William J. Stewart | Christ In The Old Testament
The LORD Appears to Isaac
The Hebrew word ra’ah, rendered “appeared,” means to gaze upon, show or behold. As we noted in our previous article, the LORD had appeared to Abraham—that is, Abraham had seen the LORD. And yet, since “…no one has seen God [the Father] at any time…” (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12; cf. John 6:46), we must conclude that it was not the Father, but the Son who spoke to and appeared to him. So it was with Isaac.
The first appearance to Isaac is recorded in Genesis 26:2. It simply says that God appears to him, telling him to dwell in the land which was promised to his father, and would belong to his descendants. After much difficulty with Abimelech and the Philistines, Isaac acknowledged that the LORD had provided room for them in the land. That night, we’re told, “…the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.’ So he built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.” (Genesis 26:24-25)
Neither text gives much detail, except to say that the LORD appeared to Isaac. Nonetheless, we are here seeing appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ.
As Jacob travelled toward Haran, he stopped at Luz along the way. There, he had a dream. In his dream, he saw a ladder between the earth and heaven, and the angels of God ascending and
descending upon it. The LORD stood above the ladder, introduced Himself to Jacob, and shared the same promise with him that had been given to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob called the place Bethel, literally “house of God.”
Was this the pre-incarnate Christ who was at the top of the ladder? The text is not clear, but in John 1, Jesus indicated to Nathanael that while He was upon the earth, He was the ladder which Jacob saw.
After spending 20 years in Haran, the LORD came to Jacob in a dream. Jacob refers to the One who appeared to him as the Angel of God (Gen 31:11), a.k.a. the Angel of the LORD. We’ve noted previously that the Angel of the LORD is the Messiah, the pre-incarnate Christ.
He identified Himself to Jacob as the One who had appeared to him at Luz (Bethel), “I am the God of Bethel…”
Wrestling with God
As Jacob returned to his own land with his family, having sent them all ahead, he was left alone. Initially we are told that he wrestled with a Man until daybreak. Jacob knew Who it was that he was wrestling with, for he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:26) and so the response came, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (28)
Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, stating, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30). He was not mistaken, he had seen God—it was the pre-incarnate Christ.
A Final Appearance
After Simeon and Levi killed all the males in Shechem and plundered their goods, Jacob feared for his household. At this point, God spoke to Jacob, telling him to go to Bethel, where he was to “make an altar there to God, who appeared to you” (Genesis 35:1).
When he arrived at Bethel, he built the altar, “…because there God appeared to him…” (35:7)
Once more, God appeared to Jacob and blessed him (35:9). He reaffirmed the name change, no longer was he Jacob, but now would be called Israel. The promises were stated to Jacob: “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land.” (35:11-12)
Since we’re told that “God went up from him in the place where He talked with him” (35:13), it should be understood that God had come down (ie. appeared) to him.