This has been a fascinating study for me as I prepare to teach on Sunday. I have been given the task of looking at the Theophanies in the Old Testament. Prior to this assignment, I barely knew what a Theophany was, let alone base an entire message around it.
Theophany comes from the Greek noun, “God” and the Greek verb, “to appear.” It’s really a 10-cent theological term that people with PhD’s use to prove how smart they are or how much money they have spent on their education. Either way it means any direct, visual manifestation of the presence of God.
You see it often in the Old Testament. It’s very common in Genesis, the events of the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, and the narrative of the Judges. It does show up in the prophetic books but seldom. There are various forms that these manifestations of God take such as fire, cloud, angel, and a man.
But this summer we are studying about Jesus from the Old Testament perspective, so are you saying that these manifestations of God are really Jesus showing up to Abraham and Moses and Joshua? Ready for the answer? Yes. The more you study the more you understand that Jesus has always been the way in which we see God (John 14:9) and he was indeed present to our Old Testament heroes. Not in the bodily form that he took as a man 2000 years ago but appearing in some kind of form to people for a limited period of time.
While that alone is enough to blow your mind, what was fascinating to me was not that he simply showed up in the pages of the OT, but why he showed up and what he did when he did show up. Just a casual reading of the Theophanies and you see that this pre-incarnate Jesus brings comfort, guidance, protection, and warning when he appears. Whether it is consoling Hagar as she has been forced to flee from Sarah (Genesis 16) or providing food and water to an exhausted Elijah after he has defeated the prophet of Baal (I Kings 19) to keep several hungry lions from devouring Daniel the den (Daniel 6), Jesus does something Supernatural every time he shows up.
The main passage we will examine this week is Joshua 5 when Jesus appears as the commander of the Lord’s army to a perplexed young leader named Joshua. Joshua, leading the nation of Israel into the promised land, has the daunting task of trying to attack the impenetrable walls of Jericho. The double walled fortress that had walls some 46 feet high and six feet thick would have been impossible for the small army of Israel that lacked battering rams, catapults, and ladders.
Joshua finds himself on a secret recon mission near the city to discover a weakness in the walls when he encounters the following: “and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand” (Joshua 5:13). Not sure what you do if you were in enemy territory and a soldier came upon you with his weapon drawn. The coward in me say “run away”, the warrior in me says “let’s fight.” Joshua confronts the man and asks an intelligent question, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
Fair question. The warrior’s response? Classic. No. Are you on my side? No. Are you on my enemy’s side? No. Joshua was confused. Well then whose side are you on? “I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (verse 14). I’m not on either side, I am God All-Mighty and it’s my side.
Without giving away the rest of the story, or my message for Sunday, what happens next is the response that all of us should take when we encounter a supernatural God who shows up in our lives and does what only a supernatural God can do. To find that out, you need to come to church this Wednesday or Sunday. How’s that for a cliff-hanger?