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The Gods of Israel have come down to save!

More OT Evidence for a multi-personal God

Sam Shamoun

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel’s Gods came down to save and make themselves known to them:

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Lo, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you for ever.’ Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments, and be ready by the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.’ … On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the Gods (ha Elohim); and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and the Gods (ha Elohim) answered him in thunder. And the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to gaze and many of them perish. And also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out upon them.’ And Moses said to the LORD, ‘The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself did charge us, saying, `Set bounds about the mountain, and consecrate it.”’ And the LORD said to him, ‘Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.’ So Moses went down to the people and told them.” Exodus 19:9-11, 16-25


And Gods (Elohim) spoke all these words, saying,I am the LORD your Gods (anoki Yahweh Eloheyka), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your Gods (anoki Yahweh Eloheyka) am a jealous God (El), visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.’ … Now when all the people perceived the thunderings and the lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for the Gods (ha Elohim) has come to prove you, and that the fear of him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin.’ And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where the Gods (ha Elohim) was. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: “You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.”’” Exodus 20:1-6, 18-23

In one specific passage Moses and his companions got to see the feet of Yahweh as he descended to meet them!

“And he said to Moses, ‘Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abi'hu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship afar off. Moses alone shall come near to the LORD; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.’… Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abi'hu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the Gods of Israel (Elohey Yisrael); and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld the Gods (ha Elohim), and ate and drank. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tables of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’ So Moses rose with his servant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, ‘Tarry here for us, until we come to you again; and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a cause, let him go to them.’ Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” Exodus 24:1-2, 9-18

Thus, Moses and the Israelites got to see their Gods in a cloud!

The word Elohey is an inflected form of Elohim, meaning that it is the same word, but inflected to indicate a grammatical relationship with the word that follows. Elohey is the masculine, plural, construct form of Elohim (being the masculine, plural, absolute form). The absolute form is used when the word stands alone grammatically, whereas the construct form is used when the word is grammatically linked with another word. Examples include words such as Elohey Yisrael (“the God of Israel”), Elohey hashamayim w'elohey ha'aretz (“the God of the heavens and the God of the earth” – Gen. 24:3), Elohey Abraham (“the God of Abraham” – Gen. 26:24), Elohey Yitschaq (“the God of Isaac”), Elohey Yaaqob (“the God of Jacob” – Exod. 3:5), etc.

Although Elohim can function as a plural of amplitude or fullness, denoting that Yahweh has and is all the fullness of Deity or Godhood, it is our contention that this is not the reason why the plural is being used in these respective contexts. It is our belief that the plural is meant to reveal to the covenant people that the one eternal God exists as more than one Divine Person. There are several reasons why we believe this. 

First, Yahweh wasn’t the only One in the cloud since the Angel of Yahweh was also inside it:

Then the Angel of God who went before the host of Israel moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness; and the night passed without one coming near the other all night… And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily; and the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from before Israel; for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.’” Exodus 14:19-20, 24-25

Notice that when the Angel moved from the front of Israel to the rear the pillar of cloud also moved, thereby connecting the movement of the Angel with the pillar. This strongly suggests that the Angel was in the cloud and moving it.(1)

Secondly, Yahweh sent this same Angel to save his people Israel and to lead them into the Promised Land:

“Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, ‘Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the adversity that has befallen us: how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers; and when we cried to the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an Angel and brought us forth out of Egypt; and here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory.’” Numbers 20:14-16

Third, this Angel has the very same nature of God and can do what God alone can do:

Behold, I send an Angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my Name is in him. But if you hearken attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. When my Angel goes before you, and brings you in to the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Per'izzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the LORD your God, and I will bless your bread and your water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of you.” Exodus 23:20-25

To bear God’s name is to bear the very nature of God. Thus, the Angel embodies God’s very own nature which explains why he can choose to forgive sins or not, a prerogative which the OT scriptures emphatically teach belongs only to God:

“I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18-19

Fourth, this also explains why the Angel speaks as though he were God, e.g. saying that he is the One who made an oath to the patriarchs to give their descendants the land and that it is his very own covenant which the Israelites must keep: 

“Now the Angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, ‘I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you into the land which I swore to give to your fathers. I said, “I will never break MY covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.” But you have not obeyed MY command. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ When the Angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to the LORD.” Judges 2:1-5

According to other OT texts, Yahweh was the One who swore an oath and made a covenant with the patriarch (Cf. Gen. 17:1-22; 28:13-15). Hence, the Angel can speak as God because he is God, bearing the very nature of God himself.   

This further explains why the patriarchs could pray to this Angel, asking him to bless their offspring:

“And he blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The Gods (ha Elohim) before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the Gods (ha Elohim) who has led me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, may He bless (y'barech) the lads; and in them let my name be perpetuated, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’” Genesis 48:15-16

What makes Jacob’s blessing truly amazing is that, even though he refers to both the Gods and the Angel, he uses the singular verb, “may He bless,” as opposed to the plural (yib'r'chu)! The use of the singular here indicates that Jacob knew that God and his Angel were somehow connected even though they were personally distinct.

After all, Jacob knew that this Angel was God:

“Then the Angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that leap upon the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel (anoki ha El bethel), where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go forth from this land, and return to the land of your birth.’” Genesis 31:10-13

What makes the claim of this Angel rather astonishing is that he identifies himself with the very God who appeared to Jacob at the place which the latter called Bethel, which was formerly known as Luz:

“Jacob left Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of Gods (Elohim) were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said,I am the LORD, the Gods of Abraham (Elohey Abraham) your father and the Gods of Isaac (Elohey Yitschaq); the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of Gods (beth Elohim), and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If Gods (Elohim) will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my Gods (Yahweh li le’lohim), and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be the house of Gods (beth Elohim); and of all that you give me I will give the tenth to you.’” Genesis 28:10-22

Here, it is Yahweh who appears to Jacob and it is to him that the latter anointed a pillar and made a vow. Yet the Angel says that he is the God of this very place where Jacob made a vow to him!

There is more to this mystery:

Gods (Elohim) said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there; and make there an altar to the God (ha El) who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’ So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; then let us arise and go up to Bethel, that I may make there an altar to the God (El) who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’ So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from Gods (Elohim) fell upon the cities that were round about them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar, and called the place El-bethel, because there the Gods, they had revealed themselves to him (ki shām nigalu ’elayw ha Elohim) when he fled from his brother.” Genesis 35:1-7

There are some very interesting points to glean from this specific passage. Notice that the Gods say to Jacob to build an altar to the God who appeared to him when he fled from his brother. Now this can simply be God speaking of himself in the third person, or an indication that God is referring to another Person who is God that had appeared to Jacob. In light of the preceding data it is clear that the latter interpretation makes more sense and is the more plausible one since Jacob encountered both Yahweh and his Angel, and even speaks of the Angel as having been the One who saved him from all his troubles. 

Moreover, the inspired narrator (in this case, Moses) says that it was at Bethel that the Gods revealed themselves to Jacob, using the plural of gla, namely nigalu.

It is evident from the overall context of Genesis that the Gods who revealed themselves to Jacob were Yahweh and his Angel, thus explaining why the plural is used here as opposed to the singular.  

Thus, our brief examination of the OT writings once again shows that one major reason why plural nouns, adjectives, verbs etc. are used for the true God of Israel by the inspired authors is to reveal the fact that the one eternal God is more than one Person. The God who came down at Sinai to make himself known to his covenant people is not a uni-personal Deity, but a multi-Personal Being. Israel’s Godhead includes Yahweh and his Angel or Messenger (as well as the Holy Spirit).

What we therefore find in the pages of the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures concerning the absolute Deity of God’s beloved Son, the Lord Jesus, and the Divine Personhood of God’s Holy Spirit is not something new, something novel, which the writers concocted or made up. Their testimony concerning the God of Israel being Triune or tri-Personal in nature is actually quite faithful to the overall teaching and message of the Hebrew prophets as recorded in the inspired OT writings.(2)  

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(1) According to the first Christian martyr Stephen, it was the Angel who descended on Mt. Sinai to give Moses the living oracles or Torah:

“Now when forty years had passed, an Angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came, ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. And the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the shoes from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the ill-treatment of my people that are in Egypt and heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’ This Moses whom they refused, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ God sent as both ruler and deliverer by the hand of the Angel that appeared to him in the bush. He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, `God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.’ This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us.” Acts 7:30-38

Since the Hebrew Bible is clear that it was Yahweh who came down to give the Law we shouldn’t therefore assume that only the Angel came down as Yahweh’s Representative or Agent, speaking on behalf of Yahweh.  Rather, we should understand that both Yahweh and his Angel came down to give Israel the Torah. After all, Yahweh himself mentioned this Angel to Moses on the mountain, telling his servant that the Angel would go before the people to fight for them, thereby showing that both of them were present at the time (cf. Exod. 23:20-21).

(2) It is interesting to read what the blessed and inspired Apostle Paul wrote concerning Jesus’ involvement in the salvation of Israel during the OT period:

“I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual/supernatural food and all drank the same spiritual/supernatural drink. For they drank from the spiritual/supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

Here, Paul links Jesus with the deliverance of Israel during the time of Moses. His reference to the cloud in the same context is obviously meant to connect the Lord Jesus to it. It seems that Paul believed that Christ was in the cloud guiding Israel through the wilderness and into the Promised Land!

Now since there were two figures in the cloud, Yahweh and his Angel, both of whom are fully God, it seems safe to assume that Paul may have believed that Jesus was Yahweh’s Divine Angel sent to redeem the covenant people.