Plural terms for God in the Old Testament

The plural form of the term God is used on many occasions in the OT, most notably in the very first sentence. The term Elohim is used for God 2600+ times in the OT, and this word is plural. The word Adonai is also plural. Adonai is used over 300 times, and unlike Elohim (which can mean rulers or judges), this term is only used to refer to God. In each case when the plural is used, it is followed by a singular verb, implying that if there is more than one being discussed, they are acting in unison. The plural form does not necessarily mean that there is more than one, any more than when a ruler refers to himself in the plural. It does seem to lend some weight to the idea of God being multiple in some way however if other evidence points in the same direction. Let’s see how the Bible discusses this being before deciding on this.

Seeing the face of God

Exodus 33:20 is very clear; “But,” he said, “you (Moses) cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”… But just 9 verses earlier we are told, “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Deuteronomy 34:10 confirms this. It seems unlikely that the author did not notice that in such a small span we were told that no one could see God’s face and live, and that Moses spoke to the LORD face-to-face. Other people who saw God face-to-face are Jacob (Gen 32:30), Abraham (Genesis 18), Gideon (Judges 6:22-23), Samson’s parents (Judges 13:3-22) How can this be explained? One way is to say that there are different aspects to God, one which cannot be seen by humans while they live, and another that can.


Who is the Angel of the Lord?

Another indicator is the being called “The Angel of the Lord.” In Genesis 16, Hagar gets sent away. In verse 7 the Angel of the Lord appears to her. She speaks to this being, and in verse 13 Hagar states, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Hagar named the Angel of the Lord “the God who sees me.” Where else do we see this angel? In Exodus 3:2-6, this angel appears in the burning bush. Take a look at how this reads…

Who spoke from the Burning Bush?

“There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”

In this case it looks like the Angel of the Lord is called God. In Numbers 22:35, this angel tells Balaam “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.” In verse 38 Balaam says, ““Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt?

In Judges 2 this angel says, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’” When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.” The angel is claiming that he brought the people out of Egypt, and that he has a covenant with the Israelites.

In Judges 6:11 this angel speaks to Gideon. As the chapter continues the wording changes, and this being speaks as the LORD. In Judges 6:22, Gideon says “Alas, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!” after seeing the Angel of the LORD. In Judges 13:3 we are told that this angel appeared to Samson’s mother. After realizing who the angel was, Manoah said ““We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (verse 22). Who gives the prophecy to Elijah in 2 Kings 1:3? How about in verse 16?

In 1 Chronicles 21:16-19, “David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown. David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? LORD my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.” Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the LORD.”

Notice that the words LORD and angel of the LORD are used interchangeably?

Who is the judge in Zechariah 3? In verse 1 it is the angel, in verse 2 it is the LORD. In verse 4 the angel removes Joshua’s sin.

What is the Glory of the Lord?

Another word often used is Glory. In Deut 5:24-26 the Israelites see God’s glory and majesty. In 2 Chron 5:14 we are told, “And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” This seems to say that the Glory of God is a physical presence. In Ezekiel 10, the Glory of God physically leaves the Temple of the Israelites, and in Ezekiel 43 this Glory returns. In other verses we are told of a non-human but physical prescence that leads the Israelites (The Pillar of fire and cloud in Exodus 13, 14 & Numbers 14). Many Christians think this Glory is another term for the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament says that God will rescue his people

There are also a number of verses where God says he will rescue his people. In Isaiah 59:16-20 we are told that “He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.” (16) And “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD. (20) Psalm 130:8 states, “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”

In Zechariah 2:10-14 we are told, “Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.” In Ezekiel 34, God says that he will be Israel’s shepherd, and will seek out the lost sheep.

Isaiah 53 talks about a great servant of God who makes intersession for the sinners, bears the sins of the people, and who “poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (53:12).

In Isaiah 50 we have two Lords.

At the beginning of verse 1 we are told that the Lord is talking, and we are told some of the powers this Lord possesses. In verse 4 however he refers to “The Sovereign LORD”. Isaiah 50 also tells us that the Lord who is speaking has not been rebellious or drawn back. Verse 6 states that this Lord “offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” Again, this Lord who began this verse describing his powers of God (This is what the LORD says: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away. When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? Verse 1-2) refers to himself as the servant in verse 10. He seems to reinforce the fact that he is Lord again in verse 11 however, when he states “This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.” From this Lord/Servant the people will receive torment.

In Isaiah 9:6-7 we are told “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” The Child is born, but the Son is given. My first question is, by whom is this son given? Secondly, note the names given to this child, and that he will rule on David’s throne forever.

We have a number of verses that talk about God coming to live among his people, taking the sins of his people, and dying for their iniquities. We are told of a being who speaks as the Lord, but bows to a Sovereign Lord. It sounds an awful lot like this being is very much like Christians see Jesus.