Sermon on various OT passages for Trinity Sunday, "Tracing the Trinity in the Old Testament"

            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today is Trinity Sunday. This Sunday is unique on the Christian calendar, because it doesn’t commemorate an event, miracle, or a person, but rather a doctrine. The teaching of the Trinity is central to the Christian faith. Attacked for centuries, but always defended as the orthodox or correct teaching of the Bible. From the earliest centuries the Creeds were confessed to defend against distortions of the Bible, especially about the Trinity. We could get stuck on the semantics of the word “Trinity”. The word itself is not found in the Bible, but that’s not the important question. The important question is whether the teaching is found in the Bible. We simply use “Trinity” to describe how God shows Himself in Scripture; as Three Persons, One God.
            I assume most or all of you already believe the teaching of the Trinity. You believe and confess that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons, but one being or essence, as revealed in the New Testament. But today we’ll examine how it’s consistent with and traces back through the Old Testament. This is important, because the OT is the first 80% or so of the Bible, and Jesus said these same OT Scriptures “testify of me” (John 5:39). He also taught His disciples all the OT said about Himself (Luke 24:27, 44).
            If we go searching for traces of the Trinity in the OT, we’re not expecting to find it laid out in full—that was only done by Jesus and the apostles in the NT. But we’ll find that God is regularly described in plural terms, or named multiple times in a single sentence. We’ll find God conversing “within Himself”. And we’ll find that OT or NT, the Bible everywhere confirms that there is only One True God—not two, three, or more gods.
            Believe it or not, there are so many verses to explore for hints of the Trinity in the OT, that we can’t cover them all here, but I want to jump directly into some examples. Let’s go to the first verses of the Bible: Genesis 1:1–3
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God and the Spirit of God are both named at the creation. Where is the Son of God, Jesus? The Gospel of John echoes these words in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” As God is speaking the world into existence, the Son is the spoken Word of God. As the creation story unfolds in Genesis, God says “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness” (Genesis 1:26). At the Flood and at the Tower of Babel, God also speaks in this way: “Let US…” in the plural. It shows that while God is One, He is a unity.
            The next example is when God speaks about Himself as one person to another person—another hint of the Trinity. For example, in Hosea 1:7, the LORD says, “I will save them by the LORD their God.” The Father will save them by the Son. Or Isaiah 42:1, God speaks of His Son the Messiah, and His Spirit is on Him(!): “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon Him”. Or in Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand…”. There is a conversation internal to the Trinity, Father speaking to Son. This shows that God is not a singular person.
            Sometimes we find God’s name repeated two or three times in the same sentence. Admittedly, this is harder to recognize, but it also hints at a distinction of persons. For example in Isaiah 33:22, “For the Lord (1) is our judge; the Lord (2) is our lawgiver; the Lord (3) is our king; he will save us.” Then, one of the most important verses in the Bible for affirming the oneness or unity of God, the Shema or the first Hebrew Creed, Deuteronomy 6:4,  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord (1) our God (2), the Lord(3) is one.  Or in Isaiah 6:3, the three-fold repetition of “Holy, Holy, Holy” to describe the Lord of hosts. Then in the familiar benediction at the end of worship, from Numbers 6:24–26, is also a threefold blessing:  “The Lord (1) bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord (2) make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord (3) lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” While no one expects you to see this pattern beforehand, after the revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament, it’s a familiar pattern hidden in plain sight.
            Then there are the passages that talk about the Name of LORD. The proper name of the Lord, by which He calls Himself in the OT, is “YHWH” (shown as LORD in English). YHWH is related to the word “I AM”, as God tells Moses: “I AM who I AM” when He reveals this name. What’s interesting is that in a limited number of situations, God gives His name YHWH to another person—such as the angel of YHWH (no ordinary angel!!) or to the Messiah. For example, Jeremiah 23:5–6 speaks of the Messiah as the coming King:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

The promised Messiah and King is called The LORD (YHWH) is our righteousness. This is significant because God is sharing His Name and Title with the Messiah. This looks ahead to Jesus, God’s Son, our LORD and King. When Jesus would call Himself “I AM” in the NT, He was identifying Himself as YHWH.
            There are many other verses that I could go into. It would take more detail and explanation; but let’s examine one last verse that connects the Messiah to God, and also to the Jesus’ suffering on the cross. In Zechariah 12:10 God says:
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

Did you catch that? It’s easy to miss. God says His people Israel “will look on me” that’s first person language (I, me), and then it switches to third person (he, him), “on him whom they have pierced.” It changes from “on me” referring to God, to “on him”–the one who is pierced. This is a prophecy of Jesus’ death on the cross, but it also shows that He is divine—true God.
            So we have seen how God sometimes speaks of Himself in the plural, “us”…we have seen how sometimes God speaks person to person within Himself, as God to God…we have seen God’s name repeated in twos or threes in the same sentence, and the pattern three being connected to God…and we’ve seen God switch from first to third person in the same sentence when speaking about Himself. All of this is balanced by the equally necessary truth that God is One, a Unity—there are not multiple gods. There are no other gods, only worthless idols (Ps. 96:5). We’re warned hundreds of times against worshipping any other God, and that all others gods are false and worthless. So the Bible consistently balances between describing God in His “persons” as plural, but as the One and only true God, singular. Neither math nor human reason can solve it—it’s simply to be received and confessed by faith. God’s mystery is beyond comprehending, yet He has purposefully chosen to reveal Himself to us in this way.
            And that leads to the “so what?” of all this. Why is it so important to believe this way about God, that “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance”? Is it just an academic debate to amuse philosophers and theologians? The answer is no. It takes no special degrees to be able to state the plain truth from Scripture that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Persons, but only one God. Preschoolers and kindergarteners can explain that to you. But neither a preschooler nor a doctoral student can unravel the mystery of the Godhead and explain what is unexplainable. The Trinity is a mystery, a marvel we wonder and worship. And God did not reveal Himself to us in a meaningless way, but as with the rest of Scripture, He reveals what is necessary for our faith, salvation, and encouragement. And it is a great and necessary thing to have true knowledge about God, not to believe falsely about Him.
            In the Creeds and Bible, God the Father is primarily known as the Creator, who made all things, including making humans in God’s image. Jesus the Son of God, is primarily known as the Redeemer, who saved us from our sins by dying on the cross and rising from the grave. He also is the Revealer of the Father—we know what the Father is like through Him. And the Holy Spirit is primarily known as the Sanctifier, or the One who makes us holy or set apart. We think of the Father in His providence and care; we think of the Son as God took on human form to teach, live, die, and rise for us; and we think of the Holy Spirit in the fruits of faith and spiritual gifts. And yet each person works in unison and support of the others in the Trinity. Only Jesus dies on the cross for our sins, but the Father sent Him and Jesus prayed to the Father in death and yielded up His Spirit. We can’t “divide the substance” of God—splitting Him apart, nor can we mix up Father, Son, and Holy Spirit either. True knowledge of God reinforces true faith.
            In short, God’s identity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is reflected in your baptismal identity—created by God, redeemed by His Son, and made holy by His Spirit. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, placed His name on you at your Baptism. He claimed you and made you His own child. He presently works in you for your salvation, and through you to love and serve God and neighbor. You don’t have to have a doctorate in theology to confess the Trinity, you simply need to hear God’s Word, believe it, confess it, and fall down in worship before the mystery of our God, the 3 in 1. God is unchanged through time, but He clearly revealed Himself to us in time, so that we might believe and be saved in Jesus, His Son. Amen.

The Trinity: Hints and Allusions in the Old Testament

While the revelation of the Trinity is clear and unambiguous in the New Testament, the ancient Christians also gathered testimonies about the Trinity from the Old Testament, “even though they seemed somewhat obscure. They did this in order that they might use them against heretics and to show that from the very beginning God had thus revealed Himself and that the church of all ages had thus known God, invoked and worshiped Him” (Chemnitz, p. 66).

Several guidelines show where such clues or references to the Trinity occur:
  1. “When Scripture speaks of God in the plural:” Genesis 1:1-3; 1:26, yet at the same time the verbs used of God are in the singular, and Deuteronomy 6:4 stresses the unity and uniqueness of God, apart from all others. There is One God, but more than one person. See also Genesis 3:22; 6:3; 11:5-7
  2. “Whenever you read in Scripture that God is speaking about God, as a person about a person, there you are safe in affirming that the three persons of the Deity are indicated. For when two persons are named at the same time, the person of the Holy Spirit who is speaking in the Scripture is indicated, in accord with the statement in 2 Peter 1:21.” Cf. 2 Samuel 23:2. Examples: Hosea 1:7; Genesis 19:24; Isaiah 60:19; 42:1; 52:13.
  3. “When the name of God (Yahweh; LORD) is repeated two or three times in the same sentence, it is certain that a difference in persons is indicated even though obscurely, as in Psalm 67:6-7; Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 6:3; Numbers 6:23-27; Isaiah 33:22.
  4. Often the context indicates a difference in persons, while united in essence, for example Exodus 23:20-21, the angel of the LORD bears God’s name (Cf. Isaiah 42:8). Exodus 33:17-23. Also, see how God raises up a son, and gives Him the name Yahweh: Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-16. The third person, the Holy Spirit, is indicated as the One speaking, for example Psalm 33:6 “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the Spirit of His mouth.”

Other significant passages: Daniel 9:19; Psalm 2:7; 110:1 (dialogue within the Trinity); Isaiah 48:16; Genesis 18:2, 16-22; Judges 13:15-25; Zechariah 12:10. Many more passages could be added to these, that follow the pattern of the rules above. Others refer to God as Father (ex. Deuteronomy 32:6; Psalm 89:26); still others refer to the Son (ex. Proverbs 30:4; Daniel 7:13-14) or make reference to appearances of the Son of God as the Angel of the LORD, not to mention prophecies of His future incarnation as Messiah. There are also many places that refer to the Spirit of the LORD (ex. Isaiah 11:1-2; 63:9-10).

While these passages in themselves would not present a fully articulated teaching of the Trinity as we find in the New Testament, they show that the NT teaching is entirely consistent with that of the OT, and that hints and clues run throughout the OT.
Chemnitz, M. (1989). Loci Theologici, Vol. 1. (J. Preus, Trans.) St. Louis: CPH.


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