|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||About God|
Is only the Father named “Yahve”?
|The “Angel Yahve” and the sight of God|
In the Holy Bible, we often encounter an apparent contradiction, which confuses many people. In certain parts of it, it clearly states that some “have seen God” while elsewhere it says, “it is not possible for anyone to see God”. So, as we proceed to examine the issue of the “Angel Yahve”, we shall have the opportunity to clarify this point.
1. It is not possible for anyone to see God
Let’s begin with what Moses, the servant of the true God, the prophet of Israel, the mediator of the Old Testament recorded in Exodus, 33/XXXIII 20:
« …you are not able to look upon my countenance; for no man shall look upon my countenance and stay alive ».
The Lord’s words here are very clear, that no-one can see God.
Similarly, in the Gospel of John, 1/I 8, Jesus Christ -according to the text- says: “No-one has ever seen God”. This wording is also quite clear. But even the Apostle Paul in Timothy I, 6/VI 16 says: “…the only One Who has immortality, Who lives within the inaccessible light, Whom no-one of humankind has ever seen nor is able to see, to Whom is due every honor and eternal power; Amen.”
We observe here, that all of God’s people say: “no-one has ever seen God and no-one is able to see Him”.
2. God’s appearance before Abraham and Hagar
When listening to the words of Stephen, the first martyr, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (7/VII 2), one could however acquire the exact opposite opinion. When responding to the high priest of the court, Stephen said the following:
«…all you menfolk, my brethren and fathers, listen to me. The God of Glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia, before he went to reside in Charran».
To begin with, this speech seems to contradict the previous references, inasmuch as the God of Glory appeared before Abraham and that God manifested Himself and Abraham saw the God of Glory.
We also see another example of this kind, in the Book of Genesis. Hagar, Abraham’s maidservant, leaves his home and escapes into the desert. Let’s see how the Holy Bible narrates this incident:
Genesis 16/XVI 7-14: «7 And an angel of the Lord found her, at the spring of water in the desert, at the well on the road to Sur. 8 and the angel of the Lord said to her, Hagar, handmaiden of Sarah, where do you come from and where are you going to? And she said: I am escaping from the presence of my mistress Sarah. 9 and the angel of the Lord said to her: turn back, go to your mistress and humble yourself beneath her hands».
It is quite clear that an angel of God is speaking to her - “the angel of Yahve” according to the Hebrew text. Let’s continue however with this narration, as it proves especially interesting:
«10 and the angel of the Lord said to her: I shall multiply your seed, so much that its multitude cannot be counted. 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her: Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son and shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord heeded your humility. 12 he shall be a man of the countryside, his hands shall be upon everyone and everyone’s hands shall be upon him, and he shall reside in the presence of all his brothers. 13 And Hagar called upon the name of the Lord (“Yahve” in Hebrew”), Who was speaking to her: “You are the Lord, Who has looked upon me” (Who saw me); and because she said: “… and before me I saw the One Who saw me, 14 for this reason, she named the well “The well in front of which I saw” (The Living and the Seeing according to the Hebrew text), here, between Kadesh and Barad ».
So, in one place the text says that it was an angel of Yahve, and then Hagar says: “I saw Yahve, the One Who saw me, Who looked upon me and my situation” (because she was on the run), and she goes as far as naming that well “The Well of the Living and the Seeing One”, thus alluding to Yahve. So, what happened here? Did she see an Angel, or did she see Yahve? Is it possible that she saw an Angel and yet claimed she had seen Yahve? What exactly was this experience that she had? What is underlying here? What concealed fact is hidden behind this phrasing?
What we should retain from this excerpt that we just read, is, firstly, that Hagar saw the Lord, the Lord of Glory, (“Yahve”, according to the Hebrew text ) and also, that this Yahve is most certainly called Angel Yahve, which is what we shall discuss further along.
3. God appearing before Jacob
Let us look at yet another excerpt, again from Genesis, chapter 32/XXXII 30, where we find another epiphany of God; another appearance of Yahve, only this time in Jacob’s presence. In this verse 30, the book of Genesis says the following: « And Jacob named that place “the appearance of God” (Hebrew: “Fanuel” = the face of God); for I saw God, face to face, and my soul was saved». Here, Jacob claims that he saw God, face to face. So, how is this reconciled with what we read in the New Testament, that “no-one ever saw God”, when on the other hand Jacob tells us that he saw God face to face?
4. God appearing before Moses
The same thing is observed with Moses. In the book of Exodus, 3/III 2-4, “2 and an angel of the Lord appeared before him, in flames that came from within the midst of a bush, and he saw that the bush was aflame with fire, yet it was not being consumed by the fire. 3 and Moses said: “I will move away from here, to go and see this great vision, because the bush is not being consumed by the fire. 4 And as the Lord saw that he was approaching, the Lord called to him from the midst of the bush, saying: “Moses! Moses!”. He said: “What is it?”
But, according to verse 2, the Angel Yahve was in that bush; and in verse 4, it clearly says that Yahve called out to him from within that bush, saying “Moses! Moses!”, and that Moses responded to His call.
Now, observe what verse 6 says: «..and He said: I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. And Moses turned his face away; for he was pious enough, not to gaze in the presence of God».
This point here is extremely important. Here, Moses is afraid to gaze upon God, because he was informed that this was God in the midst of the bush, and not any ordinary, created Angel of Yahve, but that very same God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob!
5. God appearing before Gideon
Let’s go to one more verse, this time from the book of Judges, where the Lord, Yahve, converses, discusses and appears before Gideon.
We read in the book of Judges, chapter 6/VI 11-16:
«11 and an angel of the Lord (“Angel Yahve” according to the Hebrew text) arrived, and he sat under the terebinth tree in Ephratha which belonged to Joash, father of Abiezri, while his son Gideon was threshing wheat inside the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. 12 and the angel of the Lord (“Angel Yahve” according to the Hebrew text) appeared before him and said to him: “The Lord (“Yahve” according to the Hebrew text) be with you”, the powerful of the hosts” 13 and Gideon said to Him: “Within me, my Lord (“Yahve” according to the Hebrew text); and if the Lord is with us, why did all these misfortunes befall us? And where are all His miracles, which our fathers had narrated, saying: ‘Didn’t the Lord bring us out of Egypt?’ And now, He has rejected us and has delivered us into the hands of the Midianites».
Notice, how Gideon addresses the Angel as “Yahve”, even though the angel is speaking to him about “Yahve”!
And the narration continues in verse 14: «and the angel of the Lord (not an angel of the Lord, but “Yahve” according to the Hebrew text) turned to him and said: “Go forth, with the strength of this belief, and deliver Israel from the hand of the Midianites; behold, do not I send you forth? 15 and Gideon said to Him: “Within me, my Lord (“Yahve” according to the Hebrew text), with what means shall I save Israel? Behold, my clan has weakened in Manassee, and I am the youngest in my father’s house”. 16 and the angel of the Lord (not an angel of the Lord, but “Yahve” according to the Hebrew text) said to him: the Lord is with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man ».
We observe here, that Gideon does not address Him as “angel of God”; he addresses Him as “YAHVE”! In fact, according to the original Hebrew text, in the beginning he says that it is an “angel of the Lord”, the Holy Bible itself refers to him as “Yahve” and not “angel of the Lord”.
We therefore again observe that, while Yahve Himself is conversing with Gideon and Gideon is obviously looking at Yahve, we simultaneously observe that at times He is called “Angel Yahve” and elsewhere He is called “Yahve”. This is what probably confused the translator of the Septuagint translation, making him alter in two places the word “Yahve” as found in the original Hebrew text, replacing it with the word “angel Yahve”, because he couldn’t perceive what was happening!
Actually, verse 14 is very important, because it says: “Do not I send you forth?” and not: “doesn’t Yahve send you forth?”. It says “send you forth”, because He is the One Who actually possesses the authority as “the” God of heaven and earth, as “the” God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to actually dispatch, to call for and to command.
6. God appearing before Samson’s parents
Continuing with the book of Judges, in chapter 13/XIII, we have the incident with Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife. In this narration, there is clearly quite a number of mentions that the “angel Yahve” (i.e. a messenger of Yahve) appeared to them. But let’s take a look at a part of this narration.
The angel of Yahve appeared before Manoah and his wife, and according to verses 16 and 17 we read: “and Manoah said to the Angel of Yahve: What is your name, so that we might glorify you?” In verse 18, we read: “The Angel of Yahve said to him: “Why do you ask for my name? For it is wondrous.” But let us see how it continues:
20 and it so happened, when the flame rose up above the altar up to the heavens, the angel of the Lord rose up in the flame of the altar, and Manoah and his wife on seeing this, threw themselves on the ground, with their faces downward 21 and the angel of the Lord was no more seen by Manoah and his wife; it was then that Manoah knew this was an angel of the Lord 22 and Manoah said to his wife: “death shall befall us, for we have looked upon the Lord.”
How is it, that he said he cried out that it was the Angel Yahve, and yet, later on, this man, this faithful man of God says: “We have looked upon the Lord and death shall befall us”?
It is obvious that the faithful men of God, those who had progressed in virtue under the law of Moses, had precise knowledge of the True God and at the opportune moment they would be informed by Him that He was indeed in their presence, and thus fell prostrate before Him, they worshipped Him, and they spoke of Him, even though He may have appeared in the form of Angel Yahve. They knew this was the Uncreated One.
However, before we continue, we must again stress that there is a clear distinction between the Created and the Uncreated. We also stress something else, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, which is often generated by many heretics, that there is no mention here that “we saw a certain God”, or in other words an Angel, but “the God”. Because the article does exist in the Hebrew text! We noted the same, on the subject “ON GOD” in all the previous verses that we examined. There is the definitive article, which precisely defines what they saw. They saw God, the True God of Heaven and Earth. Besides, the faithful Israelites would never consider anyone else as “god”!
7. The “Angel of the Covenant” in Malachias
Let us now move on, to the prophet Malachias this time. We have moved from the Pentateuch to Judges, to the Prophets and now we shall take a look at chapter 3/III of Malachias, verse 1.
There, the prophet Malachias records the words of God, in exactly the way the way that He Himself revealed them:
“1 Behold, I send forth my angel, and he shall prepare the path before me, and the Lord (“Yahve” according to the Hebrew text) whom you seek shall suddenly arrive in His temple, and the angel of the covenant whom you seek, behold, He is coming, says the Lord almighty”.
This is a very significant verse, which we may have the opportunity in the future to analyse I depth. However, let us pause for the time being – within the framework of our study – at the following point:
He says that “The Lord whom you seek – in other words Yahve whom you are expecting – will suddenly come to His Temple”, and then clarifies that this “Yahve” is “the Angel of the Covenant”. Yahve is therefore also referred to as the Angel of the Covenant, who will come to His Temple!
It is the same Angel that we have seen speaking to Moses in the burning bush, who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He appears as an Angel – a “messenger”, but He is an Uncreated Being; it is He, Yahve Himself as we said.
But let’s circle back to the Old Testament again. Let’s go back to the book of Genesis (chapter 48, 15-16) and take a look at the words that the Patriarch Jacob blesses his children, at the time that his life on earth is coming to an end:
“…15 and he blessed them and said: ‘Thou, God, whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac had pleased in Your presence, (Thou), Who has nourished me since my childhood to this day, 16 (Thou), the angel that has delivered me from every evil, bless these children and let my name be invoked in them, and (also) the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they flourish into a great multitude upon the earth.”
Here, Jacob is absolutely relating the God of his Fathers – Abraham and Isaac – with the God that appeared to him and with Whom he struggled; with the Angel that accompanied him and blessed him. It is very clear, that these just men had a vision of the Almighty, in the person of an Uncreated Angel, who was familiar to everyone. Every faithful servant of God had the awareness that it was Yahve Who appeared to them.
8. Jesus Yahve: the Uncreated Angel of the Covenant
Since we have circled around the various tracts regarding God, where at times it is impossible for anyone to see Him and elsewhere He appears to the holy men of the Old Testament, let’s go back to the prophet Malachias, to determine Who this Yahve or Angel of Yahve is, that appeared to prophets and holy men.
We read once again: Malachias chapter 3 verse 1, in the Hebrew text this time:
“Behold, I send my Angel, and He shall prepare the path ahead of Me.”
He is referring here, to a certain Angel that will construct, or prepare, the Way of the Lord. And he continues:
“And the Lord Whom you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple, yes, the Angel of the Covenant, whom you desire. Behold, He is coming! Says the Lord of Hosts.”
We therefore have 2 Angels. The one Angel that is referred to first, prepares the Way of the Lord, and is also otherwise referred to as the Angel of the Covenant Who will visit His Temple and Whom – Malachias says - the Lord of Hosts confirms that He is coming.
Let us take a look at the same verse, which is mentioned by the Evangelists in the New Testament, to see exactly what it is saying.
In the Gospel according to Matthew (ch.11, 10-11), Jesus Christ refers to John the Baptist and his mission: “10 ….He is the one for whom it was written ‘behold, I send my Angel, and He shall prepare the path ahead of Me’. 11 verily I say unto you, there never has risen a man born of woman greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than him”.
So, the Lord apparently tells us that John the Baptist is the one who is described in the verse of Malachias as “the Angel who prepares the path of the Lord”.
Let us examine this verse in more detail, from the Gospel according to Luke, where Zechariah – in a state of the Holy Spirit – speaks of his son John’s mission. He says the following there:
“And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High; for you will first go forth before the face of the Lord, to prepare his paths”. (Luke 1, 76)
So, John the Baptist is the Messenger, the Deacon who prepared the path of Yahve. Zechariah, John’s father, knows of no other Lord, only Yahve.
And so, this is the Yahve who appears as an uncreated Angel in the Old Testament. It is He again, Who appears in the New Testament, as the incarnate Jesus Christ – the Lord who actually assumed a human nature in order to heal it. He is the Saviour and the Lord.
Well, it seems that the Person of Jesus Christ is the only solution to the enigma of the apparent appearances of God in the Old Testament, in the person of that mysterious ”Angel of the Covenant”. This Jesus Christ is the One who indeed is named Yahve. Because, just as the Father is “Yahve”, so also the Son is called “Yahve”, which is something that we have shown in many of our other studies in this website.
He is the One that was seen throughout history by God’s people, and they were fully conscious that they had looked upon Yahve Himself. Not in His Divine nature, but in His hypostasis as Son and Logos Yahve – Jesus Christ – in His pre-human existence.
The words of the Holy Bible that: “no-one has ever seen God” and that: “whoever sees God cannot remain alive”, refer to the uncreated ESSENCE of God. But the Yahve-Logos, the uncreated “Angel Yahve” Jesus Christ, appeared in various visible forms to the faithful, throughout history; and He gave them His assurance that the One they saw was truly Yahve. And that is why they were afraid they would die, if they “saw God”.
No-one can therefore see God in His ESSENCE, but one can see Him in the person of Jesus Christ, the “Messenger of the Covenant”.
This article was created from a recording of the Piraeus Church’s radio program “Orthodoxy and Heresy”, in 1994.
Speakers: Michael Mavroforakis and Agapios Matsagouras +.
Voice transcript by : Â. Ô.
Printed article prepared by: Í. Ì.
Translation by A. N.
Article published in English on: 29-7-2005.
Last update: 4-8-2005.