WOULD GOD BECOME A MAN?
To most moderns it seems extremely unlikely that an infinite, eternal God would suddenly become a
particular human being in a specific time and place. Not only that -- it seems unbelievable that He would come to
“an obscure, primitive nation, on a planet now known to be a relatively insignificant piece of matter revolving about
one star among billions in an inconceivably vast and impersonal universe.”
But Scripture describes anything but an impersonal universe. It pictures a Creator who custom-made this
planet for human habitation (Genesis, chapter 1) for His own children who were made in His own image so they could relate
to Him (verse 26). He formed the first man with His own hands and got close enough to kiss him as He breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7).
But would God lower Himself to become a man, a creature made from dust? Most Jews say no. They
expect Messiah to be a human king of the line of David, not God in human flesh.
Are there any intimations that the Creator of a vast universe would become a particular human being at a
particular point in time in an obscure nation on an obscure planet in an obscure solar system? He managed to come to this
world as a human being many times in the prescientific age before we humans knew how vast the universe was and how
infinitely great God is! He took on human flesh and appeared as a man to His friend Abraham. On one occasion Abraham
looked up and saw three men standing by (see Gen. 18). The text indicates that one was the LORD and the other two were angels. They took on physical bodies,
sweating in the heat, getting their feet dusty, and working up a thirst. Abraham refreshed them and set before them an
unkosher dinner of veal, bread, curds, and milk, which they ate. Afterward the LORD walked with Abraham down the
dusty road toward Sodom, professing to be on a mission to investigate for Himself whether conditions there were as bad as
He had heard. He let Abraham bargain with Him about the fate of the city. Almighty God condescended to come down to
earth as a man and dialog with his friend Abraham!
On another occasion God became a man and wrestled with Jacob in hand-to-hand, muscle to muscle,
contact (Gen. 32:22-32). His humanity was so weak (or He pulled His punches) that He was unable to overpower Jacob
through hours of wrestling, but had to call on His miraculous powers to cripple him (v. 25). God limited Himself to be a loser!
When Jacob realized from the crippling touch that he was wrestling with a divine Person, he pleaded for
a blessing (v. 26). In the conversation that followed, the Stranger asked, “What is your name?” Jacob
admitted to his name, which meant deceiver. Then the Stranger gave him a new name, Israel, because “you have
struggled with God and with men and have overcome” (v. 28). Jacob’s assailant was God! Jacob,
in turn, asked the Stranger, “What is your name?” The response, “Why do you ask my
name?” sounds like the answer of a divine being (compare Judges 13:18). But in this case it may mean, “I
just told you you were wrestling with God! And I have met you and talked with you many times before (Gen. 28:13-15;
31:3; 32:1). Why don’t you recognize me?” Jacob knew for sure who the Stranger was when He blessed
him (28:29) probably as He had blessed him before (28:13-15). “I saw God face to face,” was his
conclusion (32:30). The prophet Hosea gives a similar description:
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed,
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with him --
the LORD of hosts,
the LORD is his name (Hos. 12:4-5).
Jacob had wrestled with God Himself. For some mysterious reason God humbled Himself to engage in a
wrestling match with Jacob.
God humbled Himself not only by becoming a human being. He lowered Himself even further to
communicate with Moses by hiding in a thorn bush. A desert thorn bush hosted the presence of Almighty God (Exodus
3:1-3)! He made Himself lower than Moses in order to speak to him. At the same time He insisted upon His divinity:
“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (v. 5). Was this descent into
a lowly plant a foretaste of a future descent into the womb of a virgin?
God often spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11).
He normally communicated with prophets in visions, but Moses “sees the form of the LORD” (Numbers
12:6-8; Deuteronomy 34:10). He must have appeared in human form on these occasions, because when Moses wanted to
see His glory the LORD said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” So God put him
in a cleft of the rock and covered him with His hand until He had passed by. “Then I will remove my hand and you
will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (Ex. 33:22-23). Moses saw God face to face in human form, just
as Abraham and Jacob had done, but was allowed to see only His back in His glorified form.
Outside the city of Jericho Joshua saw a Man who identified himself as “the Commander-in-Chief
of the army of the LORD” (Joshua 5:13-15). He commanded Joshua, as He had Moses, to take his sandals off his
feet for he was standing on holy ground. He then gave Joshua detailed instructions on how to attack the city of Jericho. God
appeared to Joshua as a soldier!
God took another amazing step to get close to His people. He commanded, “Let them make me a
sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). He went camping with Israel in a tent of animal skins like theirs.
He wanted to be their next-door neighbor in the midst of their encampment. He got as close as His holiness could approach
their sinfulness. He was willing to live inside the skins of goats and badgers, skins that covered up the glory of the divine
presence within. Was the sanctuary a symbol of God entering human skin -- very common on the outside, but glorious with
the beauty of His character within? The Apostle John thought so, for he said, “And the Word [God] became flesh
and tented among us, full of grace and truth, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:13).
God’s glory is His character, one aspect of which is revealed in His astounding condescension
to His creatures, even those in rebellion against Him. He lowered Himself to camp (Hebrew, shakan; Greek,
skenoo) with them.
God permitted another humiliation -- He who formed a billion galaxies lowered Himself to the level of
a tribal god. As the God of Israel, He was considered one among the gods of the surrounding tribes -- of the Philistines,
Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and the others (though He repeatedly demonstrated His superiority). Even more than
becoming the God of a single nation, He identified Himself as the God of individuals -- the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
The God of Scripture let His creatures entertain Him, bargain with Him, wrestle with Him, camp with Him,
and glimpse His form. That is because our God is not only transcendent, but immanent. He is not only far off, but near at hand.
“I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15).
But would Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, humble himself to be born of
The prophet Isaiah predicted in so many words that God would be born in human flesh.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
And his name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
According to this prophecy, Mighty God would be born as a child!
Rabbi Singer suggests that the idea of God being born as a man was introduced into Christianity to
appeal to pagans whose gods were said to be born of virgins. But none of the Greek or Roman gods were motivated by
self-sacrificing love such as impelled Jesus to become a man. It was, after all, a long way from the throne of heaven to the
manger of Bethlehem. It was a bold plan for God to invade a hostile world as a helpless baby, to empty Himself of His glory
and power and come disguised as a peasant so that nothing but the beauty of His character would draw us to Him.
There was a reason God became a man. This world is filled with unimaginable suffering. What better way
could God deal with the injustice and suffering of humanity than to come down Himself and suffer with us? Our God was not
content to sit on His throne while His creatures suffered. The ultimate answer to Auschwitz and the gulag and the killing fields
is that God came down and suffered with us. “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9). It was this
thought that sustained Betsy Ten Boom as she lay dying in the Ravensbruck death camp for her work of saving Jews. There
she coined the immortal words, “There is no hell so deep but God is deeper still.” God invaded hell to hold the hand of the lowliest sufferer.
No doubt about it -- the concept of God becoming a man is so unlikely that no one but God could have
thought of it!
1 Richard Tarnash, The Passion of the Western Mind, (New York:
Ballantine Books, 1991) p. 305.
2 When written all in capitals, this word indicates YHWH, the divine Name.
3 This passage is examined more closely in the article, “Is God One, or Three-in-One?”
4 Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place (Old Tappan: Revell, 1971), p.