Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (5): Judges

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (5): Judges

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (5): Judges.

The Angel of Yahweh, that mysterious heavenly Messenger that appears and then disappears in many stories in the Hebrew Bible, has long been considered by many scholars to be none other than Jesus Christ. Early Church theologians, and many others since then, have recognized that this unique Angel not only represents Yahweh, but also speaks for Yahweh, and is seen by witnesses as being Yahweh Himself. We do know that Scripture is clear… no one can see God face-to-face and survive the experience. And we do know that God is a Spirit. So, logically, any manifestation of God in the form of man is Jesus in His pre-incarnate state.

The Angel of Yahweh appeared twice in the era of the Judges, a difficult period in Hebrew history. After taking the Promised Land for God’s Chosen People, Joshua died and it was time for the Israelites to develop their unique culture based on the worship of Yahweh. Unfortunately, the new-found national life disintegrated while they were possessing the Land. There was moral and spiritual anarchy as the Israelites fell into idolatry, mixing worship of the god Baal with Yahweh. Morally, everyone “did what was right in their own eyes.” So the people had to endure constant oppression from their enemies as punishment for their idolatry. The repeating cycle of sin, oppression, and salvation continued for 400 years. To bring order out of the national chaos, God would raise up military leaders who would save the Israelites from their enemies. These military and national leaders were called Judges. God intervened often during this era, and in two cases God made an appearance in the form of the Angel of Yahweh. This Messenger, Jesus, appeared in two important situations: the calling of Gideon, and the birth announcement of Samson. It’s no surprise Yahweh would send His Son to help raise leaders who would save Israel, even if that salvation turned out to be temporary.

Jesus With Gideon. In Judges 6 we find Gideon, the youngest member of an insignificant family in Israel. He was a farmer by trade, and by nature lacked confidence. Gideon was a bit on the timid side, and seemed to be a natural skeptic, perhaps even pessimistic. His nation of Israel was slowly starving to death because of their enemy the Midianites, a marauding force that often swept into Israel and stole their crops and livestock. This frightening state of affairs had been going on for seven years, and Israel was helpless with these devastating attacks. If the Israelites were honest with themselves, they would have connected the dots and acknowledged this as God’s punishment for their pagan idolatry. But this knowledge didn’t make life any easier for the Israelites.

Gideon was understandably fearful, but he also had a clever streak. He decided to use the family winepress to serve as the place where he would secretly thresh his wheat. A winepress during that time was a wide vat carved out of a boulder in the ground, and it was big enough for several people to stand in and crush grapes. Gideon was afraid that some Midianite attackers would see him thresh his wheat out in the open and take away his wheat crop. So he was hiding in the winepress, threshing his wheat, in the protective barrier of the winepress.

Suddenly the Angel of Yahweh appeared to Gideon, calling him a “mighty warrior” as he fearfully threshed his wheat. (6:12). The Angel said that Yahweh was with him. Gideon was doubtful, and he wasn’t sure if this was really a heavenly Messenger or just a human visitor. Gideon complained that if the Lord was truly with him and his people, He sure had a strange way of showing it. Look at the Midianites, Gideon blurts out. He then gathered his courage to point out, it looks like Yahweh has abandoned us! The Angel made it clear, though, that Yahweh wanted Gideon to lead the rescue efforts, and God would be with him all the way. The Messenger even performed a miracle to convince Gideon of his divine calling, a little matter of a fire coming from out of a rock. (6:21). Yahweh saw something in Gideon that even Gideon didn’t see. Yahweh saw courage and valor and leadership.

At this point in the conversation Gideon panicked… He knew that he had seen the divine Angel of Yahweh face-to-face, and he said he was doomed. Gideon knew this was not just any angel. Gideon knew this was an unusual representative of Yahweh, and we know Him as Jesus. The Angel told Gideon to be at peace… “Fear not, you will not die.” (6:23). Because of Gideon’s fear of the holy presence of God, Yahweh confirmed His offer of peace, and the Angel asked Gideon to lose that fear. After years and years of being bullied by the enemy, Yahweh’s peace efforts convinced Gideon of His divine presence.  And so, at that spot Gideon built an altar and named it Yahweh-Shalom, the Lord-is-Peace.

Gideon’s amazing story of how he conquered the Midianites is in Judges 6-8. He established the last bit of peace in this era of Judges, for 40 years. It is a wonder how Gideon transformed from being fearful and timid into someone who is a member of the Hebrew Hall of Fame, a true hero of the Faith. (Hebrews 11:32-34).

Jesus And Samson. We are once again told in Judges 13 that Israel had done evil in the sight of the Lord. The cycle of idolatry has once again surfaced in the lives of the Israelites. The consequences were severe. Yahweh delivered the Israelites into the hand of their sworn enemy, the Philistines. This punishment was no light matter, because the Philistines dominated Israel for 40 long years during this time. In the midst of the judgment was a woman who was childless with her husband Manoah. This unknown woman was paid a visit by none other than the mysterious Angel of Yahweh. The first time this Messenger appeared, she ran to her husband and reported to him, “A Man of God appeared to me! He looked like one of God’s Angels, very awesome to see – terror laced with glory!” (13:6). The Angel told her that she would conceive a son, this son will live his life in service to God, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines.

Manoah then prayed that this Man would come a second time to offer more instructions regarding this puzzling message. Sure enough, the Messenger, Jesus, returned to the couple and gave her specific instructions. Manoah was not aware of who this Man was yet, so He asked the Angel for His name. Jesus answered that it’s no use asking for His name. It is too wonderful to comprehend. His name was beyond human understanding. (13:18). Manoah decided to honor this special Messenger, and respectfully offered to sacrifice a burnt offering and a grain offering, and the Angel accepted the idea. And then an amazing thing happened. “As the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the Angel of the Lord ascended from within the flame.” (13:20). Manoah and his wife immediately fell to the ground in awe and worship and fear. Manoah knew that this was the unique Man representing Yahweh, and he thought they would surely die, “because we have seen God!” (13:22). His wife disagreed. How else can we give birth to the special son, she says. We will not die.

“So the barren woman bore a son, and called his name Samson, and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.” (13:24). Samson’s extraordinary story is told in Judges 13-16. Manoah was right, they really had seen God, in the form of God’s Son. And His name is indeed wonderful, the name above all names. And sure enough, along with Gideon, Samson made the Hebrew Hall of Fame as well, in Hebrews 11:32-34.