Anticipations of Christ in the Old Testament


H.P. Liddon



"The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Gal. 3.8).

If we endeavor to discover how often, and by what modes of statement, such a doctrine as that of our Lord's Divinity is anticipated in the Old Testament, our conclusion will be materially affected by the belief which we entertain respecting the nature and the structure of Scripture itself.

According to Paul the great doctrines and events of the Gospel dispensation were directly anticipated in the Old Testament. If the sense of the Old Testament became patent in the New, it was because the New Testament was already latent in the Old. "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham." Scripture is thus boldly identified with the mind which inspires it; Scripture is a living Providence. The promise to Abraham anticipates the work of the apostle; the earliest of the Books of Moses determines the argument of the Epistle to the Galatians. Such a position is only intelligible when placed in the light of a belief in the fundamental unity of all revelation, underlying, and strictly compatible with, its superficial variety. And this true, internal unity of Scripture, even when the exact canonical limits of Scripture were still unfixed, was a common article of belief to all Christian antiquity. It was shared by the Church herself with her most vehement heretical opponents. Between Athanasius and the Arians there was no question as to the relevancy of the reference in the Book of Proverbs to the pre-existent Person of our Lord, although there was a vital difference between them as to the true sense and force of that reference. Scripture was believed to contain an harmonious and integral body of sacred truth, and each part of that body was treated as being more or less directly, more or less ascertainably, in correspondence with the rest, This belief expressed itself in the world-wide practice of quoting from any one book of Scripture in illustration of the mind of any other book.

The Bible the Handiwork of the Eternal Spirit

The Church of Christ has ever believed her Bible to be throughout, and so emphatically the handiwork of the Eternal Spirit that it is no absurdity in Christians to cite Moses as foreshadowing the teaching of Paul and of John. According to the tenor of Christian belief Moses, Paul, and John are severally regarded as free yet docile organs of one infallible intelligence, who places them at different points along the line of His action in human history; who, through them and others as the ages pass before Him, slowly unveils His mind; who anticipates the fullness of later revelations by the hints contained in His earlier disclosures; who, in the compass of His boundless wisdom, " reacheth from one end to another mightily and sweetly ordereth all things."

Our Lord's Divinity in the Old Testament

I You will have anticipated, my brethren, the bearing of these remarks upon the question before us. 'There are explicit references to the doctrine of our Lord's Divinity in the Old Testament which we can only deny by discrediting the historical value of the documents which contain them. But there are also occult references to this doctrine which we are not likely to detect, unless, while seeking them, we are furnished with an exegetical principle, such as that of the organic unity of Scripture.

In the Book of Genesis

At the beginning of the Book of Genesis there appear to be intimations of the existence of a plurality of persons within the one essence of God. It is indeed somewhat remarkable that the full significance of the two words by which Moses describes the primal creative act of God was not insisted upon by the primitive Church teachers. It attracted attention in the Middle Ages, and it was more particularly noticed after the revival of Hebrew letters. When Moses is describing this Divine action he joins a singular verb to a plural noun. Language, it would seem, thus submits to a violent anomaly that she may the better hint at the presence of several powers or persons who not merely act together, but who constitute a single agent. We are indeed told that this name of God, Elohim, was borrowed from Polytheistic sources, that it was retained in its plural form in order to express majesty or magnificence, and that it was then united to singular verbs and adjectives in order to make it do the work of a Monotheistic Creed. But on the other hand it is confessed on all sides that the promulgation and protection of a belief in the unity of God was the central and dominant object of the Mosaic literature and of the Mosaic legislation. Surely such an object would not have been imperiled for no higher purpose than that of amplification. There must have been a truth at stake which demanded the risk. The Hebrew language could have described God by singular forms, such as El, Eloab, and no question would have been raised as to the strictly Monotheistic force of those words. The Hebrew language might have " amplified" the idea of God thus conveyed by less dangerous processes than the employment of a plural form. Would it not have done so, unless the plural form had been really necessary, in order to suggest some complex mystery of God's inner life, until that mystery should be more clearly unveiled by the explicit revelations of a later day? The analogies of the language may indeed prove that the plural form of the word had a majestic force; but the risk of misunderstanding would surely have counterbalanced this motive for using it, unless a vital need had demanded its retention. Nor will the theory that the plural noun is merely expressive of majesty avail to account for the plural verb in the words,

"Let Us Make Man"

(Gen. 1.26). In these words, which precede the final act and climax of the Creation, the early fathers detected a clear intimation of a plurality of persons in the Godhead. The supposition that in these words a single person is in a dramatic colloquy with Himself is less reasonable than the opinion that a Divine speaker is addressing a multitude of inferior beings, such as the angels. But apart from other considerations we may well ask, What would be the "likeness" or "image" common to God and to the angels, in which man was to be created? or why should created essences such as the angels be invited to take part in a creative act at all? Each of the foregoing explanations is really weighted with greater difficulties than the Patristic doctrine, to the effect that the verb, "Let us make," points to a plurality of persons within the unity of the one agent, while the "likeness," common to all these Persons, and itself one, suggests very pointedly their participation in an undivided nature. And in such sayings as "Behold the man is become like one of us" (Gen. 3.22), used with reference to the Fall, or "Go to; let us go down, and there confound their language" (Gen. 11.7), uttered on the eve of the dispersion of Babel, it is clear that an equality of rank is distinctly assumed between the Speaker and those whom He is addressing. The true sense of the comparatively indeterminate language which occurs at the beginning of Genesis is more fully explained by

The Priestly Blessing

which we find prescribed for ritual usage in the Book of Numbers (Num. 6.23-26). This blessing is spoken of as a putting the Name of God, that is to say, a symbol unveiling His nature upon the children of Israel. Here then we discover a distinct limit to the number of the persons who are hinted at in Genesis as being internal to the unity of God. The priest is to repeat the most Holy Name three times. The Hebrew accentuation, whatever be its date, shows that the Jews themselves saw in this repetition the declaration of a mystery in the Divine nature. Unless such a repetition had been designed to secure the assertion of some important truth, a single mention of the Sacred Name would have been more natural in a system, the object of which was to impress belief in the Divine unity upon an entire people. This significant repetition, suggesting, without distinctly asserting, a Trinity in the being of God, did its work in the mind of Israel.

The Adoration of the Seraphim

Let us observe the crowning significance of the vision of Isaiah. In that adoration of the most Holy Three, who yet are One; by the veiled and mysterious Seraphim; in that deep self-abasement and misery of the prophet, who, though a man of unclean lips, had yet seen with his eyes the King, the Lord of Hosts; in that last inquiry on the part of the Divine Speaker, the very terms of which reveal Him as One, and yet more than One, what a flood of almost Gospel light is poured upon the intelligence of the elder Church!

The Theophanies

From these adumbrations of personal distinctions within the being of God, we pass naturally to consider that series of remarkable apparitions which are commonly known as the Theophanies and which form so prominent a feature in the early history of the Old Testament Scriptures. When we are told that God spoke to our fallen parents in Paradise (Gen. 3. 8), and appeared to Abram in his ninety-ninth year, there is no distinct intimation of the mode of the Divine manifestation. But when "Jehovah appeared" to the great patriarch by the oak of Mamre (Gen. 18.1), Abraham "lift up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him." Abraham bows himself to the ground; he offers hospitality; he waits b his visitors under the tree, and they eat. One of the three is the spokesman; he appears to hear the sacred name Jehovah (Gen. 18. 17); He is seemingly distinguished from the "two angels" who went first to Sodom; He promises that the aged Sarah shall have a son, and that " all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in Abraham." With Him Abraham intercedes for Sodom; by Him judgment is afterwards executed upon the guilty city. When it is said that "Jehovah rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of Heaven," a sharp distinction is established between a visible and an Invisible Person, each bearing the most Holy Name.

The Angel of the Lord

This distinction introduces us to the Mosaic and later representations of that very exalted and mysterious being, the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is certainly distinguished from Jehovah; yet the names by which he is called, the powers which he assumes to wield, the honor which is paid to him show that in him there was at least a special presence of God. He seems to speak sometimes in his own name, and sometimes as if he were not a created personality, but only a veil or organ of the Higher Nature that spoke and acted through him. Thus he assures Hagar, as if speaking in the character of an ambassador from God, that "the Lord had heard her affliction" (Gen. 16.11). Yet he promises her, "I will multiply thy seed exceedingly," and she in return "called the Name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou, God, seest me." He arrests Abraham's arm when the patriarch is on the point of carrying out God's bidding by offering Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22.11, 12); yet he associates himself with Him from whom "Abraham had not withheld his son, his only son." He accepts for himself Abraham's obedience as rendered to God, and he subsequently at a second appearance adds the promise, ""In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed ; because thou hast obeyed My voice." He appears to Jacob in a dream; he announces himself as "the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto Me" (Gen. 31.11,13). Thus he was "the Lord" who in Jacob's vision at Bethel had stood above the ladder and said, "I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac." He was, as it seems, the chief of that angel-host whom Jacob met at Mahanaim (Gen. 32. 1); with him Jacob wrestled for a blessing at Peniel; of him Jacob says, "I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." When blessing the sons of Joseph, the dying patriarch invokes not only "the God which fed me all my life long unto this day," but also "the Angel which redeemed me from all evil."

In The Burning Bush

In Midian the angel of the Lord appears to Moses "in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush." The bush remains miraculously unconsumed. "Jehovah" sees that Moses turns aside to see, and "Elohim" calls to Moses out of the midst of the bush. The very ground on which Moses stands is holy; and the lawgiver hides his face, "for he was afraid to look upon God." The Speaker from the midst of the bush announces Himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. His are the mercy, the wisdom, the providence, the power, the authority of the Most High ; nay, all the Divine attributes. When the children of Israel are making their escape from Egypt the Angel of the Lord leads them; in the hour of danger he places himself between the camp of Israel and the host of Pharaoh (Gen. 14.19). How deeply Israel felt the value of his protecting care we may learn from the terms of the message to the King of Edom (Num. 20. 16). God promises that the angel shall keep Israel in the way and bring the people to Canaan ; his presence is a guarantee that the Amorites and other idolatrous races shall be cut off. Israel is to obey this angel, and to provoke him not, for the Holy "Name is in him." Even after the sin of the Golden Calf the promised guardianship of the angel is not forfeited, while a distinction is clearly drawn between the angel and Jehovah Himself. Yet the angel is expressly called the Angel of God's presence (Exod. 33.14); he fully represents God. God must in some way have been present in him. No merely created being, speaking and acting in his own right, could have spoken to men, or have allowed men to act towards himself, as did the Angel of the Lord. Thus he withstands Balaam on his faithless errand, and bids him go with the messengers of Balak, but adds, "Only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak."

"Captain of the Host of the Lord"

As "Captain of the host of the Lord" he appears to Joshua in the plain of Jericho. Joshua worships God in him (Joshua 6.2); and the angel asks of the conqueror of Canaan the same tokens of reverence as had been exacted from Moses. Besides the reference in the Song of Deborah to the curse pronounced against Meroz by the Angel of the Lord, the Book of Judges contains accounts of three appearances, in each of which we are scarcely sensible of the action of a created personality, so completely is the language and bearing that of the Higher Nature present in the angel. At Bochim he expostulates with the assembled people for their breach of the covenant in failing to exterminate the Canaanites. God speaks by him as in His own Name; He refers to the covenant which He had made with Israel, and to His bringing the people out of Egypt; He declares that on account of their disobedience He will not drive the heathen nations out of the land (Judges 2.1-5). In the account of his appearance to Gideon the angel is called sometimes the Angel of the Lord, sometimes the Lord, or Jehovah. He bids Gideon attack the Midianite oppressors of Israel and adds the promise, "I will be with thee." Gideon places an offering before the angel that he may, if he wills, manifest his character by some sign. The angel touches the offering with the end of his staff, whereupon fire rises up out of the rock and consumes the offering. The angel disappears, and Gideon fears that he will die because he has seen " the Angel of the Lord face to face" (Judges 6. 11-22). When the wife of Manoah is reporting the angel's first appearance to herself, she says that " a man of God came to her," "and his countenance was like the countenance of the Angel of God, very terrible." She thus speaks of the angel as of a being already known to Israel. At his second appearance the angel bids Manoah, who "knew not that he was an angel of the Lord," and offered him common food to offer sacrifice unto the Lord. The angel refuses to disclose his name, which is " Wonderful" (cf. Isa. 9. 6). When Manoah offers a kid with a meat-offering upon a rock unto the Lord the angel mounts visibly up to Heaven in the flame of the sacrifice. Like Gideon, Manoah fears death after such near contact with so exalted a being of the other world. "We shall surely die," he exclaims to his wife, "because we have seen God" (Judges 13.6-22). 

Who was this Angel?

But you ask, Who was this angel? The Jewish interpreters vary in their explanations. The earliest fathers answer with general unanimity that he was the Word or Son of God Himself. Whether in the Theophanies the Word or Son actually appeared, or whether God made a created angel the absolutely perfect exponent of His thought and will, do they not point in either case to a purpose in the Divine mind which would only be realized when man had been admitted to a nearer and more palpable contact with God than was possible under the patriarchal or Jewish dispensations? Do they not suggest, as their natural climax and explanation, some personal self-unveiling of God before the eyes of His creatures? Would not God appear to have been training His people, by this long and mysterious series of communications, at length to recognize and to worship Him when hidden under, and indissolubly one with a created nature? Apart from the specific circumstance which may seem to have explained each theophany at the time of its taking place, and considering them as a series of phenomena, is there any other account of them so much in harmony with the general scope of Holy Scripture, as that they were successive lessons addressed to the eye and to the ear of ancient piety, in anticipation of a coming incarnation of God?

The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. H.P. Liddon. Pickering & Inglis LTD. London, no date; pages 29-37.