The Old Testament God

In Deuteronomy 13:1-3a Moses warns the people of Israel, ” If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.” Some Jewish people hearing the message of Jesus, imagine that Jesus is just this sort of “other god.” They believe that Jesus is a new god that they have never heard of before.

There is a reason for this false impression. Something that many Christians are confused about is which member of the Trinity is revealed and discussed in the Old Testament. If asked about who the God of the Old Testament might be, most Christians would probably say that he is the Father. But in point of fact, the Father is not much revealed until the New Testament. The member of the Trinity that the ancient Israelites interacted with, the one who led them out of Egypt, the one who is called by the name Yahweh (or Jehovah), the one who created the heavens and the earth, is not the Father.

Rather, it is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Consider some interesting points that will make this truth obvious. The apostle John writes near the beginning of his Gospel that:

“No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only who is at the Father’s side has made him known.” (John 1:18)

Likewise, in John 6:46 he writes:

“No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.”

These are key verses, since they tell us no one has seen the Father. Ever. Yet, we know from the Old Testament that people did see God. For instance, Exodus 24:9-11:

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel.

“Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.”

Notice also Genesis 18, where Abraham has three visitors, one of whom turns out to be Yahweh. See also Isaiah 6:1-3 where Isaiah saw God “high and lifted up” in the same way he saw the Seraphim; Numbers 12:6-8 tells us that Moses spoke to God face to face, rather than through visions or dreams, and that he sees “the form of God”; Judges 13:20-23 explains that the father of Samson is afraid he might die because he has seen God. He is reassured by his wife when she points out that God would not have accepted their offering if he intended to kill them. Job 42:5 says that Job saw God.

To explain the apparent contradiction between John 1:18 and 6:46, which very clearly state that no one has seen God—and Exodus 24 which just as clearly says that Moses and seventy-three other folks did (not to mention the problems raised by the other passages), there is only one possible explanation: since no one has seen the Father, the only conclusion, then, is that the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, is none other than the Son of God!

This isn’t so surprising considering that Romans 10:9-13 records:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ 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.'”

Paul has here quoted from Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” You’ll notice in English translations that the word “Lord” is all in capitals. That lets you know that the underlying Hebrew word is actually God’s name: Yahweh (sometimes translated Jehovah). Yet Paul identifies the Lord—Yahweh—as being Jesus. Consider also Acts 2:21 where the same passage is quoted from Joel and Peter again applies it to Jesus. Or Acts 4:10-12, where Peter says:

“Then know this, you and everyone else in Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you completely healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Salvation is through the Son, whether in the Old Testament or the New. Notice also what Isaiah 43:11 says:

“I, even I, am Yahweh,

and apart from me there is no savior.”

Jesus is the savior of the world. If there is no other savior than Yahweh, Yahweh must be Jesus. Therefore, Yahweh—the God of the Old Testament—is the Son of God.

Salvation has always been the same: by the simple act of people putting their faith in the Son of God. There is, and can never be, any other Savior than Jesus.

Jesus is also the creator of the universe. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Then Paul explains in Colossians 1:15-17 that the Son is the one who created the universe: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (see also John 1:3).

And finally, consider this: in the time of Jesus, the Jewish people had become sticklers for keeping the Law of Moses, fearful of doing anything that might cause God to send them back into captivity. Therefore, they had a tendency to build hedges around the law: that is, they added extra commandments that, if kept, would prevent a person from ever getting to the place of breaking God’s actual commandment. Thus, the commandment in Exodus 20:7 about not “taking the name of God in vain” was protected by a prohibition against ever speaking God’s name at all. In reading the Bible, instead of saying God’s name “Yahweh” they would say the word “Adonai”—the Hebrew word that means “Lord.” When they translated the Old Testament into Greek, they used the Greek word meaning “Lord” whenever God’s name appeared in the text. For them, the Greek word “Lord” was a word that meant “God.” (And, in fact, this Jewish tradition is why even today, in just about all English translations, you’ll see the word “Lord” in the Old Testament instead of God’s name, Yahweh.)

And so, as we read the New Testament, what do we find? Jesus is consistently referred to by this Greek word that is translated “Lord,” a word that the Jews reserved for God himself: a replacement for his name. The New Testament authors were very well aware of what they were doing. For them, there was no question at all. Jesus is Yahweh, the God that led them from Egypt through the Red Sea, now made flesh, dying as a sacrifice, and rising from the dead three days later. The God that they had always worshipped.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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