Sunday, February 4, 2018

February 3-4: Exodus 19 – 20; God’s Appearing – Theophanies

             What is the difference between God appearing, the glory of the Lord appearing, and an Angel of the Lord appearing? In Exodus 19:11, the lord told Moses that on the third day he would come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Previously the glory of the Lord had appeared to them in the cloud (Ex 16:10). After this, 70 elders of Israel went up the mountain with Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu where they saw the Lord (Ex 24:9). I found over 25 verses that specifically say God or the Lord appeared to people in the Old Testament. These don’t even include the appearances to Isaiah and Ezekiel that are more descriptive. If you add to these references to the glory of the Lord appearing or filling the temple, you have another two dozen verses.
            A theophany is a, “Manifestation of God that is tangible to the human senses.”[1] Therefore there is no difference between all these different manifestations of God in the Old Testament. They are ways that God made his presence known to people. We shouldn’t get hung up on the fact that God is spirit (John 4:24) and doesn’t have flesh and blood (Matt 16:17). Since he is God, he can present himself in any way he wants. That’s why they are called manifestations.
            Reading in Exodus 20:18-19, the appearance of God on the mountain and the accompanying thunder, lightning, and trumpet blast were so fearsome that the people didn’t even want God to speak to them for fear of death. God appeared in these limited ways because no one can see the Lord and live (Ex 33:20). While each of the theophanies showed something of the Lord, none showed his complete glory or face. Just as he allowed Moses to see his back, he let some people see a physical phenomenon so that they would not die.
            The New Testament is different. The reason is that now, God took on a human body so that he could communicate directly with us. Hebrews 1:1-2 clearly tells us that in the past he spoke by the prophets and in various ways but now, by Jesus, his Son. When you look back at the theophanies and consider what God did just to let his presence be known without killing people, it is awesome to think that Jesus is the exact radiance of God. No longer do we have to fear seeing God because he now can be seen in Jesus. Jesus even told his disciples that they had seen the Father (John 14:7, 9).
            Yet, when we read the Book of Revelation, the glorified Jesus inspired the same fear in John as was recorded in Old Testament encounters with theophanies (Rev 1:17). But Jesus put his hand on him and told him not to fear. Because Jesus came and died for our sins, we don’t need to fear seeing God. His presences may overwhelm us if we did see him, but we will not die if we have put our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

[1] William C. Williams, “Theophany” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1996), Biblesoft.  

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