Monday, January 13, 2020

The Old Testament's Revelation of Christ [Pt.4]

by Rudolph P. Boshoff

[Continued from Pts. 12& 3]

III. Jesus in Old Testament Theophanies

James A. Borland (1978:9) describes a theophany as “a manifestation of God in visible and bodily form to conscious man perceptible by human senses, before the incarnation” of Jesus Christ. The validity and fact that distinguish theophanies are evident and we will look at the characteristics and facts of Theophanies in the Old Testament. 

III.a The Characteristics of Theophanies in the Old Testament

Borland (1978:17-19) mentions that it is important to recognize that Theophanies were actual and not imaginary that was initiated by God alone. In Judges 13:8 Manoah prayed; “O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again to us” and Moses inquired to God to “show me thy glory” (Exo 33:18-34:9) but the Old Testament text unanimously shows that God was always the One that disclosed Himself out of His own will. Genesis 12:7 mentions that He “appeared… and said”; “found her… and He said” (Gen16:7-8). No human petition, prayer, technique, or formula could evoke the presence of God because God’s will revealed His essence and nature where man was the recipient of His self-revelation. Theophanies were therefore always revelatory in that it always revealed something about God or His will to a recipient (Borland 1978:20). 

God would declare a promise to a specific individual like Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), Hagar (Gen16:10-12) and sometimes He would warn or judge as we see with Adam and Eve as well as the serpent (Gen 3:14-19) or Cain (Gen 4:9-12) or Sodom (Gen 18:20-21). At another time God would simply instruct like with Joshua (Jos 5:14-15) or Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife (Jud 13:3-5). It is important to note that Theophanies were for specific chosen individuals. Many times God would appear to individuals like Adam and Eve (Gen.3:8-19), Cain (Gen.4:9-15), and Enoch (Gen 5:22, 24), Noah (Gen 6-9), and Abraham (Gen.12:1, 7; 17:1-22; 18:1-33), Hagar (Gen 16:7-11), Isaac (Gen 26:2, 24) just to mention a few (Borland 1978:21-22). Another point is that Theophanies were intermittent and did not occur with precise regularity. God appeared as He pleased and there was no hard or fast rule as to these apparitions (Borland 1978:23). 

Theophanies were therefore temporal occurrences that were transitory only for a brief period. Gods preferred self-disclosure is ultimately evident in the persona and manifestation of Jesus Christ (John 1, Col 2:9-10) as perfect God and perfect man (Borland 1978:25). Theophanies also included auditory perception and were both audible and visible (Borland 1978:26). In Genesis 32:30 Jacob expressed amazement when he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” and with God’s revelation of Himself at Mount Sinai (Exo 24:11) there was a very similar wonder at the actual visible and aural experience. Even though these experiences were visible and audible, they varied in form. It is a fact that God did appear (Gen.18:1, 4-8) in the semblance of human form (Gen 18; 32, Exo 24:9-11, Jos 5:13-15, Jud 13:3, 6, 8-11, 1 Sam 3:10, 21) that showed signs of change from time to time to where not even Abraham always immediately recognized his visitor from heaven (Gen 12:7, 17:1-22, 18:2) (Borland 1978:27-29). 

Borland (1978:29-30) also mentions that we need to keep in mind that Theophanies were Old Testament occurrences before the incarnation of Christ. There is nothing in the New Testament similarly to these revealed experiences and we know that these appearances were related to the second person of the Trinity as revealed in the New Testament. In the next section, we will look at four Old Testament references that show these apprehensions of God the Son. 

III.b Some Theophanies in the Old Testament

i. Jacob Wrestling With God (Gen 32:24-32)

In this Theophany there is a clear identification of both the form and the person that is Jacob is encountering (Borland 1978:78). This Theophany reveals an appearance of a man and the person is a messenger of Jehovah (Hos 12:3-5). This apprehension of a man asks Jacob his name being fully aware of his promise (v.28). Walvoord (1969:52) indicates that God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, in this culture only God changed names. Jacob was so deeply impressed with this event and was assured that the ‘man’ he struggled with was the place where he saw God ‘’face-to-face’’ and he called the place ‘Peniel’ because he survived (v.30).  Jonathan Stephen (1998:141) mentions here that for Jacob this was the most critical part of his whole experience and in it, God reveals Himself to show himself faithful on Jacob’s behalf. Jacob does inquire of the man to reveal His name, but at the time, it was more then what God was willing to reveal (Stephen, 1998:142).  

ii. Balaam, the Donkey, and the Angel of the Lord (Num 22:22-38)

Borland (1978:79) mentions that the messenger of the Lord stood in the path of Balaam and mentions that the donkey could perceive him but not Balaam. God opened up the donkey’s mouth (v.28) and the eyes of Balaam (v.31). Both the donkey and Balaam saw an individual who ‘stood’ with a sword ‘in his hand’. These speak of human acts that show that God seems dressed for the occasion to fit the social customs and the circumstances of the particular situation. The angel of God warns Balaam (vv.22-35) and even cautions him that what he is about to do is evil in His sight (v.32). God instructs what Balaam must say (v.35) and speaks just as he heard from the man who was God (v.38).  

iii. Joshua and the Commander of the Lord's Army (Jos 5:13-15)

Even though this is the shortest theophany in the Old Testament, it is worth noting as it corresponds once more with the two previously mentioned examples that I have given. Joshua encounters a man standing with a drawn sword in his hand (v.13). Joshua immediately inquires of the man if he is for them or against them (v.13). The reply from this man is ‘neither’ (v.14) which seems a bit confusing but the then mentions that He is the commander of the Lords army. Joshua immediately bowed down with his face to the ground (v.14) worshiping asking what the Lord wants from him (v.14). As with Moses at the burning bush when He encountered God (Exo 3:1-15) the commander of the Lord’s army instructs him to take of his sandals as He was in the presence of God and the place where he was standing was sacred to which Joshua complied (v.15). Borland (1979:79) states that Joshua does not use the word ‘Adam’ but ‘Ish’, which clearly denotes a being that appears to be human but do not have a human nature. Joshua’s immediate reaction is worship to which a monotheistic Jew clearly held as only reserved to the God of Israel (Deut 6:4) but interesting to note that this theophany held both the appearance of a man and the designation of God.   

iv. Gideon Questioning the Angel of the Lord (Jud 6:11-23)

The author of the book starts of by attributing personalized traits of a man who ‘sat under a tree’ (v.11) and in his encounter with Gideon, he calls him ‘sir’ (v.13). Clearly, Gideon at first had no idea who he encountered and in this instance thought, he was encountering an ordinary man. He carried a staff (v.21) and spoke (vv.12-23) with questions that evoked a deep skepticism in Gideon’s mind (v.13). When the Lord turns to Gideon, he asks for an additional sign to confirm it is God speaking to him (v.17). Gideon brings the Lord a meal in where the Lord stretches out His staff and consumes the food with fire (v.21). Gideon mentions that he had seen the God face to face (v.22) but the Lord immediately gives him peace that he would not die because Gideon had seen him (v.23) (Haasbroek 2004:95).  

III.c Summary

This chapter sets out to show what scholars reveal about what the Son of God was actively present in the combined testimony of the Old Testament. He was prophetically present in the Old Testament and we recognize that he was the fulfillment of the coming expected Messiah. He is also seen as portrayed and signified through the lives and typologies evident in all of the people, places, and prophecies. Lastly, we maintain that the Son did not just exist in the mind of the father but that He was in fact active and communicated directly with various individuals in history even before His incarnation. We can therefore affirm that the reality of the Old Testament is truly given to the Jewish people, and in retrospect for us, to come to the full understanding of the revelation of Jesus Christ who explained that all of the Scriptures evidently speaks about Him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39; Heb 10:7; Matt 5:17). These theological perspectives agree therefore that Jesus transcends both space and time and He seems to be the very central focus of our faith in both the Old and the New Testament. In the next chapter, we will look at a textual analysis that affirms this reality.