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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Prayer Day 32

Available on Amazon.com

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty God, Great I AM (Exod 3:14).

You created us in your image; you have imbued us with your beauty.

Shelter our hearts and minds from idols that ensnare us stealing the dignity and protection of your divine image. Help us to keep your image sacred and holy.

Keep our faith strong in the power of your Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 32

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

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

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com


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Righteous Suffering


Then the LORD said, 

I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt 

and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. 

I know their sufferings (Exod 3:7).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Jewish experience of God frequently arises in the context of suffering. Moses suffered living as a refugee in the desert and shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep far from his home and family in Egypt. Exiled from Egypt, shamed by his own inept leadership, and fearful of legal prosecution for murder, Moses found himself before a burning bush in the presence of God (Exod 3:1), who called him for a new assignment: Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. (Exod 3:10) Egypt is in his heart and on his mind, but Moses does not jump at the idea of returning to Egypt because, having murdered an Egyptian, returning entailed obvious personal risk. Mitigating the risks are three important assurances that God gives to Moses which take the forms of His presence, His name, and His covenant (the Law).


The assurance of God’s presence is a blessing in the form of comfort, provision, and protection—things Moses lacked when he attempted to lead his people without God’s help. In revealing his presence to Moses, the uncertainty of the mission in Egypt is immediately reduced (Rom 8:31) and its success is assured: “But I will be with you” (Exod 3:12). God’s presence is further secured when God reveals his name, and, later, offers a covenant to Moses.

The Name

The assurance of knowing God’s name was no small deal in the ancient world. The ancients believed that knowing the name of a god gave one power over that god. When God gave Moses his name, he was, at a minimum, offering him a direct line of communication—personal prayer—with God.

 In Hebrew YHWH means “I will be who I will be” or “I am who I am” (Exod 3:14–15). The implication here is that God is: A REAL GOD (one that really exists) with REAL POWER (sovereign everywhere, not just the local neighborhood). Local gods were the norm in the ancient world, in part, because leaders wanted to lay claim to their territories and to seek their intervention (typically through sacrifices) in the spiritual world (e.g. Judg 11:30–40; 1 Kgs 12:26–29). God’s interventions on behalf of Moses were not unusual from an ancient perspective, but what was unusual was that God traveled with Moses out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Covenant Law 

The covenant helped secure Moses’ experience of God presence because in the covenant God revealed his will to the people of Israel, something uncommon in the ancient world. Prayer is really difficult when one neither knows a god’s name nor what that god desires. God revealed to Moses that He was both a covenant maker and covenant keeper.

The covenant of Moses begins with a preamble: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exod 20:2). The preamble makes clear that God cares about the people of Israel enough to intervene on their behalf and the Law instructs them on how to live in peace and righteousness, making God’s presence concrete in daily life.

In the Books of the Prophets, no one suffers more than Job even though he is a righteous man: There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1) Job is so righteous that even God brags about him to Satan: Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? (Job 1:8) To which Satan asks God’s permission to test him and God grants permission for Satan to take everything Job has away and to afflict him with horrible suffering (Job 1-2). In righteous suffering, Job feels a need to seek out and to rely on God, rather than his own resources, and, in his misery, to seek a savior: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25) Some believe that Moses used the story of Job’s righteous suffering to convince the people of Israel to leave slavery in Egypt, which would make the Book of Job the oldest book in the Bible (Geisler 2007, 189–195).

This redemption theme, of relying solely on God, is repeated in the story of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When Daniel’s friends refuse to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol instead of the one true God, they are thrown into the fiery furnace, as we read:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? They answered and said to the king, True, O king. He answered and said, But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods. (Dan 3:23-25)

Righteous suffering not only leads us to rely on God, it gives testimony to God’s glory. Jesus later ties righteous suffering to eternal life: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39)


Geisler, Norman L. 2007. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Righteous Suffering

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

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

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020


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Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Abayomi Akinyemi. 2008. Avoid the Path to Pisgah. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, A Strang Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Have you ever wondered why you fail to achieve your potential in your faith walk and in life? You are not alone. Many talented people do not realize their potential, frequently falling short in dramatic ways. Think of all the young celebrities—sports and film stars—who in spite of fame and fortune end up living desperate lives in poverty later in life.

Underachievers share much in common in Moses who led the Nation of Israel out of Egypt only to be later forbidden by God to enter the Promised Land. God only allowed Moses a glimpse of the Promised Land from atop Mount Pisgah (Deut 3:26-27). Are you ready to avoid the trip up Mount Pisgah and enter the Promised Land?


 In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi examines the story of Moses and how he achieved so much, but failed to achieve his dream of entering the Promised Land. In his introduction, Akinyemi (18) sees “seemingly minor distractions, weaknesses, and temptations” forming a pathway to Pisgah. Furthermore, he observes:

“Moses was a great vessel in the hand of God. He was called, anointed, and given a mandate by God to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land, yet he did not fulfill his destiny.” (26)

How could this happen? Akinyemi (77) sees the answer in a single verse:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Heb 12:1 KJV)

Besetting Weights and Sins

The key words in this verse are besetting weights and sins. A besetting sin is one that we know about and struggle with our entire lives, like an obsession that we cannot control, but a weight is a hindrance or character flaw. Moses had at least three weights: an anger management problem, a tendency to complain, and he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure.

Moses’ first weight was an anger-management problem (91). Early in life, it led him to murder an Egyptian who was abusing a fellow Hebrew (Exod 2:11-12). Later in life, when he saw the Nation of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf, he threw down the tables of stone that God had given him with the Ten Commandments (Exod 32:19).

Moses’ second weight was problem with complaining. Moses (91) did not want to go back to Egypt when God commissioned him and he did everything he could to get out of it (Exod 3:11—4:17). When the people of Israel began complaining in the desert, Moses (93) followed suit and began a rant against God (Num 11:10-13).

Moses’ third weight was that he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure. At Meribah, when the people had no water, God told Moses to speak the rock to yield water (Exod 20:8), but, when the time came, Moses struck the rock twice with his rod (Exod 20:11). Why was the instruction important? Moses did not give the honor to God for delivering the water, but took it for himself in front of all the people by striking the rock. Consequently, God did not allow him to lead the people into the Promised Land (Exod 20:12).

Mount Pisgah

When Moses complained about this punishment to God, God said:

“Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.” (Deut 3:27 ESV)

Thus, Moses died on Mount Pisgah and never entered the Promised Land.

How do we avoid the path to Pisgah? Akinyemi (110-112) advises us to control our anger, yield totally to the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and avoid pressure from people. But most of all we should pray aggressively, especially at night (112-117).


In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi[1] examines the problem that many talented Christian leaders fail to achieve their God-given potential by examining the life and ministry of Moses. Moses, in spite of obvious gifts of leadership, never entered the Promised Land which was a key objective of his call to ministry (Exod 3:7-10). Akinyemi writes with energy and recounts many interesting examples from scripture and from evangelism in his home country of Nigeria. Anyone interested in realizing their potential in ministry would do well to read and study this book.

[1] http://www.zion-cityofgod.org.


Also see:

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Peterson Writes About His Life as a Pastor

the_pastor_review_03032017Eugene H. Peterson. 2011. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most dramatic appearances of God in the Bible comes in chapter 3 of Exodus when God appears to Moses in form of a burning bush. It is interesting to ask why God would appear in the form of a naturally occurring inkblot test. If the inkblots are properly prepared, they have no inherent structure so when a patient looks at them, the only structure seen is the structure imposed by the patient.[1] Is it any wonder that my kids, when they were small, used to confuse our pastor with Jesus? My kids are not the only ones; the inkblot image is a wonderful metaphor for how people today relate to their pastor and to God. The more enigmatic the pastor, the more fitting the inkblot image.[2]


In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson captures this enigmatic character[3] when he writes:

“I can’t imagine now not being a pastor. I was a pastor long before I knew I was a pastor; I just never had a name for it. Once the name arrived, all kinds of things, seemingly random experiences and memories, gradually began to take a form that was congruent with who I was becoming, like finding a glove that fit my hand perfectly—a calling, a fusion of all the pieces of my life, a vocation: Pastor.” (2)

Peterson see the pastor as a particularly talented observer, much like God took animals to Adam to see what he would call them (Gen 2:19), as he writes:

“A witness is never the center, but only the person who points to or names what is going on at the center—in this case, the action and revelation of God in all the operations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (6)

But, of course, naming is the creative act of a sovereign, not of a passive observer. For this reason, some theologians describe God as a Suzerain (King of Kings) and Adam as his Vassal (king), but Peterson would chide at the whole idea of being an authority figure, preferring the title of pastor, not “Reverend or Doctor or Minister” (2) even though he was all of these things.

Even if Peterson prefers business causal, he is not just causally present. He writes:

“Staying alert to these place and time conditions—this topos, this kairos—of my life as a pastor, turned out to be more demanding than I thought it would.” (8)

Peterson’s sensitive to matters of time and space comes as a surprise. As Christians, we think of God in terms of the omnis—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent—all present, all knowing, and all powerful; but Christianity has no Mecca where we must worship or make a pilgrimage—God is not partial to a particular place and even Sabbath is not so much a day as a commitment to devote time to God. But for Peterson pastors must model themselves on God in his omnis in a sacramental sense:  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6 ESV) And Christ did not die in some random place; he died conspicuously—in front of the whole world—in Jerusalem. Therefore, Peterson cautions that “the life of faith cannot be lived in general or by abstractions.” (12)

Do you get the idea that Peterson chooses his words carefully?

Peterson’s idea of the pastor call is wrapped up in a peculiar package. He describes a dog wandering around marking his territory in a manner that appears haphazardly to a human observer, but no doubt makes perfect sense to the dog. He then writes:

“Something like that is the way pastor feels to me. Pastor: not something added on to or imposed on who I am; it was there all along. But it was not linear—no straight-line development.” (26)

This sort of explanation, which is potentially quite demeaning, describes an image of the pastor as a Myers-Briggs personality type of ESFP:

“Outgoing, friendly, and accepting. Exuberant lovers of life, people, and material comforts. Enjoy working with others to make things happen. Bring common sense and a realistic approach to their work, and make work fun. Flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments. Learn best by trying a new skill with other people.” [4]

This postmodern concept of a pastor leaves me wondering what would happen if Martin Luther or John Calvin were to come before an ordination committee today? While I know that Peterson’s pastor has great appeal today, I am not sure that Peterson intended his vision of the pastor to be normative, as it has become.

One of the attractive things about Peterson to me as I read this book in seminary was that he had been a church planter. At a time when organized churches seem to be wandering off the rails, God’s presence appears most conspicuously in new churches that have yet to be coopted by our culture. Peterson writes about an old rabbinic story:

“Shekinah is Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be—a place…God’s personal presence—and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory.” (100-101).

I can relate to this Shekinah image, having worshipped in so many different places, in so many different styles of music (or none at all), and in so many different languages.

Peterson’s final chapters begin with a story of a visit to a monastery where the cemetery was always prepared for the next funeral, having an open grave as a reminder (289). This is fitting end because Christianity is the only religion that began in a cemetery (Matt 28:1-7).  Citing Karl Barth, Peterson reminds us: “Only where graves are is there resurrection.” (290).


I have tried several times to review Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor, and flinched at the task, not knowing where to begin. Having written my own memoir, however, during the past year, his book started to make sense to me in spite of its nonlinearity. I think that I have read most of Peterson’s books, but this is a favorite, but do not ask me why. Still, I am sure that most pastors and seminary students will share my love for this book.


[1] What does Moses see? Moses sees God commanding him to return to Egypt and ask Pharaoh to release the people of Israel, something that had been on his heart for about 40 years (Exod 2:11-12; 3:10).

[2] This is at the heart of the psychiatric image of God and counseling model of the pastor. People have a lot of trouble with the transcendence of God. They do not want to be “fathered” with conditional love, they wanted to be “mothered” with unconditional love. For this reason, the postmodern image of God is more of a grandparent than a parent and people chide at the ideal that God is a father that actually requires anything at all of us. The code language normally used is to say that a pastor should be a “patient, non-anxious presence.”

[3] If you think that I am the only one to see an inkblot here, meditate a few minutes on Peterson’s book cover.

[4] http://www.MyersBriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics.

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The Wisdom of God. A Meditation on Alzheimer’s Disease

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Wisdom of God. A Meditation on Alzheimer’s Disease

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sometimes we experience God in unexpected places.

How do we minister to those who no longer speak?

God tells Moses in the burning bush:  I AM WHO I AM (Exod 3:14). In the Hebrew, the words are actually:  אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (Exodus 3:14 WTT).  Literally, this means:  I will be that I will be.  God chooses who He will be.  We like to choose, but often don’t get to.

Notice that God does not tell us that being requires speaking.

If you think about it, we actually spend very little time during our lives speaking much of anything.  Most of us sleep about eight hours every day.  When we are young, we scream, we smile, we laugh, we cry, and we sleep a lot but we do not really say much of anything.  When we are old, we revert to the sleeping mode again.  But like God, we are present, but we are mostly silent.

The silence of God is both a blessing and a curse.

When God is silent, we are able to speak and find our voice.  How would we ever grow as individuals, if God did all the talking?  Our identities would be muted because God is all knowing and all powerful.  But we know that God is not a big talker because heaven is full of singing.  As we read in Revelations, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him saying:   Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelations 4:10-11 ESV)[1].

Yet, when God remains silent, we perish.  The Psalmist writes:  You have seen, O LORD; be not silent! O Lord, be not far from me! (Psalm 35:22 ESV).  The silence of God comes to us as judgment, in part, because He alone can act to save us from our own folly.

The Apostle Paul writes: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:22-25 ESV).

It seems foolish to us that God would speak to us mostly without words on the cross.  Yet, in not speaking, He said everything.

[1]For Alzheimer’s patients, singing and dancing are startlingly therapeutic.  If you have a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, try singing the Doxology (or any other familiar tune) to them and see for yourself.

Also see:

Brackey: Look for Moments of Joy (https://wp.me/p8RkfV-VY)

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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