Exploring the Nature of God in the Old Testament

 

Text: Deuteronomy 6:1-6

 

I.          The nature of God is admittedly both a large subject and a difficult one

             A.         Large because the God who holds the universe in his hand would be greater than mortal man bound to a single world - Isaiah 40:12-17

             B.         Difficult because all we know of God is what God has chosen to tell us. There can be no independent analysis. Instead we must pick up clues that God has given us and examine them.

             C.         If polytheism were true, we would expect:

                          1.          Each god would have a distinctive name

                          2.          Each god would have the characteristics of deity and be addressed as divine

                          3.          We would see the various gods interact

                          4.          There would not be exclusive claims to deity

                          5.          There would be allowances to worship multiple gods

             D.         If Unitarianism were true, we would expect:

                          1.          Strong statements regarding the exclusive deity of God

                          2.          No other would manifest the characteristics of deity

                          3.          Manifestations of God, or literary devices, would not interact with God

                          4.          Worship of anything other than God would be prohibited

             E.         If Trinitarianism were true, we would expect:

                          1.          Strong statements regarding the exclusive deity of God, but with terms ambiguous enough to allow a composite unit

                          2.          There would be multiple agents that would be called God

                          3.          The divine agents would interact with other divine agents

                          4.          The composite unit called God would forbid worship of false gods

                          5.          Each divine agent would be worshiped as God

                          6.          Because of the unity, there would be times when you couldn’t tell which agent was doing the work

                          7.          Different passages might attribute the same work to different agents since they function as a unit

II.         God is One - Deuteronomy 6:4-5

             A.         Many read this passage and have decided that God is a single entity or being. Yet many passages in the New Testament give us the strong impression that God is composed of three beings.

             B.         The Hebrew word for ‘one’ is ‘echad.’ The word can refer to a cardinal number, an order (such as first place), unity, uniqueness, or individual parts of a whole (each, every).

                          1.          In particular we need to acknowledge that echad can apply to a composite unity

                                       a.          Genesis 2:24 - a man and wife become one [echad] flesh.

                                       b.          Genesis 11:6 - The people were one [echad], so God divided them

                                       c.          Genesis 34:16 - By intermarrying, the Jacob’s descendants and the people of Shechem would become one [echad] people

                                       d.          Exodus 26:6, 11 - fifty clasps are used so that it can become one [ehad] tabernacle

                                       e.          Joshua 9:1-2 - Five nations fought the Israelites as one [echad] army

                                       f.          Joshua 10:42 - Joshua conquered Canaan in one [echad] stroke, though many battles were fought as listed prior. (Not on charts)

                                       g.          Exodus 24:3 - The people answered in one [echad] voice

                                       h.          II Samuel 2:25 - soldiers gathered into one [echad] unit

                                       i.           II Chronicles 5:12-13 - The singers sang with one [echad] voice to praise God

                          2.          Hence, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 does not rule out a composite unity view of God.

             C.         What is interesting is that there is another Hebrew word, yachiyd, which means “only one”(see Genesis 22:2) and this word was not used in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

             D.         Statements to the uniqueness of God do not rule out that God could be a composite unity

                          1.          Deuteronomy 4:35 - There is no other God

                          2.          Isaiah 44:6 - God is the first and the last, there is no other

                          3.          Isaiah 45:5-6 - There is no other

III.        The word for God in Hebrew, elohim, is a plural noun

             A.         It is particularly interesting that using a plural noun for a god was not commonly done in other countries around Israel in their languages

             B.         There is a singular form of this word, eloah, that is found in the Bible – mostly in Job by Job’s friends in their reference to God – but the vast usage (over 2500 times) is by the word elohim.

             C.         Many explain this odd form as a “plural of majesty,” but oddly it is difficult to find other occurrences where this is done, other than with God.

             D.         What makes the plural noun stand out is that when used with the God of Israel the other words in the sentence (verbs and adjectives) are in the singular form. If it is applied to false gods, the other words are in matching plural forms.

             E.         The “us” passages

                          1.          Genesis 1:26-27 - Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness ... So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

                          2.          Genesis 3:22 - Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us ...

                          3.          Genesis 11:7 - Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language ...

                          4.          Isaiah 6:8 - Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?"

             F.         One explanation given for these passages is God is speaking to the heavenly host.

                          1.          The problem is that others do not instruct or counsel God - Isaiah 40:13-14

                          2.          God does not give His glory to another - Isaiah 42:8

                          3.          Man is the glory of God - I Corinthians 11:7

                          4.          Man was made in the image of God - Genesis 5:1

IV.       Statements where God interacts with God

             A.         The Angel of the LORD

                          1.          Separate from God because God sent him - I Chronicles 21:15

                          2.          Genesis 16:7-13

                                       a.          The Angel of the LORD makes a promise in the first person, a promise normally only associated with God’s work - Genesis 16:10

                                       b.          The Angel of the LORD speaks of the LORD in third person - Genesis 16:11

                                       c.          The narrator stated the LORD spoke to her - Genesis 16:13

                                       d.          Hagar calls the one who spoke to her God - Genesis 16:13

                          3.          Genesis 21:12-18

                                       a.          God repeats the Angel of the LORD’s promise as His own promise - Genesis 21:12-13

                                       b.          The Angel of the LORD again repeats the promise as his own - Genesis 21:17-18

                                       c.          The Angel of the LORD refers to God in the third person - Genesis 21:17

                                       d.          The Angel of the LORD speaks from heaven. Why the need for a representative? - Genesis 21:17

                          4.          Genesis 22:11-18

                                       a.          God told Abraham to offer his son - Genesis 22:1-2

                                       b.          Yet the Angel of the LORD used the first person to say that Abraham did not withhold his son from him - Genesis 22:11-12

                                       c.          Yet later in the message delivered by the Angel of the LORD, Abraham is told that his son was not withheld from the LORD - Genesis 22:16

                                       d.          The Angel of the LORD speaks from heaven - Genesis 22:11, 15

                                       e.          The Angel of the LORD speaks of God in the third person - Genesis 22:12

                                       f.          The Angel of the LORD speaks of the LORD in the third person - Genesis 22:16

                          5.          Genesis 31:11-13

                                       a.          The Angel of God calls himself the God of Bethel - Genesis 31:13

                                       b.          The Angel of God said he received Jacob’s vow - Genesis 31:13

                                                    (1)        That vow was made to the LORD - Genesis 28:20-22

                          6.          Before continuing, there are two ways to consider what is going on

                                       a.          The Angel of the LORD is able to speak on behalf of God without always directly stating this is what he is doing. In other words, as a representative of God he is allowed to speak as if he is God

                                       b.          Or, Angel of the LORD means exactly what he states. At times he delivers messages from the LORD, but he also speaks of himself as the LORD because such is the case

                                       c.          As we continue, think about which is the view that best matches the statements.

                          7.          Genesis 48:15-16

                                       a.          Jacob speaks of “the God ..., the God ..., the Angel”

                          8.          Exodus 3:2-7

                                       a.          The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses - Exodus 3:2

                                       b.          The LORD saw Moses turn toward the bush - Exodus 3:4

                                       c.          God called to Moses from the midst of the bush - Exodus 3:4

                                       d.          The speaker from the midst of the bush identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - Exodus 3:6

                                       e.          Moses was afraid to look upon God - Exodus 3:6

                          9.          Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-20

                                       a.          Both the LORD and the Angel of the LORD are said to be in the pillar of cloud and fire

                          10.        Numbers 22:34-35, 38; 23:12

                                       a.          Balaam was told to only speak what the Angel of the LORD says to him Numbers 22:35

                                       b.          Balaam stated he could only speak what God put in his mouth - Numbers 22:38

                                       c.          Balaam stated he could only speak what the LORD put in his mouth - Numbers 23:12

                          11.        Judges 2:1-4

                                       a.          The Angel of the LORD speaks as if he were God

                          12.        Judges 6:12, 14

                                       a.          The Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon

                                       b.          The LORD turns toward Gideon

                          13.        Hosea 12:3-5

                                       a.          Jacob wrestled with God

                                       b.          The Angel of the LORD won

                                       c.          Jacob says he saw the face of God - Genesis 32:30

                                       d.          Jacob wanted to know the name of who wrestled with him. Hosea 12:5 reveals the name

             B.         The Spirit of God

                          1.          First mentioned, involved in the Creation - Genesis 1:1-2

                          2.          Independent of God

                                       a.          God puts His Spirit on the prophets - Numbers 11:29

                                       b.          God gives His Spirit to teach - Nehemiah 9:20

                                       c.          The Spirit can be taken away - Psalm 51:11

                                       d.          Distinctive - called the Spirit of God - Exodus 31:3; 35:31

                          3.          Not a thing, but has personality

                                       a.          Psalm 106:33 - Rebelled against

                                       b.          Psalm 143:10 - is good, leads

                                       c.          Isaiah 34:16 - Gathers

                                       d.          Isaiah 63:10 - Grieves

                                       e.          Isaiah 63:14 - Gives rest

                                       f.          Micah 2:7 - Becomes angry, or impatient

             C.         The Messiah

                          1.          Superior to any man or angel. Called mighty God and Eternal Father - Isaiah 9:6-7

                          2.          He preexisted eternally - Micah 5:2

                          3.          His reign will outlast the sun and moon - Psalm 72:5-7

                          4.          Zechariah 12:10

                                       a.          The LORD is speaking, see verse 1

                                       b.          The LORD will pour out a spirit of grace and supplication

                                       c.          The inhabitants of Jerusalem will look upon the LORD

                                       d.          The LORD was pierced by the inhabitants of Jerusalem

                                       e.          The people will mourn for HIM (switches to third person in mid-sentence)

                          5.          Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3-5

                                       a.          The LORD will send a messenger to prepare the way before the LORD - Malachi 3:1

                                       b.          The Lord will come to his temple

                                       c.          The Lord is the messenger of the covenant

                                       d.          Prepare the way for the LORD - Isaiah 40:3

                                       e.          Make a highway for God

V.         None of this is absolutely clear, especially if this was all that we had to work with

             A.         God speaks of sending “agents” who then are sometimes called God

                          1.          The Angel of the LORD appears to be mainly the external agent that people see.

                          2.          The Spirit of the LORD appears to be mainly the internal agent that instructs

             B.         These “agents” are separate from the LORD, yet address themselves as the LORD


 

If Polytheism were true, we would expect:

 

1.      Each god would have a distinctive name

2.      Each god would have the characteristics of deity and be addressed as divine

3.      We would see the various gods interact

4.      There would not be exclusive claims to deity

5.      There would be allowances to worship multiple gods

 

If Unitarianism were true, we would expect:

 

1.      Strong statements regarding the exclusive deity of God

2.      No other would manifest the characteristics of deity

3.      Manifestations of God, or literary devices, would not interact with God

4.      Worship of anything other than God would be prohibited

 

If Trinitarianism were true, we would expect:

 

1.      Strong statements regarding the exclusive deity of God, but with terms ambiguous enough to allow a composite unit

2.      There would be multiple agents that would be called God

3.      The divine agents would interact with other divine agents

4.      The composite unit called God would forbid worship of false gods

5.      Each divine agent would be worshiped as God

6.      Because of the unity, there would be times when you couldn’t tell which agent was doing the work

7.      Different passages might attribute the same work to different agents since they function as a unit

 


Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!

Deuteronomy 6:4

 

The Hebrew word echad can refer to a composite unit.

 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.                                        Genesis 2:24

 

And the LORD said, "Indeed the people are one ...                     Genesis 11:6

 

... then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to us; and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people.                                                                                        Genesis 34:16

 

And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains together with the clasps, so that it may be one tabernacle.

Exodus 26:6

 

And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowland and in all the coasts of the Great Sea toward Lebanon-the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite - heard about it, that they gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord.            Joshua 9:1-2

 

And all the people answered with one voice ...                            Exodus 24:3

 

The sons of Benjamin gathered together behind Abner and became one band ...                                                                                       II Samuel 2:25

 

... when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD                             II Chronicles 5:13


God’s Plural Self-References

 

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness ... So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

 

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us ...                                                                      Genesis 3:22

 

"Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth ...

Genesis 11:7-8

 

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?"                                                     Isaiah 6:8


The Angel of the LORD

 

Now the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?" She said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." The Angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand." Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, "I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude." And the Angel of the LORD said to her: "Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, "Have I also here seen Him who sees me?" (Genesis 16:7-13)

 

      The Angel of the LORD makes a promise in the first person

      The Angel of the LORD speaks of the LORD in the third person

      The narrator states that the LORD spoke to her

      Hagar calls the one who spoke to her God


The Angel of the LORD

 

But God said to Abraham, "Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed." So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba. And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, "Let me not see the death of the boy." So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, "What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation." (Genesis 21:12-18)

 

      God repeats the Angel of the LORD’s promise as His own

      The Angel of the LORD repeats the promise as His own

      The Angel of the LORD refers to God in third person

      The Angel of the LORD speaks from heaven


The Angel of the LORD

 

But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" So he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of The LORD it shall be provided." Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son - blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Genesis 22:11-18)

 

      God told Abraham to offer his son - Genesis 22:1-2

      The Angel of the LORD says the offering was to him

      Isaac was offered to the LORD

      The Angel of the LORD speaks from heaven

      The Angel of the LORD speaks of God in third person


The Angel of the LORD

 

“Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, 'Jacob.' And I said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.'” (Genesis 31:11-13)

 

      The Angel of the LORD calls himself God

      The Angel of the LORD received Jacob’s vow

      Jacob had vowed to the LORD - Genesis 28:20-11       

 


 

 

And he blessed Joseph, and said: "God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day, The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (Genesis 48:15-16)


The Angel of the LORD

 

And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn." So 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 draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." Moreover 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 upon God. And the LORD said: "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. (Exodus 3:2-7)

 

      The Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses

      The LORD saw Moses turn aside

      God called to Moses from the midst of the bush

      The speaker from the bush identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

      Moses was afraid to look upon God


The Angel of the LORD

 

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Exodus 13:21-22)

 

And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. (Exodus 14:19-20)


The Angel of the LORD

 

And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!" Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites." Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?" (Judges 6:12-14)

 

      The Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon

      The LORD turned to Gideon

      The Angel of the LORD refers to the LORD in third person


The Angel of the LORD

 

Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell me Your name, I pray." And He said, "Why is it that you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." (Genesis 32:29-30)

 

 He took his brother by the heel in the womb, And in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, And there He spoke to us- That is, the LORD God of hosts. The LORD is His memorable name. (Hosea 12:3-5)