God: Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism (from the Greek Anthropos meaning man or human, and morphe meaning form or feature) is a figure of speech which is used in the Bible.   It is “an ascription of material  forms to God” (Clinton Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 182).  It helps man understand God.  It describes things unseen, by things which are seen.

Let us notice…

1.  God is spoken of as having eyes and ears.

“The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).  He sees (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 23:23-24).  “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).  He is even able to look upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  “There’s an Eye watching you… Every day mind the course you pursue… There’s an all-seeing Eye watching you” (Song: Watching You by J. M. Henson).

“The wages of the laborers which mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (James 5:4).  “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers” (1 Peter 3:12 cf. Psalm 34:15).  He hears. “There is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4).  We are accountable for our words (Matthew 12:36).

2.  God is spoken of as having nostrils.

The song of Moses says, “With the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea” (Exodus 15:8 cf. 14:21-22).  This speaks of His might.  Pleasing sacrifices are described as a sweet-smelling aroma to Him (Philippians 4:8 cf. Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18, etc.).  What do you think improper worship smells like to Him?  (1 Samuel 15:22; Amos 5:21-24; Malachi 1:7-8, 11-14).

3.  God is spoken of as having a mouth.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).  Scripture is “inspired by God,” literally, “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).  There used to be a TV ad which said, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”  God has spoken.  Are we listening? May we be as Samuel, who said, “Speak, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10). May we be as Cornelius, who said to Peter, “We are all present before God, to hear all things commanded you by God” (Acts 10:33).

4.  God is spoken of as having limbs (arms, hands, fingers, feet, and even wings).

God redeemed Israel out of Egypt by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Exodus 6:6; 15:16; Deuteronomy 4:34; 7:19; 11:2; 26:8).   His might and compassion are in view.  His hands were creative (Isaiah 45:11-12; Psalm 19:1).  His fingers created (Psalm 8:3).  He wrote with His finger (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10).  His finger cast out demons (Luke 11:20 cf. Matthew 12:28). “Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.  Where is the house that you will build Me?'” (Isaiah 66:1 cf. Acts 7:49).  He is much larger than this earth.  Boaz spoke of Ruth as one who had come under the LORD’s wings for refuge (Ruth 2:12).  David requested, “Hide me under the shadow of Your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, from deadly enemies who surround me” (Psalm 17:8-9).  Jesus said to Jerusalem, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

5.  God is spoken of as having a face.

“The face of the LORD is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12 c. Psalm 34:16).  Elihu spoke of God’s face being expressive with joy over the sinner who repents (Job 33:26-28 cf. Luke 15:7, 10, 32).  “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

John Haley has written, “These texts, which represent God as having hands, fingers, wings, feathers, horns, and the like, are simply bold figures and startling hyperboles in which the Orientals are wont to indulge.  They would never, for a moment, think of being understood literally in using them” (Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, p. 63). God is Spirit (John 4:24). A Spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24: 39).

Anthropomorphism is found in some of our songs.  We have already mentioned one. Now, let us mention two more. “He’s got the whole world in His hands.  He’s got the whole world in His hands.  He’s got the whole world in His hands.  He’s got the whole world in His hands” (Song: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Laurie London).  “Time is filled with swift transition – Naught of earth unmoved can stand – Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand.  Hold to God’s unchanging hand!  Hold to God’s unchanging hand!  Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand” (Song: Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand, by Jennie Wilson).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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