There are some who oppose the idea that the Incarnation is possible, arguing that God is not capable of taking form. One common passage that critics point to is Numbers 23:19, which states that “God is not a man, that He should lie,” leading them to argue that God is not capable of becoming man. However, it is important to consider the context and meaning of each passage before deriving applications from it. The proclamation in Numbers 23:19 deals with the character of God, namely that he does not act in the same way that humanity does. This has nothing to do with God’s ability to take on flesh.
When considering the possibility of the Incarnation, the most important question is whether there is any content in the scriptures that contradicts the idea that God could come in flesh. Students of the Word will quickly realize that there are several narratives where God takes on form. One example is Genesis 18, where three men came to visit Abraham, and they ate and rested. In the clearest reading of this section of text, one of these “men” was “the Lord.” Another way that God has revealed himself is through the Messenger (Angel) of the Lord. Interpreters have often struggled with understanding who/what the angel of the Lord is because many times he is viewed as synonymous with God (see Exod 3). In Judges 13:18, for example, the Angel of the Lord visits Samson’s mother, and when she and her husband offer a sacrifice, the Angel of the Lord ascended to heaven. As a result, both of Samson’s parents bowed down and said: “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” (Judges 13:22).
Therefore, we see precedent in the Hebrew Bible that God is able to take form as a means of revelation to His people. In turn, the Incarnation is not impossible, nor contrary to God’s Word. According to the author of Hebrews, one of the reasons why Yeshua became Incarnate was to “taste death for everyone.” To “taste death” means to fully experience it (see Matt 16:28), and He did this for everyone, as a substitute or on behalf of them (see Jn 11:50; 2 For 5:15). Messiah stood in our place, as our representative.
This idea can be troubling for many people, including anti-missionaries. The most common objection to the Incarnation is that human sacrifice is completely contrary to the Hebrew Bible, and God would never allow it. While it is true that God forbids human sacrifice, such as in the case of child-sacrifice to Molech, we also see the clear model of substitution in the Hebrew Bible. For example, in Genesis 22, a ram took the place of Isaac. In the Mosaic law, animals became substitutes for the people, and in Exod 29:10, the priests transferred the sin of the people onto the animal by laying their hands on its head.
The role of substitution becomes even clearer in Numbers 35, where it says that if you kill someone, your blood must be spilled to purify the land. However, if you killed them by accident, you go to a city of refuge, and when the priest dies, you are able to return home. In other words, the death of the priest atoned for your wrongdoing.
This substitution culminates in Isaiah 53, where it speaks about a person who innocently suffered on behalf of others: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed” (Isa 53:5).
The Messiah’s Incarnation was necessary for Him to fulfill this trajectory of substitution. In order to atone for our transgressions, He had to become human like us. According to the author of Hebrews, the blood of animals did not actually take away sin but only covered it for a time. This is why we needed the ultimate high priest.