The concept known as “Eyewitness News” began in the mid-sixties. The idea spread and resulted in a major transformation of the way viewers received the news. Fifty years later, nearly every local news program uses a variation of this concept.
One of the features of eyewitness news was to have field reporters on the scene of a local story being covered. Except in rare situations, they were not the eyewitnesses, but they were able to interview people who saw or heard the action take place.
While eyewitnesses have an important place in the American justice system, eyewitness testimony was of even greater importance when the Mosaic Law was written. How much forensic science could be done that long ago? There was no way to collect DNA evidence, no video records from security cameras available. While there are some records of the Babylonians using fingerprints for signatures and other means of identification as far back as 2000 BC, no methods existed to be able to lift fingerprints from a murder weapon, a stolen object or most other items.
Safeguards were included in the Law to protect the innocent false witnesses. There are three separate verses that capital punishment cannot be meted out on the basis of only one eyewitness. Then, in Deuteronomy 19, that protection is extended to cases involving any crime, iniquity or sin. Furthermore, the law included strong consequences for those who were found to be testifying against someone with false witness, to serve as a meaningful deterrent against falsely accusing someone.
One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. – Deuteronomy 19:15-19
Two other things were important for just verdicts to be made under such a system: the appointment of judges who were wise, discerning and honest; for the character of those giving the testimony to be well-known. In a clan-based society such as ancient Israel, with small populations and relatively low geographic mobility, both of those tasks would be easier than in modern societies that are large and relatively anonymous.
In the previous two posts, I did not dispute the assertion of God being invisible. Instead, I looked at various examples of where the effects of the actions of God are documented, reported, and give evidence of his existence and even visibility indirectly. Today, I am taking it a step further. We are going to look at reports and eyewitness accounts of direct sightings of God. Dreams and visions are not being included. Contacts with God that involve the sense of hearing only are not being included. The reports of the first three people involved were included in the Bible by oral history. The rest were directly reported by the eyewitness.
Adam and Eve: This first reference is by logical inference. In Genesis 3:8, Adam and Eve are experiencing guilt and shame for the first time as a result of eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They hear the LORD God speaking as He walks in the garden in the cool of the day. They hide from His presence. The fact that He can see them is not significant. The fact that He is physically walking among them is. In Eden, He can be seen as well as see. And Adam and Eve attempting to hide from Him in this context suggests that they saw each other regularly until they lose their state of innocence.
Abraham: Here we begin to have more directly expressed references to people who see God. In three different chapters of Genesis, there are mentions of God appearing to Abraham, the first patriarch. In Genesis 12:7, his name is still Abram. This is where God tells him that he has reached the land which the LORD had promised to show to him when Abram left his own country in response to the LORD’s command.
At the beginning of chapter 17, the LORD appears to Abram and renames him Abraham in connection with the covenant that He makes with Abraham. In verse 22, it also states that when He finished talking with Abraham, God “went up from Abraham”, further signifying that He was physically with Abraham.
The clearest account that the LORD is physically present with Abraham and that Abraham can see Him occurs at the beginning of chapter 18. Using the same verb (Heb. ra’ah), the same voice (in Hebrew it is the Niphal voice, which indicates passive or reflexive action: with this verb, the active voice means to see or perceive, the passive/reflexive voice means to appear, present oneself, be seen or be visible) as in Genesis 12 & 17, once again it says that the LORD appears to Abraham. Abraham sees Him and three men (angels) standing with Him. In response, Abraham commands a servant to fetch water so their feet can be washed. He invites them to rest and he tells Sarah to make a meal for them. In verse 13, after they ate, the LORD continues talking with Abraham, asking why Sarah laughed when she heard that she would give birth to a child.
Isaac: In Genesis 26, Isaac’s herdsmen are clashing with the herdsmen of Gerar (part of the land of the Philistines) over water wells. Finally, they find water, dig a well and are not challenged for it. That night, the LORD appears (same verb, ra’ah; same Niphal voice) to Isaac and reconfirms the covenant that He made with Abraham.
Jacob: Like his father, Isaac, there is only one recorded instance of Jacob being face to face with God. But it is one of the better known stories from the Old Testament. In Genesis 32, Jacob is returning to the land of his birth, but also to a twin brother who threatened to kill him twenty years earlier. The night before he meets Esau again, Jacob goes off by himself. In verses 24-30, Jacob suddenly was encountered by another and they engage in wrestling. Jacob initially believes this entity is a man and they wrestled to a standoff. But then we see that Jacob’s opponent has held back somewhat, for a touch of a finger threw Jacob’s thigh out of joint and withered the muscle there. (To this day, Orthodox Jews will not eat this part of the meat.) The opponent blesses Jacob but will not reveal His name. Jacob realizes that in this encounter, he has seen God face to face.
In Exodus 6:3, when God is preparing Moses to go before Pharaoh, He confirms two things about this story and the other meetings in general. He tells Moses that He appeared (again the ra’ah – Niphal combination) to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then He tells Moses that He did not reveal His name to them, the name He revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14). (Gen. 32:24-30; also see Exodus 6:2-3 where the LORD confirms to Moses that He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob)
Moses: With Moses, we begin the first face to face encounters that are recorded as part of the history that was written down by either the first person or a contemporary scribe. And the first eyewitness sighting involving Moses included in the Bible was a major one. In Exodus 24, God summons Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders to come to Him. While only Moses will be permitted to come close to God, the rest see Him from a distance. In verse 10, a description is given of His appearance. “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.” In the next verse, we are reassured that God did not harm any of those who saw Him and they went on to live their everyday lives.
In Exodus 33, Moses has recently set up the tabernacle outside the camp. God comes down to the tabernacle shrouded in a cloudy pillar. In verse 11, we are told that the LORD spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”
In Numbers 12, we are told that God speaking to Moses “face to face” is not unusual. In this chapter, God contrasts how He speaks to Moses with how He speaks to the rest of the prophets. The occasion is that Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, begin to speak out against Moses because he did not marry a daughter of Israel. God calls them and Moses into the tabernacle. Once again inside the cloudy pillar, He sets Miriam and Aaron straight. “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8)
Would you think that Moses, having been accorded this great honor and privilege of seeing God face to face, would be satisfied with what he has? How typical is it of humans that regardless of how much we have, we soon want more? Going back to Exodus 33, after God has promised Moses that His presence will remain with him as Moses leads the people in the wilderness. In verse 18, Moses ups the ante. What follows is an intriguing exchange:
And he [Moses] said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he [the LORD] said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen. – Exodus 33:18-23
Wait a minute! Isn’t there a contradiction here? In Exodus 33:11, we are told that God spoke to Moses “face to face”. Nine verses later, we are told that no man can see God’s face and live. Does this mean the Bible is inaccurate and cannot be trusted? I will do my best to resolve this apparent contradiction in my next post.
Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. – Exodus 32:26