Argument for the Trinity #9: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 2: The Word of Yahweh

This entry is part 11 of 14 in the series The Trinity Series

As modern people, when we read the Scriptures, it is easy to miss things that were more obvious to the original readers, since the Scriptures were written to them within their culture and mindset. So, when we read a passage that says, “The word of Yahweh came to Abraham”, we think, “Ok, so God spoke to Abraham.” We automatically just translate it into a more modern way of saying it without considering the text as it stands.  Or we see “the Angel of Yahweh” and just insert whatever our concept of an angel is into that text without considering what the phrase meant to the original reader.

There are many phrases like this: the Glory of Yahweh, the Face/Presence of Yahweh, the Name of Yahweh, etc. These phrases in certain contexts, are not just attributes of Yahweh, but are ways of speaking of Yahweh Himself. Now, space does not permit an exhaustive treatment of all of these titles, so today I will look specifically at the three most prominent in the Jewish mind as titles of God: the Word of Yahweh, the Name of Yahweh, and the Angel of Yahweh.

The Word of Yahweh

Our first encounter with this title has already been cited. In Genesis 15, the Word of Yahweh comes to Abraham.

Genesis 15:1-9

1 After these things the word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision, saying: “Do not be afraid, Abram; I am your shield, and your reward shall be very great.” 2 Then Abram said, “O Yahweh, my Lord, what will you give me? I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus.” 3 And Abram said, “Look, you have not given me a descendant, and here, a member of my household is my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of Yahweh came to him saying, “This person will not be your heir, but your own son will be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them.” And he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed in Yahweh, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 And he said to him, “I am Yahweh, who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give this land to you, to possess it.” 8 And he said, “O Yahweh God, how shall I know that I will possess it?” 9 And he said to him, “Take for me a three-year-old heifer, and a three-year-old female goat, and a three-year-old ram, and a turtledove and a young pigeon.”

I want to point a few things out at this point. In the first 9 verses I’ve quoted here, when we look at the sentences and the grammar, there are two subjects in this passage: the Word of Yahweh, and Abraham. Later, Yahweh will be said to do and say things, but up until now, Abraham speaks and acts, and the Word of Yahweh speaks and acts. Now, within the quotations, we see that Abraham refers to the Word of Yahweh as Yahweh and also the Word of Yahweh says in verse 7, “I am Yahweh”. So there is no question that this is Yahweh that Abraham is speaking with, but notice that we don’t just have “the word of Yahweh came to Abraham” as equivalent to “God spoke to Abraham”. The Word of Yahweh came in a vision, so something was seen, most likely the same embodied human form we’ve seen in other passages. Also, the Word of Yahweh “brought him outside”, so is able to take nonverbal actions. And the Word of Yahweh claims simply to be Yahweh.

As you read further into the passage, it is Yahweh who speaks and acts, without any break in the scene. What we see from this is that, in this passage, “the Word of Yahweh” is a title that is interchangeable with Yahweh Himself. Some opponents of the Trinity would say that this is personification language about the Word of Yahweh, but for that to be the case, the words and actions ascribed to the Word would have to just be figurative. Abraham is not just figuratively talking to Yahweh in this passage. The Word did not figuratively bring him outside. He is talking to a Person, so rather than personification, we have a name for God. When the speech and actions are clearly real, then there is clearly a real person in the scene, and this passage clearly calls that Person, who is Yahweh, “the Word of Yahweh”.

Now, there aren’t any indications in this passage of any plurality like we’ve seen before, where the Word or Yahweh refer to the other as if that were a different Person. We just have an indication that, at times, the word of Yahweh is a Person and that Person is Yahweh. It is another name for Yahweh Himself. And this is not the only passage that speaks of the Word in this way.

1 Samuel 3:1

Now the boy Samuel was serving Yahweh in the presence of Eli. The word of Yahweh was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

To setup Samuel’s calling, we have the statement about the Word of Yahweh and it is again attached to vision, not just speech. Just like in the Abraham passage, the Word of Yahweh is referred to three times; beginning, middle, and end of the chapter, to remind us of who Samuel is talking to, even though the verses in between refer to Yahweh Himself. Consider these other statements that happen in 1 Samuel 3:

In verses 4, 6, and 8, the text says that “Yahweh called” Samuel, so we know that it is Yahweh doing the calling, and once again, this is not figurative calling, but real. Samuel is really hearing his name being called by a Person. In verse 7, we have a short interruption by the narrator to bring “Word of Yahweh” back into the text, saying that before all this, the Word of the Lord “had not been revealed” to Samuel. This is more vague, but could also refer to a visible revealing. It is not as though the Scriptures had not been revealed to Samuel, who was working in the Temple, or any other meaning of “Word of Yahweh” we might postulate. This visibility is then reinforced in verse 10, which states that Yahweh “came and stood there and called out as before”. So now, we have Yahweh being said to stand, a physical action, and a visible one. After Samuel tells Eli what Yahweh gave Him to say, the episode concludes as it began, saying in verse 21: “for Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh through the word of Yahweh.”

So, like in the case of Abraham, we have evidence of a visible, physical appearance. We have it clearly stated that it is Yahweh who is appearing, acting, and speaking in the passage, and we have the Word of Yahweh in the passage. However, here in 1 Samuel, there is a slight difference in that the Word of Yahweh is not anywhere specifically speaking and saying “I am Yahweh”. Rather, the Word is inserted, beginning, middle, and end, by the narrator, as an aside to describe the scene. At the end, it is said that Yahweh revealed Himself in this narrative “by the Word of Yahweh”. So, while in Genesis, the Word is just interchangeable with Yahweh and never distinguished from Yahweh, in Samuel, the last verse of this narrative does distinguish them.

Before putting it all together, I want to look at one more passage in the Hebrew Scriptures like these. The calling of Jeremiah, like the calling of Samuel, begins with an encounter with the Word of Yahweh.

Jeremiah 1:1-2a

1 The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, among the priests who were in Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin, 2 to whom the word of Yahweh came…

I won’t quote the whole passage, but once again, the Word of Yahweh comes to Jeremiah. The phrase actually happens 4 times in the first chapter, with the first above, but then the other three spoken by Jeremiah himself saying “The Word of Yahweh came to me…” Like before, the Word speaks and acts and when Jeremiah speaks, he says “Oh Yahweh” (v. 6), and speaks also of actions and words of “Yahweh”. This passage is more like Genesis in that it never refers to the Word in any distinction from Yahweh, but it switches back and forth even more than any other passage. The physicality is also present and intensified when Jeremiah says that Yahweh “stretched out His hand and touched my mouth” (v. 9).

If we put all of the data from these passages together, we find that the Word of Yahweh is interchangeable in the passages from Yahweh Himself, but at times (Samuel) is distinguished from Yahweh. The physicality it important because it takes away any chance that this word is merely a spoken word. In these passages, the Word and Yahweh are seen, heard, even felt.

As discussed before, the ancient Jews thought so much of the Word that, in the Targums, they would replace God Himself with “the word of Yahweh”. Is it any wonder when they see these passages?

A Trinitarian view of a single God who exists as a real plurality of Persons finds only confirmation, and no challenge, in the ambiguities of these passages. For many who deny the Trinity, ambiguities are simply not allowed. No meaningful, consistent exegesis of these texts is ever offered by those who deny the Trinity. Last spring I posted a video that alluded to these passages. If you read the comments, they are mostly antagonistic, but not one offers even the slightest response to my pointing out what is clearly in the text. There is plenty of dismissiveness and mocking, but the facts in these passages, that the Word is a Person, that the Word is Yahweh, and that the Word is also, in some sense, one through Whom Yahweh reveals Himself, are all on full display.

But we’re just getting started.

Series Navigation<< Argument for the Trinity #8: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 1: Plurality in One GodArgument for the Trinity #10: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 3: The Name of Yahweh >>