In the Hebrew Scriptures, we have many many examples of what has traditionally ( not necessarily wrongly ) been called a 'theophany', or an appearance, usually in human form, of the pre--incarnate Son of God. According to the Westminster Dictionary of the Bible ( Dr. John D. Davis, Princeton,1944 ), it was 'a manifestation of God to man, by actual appearance'. Although many ( theologians and otherwise ) have assigned the appearance of Melchizedek ( who appears only three times in the entire canon of Scripture-Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 110:4 ( quoted several times by the writer to the Hebrews, in 5:6, 10, 6:20, and 7:17 & 20 ) and in the book of Hebrews ( as mentioned ), as a 'theophany', some debate has been made over the identity ( whether real or imagined ) of this Melchizedek, king of Salem ( Jerusalem ), priest of the Most High God ( Hebrew 'el 'elyown ). Most scholars, the above mentioned included, view this Melchizedek as a real person, a Caananite king who ruled Jerusalem before the Israelite invasion and occupation of the Promised Land. I see this as highly reasonable and probable, but I see too, as the writer to the Hebrews did, that he was a type of Christ, a picture that we can look at and study, in the Old Covenant Scriptures, foreshadowing the revelation of Jesus Christ in the ( made ) New Covenant!
The Angel/angel of the Lord makes many appearances throughout the books of Genesis, Exodus ( once? ), several times in the book of Numbers, and in the book of the Judges. ( He also appears, as we'll see, in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, but I'll leave that for later! )
In Genesis 16:7; after the episode where Abram and Sarai, in their impatience and rebellion ( disbelief ) resorted to 'natural' means in order to bring forth an heir from Abram's own loins, decided to have Abram take Hagar ( as wife? ) and produce an heir with her help, and after Sarai, 'repenting' of her decision, drove Hagar into the wilderness; the Angel of the Lord ( ostensibly the pre-incarnate Christ ) revealed Himself to her and promised that her offspring, though not as acceptable as others, would become a great nation as well. Later, in Genesis 21:17, the angel of the Lord once again finds Hagar in the wilderness, she having been sent from the presence of both Abraham and Sarah. As they were about to perish for lack of water, the angel of the Lord reminded her of His previous promise and opened her eyes ( II Kings 6:17 ) and revealed to her the saving presence of water. This messenger, theophany or not, and the evidence could really point either way ( although it is fairly evident that, at the very least, as Dr. Davis points out above, that God manifested Himself to man, 'in actual appearance' ), indicated in a foreshadow, the mystery of the Gospel, which brought the 'Good News' of salvation to Gentile as well as Jew!
I'm sure that all of us are more or less familiar with 'The Burning Bush' incident, recorded in Exodus 3. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, this time, not in human form ( that we can tell ) but as a fire that burned, but did not consume the bush ( see Daniel 3 and Hebrews 12:29 ). From the words of Scripture; I believe that we can be certain that this was a theophany, if for no other reason than that Moses was commanded to remove his sandals, 'for the place where you stand ( is ) holy ground'. As we continue reading, we are assured even further that this was indeed a theophany, and that Moses stood in the presence of the most holy God! ( Much later, in Numbers 20:16; Moses recounted to the king of Edom, through who's land they were trying to pass, that when they had cried out to the Lord ( because of their tribulation in the land of Egypt ), 'He heard our voice, and sent the Angel, and brought us up out of Egypt'. ) We know that, physically speaking, Moses had the great task of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt; his was the hand of God that loosed the terrible ten plagues on Egypt, his was the hand of God that parted the waters of the Red Sea, and brought the tribes out of bondage.
Numbers 22 recounts for us the story of Balaam and his overly wise...........donkey. In verses 22-35, we read how that the Angel of the Lord stood as an adversary ( Hebrew 'satan' ) to Balaam's wicked choice. As the story unfolds, we perceive that the donkey could see this Angel standing in his way, but that Balaam was not able to. The reason for this is revealed in verse 31; 'the Lord opened Balaam's eyes': the donkey was wiser than his master, seemingly, not because of any inherent ability ( note what God did inn verse 28 ), but because Balaam's eyes had not been opened! This is traditionally viewed as a theophany, as well ( and doubtless is ) but this could as easily been a human messenger being used, as Moses was, the mouth and hand of God.
When Joshua was ready to ( about to ) lead the 'children' of Israel into the Promised Land, that he was met with a Man with a drawn sword ( think of Numbers 22:23 and Genesis 3:24 ). This man comfortingly assured Joshua that He was the commander of the Lord's army, not that He was on one side or the other, but Joshua had his eyes opened as to whom this Person was, and gave obeisance, as was proper, and fell to the ground ( bowed ) before Him. This was without doubt a theophany, although it is interesting that the Author here would use the term 'man' to describe Almighty God!
The book of Judges has recorded for us the many failings ( sins ) of the 'children' of Israel, and the numerous times that God raised up a certain person from among them to be His messenger, and to deliver them out of their tribulation. In a little-known ( or repeated ) example of a theophany; the Angel appeared ( chapter 2 ) to remind His 'charges' how He had led them out of Egypt, and 'brought them to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, 'I will never break My covenant with you'. Verse one brings up an interesting question; it reads, 'then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim': why, except that Gilgal was pretty much the base of operations for the Israelite conquest of the land, up till the time of king David even, and assumably the Ark ( of the Covenant ) rested there, would the Author have recorded that the Angel came up from Gilgal to Bochim,? If this Angel was simply the messenger of the Lord, even a mere man, this statement would seem to make more sense, but even so, it may be said with much certainty, that this was a theophany.
After the children of Israel had repeated their pattern of rebelling against God, then being sold into captivity or being oppressed by foreign nations, upon which they would cry unto the God they had rebelled against, and God raised up a deliverer, several times; we read, in chapter 6, of the Angel that came to visit a lowly ( think Luke 1:26, 27 ) farmer. In verse 11; we read that 'the Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah'. Unless this was purely metaphorical; why would the translators record that the Angel 'sat' ( Hebrew yashab - to dwell, remain, sit, abide ) under this terebinth? This is without doubt, one of the clearest examples of a theophany, which we will see as we continue. Gideon does not immediately recognize Him as The Angel, however, for though he calls Him 'lord'; he uses the Hebrew 'adoni', which is used of men who have authority, or command, over other men, as in the case of Adoni-zedek ( king of Jerusalem at the time of the conquest of Canaan ), which meant 'the Lord is righteousness' ( Joshua 10:1-3 ), and Adoni-Bezek ( lord of Bezek ), who was one of the first kings that the Israelites conquered in the land ( Judges 1:5-7 ).
( An interesting note to be made here; verse ll of chapter 16 of the Book of Jasher ( righteousness ) reads 'And Adonizedek king of Jerusalem, the same was Shem, went out with his men to meet Abram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of Melech. ' If indeed it was Adoni-Zedek, and not Melchi-Zedek ( king of righteousness ) that met Abram returning from the rescue of the captives ( Genesis 14:18 ); it would make perfect sense that the writer to the Hebrews ( 7:1-3 ) would write that he was 'without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life'. )
Back now, to the story of Gideon; God begins to reveal Himself to the eyes of Gideon's understanding, I believe, when, rather than answering Gideon's question ( verse 13 ) directly; he simply states ( or answers a question with another question, as Jesus once did did- Mark 11:29, 30 ), in the form of a question, 'have I not sent you?' This should have given Gideon a very good clue as to Whom he spoke, but as the Jews in Jesus' day ( Matthew 16:1, I Corinthians 1:22 ), he wasn't satisfied with this, and asked for a further sign ( verse 17 ). Gideon hurriedly gathered together a small repast ( as a sacrifice, or communion offering? ) and presented it to the Angel, whereupon He 'put out the end of the staff that was in His hand ( Exodus 14:16 ), and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed............ ( them )'. Gideon now understood that he had seen God's face, and that he should die ( Exodus 33:20 ) , but God spoke ( from 'Heaven' ) and comforted him saying 'Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die', whereupon Gideon built an altar to the Lord, naming it 'The-Lord-is-peace ( 'Adoni-shalom'? )
We now come to probably one of the most popular stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and also one of the strongest examples that we have of a theophany. After Israel rebelled a few more times, was delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, and cried unto the Lord, who kept raising up deliverers for them; God delivered them into the hand of the Philistines, whom they served for forty years. Judges 13:3 reads, 'the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman ( Manoah's wife ) and said to her, 'Indeed now, you are barren, and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son'. I believe that this may have 'rung a bell' with her, for if she knew her history, she would have remembered that the Angel had spoken to her forbear ( Genesis 18:10-14 ) much the same words. Instead, though, she went to her husband and told him of the revelation, and reported that 'A Man of God came to me, and His countenance was like the countenance of the Angel of God' ( verse 6 ). After she had reported this event; Manoah prayed to God that He would again send His Angel ( Messenger ) that he too might see Him, and hear His words. God answered his prayer, and again sent His Messenger, who reaffirmed His words to the woman. When Manoah offered to commune ( verse 15 ) with Him, not yet knowing with Whom he spoke; the Angel of the Lord told him that 'Though you detain Me, I will not eat your food. But if you offer a burnt offering, you must offer it to the Lord.' Before Manoah ( 'rest' quiet' ) offered this sacrifice, he asked the Name of this Angel, whereupon the Angel again answers a question with a question, saying 'why do you ask My Name, see it is wonderful ( pil'iy -wonderful, incomprehensible, extraordinary )? Upon this, Manoah offered the prepared burnt offering, and when the Angel ascended in the fire ( and smoke? ), he realized, at last, that something extraordinary had happened, and cried ( verse 22 ), 'We shall surely die, for we have seen God'! After his wife assured her husband that 'if the Lord desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands'; Manoah realized then, more fully, that God had heard their prayer and accepted their sacrifice when He returned to His glory , using as a 'vehicle' their willing praise. Several months later, according to the time of life, the wife of Manaoh bore a son and named him Samson ( little sun, solar ) which is typical of Christ 'the Sun of Righteousness' ( Malachi 4:2 ), and of Christians, or 'little Christs'.
In the love of Christ,
and in His Kingdom,