PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Anthropomorphisms

03/13 Anthropomorphisms; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160313_anthropomorphisms.mp3

We have been studying who God is, what God says about himself, what he is like. Our purpose is to enjoy our relationship with God, to deepen our affection for him. To savor him, to treasure him. We have studied much of what God says about himself.

Human Descriptions of the Invisible God

We have seen that God is infinite, eternal, immortal, invisible, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. He is spirit, not physical. But some of the things God says about himself seem to contradict what the Bible clearly teaches. What do we do with these things? God often describes himself in very human terms. The passage we have been looking at, Exodus 33, where God reveals his character to Moses, reads this way:

Exodus 33:20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

According to this passage, God has a face, a back, and a hand.

Jeremiah 32:21 You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror.

God has a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

Isaiah 59:1 Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;

The Lord’s hand is not too short. He has ears that hear.

Exodus 31:18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

God’s finger wrote on the tablets of stone.

Isaiah 49:16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands

God’s hands have palms.

Exodus 24:10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.

They saw the God of Israel and he has feet. In Jeremiah God says:

Jeremiah 18:17 Like the east wind I will scatter them before the enemy. I will show them my back, not my face, in the day of their calamity.”

The word translated ‘back’ literally means ‘neck’. God has a neck.

Psalm 88:2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!

God’s ear is inclined to hear the prayers of his people. This would imply that not only does he have ears, but a head and a neck so that he can incline his ear toward his people.

Psalm 11:4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

Not only does God have ears, he has eyes, even eyelids. Deuteronomy 32 gets even more specific. He has pupils in his eyes.

Deuteronomy 32:10 “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.

Psalm 18 tells of God’s mouth and nose.

Psalm 18:8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.

Psalm 18:15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

Psalm 33 speaks of the mouth of the Lord.

Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

Isaiah 30 gets even more specific. He has lips and a tongue.

Isaiah 30:27 Behold, the name of the LORD comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire;

What do we make of this? God has a hand, a strong hand, palms, an outstretched arm, a finger, a back, feet, a neck, a face, ears, eyes, eyelids, pupils, nostrils, a mouth, lips, and tongue. Many people look at this and conclude that God must have a body just like ours. That must be what it means to say that we were made in the image of God. Our physical characteristics must have been patterned after God’s physical characteristics. But if we continue with this line of understanding, we quickly run into trouble.

Other Visible Descriptions of God

When God made a covenant with Abraham, he appeared this way:

Genesis 15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

God is a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch. When God appeared to Moses,

Exodus 3:2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

God is a flame of fire out of a bush. To the Israelites in the wilderness,

Numbers 14:14 …They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people. For you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.

God is a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Hebrews tells us:

Hebrews 12:29 for our God is a consuming fire.

In Psalm 84, we are told:

Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

God is a sun. God is a shield. But we find in Psalm 121

Psalm 121:5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

Not only is God a flaming torch, a consuming fire, and a sun, but he is also a shield, and he is shade.

Deuteronomy 32 calls God the Rock.

Deuteronomy 32:4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.

Psalm 9 calls God a stronghold.

Psalm 9:9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

And Psalm 61 calls God a strong tower.

Psalm 61:3 for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Revelation 22 says,

Revelation 21:22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

So God is a fire, a sun, a shield, a strong tower, a stronghold, a rock, a temple. But look at Jeremiah 2.

Jeremiah 2:13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

God is a fountain. Jesus said in John 6.

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

God is a fountain. God is bread.

But look at Psalm 91.

Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

God has pinions, or feathers. He has wings.

Lamentations 3:10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; 11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;

Amos 3:8 The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?” cf. Hosea 5:14; 11:10; 13:7

God is a lion, a bear, a bird. Revelation 5 says

Revelation 5:5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Jesus is a lion. He is also a root. But then in verse 6,

Revelation 5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

Jesus is a lamb slain, with seven horns and seven eyes.

Images of God

So what is God like? He has a hand, an arm, a finger, a back, feet, a neck, a face, ears, eyes, eyelids, pupils, nostrils, a mouth, lips, and tongue. He also has feathers, wings, claws and teeth and horns. He is a rock, a stronghold, a tower, a temple; he is fire, he is the sun, he is the shade, he is a fountain, he is smoke and cloud. He is a root. He is a man, a lion, a bear, a bird, a lamb. He is bread.

Are these descriptions of God meant to give us a visual physical image of what God looks like? The Scripture is clear.

Deuteronomy 4:12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.

…15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

You heard a voice but saw no form. Beware that you make no form, make no image, make no likeness. To fashion an image, physically or mentally, is idolatry. God is spirit (Jn.4:24). He is invisible (Rom.1:20; Col.1:14; 1Tim.1:17; Heb.11:27). No one has ever seen God (Jn.1:18; 1Jn.4:12). No one can see God (1Tim.6:16).

Anthropomorphisms

So what do we make of these seemingly physical descriptions of God? To look at the physical descriptions and conclude that God is a man or a bird or a rock or bread is to look at it backwards; God is not like man; man is like God. We were created in the image of God, to reflect God’s character. The characteristics that we have been given are meant to teach us something about God.

Proverbs 20:12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both.

Psalm 94:8 Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? 9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?

God made eyes and ears to teach us something about himself. Seeing and hearing happened before physical eyes and ears existed. God made us with ears that hear to illustrate for us that he is a God who is attentive and aware. He made us with eyes to illustrate for us that he is watchful and vigilant, and nothing escapes his notice. Have you ever been in a hospital bed and couldn’t quite reach something on the rolling table? Or you couldn’t even reach your call button? We imagine superheroes that have these kinds of limitations taken away. When we are told his hand is not shortened, we are not to picture an elastic hand, but to understand that nothing, no-one is beyond his reach. We call this kind of language anthropomorphic language, speaking in the form or morphe of anthropos, man, describing God in human language in ways we can relate to and understand.

Herman Bavinck, the Dutch theologian, writing 120 years ago, said

whereas God’s revelation in nature and Scripture is definitely directed to man, God uses human language to reveal himself and manifests himself in human forms. It follows that Scripture does not merely contain a few anthropomorphisms; on the contrary, all Scripture is anthropomorphic. From beginning to end Scripture testifies a condescending approach of God to man.” (p.86).

When we try to communicate with an infant, we use gestures and touch and one syllable sounds ‘ma-ma, da-da, ba-ba, no, ouch’. We come down to their level. Imagine attempting to communicate the majesty of the glorious colors of a sunset to a person born blind. Somehow you have to try to capture the essence of the experience and connect it to experiences they can relate to. Exponentially more difficult is it for the infinite, uncreated, invisible God to communicate himself to his finite physical creation.

As Bavinck asserts, ‘ Scripture does not merely contain a few anthropomorphisms; on the contrary, all Scripture is anthropomorphic’. All of Scripture is God stooping down to our level and communicating his infinite reality in terms of human experience that we can relate to.

Human Emotions Ascribed to God

God is said to have a heart that is grieved by sin (Gen.6:6). He is said to have inward parts (literally bowels) that are moved with compassion (Is.63:15). God is said to have joy (Is.62:5); he is said to rejoice (Is.65:19); to grieve (Ps.78:40); to be provoked to anger (Jer.7:18-19); to fear (Deut.32:21); to love (Jer.31:3); to be jealous (Deut.32:21); to hate (Deut.16:22); to experience wrath and fury (Psalm 2:5); vengeance (Deut.32:35). All these are human experiences and human emotions attributed to God to help us grasp on some limited level how God feels.

Human Actions Ascribed to God

Many human actions and experiences are attributed to God, such as:

Knowing (Gen.18:21); Forgetting (Hos.4:6); Remembering (Ex.2:24); Answering (Ps.3:4); Speaking (Gen.2:16); Calling (Rom.4:17); Commanding (Is.5:6); Rebuking (Ps.18:15); Witnessing (Mal.2:14); Resting (Gen.2:2); Working (Jn.5:17); Seeing (Gen.1:10); Hearing (Ex.2:24); Smelling (Gen.8:21); Tasting (Ps,11:4-5); Sitting (Ps.9:7); Rising (Ps.68:1); Going (Ex.34:9); Coming (Ex.25:22); Walking (Lev.26:12); Descending (Gen.11:5); Meeting (Ex.3:18); Visiting (Gen.21:1); Passing by (Ex.12:13); Casting off (Jud.6:13); Writing (Ex.34:1); Sealing (Jn.6:27); Engraving (Is.49:16); Striking (Is.11:4); Disciplining (Deut.8:5); Punishing (Lev.18:25); Judging (P.s.58:11); Condemning (Job10:2); Binding up Wounds and Healing (Ps.147:3); Killing and Making Alive (Deut.32:39); Wiping Away Tears (Is.25:8); Wiping Out (2Ki.21:13); Washing, Cleansing (Ps.51:2); Anointing (Ps.2:6); Adorning (Ezek.16:11); Clothing (Ps.132:16); Crowning (Ps.8:5); Strengthening (Ps.18:32).

Human Relationships Ascribed to God

God is said to fulfill the role of human relationships and responsibilities; such as: Bridegroom and Bride, (Is.61:10); Husband (Is.54:5); Father (Deut.1:31; 32:6); Judge, King, Lawgiver (Is.33:22); Man of War (Ex.15:3); Hero, Lover (Zeph.3:17); Builder, Architect, and Maker (Heb.11:10); Farmer (Jn.15:1); Shepherd (Ps.23:1); Physician (Ex.15:26).

Worthless Idols

These are all ways of communicating to us what God is like with concepts that we can relate to. Idolatry is the opposite of this, taking creation as the starting point and formulating a god that is modeled after created things.

Romans 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Psalm 115 says

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! 2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” 3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. 8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.

Idols are a worthless imitation of reality. They are made to resemble all the physical body parts, but none of them function. God is not a physical being, yet he is living and active and powerful. God has no physical eyes, yet he sees all. God has no fleshly ears, but he hears even the secret thoughts and imaginations of our hearts.

The tragedy is when we have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear. We were made for relationship with this invisible God, a God who reveals himself to us in ways we can understand, yet we turn a blind eye to him and follow our own path.

Jesus Anthropomorphism

God intends for us to know him. All of Scripture is a stooping down to communicate who God is to his creation. Jesus is the ultimate anthropomorphism.

John 1:1 … the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

…14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

…18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Jesus actually became human. He took on our flesh. Eternal God humbled himself and was born into this physical world as a human baby.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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March 13, 2016 - Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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