Ex.33:11a reads, "And Yahweh spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." Such a statement is explained in theological terms as a "theophany." A theophany refers to either a visible or auditory manifestation of the Almighty. It is a combination of two Greek words, "theo" referring to deity and "phaino" meaning to shine or appear. "Christophany" is another theological term used to refer to either a visible or auditory manifestation of the preincarnate "Christ." A 'christophany' is one interpretation of a 'theophany.' Neither word is found in Scripture. They are simply man's attempt to define and explain something they don't understand. The Scriptures do not leave us in the dark concerning these 'appearances' of Almighty Yahweh.
Let's begin by trying to understand theophanies and whether or not they can be actual appearances of Yahweh, the one true Elohim. The Bible makes it quite clear that no man has ever seen or heard Yahweh. Consider the following verses;
Exodus 33:20 - "And He said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live."
John 1:18 - "No man hath seen Elohim at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him."
John 5:37 - "And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape."
John 6:46 - "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of Elohim, he hath seen the Father."
1 Jn. 4:12 - "No man hath seen Elohim at any time. If we love one another, Elohim dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us."
1Tim 1:17 - "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise Elohim, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
1 Tim.6:16 - " Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen."
That being the case, how can it be said that Yahweh spoke to Moses "face to face"? Similar statements were made in Gen.32:30, Deut.34:10, and Num.12:6-8. Moses himself helps to explain this in Deut.5:4; "Yahweh talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire." He was referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments in Ex.20. Upon completion of Israel hearing those words, Yahweh told Moses to say to the children of Israel, "You have seen that I have talked to you from heaven" (Ex.20:22).
Although it is said that Yahweh spoke "face to face" with the children of Israel, they did not actually see him as one sees with the eyes. Deut.4:12,15,16 read, "And Yahweh spoke unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. . .Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that Yahweh spoke unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female." Yahweh would not allow the children of Israel to see any likeness of Himself because He knew they would then make an image of Him and worship it. And although Yahweh said He "talked" to them (Deut.5:4), it was not Yahweh's actual voice they were hearing. Not only is this confirmed by Jn.5:37, but by Acts 7:38,53 as well. "This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: . . .Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it."
It was actually angels that spoke with Moses and the fathers of Israel. Therefore, Paul tells us the law was "ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Moses)" (Gal.3:19). "Ordained" is from the Greek "diatasso" meaning "to command". Again, we read in Heb.2:2, "For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; . . ." It is clear that Yahweh spoke the law to Israel through angels. Yahweh Himself was never heard nor seen.
Concerning Gen.32:24 where Jacob wrestled with a "man", he said he saw "Elohim face to face". Yet, in Hos.12:3,4a, we find out it wasn't Elohim (Yahweh), but an angel that he wrestled with; "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with Elohim: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed:"
The thought will then come to mind that the Scriptures cannot be true since they contradict each other. In one place it is said Yahweh spoke face to face, but in another it really wasn't Yahweh, but an angel. If we try to understand this from a Western mind set, from our cultural perspective, it is difficult to understand. Not so from Middle Eastern thought. This is what is known as the "law of agency". "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)." The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion, Adama Books, New York, NY, 1986, pg.15. The angels that spoke the law were Yahweh's agents or representatives. As such, they had full authority to not only speak in His name, but to seemingly appropriate His name as in Ex.20:2; "I am Yahweh thy Elohim, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." They were speaking exactly what Yahweh wanted them to say.
Consider Ex.23:20-23 - "Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off." The "angel" (Heb. malak - messenger) would actually speak to Israel, but Yahweh says, "all that I speak." Yahweh would command the angel what to say and he would say it.
The same is true of our Savior Yeshua. He said in Jn.12:49,50; "For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak."
The "angel of Yahweh" is a very interesting figure in Scripture. Let's look at a few passages referring to him.
Gen.22:10-12 - "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of Yahweh called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest Elohim, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me."
Gen.31:10-13 - "And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled. And the angel of Elohim spoke unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I. And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. I am the El of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred."
Jud.2:1,4 - "And an angel of Yahweh came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. . . And it came to pass, when the angel of Yahweh spoke these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept."
In each of these instances the angel of Yahweh spoke as though he were Yahweh. We know from several other Scriptures that the angel of Yahweh cannot be Yahweh Himself. Aside from the references stating that no man has seen or heard Elohim (Yahweh), we have two other examples proving this to be true. In 2 Sam.24:16, Yahweh speaks to the angel of Yahweh saying, "It is enough: stay now thine hand." Then, in Zech.1:12, the angel of Yahweh speaks to Yahweh saying, "O Yahweh of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?" These two references show the angel of Yahweh to be a separate being from Yahweh.
We also have a reference suggesting Yeshua is not the angel of Yahweh. Mt.28:2,3 states, "And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of Yahweh descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: . . . And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Yeshua, which was impaled. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Master lay." The angel could not say, "He is not here" if he were Yeshua. In fact, Heb.1:1 - 2:2 suggest Yeshua was not an angel of any sort. Heb.2:2 tells us the word was "spoken by angels". This is referring to the giving of the law at Mt.Sinai as we have already seen. But Heb.1:1,2 tell us Yahweh spoke through prophets (and angels, Heb.2:2) in the era preceding Messiah. Yeshua was not the spokesman throughout the Old Testament as many like to teach. He is the New Testament spokesman.
Let's look at Ex.13:21; "And Yahweh went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:" This verse seems to imply Yahweh led Israel out of Egypt via a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. However, Ex.14:19 and Num.20:16 inform us that, in reality, it was an angel that led Israel;
"And the angel of Elohim, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:" (Ex.14:19)
"And when we cried unto Yahweh, He heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border:" (Num.20:16).
There are those who teach it was the preincarnate Messiah who led and followed Israel based on 1 Cor.10:4. We have already seen, however, that Yeshua was not an angel, nor a spokesman during the exodus. Click here for an explanation of this passage and many other misunderstood verses.
Another "theophany" is found in Ex.3. From Ex.3:4 - 4:17 Yahweh is having a conversation with Moses. He even reveals to Moses the phrase "I AM" or "I will be" (Ex.3:14) and His memorial name, "Yahweh" (Ex.3:15). Yet, in verse 2 of chapter 3, we see it is actually "the angel of Yahweh" that appears in the burning bush and talks to Moses. This is confirmed again in Acts 7:35; "This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did Elohim send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush." As Yahweh's agent or chosen representative, the angel had full authority to command Moses and to use Yahweh's name.
This brings us to perhaps the favorite "theophany/christophany" of all, Gen.18:1; "And Yahweh appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;" A footnote in the "Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible " concerning Gen.18:1-33 reads, "Did Abraham actually see and talk with God? Does this contradict John 1:18, "No man hath seen God at any time"? This theophany (appearance of God to man) in the OT is believed to have been Christ." Is this possible? Could this have been the preincarnate Messiah? The answer is no, unless you read Messiah into the text and assume it was him in order to support a preconceived idea or doctrine. There is nothing in these verses to lead one to that conclusion.
Three "men" confront Abraham. Two of them are later seen to be angels (Gen.18:22;19:1) while one remained who Abraham addressed as "Yahweh" (Gen.18:22,26,33). If one was going to assume anything, there would be more grounds to assume the third man was an angel as well rather than the preincarnate Messiah. We cannot build doctrines such as "christophanies" based on assumptions and wishful thinking.
It is clear that Abraham was not seeing Yahweh, nor was he actually hearing Yahweh's voice. Therefore, it could not have been a "theophany," an appearance of the one true Elohim, because no such possibility exists while we are yet flesh and blood. Yahweh Himself says in Ex.33:20, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live."
In Gen.18:1, Yahweh had to be speaking through one of His agents. The question would then be, was that agent an angel or the preincarnate Messiah? In all other supposed theophanies, Scriptures revealed it was an angel speaking or being seen. To suggest this instance is any different is grasping at air. The thought that Yeshua pre-existed his earthly birth is a fable of men based on misunderstood and/or poorly translated verses. The fact of the matter is the Bible does not identify the figure in Gen.18:1. It only tells us it could not be Yahweh. To suggest it is the preincarnate Messiah is just that, a suggestion or a guess, and nothing more.
Finally, let's conclude with Num.12:6-8; "And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I Yahweh will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of Yahweh shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" Verse 6 tells us the normal way a person would see Yahweh is via a vision or dream. We see this in Ex.24:10,11 by the Hebrew words used; "And they saw the Elohim of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in His clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand: also they saw Elohim, and did eat and drink." In what way did they see the Elohim of Israel who is Yahweh?
The words translated "saw" in both verses can have several meanings. "Ra'ah" (Strong's #7200) is used far more than any other word for the act of a prophet when receiving Yahweh's word. (See Isa.6:1; Jer.1:11; Ezek.1:1). A derivative of "ra'ah", "ro'eh" (seer) is used as a name for a prophet. It suggests the act of receiving Yahweh's messages via visions and dreams. (See 1 Sam.9:9,11,18,19).
"Chazah" (#2372) is used of the revelatory visions granted by Yahweh to His chosen messengers. (See Num.24:4,16; Isa.1:1; Dan.2:26; Amos 1:1; Zech.10:2). A derivation of "chazah," "chozeh," was also used of prophets and translated "seer" as was 'ro'eh' (#7203). (See 2 Sam.24:11; 2 Chr.35:15).
The Scriptures declare that people have seen Elohim or have seen Yahweh. If it was not, in fact, an angel of Yahweh they were seeing, then they were seeing Yahweh in a vision or dream as Solomon did in 1 Kgs.11:9; 3:5; 9:2. They were certainly not seeing Him in all His glory with their naked eye (their normal vision).
Moses, however, was different. He was permitted to "see" a "similitude" of Yahweh. A similitude is not the real thing. It is an image or likeness of the true. The golden calf was an image or likeness of a real calf. A reflection in a mirror is an image or similitude of the true. Moses could not and did not see the full glory or essence of Yahweh. He was permitted to see only His "back parts" (Ex.33:23). In other words, Moses saw a small trace of Yahweh's glory as it was leaving the scene. That tiny trace of fleeting glory was enough to cause his face to shine. A good analogy of this is seeing the wake of a passing ship, but not the ship itself. You can be splashed and tossed around quite easily by that wake even though it was only a small trace of the power of the ship itself.
In summation, Yahweh, the Elohim of Israel and Heavenly Father of our Savior Yeshua, was never seen or heard by man. He used angels and prophets to speak to man prior to Yeshua and He has spoken through His Son ever since. Therefore, there are no theophanies in Scripture. He never used His Son to speak in Old Testament times because His Son did not come into existence until his earthly birth. Therefore, there are no christophanies in Scripture.