by Bethany Reise
The Scriptures clearly say that no man can see God and live (Ex 33:20). But the Scriptures also describe many instances of people “seeing” God, even meeting with him “face to face” (Gen 32:31, Num 12:1-8). How then are the apparent “contradictions” reconciled? Some resort to adopting a Trinitarian perspective of God, and claim that when He appeared to His people in the Old Testament it was in the form of Jesus, the pre-incarnate Son of God, who is also God. However, to assert that God is more than one person is to divorce oneself from the God of the Old Testament and to deny the foundational Jewish belief that there is but one God, YHWH. This fact is clearly stated in their creed in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” Thus, the answer to the mystery of the apparent “God sightings” in the Old Testament must be approached solely from a Hebraic perspective, with the knowledge that God is One and has never been seen or heard by man (John 5:37). It is only by applying the thoroughly Hebraic law of agency to the Scriptures, that seeming inconsistencies are resolved and the true nature of God and His Messiah remain undefiled.
The law of agency is quite a simple concept, but a central one. It is considered common knowledge among Hebrew scholars and Jews, though typically not apparent to the average reader who tries to understand the Scriptures from a modern western view point.1 To understand the Hebrew Scriptures, one must think like a Hebrew and become acquainted with the law of agency. The Encyclopedias of Jewish Religion explains it quite well:
“Agent (Heb. Shaliah): The main point of the law of agency is expressed in the dictum, ‘a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself’ (Ned 72b; Kidd, 41b). Therefore an act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principle…”2
In other words, the agent who is sent to do the will of his commissioning superior is regarded as the superior themself and authorized to act on his or her behalf. Thus, the agent may bear the name, authority, and title of their sender whom they are representing and be received as such. For example, an agent bearing the name of God may receive reverence, for “homage given to God’s agent or representative is homage ultimately given to God Himself.”3 It is by utilizing the law of agency and adopting a Hebraic perspective, that the supposed controversies may be understood and intelligently interpreted.
A good example of the principle of agency in action is demonstrated in the Exodus account. When God determines to deliver His people from the oppression of Egypt, He makes Moses “as God to Pharaoh” with his brother Aaron acting as his prophet (Ex 7:1). The LORD sends Moses to Pharaoh to say: “This is what Yahweh says: Here is how you will know that I am Yahweh. Watch. I will strike the water in the Nile with the staff in my hand, and it will turn to blood” (Ex 7:16-17). Since Moses and Aaron have been commissioned by God as agents of God, they are given the authority to speak and act as God to Pharaoh. Notice that when Moses spoke God’s words to Pharaoh, God said that He would strike the Nile with the staff in His hand. However, it is clearly not God who carries out the action; it is his agent acting on His authority. God commands Moses: “Tell Aaron: Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over their rivers, canals, ponds, and all their water reservoirs—and they will become blood.” And when Aaron raises his staff, all the waters of Egypt are turned to blood. Thus, the law of agency becomes apparent: Moses and Aaron were commissioned by God, to be received as God and given the authority of God, to carry out the work of God as agents acting in his stead.
The principle of agency is not uncommon in the Old Testament; in fact God frequently appointed both angels and men to speak and act on His behalf. It is clear that God’s people were quite familiar with the concept. In Genesis 31:11-13, Jacob relates a story of a prophetic dream that he had to his wives. In his dialogue with them, he relates that “the angel of God said to me in the dream… I am the God of Bethel…” It is important to note that though the angel clearly identifies himself as God, he was understood by Jacob, his wives, and the author of Genesis to be an angel of God, or a messenger of God. In fact, this must be the only explanation, for “Jacob knew nothing of a Trinity, and there is certainly no evidence that Jacob would have recognized he was talk to the Messiah.”4 This incident makes it apparent that Jacob’s family and the Hebrew people were familiar with the concept of agency, for they were quite comfortable with accepting the angel who spoke the words of God in the first person, as though he was God Himself.5
Unfortunately many people today are not acquainted with this beautifully simple Hebraic concept. As a result, they struggle over the many “God sightings” of the Old Testament and attempt to explain them by asserting that the are actually manifestations of the pre-incarnate God-man they call Jesus. They reason that because the angel of the LORD speaks as God Himself, he must actually be God. Therefore, they equate this figure with the second member of the Trinity. However if one were to follow this logic through, one would be forced to conclude that both Moses and Aaron were God as well, for they both spoke the very words of God and acted in His name. But one would be hard-pressed to find any evidence to support the claim that Moses and Aaron were God. However, these Old Testament figures are to be understood as God’s representatives who are regarded as God Himself, because the Father invested his name and authority in them. By understanding the principle of agency, the apparent contradictions of the Old Testament are resolved, and there is no need to distort the oneness of God or the pure humanity of Jesus the Messiah, God’s anointed agent.
1 Essoe, Raymond James. “Shaliah: An Introduction to the Law of Agency.” Christian Monotheism. http://www.christianmonotheism.com/
2 R.J.Z. Werblowsky, G. Wigoder, New York: Adama Books, 1986, p. 15.
3 Deuble, Greg S. They Never Told Me THIS in Church!: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes. Restoration Fellowship, 2006, p. 66.
4 Spirit & Truth Fellowship International. “Divine Agents: Speaking and Acting in God’s Stead.” Biblical Unitarian: A Website about God & his son, Jesus Christ. http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/ .
5 Deuble, p. 66.
by Bethany Reise