Divine Image


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. (Exod 3:2)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Old Testament offers several glimpses of the Divine image. Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush suggests a natural Rorschach test. The image of God’s trinitarian nature underscores the importance of relationship and community. His later  encounter with God on Mount Sinai provided even more insight into what it means to be created in the image of God.

The Burning Bush

A Rorschach test, or inkblot test,  provides the psychiatrist insight into a patient’s default assumptions about life because the patient is asked to talk about what is seen in random inkblots. An optimistic, happy person might see sunshine and flowers while a fearful, anxious person might see darkness and monsters. A fire poses a naturally random set of patterns suggesting an analogy to inkblots.

In Moses’ account in Exodus, we learn is that God is present, available, and calling Moses into relationship and Moses responds to God’s call (Exod 3:4). Where God is, is holy ground (Exod 3:5). When God identifies himself, Moses responds in fear (Exod 3:6). God reads Moses’ deepest desire of his heart and acknowledges the suffering of his people in Egypt (Exod 3:7). God commissions Moses to deliver the people from Pharaoh (Exod 3:10). Moses again responds with fear (Exod 3:11).

God first created in Moses a desire to free his people and then God called on Moses to step up and honor his own desire. While the burning bush served as a Rorschach test, it did not project Moses’ attributes on God. Rather, God used the burning bush to teach Moses about himself, making plain his own desires. For Moses, this encounter with the burning bush served to call him into leadership of the people of Israel, which resulted in the Exodus from Egypt out of slavery and the latter establishment of the Nation of Israel.

The Trinity

When Moses encounters God in the burning bush, God’s trinitarian nature is already established and understood. Moses is the author of the Books of the Law, also called the Pentateuch (five books), so we have a glimpse of Moses’ understanding in Genesis in the creation accounts. The concept of the trinity is not a late development, as some have alleged who object, for example, to the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19)

In the creation accounts God the Father shows up in the first verse: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) The Holy Spirit shows up in verse two: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) Later, in chapter three, we meet a personal God, who walks with us in the Garden (e.g. Gen 3:9). This is the early image of Christ. Reinforcing the idea of trinity, the primary Hebrew name of God in these accounts, Elohim, appears in the plural.

Being created with our spouse in the image of a Triune God, who is in relationship even within himself, suggests that our own identity is revealed in relationship. In ourselves, we are incomplete and we require community to be whole persons.

The Second Giving of the Law

Moses’ burning bush encounter with God is interesting because it helps us interpret how creation in the divine image affects us together with our spouses. The divine image is, however, more than an encounter with a mirror because creation has both physical and moral implications. Another important encounter that Moses has with God occurs after the second giving of the Ten Commandments.

Moses had an anger management problem that led him to destroy the first set of stone tablets when he descended from Mount Sinai and found the people of Israel worshipping a Golden Calf (Exod 32:19). Later, God gave Moses a second set of tablets and when Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exod 33:18): “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exod 34:6). 

In describing his attributes, God effectively gave an interpretative guide to the Ten Commandments. When Congress passes significant legislation, the authorizing committee will in like manner publish a conference report to give attorneys an interpretative guide, should questions arise about the legislation itself. In this case, God uses his attributes to guide interpreting the Ten Commandments. For us, these moral attributes suggest what it means to be created in God’s image.

Exodus as Cautionary Tale

The Exodus from Egypt outlines the temptations and limits of freedom. Release from the tyranny of Pharaoh started with the crossing of the Red Sea, a kind of communal baptism, but it led to the need to survive in the wilderness and to respect for God and his servant, Moses. 

Self-reliance under God proved challenging for the people of Israel, as the Gold Calf incident suggests. Freedom did not mean living with abandon worshipping idols of our own making. The idols today are alive and well, as the popularity of the Wall Street Bull and the Fearless Girl attest. The biblical Golden Calf incident underscored the need for law, which had to be instituted by the sword (Exod 32:27-28). 

As Christians, we live under grace, but those resisting God remain under law. Even for Christians, the temptations of secular society are real, ever-present, and hard to resist. But we have the image of Christ given in scripture to guide us.

Divine Image

Also see:

The Who Question

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com


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