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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Did God Ever Take a Physical Form before the Coming of Christ?

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Don Stewart

The Bible says that God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

This is the only time God became flesh and lived with man. Previously God had assumed a temporary physical form. There are eight recorded appearances in the Old Testament where God took upon Himself a physical form for a short duration. Three times He appeared as a man, once in a burning bush that was not consumed, and four times as the Angel of the Lord. Each time that this occurred it was in an extraordinary situation.

He Appeared To Hagar (Genesis 16:9-13)

Hagar was Abraham's mistress, the mother of his son Ishmael. Hagar and Ishmael were banished from Abraham into the desert. As they were dying of thirst the Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar to provide water for the survival of her and her young child. The Angel of the Lord that appeared to Hagar was God Himself:

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees; for she said, 'Have I also here seen him who sees me?' (Genesis 16:13).

God had a plan for Ishmael and his descendants. Therefore, He personally appeared to spare Ishmael.

God Appeared To Abraham And Sarah At Mamre (Genesis 18:1-33)

Three men appeared to Abraham and his wife Sarah at the plains of Mamre. They had come to inform Abraham and Sarah concerning two matters. The son that God had promised them would be born to Abraham and Sarah the next year, and the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. One of the three visitors who gave them this information is designated as the Lord:

Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1).

In this same passage this person is called the "Judge of all the earth" (Genesis 18:25). This is a title that belongs to God alone.

God Again Appeared To Abraham On Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:11-14)

God told Abraham to bring his son Isaac to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed. Abraham obeyed and was about to take Isaac's life when God intervened. The Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham saying:

Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me (Genesis 22:12).

He called a second time to Abraham:

By Myself I have sworn says the Lord (Genesis 22:15).

In this instance the Angel of the Lord, who called out to Abraham, was God.

The Lord Appeared To Jacob At Peniel (Genesis 32:24-32)

This account has the patriarch Jacob wrestling all night with a man who finally disabled him. The next morning Jacob realized that it was God Himself whom he had wrestled:

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved (Genesis 32:30).

He Appeared To Moses In The Burning Bush (Exodus 3:2-4:17)

When Moses received his call from the Lord to lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage he saw a bush that was burning but not being consumed. A voice came from the bush identifying God's presence:

God called to him from the midst of the bush and said . . . I am the God of your father-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Exodus 3:4,6).

Because of the magnitude of the task Moses was about to undertake, God personally appeared to him by means of the burning bush. There is, however, no indication, one way or the other, whether the Lord assumed some type of physical form in the burn.

God Appeared To Gideon (Judges 6:11-24)

Gideon was a man who was called by God to raise an army to defeat the innumerable Midianites. Because Gideon was a timid person God paid him a visit to assure him that all would go well. After the encounter Gideon realized who had visited him:

Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the Lord. So Gideon said, 'Alas, O Lord God! For I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face' (Judges 6:22).

He Appeared To Samson's Parents (Judges 13:2-23)

The angel of the Lord appeared to a Jewish woman to announce the birth of a son who would deliver the people of Israel. Because of the importance of the mission God personally appeared to her.

When the Angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that he was the Angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, we shall surely die, because we have seen God (Judges 13:21,22).

The Lord Was In The Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3:23-29)

The last recorded Old Testament appearance of God in a physical form was to the three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar threw the three young men into the furnace because they refused to worship his golden image. God miraculously spared their lives. Nebuchadnezzar was astonished.

Look! he answered, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25).


Scripture records that on eight different occasions during the Old Testament period God took on a human-like form. Some of these appearances were as the Angel of the Lord. They include an appearance to Hagar - the mistress of Abraham. The Lord also appeared to Abraham and Sarah at Mamre. There was also an appearance to Abraham at Mount Moriah. Scripture also records an appearance to Jacob at Peniel. The Lord made a special appearance to Moses in a burning bush. On this particular occasion Scripture does not speak of any physical form - merely that the Lord appeared. The Lord did appear in a human-like form to Gideon. We also find him appearing to the parents of Samson. Finally, the Lord appeared with the three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace.

These eight brief appearances of God in a physical form teach us several things: When an extraordinary situation occurs God is willing to personally appear. These occurrences set a precedent. Since God appeared on these occasions for a short duration during the Old Testament period it set the stage for Him coming in the person of Jesus Christ to live upon the earth.

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