Posted by: SandreS | June 27, 2010

Back to Basics: God 101 – He Is Not a Man

God is not a man (Numbers 23:19).

He is not a man (I Samuel 15:29).

Many try to make out God to be like themselves. Refusing to glorify Him “as God,” they become vain in their imaginations, attempting to change “the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man” (Romans 1:21-23). Sadly, they even try to rally Scriptures for their cause.

The Scriptures that they misuse are those that utilize the figure of speech known as Condescension. Unless we recognize this important figure of speech, we will end up making absurd and ridiculous assertions – leaving us with a “god” who is greatly less than the True God of Scripture.

For example Genesis 3:9 (“Adam … Where are you?”) could be misused to show that God is ignorant, or blind. Did God really not know where Adam was? Of course not, it’s just a figure of speech. God never lost track of Adam!

In Genesis 4:9-10 God asks Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” and “What have you done?” Does this mean that God needs glasses? Did God really not know where Abel was? Did he not know what Cain had done? Certainly not – He knew exactly what had transpired!

Genesis 8:1 tells us that “God remembered Noah.” This could be misused to teach that God is forgetful, along with Genesis 19:29 (“God remembered Abraham”) and Genesis 30:22 (“And God remembered Rachel”). Had God forgotten them, and then, thankfully, remembered them? Is God getting forgetful? Maybe He’s senile, or perhaps just too busy trying stay on top of things? Absolutely not: all of these are further examples of the figure of speech, Condescension.

Genesis 22:12 (“for now I know”) could be misused to argue that God did not know what was in Abraham’s heart until Abraham had taken action. Did not God know all along what was in Abraham’s heart? Surely He did, for,

… For the LORD searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts (I Chronicles 28:9).

… For man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

O LORD of hosts, Who … sees the heart (Jeremiah 20:12).

… You, Lord, Who knows the hearts of all men (Acts 1:24).

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).

If someone tries to tell you that God somehow did not know what was in Abraham’s heart beforehand, don’t believe a word of it. God knew exactly what was in Abraham’s heart all along. Abraham’s heart was being tested for the benefit of Abraham; and God spoke to him in terms with which Abraham was familiar. God was affirming Abraham’s faithfulness.

In Exodus 4:2 God asks Moses “What is that in your hand?” Really, did God not even know what was in Moses’ hand? Could He not quite make it out? Or, was it something He had not seen before? Did Moses need to teach God what a rod was? Did Moses have to say, “Oh, it’s a branch that I broke off of that tree over there that You made”?

See how carried away we can get when we try to make literal what was intended by God to be a simple figure of speech? See what happens when we abandon the absolute for the relative viewpoint? We end up with a “god” that doesn’t have the “eyes to see” or the “knowledge” to recognize a rod in Moses’ hand.

Early on in Scripture, God establishes the absolute truth of Who He is.

He is “EL” (God) the “Subjector” (e.g. Genesis 4:19).

He is the “Almighty God” (Genesis 17:1).

He is “perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:16).

These are the absolute truths about God. Having firmly established Who His is absolutely; He is also free to relate to man – to condescend to him in a relative sense – to present Himself in a human way.

Condescension (or “Anthropopatheia” as it is also known) is the figure of speech used in the Scriptures where purely human qualities are attributed to God. E.W. Bullinger, in one of his most monumental works, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, catalogued in detail over 200 distinct figures, several having 30 or 40 varieties. Condescension is one of the important figures of speech which he defines. (He also deals with this in his Companion Bible and in its Appendix.)

A.E. Knoch wrote concerning the Condescension,

When God is spoken of as if He were human, or were a part of His creation, this is done in His Condescension, so that He may reveal Himself in terms within the range of human perception. – Figures of Speech

God condescends and speaks in human timeframes, in human terms, and with the human perspectives. He relates to us.

Seth Tipton speaks of Condescension in some detail.

We have to keep in mind, first of all, that God is not a man. This seems obvious, but we need always to remind ourselves of it, especially as God often condescends in Scripture to speak of Himself in the terms of a man …

Having established this absolute truth early in Scripture (absolute truth as opposed to relative truth), God can now give Himself human attributes to help humans understand Him. This is a figure of speech known as Condescension. When God is spoken of as if He were human … this is done in His condescension, so that He can reveal Himself in terms within the range of human perception. … These descriptions are God lowering Himself to a human level (condescension), for human benefit, that humans might grasp something about Him. We easily get off track when we confuse His condescension with His absolute being. … Don’t confuse the two!

Occasionally, God even condescends to ignorance. Consider Genesis 3:9, when God asks Adam, “Where are you?” Did God really not know where Adam was?

Or consider Genesis 4:9-10 when God asks Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” and “What have you done?” Would we entertain for a moment the idea that either sinful Adam or wicked Cain were able to inform the Deity of something He didn’t know? No. This is God condescending to reveal Himself within the sphere of His creatures’ experience. In this case, it was God employing condescension to bring both Adam and Cain to a stinging awareness of their crimes. Of course God knew where Adam was. Of course He knew where Abel was, and what had happened to him. Otherwise, He would not be God. I John 3:20 says, “God knows everything.” But He asked these questions for the sake of His creatures …

Compare God’s dealing with Adam and Cain to the parent asking the frosting-faced child, “Have you been into the mixing bowl?” It is not wrong for a parent to assume ignorance when child-training warrants it; thus also with God and His children.

God Does Not Change His Mind

We read absolute truth in I Samuel 15:29.

The Eminence of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.

The key part of this verse is, “He is not a man.” Whenever God disassociates Himself from humanity (and therefore is not apt to employ condescension), we glimpse His absolute and ultimate nature. Absolutely and ultimately, then (apart from His having to reveal Himself in the sensual realm), God does not change His mind. Of this you can be assured. Let this truth calm you and fill you with confidence in the sovereignty and wisdom and the knowledge of God.

If ours was a God Who could be pulled this way or that by the whims of men, what God would we have? No God! If ours was a God Who made mistakes, or said hasty things He didn’t mean, or abandoned “Plan A” for “Plan B,” or admitted to error before the “wise” courts of humanity, how could we trust Him? We couldn’t! Can even Christians (wonderful, spiritual, all-knowing people that they are) talk God into sending rain, for instance, a minute before He intends to send it? No … what a horrifying universe it would be if the diabolical Christian doctrine of “prayer changes things” were true. Prayer and repentance never change God, thank God for that. True prayer and repentance is that which conforms to the divine will – not the other way around.

God Assumes Change as a Form of Condescension

Now we are able to read verses like Jeremiah 26:13 and Jonah 3:10, and understand God’s methods with man in the light of His ultimate nature.

Jeremiah 26:13 says,

Now therefore, amend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you.

Jonah 3:10 says,

When God saw their deeds, that they [the Ninevites] turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

In both these cases (as in the cases of Adam and Cain), God is dealing with disobedient children, and is justified in speaking to them in the terms of children, for their ultimate good. As far as the Israelites and the Ninevites are concerned, God will change His mind if they do a certain thing. But as far as God is concerned, God never changes His mind (I Samuel 15:29). One perception is from the viewpoint of men, the other from the divine viewpoint.

In condescending to the Ninevites, for example (telling them through Jonah the prophet, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” Jonah 3:4), God causes their repentance, the very thing He had in mind all along. God never did intend to overthrow Nineveh, but He is justified in assuming the role of One Who would overthrow it, because this resulted in a greater good, that is, in the repentance of the Ninevites. God is not playing games, He is blessing His creatures. That God assumed the role of One Who would overthrow Nineveh was the means to His will (that is, condescension; He never willed to overthrow Nineveh), not His will itself (absolute; that the Ninevites would repent).

The Law

God did the same type of thing with the law. In Exodus 32:8, shortly after the law came down from Sinai, God said concerning Israel, “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them.” In some places in the Hebrew Scriptures, God actually comes across puzzled, surprised, and even frustrated at the failure of His people to accomplish law. Could God ever be frustrated? No. He only assumed these roles (condescension again), for the sake of His people. It was absolutely essential to His intention for Israel (and the world) that law fail, thus making room for a Savior through Whom He would reveal His heart. For this to work effectively, however, Israel had to honestly think and believe that they could do law. For God’s ultimate intention to work as well as it did (the intention that Israel and a universe be saved by the might of His hand, by the blood of His cross), it was essential that His people be ignorant of that very plan – for a season.

We know through Paul in Romans 8:3 that the law was impossible to the flesh. We know through Paul in Romans 8:20 that the law came that offense should be increasing. We know through Paul in Galatians 2:16 that no flesh could be justified by law even if it wanted to. Did not God know these things way back at Sinai? Of course He did. Then why didn’t He let on that He did? It was for the sake of His ultimate goal. His plan for humanity was ironed out before there was a humanity, for He is the One Who is “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:10). Can you see now how patient and longsuffering God is in the gradual unfolding of His wise counsels?

Israel as a nation

Jesus said in Matthew 23:37,

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How many times do I want to assemble your children in the manner a hen is assembling her brood under her wings – and you will not!

This is our Lord condescending to the viewpoint of man. Had the people received Him then, the kingdom would have come apart from His suffering and death. This, of course, could not have been, seeing as He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). And what blessings would the nations have had, apart from Israel’s apostasy? None (Romans 11:12). Jerusalem had to reject Him then, and He knew that. Yet He speaks from the viewpoint of a man here (I believe Jesus is actually suffering, He actually feels the pangs of rejection), yet for the benefit of man. Through this saying, man sees his own faults and is moved to repentance. Have the ultimate counsels of God been annulled? Never. Instead, the absolute counsels of God stand, and they are these:

God gives them [Israel] a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day (Romans 11:8).

Callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering (Romans 11:25).

In their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy (Romans 11:11).

Now if their offense is the world’s riches and their discomfiture the nations’ riches, how much rather that which fills them! (Romans 11:12).

For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world, what will the taking back be if not life from among the dead? (Romans 11:15).

And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it is written (Romans 11:25-26).

Regardless of what man says about God to the contrary, God is not a man! Period.

Rest in that.

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
Daily Email Goodies
© 2010

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  1. […] L. Pilkington, Jr. Daily Email Goodies, 27 juni 2010 © […]

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