Seaborn Hall, 6/11/03 in fulfillment of the requirements of Ph.D. for OT Theology 805/John Goldingay/Fuller Theological Seminary/Spring 2002



Where does an Old Testament theology begin? It must start at the beginning, that is, not with the Exodus or the Mosaic covenant, not even with the Abrahamic or the Noahic covenant, but at Genesis 1 – 3 with the story of when God creates the world and man and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. As such, the start is with speaking and with relationship, but also with adversarial conflict towards both of these. Therefore, an Old Testament theology is not centered in Preuss’s election, for in the beginning there were only two to elect and they were created, not elected. It is not built around Eichrodt’s covenant, for in the beginning of speaking and relationship there was no need for it – and indeed there was no covenant. It is not promise and fulfillment because in the beginning it is the manifestation of the word that effects more than the mere promise. Nor is it in name or even blessing – but it is also not creation, for in the beginning there would have been no creation had there not first been God speaking. And right off the bat this focus on speaking – on God’s rhetoric – must be distinguished from Brueggemann’s testimony or the varied and mult-faceted rhetoric of Israel that we would say is mostly response to the ‘literal word’ initiative of the text.[1]

If there is a center to Old Testament theology – which present consensus says there is probably not – one emphasis of it must be the word of God, in this case the literal word, for this was the manifestation of God’s relationship to the creation, both the created world, and, man. God spoke and it happened and God spoke and man understood. Implicit in this word is the presence of God Himself in some form. This is different from Tracy’s (following Ricoeur) “manifestation and proclamation.” God spoke man into existence and then manifested Himself to man, effecting the manifestation in literal, intelligible speech and by the presence of form. This foundational center of the beginning maintains itself throughout the entire Bible, but not without dialectic. Against the word of God throughout there is adversarial response – from man, nature, and the universe that seeks to thwart God’s purpose again, as it did in creation. This dialectic might be articulated as word and war.

So, on the one hand, throughout the Bible we see God seeking to effect things with His ‘literal word,’ the only word that communicates His nature and intention clearly. And He always first communicates this word – not to a nation, not even Israel – but to a single man. This is why the story of the Old Testament is interwoven with the stories of individuals – from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Daniel. The literal word then, encompasses the word that the single man will speak (encompassing on one side of the dialectic, Tracy’s whole axis), for the word spoken to him always has a purpose – in it there is something to be fulfilled and worked out, but also communicated to the corporate people. The word is evidence of God striving to enter back into relationship – into intimacy – not just with one man, but with all men.

It is the fall that effects the necessity for covenant, for (apparent) election, for witness and testimony, blessing and deliverance, et. al.[2] God is now always striving within the context of the “common theology” to bring man back into the place where he can again walk “face to face” with God. Why? Not just because God created as a gift, but because God created out of need. God has need of man, just as an artist has need to create and once this facility is exercised – has “need” of what he has created. This is part of the image, the imprint. And how does God effect this? By saving all of man (in theory) – the Noahic covenant. By saving a nation for the purpose of saving the whole world (in practice) – the Abrahamic covenant. By purifying and pointing that nation to His purpose – the Mosaic covenant. By continuing it in spite of the nation’s rejection of God – the Davidic covenant. Then, by completing it – the new covenant. So, the ‘literal word’ initiates, validates, and encompasses the concept of covenant. And it effects the response of rhetoric that becomes testimony or dispute.

On the other hand, as God seeks the restoration of the “face to face” there is tension. This tension is seen in dispute, true, but this concept doesn’t advance far or deep enough. Adversarial forces, who along with man’s early choice turned things upside down in the beginning, constantly repel God’s efforts, both in man and in nations, and even in nature itself. In the Old Testament this adversary is rarely personified, though there are hints. In the garden, it is the serpent that tempts Eve and gets man to question the integrity of God. The Chronicler tells us that it is the Satan that incites David to number Israel. In Job, an adversary is seen in the council of the “sons of God” “persuading” Him to act against a righteous man. In Zechariah, an adversary, “the Satan” accuses Joshua, the priest. There are other allusions, but the force and weight of the adversarial context throughout the Old Testament is not this specifically personified, but seen in or behind all the aforementioned forces that come against God’s purposes and God’s people – war against the ‘literal word.’

Throughout the drama, it is the word of God, the ‘literal word,’ that lays down the gauntlet, as it were, that draws the line in the sand, and defines the context and boundaries of the present and future conflict. And everywhere the word goes, there is resistance from all spheres, both within and without of the people of God Himself. There is involuntary resistance from ignorance, there is incited resistance from adversarial forces behind the scenes, and there is resistance through disobedience. It is not that the ‘literal word’ is always there, up front – it is not. Eventually, the word no longer has the environment it requires to operate with privilege or exemption.[3] So, in response the word itself modifies its approach out of necessity. It can no longer be communicated as it once was – it must step back, it must be veiled. It becomes more like the Spirit of God “hovering over the surface of the waters.” But even with distance and even when veiled there is a clarity that demands it be recognized as the ‘literal word,’ the word of God to individuals and to nations – a word that effects a war, but at the same time continues to invite intimates into intimacy. Until the time that intimacy again becomes “face to face,” yet in a much different way than the individual or the nation expected.

It happens in the “face to face” of the Son of God with men, confirming and fulfilling that spoken by God’s intimates since, at least, the exile. In one great leap, the distance is bridged and the veil is ripped away. But the word is not finished speaking because the “face to face” has not been fully restored. There is only something like the experience of David, who though never experiencing the “appearance of the Lord,” nevertheless lived with God’s Spirit his whole life. It still remains for the “face to face” to be fully restored – as it is to the disciples following the resurrection and to Paul in Acts 9 and 2 Corinthians 12 and to John in Revelation 1-3. And as is promised – as a result of the victory of war in the word of Revelation 22:4, “they will see His face,” it will happen again.

Theological and Methodological Issues

Though the search for any center has largely been abandoned, the motif of God speaking literally to man in relationship beginning in Genesis and continuing through to the end of the New Testament could provide one axis end of a dialectic who’s in-between is the dynamic of Old Testament theology. It is this particular side of the motif – the literal word – that is primarily argued in this essay, leaving the war aspect for another time.[4]

How God acts, what He expects, how He feels, how He works – how He wrestles with man – is embraced in this area of rhetoric between God and His intimates. According to Goldingay, when “Yhwh’s word and the prophet’s word are (sometimes) the same thing,” then, “the prophet’s person and fate are of considerable theological significance.”[5] And, even more – the “sometimes” – how the prophet recognizes with confidence what God is saying and what He wants is of theological significance. According to Goldingay, “Elijah and Elisha…[are] almost Yhwh’s embodiments. They exercise Yhwh’s power, execute Yhwh’s decisions, manifest Yhwh’s insight, and reveal Yhwh’s plans. Thus people’s attitude to them is their attitude to God.”[6] Yet, it is important to note that God’s words to representatives don’t first occur with the prophets, but at the beginning with Adam and then in a line through Moses to the judges to the prophets. They occur with persons called prophets and not, with Israelites and not, with judges and with kings. For this reason, this essay will use the term ‘intimates.’ What these intimates appear to have in common is the ‘literal word’ manifestation of God.

This ‘literal word’ most often includes manifestation of some kind (whether cloud, form, man, angel, dream or vision), the presence of God, literal speech, and the directed implementation of the word by the individual subject. That is, the directed object of the ‘literal word’ often effects a transition of it in his own life and to others in some capacity (and we include this in what we mean by ‘literal word’). It also includes response to the word for it is the word that defines response as obedience, disobedience, praise, lament, wisdom, etc. In this way, the ‘literal word’ concept might be one anchor for an Old Testament theology.[7]

From Gabler to Kohler to Zimmerli to Eichrodt to von Rad to Childs to varied other recent positions, like those of Westermann, Barr, and Brueggemann Old Testament theology has undergone a transformation over the last century. The tensions between seeing the Old Testament as theology and seeing it as history have bled over into a debate about whether or not there is a true center to its make-up to rejecting a single center to suggestions of a center in tension between dual concepts, correcting the over emphasis of Eichrodt and von Rad.[8] It is generally accepted that any theology must work with a center, stated or tacit, in order to organize itself, but whether there really is a center to Old Testament theology is still a debated issue.[9]

An Old Testament theology should present a cohesive and comprehensive picture of the nature and actions of God as presented by the Old Testament form and style. Such a picture must include all of the interactions of God’s dealings as presented by the Old Testament, including at least interaction with man (God and man), interaction with Israel (God and people), and interaction of God with all other created beings (God and the universe and the world).[10]

Specifically, an Old Testament theology should include some basic things. It must deal with the most important narrative complexes of the Old Testament. It has to make some place for historical criticism and history of religions. It must include exegesis and elaboration of texts. It should justify the law and commands of the text. It should give understanding to Joshua and Judges and the conquest of the land and it should explain David’s place, his covenant with God and line of succession. It must validate and give an explanation for the Writings and Wisdom. It must engage and justify continuity of theme in the New Testament. It needs to overcome vagueness, verify and prove assertions and concepts and reconcile differences as dialectical opposites. It should be synchronic and diachronic. It must explain the place of “contractual theology,” and “creation theology,” and answer how God stays the same within change and constant “new interpretations.” It should respect the text as more than just historical theology and different from history, yet most likely canonical. It should engage the ignorance and challenge the understanding in the church. Lastly, it should engage the issue of a center of the Old Testament and explain how such a center synthesizes or fails to synthesize themes.[11]

Finally, according to von Rad, the most accurate starting point for an Old Testament theology is prophecy and “the most essential subject of a theology of the Old Testament [is] the living word of Jahweh coming on and on to Israel forever, and this in the message uttered by his mighty acts” (emphasis mine).[12] This essay holds that the “living word” comes before His acts and Old Testament theology only begins with prophecy if prophecy is thought of as a reflection of God’s rhetoric with intimates and thus seen as inextricably linked in line with that tradition. That is, prophecy in some way is typical of an aspect of a certain type of relationship that God had with chosen individuals throughout His history with the nation, reaching an epitome in Moses. Deuteronomy 18:15-20 directly links it to Moses and Moses is directly linked to the patriarchs and before by many such links, especially the “face to face” contact, and then also forward to the prophets by type. Perhaps, the most essential subject – starting point – of an Old Testament theology can then be described as a history of intimate’s relationship with Yahweh and how this history is transversed.[13] It is proposed it is transversed by the ‘literal word.’

Old Testament theology thus must be more than a history of the faith of Israel and more than a history of Israel – more than Geschicte or Historie. It must be a history – as accounted for in the canon – of the words of Yahweh, experiences with Yahweh, and the proclamation of and responses of the people to His words and acts. Historical criticism and history of tradition is important as it reveals God’s interactions (man, people, world) and so reveals God’s intent and nature in His dealings with man, people, and the world. That is, the probability that we are dealing with the canonical prophets and the canonical Torah, must be taken into account. But this doesn’t invalidate the influence of the Spirit of God on the writers and redactors, whoever they were. We follow Brueggemann modifying Gottwald when he says, “To do Old Testament theology…one must ask not only about Yahweh as a function of social processes but about the character of Yahweh as a free agent who has a life and interiority all God’s own.” According to Brueggemann, God, at the same time is struggling to decide how much to be a part of the “common theology” and how much to break into it or free from it to be who He is to Israel.[14] This essay seeks to express how this struggle is most appropriately reflected in how He relates with intimates – how He expresses the ‘literal word,’ because this is initially God’s means of “breaking in.” Following Childs, there is something about God in the canon as it has been revealed and left to us, that we can know.[15] We can follow how He deals with individuals and nations within the text – and there appears to be an order in which God deals.

He always begins with an individual – e.g., Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Deborah, Gideon, Samuel, Saul, David, Jesus, and the apostles. Then He moves to a people – Israel, other nations, the church. Then He reaches to the surrounding nations and the world. This is seen most clearly in Moses, the culmination of God’s relationship with intimates prior, and one who becomes a type for those who follow. Barr speaks of Eichrodt’s approach as “elementary” because of its relational emphasis.[16] Yet, is it somehow “elementary” to speak of God in relationship with man and more advanced to speak of God alone? This too involves a conclusion that comes from doing theology without accounting for presuppositions – that God doesn’t need and that man is dispensable to whom He is. Yet, once an artist has created one would have to argue that, at some level, his work is a part of him. And once a parent has a child, at some – higher perhaps – level, the child is certainly a part of who he is. It can easily be argued that man – as God’s creation and made in His image – is now part of who God is and is indispensable to Him. God needs man and, in fact, the record seems to hammer home this fact over and again. The epitome of this manifests itself in the ‘literal word’ relationship.

The ‘literal word’ motif thus effects each category of the Old Testament. As to the Law it produces (in a foundational sense) command and law and thus affects response in individuals and people of obedience or disobedience, blessing or curse. As to prophetic, it effects individuals who announce blessing or judgment on individuals (kings) and corporate peoples (Israel, other nations). As to narrative it effects awe in story and history – the ‘literal word’ at times being part of the story. As to writings, it effects awe, praise, lament and thanksgiving for both word and resultant actions of God when individual and people are either obedient or disobedient, experiencing blessing or curse, presence or hiddenness of God. Wisdom, then, is not just in response to saving acts, but a response/reflection of ongoing relationship in words and acts. [17]

This raises the issue of authority. What is the difference in authority between the narrative, the prophetic, and the writings? Writings are a response to the literal word revelation – a ‘working out’ in experience, and as such a living commentary. Its authority comes just from this – from its connection to the ‘literal word’ as a responding and authoritative commentary motivated and inspired by the Spirit of God. Wisdom has authority, but it expresses authority differently.

In the same way, if the Old Testament tells a story and revolves around ‘events’ – what events motivate the unfolding of the story? Initially, it is the ‘literal word’ event and the individual and the corporate or national response to it. So what might become “systematic” for us is wrapped up in ‘event’ and life within their story. Theological concepts only come out from this ‘event-response’ matrix. Yet, systematization is justified as long as it confines neither God nor us. The paradox of any theology is the exception. If we are to define or describe God and His interactions – which is to systematize to some degree – then what we will find is paradox in exceptions. Like the protagonist of any good drama God surprises us and just when we think we have Him down, He raise the ante. This is a part of the process of systematization but also one of its limitations. God is always going to be bigger than the system and bigger than what is written of Him.

At least tangential to this area of authority is the subject of inspiration of Scripture. If one falls on the historical side with von Rad it may be thought that the Old Testament is like any other written history and that the Bible is not a special case.[18] If one falls on the canon side, with Childs, then the canon is accepted and some measure of inspiration is assumed. Since we may not know who wrote the Biblical books, that is, we can not know the identity of E, J, P, or D, the Deuteronomist, the Chronicler, the prophetic groups that may have written those books, etc. we cannot know their biographies, character, or whether or not they had a special relationship with God. We do not know how close they were to the experience of the ‘literal word.’ This leaves as primary evidence the nature and scopes of the books themselves. That is, by their works they testify about the movement of God in their own times and in their own lives. It is asserted that this testimony affirms as a minimum the inspirational move of the Spirit of God on their work.[19]

One last issue remains to be addressed. What the argument between historical – Geschichte or Historie – and Biblical theology may come down to in the end is whether or not God invades human space in a supernatural manner. Furthermore, do we take Israel’s witness on this matter or do we accept the history and traditions of other nations? Even further, in the passages that reflect ‘literal word’ manifestation have subsequent authors been influenced by previous to fictionalize or exaggerate (e.g. Ex. 34 and 1 Ki. 19)? Or, is this part of rhetorical or literary invention? No matter who the final authors, it is the presupposition here that God invades human space, now and throughout history, not just in the person of Jesus, but with His presence, with His ‘literal word,’ with His manifested form (not to mention His acts), and with His Spirit. Conversely, this invasion has always been augmented by a negative – an invasion from the dark side, if you will (the initiator and developer, in many cases at least, of the ‘common theology’). It is this tension that we propose is the dialectic and dynamic of the Old Testament – word and war.[20]

In sum, God desires to be intimate with man. And because of who He is and what man chose back in the garden, He must deal with specially prepared individuals in order to reach the whole group. His ‘word’ speaks creation and within the context of the fall it defines the need for contractural theology and structure. Without it man will never move to the place God wants and needs for him to be. So, by individuals He reveals Himself – by His ‘literal word’ manifestation – by them He influences and reveals Himself to groups, and by groups to the world. He moves to multiply the individuals He has prepared. Why? – Because He desires and needs intimacy with His whole creation.

God – who He is, how He relates, what He says – is first reflected through rhetoric with intimates. Therefore, how this transmission takes place, how accurate the intimate’s interpretation (if need be) of what God says, and how God presents Himself is key to understanding God Himself. In fact, it is key to even declaring that we have a theology as opposed to an ideology. In beginning an examination at this juncture there are two issues. First, “How does God (in what mode) speak to intimates and what does an examination of the Old Testament say on this subject?” Second, “Is there a lowering of the level of authority in intimate’s speech according to whether transmission from God is literal or symbolic?” That is, “Does symbolic speech imply a need for interpretation and does the need for understanding lessen the authority of the speech?” In examining these issues this essay will seek to determine more about God using an overall focus from a narrative, later prophets, and writings perspective.

Since this is not an attempt at a complete theology, but more of an introductory suggestion for a dialectical emphasis that can pull many elements of Old Testament theology together in a cohesive whole, the scope of this paper is oriented towards examining the ‘literal word’ side. According to Brueggemann, as to the ways in which God is directly available to Israel, corporate or individual, “Israel has not particular primary interest in this question.” Again, “these sorts of encounters tend to have no enduring significance for Israel.” We would disagree and affirm what he says another time of the personal encounters with Yahweh – “they must be left as originary theological data, as the authorizing beginning point for Israel’s faith.[21] Though additional in-depth examination of historical-critical issues are beyond the scope of this essay, to break the analysis down it will work through this motif in limited references of Scripture, beginning with the Pentateuch, then the Deuteronomist, and the Later Prophets and the Writings. In the conclusion it will touch on the continuation of the dialectic from a New Testament perspective.

Developing a theology from God’s ‘literal word’ with His Intimates

The Pentateuch

The experience of the Patriarchs will be examined before the opening chapters of Genesis for the simple reason that it is their experience that helps us understand how God may have been speaking and interacting before them.[22] Abraham is called a prophet by God at Genesis 20:7. The first communication God has with him is described at Genesis 12:1-4 – it is recorded as literal speech and we are not told how the communication comes. Perhaps we can infer something from subsequent experiences and their descriptions. At Genesis 12:7, “the Lord appeared to Abram and said, To your descendants I will give this land.”[23] Genesis 12:14-18 again states “And the Lord said to Abram, “ and “there he built an altar to the Lord,” just as he did above when the Lord appeared to him. Genesis 15:1 explains how God speaks, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision,” and the resulting word is a literal encouragement, a question and answer session, and an interaction between God and Abram.[24] According to Genesis 17:1-22 “the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,” and Genesis 17:22, “And when He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.”

Then in Genesis 18:1-15, and 16-33, there is an enlightening interaction – “the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre.” The appearance comes in the form of three men. Are the three men distinct from the appearance of the Lord? 18:22 says “the men turned away…while Abraham was still standing before the Lord. And Abraham came near and spoke. Only two angels show up at Sodom in 19:1, so it appears that the third man that Abraham spoke with was the Lord.[25] According to Genesis 22:1-19 “God tested Abraham, and said to him.” At 22:15, God seems to call to Abraham from heaven, without appearing to him, apparently an audible voice. The result of his obedience is “I will bless you.” God “appeared” to Isaac at Gen. 26:2 and 26:24.

This brings us to Jacob where we find the first symbolic communication. Jacob is given a dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-17), a dream with both literal and symbolic communication. Then, at Genesis 31:3, 10-13 there is a literal dream. In Genesis 32:22-30, in response to having wrestled with God – again in the form of a man – Jacob says, “I have seen God face to face.” At Genesis 35:9-13, God appeared and then went up from him.

In summary, up to this point God’s interaction with his people in rhetoric is primarily of the literal type. That is, from the normal meaning of the words it is readily understandable, if not comprehensible what God means when He speaks. When God appears, he sometimes reveals himself as a man or a man-like figure or form. When God speaks in a vision or dream (rarely), He may speak literally, figuratively, or in combination. Most often when He speaks or converses in dreams or visions, the speech itself is to be taken literally (except with Joseph and Pharaoh). Many if not all of these are in critical or life and death situations. Occasionally (Joseph), God speaks in symbolic fashion in dreams.

Before Abraham, the text has not been clear about how God speaks, stating only “the Lord said to Cain” (4:9) or “the Lord said to Noah,” etc. (7:1).[26] But, in the garden Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of the Lord. After their disobedience and while in hiding, the man and woman “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (3:8). They could hide themselves from Him – from “the presence of the Lord.” This appears to be an indication that, in those times when the Lord appeared, his presence was localized and specific – as with a person.[27] Between Eden and Abraham, Noah is the only other person who’s experience with God in rhetoric is elaborated – again, the how is left out. This leads to the assumption that it is the same as with Adam, that is localized presence and literal speech, at least sometimes in the form of a man.[28]

Regardless, the Noahic covenant appears to place the Abrahamic covenant in a context. God is as concerned about the world as He will be about Israel. In fact, it appears that Israel is to become a means of God reaching the world now that the fall is a reality. This argues against a concept like election from consideration as a center of Old Testament theology, unless one wants to speak in terms of the (theoretical) election of the whole human race. The creation story and the portrayal of God’s relationship with Adam and Eve places all of Old Testament theology in a context. That the fall was instigated through an outside agent, apparently antagonistic to both God and man gives us another clue. God is striving against an antagonist to bring the creation to His purpose. Man’s fall is not just man’s fall – the adversary contributes to it and thus shares responsibility for it. From hence forth, God is striving to bring man back into the presence of relationship – as it existed in the garden – and to bring creation back from entropy to be cultivated and subdued.

After the flood, the patriarchs, and Joseph there is a critical leap in God’s rhetoric with intimates. According to Exodus 3:1-4, “the angel of the Lord appeared” to Moses “in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush.” The Lord called to him “from the midst of the bush.” The implication here is that there was no “form.” The voice came from the fire from the midst of the bush. According to Ex. 6:2-3 the Lord “appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them.” According to Ex. 7:1, God says to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.” Initially, we are not told how God speaks to either Moses (or Aaron) throughout Exodus (except for the bush episode). The assumption, then, might be – from 6:2-3 and 7:1 quoted above – that it was as He spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, literally and at least sometimes in the form of a man. This is congruent with subsequent explanation.

Moses might be considered the first of the pre-exilic prophets, because though others have heard and seen God before now, they have not clearly fulfilled the proclamation to others criteria that is normally expected of a prophet. But the definition of a prophet is not the subject proper here, but the means of rhetoric between God and those closest to Him. According to Exodus 33:7-11, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to a friend.” According to 33:20, God says “you cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live.” And according to 33:23 “you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” So, Moses did not literally see God face to face – he saw His back and spoke with Him face to face. Here this must be a figurative expression for normal human verbal interaction. So, in the context here when the text says that Moses spoke to God “face to face” it means that in some sense Moses spoke to God as any of us would speak to a friend (Ex. 33:11), that is, he beheld a form or a man and he heard literal intelligible speech.[29]

Seeing God in such close contact results in danger for those involved. According to Exodus 19:7-25, the presence of the Lord is a very dangerous thing. According to Ex. 19:9, the Lord tells Moses He “shall come to you in a thick cloud” – this is when the Lord appeared to the people of Israel. According to 19:12 God instructed Moses to “set bounds for the people…whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.” According to 19:15 they were instructed to “not go near a woman.” According to 19:21 God said to Moses “Go down, warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. And also the priests…lest the Lord break out against them.” In Exodus 20: 18-21 we read, “God has come in order to test you…so that you may not sin.” And Exodus 33:5 says “should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you.” Nu 14:20-21 makes an interesting statement, “indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Then Num 14:22, “all the men who have seen My glory and My signs…yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice.”[30] According to 14:34, God says, “and you shall know My opposition.” Then Nu. 16-18 tells the story of Korah and his rebellious attempt to claim the priestly office. Again, it is dangerous to be close to God and not be fully obedient to Him. According to Nu: 20:11-13, especially verse 12, God says to Moses “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land.” What was Moses sin? He struck the rock with the rod twice when he was supposed to speak to it. See Nu. 20:24, “because you rebelled against My command.” Also, Duet 1:37 “angry with me on your account.” There was something in Moses’ relationship with the spiritual condition of the people that prevented him from entering the land, but it was also a failure to believe and treat God as holy. All of these passages seem to strongly imply that the closer a person gets to God, the more dangerous it is for that person. This begs the question, “Why could Moses get so close?” And, “What is required to get close?”[31]

Up to this point, there appear to be several qualifications or criteria for closeness to God. They are, first, a calling to closeness, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses were all called. Or, as all of Israel is called at the mountain when they hear the voice of God. Second, there appears to be a criteria of preparation by God – e.g. Moses wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Third, there, at times at least, appears to be a requirement that the person prepare himself for close contact with God through various cleanliness rituals. According to Leviticus 10:1-3 “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.” In the case of the patriarchs before Moses, these rituals may have been substituted by time. Apparently, God appeared to Abraham at successive intervals separated by time in which preparation was worked. Face to face contact with God requires greater sanctification and puts the person in contact in more danger if he does not speak and behave properly.[32]

But what are we to say of Hagar, who seems to fulfill none of these criteria? We then have to add, fourth – the Lord appears at the right time to accomplish His purposes in the earth. And, fifth, affliction (Gen. 16:11) may be part of the preparation process that prepares us for presence. We might also surmise that Hagar’s submission (16:9) to someone fulfilling the above criteria resulted in her preparation and subsequent experience. In sum, it appears that God restrains His presence towards people, depending on how prepared they are for it. Numbers 12 seems to both confirm this view and add a caveat.

The overall context preceding Numbers 12 is that the people rebel – in Num. 12 we see that the leaders of the people also rebel. The end result will be the death of the old generation, including the leaders, in the wilderness (Nu. 20-26). Though this won’t become clear until Nu. 13 when the spies return with a bad report the decision – the critical mark – has already passed in Ex. 17, Meribah or Rephidim where Israel tests God, thereby failing God’s test (c.f. Heb. 4).

Numbers 12:2 may then define the secondary issue of this chapter – if the Lord is speaking to more than one person is there a difference in the authority one person has to represent God? And, what is it based on? Miriam and Aaron ask, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” In 12:4 we read, “Suddenly the Lord said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam” – so, all three heard from the Lord directly this time. In 12:5f, “the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam.” Apparently the Lord was in the cloud, that is separate from it. The preposition is bi, normally meaning “with” or “in,” as distinct from. This raises the question, “Did God again appear as a man, as he had to Abraham and to Jacob – and probably to Moses – in the past?” And, “Was this a normative means of God appearing to His friends and participating in literal speech?”

According to Nu. 12:6-8 (“if there is a prophet…not so, with my servant Moses”) this may have been atypical of the manner in which God spoke to both Aaron and to Miriam. This may also be reflected in the “suddenly” of 12:4 – it was “suddenly” because it wasn’t the norm. It normally occurred between Moses and God when Moses went into the tent of meeting. The implication here is that Aaron and Miriam are prophets, but Moses is more than just a prophet – or, at least a different type of prophet. There are several words in Hebrew for “vision.” According to 12:6, a prophet knows God through dreams and visions. This is the way that God speaks to prophets, normally. The way that God speaks to Moses is “mouth to mouth.” “Mouth,” or peh, seems to indicate personal and immediate interchange of ideas and thoughts. Elsewhere, it is figuratively described as “face to face.” Therefore, the “vision” Moses sees (ma’reh) is different in nature from the vision of a typical prophet (ma’ rah). The vision of the typical prophet is then further described as “dark sayings,” hiyadah – a riddle, enigmatic or perplexing saying or question. This is something that is put indirectly and is in need of interpretation. Moses, on the other hand, sees tim-not, a likeness that is representative of God’s appearance.[33] The norm for a prophet is dark speech through dreams and visions, which appears to imply some sort of hidden aspect. At any rate, it is a lower level than the means by which God speaks with Moses. It may involve speaking through symbols in dreams or visions, speaking literally in dreams and visions, or some other means of removal that facilitates literal speech – like the voice spoke from the thick cloud to the people at the mountain.[34]

According to Oehler, “the principle that a clear consciousness when receiving revelation is placed higher than ecstasy is of great importance for the right view of the Old Testament religion.[35] Since both Abraham and Moses are also called prophets this implies at least a two-level hierarchy among prophets. If this experience in Nu. 12 is to demonstrate to Miriam and Aaron how God speaks with Moses this then explains Miriam’s leprosy as a result of the experience. God – especially the ‘literal word’ experience of God – is a dangerous person, particularly when you are not prepared for Him.

In summary, this implies at least two things, that Moses, like Abraham and others before him, beheld some sort of form and that Moses conversed with God in literal, understandable speech. It also implies there are levels among prophets and that in some way dreams and vision are a step back or down in level.[36] Perhaps the form that Moses beheld at times was similar to Abraham’s experience talking with God in the form of a man before the Sodom episode in Genesis. Or, Jacob’s when he wrestled with a man. Scripture calls both Abraham and Moses friends of God. Further, it is said of Moses that when he went in “before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil” (Ex 34:34). Is this “before the Lord” what Elijah meant when he said to Ahab “the Lord before whom I stand?” This was also said of Abraham at Genesis 18:19. Perhaps the prophet – at least the prophet of the Moses type – stands before the form of the Lord, whether it is expressed as a man or something else. He talks with Him just as a subject speaks with a king, just as Elijah spoke with Ahab.

It seems that the pattern or mode by which the Lord appears to those with whom He is most intimate – and talks with as a man would a friend – is established early on. Perhaps initiated with Adam, established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and expanded and developed with Moses who then becomes a type (Duet. 18). From a literary or historical-critical perspective, one can imagine how redactors and writers took the truthful remnant of this ‘literal word’ experience and shaped it to reflect their own understanding of the means by which God had changed His speaking and used it for their purpose. From here forward when God wishes to clearly communicate with His people, it will be through a prophet He raises up from among them. This prophet is always of the Moses type, not the Miriam type.[37]

These conclusions are confirmed by two other passages. According to Deut. 13:1-6, note that a prophet or dreamer “arises” among the people. Also note that a distinction appears to be made between a prophet and a dreamer that is similar to the distinction made in Numbers 12:1-8. Whether here the thought is two extremes of prophetic with different shades in between, as some commentators, or just two different modes of operation is unclear. Yet, Numbers 12 would argue for the former. Apparently, both prophet and dreamer may give the people a “sign or a wonder” that will come to pass. If this points the people to gods other than Yahweh, they are not to listen. The implication from this is that Yahweh speaks to His people through both intermediaries – prophet and dreamer – and that He gives both signs and wonders through either of them.

As to the second passage, according to Brueggemann, Deut. 18:15-22, which predicts the raising up of a prophet like Moses, “is the single most important Torah provision concerning the prophets.”[38]According to Deut. 18:15-20, first, the prophet is to be like Moses. The other nations seek knowledge of their present and future by information from the spiritual realm – the prophet is to be “like” Moses in that he conveys accurately information God wants the people to have. Specifically he conveys God’s words.[39] Second, the prophet is to be one of them and from among them. This is both a positive and a negative – as one of them he will be a comfort and familiar, on their side. But, his identity will be hard to recognize and easy to write off. Third, he will be a prophet and like Moses – not just a “dreamer of dreams.” The koph points to like in kind and type (but not necessarily person). Fourth, God will raise him up. The Hiphil imperfect for “raise” most likely refers to the gradual raising of one out of previous conditions.[40]

As to the first point, 18:18 makes clear how he will be like Moses – “I will put my words in his mouth.” So, like Moses, he will speak the words of God to the people. This is why the people must be obedient to his word – he won’t just be a “dreamer of dreams” or a prophet of the Miriam type. The prophet (18:20) who presumes to speak words that God has not spoken, or who speaks in the name of other gods “will die.” It should be noted that this is a condition on the prophet “like” Moses and not on any other type of prophet. This goes back to the concept that God is a dangerous person to be around. Apparently, the closer you get the higher the requirement for speech and behavior.[41]

In summary, the people, not holy, heard the sound of the Lord’s voice – and it tested them – but they saw no vision and beheld no form. Can we then say when God communicates there is increasing level of intimacy signified by some progression like dreams and visions, dreams and visions that include literal speech, sound of voice, and then form and voice?[42] Why was Moses a ‘friend of God?’ Because he understood who God was and he understood God’s way – something necessary to really know God. And because rather than fight for his way or right or Israel’s he fought for God.[43] This fight for God took on many external forms, but the most telling is his intercession for Israel – who had betrayed him and God – his unwillingness to let God destroy them and his unwillingness to proceed without God’s presence. He reflects in his character what God says about Himself – that He is slow to anger and compassionate and merciful (Ex. 34:6-7).

It seems that Moses was not unique in the sense that he saw God “face to face” but he is the epitome of this experience. The writer is merely using this descriptive phrase to describe a relationship in which God was able to give certain things to Moses and to talk to him in certain ways that were different than the rest of the people. This was because of who Moses was and because of what his heart was like – he was the friend of God and the servant of Yhwh. This means that he had God’s interests at heart even to the point of recognizing that God wanted him to intervene for the people. Elijah, subsequently and according to Paul at least in Romans 11 would fail in this test and so lose his ministry and see it given to Elisha, Hazael, and Jehu. Dueteronomy 18:14-22 then seems to imply that though Moses is unique for his time, he is not unique throughout Israel’s history.[44] God will always – from generation to generation – raise up a “prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command them.” So, this person will not be like Moses, but will be a prophet like Moses. In other words, prophets of Israel will receive the same type of communication that Moses received in the future. This type of communication seems to be different from that the other prophets receive, as distinguished in Nu. 12: 1-8. This seems to say that God is looking for prepared people He can speak to, that it is dangerous to be close to God, and that God desires intimates that have His interests at heart.

The Deuteronomist

In the Deuteronomist’s work there are two primary individuals to be dealt with as to their experience with the ‘literal word’ – Samuel and Elijah, though Gideon will be touched on briefly.[45] In Judges 6:7-18 why does Gideon need a sign that it is the Lord? Is it because God appeared as a man? Are there then at least two ways God appears as a man – in his glory (as with Moses) and without his glory? As a man and as “the angel of the Lord?” According to Judges 6:22 Gideon saw the angel of the Lord “face to face” and was scared that he might die. According to Judges 13:3-25, the angel of the Lord appeared as a man to Samson’s parents and talked with them literally.[46] Again, it appears typical for God to represent Himself in the form of a man and engage in literal speech.

Samuel is another example of this. According to 1 Sam. 3:1, “And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.” Why? Is the answer the last statement in Judges 21:25 – “everyone did what was right in his own eyes?” But, according to 1 Samuel 1, Samuel was specially prepared by the consecration by his mother and years of training under Eli to experience God. According to 1 Samuel 3:2-21 Samuel hears the literal voice of the Lord. According to v. 10, “Then the Lord came and stood.” This might be mistaken as anthropomorphism, except for the context of previous references, Abraham and Moses, etc. According to v. 13, God says of Eli that He will “judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.” Again, experience of God is dangerous and requires the highest standards of moral conduct. According to v. 19, none of Samuel’s words failed because the Lord was with him – as in the previous example, that is, the Lord consistently talked with Samuel, as he had talked with Moses and the Patriarchs and others previously.

According to v. 20 “Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord.” Since Moses, the Lord’s intimates have not usually been prophets, unless Deborah (Judges 4:4) is a candidate. And in v. 21, “the Lord appeared again…by the word of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 6:20 says, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God (emphasis mine)?” This is in response to the plagues from the ark.[47] The answer seems to come in 1 Sam. 7:3-4 – it starts with repentance. In sum, both Gideon, not a prophet, and Samuel, a prophet experience the ‘literal word,’ both apparently with the appearance of form.

Elijah is another example of the ‘literal word’ experience. According to 1Ki 17:1 Elijah makes this statement to Ahab – “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand.” According to 1 Ki. 18:15, “And Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” Considering the use of this phrase or parts thereof thus far throughout the Old Testament and the book of Kings, it appears that Elijah is intending at least two things by his use of it. First, he wants to draw a contrast between those who stand before a wicked and evil king Ahab and allow him to usurp God’s rightful rule in their lives and those who stand before Yahweh. According to Davies, “The famous stela of Hammurabi shows this great king in a standing position as he receives the famous Code from the sun-god.” Again, in the ANE standing “was one of the very common postures in prayer to God, esp. in public worship.[48]Second, he wants to make clear that he is in a tradition with Moses and with the other authoritative prophets of Israel’s history who beheld the form of the Lord and heard his instruction in literal speech. In other words, there should be no doubt in the people’s minds that Elijah’s words and actions represent the will of the God of Israel on earth. Indeed, this is his prayer to God before calling down fire on the altar (1 Ki. 18:36-7). After he ran to the mountain of God, 1 Ki. 19:9,10 says “the word of the Lord came to him.” This is a Moses like experience – Elijah appears to behold the “back” of the Lord as the Lord passes by.[49] Yet, there is a contrast here – Elijah’s response to the presence of the Lord is different. The passage implies that Elijah – like Moses – has God’s favor. Yet, it contrast Moses plea to God for Israel with Elijah’s indictment to God of Israel, even though there is still a remnant that is innocent (Rms 11:1). Still, everything about Elijah’s story leads the reader to infer he stands in line with the Moses type. This is where his authority resides – in the ‘literal word’ experience.

The widow says of Elijah at 1 Ki. 17:24, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” A “man of God” appears to be someone who doesn’t stumble in what they communicate is from God – someone who has power with God. The implication is that a “man of God” is someone among the prophets who receives more than dark speech requiring interpretation, yet, a man of God has not been confirmed before the people as a prophet. In other words, a prophet may be a man of God, and a man of God is one of the prophets, but a man of God is not necessarily a “prophet of God,” he is not necessarily a prophet on the level of Moses, Samuel, and Elijah. As the man of God in 1 Ki. 13 who dies because of his disobedience, he must be tested and proved in the realm of obedience.[50]

As a final note in this section, apparently the text never says that the Lord appeared to David. David does talk to God and God does talk to him, though it most regularly occurs through prophets, especially Nathan and Gad during David’s kingship. Before being enthroned David’s knowledge of God apparently comes through Samuel, occasionally through other prophets, through God’s acts on his behalf and through consultation of priest and the ephod. It is possible that David experiences the Lord in the tradition of those intimates before him, but if so, it would seem that both the Deuteronomist and the Chronicler have gone out of their way to omit this instance. For example, in Soloman’s case it is explicitly stated that the Lord appeared to him twice and these two instances are described. According to 1 Ki 11:9 “the Lord was angry with Soloman because his heart was turned away from the Lord…who had appeared to him twice” (emphasis mine). According to 1 Ki. 3:5 “the Lord appeared to Soloman in a dream at night” and conversed in literal speech with him. According to 1 Ki. 9:2 this apparently occurs again.

This may be instructive. David was not allowed to build a temple for God because of his participation in many wars. This was not a punishment, but a reflection of purpose and call and of the times in which he lived. Could it also be true that – though David experiences the presence of God’s Spirit his whole life – he was not able to intimately experience God as those before him? This period – the period of royal structure and ideology – was God’s concession to Israel. He previously told Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:7 that Israel had rejected Him. This is a period where God continues to work within the “common theology,” “breaking in” when need be through the prophetic voice. The role of the king – David in this case – becomes distinct from that of the prophet. The king must rely on the prophet to know God’s will because it is the prophet that hears God’s voice.

In summary, thus far a hierarchy of intimates does appear to exist – 1) the people, who may on occasion hear from God, 2) school of prophets, or sons of prophets, 3) dark speech prophets (of the Miriam/Aaron type), 4) seers, and 5) man of God, who is also called a prophet, and 6) confirmed prophets of the Moses-Samuel-Elijah type.[51] To this we will add judges, like Gideon, and occasionally kings or others raised up by God’s ‘literal word,’ – not prophets, but those who act or mediate with the people on God’s behalf.

What does all of this say about God? First, that, again, He is dangerous. Second, that He is flexible. Third, He works with who we are. Fourth, He is diverse and likes diversity. Fifth, it appears that He wants – or it is necessary within the royal ideology – to provide a means for His messengers to develop. Sixth, He cares enough to keep His distance until we are ready for His presence.\

The Later Prophets and the Writings

This brings us to the exilic and post-exilic prophets where there seems to be a definite change in emphasis – from “Thus says the Lord” to Holy Spirit inspired speech, action, and dreams and visions that often require the interpretation of an angel. According to Von Rad, “The tenor of their message is this: the old is done away with; now Jahweh will bring about something completely new, a new Exodus, a new covenant, a new Moses.[52] According to Barton,

“Jeremiah once explicitly distinguishes true prophecy from seeing visions: “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully…(Jer 23:28). This appears to imply that true revelations from Yahweh do not come in visions or dreams, though it is not clear what experience is concretely implied by “him who has my word.[53]

The suggestion here is that the “experience” is the common thread of the ‘literal word’ – as that of a man with his friend – that takes place both within and out of dreams and visions. Outside of dreams and visions it frequently occurs with the appearance of the “form” of the Lord. Whether literal speech within a dream or vision qualifies a prophet as on the same level with a Moses or Elijah is outside the parameters of this study. But, it seems clear, that whether it does or not, it qualifies for the criteria laid out by God in Duet. 18:18 – “I will put My words in his mouth.”

According to Niditch, based on Sister, visions from Amos through Daniel share three primary patterns, first, seeing an image, second, a question about the identity of the image, and third, an answer which interprets the image.[54] Yet, Niditch believes that Sister’s approach, though reflected in a body of work by different scholars that applies a synchronic approach to vision texts, is valid but incomplete. In analyzing the same vision texts, she suggests a diachronic approach, breaking the visions into categories according to historical periods and classifying them. She distinguishes “three major stages of development.” Each stage contains a group of visions and is particularized by a set of major characteristics that in general, modify and add to Sister’s analysis.[55] For purposes here, it is important to note that each stage contains dialogue and response, in literal speech, so that in spite of literary changes that took place through time, this one characteristic is always common. In addition, according to Niditch, “an examination of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Deutero-Isaiah, and Ezekiel yields relatively few references to vision experiences when compared with the large number of direct communications via oracle.” This changes with Zechariah in the post-exilic period, and by the time of Daniel visions are the preferred means of communication.[56] Niditch suggests literary reasons for why this might be, but there is a more present reason tied to God’s rhetoric and mode of communicating with His intimates. This, of course, relates to nearness versus distance. As has been seen, the nearer one is to God, the more danger one is in. Visions may be God’s means of distancing Himself and thereby protecting His servants from what we would call the involuntary reflex of His person.[57]

If our thesis is correct – that God relates to people based on a nearness v. distance principle – and vision is a step back in distance, Daniel is a good illustration of the principle. According to Dan. 6:22 “My God sent His angel and shut the lions mouth.” This is the first time the reader is told of angelic intervention for Daniel in his story, but chronologically, Daniel has experienced angelic intermediaries previously – under Belshazzar at 7:1f and 8:1f. According to Dan. 7:16-28, a literal interpretation of a vision is related to Daniel by one of the characters in the vision. According to Dan. 8:15-27 “one who looked like a man” was standing before Daniel (in the vision? Dan. 8:16) and gives him literal understanding of the vision. The man is Gabriel, not God Himself. According to Dan. 9:20-27 Gabriel, a “man,” comes to Daniel – not in a vision this time – and gives him instruction. According to Dan. 10:4-12:13, Daniel sees a man in a vision and is given apparently literal instruction with some symbolic language mixed in. Daniel’s experience here is extreme – he has to be given strength by the intermediary twice to continue. Daniel, even though an intimate and even though relating within a vision – apparently a step back in distance – is extremely affected by what we are calling this involuntary reflex of God.

Daniel’s experience is definitely different from what we know of the Patriarchs and of Moses, and even – apparently – someone like Elijah. Daniel’s experience ties in with Joel’s proclamation in Joel 2, also picked up by Peter and Luke in Acts 2 of the New Testament. The Spirit inspires prophecy through dreams and visions. The text has progressed from the “form” of pre-exilic prophets who beheld the Lord Himself and heard his voice, speaking with Him as a man speaks with a friend – now to Daniel who sees “vision” which is interpreted by angelic intermediaries. The pre-exilic prophets stand before the Lord. Daniel, in contrast, stands before angels – and that, for the most part, in visions. This appears to be reflective of distance and also reflective of a change in God’s perspective – His purpose and attitude towards His people.

On the other hand, why does Daniel fall and tremble in the visions in the presence of these angels? (Dan. 8: 15-27, 10:7-10, 15-21). This seems to reflect a high level experience – and it is not something we saw in Moses or the pre-exilics’ experience. For example, neither Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15) or Gideon (Judges 6:11-24) fall trembling with the same type of experience, even though both experience God “face to face.” Though his face shined from the experience, Moses also is never said to fall and tremble in the midst of his meeting with God. It is possible that this is literary style and a reflection of time-periods, but it seems like more. [58] It may be that Daniel’s physical reactions to the presence of angels, even in visions, is evidence again that close proximity to God is a dangerous thing. Previously, people who got too close died – perhaps Daniel’s experience is the inchoate symptoms of this phenomenon. In summary, the authority of Daniel’s word and that within the visions of other exilic and post-exilic prophets comes from mostly, angelic interpreters giving ‘literal word’ explanations that seem to fulfill Duet. 18:18.


Some conclusions can now be drawn as to theology, method, and the proposal in general. God wants to share the experience of Himself with His people. But God is a dangerous person to experience. The experience of Him requires that an individual or people be holy. This holiness seems to be manifest in separateness from the normal things of the world so that the people or individual can be prepared to receive God‘s presence in safety. It also requires obedience of the individual or group of people marked by faith and trust in God’s promises in spite of difficult circumstances. Failure to prepare properly or be obedient can result in the sickness or death of individuals or groups. On the other hand, we cannot deny the mercy and compassion of God in situations where judgment might be expected. God cannot be put in a box.

This said, God searches for and even prepares particular individuals to receive His presence and His word so that they can then be relayed and transmitted to His people. This seems to reflect a desire to communicate with groups of people at large. God’s presence can only be continually and consistently manifested to people who are prepared and who have God’s glory and God’s ways foremost in their minds. Moses was an individual of this type. Moses was Moses because he wanted to know and understand, not only God, but God’s ways. God appears to need, or at least want, men and women who are intercessors and can plead God’s purpose for larger groups of people in the earth. In this way God exerts His influence over people groups and over the earth as a whole. He manifests His glory to all and seeks to do this through those who know Him, know His ways, and understand how to effect His purposes by taking advantage of the fact that He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth – who forgives iniquity, but will not leave the guilty unpunished. He punishes the sins of the father until the third or fourth generation (Ex. 34:5-7). This is what He revealed of Himself to Moses when Moses asked to see His glory.

Could there be a continuum from Genesis to Revelation of a theology of God’s rhetoric and desire to manifest Himself to His people? It starts with intimacy in the garden of Eden, then withdrawal following the fall, intimacy with various single intimates leading to nearness to a people, distance, closeness (with vision among the post-exilics), then intimacy again with Jesus. Then there is closeness in the book of Acts and periods of withdrawal, distance, and nearness throughout much of church history. It ends with the promised intimacy of Revelation. Many passages, like Joel 2 or Acts 2, and concepts, like covenant, promise, or presence, may then be seen in light of God’s invitation to intimacy. God has given the Holy Spirit and the sign of prophecy to invite His people near again. This is a way to bring masculinity back into Old Testament theology and “see it set loose in the world of theology, in the church, and in the world.”[59] God is not finished with the gift of the Holy Spirit – He is still trying to begin.

This is a dialectic that seems to anchor both the Old and New Testaments in a simple way and provide a continuity that is comprehensive and until now lacking in other centers. In this view the Old and New Testaments have a consistent center – a dialectic anchor – that provides continuity. The motifs and the dialectic of word and war is perhaps most acutely portrayed in Revelation 1-3 and through to the end of the book when Jesus comes with a sword on a white horse to slay His enemies in Revelation 19:11f, as the Word of God.[60]

According to Westermann, “Just as the directive to Abraham introduces the patriarchal history, so also does the directive to a prophet introduce the history of prophecy; and Jesus’ directive “Follow me” equally introduces the history of the apostles.[61] Thus, the motif is seen from the beginning of the Testaments, through their history. The ‘literal word’ is proposed as the center of the Old Testament; Jesus is the center of the New Testament. According to Westermann, the history of God’s people is this announcement, a “history determined from beginning to end by the word of God occurring in it.[62] True, but it is not the announcement that is central, it is God’s word period. His ‘literal word’ that in the hands of His intimates becomes command/Law, announcement, and elicits response. It is the ‘literal word,’ given “face to face” from Old Testament to New that appears to be the abiding connection.[63]

Modifying Westermann, the literal word stands in the middle of a triangle of three primary points. In the center of the triangle is the ‘literal word,’ “face to face” or “mouth to mouth” contact with God. This center is God’s initiative into history by His word to man. This came first to Adam, then to Noah, then to Abraham, and then to Moses, by Duet. 18:18. It continues of course until Jesus and then the apostles on the New Testament side. The first point in the triangle is the directive word, the second, the prophetic word, and the third, the liturgical word. If a line is drawn connecting the center with each point in the triangle, and each point with the other, the result is a three-dimensional triangle that reflects how the ‘word’ works. The ‘literal word’ acts as an anchor motivating and connecting each of the points. Each are important in building a complete picture of God and His interaction with man, His people, and the world and each express a part of the total picture of God in Scripture.[64]

If there is a disparity between actual history and the historical account – how can we be sure that the ‘literal word’ experience is a reflection of reality, not fabricated or exaggeration? We follow Moberly when he says, “for the theologian it is vital to work seriously with the biblical narrative in its own narrative integrity, as witness to, or refraction of, a moral and spiritual reality beyond itself.[65] There is at least an essence of the experience in the witness of it.

As an introductory suggestion as to this possible basis for Old Testament theology there are many remaining tasks. Among them, there is a need to develop distinctions as to prophetic designations and levels and determine to what extent they are due to literature or time periods and to what extent they make a theological statement. There also needs to be more study done on the divine vehicles – whether cloud, fire, man, angel of the Lord, or angel – within each ‘literal word’ experience. There is a need to make a more complete distinction between the ‘literal word,’ theophany, and epiphany. Another need is to develop how these concepts effect models of Scripture and its interpretation – witness, canon, inspired word, and revelation. There is also a need to further test the concept in each area of a complete theology.

This essay speaks briefly to some of these areas. If an intimate of God is a true carrier of His word and there is a response to its initiative with execution that emanates both words and action in response – and the words and action are obedient, blessing results. If they are incorrect (read emissive or disobedient) then judgment will result, even death. This is not necessarily because of God’s justice or His love. No, it is neither, but because of the simple fact that there is intimacy – closeness or nearness – to God. The intimate is so close in receiving His true word when “face to face” that any word or action incongruent with who God is results in the involuntary reflex that human’s perceive and experience as fire. What is the correct human response to the literal word? It is always human action – faith – in the midst of difficult or unsettling circumstance. First, of the messenger/intimate, and then, of the people the word is ultimately intended for. We see this modeled in Abraham (go without knowing), Moses (vs. Pharaoh) Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, and Elijah (vs. Ahab, the Lord before whom I stand). Corporate action emanates from individual response to a received ‘literal word.’

It appears that God is looking for people like His intimates who are willing to make absolute commitment to His higher purpose, something that always involves authority, responsibility, sacrifice, and much loss in a worldly sense. It involves leaders willing to face the war against the word. This is never fun because leaders are alone and end up feeling alone much of the time. The antidote offered by both Old Testament and New Testament is an invitation to intimacy with God.

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________. Theology of the Old Testament. Translated by George E. Day. Second Edition. New

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edited by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.


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& Row Publishers, 1978.


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Traditions. Volume I. Translated by D.M.G. Stalker. New York: Harper & Brothers

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John Knox Press, 1978.



[1] According to Reventlow, other centers that have been proposed are the holiness of God, the Lord who commands, God is Lord who imposes His will, the kingdom of God, election (by Wildberger), and communion between God and man. Eichrodt then raised the bar, proposing covenant. (Henning Graf Reventlow, Problems of Old Testament Theology in the Twentieth Century [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985], 126). According to Brueggemann, Westermann proposes a dialectic of blessing and deliverance, Terrien proposes aesthetic and ethical, Hanson cosmic and teleological, Sanders constructive and critical, and Albertz Grosskult and Kleinkult (Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology. Essays on Structure, Theme, and Text. Edited by Patrick D. Miller [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992], 2). Miller argues for a dialectic of creation and covenant (Patrick D. Miller, “Creation and Covenant,” in Biblical Theology Problems and Perspectives, ed. By Steven J. Kraftchick, Charles D. Myers Jr., and Ben C. Ollenburger [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995] 155-168).


[2] Whether or not aetiological myth or fact, whether Exodus was the first book written and Genesis subsequently placed first, it is still important what this account says about God, who He is, how He operates, and what He means His relationship with man to be.


[3] And, even in the best of times, the ‘literal word’ is selective about its company and appearance. But we would still say that it is these experiences – not theophanies, because later on, exilic, post-exilic (or, later in the sequence of books), we still have literal word experiences that are not theophanies – that drive the narrative, prophets, and wisdom and writings. It is these ‘literal word’ experiences that drive the history of the nation of Israel and validate its existence apart from others. In fact, we would go further and say that it is these experiences that validate Israel’s testimony in Scripture and that give Israel and us confidence of the Spirit of God’s influence, an influence more up front from the exile forward. According to Westermann, God’s speaking includes commandment and announcement, the two main aspects commensurate with law and prophecy, respectively. He then holds as a third element the human response, the liturgical word (Claus Westermann, Elements of Old Testament Theology, Translated by Douglas W. Stott [Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982], 17). In this context, “An epiphany belongs to God’s acting, a theophany to God’s speaking. Epiphany and theophany are different processes; they are portrayed in a different linguistic fashion, and one can follow their histories through the entire Old Testament. The saving God is the coming God. He appears in order to help his people, and appearance has here the same meaning as coming. In every case it is a coming into a situation of distress” (25). Terrien proposes “epiphanic visitations” over theophany because it suggests “swiftness of the divine appearance” (Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence Toward a New Biblical Theology [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978], 68, 99 note 45).


[4] Though it has been aptly argued by other Old Testament theologians and articulated recently by Gregory A. Boyd in God at War. The Bible & Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997). For a good summary of Boyd’s position, see Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil. Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001) esp. Chapter 1, 29-49. Boyd’s premise as to the Old Testament is that “the warfare worldview in the Old Testament is expressed in terms of God’s conflict with hostile waters, with cosmic monsters and with other gods” (30). He cites several “exegetes” that include this conflict in a theology, including, Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988); C.J. Labuschagne, The Incomparibility of Yahweh in the Old Testament, POS 5 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966); Tremper Longman III and Daniel G. Reid, God is a Warrior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), and others.


[5] John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel (Unpublished Manuscript for OT 805: Fuller Theological Seminary, Spring 2002), Chapter 9, 39.


[6] Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, Chapter 9, 42.


[7] What Israel records of her experience seems to come from two primary events. First, God’s ‘literal word,’ manifesting itself and intervening in individual and national life. Second, God’s intervening and saving acts on Israel’s behalf by which both individuals God chose and God Himself was validated as the only true word for the nation. The acts validate the ‘literal word,’ but it is the word that comes first, so that is the focus here.


[8]According to Brueggemann, covenant is not the central theme of the Bible. He also says, “The central affirmations of covenant stand against and subvert the dominant forms, patterns, and presuppositions of our culture and of cultural Christianity” (Walter Brueggemann, A Social Reading of the Old Testament-Prophetic Approaches to Israel’s Communal Life, ed. By Patrick D. Miller [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994], 38).


[9] Reventlow, Problems of Old Testament Theology, 125-133. Reventlow suggests that the center is God Himself to which von Rad responded negatively. On this we side with von Rad. Childs is apparently among those not seeing a center. This essay argues for a dialectical center, but at the same time recognizes the limitations of any center to synthesize everything. According to Von Rad, “Unlike the revelation in Christ, the revelation of Jahweh in the Old Testament is divided up over a long series of separate acts of revelation which are very different in content. It seems to be without a centre which determines everything and which could give to the various separate acts both an interpretation and their proper theological connexion with one another. We can only describe the Old Testament’s revelation as a number of distinct and heterogeneous revelatory acts.” (Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology. The Theology of Israel’s Historical Traditions. Volume I. Translated by D.M.G. Stalker [New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1962], Vol. 1, 115, 118, 120). According to Westermann there is not a center. Old Testament theology can be organized around three primary movements or structures: 1) the historical, 2) the prophetic, and 3) the writings, or didactic. These three parts “indicate that the narrative in the Old Testament is determined by the word of God occurring in it and by the response [of those it is spoken to]. The focus in these three structures must be the verbal forms reflecting the dialogue (Elements, 10) (emphasis mine). We disagree with von Rad, and agree with Westerman’s tacit center, that in our view points to the ‘literal word.’


[10] This is following Eichrodt’s original schematic. According to Barr it is possible to classify Old Testament theology of the last century into five basic types, beginning with Kohler and ending with Childs. Kohler is characterized by a “collection of ideas and doctrines,” Eichrodt by a “synthetic, comprehensive view of the Old Testament” organized around the central idea of covenant, Vriezen by an “explicit Christian approach,” von Rad by “various traditions,” and Childs by “canonical approaches.” (James Barr, The Concept of Biblical Theology. An Old Testament Perspective [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999], 28-39).


[11] Comments of what an Old Testament theology should do were taken either directly or indirectly from various theologians including von Rad, Barr, Childs, Reventlow, Miller, Zimmerli, Brueggemann, Rendtorff, Knieren, and Goldingay and then modified by the writer. As of limited scope, this essay only has as its aim to touch briefly on some of these issues. By “canonical” here, is meant Rendtorff’s comments that the text has been redacted and edited, not written by Moses or the individual prophets (Rolf Rendtorff, Canon and Theology. Overtures to an Old Testament Theology [Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1993], 64-5). By “new interpretation” is meant Zimmerli’s observation that “Religious traditions in new situations find new interpretations” (Walther Zimmerli, Old Testament Theology in Outline, tr. by David E. Green [Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1978], 13). According to Goldingay, “Old Testament theology attempts not merely to describe the faith implied by the Old Testament but to reflect on it analytically, critically, and constructively” (Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, Intro, 5). According to Goldingay “the idea of inspiration is most at home with the Prophets” (Models for Scripture [Grand Rapids: Paternoster Press, 1994], 205). In Gospel, he asserts “The fact that the First Testament opens with narrative and is dominated by narrative makes narrative form the appropriate starting point for First Testament Theology” (12-13). His theology is organized around narrative (gospel), Latter prophets (faith), and Writings (ethos) (10). We might also add, as Brueggemann does that an Old Testament theology should address the Jewishness of the text and attend to public policy issues (Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament. Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997], 102-114), though we don’t go as far or necessarily agree with him as to how.


[12] Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1962), 112. But as Von Rad says, it is not just a history of Israel. Von Rad includes in an Old Testament theology the following. First, as a starting point, a center of “Jahweh’s action in revelation” (prophecy). Second, “what Israel herself made the content of her testimonies concerning Jahweh.” Third, the way the writers of Israel’s history were “elastic enough to frame or borrow concepts.” Fourth, that it “cannot confine itself to a presentation of the world of thought without going on to include the world of history.” Lastly, that “the most accurate test of the starting-point and arrangement of a theology of the Old Testament is…the phenomenon of prophecy” (108-28). Von Rad does not present these concepts as a numbered list – they have been gleamed from the text. According to Goldingay, God’s words through His representatives “reflect and unveil the nature of Yhwh’s involvement with the people, and implement Yhwh’s initiatives and Yhwh’s responses to events in Israel’s life.” (Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, Chapter 9, 44).

[13] If, as Goldingay states, “Yhwh’s involvement with Israel is the means where they are destined to come to recognize Yhwh” (Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, Chapter 9, 5) the exact nature of involvement and interaction in His communication with the prophets – or in this case intimates – is paramount to a theology of God’s interaction with the body of his people. In current Biblical scholarship, there are varied stances on the nature of Old Testament prophecy. It is sought here to highlight mode of reception, whether intimate or prophet.


[14] Brueggemann, Essays on Structure, 9. In this earlier work Brueggemann rejects the single emphasis of Eichrodt’s covenant or von Rad’s history as well as a list of correctives offering dual approaches. However, he concludes that the tension between two central motifs “may be the central dynamic of Old Testament faith” (2).


[15] Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 6-15. According to Childs, “The emphasis on scripture as canon focuses its attention on the process by which divine truth acquired its authoritative form as it was received and transmitted by a community of faith” (14). According to him, “when Old Testament theology is viewed in its canonical context as a continuing interpretive activity by that community of faith which treasures its scriptures as authoritative, the issue of organization is sharply relativized” (15). The argument seems somewhat circular, as Calvin. It is agreed with Childs that there is authority in the canon that reveals God to us. On the other hand, that authority does not solely derive from the fact that it is canon. Partially, it derives from the Spirit’s influence, which we are assured of because of His work in our own lives. Child’s approach is too divorced from history and a time-sensitive valuation.


[16]Barr, Concept of Theology, 42.


[17]Westermann, Elements, 18. Westermann views the word as passing through three primary stages – the directive word (commandment) the prophetic word (announcement), and the liturgical word (response from the people). According to Westermann, pronouncements “create a context. By means of the word event, both cause a given time period to become an organic whole: the temporal distance from the utterance itself up to the occurrence of what was announced.” He continues, “A word issues into daily events, into daily occurrences, creating contextual relationships and connections in its extension up to the point where what was announced indeed comes to pass. In creating these connections it thus establishes history…From the smallest event curve within the family sphere to the broader ones of the nation and of humanity, it makes history into a particular context.” According to Westermann it is the oneness of God that connects action, words, and response into a concerted structure of history of the people of God (32). Contrarily, the suggestion here is that God being one does not initiate or even connect the story – it is the ‘literal word,’ given “face to face” that initiates from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. The oneness of God is but part of the foundational make-up that makes His word effective, but other than this we affirm his comments here.


[18] Barr states, “Is the Bible really a special case? I do not think that it is” (Barr, Concept of Theology, 212). Barr seems to feel that there is nothing about the Bible that is “special,” even in the sense of being God-directed or Spirit inspired. That is, not in any way that is greater or different than any historical theology. We disagree with Barr that Old Testament theology is the same as historical theology. However, we agree that the historical-critical approach has some value and that it must be factored into any Old Testament theology. We accept the ‘literal word’ experiences described by the text as valid – not completely accurate historical records, perhaps – but at least an accurate essence of individuals’ experience with God in history.


[19] How can this be asserted? Not by Calvin’s circular approach regarding the testimony of Scripture to itself, it is more than this. Scripture leaves a deposit of history, that is, accepting the supernatural element as real we can take their testimony of how God moved as accurate, at least in essence. This is confirmed by the witness and the work of the same Spirit in our own lives. According to Terrien, “the formulators of these narratives were the heirs of a long-established pattern of style. Nevertheless, they adapted this rhetorical form of discourse to what appears to be genuine memories of ecstatic experiences” (Elusive Presence, 94).


[20] And, also, we believe the New Testament, as well.


[21] Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 568, 570, 571. Brueggemann may feel this way because of what he later states about prophets, “There are hints that these several individuals are recipients of odd, psychic experiences, being visited by the “supernatural” in odd ways such as dream, vision, and trance” (627). He approaches contradiction to this theme later saying that theophany is “a premise of all that follows. In the mode of theophany, Yahweh relates as Yahweh chooses, without condition, reservation, qualification or explanation” (569). Perhaps within it, but in effecting it we would affirm that there are conditions, etc., and the ‘literal word’ experience is the premise for them. Brueggemann’s focus on Israel’s rhetoric and the way Israel mediates its faith seems to cause him to deemphasize the unmediated presence of Yahweh to the nation and individuals, thus failing to connect initiative to response.

[22] Perhaps because oral tradition left more detail for the Patriarchs than it did for the creation myth.


[23] According to Terrien, “The phrase wayyera Yahweh (verb “to see” in the niphal voice) means “And Yahweh appeared,” literally, “was seen” or “showed himself” (Elusive Presence, 98 note 32).


[24] Is this one vision or two? It might be a vision and a subsequent interaction, or it may be all one vision. If two visions, then 15:4 is indicative of a break in time and a new experience that extends through the rest of the chapter. Hagar’s experience in Genesis 16:7-14 with an angel of the Lord reflects visitation, seeing, speech interaction, and literal speech.

[25] Is this phrase still standing” the genesis of Elijah’s “the Lord before whom I stand?”


[26] The assumption here is that God doesn’t just speak “out of the blue” but that the writers have chosen not to describe each experience. If we know how God appeared at other times in the text, the reader can extrapolate and assume mode of speaking.


[27] Later, when Cain was driven out (from Eden?) as punishment, we read (Gen. 4:16) “then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord.” This, even though his parents had previously been driven from the garden of Eden (3:22-24). “Presence” here seems to be a more general sense – though driven from the garden, close to Eden the family could have access to the specific localized presence when God willed.


[28] Because of the patriarch’s experience. As to Noah, up to this point, the sin of men and evil is increasing so that Noah is the only man on earth that finds favor with God (6:8). This apparently has something to do with the fact that he is righteous and blameless in God’s eyes. From the context of 6:1-8, it must also have to do with the fact that intermarrying has polluted the human race. Noah, must then be the only person who resists the temptation to marry as he chooses – and instead he finds a woman among those at the time who seek God and call out to Him. This is against the view that would interpret “sons of God” as angels. If God manifests Himself as a man at times in the early Old Testament, what does this say about His making us in his own image? Is he manifesting as a man because the form reflects more of who He is, or in deference to our need to be able to relate, or both?

[29] According to Terrien, “the word panim, “face,” was ordinarily used metaphorically in composite prepositions to designate a sense of immediate proximity. More often than not, the storytellers merely said that God “appeared,” literally, “showed himself.” According to Terrien, “face to face” “refers simply to the direct, non-mediated (i.e. immediate) character of a manifestation of presence” (Elusive Presence, 65,91). According to Goldingay, “The story more literally says that the skin of Moses’ face develops horns…it may be that the brightness that shines from his face takes the shape of a horn-like rays” suggesting “strength, power, and majesty derived from having an audience with God” (Israel’s Gospel, Chapter 6, 27). According to Eichrodt, “In paganism it was possible to speak of the face with absolute realism, since in the Temple the face of the statue of the god was always there in front of one” (Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, Translated by J. A. Baker, Volume II [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967], 35). Then, “admittance to an audience with a superior was described as ‘seeing the countenance of the person in question…the purpose of the encounter was to testify to one’s own subordinate position, and to ask for help” (36). Yet, he focuses so much on the metaphorical aspect of the phrase he appears to miss that Moses beheld some form.

[30] Apparently ten times were required to “fill up” the disobedience of Israel so that they could be judged, but their fate was sealed at Rephidim. The writer of Hebrews connects Heb. 4, Psalm 95, and Ex. 17, interpreting Rephidim/Meribah as the key test.


[31] According to Duet 5:4,22 “the Lord spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire.” And according to 5:23-33 Israel heard the words of God “from the midst of the darkness,” and they said “we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet lives.” Being scared they would die, they make Moses the mediator between them and God. God’s response is that “they have spoken well.” So, Moses was ready to converse with God, but the people were not. They did not have the “heart” (5:29). In this instance “face to face” means they heard literal speech and saw evidence of God in the fire without beholding His form. This evidence of God in the fire was Moses first introduction to intimacy with God and it is now the people’s first introduction as well. This seems to imply that God has a similar purpose for leaders and the people – progression to a deeper intimacy.


[32] As to preparation being worked by time with Abraham, see James 2. There is a distinction between the ‘literal word’ experience, theophany, and epiphany. According to Terrien, “the patriarchal narrators should not be called “theophanies,” for they form a sur generis type of divine manifestation. A full study of theophany (usually requiring “visibility of natural phenomena”) (Elusive Presence, 70) and epiphany (usually accompanied by revelation) (85) is outside the scope of this paper, but it is proposed that the ‘literal word’ is the common element.


[33] According to Levine, “Here feminine mar’ah designates the sort of vision normally seen by prophets, whereas masculine mar’eh, in v 8, means “a clear vision,” something exceptional, by contrast, and reserved for Moses” (Baruch A. Levine, The Anchor Bible, Numbers 1-20 [The Anchor Bible: Doubleday, 1964], 331).


[34] According to Budd, what Numbers 11-12 shows is that EJ were justifying the royal office of King by their exposition of this story (Philip J. Budd, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 5, Numbers [Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1984], 132-39). It seems more probable, however, that the writer is arguing for the indispensability of both king and prophet, Moses being a type for both. The argument is for the king through Nu. 11 and for the prophet through Nu. 12. E and J are saying that the king must listen to the prophet, who like Moses hears God and the prophetic community must rely on the king, like Moses, to administer the government of God.


[35] Dr. Gustav Friedrich Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, Translated by George E. Day (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Publishers, 1883), 143. According to Oehler, “While the prophets never appeal to dreams in their extant prophecies, dreams serve mainly as a vehicle of revelation to those who, though they are not properly speaking organs of revelation, obtain a divine communication in extraordinary circumstances.” According to Oehler, “By the two forms, dreams and visions, God speaks as is said in Num. xii. 8, only…in riddles, that is, in a way which requires an explanation of the pictures presented to view” (143). This is not entirely accurate because it has been seen that God speaks literally in both dreams and visions to Abraham and Jacob, but the point is valid. Dreams and visions apparently were a drop in level and authority for those representing God. According to Oehler, “The immediate view of the Divinity…with which Moses was favored stands higher than these forms; that figureless, perfect clear communication of knowledge, which is to be distinguished also from the vision of God.” According to Oehler, “the voice is the material substratum of the theophany” (129). According to Oehler, “As psychical states in which the reception of revelation by man takes place, the principal passage (Num. xii. 6-8) names, 1, the dream; 2, the vision; 3, the immediate sight of the Divinity as given to Moses, which stands higher than the other two” (143).


[36]Again, according to Oehler, “Dreams appear in the Old Testament, as in antiquity generally, as the vehicle of divine revelation, but only in a subordinate way. It may be concluded from 1 Sam. xxviii. 6 – in which a scale of the forms of revelation is given-that it stands lowest among the forms of revelation; this becomes still more clear from Deut. xiii. 2-5, according to which no one can accredit himself as an organ of revelation by means of dreams alone, but especially from Jer. xxiii. 28f. where the “chaff” refers to dreams, and the consciously received word of God is designated “wheat” (Theology of the Old Testament, 143).

[37] There is no record that God spoke any other way than “mouth to mouth” (Nu. 12:8) – which other places is described as “face to face” – with Moses. That is, apparently God did not give Moses dreams and visions –He always appeared and spoke “face to face.” This meant the authority of Moses was beyond question – to “speak against” him was to reject God. And it explains why this was so. It might then also explain the authority of future prophets like Samuel and Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, and others. It also might explain exactly why the people of Israel were rejecting God by desiring a king (1 Samuel 8:4-9). In looking to a king they were tempted to ignore the authority and voice of God through His chosen prophet. Yet, Samuel was also called a seer, indicative of dreams and visions so though he can be described as “a prophet like Moses” he was not the same as Moses. This is true of all prophets following.


[38] Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 633.


[39] According to Christensen, the arrangement of the phrases in Deut. 18 “highlights that it is God’s own words in the prophet’s mouth (v 18bc); and those who refuse to obey those words will be held accountable” (Duane L. Christensen, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 6A, Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9, revised [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001], 406).


[40] According to Brueggemann, Deut 13:1-6 “dismisses the criterion of chapter 18” (Theology of the Old Testament, 634). But he misses that they are in different contexts and that 18 deals with an evaluation of a certain type of prophet. Still, according to him “in the purview of the tradition of Deuteronomy, there is assumed in Israel a sequence of prophets (not a regular succession), each of which in a particular time and place replicated the constitutive word of Moses.” And, again, “This sequence…asserts that each prophet did what Moses did” (Theology of the Old Testament, 634-35). Duet 31:18 says, “But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they do, for they will turn to other gods.” Again, apparent evidence that one reason that God withdraws His presence is because of our sin. If we turn to Him He will reveal Himself, if we turn away from Him, no. This is Israel’s initial experience in the promised land – when they remember God they experience blessing, but when they turn from Him to other gods, God withdraws and Israel becomes slaves to other nations. God then raises up judges to deliver them.


[41] As to God being dangerous, see also Duet. 4:15, “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb.” And, 4:12, “you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form – only a voice.” The Lord spoke to them from a “thick cloud” (Ex. 19:9). The point here is that the spiritual condition of the people was such that if they saw form, they would seek to replicate it for an idol. This was not so with Moses. This is why the intent of the people’s experience with God is expressed by Duet. 4:10, “so they may learn to fear Me…and that they may teach their children.”


[42] The above thought then correlates with the whole idea of punishment and mercy. God keeps his distance from people for their own benefit, not because he is partial or unjust, or favors some over others in a judicial sense. Again, Ps. 95 seems to point back to Meribah as the crucial juncture. Had the people believed God and Moses there, they would have been able to bear the waiting and the responsibility of His presence at Sinai and then have gone on to believe at the border of the Promised Land. But they failed the test, and so their present character was set to disobey at the important junctures from then on.

[43] Of course, he did fight for Israel, but this is the point – when he did he was also fighting for God who was ‘looking’ for someone to stand between Him and the nation. Past attempts at a theology have attempted to portion out God or theology into “righteousness,” “faith,” “justice,” or “mercy” – but God is bigger than the sum of His parts. We can see Him and know Him through Israel’s story but that is just the beginning of knowing – we have to know Him further through our own story. My meaning here is more towards Barth than Bultmann.


[44] According to Rendtorff, “In Deuterononomy, the final paragraph refers back to the central chapter, chap. 18, where God says that he will send a prophet like Moses into whose mouth he will put his words, so that the prophet may pass on God’s commandments to the Israelites (18:18). What we learn from that is first that God’s Torah is given by prophets, and second that Moses was the first and authoritative prophet to deliver the Torah” (Canon and Theology, 62). The last paragraph of Deuteronomy is not considered to be a contradiction of Mose’s prophetic ministry – each prophet is an individual and it is the “face to face” aspect that connects with the ‘literal word.’


[45] The question of Judges must be addressed here. Is Moses a type for the judges, like Gideon, who is not described as a prophet? No – because he is not a prophet Gideon (and others like him) is not in the Deut. 18 “line.” How then do we justify his intimacy with God? He is in the line of Adam, Abraham, and everyone before Moses, prophet or not, who experienced the ‘literal voice.’ But his role as a judge is to mobilize, lead, and deliver Israel. This is different from the prophet’s mandate to proclaim the word. What we see from this is that the ‘literal word’ leads to proclamation and to acts. Both become story and witness and from these proceeds response. In this way the literal word is a “basis.” According to Knierim, if a center claims to define the whole, the whole must be defined in a way that includes its pluralities. Most centers do not resolve pluralism or the conflicting relationship of theologies that exist side by side in the Old Testament. He wants to concentrate on the semantic nature of the theologies and sees previous criteria – various centers and other proposals – as inadequate. He proposes an adequate criteria as one that determines which “basis” governs the others and whether this aspect is a fundamental – foundational – one. Quantitative (relational) aspects govern qualitative (characteristic) aspects. Specifically, the focus should be on the order in which the quantitative aspects are set in relationship (Rolf P. Knierim, The Task of Old Testament Theology, Substance, Method, and Cases [Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1995], 1-20). This essay proposes that the basic quantitative aspect is God and the individual – the ‘literal word’ relationship.


[46] See Joshua 5:13-6:5 and Joshua’s experience with the Captain of the Host.


[47] This is apparently picked up in Rev. 6:17.


[48] James Orr (ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: The Howard –Severance Company, 1915) s.v. “Attitudes,” by W.W. Davies, 329.

[49] Though, as Terrien, points out, “The nature of the encounter…is that of a passing by or an approach.” It contrasts with Moses experience in that the voice comes not in the tumult, but a gentle blowing following silence. Elijah is the transition prophet, from theophany to vision (Elusive Presence, 234-35).


[50] Though a complete study is outside the parameters of this paper, as to the distinction between the terms “prophet” and “man of God” a short survey is helpful – According to 1 Samuel 3:1, word from God was rare and vision was infrequent. According to 1 Ki 13:1 “there came a man of God…by the word of the Lord,” used to describe a prophet who comes to speak a word to Jeroboam. There appears to be a link between “the word of the Lord” and the appearance of the Lord in form plus literal speech to someone. If this is the case, than a man of God might be a distinctive term for a prophet who beholds the form of the Lord and hears the Lord in literal speech. In other words, it is a phrase that reflects the hierarchy among prophets of which the norm is communication from God in dark speech – dreams and visions. Yet, Ahijah is called a “prophet” (1 Ki. 11:29) – why not a “man of God?” But Shemaiah is “a man of God,” (1Ki. 12:22), “the word of God came to “ him. At 1 Ki. 13:1-34 there is a juxtaposition of “man of God” and “prophet.” The “man of God” is killed. Is there a tri-fold hierarchy of prophets? First, a prophet of “dark speech,” second, “a man of God,” who beholds the form of the Lord and hears literal speech, and third, a confirmed prophet before the people who “stands before the Lord?” 1 Ki. 13:18 says “I also am a prophet like you.” So, the “man of God” is considered a prophet as well.

According to 1 Ki. 20:13, “a prophet approached Ahab.” According to 1 Ki. 20:22, “the prophet came near to the king.” At 20:28, “Then a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel.” At 20:35 “now a certain man of the sons of the prophets.” At 20:35-43, “a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to another by the word of the Lord” – not “a man of God” and not a “prophet.” Do we see here a “son of prophet” in transition to a “man of God?” At 20:38 he is called a “prophet.” Again, there is a dangerous element to hearing God clearly – the second prophet is killed because he did not listen to the voice of the Lord. According to 1 Samuel 9:9, a seer equals a prophet, at least in some sense. Does this relate back to Nu. 12:1-6? According to 2 Samuel 24:11, the prophet Gad is David’s seer. Amos 7:12, says, “Go you seer.” According to 2 Ki. 1:9-15 Elijah is called a “man of God” and the term implies the ability to call God into action with fire from heaven (1:10). In 2 Ki. 2:1-14 there is a distinction between “sons of prophets,” Elisha, and Elisha’s “master.” Elisha and sons of the prophets know the same thing about Elijah, but Elisha either knows more or understands better how to interpret and apply the information he has. When Elisha says, “As the Lord lives,” what does this mean? And is “be still” the same sort of response that Micaiah gives in 1 Ki. 22? Literary distinctions, possible redactors, and time periods aside, it may be that these terms reflect increasing levels of authority within the larger prophetic school and therefore comment to theology.


[51] As more than a prophet, Moses occupies more than just a prophetic office – that is he is also a builder, responsible for “all of God’s house.” In this way, he is a foreshadowing of both David and Jesus. But, as a prophet he is the model for a type of prophet that will apparently exist throughout Israel’s history. In addition, the text has alluded to “dreamers of dreams” and “seers.” Where these might fit into the prophetic hierarchy is unclear. Is a dreamer of dreams equal to a seer? Or, are they different and both types of prophets below the Moses/Elijah level? It is also not clear exactly how a prophet of the Miriam-Aaron type hears from God. Does “dark speech” mean symbolic communication as with Joseph? Or, does it mean only that the Lord draws away one-step in distance as when He spoke with the people from a “thick cloud?” Or, is it something else?


[52] Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, 127.


[53] David Noel Freedman (ed.), Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) s.v. “Postexilic Hebrew Prophecy,” by John Barton, 489.


[54] Susan Niditch, The Symbolic Vision in Biblical Tradition (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1983), 2. She is referring to M. Sister, “Die Typen der prophetischen Visionen in der Bibel,” MGWJ 78 (1934), 399-430.


[55] Niditch, Symbolic Vision, 9. She analyzes the interrelationships between twelve visions: Am 7:7-9, 8:1-3, Jer 1:11-12, 1:13-19,24, Zech 1:7-17, 2:1-4, 4:1-6a, 10b-14, 5:1-4,6:1-8, Daniel 7, and Daniel 8. She uses a history of traditions approach (1). Stage 1 includes Amos and Jeremiah, Stage 2, the Zechariah visions, and Stage 3, Daniel as well as visions in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra.


[56] Niditch, Symbolic Vision, 12-13.

[57] According to Niditch, herself, “the renewed popularity of dream visions coincides with an increasing belief that the divine realm is somehow more difficult to reach than “in the old days.” Intermediaries are deemed necessary in the communication process. Prophecy of the old variety has died” (Symbolic Vision, 15).


[58] According to Terrien, “No prophet before Ezekiel had claimed that “the heavens were opened” for him and “Ezekiel favored [the Spirit]above all other means of indicating the force which at once compelled him and confirmed him as the Deity’s envoy” (Elusive Presence, 258, 260). Yet, if we retreat to before Daniel was written, according to Zechariah 1:1 “the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet.” And again, according to 1:7 “in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet.” This seems to reflect an experience like that of Moses in a contemporary time period with Daniel, though there is the additive of Zechariah’s visionary experience. According to 1:8 “I saw at night.” According to Zechariah 1:7-6:15 the word of the Lord came to Zechariah in vision – he both saw symbolic visions and had literal interaction with intermediaries, and the angel of the Lord in the form of a man. According to Haggai, “In the second year of Darius…the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai.” Malachi and Habakkuk are both in the form of oracles. Ezekiel sees visions in which he is effected physically – like Daniel – and also interacts with angelic intermediaries. Additionally, the Spirit has a prominent place in Ezekiel as an initiator of prophetic experience. As in Zechariah, in Ezekiel “the word of the Lord came to me” is a common phrase within the vision, especially early in the book. Later it is used without explanation leaving the reader to infer visionary experience that brought the word.


[59] Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, Intro, 5.


[60] According to MacLeod, “John asserted that the logo” or “word” is (a) the Creator of every single, solitary thing in the universe, (b) the ground, giver, and sustainer of all life, (c) the medium of all divine self-disclosure, that is, the agent of revelation, and (d) the nemesis of Satan and all the forces of evil in this world” (David J. MacLeod, “The Creation of the Universe By the Word: John 1:3-5,” Bibliotheca Sacra 160 [April-June 2003], 187-201, esp. 199-200).


[61] Westermann, Elements, 22.


[62] Westermann, Elements, 24. What is it about Jesus that makes Him the center? He is the literal manifestation of God on earth. In the same way, in the Old Testament, the literal manifestation of God on earth was in His literal word and form, whether expressed in theophany or in dream or vision. “Name” and everything else – including His acts – is subordinate to and flows from this.


[63] According to Barr, Zimmerli was more passionately committed to a center of the Old Testament with his “name” motif, than was Eichrodt, with “covenant.” According to Barr, “if one can say that Christ is the ‘centre’ of the New Testament, is it not appropriate to say in the same way that Yahweh is the ‘centre’ of the Old?” (Barr, Concept of Theology, 314). This made sense to Barr, as well as to Reventlow, but the parallel is not consistent. Jesus lived and breathed and spoke intelligently and understandably. Therefore, the consistent parallel with the Old Testament would be those situations where Yahweh ‘lives and breathes and expresses Himself clearly’ – the ‘literal word.’ In this sense symbolic dream and vision would then be analogous to the parabolic ministry of Jesus. Westermann was not for a single concept yet word and response can be seen as a unifying suggestion in his work. In his view, the Old Testament has no similarity to the Christocentric theme and structure of the New Testament and cannot be treated in the same manner. The Old Testament tells a story. Evident within the narrative of these three parts is the word of God versus a response. (Westermann, Elements, 10-11).


[64] According to Westermann, “Only in the center between the directive and liturgical word does the word as announcement acquire significance” (Elements, 24). Thus, he puts the three elements in a linear relationship with prophecy in the middle. But this is prejudicial – to give the literal word a true center among all three elements is not. It is only the literal word that has the potential to direct, effect, and thus, ‘label’ the other three. The literal word as command is law, as announcement, prophecy, and as the authoritative word from God it legitimizes and classifies response. Of course, to the Jews, the directive word is most important (24). But, they have missed that God does not change in the way that He communicates in both Law and prophecy. Understanding the literal word as the center reconciles the ‘absolutizing’ dilemma. It is consistently seen from Adam to Jesus to the Apostles. And of course today, at a minimum, we have the record of it in the first and second testaments. This, of course, is not to say that the whole record – or even most of it – reflects literal word.


[65] R.W.L. Moberly, “How May We Speak Of God? A Reconsideration of the Nature of Biblical Theology,” Tyndale Bulletin 53.2 (2002), 177-202, esp. 193.