Binitarianism In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

I will pick up where we left off in the last post, examining the specific passages Dr. Heiser presented in his lecture. Here is the link to the video: Two Powers of the Godhead. We pick it up at the time mark 24:37

1.) Judges 2:1-4 –  Malak YHWH went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” When malak YHWH had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud …

Heiser tries to make hay out of the fact that the agent of Yahweh here speaks in the first person as Yahweh. Heiser’s conclusion is that this malak of Yahweh is Yahweh, i.e. the second Yahweh, the visible one. That is why he speaks in the first person, because he is Yahweh. Heiser then gives (from mark 25:52- 26:29) a paraphrase of what the agent said but really takes some liberties; in fact, much of what he includes in his paraphrase is not even implicit in the text. Let me point out a few problems with Heiser’s interpretation .

First, as I noted in Part 1 of this study, the OT phrase malak YHWH’  does not designate one specific, special entity, much less one who shares Yahweh’s nature. I once again point you to the article where I demonstrate the validity of this statement, which I encourage you to read if you have not done so already:  Pre-incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 1)  I will note here that the LXX has ‘an angel of the Lord‘ at Judges 2:1, as does the 1985 JPS Tanakh. The fact that ‘malak YHWH‘ should be understood as indefinite, is in itself sufficient to disprove Heiser’s understanding of the passage. Heiser needs this ‘angel’ to be the same as the angel of Ex. 23:20, whom he regards as the visible Yahweh, in distinction from the invisible Yahweh.

Now of course, the fact that this malak speaks as Yahweh in the first person, gives Heiser confidence that he is reading the text right. But does this fact necessitate that the malak be Yahweh himself? Absolutely not! As I showed in Part 1, both human and non-human agents of Yahweh can and have spoken for Yahweh in the first person, even without the customary formula ‘thus says Yahweh.’ While it is true that it is predominately non-human agents who speak like this, human agents have been known to do so also. I gave two examples where Moses does this – Deut. 11:14-15 and 29:6. Other biblical prophets have done the same and the practice is seen in other ANE literature. The fact that a mouthpiece of Yahweh, i.e. a prophet, speaks for God in the first person is not a reason to regard the mouthpiece as Yahweh himself. This should be self-evident. God says of prophets that he would put his word in their mouth and that what they speak are his words {Deut. 18:18-19}. Alternatively, non-human agents of Yahweh sometimes use the formula “declares Yahweh” as in Gen. 22:15 and Zech. 3:6.

The error that many make is that, in passages where it is not obviously a human agent, it is just assumed that malak YHWH is a reference to a non-human agent i.e. an angel from heaven. But this is not necessarily the case. We have already seen, in Part 1, that both prophets and priests are designated as malak YHWH {see Haggai 1:13; Malachi 1:7}. I believe there are a number of passages where malak YHWH is better understood as a human agent, even if it is not explicit in the text. This passage in Judges 2 is one of them.  I am not alone in this assessment. The Targums translate the verse as “a prophet with a message from Yahweh.” Various rabbis also interpret the malak YHWH in Judges 2:1 as a human prophet, some as Joshua, some as Phinehas. It is also noteworthy that the LXX and the Peshitto both have in the text here the prophetic formula “thus says the Lord,” which certainly removes the possibility of this malak being Yahweh .

There are a couple of problems with the ‘angelic’ view. Heavenly agents are never seen in Scripture appearing to and addressing the whole community. Heiser makes it seem like this ‘angel’ was living among the Israelites in human form and that all the Israelites knew who he was, but this is highly unlikely seeing that the text no where states this; it is simply assumed by Heiser. God seems to have always addressed the community through his prophets or priests, while celestial agents seem to appear to individuals only. Another problem is that the text says that this malakwent up from Gilgal to Bokim.” Was this ‘angel’ living in Gilgal? Various explanations of this phrase have been offered by commentators who take this angel to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ but none of them amount to anything or are even worth mentioning. The simplest explanation is that the phrase describes the movement from the place of residence of this malak to another location in order to deliver Yahweh’s message. All that can be said is that this phrase fits better with the view that this was a human agent of Yahweh rather than a heavenly being.

2.) Gen. 31:10-13 –  “It came to pass at the time of the breeding of the flock, in a dream I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold the rams which mated with the flock were streaked, speckled and spotted. And in the dream malak YHWH said to me, ‘Jacob.’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ And he said to me, ‘Look up and see … I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me …’ “

After reading this passage, Heiser asks his audience. “How much clearer can it be?” He thinks that it is clear that the angel of Yahweh just is the God of Bethel, i.e. the God who appeared to Jacob in a dream at Bethel, who identified himself as Yahweh {see Gen. 28:11-15}. Why does he think this? He thinks it based on 1.) the fact that the angel speaks for God in the first person and 2.) the belief that the designation malak YHWH refers to that one specific entity whom he calls the second Yahweh. The second point has never been proved by Heiser and is simply assumed based on his theological presuppositions. Again, I point to the article noted above, which will hopefully disabuse you of the mistaken notion that ‘the angel of Yahweh‘ is a designation for one specific individual angel, one who shares a special ontological relationship to Yahweh. The first point has already been addressed – the agent of Yahweh speaks as Yahweh because he represents Yahweh, not because he is Yahweh.

3.) Gen. 48:14-16 – “But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head … And he blessed Joseph saying, ‘The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked; the God who has shepherded me continually, even to this day; the malak who has redeemed me from all calamity; may he bless these boys.’ “

Heiser says that this is his favorite passage in the OT and that it is “just too cool for words.” He points out that the final clause is singular, “May he bless…”  He then says this:

“If the writer had wanted to make sure you didn’t misread the text – that there’s more than one, that we need to keep the angel and God separate – he could have done so right here, but he doesn’t. You can’t fuse the two any tighter than this …”

So what is Heiser saying here, that the angel and God are the same person or the same being or are numerically one? He doesn’t clarify but we know what he thinks because of his presuppositions which keep showing up in his exegesis. He thinks that even though the angel is distinct from God yet he is the same as God, just like Christians talk about Jesus. So we are supposed to understand then that the early Christians readily accepted Jesus as Yahweh because the OT Scriptures all along have taught that one God consists of multiple persons. But is this really the necessary interpretation of this passage? You will notice thus far that Heiser never offers any alternative plausible interpretations to these passages, as scholars usually do. He simply tells you what he wants you to see in the passage as if it is just the obvious meaning.

First of all, if the two are being so fused together, why assume that there are actually two distinct entities, rather than just one? In other words, Heiser no doubt would say that this angel is none other than the pre-incarnate Son of God, as distinct from God the Father. But why assume that? Why not assume that the angel just is God the Father appearing in visible form? Why does Heiser assume that the angel is a ‘christophany’ rather than a ‘theophany’ ? Heiser’s understanding of the passage may be predicating more than he might really want to say. It seems like his line of reasoning might lead to a modalist reading of the passage i.e. there is only one entity who manifests in differing modes. Indeed, whether he realizes it or not, at times Heiser sounds modalistic when speaking about the Trinity.

Is there another way to understand this text without resorting to the assumption of multiplicity in the one God? Yes, I believe so. What if the singular verb bless refers only to God, even though both God and an agent of God are mentioned by Jacob? This, I believe, is exactly the case. There are two possible ways to get there. The first is to understand Jacob really wanting to say, “the God who has delivered me from all calamity” but not wanting the two young boys he is blessing to misunderstand him and think that God himself was personally following Jacob around throughout his life delivering him from every calamity. Jacob knows that God’s protection of him was carried out by means of a supernatural agent who God assigned to him, so he acknowledges the agent, for the sake of the boys, but credits God for the actions of the agent. Now Scripture has no problem with giving Yahweh the credit for the things done by his commissioned agents. For example, in 2 Chron. 32 Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, has invaded Judah and is threatening to attack Jerusalem. King Hezekiah cries out to Yahweh {v. 20} and Yahweh sends a malak who destroys the Assyrian army in one night {v. 21}. Yet v. 22 says explicitly, “And so Yahweh saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria …” We see that God gets the credit for what his agent accomplished on his behalf, even though the agent is acknowledged. We see the same thing in Judges 2:16 & 18:

“And Yahweh raised up judges and they delivered them (Israel) …”

“When Yahweh raised up judges for them, he was with the judge and he saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived.”

Again we see, the agents (the judges) are acknowledged, but Yahweh gets the ultimate credit for what they did. It is worth noting here the NET comment on this passage, which largely agrees with what I am saying:

Jacob closely associates God with an angelic protective presence. This does not mean that Jacob viewed his God as a mere angel, but it does suggest that he was aware of an angelic presence sent by God to protect him. Here he so closely associates the two that they become virtually indistinguishable. In this culture messengers typically carried the authority of the one who sent them and could even be addressed as such. Perhaps Jacob thought that the divine blessing would be mediated through this angelic messenger.

A second option would be to see the mention of the malak as something done by the final editor of the text, which may have originally read “the God who delivered me …” The change would have been made for the same reason mentioned above i.e. the final editor (perhaps Ezra) knew that this deliverance by God was accomplished by an assigned agent, and wanted the reader to understand this. Heiser often speaks of ‘the final editor’ of the text of the Pentateuch, pointing out those passages where he believes we can discern his hand. I am not surprised that Heiser doesn’t suggest this as a possible way to understand this text since he just wants to make the text fit into his theological paradigm.

4.) Judges 6:11-23

Heiser makes much out of the fact that there is a switching back and forth by the author between ‘the angel of Yahweh‘ and Yahweh. He states, “they are both in the same scene, but they’re both mixed and separated … they are both him; he is him, he’s not him, but he’s still him. It’s kind of like how we talk about Jesus. Jesus is but isn’t God. He is God because he’s the same essence, but he’s not the Father.” What is clear is that Heiser’s presuppositions are driving his interpretation of the passage. All I can say to this is “move along folks, there nothing to see here at all.”

Once again Heiser fails to inform his audience of other interpretational options that fit better with the cultural setting than does the fourth century C.E. christology that he is trying to cram into this tenth century B.C. or earlier text. As I stated in the first part of this study, I am incredulous of Heiser’s seeming unawareness of the concept of agency within the cultural milieu of the ANE. How can a scholar in the field of ANE studies be ignorant of this? I can only surmise that he doesn’t mention it because it would weaken his ‘there must be two Yahwehs‘ interpretation of the passage. I offered these quotes before in a previous article, but at the risk of being redundant I offer them again now:

“In the ancient world direct communication between important parties was a rarity. Diplomatic and political exchange usually required the use of an intermediary, a function that our ambassadors exercise today. The messenger who served as the intermediary was a fully vested representative of the party he represented. He spoke for that party and with the authority of that party. He was accorded the same treatment as that party would enjoy were he there in person. While this was standard protocol, there was no confusion about the person’s identity.

This explains how the angel in this chapter [Gen. 16] can comfortably use the first person to convey what God will do (16:10). When official words are spoken by the representative, everyone understands that he is not speaking for himself, but is merely conveying the words, opinions, policies, and decisions of his liege. So in Ugarit literature, when Baal sends messengers to Mot, the messengers use first person forms of speech. E.T. Mullen concludes that such usage ‘signify that the messengers not only are envoys of the god, but actually embody the power of their sender.’ ”    John Walton, in his commentary on Genesis in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary

And this one by Aubrey R. Johnson in The One and the Many In the Israelite Conception of God:

“In Hebrew thought a patriarch’s personality extended through his entire household … in a specialized sense, when the patriarch, as lord of his household, deputized his trusted servant as his malak (his messenger or angel), the man was endowed with the authority and resources of his lord, to represent him fully and transact business in his name. In Semitic thought this messenger-representative was conceived of as being personally — and in his very words — the presence of the sender.”

Heiser and others simply make this and similar texts to be saying more than is warranted. The fact that vv. 11, 12, 20, 21, & 22 identify the mysterious figure as ‘a malak of Yahweh‘ and vv. 14 & 16 seem to call him Yahweh, does not mean that this should even be considered a theophany, much less a christophany.  The simpliest way to understand the text is that the author is attributing the action and words of the malak to Yahweh himself, since the malak is there in Yahweh’s stead, representing him before Gideon. If you read the passage carefully you will notice that at first Gideon has no idea who this man is (this malak obviously looked like an ordinary man). In v. 12 the malak speaks of Yahweh in the third person. Gideon then refers to Yahweh in the third person in v. 13. Then comes v. 14:

“And Yahweh turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you.’ “

 Does this mean that the malak is Yahweh?  Heiser reads his theology into the text and concludes he is one of multiple persons within the being of Yahweh. But the text says nothing of the sort. If you are going to take the text in the most literal sense then you would just take the malak to be Yahweh himself, i.e. a theophany. But this is not even necessary. The author calls the malak ‘Yahweh’ here because the words he speaks at this point are Yahweh’s words and he speaks them in the first person as Yahweh. The author probably felt the awkwardness of writing, “And the malak of Yahweh turned to him and said, ‘… Am I not sending you.'” The author understands the malak’s words to be the promise of Yahweh to be with Gideon, and so he inserts Yahweh in the text here and in vv. 16 & 18, instead of  ‘the malak of Yahweh.’

Now it is at v. 14, when the man speaks as Yahweh in the first person, that Gideon realizes that, at the least, this man is a prophet of Yahweh. Gideon never refers to the man as Yahweh or as the malak of Yahweh, he simply calls him my lord (Heb. adoni), which here is a common term of respect. It is only the author who inserts Yahweh into the scene. In v. 16 the malak again speaks a word of promise to Gideon as Yahweh, in the first person. Gideon now surmises that God has sent this man and is speaking to him through the man, but he’s not exactly certain, so he asks:

“If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that you are speaking to me.”

It is only after the malak miraculously causes fire to consume Gideon’s offering that he realizes that this is an angel sent by Yahweh (v. 22), and he exclaims, “Alas Lord Yahweh! because I have seen an angel of Yahweh face to face.” The phrase ‘angel of Yahweh’, which appears twice in verse 22, does not have to be rendered definite, as demonstrated by the ISR, YLT and the 1985 JPS Tanakh versions. Once the angel left Gideon’s sight we are told that Yahweh said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” Heiser again tries to use this to show the mysteriousness of the encounter, as if it is difficult to know who is who and who is speaking, is it God or is it the angel. Heiser uses these theatrics to seek to solidify in the audience’s mind the distinction yet oneness of the angel and Yahweh. Now we do not know if the angel vanished suddenly from sight, as most versions say, because the Hebrew word  halak in v. 21 does not connote a sudden vanishing. The word simply means to come, to go, to walk. In the other 58 occurrences of this verb, in the same form, it never means a sudden vanishing. So it could be that the angel simply walked away out of Gideon’s sight. It is possible that as the angel was walking away he said the words recorded in v. 23, and that once again, the author of the book records it as Yahweh speaking because the angel was speaking on Yahweh’s behalf.

So this very plausible and very reasonable explanation of the text removes the supposed mystery and confusion as to who is speaking throughout the narrative – it is Yahweh’s agent. The author records it as if Yahweh were speaking because the agent is speaking Yahweh’s word in His stead. This explanation also removes the absurdity of proposing two Yahwehs, which contradicts Deut. 6:4.

5.) Genesis 15:1 –  After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
      1 Sam. 3 –  1. The boy Samuel was ministering to Yahweh in the presence of Eli. And the word of Yahweh was rare in those days; there was no vision bursting through.
7. Now Samuel had not yet come to know (i.e. by direct experience) Yahweh. The word of Yahweh was not yet revealed to him.  8. Yahweh called Samuel …  10. Yahweh came and stood and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”  21. And Yahweh appeared again and again in Shiloh, for in Shiloh Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel in (i.e. by means of) the word of Yahweh.
      Jer. 1 –   4. The word of Yahweh came to me saying …  6. Then I said, “Ah Lord Yahweh …”  9. Then Yahweh reached out his hand and touched my mouth and Yahweh said to me, “Behold I have put my word in your mouth.”

Heiser’s interpretation of these verses is, in my opinion, rather farcical. He thinks that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is an actual personal entity, the same entity known as ‘the angel of Yahweh‘. Heiser believes this entity is the second Yahweh figure which he thinks the Hebrew Scriptures speak of. In Heiser’s theology this second Yahweh figure is the visible Yahweh, the embodied one, while the original Yahweh remains invisible (I don’t know if ‘the original Yahweh’ is the right language or not for the invisible one, since Heiser never refers to him in his distinction from the visible Yahweh. He merely refers to the invisible one as Yahweh and the visible one as the second Yahweh). Remember that Heiser thinks these two Yahweh’s are at the same time distinct and yet the same being. So in Heiser’s scheme ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a distinct personage from Yahweh and yet is Yahweh. And he thinks the three passages above prove this. Let’s see if he’s right.

Heiser’s contention is that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ cannot be referring to verbal communication alone because there seems to be a visual and even tactile experience being had by Abram, Samuel and Jeremiah. This is supposed to be evidence that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a literal personage, i.e. Yahweh embodied. But I fail to see how the fact that something visual was going on proves that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a personal being. The biblical phrase “the word of Yahweh came to me” (or to some specifically named person), contrary to Heiser’s objections, simply means something like “Yahweh communicated his message to me.” This can be easily proved by 1 Sam. 4:1, where the exact same phrase is used of Samuel:

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Now no one, including Heiser himself, would make the ridiculous claim that there was a second Samuel, who was distinct from and yet the same being as Samuel, who appeared to all Israel. The phrase simply means that Samuel communicated his message to all Israel. And this is what the phrase means in relation to Yahweh. Heiser’s error here is that he is confusing the visual and tactile experience of the prophet with being the ‘word of Yahweh‘ rather than with being the method by which Yahweh communicated his word to the prophet. Although God may have several ways by which he communicated his word to his prophets, he did have one predominant method of doing so:

(Yahweh) said, “Listen to my words: When a prophet of Yahweh is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.”    Numbers 12:6

So pervasive was this method in it’s use by God in communicating with the prophets, that even in the passages where it is not explicitly stated that the prophet is having a vision, it should be assumed, unless the text explicitly states that another method was employed, such as an angel bringing a message to the prophet. In the passages presented by Heiser as proof texts for his assertion we can see that the method God is using in each case, to communicate his word, is a vision. The Gen. 15:1 passage states it explicitly and should be read: “After these things Yahweh communicated his word to Abram in a vision.” It was by means of a vision that Yahweh communicated his word to Abram; in this case a word of promise. Now let’s define just what a vision is.

I will show that visions are not actual occurrences taking place in the real world and in real time, but rather are audiovisual events occurring only in the mind of the visionary while in an altered state of consciousness. This is evident first of all by noting the biblical counterpart of visions – dreams. Visions are experienced by a person while awake, whereas dreams are experienced while asleep. But they both function the same way. Now it is evident that what is being seen in a dream is not real, and so it is with visions also. When a person is in a visionary state he seems to lose all awareness of the real world around him and sees and hears only what is occurring in his mind, which can seem to him as real as the real world. That the images seen in a vision are not real or actual objects can be deduced from biblical examples of visions. Furthermore, it does not appear that the images seen in a vision are being seen with the physical eyes, but only in the mind’s eye.  For example, Daniel relates a vision he had, found in ch. 8 of his book, of which he says:

In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam. In the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. I looked up and there before was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal …          vv. 2-3

Daniel, in a vision, sees himself somewhere else other than where he actually is. Daniel himself is an actor in the vision. If this event were a real time event then he would not have described seeing himself in the vision. Daniel then sees a ram and then a goat and describes the things he sees in relation to these animals. Are the ram and the goat actual real time living creatures? Not at all. It is obvious from vv. 9-12 that the things happening in the vision are not happening in real time in the real world.

In Zechariah chs. 1-6 the prophet relates one long vision that he experienced. In this vision he sees many things – a man riding a red horse; four horns; four craftsman; a solid gold lampstand; a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide; a measuring basket with a woman inside; four chariots coming out from between two mountains of bronze. None of these things were actually, physically there. If someone would have come along and encountered Zechariah while he was having this vision would they have seen all these things too? No. They probably would have simply found the prophet sitting there in a trance-like state, all the while Zechariah is experiencing all these things in his mind.

Ezekiel chs. 8-11 describe one long vision in which the prophet, who is in Babylon, is taken to Jerusalem in the spirit and he sees many fantastic things. The pericope starts out telling us:

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house, and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of Lord Yahweh came upon me there.        8:1

The pericope then ends, in 11:24-25, with these words:

The Spirit lifted me up and brought me (back) to the exiles in Babylon in the vision given by the spirit of Yahweh. Then the vision I had seen went up from me and I told the exiles everything Yahweh had shown me.

In Acts 10 Luke relates how Peter had a vision while praying up on the roof of the house of Simon the tanner. V. 10 state that a trance came upon him and in this trance he sees a large sheet being let down out of the sky by it’s four corners. The sheet is filled with  all kinds of unclean animals. Again I ask, could anyone else see this sheet coming down out of heaven? There must have been other people around, but no one saw it because it wasn’t really happening in the real world, only in Peter’s mind. Later, in Acts 12, Peter is arrested and put in prison. During the night an angel comes to him and frees him from his chains and leads him out of the prison. Luke then (v.9) tells us something important for our understanding of how visions operate:

Peter followed him (the angel) out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.

Peter thought he was seeing himself being set free from prison in a vision and so did not realize it was actually happening in real time. Only after the angel left him and he “came to himself” did he know it actually happened. This tells us that those having visions did not regard them as actual real time, real world events, but only images played out in the mind.

Now back to Heiser’s proof texts. Heiser seems to have no clue about the true nature of visions. He seems to think they are real time events. He seems to think that the word ‘vision’ in both Gen. 15:1 and 1 Sam. 3:1 implies that what is being seen is an actual, physical being that could be seen by anyone there. But if we remember these two facts: 1. visions were the primary means used by God to communicate his word and to reveal himself to a person, and 2. visions are not real time, real world events, but only audiovisual events experienced in the mind which is in an altered state, then it becomes apparent what is happening in these three passages. We have already seen that Abram was having a vision, as the text says. As for the account of Samuel’s encounter with Yahweh in 1 Sam. 3, we are told in v.15 that what Samuel experienced was a vision (Heb. mar’ah – this is the word used in Num. 12:6).  In v. 21, yes, Yahweh continued to appear in Shiloh to Samuel in visions, not as an actual embodied entity known as ‘the word of Yahweh‘, who would come to him. Dr. Heiser says that the end of verse 21 can be translated either “by the word of Yahweh” or “as the word of Yahweh.” This is completely misleading. The preposition prefixed to the word ‘word’ is be  and means ‘in‘ or ‘by‘, but never ‘as‘. The phrase can be paraphrased as “for Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word Yahweh communicated.”

In Jer. 1 it is not explicitly stated that Jeremiah is having a vision, but this can be assumed based on Num. 12:6. Thus the phrase “the word of Yahweh came to me” should be understood as “Yahweh communicated his message to me in a vision.” The fact that Jeremiah says, in v. 9, that “Yahweh reached out his hand and touched my mouth” is better understood as Yahweh appearing in the vision, in the form of a man, rather than that Yahweh actually appeared to Jeremiah in an embodied state, as Heiser takes it, so that Jeremiah was not actually seeing with his physical eyes an actual being who was actually Yahweh. Dr. Heiser states emphatically that this verse presents to us the “embodied word in the Old Testament.” Sorry, but he is simply wrong. That Jeremiah was having a vision is confirmed by vv. 11-14, where he sees both an almond tree branch and a boiling pot tilting away from the north. Again I ask, could these objects be seen by anyone who might happen by? These were merely mental images being played on the screen of Jeremiah’s mind, as was the appearance of Yahweh in the form of a man. It is further confirmed that the phrase ‘the word of Yahweh‘ in this passage is not referring to an actual embodied entity, by the fact that the phrase is repeated three times in the same pericope. If this supposed entity showed up in v.4 then why does he have to show up again in vv. 11 & 13? Isn’t he already on the scene? The repetition of the phrase only makes sense if the phrase refers to different words or messages being communicated to the prophet in the course of the vision.

For further arguments that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is not referring to a personal entity but rather to God’s communication see the article linked here:  Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

6.) Daniel 7:13 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.”

For a full treatment of Daniel 7 I direct the reader to my recent article found here: The Rider On The Clouds

I will not rehearse everything from that article here but I will point out one thing. Heiser’s whole case here is that in the Ugarit literature Baal is given the epithet ‘the Rider on the clouds’ and that Baal is a deity. He contends that only a deity can have this title. Then he shows how Yahweh is given the same epithet in the Hebrew Bible in Duet 33:26; Ps. 68:33; 104:3; Is. 19:1. Heiser believes this epithet is given to Yahweh to tell the Israleites that Yahweh is the true deity rather than Baal. He then goes to Dan. 7:13 and says that the same epithet, which only a deity can bear, is given to another entity that is distinct from Yahweh, who is already in the scene in v. 9. His conclusion is that this entity, referred to as ‘one like a son of man‘, is therefore a true deity figure, hence Yahweh must be a binitarian God, i.e. a deity consisting of two persons, case closed.

But there is a glaring flaw in Heiser’s reasoning here, which apparently no one has ever brought to his attention because I have never heard him address it. The flaw is this – nowhere in Dan. 7 is the ‘son of man‘ given the title ‘the Rider of the clouds.’ In the Ugarit literature Baal is called the ‘ Rider (or Charioteer – Ugarit = rkb) of the clouds’. In the Hebrew Bible, in the verses listed above, Yahweh is called “the one riding” (Heb. rakab) on the heavens or on clouds. Note the similarity of the Ugarit and Hebrew words. This is because Ugarit is a Semitic language closely related to biblical Hebrew, with many words shared between them. So we can see that the word used to describe Baal coincides with the word used to describe Yahweh. Now please note that in the description of the ‘one like a son of man‘ this key word is absent. The phrase in Hebrew reads im anane semayya ateh = with the clouds of heaven coming. Heiser contends that the author intended his readers to make the connection that the ‘one like a son of man‘ is being likened to Baal and Yahweh as a ‘Rider on the clouds” and that any Hebrew reading Dan. 7:13 would have done so. Yet the author failed to employ the key word by which that connection could have been made. The ‘one like a son of man‘ is not given the epithet ‘the one riding on the clouds‘ in Dan. 7:13, but is merely described as “coming with the clouds of heaven,” which could have various meanings. I do not see how, without the key word rakab, any Jew would have made the connection that Heiser thinks is so obvious. This, in my opinion, is a fatal flaw to his argument.

Heiser’s Summary

After going through all of the passages we have just looked at, Heiser summarizes his conclusions as follows:

  • OT theology includes the idea that Yahweh can be in two persons, sometimes in the same scene.
  • OT theology also teaches that this second Yahweh figure is portrayed in human form, and even physically embodied.

Heiser has not proven either of these conclusions, as I hope has been made obvious. He has not proven that  OT theology includes the idea that Yahweh is binitarian in nature, he has simply interpreted the relevant passages according to his theological predilections. I think I have shown that his interpretations are not only not necessary but also that they are not even the most reasonable within the context of the Hebrew Bible as a whole.

Binitarianism To Trinitarianism In One Easy Step

Believing he has established that the OT teaches a binitarian Godhead, Dr. Heiser then attempts to show how the biblical language about the Holy Spirit logically leads to trinitarianism. He offers two passages from the Hebrew Bible to show this.

1.) Is. 63:9-11 compared with Ps. 78:40-41

What Heiser does with these passages is really rather strange. He seems to equate ‘the angel of his presence‘ in Is. 63:9 with ‘his holy spirit‘ in v. 11. After reading , “Where is he who put in the midst of them his holy spirit,” Heiser says, “wait, I thought God put the angel in their midst; oh the psalmist is so confused — no actually he’s not.” This is a remarkable statement coming from one who affirms the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Heiser has already, throughout the lecture, equated the angel with who he calls ‘the second Yahweh.’ He has also led the audience to think of this second Yahweh as the pre-incarnate Son i.e. Jesus Christ. But now he is equating the angel with the holy spirit as if they are the same person. It seems that Heiser doesn’t even understand what orthodox trinitarianism demands; he just seems to conflate God, the angel and the holy spirit into a sort of modalistic being.

Next he shows that the language of Is. 63:10 is identical to that of  Ps. 78:40-41, specifically the words rebelled and grieved, and that the same event is being referred to in both passages. He points out that in the Is. passage it is the holy spirit who is grieved and rebelled against, yet in Ps.78 it says that God is the one that was grieved and rebelled against. Hence, the holy spirit is equated with God and the angel and therefore this is “three thinking.” This is where it becomes clear that Heiser is merely interpreting the text to align with his presuppositional theology. Why cannot the comparison of Is. 63:9-11 and Ps. 78:40-41 be telling us that “his holy spirit” is simply a way of referring to God being actively at work among his people? Instead, based on his predilections, Heiser interprets it to mean that there must be three different persons in the Godhead. But this is going far beyond what these two texts say or any other texts of the OT for that matter. Because he thinks that the NT teaches that the holy spirit is a distinct person within the Godhead, based on later orthodox, catholic creeds, he simply reads this back into the Hebrew Bible as if that is what it was saying all along. But the most that can be logically drawn from these passages is that “his holy spirit” is just another way of referring to God himself. If ‘my spirit’ were grieved over something, that would not imply to anyone that a second, distinct person within me is grieved, but simply that I myself am grieved. Is the spirit of a man a distinct person from the man or is it the man himself? Likewise, why should we assume that ‘the spirit of God‘ is a distinct entity within God rather than just a way of referring to God himself being actively involved with his people. When the Scripture refers to ‘the hand of Yahweh‘ doing something, should we understand from this that Yahweh’s hand is a personal entity that is at the same time distinct from and yet equated with Yahweh? ‘The hand of Yahweh‘ is meant to denote that Yahweh himself has accomplished something and nothing more. In the OT the phrase ‘spirit of Yahweh‘ or ‘my spirit‘ or ‘his spirit‘ functions in the same way, i.e. it denotes God’s activity among his people, not that there are multiple persons in God.

2.) Ezekiel 8:2-6 –  Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a manHe put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my hair and the spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me, in visions of God, to Jerusalem … And behold the glory of the God of Israel was there … and he said to me, “Son of man … do you see what they are doing … to drive me far from my sanctuary.”

Dr. Heiser totally misses the mark here. As noted above in this article, Heiser seems to be unaware that Ezekiel is having a vision, a vision which is recorded from ch. 8 through the end of ch. 11 where he says:

Then the vision I had seen went up from me, and I told the exiles everything Yahweh had shown me.

Heiser does not include v. 1 of ch. 8 in his slide presentation. V. 1 reads:

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of Lord Yahweh came upon me there.

Get this picture in your mind. Ezekiel is sitting in his house, in Babylon, with the exiled elders of Judah sitting before him, when suddenly the hand of Yahweh comes upon him (this is probably when Ezekiel enters into an altered state of consciousness). Ezekiel then sees this long vision which involves him being in Jerusalem and in the temple. He also sees the form of a man (presumably Yahweh) who reaches out his hand and takes him by the hair. Now the thing that Heiser doesn’t seem to understand is that none of this is actually physically happening in real time. When the ‘hand of Yahweh‘ came upon him, Ezekiel entered into another state of consciousness, and while sitting there in front of the elders of Judah he went into ‘visions of God.’ Yahweh did not appear physically in front of Ezekiel and the elders who were there with him. This was a vision that Ezekiel alone was experiencing while the elders were sitting there before him. In this altered state of consciousness Ezekiel was not seeing anything with his physical eyes or hearing anything with his physical ears; he was seeing and hearing in the spirit only.

As I noted earlier, God often appeared to prophets in visions, in the form of a man. But none of them actually saw Yahweh embodied, as Heiser suggests; they only saw a representational image of Yahweh (a man) within a vision. Everything Ezekiel  experienced  was only in his mind, i.e. the images and voices he was seeing and hearing were not really happening in the real world. Therefore Heiser’s whole argument here falls apart completely. This is not about Yahweh being embodied and then the spirit being equated with this embodied Yahweh. Heiser’s reading of this text is just plain silly and is unworthy of a scholar. The passage simply relates a vision that was given to Ezekiel in which he sees Yahweh in the form of a man and is shown what is going on in Jerusalem, and Yahweh speaks to him in the vision. There is no confusion here as to who is acting and speaking.

Miscellanea

Starting at the 103:10 mark in the video Heiser makes some statements that I want to briefly touch on. First he says that the NT authors are “deliberately trying to link Jesus to the God of the OT and to the angel because they’re both Yahweh.” Of course they linked Jesus to the God of the OT – he was foretold, miraculously conceived, chosen, raised up, sent, anointed, raised from the dead and exalted by Yahweh the God of the OT. But Heiser means more than this. He means that they linked Jesus with Yahweh in a way that makes him also Yahweh. But this is completely without warrant and he certainly does not prove it in this lecture. His statement that the NT writers link Jesus with the ‘angel of Yahweh‘ is just plain false. There is no passage anywhere in the NT that equates Jesus with the angel of Yahweh in the OT, even where the authors could have easily done so {see Acts 7:30-38}.

The one verse, which Heiser mentioned earlier, that could lend credence to this idea is Jude 1:5. Some early manuscripts say that it was Jesus who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, while other variant readings have Lord and God. While many scholars accept the Jesus reading as original, the truth of the matter is that no one knows for certain. The whole concept is based on a misconception that it was ‘the angel of Yahweh’ who saved the people out of Egypt. Later church fathers, like Justin, then equated Jesus with this angel and so we end up with Jesus delivering the people out of Egypt. The whole thing is absurd and is based on a careless reading of the relevant OT texts, such as Ex. 23:20-23; Num. 20:16 and Is 63:9. First off, in my previous article I think I have made a good case that the malak who is being referred to in these texts is Moses and not a celestial agent. Also, if the Ex. 23 passage were referring to a celestial agent, the promise being made there is that this agent would bring the people to the promised land, not that he would deliver them from Egypt – at this point they had already been delivered out of Egypt. No where in either the OT or the NT is it unambiguously stated that an angel i.e. a celestial agent was sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.

Next, Heiser states at 103:28:

“Paul, and he’s not the only one to do it, … will quote the Old Testament, he’ll have some passage that says, ‘Yahweh said this or that and the other thing,’ then he’ll quote it … and take the Yahweh part and he’ll write either kurios, the lord, or christos, or Iesous, Jesus. They actually do that. They quote the OT and they’ll swap in a name or a title associated with Jesus. That is to telegraph a theology. To the writer they’re the same. They do that with the angel too.”

This characterization of how the NT writers find the fulfillment of OT Yahweh passages accomplished in and through Jesus is really quite misleading and is an overstatement of what is really going on in those passages. But to those who are not well versed in Scripture it can at first appear to be a substantial argument, when in reality it is a rather sophomoric argument. What Heiser is basically saying is that if an OT passage said that Yahweh would do such and such, and then in the NT we see Jesus doing it, then the logical conclusion must be that Jesus is Yahweh. I’m sorry, but this is infantile thinking; I call it kindergarten exegesis. If Yahweh says, “I will do this thing” and then he sends an agent who accomplishes what Yahweh said he would do, then 1.) Yahweh is still the one who is said to have accomplished it, and 2.) there is no reason to understand the agent as being Yahweh himself.  So when Yahweh spoke through his prophet saying, “But Israel shall be saved by Yahweh with an everlasting salvation,” and then he accomplishes that salvation through the man Jesus of Nazareth, has not Yahweh accomplished what he promised? Was it not Yahweh who was reconciling the world to himself by means of Christ? And does Yahweh’s bringing about the fulfillment of his promise through his appointed agent require us to regard the agent as Yahweh himself? This concept is so basic throughout Scripture that it is simply unfathomable that a scholar of Heiser’s caliber would make this kind of mistake. What it shows, once again, is that his theological prepossessions are driving his exegesis of the text.  

Conclusion

This is the fourth and final article in a series of critiques of the popular teachings of Dr. Michael Heiser. It pains me to have had to write these articles but I just keep seeing too many people being misled by scholars like Heiser, who are too often believed simply because of their credentials. Now I am not saying that Heiser is purposely misleading people; he is, no doubt, sincere in all he teaches. The problem is that he interprets Scripture through a certain lens, that of orthodox, catholic theology and also of Ancient Near East literature, and therefore his exegesis cannot just be assumed to be sound. Everything must be critically examined no matter who is teaching it.

I hope and pray that these articles have been a benefit to my readers. If so please let me know. God bless!

Do OT Yahweh Texts Applied To Jesus Prove Jesus Is Yahweh?

In this study we will look at the popular notion that because OT texts about Yahweh are said, in the NT, to be fulfilled in some sense by Jesus, either in his first appearance, or at his second coming, that the NT authors intended their readers to understand Jesus to be Yahweh himself. This is the assertion of many apologists for the Trinity and the deity of Jesus, as well as many pastors and some scholars. I will quote a few popular personalities to demonstrate that this idea is mainstream.

Mark Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC and associate pastor of Uptown PCA, in an October 2013 post on his website Canon Fodder, said this regarding Mark’s gospel:

In fact, it is worth noting that Mark presents Jesus as God from the very opening few verses … Mark accomplishes this by beginning his gospel with citations from the Old Testament.

He then quotes Mark 1:2 and Malachi 3:1 and then says:

The first notable observation is that in the original context of Mal. 3:1, it is God himself who is coming … For Mark to apply Mal. 3:1 to the coming of Jesus, which he is clearly doing, is a very plain way of saying that Jesus is God coming to visit his people.

After further elaborating on the passage he concludes:

Thus, for Mark, Jesus is God.

On the Ligonier Ministries website, http://www.ligonier.org, under the Devotionals tab, is an article titled The Fulfillment of Prophecy. In it the author, presumably R.C. Sproul, also deals with the passage in Mark 1:2-3, taking the same approach as Mark Kruger:

Also, we note that Isaiah 40:13 is about a voice that prepares the way for Yahweh, the one true God and covenant Lord of Israel. By applying this text to the voice that prepares the way for Jesus, Mark identifies Jesus as this one true God, implicitly teaching the deity of Christ.

Sam Shamoun of Answering Islam has an on-line article titled Jesus is Yahweh -Examining the New Testament Use of Old Testament Passages to Demonstrate the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The opening paragraph reads:

As any Bible-believing Christian already knows (assuming that he has actually carefully studied the entirety of Scriptures) the NT writers often apply OT passages which speak of certain characteristics or acts of Yahweh to the Lord Jesus. The only logical conclusion that one can arrive at is that the NT authors clearly believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was the incarnation of Yahweh God, i.e. they believed that Yahweh God Almighty had become an actual human being in the historical person of the Lord Jesus.

He then proceeds to prove his point by showing OT texts which say something about Yahweh and then comparing that to NT passages which have similar language applied to Jesus, and by OT passages which are fulfilled by Jesus.

One final example. On the CARM website, run by Matt Slick, there is an article titled Jehovah is Jesus. The article consists of two columns of Bible verses, one under the heading Jehovah, and the other under the heading Jesus. There is no commentary in the article but the title reveals the intended purpose of the author. Similar kinds of language or actions attributed to Jehovah in the OT and applied to Jesus in the NT, prove that Jesus is Jehovah.

Now I admit, that at first glance, this kind of argument seems impressive. When you see all the verses listed in these articles it appears that there is overwhelming biblical data in support of the assertion that Jesus is Yahweh himself. But when you take each verse separately and study it out, what at first seemed to be impressive, then appears to be not so much so. In fact, I have come to see a naivete and shallowness in this argument. It focuses only on those passages of Scripture which seem to put Jesus in the place of Yahweh, while totally ignoring all the passages that militate against that position. When each of the passages presented in these articles is looked at on it’s own merit, I can propose an interpretation of them that does not involve Jesus being Yahweh himself, and so keep these passages consistent with those passages which make it impossible that Jesus could be Yahweh himself. I do this by understanding the Messiah to be Yahweh’s chief and ideal agent, his supreme representative, the one through whom Yahweh accomplishes his eternal purpose. This concept is so thoroughly biblical and so prevalent in both the OT and NT, that I am ashamed and embarrassed to say, that in the first 35 yrs. of my life in Messiah, I had no clue about it. But I certainly am not alone in this. I had never heard a sermon or teaching, or had never come across a book or an article touching on this biblical concept. And why had I never seen this before? Because my mind had been trained from the very beginning to understand Jesus to be God himself. And the impressive list of verses supposedly teaching this idea confirmed me in that belief. But now that I have come to understand the biblical concept of agency, the idea that prophecies, titles, and characteristics of Yahweh attributed to the Messiah means that Messiah just is Yahweh, just seems sophomoric. Sam Shamoun’s assertion that “the only logical conclusion that one can arrive at is that the NT authors clearly believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was the incarnation of God, i.e… that Yahweh Almighty had become an actual human being” is simply absurd. There is in fact a logical and reasonable and biblical alternative.

Agency is the Key

In the culture of the ancient Semitic peoples, the concept of agency was well established. According to The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion, the concept of agency is defined thus:

Agent (Heb. Shaliah): The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, ‘a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself’ [Ned. 72B; Kidd, 41b]. Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal, who therefore bears responsibility for it with consequent complete absence of liability on the part of the agent.   Adama Books, 1986, p.15

In The One and the Many in the Israelite Conception of God, Aubrey R. Johnson expressed this concept as follows:

In Hebrew thought a patriarch’s personality extended through his entire household … in a specialized sense, when the patriarch, as lord of his household, deputized his trusted servant as his malak (his messenger or angel), the man was endowed with the authority and resources of his lord, to represent him fully and transact business in his name. In Semitic thought this messenger-representative was conceived of as being personally — and in his very words — the presence of the sender.

So in the world of the ancient Near East, when an agent was sent, whether by a king or a wealthy patriarch, the agent was to speak and act as the one who commissioned him, with all of the authority and resources of his lord at his disposal. The agent came and carried out his task in the name of his lord and so his reception or rejection, by those to whom he was sent, was actually the reception or rejection of the one who sent him. Thus the agent was to be regarded as though he himself were the one whom he represents. As James F. Ross says, in Prophecy in Israel: Search for an Identity, p.114:

It would seem that the question of the messengers authority could be answered simply: it is that of the one who sends him. Thus a messenger is to be treated as if he were his master.

Rene A. Lopez, in his paper titled Identifying the “Angel of the Lord” in the Book of Judges, stated this concerning this mysterious figure in the OT:

In the ANE context, kingly messengers often addressed others in the first person and were treated as if the actual king were present. Semitic culture thus supports understanding the angel of the Lord as a messenger who represents God, but is not God himself.

In ancient Near East texts, this concept is seen not only with human agents sent by human kings but also with divine agents sent by the gods.

In the Hebrew Scriptures this concept is demonstrated in various ways. The Hebrew word used to signify such an agent is malak. This word is often translated in our English Bibles as angel, a misleading translation. Our English word angel is a direct transliteration of the Greek word angelos, which means messenger, envoy. The translators then use the word angel to translate malak, which also means messenger. Both words malak and angelos are used of both supernatural beings and humans. When the context seems to clearly be referring to supernatural beings it is translated as angel, and when the context seems clearly to denote a human it is translated as messenger or envoy or ambassador. The word angel, in my opinion, should be dropped from our English Bibles, seeing how it has become jaded in our modern times, conjuring up images and ideas that do not accurately portray the biblical meaning of a malak. I prefer the word agent over messenger because messenger could denote simply one who relays a message, whereas in the Scriptures, as we will see, a malak often does more than that. The Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines agent as “one who acts for or in the place of another by authority from him.” This fits quite well with the Biblical picture of a malak.

OT Examples of Agency

  1. Prophets – In 2 Chron. 36:15-16 the word malak is applied to God’s prophets:
    “Yahweh, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his agents (malakim) again and again … But they mocked God’s agents (malakim), despised his word and mistreated his prophets until the wrath of Yahweh was aroused against his people until there was no remedy.”
    The prophet Haggai is called Yahweh’s malak in Haggai 1:13 and in Malachi 3:1 the prophecy fulfilled by John the Baptizer designates him as Yahweh’s malak. As God’s appointed representatives prophets were called to speak for God, which they often did in the first person. Sometimes the prophet would start speaking of God in the third person and then without the customary formula “thus says the LORD” suddenly switch to the first person, speaking as God himself. When we read these prophecies today it is easy to forget that these words were spoken by a representative of Yahweh, instead of directly by Yahweh himself.
  2. Moses – Though it is disputed as to whether or not Moses was ever called a malak, the fact that he was a prophet and a representative of God to the people surely entitles him to be called a malak. There is, however, a passage which I believe does refer to Moses as a malak, though perhaps, not conclusively. In Numbers 20:14-16 Moses sends messengers (Heb. malakim) to the king of Edom to say:
    “This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come upon us. Our forefathers went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our fathers, but when we cried out to Yahweh, he heard our cry and sent an agent (malak) and brought us out of Egypt.”
    Now many do not see this as a reference to Moses, but rather to a celestial messenger who accompanied the Israelites on their journey. But I do not see any reason why the malak cannot be referring to Moses, even if this is the only time he is so designated. When we compare this verse with Exodus 3:7-10, I think it becomes clear that Numbers 20:16 is indeed speaking about Moses. In verse 7 Yahweh tells Moses that he has seen the Israelites misery and has heard their cry. In verse 9 he reiterates that he has heard their cry and in response is sending Moses “to bring my people out of Egypt.”
    We should also note in this passage how Yahweh says in verse 8, “I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egytians and to bring them up out of that land...” He then says in v. 10 that Moses’ task is to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Here we see a perfect example of the role of a malak — to act in God’s place, on God’s behalf, with God’s authority and power backing him. It can be said that Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but it is also true that Yahweh brought them out. Yahweh was working in and through his appointed agent {see 1 Sam. 12:6}.
    Also worthy of consideration is Moses’ (and Aaron’s) role as a malak in relation to Pharaoh. In Ex.7:1 Yahweh says to Moses, “See, I have made you God (Heb. elohim) to Pharaoh and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” It is clear that Moses is in a sense standing in for God. Later in the same chapter we see again a blurring of the lines between Moses and Yahweh, in vv. 14-20. God tells Moses to take his staff  with him and sends him to Pharaoh. In v.17 Moses is commanded to say, “This is what Yahweh says: By this you will know that I am Yahweh: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed to blood.”  Moses then gives the staff to Aaron and commands him to strike the water, which he does, turning the water into blood. So in whose hand was the staff and who struck the water, Yahweh or Aaron? From this we can see that when Yahweh’s agent acts on his behalf it is as if Yahweh himself is acting.
  3. Priests – Malachi 2:7 – “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction — for he is the agent (malak) of Yahweh of hosts.” As far as I can ascertain this is the only time in the OT where priests are designated as malakim.
    Often in the OT we read of someone going to “inquire of the LORD,” and then that “the LORD answered him.” Now if we think that this is just someone asking God in prayer and then God speaking to them in response, then we have misunderstood the text. When someone, like a king, wanted to inquire of the LORD as to what course of action to take, they had two options — find a prophet or go to the high priest. Part of the high priests official garments included the ephod, to which the breastplate was attached. In a pocket behind the breastplate was kept the Urim and Thummim, the sacred lots, by which the priest would obtain decisions from the LORD and determine God’s will in specific matters {see Ex. 28:29-30}. When Moses was told by God to lay hands on Joshua to commission him as his successor, he was given these instructions: “He (Joshua) is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD.” In 1 Samuel 21-23 we see this method of inquiring of the LORD played out in David’s life {see specifically 22:10; 23:2, 9-12}. So we see that one function of the high priest, as a malak of Yahweh was to stand in for God. When one went to inquire of the LORD, they literally went to the priest, and when they went to the priest, they actually went to the LORD.
  4. Angels – Every time we see the word angel in the OT, the Hebrew behind it is malak. As noted above, the word angel is not really a proper translation of malak, which denotes a messenger, an envoy, one with a delegated authority. Again, I propose the word agent. In this category we will be looking at malak of the supernatural or heavenly kind, what are typically known as angels. Throughout both the OT and NT, these beings are sent by God to carry out certain tasks on his behalf. As with Moses, there is often a blurring of the lines between these beings and Yahweh himself. Appearing as men, they will often speak for Yahweh in the first person, as if they were Yahweh. At the end of such encounters, those to whom they appeared (once they understand they were not dealing with a human being), will often interpret the event as seeing God himself, although it is clear that it was not actually God himself. Examples of this can be seen in Gen. 16:7-14; Gen. 18-19; 22:9-18; 31:10-13; 32:24-30; Ex. 3:1-4:17; 23:20-23; Joshua 5:13-6:5; Judges 6:1-23; 13:2-23. The malak is often so closely identified with Yahweh (he speaks and acts as Yahweh) that many scholars have been led to believe that “the angel of the Lord” is actually a personal appearance of God himself in visible form. Some postulate that it is pre-incarnate appearances of the Son of God. But there is no biblical reason to draw such a conclusion. Although it has been a popular idea, since the middle of the second century down to our present time, to view the ‘angel of the Lord’ as the pre- incarnate  Son of God himself, the New Testament makes no such connection. No NT author ever equates the Messiah with the angel of the Lord, which is indeed strange, seeing that Christian teachers have been freely speaking this way since the middle of the 2nd century. If the believers of the first century did believe this, isn’t their silence about it baffling? In fact, in the only place in the NT where one of the OT appearances of the angel of the Lord is spoken of, in Acts 7:30-36, no mention is made of this angel being the Son of God. In this passage Stephen, who is described as being “full of faith and of the holy spirit,” recounts the incident of the burning bush. He simply says that an agent (Gr. angelos) appeared to Moses in the flames of the burning bush (v.30). He goes on in v. 35 to say that God commissioned Moses “by the hand of the agent who appeared to him in the bush.” ‘By the hand of’ is a Hebraism meaning ‘through the agency of.’ Stephen is clearly making a distinction between God and the agent through whom he spoke, and he says nothing about the agent being Messiah. Yet Stephen also says that when the agent spoke it was God speaking (vv.31-34). I think it is safe to assume that this was the way that the apostles and the first believers viewed the appearances of the ‘angel of the Lord’ in the OT, despite what Greek church fathers of the second century had to say. We can see that in their mind God’s malak stood in God’s place, speaking and acting as if he was God, yet was distinct from God.
  5. Messiah – There is one occasion in the OT in which the Messiah who was to come is designated as a malak. In Malachi 3:1 we read: “Behold, I will send my agent who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord (Heb. adon) whom you seek will come to his temple, the agent (malak) of the covenant, whom you desire will come,” says Yahweh Almighty. In OT theology David and his line were the uniquely chosen vessels to represent Yahweh’s rule over his people { 1Chron.28:5-7; 29:23; 2 Chron. 13:4-8; Ps. 89:19-37}. As such they carried the title ‘the LORD’s anointed (Heb. mashiach = messiah; Gr. christos = christ). The Davidic king was very closely associated with Yahweh as His appointed messiah {Ps. 2; 45:2-7; 80:17; 89:21-28; 1 Chron. 29:20; Zech. 12:8; 13:7}. The rest of this study will show how the Messiah as God’s malak explains the phenomenon of the NT authors applying OT Yahweh texts to Jesus.

Messiah, God’s Ideal Agent

Now let’s look at some of the specific passages, presented in the articles quoted at the beginning of this study, which are supposed to be conclusive proof that Jesus is Yahweh.

Mark 1:2-3 – The passage used most often in this regard is Mark 1:2-3. As noted in the above articles, Mark is applying two OT passages, Mal. 3:1 and Is. 40:3, to the coming and ministry of John the baptizer. The first point worth noting is that Mark is quoting this verse with reference to John, not Jesus. This surely weakens the theory that Mark’s intention is to equate Jesus with Yahweh. He’s quoting the passage to show it’s fulfillment in John. The second point of note is the fact that Mark’s version of Mal. 3:1 and Is. 40:3 (as well as other NT quotations of these verses – Matt.3:3; 11:10; Lk. 7:27) do not match either the Masoretic Text (MT) or the LXX. Both the MT and the LXX, at Mal. 3:1, have Yahweh saying that his messenger “will prepare the way before me.” The text in Mark changes the first person to a second person pronoun – “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.” This also undermines the idea that Mark wants his readers to equate Jesus with Yahweh, because the text he uses would obscure that connection. We have a similar problem with the Isaiah passage. Both the MT and the LXX read “our God” at the end of the verse, while Mark’s version reads “for him.” Again this militates against Mark wanting his readers to think Jesus is “our God.” It is true that the MT reads “prepare the way for Yahweh” in the first part of the verse. Mark’s version and the LXX, both being in Greek, read, “prepare the way for the Lord “ (Gr. kurios). What text is Mark (and Matthew and Luke) reading from? It is clearly not the MT or the LXX. Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) readings of these verses seem to match the MT.
But for the sake of the argument, let’s just go with the MT and LXX readings. Do these readings prove that Jesus is God? The very question is absurd on it’s face. Yes the messenger (John) was to prepare the way for Yahweh and make straight a highway for God. In the appearing of Jesus of Nazareth on the scene, God was going to accomplish his long awaited plan of redemption. “God was, through Messiah, reconciling the world to himself ” {2 Cor. 5:19}. John’s mission was to ready a people prepared for what God was about to do in and through his anointed one {Lk.1:16-17}. Jesus himself told his disciples, “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” {John 14:10; see also 10:31,38}. No Jew reading Malachi’s or Isaiah’s prophecy would have thought that Yahweh was literally, personally and visibly going to appear in the wilderness of Judea. They understood the language as it was intended to be understood – Yahweh was going to visit his people through the raising up of the promised Messiah. Luke gives us a clue as to how Jews understood prophecies about God coming or God visiting his people. Zechariah, the father of John, speaking in proleptic terms at the birth of his son, declared:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited  and accomplished redemption for his people. He has raised up a horn (symbol of a king) of salvation for us in the house of his servant David …      Lk. 1:68-69

Note how Zechariah understands God visiting his people — by raising up the Messiah in  the house of David. Later in Luke’s gospel we read:

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has been raised up among us,” they said. “God has visited his people.”    Lk. 7:16

Again, how did the Jews understand God coming to them? By the fact that a great prophet had been raised up among them (at this stage in Jesus’ ministry the multitudes at least regarded him as a prophet, if not the Messiah). We can understand that when God’s appointed agent shows up on the scene, it is in effect God showing up. And when Yahweh foretells of something he is going to do in the future, and then some appointed agent of his shows up and carries it out, it is to be regarded as God himself doing it.

Zech. 12:10“They will look to me the one they have pierced , and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child.”

Rev. 1:7“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the land will mourn because of him.”
                 

Yahweh, in the MT and LXX, at Zech. 12:10, states that the inhabitants of Jerusalem will “look to me.Yet the author of the Revelation, speaking of Messiah at his second coming, says that Messiah is the one who was pierced. The mention of mourning in connection with this piercing, in both passages, makes it clear that the Zechariah passage is being referenced by the author of the Revelation. So does John (most scholars and commentators take the author of Rev. to be the same as the apostle John, author of the 4th gospel) intend by this reference, for his readers to understand Jesus to be Yahweh himself? Is this the “only logical conclusion that one can arrive at?” Absolutely not! To begin with, if this John of Rev. is synonymous with the apostle and author of the gospel of John, which I believe he is, then we can gain an insight into how he understood the Zechariah passage, from his gospel. In ch. 19:31-37 he relates the story about the soldiers not breaking Jesus’ legs, because he was already dead. Instead, presumably to confirm his death, one soldier thrust a spear into his side. John concludes:

These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and , as another scripture says, “They will look to the one they have pierced.”

Note how John words the passage from Zechariah; it does not contain the ‘me‘ of the MT and LXX. If John wanted his readers to think of Jesus as ontologically equivalent to Yahweh then why present a reading that would obscure that interpretation. It is probable that John’s particular reading of the passage is interpretive, i.e. he understands not a hypostatic equivalence between Yahweh and Messiah Jesus, but a functional equivalence. So the Messiah, as Yahweh’s agent, takes upon himself the offense committed against Yahweh. The piercing is emblematic of rejection. If the one who was sent is rejected, this is tantamount to the rejection of the one who sent him {Luke 10:16; John 15: 23; see also John 12:44}. When the Messiah was pierced, it was in effect Yahweh himself being pierced. To make the claim, based upon the juxtapostion of these two passages, that Jesus must be Yahweh himself, strikes me as a rather simple-minded, even juvenile form of exegesis.

Isaiah 45:23 – “By myself I have sworn …  to me every knee will bow and every tongue will swear.”
                           
Phil. 2:10-11“… that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
                          

Here are another two passages which, when juxtaposed, are supposed to be proof positive that the NT authors, Paul here specifically, regarded Jesus the Messiah as Yahweh himself. But once again, the concept of agency helps us avoid such an overly simplistic reading of the NT. I would draw your attention to John 12:44:

Jesus cried out, “The one who believes in me, believes not in me, but in the one who sent me.”

The concept of agency is profoundly clear in this verse. To believe in the Messiah is in effect to believe in Yahweh who sent him. Can we not say then, that to bow the knee to Jesus and acknowledge him as Lord Messiah is equal to bowing the knee to Yahweh who sent him and who appointed him as Lord and Messiah. And can we not say that to acknowledge Jesus as Lord is to acknowledge the God who appointed him to that position. Now that God has raised up his chosen agent and has exalted him, one must now acknowledge and serve him, Messiah, in order to be faithful to God. If a man claims to be faithful to Yahweh yet refuses to bow the knee to Yahweh’s appointed ruler, then that man is not being faithful to Yahweh {Jn. 5:23}. Faith in Yahweh is now inextricably linked to faith in his anointed one {Jn. 14:1}. And to believe in God’s Messiah is to be faithful to the one who commands our belief in this Messiah {Jn. 6:28-29; 1 Jn. 3:23-24}.

Note in the Phil. passage, that the exaltation of Jesus and his having the name above all names, so that every knee would bow and every tongue confess him Lord, is something that is conferred upon him by God, as a direct result of his humble obedience, even unto death. This also militates against the idea that Paul is presenting Jesus as Yahweh. First off, Jesus is presented here as someone other than God – he is distinct from God. This God is said to have exalted Jesus and to have given him the name above all names. But if he were Yahweh wouldn’t he already have been exalted and had the name above all names? Why did these things have to be bestowed upon him, and that as a result of his obedience?

It must also be pointed out that it is not even clear that Phil. 2:10-11 is saying that every knee will bow and every tongue confess to Jesus the Messiah. Paul’s thought could be that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow to God and every tongue confess (i.e. acknowledge) to God that Jesus is Lord. Or, since the Greek word for at here is en, whose predominant meaning is in, we could read it as, “in the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess to God the Father, that Jesus is Lord.” As I said above, since God has exalted Jesus to the highest place and given him the name above all names, it is now a prerequisite for entrance into God’s eternal kingdom to acknowledge this one, and to acknowledge him is to acknowledge the one who exalted him. God exalted him ‘so that‘ only in his name can one truly bow the knee to God (Compare Eph. 5:20 and Col. 3:17).

Joel 2:32“And everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved.”

Romans 10:12-13“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is  Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ “

Much excitement is had by Trinitarians over this correlation of Scriptures, but I think without merit. It is assumed that Paul is quoting Joel 2:32 as being fulfilled in the fact that one must call on the name of the Lord Jesus to be saved. Joel says “the name of Yahweh” and Paul applies it to Jesus, hence Jesus must be Yahweh. This, once again, is far too simplistic. The above explanation is again applicable here. That is, now that the Messiah has been raised up by God and he has accomplished the work (phase 1 anyway) to which he was commissioned, God now requires acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord Messiah for ultimate salvation. So then to confess Jesus as Lord, he having been made such by God {Acts 2:36}, is equivalent to acknowledging Yahweh. To ‘call upon the name of Yahweh’ now involves confessing Jesus of Nazareth as Lord Messiah and believing that God raised him from the dead.  Yahweh has his appointed means of salvation, and those means involve a faith recognition of God’s work in and through Messiah Jesus {see Rom. 10:9; 2 Cor. 5:19}.

Also it is highly probable that Paul is not even quoting Joel 2:32 in the sense of a fulfillment in Messiah. Notice that there are none of the common formulas preceding the quotation, such as “as it is written” or “as the scripture says” or “that the scripture might be fulfilled.” I think what Paul could be doing here is a common practice (I have even done this myself) of using a passage of scripture whose wording aptly fits the present situation, but without implying that the present situation is a fulfillment of the original meaning of the passage. In fact, Paul does this same thing just five verses later at verse 18. This provides a good example of what I am referring to because v.18 is not embroiled in controversy as v. 13 is, and hence should be evident to all no matter what one’s Christological beliefs.

But I ask, did they (the Israelites) not hear? Of course they did. Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Paul here quotes Psalm 19:4, but it is clear he does not mean that this passage had been fulfilled in his day by the preaching of the gospel. Paul was not stupid. He knew that the original context of Psalm 19:1-4 referred to the heavens declaring the glory of God and that everyone has heard (i.e. seen) their testimony. It is only because the wording of that passage fit his present situation (that the gospel had been thoroughly proclaimed to the Jews both in the land and in the dispersion) that Paul quoted it. Notice again the lack of a fulfillment formula.

So, I suggest that Paul is quoting Joel 2:32 simply because the wording of the passage in the LXX came to his mind as a perfect fit for the present situation, in which now, by God’s decree, men must acknowledge Jesus as Lord Messiah for everlasting salvation.

Now I could go on looking at all of the examples given in the articles mentioned at the beginning of this study, applying the concept of agency to them, and showing how there is no necessity to think that the NT authors were making an ontological equivalence between Yahweh and Jesus, but that would be superfluous. These examples should be sufficient to show that the kind of exegesis promoted in the above mentioned articles is overly simplistic and not worthy of being taken seriously.