come, so Moses died or simply “fell asleep”. But notice that there is again that remarkable touch about Yahweh that we tend to miss. What is that little touch? He took Moses away, but of course his body stayed on earth. So what happened to the body? You would remember that Moses died by himself, alone, on Mount Pisgah from which he looked into the Promised Land but which he was not permitted to enter because of just one serious failure in his life. Yet Moses was not alone by himself, for Yahweh was with His faithful servant right to the end. It says in Deut.34:6,

And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows where his grave is to this day.

Have you noticed the four little words: “And He buried him.” And who is “He”? Who else but Yahweh? This is amazing. Think of it again: He forms Adam and Eve like a potter; He plants a garden like a gardener; He slays an animal like a priest; He makes garments like a tailor and covers Adam and Eve, and so on it goes. At the end He personally buries His friend on a mountain—a final act of love and a final tribute to Moses’ earthly ministry.

Of course we can read the whole account in some symbolic or metaphorical way, as is usually done, by insisting that Yahweh is transcendent and that none of this is to be understood literally. But what would it mean non-literally? What exactly is being accom­plished by insisting on our theological dogma but removing the poignant beauty of Yahweh’s character as revealed in these accounts? I look at these words and find them powerfully touching.

Moses was given a private burial; this was evidently to prevent him from being made into an idol by the people he had led for a very long time, because if that had happened, Moses would have ended up as a stumbling block rather than a blessing to his people. But Yahweh had also revealed Himself openly and publicly to the people of Israel as, for example, when He came down on Mount Sinai and multitudes were there to see it. The elders actually saw the glory of the Lord with their own eyes. You see that for example in Ex.24:10-11 where it says that the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel, and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel, and they beheld God and they ate and drank.”

They saw God and lived. Verse 16 says, “the glory of the LORD (Yahweh) rested on Mount Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days.” And verse 17: “to the eyes of the sons of Israel, the appearance of the glory of the LORD (Yahweh) was like a consum­ing fire on the mountaintop.” There, we get the phrase “a consuming fire” (Heb.12.29). On the one hand He is a consuming fire; on the other hand, He gently takes Moses his friend and buries him in the ground, like planting a seed. And Moses will rise again! Yahweh will call him forth from the dead; but for the moment, he must rest.

What we discover in the progression of the Biblical narrative is that, though the Lord still speaks to people, the distance between God and man gradually becomes greater and greater. But the distance between God and man was increasing not because God wanted to be remote, but because man no longer cared about seeking Him. Eventually, they didn’t even call His Name anymore. But Yahweh still communed with a few persons like Samuel the prophet, whose heart was open to Him and who was still speaking for God. Then there was Isaiah who, when he was in the temple, was granted a vision of the glory of God. Ezekiel, too, saw a vision of the glory of God. What he saw was someone who had the ap­pearance of a man. It’s important to note this fact: Yahweh revealed Himself to Ezekiel in a human form (Ezek.1.26.28).

Theologians have argued that God is presented in anthropomor­phic terms in the Old Testament, that is, God is presented as though He is a human being, or in language that would be used to describe human beings. Well, it is more likely that we’ve gotten the matter the wrong way around. According to Scripture, man is theomorphic; that is so because man is created in God’s image. “Theomorphic” literally means in God’s (theos) form (morphē) or image. This is the Biblical teaching. The reason why man was created theomorphic—in God’s image—was so that he could commune with God. That’s what God created him for. The last great person to commune with God intim­ately was Moses. God talked with him “face to face” (Deut.34.10). Face to face! How close was their com­munion!

Later on, the great prophet Isaiah still speaks the word of God and still sees the glory of the Lord. There is still a great sense of awe but not with the kind of intimacy which Moses enjoyed. After Moses, all this gradually disappears. As you go on in the OT, the distance becomes greater and greater. After Ezekiel, we hear of visions; we still hear of the word of the Lord spoken through people, but the intimacy of the prophet with Yahweh is no more there. After the last prophet, Malachi, there is only silence—400 years of silence. The word of the Lord speaks no more. There is just nobody, apparently, that Yahweh can communicate with. Is there someone in this generation whom Yahweh can commu­nicate with? But the promises remained:

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilder­ness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa.40:3, NASB)

Why would you want to prepare a highway in the wilderness? Well, this highway is declared to be specifically for “Yahweh”, “for our God”. Why? Because He is coming. And “the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.” (Isa.40.5, NJB) Yahweh is coming!

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isa.7.14, NASB)

A child will be born but, significantly, the child bears divine names:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa.9.6, NASB)

Divine names point to a divine person. Certainly, not all the names in this verse are necessarily divine, but some are harder to explain in non-divine terms, especially “Eternal Father”. As trinitarians we applied this verse to Jesus. But to do this is to confuse Father and Son, and also to contradict Jesus’ teaching in which he had said, “And call no man your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Mat.23:9) We can be sure that Jesus never asked anyone to call him “Father”. But if “Eternal Father” refers to Yahweh as it should, then we are left with the mind-boggling thought that Yahweh would come into the world in the person of Jesus, and already at Jesus’ birth. How else can this verse be understood as it stands?

In Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, God says:

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will sud­den­ly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. (Mal 3:1, NASB)

Again, a promise: “The Lord will suddenly (unexpectedly) come to His temple” in Jerusalem. Who can “the Lord” be but Yahweh, see­ing the temple being referred to is “His temple”.

But when will this take place? As I said, there were 400 hundred years of silence. When will the silence end and God speak again? The prophecy in Malachi says that, first, Yahweh will send a mess­enger “before Me”. Jesus pointed to John the Baptist as that messenger (e.g. Mat.11.9-11; Lk.7.26-28). The long silence ended suddenly, unexpect­edly, and Yahweh came to His temple as promised. We shall look into this more fully in what follows.

— End of Transcribed Excerpt —

Further observations on God’s immanence-transcendence

Yahweh’s immanence is seen clearly not only in the Torah and the OT as a whole, but especially in the NT, for exam­ple:

Acts 17.28, “In Him we live and move and have our being”.

Matthew 10, “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Luke 12.7, Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all num­bered [by God]. Don't be afraid; you are worth more [to God] than many sparrows.

But the “enfleshment”, or incarnation, of the Word in Messiah Jesus, such that Yahweh lived in him bodily, is the supreme example of His choice to be immanent, though this in no way negates His transcend­ence. In fact, what we have failed to see is that in Scripture God’s transcendence is such that it involves, or even requires, His imma­nence:

1Kings 8.27: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”

Yahweh’s transcendence is of a kind that defies theological cate­gories, for His transcendence is such that not even “heaven and the highest heaven” can contain Him—hence His transcendence “overflows”, as it were, out of the heavens encompassing the earth. God can never be thought of in Scripture as confined to heaven. It is Scripturally erroneous to think that “heaven” refers to His transcendence, while earth speaks of His “immanence” as we usually do. This notion is also shattered by such a verse as:

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”. (Isaiah 66.1, quoted in Acts 7.49)

These words present the striking picture of Yahweh seated on His heavenly throne with His feet resting on the earth. This picture of Yahweh’s transcendence-immanence is incorp­orated in Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.” (Matthew 5.34,35)

Since His feet rest firmly upon the earth, the phrase “Father in heaven” is not to be understood as meaning that He is remote from the earth; rather it serves to distinguish Him from earthly fathers. “Father in heaven” occurs 14 times in Matthew, once in Mark, and once in Luke, indicating its importance in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew. For example, the Lord’s Prayer (Mat.6.9-13) begins with “Our Father in heaven”, yet He is close enough to listen to our whispered prayers and even the unspoken supplications of our hearts. The word “father” in Jesus’ mind speaks of one who hears and cares: “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” (Mat.7.9,10)

Moreover, the idea of God as Father is not something that first appears in the NT. In the OT there are at least 6 men and 2 women who have the name Abijah. “Abi” means “my father” and “Jah” is the short form of “Yahweh”. Here is the definition as given in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “Abijah, Heb: ’abhiyah or Heb: ’abhiyahu (2 Ch 13:20,21), ‘my father is Yahweh,’ or ‘Yahweh is father’”.

The notion of heaven as some transcendent place far above the stars is another erroneous idea. In Scripture the heavenly is the spirit­ual, in contrast to the earthly or what is physical and material. The physical has a geographical location, but not what is spiritual. “God is Spirit” as Jesus said, and spirit is not confined to any particular earthly or cosmic location. To understand this is to understand that geographical location does not matter; what matters is that “God is Spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24). God’s transcendence-immanence abolishes any notion of His being remote and unreach­able in some distant heavenly place.

But trinitarianism has left us with the notion that the Father is far away in heaven while “Jesus is very near” (in the words of a once popular song). It is little wonder that Christians prefer to pray to Jesus, even though the Biblical warrant for doing so is lacking. To Christians, Jesus’ being “near” makes him more accessible. Even though the Father may be able to hear us, if He is willing to do so, yet was it not Jesus who gave us the assurance that “I will certainly not reject anyone who comes to me” (Jo.6.37, NJB)? These words are interpreted in such a way as to imply that we can be more certain of acceptance by Jesus than by the Father; this is because the Father (Yahweh) is the transcendent God, while Jesus is the immanent God, who for that very reason is more approach­able. This is the kind of misrepresentation of God we learnt from our trinitarianism. All this is very far from the truth about God revealed in the Scriptures, as we have seen in the preceding para­graphs.

Yahweh’s love

What does all that we have seen in Genesis (and the rest of Scripture) tell us about Yahweh’s attitude towards man? An answer can be found in Jesus’ words in John 17.23: “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (NIV). Consider the staggering impli­cations of the last statement in this verse, “You (Father) have loved them even as (καθώς, kathōs) you have loved me”! Can it really be that the Father (Yahweh) loves us even as He loves the one of whom He declared, “This is my beloved son”, the one who is “the only begotten of the Father”? Or perhaps we should under­stand this as meaning “in a similar way” but not “to the same extent”? The definition of kathōs (καθώς) as given in BDAG is, “of comparison, just as”. An example of its use (it appears frequently in various contexts) can be found in 1John 3.2, “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as (καθώς) He is”. The point here is surely not that we shall see Him as He is in some generalized or approximate way (what­ever that might mean) but that “we will see Him as He really is” (1Jo.3.2, NJB). Does this not mean that what Jesus is saying in John 17.23 is that the Father loves the disciples in exactly the same way as He loves Jesus?

He comes to save us because of His love for us

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider who the “He” is in 1John 3.2 (“but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is”). In the preceding verse the Father is the subject, and there is no reference to the Son. Also, there is no instance in the Johannine writings in which the word “appear” (phaneroō) refers to the second coming of Christ. The word phan­eroō does occur a few verses before 1John 3.2, namely in 2.28, with reference to the Lord’s appearing but, significantly, there is again no reference to Christ in the context from v.27ff. But in the next verse (v.29) “born of him” must surely refer to God (the Father), not Christ, since nowhere in the NT are believers said to have been “born of Christ” or “born of the Son”, but only “born of God” (1Jo.3.9; altogether 7 times in 5 verses in 1Jo.)

Can it be that John is indicating an “appearing” of Yahweh Himself? This would not be at all surprising to those familiar with the words of Isaiah 40.3-5. This is how the New Jerusalem Bible trans­lates it,

3 A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh. Make a straight highway for our God across the wastelands. 4 Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be levelled, every cliff become a plateau, every escarpment a plain; 5 then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.

Here then is a prophecy of His “appearing” as in 1John 2.28. More­over, this prophecy can refer to the “first coming” in view of the references to this verse in all four gospels (Mt.3.1-3; Mk.1.2-5; Lk.3.2-6; Jo.1.23), and also to a future “second coming” of His glory in Christ, seeing that the part of the prophecy which declares that “the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together” (Isa.40.5) does not yet appear to have been fulfilled (cf. 2Th.2.8). Significantly, it is precisely in this context, and immediately before John speaks about our “seeing Him as He is” (1Jo.3.2) that he exclaims, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1Jo.3.1).

Yahweh’s love is seen in His coming to be with us, as is expressed in the name “Immanuel”: Isaiah 7.14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. {Immanuel means God with us.}” (NIV). BDB Hebrew and English Lexicon:

“Immanuel (with us is God); Is 7:14 עִמָּנוּ אֵל name of child, symbolizing presence of י [Yahweh] to deliver his people; 8:8; 8:10 is declaration of trust and confidence, with us is God! (cf. Psalm 46:8; 46:12)”. The references in the Psalms which BDB gives are those of the Hebrew text; in English they are Ps.46.7 and 46.11 and both read, “The LORD (Yahweh) of hosts is with us [Heb. immanu (with us)]; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

The prophesied coming and consequent presence of Yahweh in relat­ion to the conception and birth of Jesus is seen in Matthew 1:

21 ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). [Isa.7.14]

In view of the explicit reference to Yahweh in Isaiah 40.3-5, and of “God with us (Immanuel)” through Christ’s birth, it can be reason­ably concluded from these verses that it was Yahweh who was prophesied as coming into the world in Christ. If this conclus­ion is rejected then the only option left is to deprive “Immanuel” of substantive meaning in regard to Jesus by generalizing it in the way it is often used in greetings to mean something like “let God be with us”; in this sense “Immanuel” would mean little more than “God will be with Jesus in some special way”. But the word does not mean that God will be with Jesus but that, in Jesus, God will be “with us”. That is to say: God will be present in Jesus in such a way that He is the God who is present with us. Trinitarians, of course, accept this understanding of “Imman­uel”, but by “God” they mean “God the Son”, not “the only true God” Yahweh. But this option is not available to them for the reason which should by now be perfectly clear: there is no such person in the Scriptures as “God the Son”.

The Angel of the Lord

Yahweh’s love for His people, His practical care and concern for them, is seen in the way His presence is with them in all the crises of their lives. The Psalmist expresses it like this, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps.46.1, NIV). This is a statement of experience, not merely of relig­ious faith. One way in which Yahweh interacted with His people was through the figure or form of “the angel of Yahweh”. In the following section we shall often refer to “the angel of Yahweh” simply as “the Angel”.

The “angel of the LORD (Yahweh)” (מַלְאַךְ יהוה, malach Yahweh) is a term which occurs 52 times in the OT[33]. But not all of these refer to what International Standard Bible Encyclopedia des­cribes as the “Angel of Theophany”; some are “ordinary” angels sent by God to fulfill a specific task (e.g. Zech.1.12). On the other hand, there are a considerable number of appearances of “the angel of Yahweh” where there can be no doubt that these are theophanies, that is, God appearing in a visible form. Angels usually appear in human form (see below), so “the angel of the Yahweh” provides another highly significant example of “anthropomorphic” theophany. Thus this “Angel” could, for this reason, be described as a visible “form” of God.

Yahweh’s self-revelation in Exodus 3.14 is of great importance, which we discussed earlier. It is precisely in this connection that there is the appearance of “the angel of the LORD”. Here we need to ob­serve how the whole event is described in Exodus 3:

 1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

 2 And the angel of the LORD (Yahweh) appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”

 4 When the LORD (Yahweh) saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

There can be no doubt whatever from this passage that the appearance of “the angel of Yahweh” in this passage is none other than an appearance of Yahweh Himself, so the term “the Angel of the Theophany” is entirely appropriate here. A long and important conversation between Yahweh and Moses about rescuing the enslaved people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt extends all the way from Exodus 3.7 well into the following chapter. It is in this context that God’s self-revelation as “I am that I am” (Ex.3.14) is given. It will be seen, too, that His appearances in the form of “the angel of the LORD” happen consistently at crucial points in Israel’s history. This again powerfully reveals Yahweh’s character as One who is deeply concerned about the plight and needs of His people.

In addition to the 52 references to “the angel of Yahweh” there are another 9 which refer to “the angel of God” who, at least in some cases, seems to be none other than “the angel of Yahweh”. Judges 6.20 speaks of “the angel of God”, while in the following two verses he is referred to as “the angel of Yahweh”. This also comes out clearly in Judges 13 where verses 6 and 9 speak of “the angel of God” who in verses 13-22 is “the angel of Yahweh”. Moreover, from verses 8-11 we see that Manoah and his wife, to whom the angel of God had appeared, thought that what they saw was a “man of God”, so he was clearly in human form. This remains true also after the reference is changed to “the angel of Yahweh” (from v.13 onwards). “Manoah did not know that he (“the man of God”) was the angel of the LORD (Yahweh)” (v.16), but he and his wife later realize that they have seen God in human form and were terrified of the consequences: “Manoah said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God’” (v.22).

The “Angel” appeared at crucial points in the “salvation history” of the OT. His first recorded appearance was in Abraham’s time when he appeared to Hagar, the mother of the Arab peoples, and made her a promise very much like the promise Yahweh had made to Abraham (Gen.16.7-11; cp. Gen.13.16). Yahweh’s fair­ness or justice is here made evident.

The “Angel” appeared to Abraham at the crucial moment when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac his son in his absolute devotion and obedience to Yahweh (Gen.22.11ff). But Yahweh mercifully spared Abraham from actually having to sacrifice his son. Yet Yahweh Himself, for the sake of mankind’s salvation, “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Ro.8.32). Paul’s remarkable choice of words in Romans 8.32 would seem to indicate that he was thinking about Abraham’s sacrifice, which was an act of great significance in Judaism.

How the nation of Israel received its name is interestingly nar­rated in Genesis 32.24-30 where Jacob, the father of the nation, wrestled with a “man” all night and ended up crippled with a dislo­cated hip; yet the “man” graciously said that Jacob had “prevailed” (v.28) and gave him the new name “Israel”: “Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, {Israel means he struggles with God} because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome’” (v.28, NIV). Jacob then realized that he had been “face to face” with God: “So Jacob called the place Peniel {Peniel means face of God} saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’” (v.30, NIV). There is no mention in this passage about “the angel of the Lord”, but the “man” with whom Jacob “wrestled” is evidently a human form in which God chose to appear to Jacob.

This causes us to realize that quite apart from the consider­able number of references to the “Angel” there are other important events in which the “Angel” may have appeared but is not named. An exam­ple of this may be found in the remarkable account recorded in Joshua 5.13-15 where, on the eve of the attack on Jericho at the beginning of the conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua saw a “man” with a sword in his hand (see below for instances where the “Angel” appeared with sword in hand). When Joshua, who Moses had ap­pointed as his successor to lead the armies of Israel, asked the “man” on whose side he was, he was informed that this “man”, not Joshua, is “commander of Yahweh’s army”; Joshua immediately prostrates himself before him. This is certainly because Joshua now became aware of who the “man” really was. “Yahweh’s army” was not known to have any other commander other than Yahweh Himself, hence the title “Lord of Hosts”, “host” being the old English word for “army”. Here the term “Yahweh’s army” may be intended to include the armies of Israel which were about to enter Canaan.

Another confirmation that it was actually Yahweh who ap­peared to Joshua is seen in the fact that Joshua was instructed to “take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (5.15)—which is exactly what the angel of the Lord had in­structed Moses to do at the burning bush, “take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex.3.5).

The angel of the Lord appeared with sword in hand in Numbers 22. There are 10 references to the “Angel” in this chapter, and we may wonder why there should be so many references in what seems to be a relatively trivial event concerning Balaam. But when we perceive that what was at issue here was the cursing of Israel by Balaam (v.17), then we see that this was not at all a triv­ial matter in God’s sight. The whole section extends from vv.22-35. In verse 23 we find exactly the same phrase as that in Joshua, the Angel stood with “drawn sword in hand”, and again in v.31 (another instance is the fearful event chronicled in 1Chron.21.16).

2Ki.19.35 mentions another frightening act of judgment, this time against the Assyrian armies which had come to destroy Jeru­salem and to subjugate Israel. To save Israel, the angel of Yahweh struck dead 185,000 Assyrians in one night, causing the invading Assyrian army to withdraw. Though the word “sword” does not ap­pear in this passage, the sword of judgment (and of deliverance for Israel) is undoubtedly intended.

The “Angel” is involved in the pivotal events of OT history. Since the “Angel” was a theophany, what does his activity mean if not Yahweh’s intense care and concern for His people, that is, “those who love him, who have been called in accordance with his purpose” (Ro.8.28)?

In view of what we have studied, we can in general endorse International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’s observations:

“It is certain that from the beginning God used angels in human form, with human voices, in order to communicate with man; and the appearances of the angel of the Lord, with his special redemptive relation to God’s people, show the working of that Divine mode of self-revelation which culmin­ated in the coming of the Saviour, and are thus a foreshad­owing of, and a preparation for, the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ.” (ISBE “Angel”, under the section “The Angel of the Theophany”)

Prof. E.R. Wolfson, referring to the many passages in the Hebrew Bible which speak of the Angel of the Lord, says that in them “God appears in the guise of the angel”. He then continues, “One scriptural verse that is extremely significant for understanding this ancient Israelite conception is God’s statement that the Israelites should give heed to the angel whom he has sent before them and not rebel against him, for his name is in him (Ex.23.21). The line separating the angel and God is substantially blurred, for by bearing the name, which signifies the power of the divine nature, the angel is an embodiment of God’s personality. To possess the name is not merely to be invested with divine authority; it means that ontologically the angel is the incarnational presence of the divine manifest in the providential care over Israel.

“The ancient belief was that God could appear as an angelic presence to human beings, and the shape that this presence took was that of an anthropos [man, or human being]. The angelic form, therefore, is the garment (as later kabbalists expressed the matter) in which the divine is clad when it is manifest in the world in the shape of an anthropos.” (Wolfson, chapter on “Judaism and Incarnation”, Christianity in Jewish Terms, p.244)

Very shortly before the manuscript of this book was about to go to the publishers, I had the good fortune to come across the insight­ful and thought-provoking book by Professor James Kugel entitled “The God of Old”. Here I include some of his concluding obser­vations following his study of the Biblical texts about the angel of the Lord:

“Here, then, is the most important point about the angel in all these texts. He is not so much an emissary, or messenger, of God as God Himself in human form”.

“The angel, in other words, is not some lesser order of divine being; it is God Himself, but God unrecognized, God intru­ding into ordinary reality.”

“The angel looks like an ordinary human being for a while, but only for a while; then comes the moment of recognition, when it turns out that, oh yes, that was God and no ordinary human”

(The God of Old, 2003, pp.34,35; James L. Kugel is Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University.)

Yahweh’s loving-kindness

What this means is that the idea of Yahweh coming into the world in human form is not something strange or foreign to the Bible. On the contrary, the notion of God’s personal intervention, often appearing in human form at crucial times in the history of His people, is something frequently men­tioned in the Scriptures. It can rightly be said that, given His na­ture and character as revealed in the Scriptures, Yahweh would not, and could not, be indifferent or unconcerned about mankind and his needs, and espe­cially his sufferings, even when these suffer­ings were brought upon man by his own sins.

One of the most frequently used words in the Hebrew Bible in relation to Yahweh’s character is hesed. The word occurs 251 times, of which a large proportion has to do with Yahweh. The difficulty of translating this word is shown by the variety of ways it is rendered in the various translations: “lovingkindness” (NASB), “mercy” (KJV), “steadfast love” (ESV), “unfailing love” (NIV), “faithful love” (NJB), “loyal love” (NET). All these variations are found in the translations of Exodus 15.13. The translation of the word may vary even within the same version. But what is clear from the variety of words used is that love is the common element in all of them, including “mercy”. This is how Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament summarizes a lengthy academic discussion on hesed:

“...it refers to an attitude as well as to actions. This attitude is parallel to love, rahûm, goodness, tôb, etc. It is a kind of love, including mercy, hannûn, when the object is in a pitiful state. It often takes verbs of action, ‘do,’ ‘keep,’ and so refers to acts of love as well as to the attribute. The word ‘lovingkindness’ of the KJV is archaic, but not far from the fulness of meaning of the word.”

Yahweh’s character is beautifully expressed in these tender words, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness (hesed).” (Jer.31.3, NIV).

 


[32] The original transcription of this message was done by Elena Villa Real and Rhoda Batul; their work is here acknowledged with thanks and appreciation.

[33] There are 54 occurrences; but the ref. in Haggai 1.13 is to the prophet as Yahweh’s messenger, and in Malachi 2.7 it is the priest who is His messenger.

 

 

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