Word Magazine October 2000 Page 8
A GOD OF PEACE AND A MAN OF VALOR:
IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
By Very Rev. Joseph Sakkab
“And what shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and . . . . (Hebrew 11:32)
The deity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, and his pre-incarnational appearances upon Earth in the Old Testament, are the subject of constant attack in this spiritually dark age. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear such attacks from non-Christians. But nothing saddens us more than when we encounter Orthodox Christians who are not aware of the existence of Christ prior to His incarnation and birth in Bethlehem. They are not even sure of his deity, although you find these same people reciting the Nicene Creed, which clearly states the unwavering Orthodox belief that Jesus is the Eternal Son of God. The purpose of writing this article is to give one example of many that give unequivocal proof of the pre-existence and deity of Christ, and reveal much about the nature and purpose of his ministry. The manifestations of Christ in the Old Testament are accompanied by the names, titles, and divine acts in every instance of the manifestations.
The theme of this article is taken from the Book of Judges, which records one of the darkest periods in the history of the children of Israel. Their condition was lamentable. After the death of Joshua, they fell into anarchy. They became a loose confederation of tribes, totally unorganized. The key verse is, “in these days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:23). They even worshiped false gods — a state of real moral depravity. However, throughout this dark period, God never left Himself without a witness. He sent prophets to admonish and reproach the people in order to deepen a sense of spiritual conviction in them. Whenever they repented and cried out for help, He raised up for them a deliverer who would judge and lead the people in times of war. This situation of apostasy, punishment and deliverance forms the keynote to the situation recorded in the whole Book of Judges. Over and over this cycle was repeated. Jeremiah’s exhortation is explanatory, “Your wickedness will correct you, and your backsliding will reprove you … that you have forsaken the Lord your God” (Jer. 2:19). These judges are designated in Scripture as saviors. We read in Nehemiah, “According to thy manifold mercies thou gave them saviors who saved them out of the hand of their enemies” (Neh. 9:27). They are a type of the Great Savior who was to appear in the fullness of time according to God’s promise in Isaiah, “For they will cry to the Lord because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and will deliver them” (Is. 19:20). There are seven apostasies, or departures from God, and seven distinct deliverances at the hand of the following judges: Othniel, who was clothed with the Spirit of God (Jud. 3:10), Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah the prophetess and patriotic woman, and Barak whom she summoned to raise the army. Gideon the might man of valor, Jephtha the man of rash vow, and Samson the weak and strong man. Other judges are mentioned also, but they are of less importance.
Above all, what is remarkable to note is that God sent His only begotten Son “whose goings forth (origin) are from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2) to manifest himself in the person of “The Angel of the Lord.” Our story begins when this Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon to call him to the great work of delivering Israel. The story of Gideon’s judgeship, his calling to the office and the preparations of his work, is of great significance, and is wonderfully described as we shall see later. The Israelites suffered seven years of subjection under the hand of Median to the extent that they were impoverished and sought refuge in dens, caves and strongholds in the mountains. Under the pressure of this servitude they cried out to the Lord for deliverance. “But God, who is rich in mercy, in response to their plea, first sent them a prophet to reprimand them for their evil behavior in the sight of their God, then He sent them the deliverer.” In like manner, the same everlasting God might, in the ages to come, show the exceeding riches of His grace towards us in Christ Jesus, the Savior of the world.
The story of their deliverance commences with the appearance of the Angel of the Lord to Gideon, son of Joash the Abiezerite, while he was threshing wheat in the wine press in order to hide the wheat from the Midianites. The Angel of the Lord greeted Gideon with solemn words, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor” (Jud. 6:11. 12). We do not think much of a man who chooses to hide to be of valor. To us, Gideon is anything but a man of valor. However, it is not so with God. “For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope for His mercy” (Ps. 147:11). The Lord saw Gideon’s valor in his determination to secure food for his sustenance, and his deep concern for his people. The literal meaning of “Gideon” is “cutter down,” because he was threshing or cutting the wheat. The Lord’s plan for this young man of valor was to raise him up as deliverer to his people, “to make him into a threshing sledge with sharp teeth” (Is. 41:19), to thresh out the Midianites and Amalekites: “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:16). The salutation of the Angel of the Lord was encouraging enough to fill Gideon’s heart with enthusiasm. Instead, Gideon replied with a melancholic tone, “O my Lord (ADONAI), if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (Jud. 6:13)
It is very important, right from the beginning, to notice that Gideon must have recognized something extraordinary about his guest and his message. No doubt, God has endowed Gideon with spiritual insight, making him conscious of a Divine presence, i.e., the person who was addressing him is not an ordinary person, but the Lord Adonai. The use of this word “Adonai” is distinctly obvious in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. The two proper names “Adonai” and “Yahweh” were translated into English as “Lord.” This title applies to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. As to the title “Adonai,” we can trace its exclusive designation to Christ the Messiah in several passages of the Old Testament in highly significant contexts. For example, in Isaiah 6:1-8, the prophet describes in his vision that, “I saw the Adonai sitting upon a throne … I heard the voice of the Adonai saying whom shall I send?” It is to this passage, and its particular application to the person of Christ, that John the Evangelist refers when he says: “But although He (Christ) had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet may be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Jn. 12:37, 38) John concludes, “These things Isaiah said when he saw his glory and spoke of Him” (Jn. 12:41)*.
The question is, what glory did Isaiah see? Isaiah in his vision saw the majesty of the most High manifested in the uplifted throne amid the chanting of the Seraphim, and by the earthquake that made the foundations of the thresholds tremble. The Seraphim cried one to another saying, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” He who was yet to empty himself from His glory and humble Himself to the point of death, even the death of the cross to save us sinners, was the object of angelic adoration. It is an ascription of the praise and adoration to the most Holy Trinity, whose glory is manifested in all His creation.
Another remarkable example is found in Ps. 110:1: “Yahweh said to my Adonai, sit at my right hand till I make your enemy your footstool.” How wonderful it is to know that the Lord Jesus applied this Psalm to Himself, when the Pharisees said to him that He is the Son of David. Jesus replied, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him Lord, how is He his Son?” (Mat. 22:45)** These two quotations are conclusive evidence of the deity of Christ, and that title Adonai applies to Him personally. The Lord (Adonai), noticing the despondency in Gideon’s reply, turned to encourage this laborious thresher and impart to him the power of His might, by saying to Him, “Go in this your might” (Jud. 6:14). Then He gave him sufficient assurance of success for delivering Israel from the hand of the Midianites, and confirmed it by saying to him, “Have I not send you?” In other words, haven’t I, whom you addressed as Adonai sent you? With all this assurance from the Lord of Hosts, Gideon should have been strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (Eph. 6:10). Gideon, being conscious of the presence of the Lord (Adonai), clearly felt his own unworthiness and weakness by asking how he could save Israel, being a member of the weakest clan in Manasseh, and the least in His father’s house. It is interesting to note that Moses had the same feeling when the Lord appeared to him in the Burning Bush and commissioned him to deliver the Israelites from their oppressors, the Egyptians. The Lord who assured Moses saying, “I will certainly be with you,” also assured Gideon by saying, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” (Jud. 6:16) This same Lord gave both of them all-sufficient promises according to His goodness.
The character and dignity of Gideon’s celestial visitor becomes increasingly clear. Here is the real Deliverer, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Lord of Hosts, who appeared in angelic disguise. This is what we understand by Christ’s manifestations in the Old Testament. This is this Angel of the Lord, Christ in all the Scriptures.
Who can give such a promise with an absolute authority and full assurance of success? This, only Christ can give. Or who can assure us that we are more than conquers through Him who loved us? (Ro. 8:37) The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory (Ps. 24:8-10), the chief of judges to whom the Father has committed all judgment (Jn. 5:22).
Although Gideon now had faith in his Adonai, he still desires to have this faith confirmed by a sign of confirmation. “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talks with me” (Jud. 6:17). In many instances through the Bible, God answers the honest questions of His faithful servants, and condescends in grace to give them a material sign. This is meant to convey a lesson appropriate to the occasion, as well as to confirm the faith of the inquirer. A question that comes from a heart that is trusting God does not offend our gracious God, but is acceptable to Him. For example, when King Hazekiah asked that the shadow go backwards ten degrees on the sundial of his father Ahaz, as a sign that God would fulfill his promise to him, the Lord brought the Shadow ten degrees backward (2 Kin. 20:llb). Also we read in Isaiah 7:10 that the Lord himself requested King Ahas to ask a sign from the Lord. When he refused to ask for a sign, the Lord Himself gave him a sign, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Is. 10:14).
Having asked for a sign, Gideon also asked the Angel of the Lord to wait until he brings an offering and presents it to Him (Jud. 6:18). As we see from Judges 6:19 Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. He put the meat in a basket, and the broth in a pot. What is noteworthy here is that Gideon returned and presented his offering to his Adonai, who graciously consented to wait for him. Adonai commanded Gideon to lay his offering on the rock. The rock itself is a type of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4) as well as the offering. Gideon, who asked for a sign, responded and waited to see the lesson he should learn.
The intensity of the story builds up rapidly as the Angel of the Lord extended the end of the staff that was in His hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire rose out of the rock and consumed it all, as a token that it was accepted. Then the Angel of the Lord (Adonai) departed out of his sight. Notice that the young goat was consumed as a burnt offering to show what the sinner deserves. The fire that came out of this rock is an emblem of the justice which demands satisfaction for sin. At the same time it turns the offering into a sweet savor acceptable to our merciful God. In this manifestation we recognize the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Jesus Christ, by whose atonement we are reconciled to God (Heb. 3:1).
What a glorious manifestation! Adonai appeared under the disguise of the Angel of the Lord, and sealed His promise. He ratified His peace by this act of sacrifice, which is a type of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Gideon has asked for a sign and the Lord gave him one that removed all doubts as to the fact that it was truly Adonai Himself who had been talking to him. At the same time it was a strong confirmation of the high commission which He entrusted to him. In the strength of this, Gideon overthrew the altar of Baah, and was called Jerubaal. Later in the chapter, we read that with just three hundred men wielding lamps, pitchers, swords and trumpets, he defeated the enemies and saved the Israelites.
This wondrous manifestation so greatly overwhelmed Gideon that he perceived that he had been in the presence of Yahweh, and as a result, dreaded the consequences of having seen God. For he exclaimed, “Alas, O Lord God! for I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face” (Jud. 6:22). In the language of the prophet Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone for mine eyes have seen the king the Lord of Hosts” (Is. 6:5). Immediately, the Prince of Peace granted Gideon peace of mind to cheer up his heart and dissipate his fears by saying to him, “Peace be with you, do not fear, you shall not die.” In this enacted prophecy we have the peace which was made possible by the blood of our Savior’s cross (Col. 1:20).
It is remarkable to note that Gideon was so deeply impressed by both the lesson and by the clear manifestation of his Adonai, the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared under the disguise of the Angel of the Lord, that he built an altar on that rock, and identified it by the name which perpetuated the remembrance of that wonderful scene… “Yahweh Shalom,” “the Lord is peace”
In this wondrous vision of old we have not only a manifestation of Christ Himself before His incarnation, but also the proof of His deity, and a foreshadowing of God’s great plan of redemption. We have the peace which was made by the blood of His cross. The comforting word of peace that He bestowed upon Gideon is still spoken to assure his servants of His peace that surpasses all understanding. So let us be more than confident that our Lord Jesus Christ is “Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made.”
*They failed to see the arm of the Lord stretched for their salvation.
**(Matt. 22:43-45) David as King of Israel would not address anyone as “my Lord” except God Himself. Therefore this Psalm verse describes God talking to God — the Father to the Son — which contradicts the Pharisees’ view of God as one person, and introduces the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (Orthodox Study Bible, 62).
“FOR THE LORD DOES NOT SEE AS MAN SEES, FOR MAN
LOOKS AT THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE, BUT THE
LORD LOOKS AT THE HEART” (1 SAM. 16:7)
Archpriest Joseph Sakkab is Dean of the Prairie Deanery.