How did God appear to man in the Old Testament?
In Genesis 32:22, we encounter Jacob on his way to meet his brother Esau. Jacob had not seen his brother since deceiving his father and stealing Esau’s blessing. Out of fear of his brother’s anger, Jacob sent his servants and family ahead with gifts for Esau. He spent the night alone.
At night Jacob wrestled with a “man.” But this was not an ordinary man, as Jacob originally thought. It was God. Jacob later testified to seeing God face to face in this encounter.
So how could this be? After all, when Moses asked to see God’s glory, God told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex. 33:20).
What we are seeing in Jacob’s wrestling match is an appearance of God in a form that can be seen by man. These appearances of God are commonly called theophanies. Many people believe that before God took on human flesh, God the Son revealed himself to man in this way.
God revealed himself in this way several times in the Old Testament. He walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). He appeared to Hagar when she fled from Sarai. Hagar referred to him as “the One who sees me” (Gen. 16:13 NIV). He appeared to Abraham to explain his plans for Sodom (Gen. 18). He appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2-4).
From the beginning of the Bible through the end, we see God as very active in our lives. He revealed himself occasionally in the Old Testament through theophanies. He revealed himself in the New Testament as Jesus Christ, and being both God and man he was able to atone for our sins.