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Abraham’s World

We learned from Deut. 32: 8-9 that YHWH placed the nations under the governance of junior elohim - the sons of God of His divine council. Having disinterested humanity, unwilling as it was to fulfill the mandate of Eden to overspread the earth, he decided to start over. The reader of Genesis gets the felling that the new beginning was almost immediate, as the Tower of Babel story is immediately followed by the call of Abram.
Abram was, of course, the original name of Abraham. God called this Mesopotamian man, seemingly out of the blue, to leave his extended family and journey to a foreign local. God entered into covenant with him, changed his name to Abraham, and then enabled him and his wife to produce a son, Isaac, in their advanced age. Isaac in turn became the father of Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel.
Simple, right? It won’t surprise when I say that there is much more going on than meets the eye. Abraham is about to meet his God - but for Abraham’s protection, God must come to the man in a way that blunts the light of his own glory and helps Abraham process him as a person.

The Joy of Abraham

We first encounter God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12. But that chapter isn’t the beginning of God’s dealing with Abraham. In Genesis 12, Abraham is not in Mesopotamia; he’s in a place north of Canaan called Haran Genesis 12:4
Genesis 12:4 ESV
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
To understand the real beginning of God’s contact with Abraham, let’s back up. After the Babel episode, the remainder of Genesis 11 is devoted to a genealogy - -the genealogy of Abram back to Noah’s son Shem. Genealogies often contain something important or interesting and this one is no exception. Compare the last two verses of Abram’s roots Genesis 11: 31-32
Genesis 11:31–32 ESV
Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.
and Acts 7: 2-4
Acts 7:2–4 ESV
And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.
You see God first contacted Abraham before he got to Haran — and it was more than a conversation in his head. Notice something here ....God APPEARED to Abraham. Abraham’s divine encounter in Mesopotamia involved a VISIBLE APPEARANCE… Abraham and God talked face to face. Now let’s go to Genesis 12: 1-3
Genesis 12:1–3 ESV
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This the section we know the best … but keep reading to Gen 12: 6-7
Genesis 12:6–7 ESV
Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
Twice in these two verses we read that YHWH appeared to Abraham. A close reading of Genesis 12 through 50 tells us that visible manifestation is the normal choice of the Lord with respect to Abraham and his descendents, the patriarchs.
This brings us to Genesis 15: 1-6, where the covenant of 12 is repeated and ratified by a covenantal ceremony. The description of the speaker is even more startling, NOTE THE EMPHASIS
Genesis 15:1–6 (ESV)
After these things the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the Word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
This is fascinating. Notice right from the start that it is the “Word of YHWH” (the Lord) who comes to Abraham in a vision. As before, the encounter was a visible manifestation of God. The Word here is something that can be seen, Why else call it a vision? In verse 4 we read that the Word “brought him outside” to continue the conversation. This isn’t kind of language one would expect if Abraham was hearing only a sound.
These appearances of the Word (and more later) are the conceptual backdrop (along with the Greek understanding of logos as a central figure from which all things came Heraclitus) to the Apostle John’s language that Jesus was the Word. John 1: 1
John 1:1 ESV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 ESV
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
But John says some equally dramatic things in connection with this idea that are less familiar.
John 8:56 ESV
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Jesus, the incarnate Word, informs his Jewish antagonists that he appeared to Abraham prior to his incarnation. They vehemently object to this claim, and Jesus responds John 8:58
John 8:58 ESV
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Genesis 12 and 15 are the backdrop here. I hope you grasp the significance of this interchange. Since the Word is clearly equated with and identified as YHWH in Genesis 12 and 15, when Jesus says “that was me” he is claiming to be the Word of the OT, who was the visible YHWH. This understanding is behind some of the things Paul says about Abraham and Jesus. Gal 3:8
Galatians 3:8 ESV
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
This is a reference to the covenant delivered personally and visibly by the Word.

YHWH Visible and Embodied

The fact that the OT at times has God appearing in visible form should now be on your radar. We going to see a lot more of him (pun intended).
Another great passage that features God in the OT as visible is the story of the young prophet to be, Samuel.
1 Samuel 3:1 ESV
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
Here the reader is predisposed to expect a vision of the “Word of the Lord” but Samuel keeps hearing a voice calling his name while he is trying to sleep. He assumes it’s the voice of the priest Eli and goes to the elderly man, but it was not Eli who spoke. After hearing the voice the third time Eli realizes that it is God and tells Samuel how to respond.
Samuel goes to bed
1 Samuel 3:10 ESV
And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Here God is standing before Samuel.
1 Samuel 3:19–21 ESV
And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
This threw me for a loop when I first notices that God appears with regularity to Samuel, This is not a mere voice in the head or heart. This is the visible Word -God in human form- standing before him, , being with him appearing to him
Some are stronger than appearing, some are embodied
Genesis 18:1–5 (ESV)
And the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
That one of these three men is God is evident from the first verse. That the appearance of God and his two companions is physical is telegraphed by the request to wash their feet and partake in a meal, which they then do.
The narrator and the reader of course know that one of the men is God, but does Abraham? That he does is made clear from the conversation he has with the embodied YHWH. After their meal the other two men (whom we discover are angels in Gen 19) leave to go to Sodom. Once Abraham discerns that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is imminent, he objects out of concern for his nephew Lot, a resident of Sodom.
Genesis 18:25 ESV
Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Abraham knows the person before him is the “judge of all the earth” since he addresses his plea directly. He addresses the figure as “you” twice before the rhetorical questions that invokes the divine title. Abraham had seen him and heard him before. He visually recognized his visitor from previous encounters.
One final example from the OT of an embodied YHWH who is the “Word” is far less known, but no less dramatic.
Jeremiah 1:2–6 ESV
to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”
Okay … now we go forward and read
Jeremiah 1:9 ESV
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
Sounds don’t reach out and touch people. This is the language of a physical, embodied presence.

Whispers of a Godhead

These passages raise three questions:
First, it’s one thing to see that YHWH appears in human form even to the point of embodiment, but what is the logic of this language? In other words, why do this?
Second, how is it that, if this Word was God, and the Word was visible and embodied, Jews of Jesus’ day could tolerate the notion that Jesus was God incarnate on earth — While God was still in heaven? After all, Jesus prayed to the Father and spoke of the Father, the God of Isreal, in the third person. How could a Jew accommodate this idea — that, essentially, there were two YHWHs, one invisible and in heaven,the other on earth in visible form?
Third, does this help or harm the NT articulation of a Trinity? Was the Trinity a new idea?
The answers to all three of these questions are all found in the OT. What we have begun to uncover are whispers of the idea of a Godhead - -in the OT, the Bible of Judaism. These whispers will become much louder as we continue.
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