Sunday, May 21, 2017

DID THE ANCIENT ISRAELITES BELIEVE IN THE TRINITY?





I think so; at least they believed in the multiple Persons of the Godhead, if not the Three. There is so much evidence of this, especially in the Torah. For the sake of brevity, I will just confine this discussion to the Book of Judges.

Each appearance of the Angel of the Lord indicates that He is actually God and not a mere angel (also translated as “messenger”). Evidently, Israel understood that this Angel was the One who had led them out of Egypt:

·       The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Judges 2:1-2)

Israel also understood that it was the Angel who had made the covenant with them at Sinai and that they had disobeyed this Angel. (There are no capitalizations in the ancient Greek and Hebrew. Instead, the caps are supplied by the translators.)  Meanwhile, the original account indicates that the LORD (“Yahweh”) had manifested Himself there:

·       The LORD [“Yahweh” in Hebrew] descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the LORD said to him, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them." (Exodus 19:20-22)

Perhaps, then, Yahweh and the Angel are synonymous. In fact, it seems that the Jews themselves acknowledged that Moses had received the Law from an angel. Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, spoke these words to the Pharisees before they stoned him to death, and they evidently were in agreement with Stephen’s retelling of their history:

·       This [Moses] is the one [who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. (Acts 7:38)

Stephen had been building a case against them, citing history where both parties would agree about.

Therefore, it seems that the Pharisees also agreed that, although the Exodus account claims that Moses had met with Yahweh, it was actually the angel with whom Moses had met, with whom he spoke as his countenance was being radiantly transformed.

GIDEON

The Angel of the Lord then appeared to Gideon after the Israelites had been terribly oppressed by the Midianites for seven years:

·       And the angel of the LORD appeared to him… And the LORD [“Yahweh”] turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he [Gideon] said to him, “Please, Lord [“Adonai”], how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12, 14-16)

Notice that the “Angel of the Lord” is used interchangeably with the “LORD” [“Yahweh”], suggesting that these names, once again, denote the same Person. However, the rabbis cannot allow this equation to stand. Rabbi Gerald Sigal claims that “the angel is always an impersonal being.” How then is He equated with Yahweh? Sigal explains:

·       The angels that appeared to various biblical personalities were acting only as messengers being God’s word. That the words of a messenger of God may be attributed directly to God is evident from Isaiah 7:10, which reads: “And the Lord spoke again to Ahaz” [through Isaiah]. (The Jew and the Christian Missionary, 133)

While God did speak to King Ahaz through the Prophet Isaiah, the appearance to Gideon is very different. First, it is the “angel of the LORD” and not a prophet who had appeared to Gideon. Second, Yahweh was actually present – “And the LORD [“Yahweh”] turned to him.” Thirdly, as we shall see, Gideon thought he would die because he had seen the LORD Yahweh in the Person of the Angel of the Lord.

However, at this point, it doesn’t seem that Gideon was yet aware of the identity of his visitor, since he called Him “adonai,” (not Yahweh) a term that can mean “master” or “lord”:

·       Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” (Judges 6:22-23)

Evidently, Gideon had thought we would die, having seen the “angel of the LORD,” who he then addressed as “GOD.” But why? Gideon already knew that He was a messenger from the Lord. However, it is evident, after he had seen his miracle, that now he knew that this Angel [or “messenger”] was Yahweh Himself, as the narrative had all along indicated.

This account is reminiscent of Jacob wrestling with the angel whom he later realizes to be God:


·       So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:30)

It also reminds us of the account in which Moses approached the burning bush to be encountered by the Angel of the LORD who is also called “Yahweh”:

·       And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush… When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush… “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:2-5)

It was “holy ground” not because of the presence of a messenger but because of the presence of Yahweh.

SAMSON

The Angel of the Lord had appeared to Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson, and promised them a child. However, they did not realize that He was the angel of the Lord. However, when He ascended with the flames of their offering, they realized His true identity:

·       The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” (Judges 13:21-22)

The Hebrews realized that this Messenger of God was actually God Himself, but how could a Messenger from God also be God? Only if God is more than One Person!

This is a lesson for us Christians. The New Testament didn’t invent any doctrines. Instead, the Spirit had illuminated to the Apostles what was already cryptically revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures but with greater clarity:

·       When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:4-5)

There is another lesson that we should not miss. We often ask for a divine encounter. However, for the unredeemed, an encounter with God is a terrifying encounter. For the redeemed, it might be an unnecessary encounter. Rather, we are told to walk by faith and not be sight.

Why then did the Angel appear to the Israelites? It was only in the midst of their dire need. In each of the three cases cited above, Israel was being sorely oppressed and needed deliverance.

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