A popular Bible passage that is used by our rabbis to counter the idea of God becoming a man is Numbers 23:19. It says: “God is not a man, that he should lie; nor a son of man, that he should repent….” However, this verse has not always prevented Jewish people from believing in the possibility that God can become a man. For example, the first-century Jewish philosopher, Philo, speaks freely about God taking the form of a man: “Why then do we any longer wonder, if God at times assumes the likeness of the angels, as he sometimes assumes even that of men, for the sake of assisting those who address their entreaties to him?” (On Dreams, 1.238). At other times, classical Jewish sources taught about God taking the form of the Memra (Aramaic for the Word) or the Shekhinah (the Glory of God), that is, divine intermediaries that were somehow physical and divine at the same time. Consequently, it is a relatively recent innovation that Jews cannot believe in the possibility of God entering His creation in physical form.
A more reasonable interpretation of Numbers 23:19 is that God does not have the same capability as man to lie or have the need to repent like a man because He is sinless. This interpretation takes the whole verse into account and is in harmony with historical Jewish thought. Furthermore, it does not deny the possibility that God could become a man, which we believe is what happened when Yeshua prophesied, forgave sins, and rose from the dead!
On the positive side, there are actually quite a few Bible verses in the Hebrew Scriptures indicating that God could in fact become a man. For example, in Genesis 18, there is the case of three “men” visiting Abraham, immediately preceding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is described as speaking to the three men and then to one of the men whom he addresses as Lord (Adonai). A careful reading of the text shows that one of the men must have been God Himself taking the form of a man—at least temporarily.
There are many other passages indicating that God would become a man to complete His work of redemption, including some popular passages in the book of Isaiah. The prophet speaks of a future redeemer who will reign forever on the throne of His father David, and this “son” has titles that could easily be understood to mean that this person would be God in the flesh:
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
We believe that Yeshua the Messiah is God “in the flesh” as described by the writer of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament,
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power….” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
By Eric Mattson