In the beginning, God created all things. God had one purpose behind His creation: to live in harmony with humanity. Humanity fell to sin and created an ugly note in the harmony that God intended to have with His people. The Old Testament is composed of many stories discussing how God recreated His desired harmony with His people through covenants. In these Old Testament stories, we see multiple descriptions of the image of God, all playing a vital role in describing a facet of who He is. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the descriptions of the image of God in the Old Testament and examine their significance to humanity.
The Image of God in the Old Testament
There are many faces of God in the Old Testament, all of which speak to who He is. This spectrum of the images of God gives us methods of understanding Him better and His relationship with us as we seek to worship Him. The Bible does not give a physical description of God but rather what is truly important, who He is to us. God is described in the Old Testament as a Creator, a Lover, and a Father. He is called by many names in the Old Testament, which also speak to His image such as Yahweh (Lord), Jehovah-Raah (The Lord my Shepherd), and Jehovah Jireh (The Lord my Provider) to just name a few.
Genesis 1 teaches us that God was and is the divine creator of all things. We are told through the holy text that Creator God, Elohim, spoke the universe into existence. God handcrafted every intricate and complex design, ranging from the stars in the universe to the cells within us in six days. Genesis 1:26 begins the description of the creation of humanity on the sixth day of creation. God does something different in the creation of humanity that He didn’t do with any other creation; God created man and woman in His image and likeness. The creation of man and woman is the momentous climax and fulfillment of God’s creative work in the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:4. This fulfillment is shown through God living in harmony with Adam and Eve in Genesis. For example, we can see in Genesis 3:8 that God walked in the cool of the day with His creation through the Garden of Eden where they lived. Genesis 1:1-2:3, the creation story, describes God as Elohim which sets Him apart as the majestic, transcendent, and sovereign God above all things. But in Genesis 2:4-25, where the focal point of the narrative is on God and humanity, His name changes from Elohim to Yahweh, which is the most personal and intimate name the Old Testament gives to describe God. This adds to strengthen the fact that the purpose of creation was God’s desire for relationship with humanity.
The Bible describes God as love and that all He does is out of His love for us. This points to the significance of the image of love that is found in God. James G. Poulos describes the trueness of love beautifully, “love is not problem solving; love is not redistributive politics; love, strictly speaking, is not justice. This is because love is social only to the extent that it first is personal.” God’s intention was always to be personal and intimate with His people. Even after the fall of man we find God providing ways to having a relationship with humanity through covenants He created with His people. With everything pointing to Jesus in the New Testament, every covenant made between God and His people was in love and out of love. Exodus 34:6 explains that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. Verse seven continues on to explain that God forgives the rebellious and sinful, which often described the Israelites in the Old Testament. On many occasions, the Israelites disobeyed God’s commands that were established through the covenants He made with them which resulted in the Israelites losing the favor and blessing of God and experiencing the consequences that follow their disobedience. But even through this discipline, we see the love of God. Proverbs 3:12 explains that God only disciplines who He loves just like a father disciplines his child. God is called several times in the Old Testament Jehovah-Raah, which means The Lord my Shepherd. Like a shepherd leads his flock to good pastures, protects them from harm, and keeps them in line with his staff, God provides blessings for His people, protects them from their enemies, and disciplines them to bring them back to a place of obedience, which is all done out of divine love.
Lastly, God is described in the Bible as a Father. There are three themes in the Old Testament that show the image of a father in God: the giving of life and an inheritance, one who loves for and cares for his children, and one who is a figure of authority worthy of honor and obedience. Genesis 2:7 explains that God breathed His own breath into Adam, the first man, to give him life. He is the creator and giver of life. God gave Adam the inheritance of the Father’s work, which was the Garden of Eden. After the fall of man, God gave the Israelites the inheritance of a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8) that was promised to Abraham in Genesis 17:8. God shows His love and care for His people by responding to their prayers when they were in times of need. For example, the Israelites were held in slavery in Egypt and God told Moses in Exodus 3:7 that He has heard the cries of His people and was concerned about their suffering. He responded to their cries by delivering them from Egypt and leading them towards the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. Finally, God showed His authority, which demanded honor and obedience, by providing for His people. As mentioned, God delivered the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians. During their journey to the Promised Land, God showed His authority by providing manna from heaven every morning except on the Sabbath and providing water in miraculous ways like when He told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, which would allow water to flow from it in Exodus 17:6. God is called many times in the Old Testament Jehovah Jireh, which means The Lord my Provider because He provides for every need like a father does with his child.
The Significance of the Images of God
Each of image of God has significance to mankind. A pious Jewish man from the late first century B.C.E. named Philo of Alexandria pointed out that God spent an entire day creating man and it was His breath that gave Him life. He goes on to explain that there is an immense difference between God creating, or fashioning together the physicality of man and the life force given to him. We find the images of God in us internally, given by the breath of life, not externally. As mentioned earlier, God made mankind in His image and likeness and we can see the images mentioned within us.
When examining the image of Creator God, a parallel can be found between God and humanity. Douglas Groothuis explains in his book Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith that as the unique image bearers of God, we were created to discern, discover, and develop the goodness of creation. Therefore, our discoveries as humanity through the investigative nature we posses and the creation of the tools we have to explore the universe God created all trace back to the image of Creator God within us.
There is also a parallel found when examining God as Love and humanity. God’s love for humanity is shown through His loyalty and faithfulness to His people. He never gave up on the Israelites even when they disobeyed Him multiple times. In a similar way, our love as humans leads to loyalty and obedience or faithfulness to something or someone. For example, when a man and a woman get married, they are loyal and faithful to each other out of love. This loyalty and obedience connection is seen in the book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites express their love to God through loyalty and obedience to Him through adherence to the law.
Finally, there is a parallel between the image of God as a Father and humanity. God is known as Jehovah Jireh, The Lord my Provider, and there are multiple references in the Bible showing how God loves His people like a father loves a child. The desire to provide and love in a fatherly, figurative way is found within the confines of a family, which is the most intimate of relationships. Similarly, God desires to have the most intimate relationships with His people in a way a father does with his family.
To conclude, there is significance found in the image of God in the Old Testament. The parallels between God’s image of a Creator, a Lover, and a Father are found within humanity, the pinnacle of God’s creation. Understanding the significance of the images of God in the Old Testament help us understand the Bible deeper and the relationship God desires to have with us better. With this knowledge and understanding, our faith can grow deeper and stronger as we live in harmony with our God.
Green, Joel B. “The Promise of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament.” Interpretation 55, no. 3 (2001): 326. Accessed December 12, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/202707402?accountid=12085.
Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011.
Krause, Deborah. “Keeping it Real: The Image of God in the New Testament.” Interpretation 59, no. 4 (2005): 358-368. Accessed December 12, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/202729158?accountid=12085.
Lapsley, Jacqueline E. “Feeling our Way: Love for God in Deuteronomy.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65, no. 3 (2003): 350. Accessed December 13, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/220252119?accountid=12085.
Towner, Sibley. “Clones of God: Genesis 1:26-28 and the Image of God in the Hebrew Bible.” Interpretation 59, no. 4 (2005): 340-356. Accessed December 10, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/202730398?accountid=12085. This source should be last
Pate, C. Marvin. “Genesis 1-3: Creation and Adam in Context.” Criswell Theological Review 10, no. 2 (2013): 3-25. Accessed October 27, 2015. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=4c6a879f-91a0-4650-a771-f390c77450ef%40sessionmgr4001&vid=1&hid=4209.
Poulos, James G. “God is Love.” Perspectives on Political Science 35, no. 1 (2006): 60. Accessed December 11, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/194702674?accountid=12085.
Check out the following:
Gardoski, Kenneth M., The Imago Dei Revisited,” Journal of Ministry and Theology 11.2 (2007).
Clines, D. J. A. The Image of God in Man. Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968).
Piper, John. “The Image of God, An Approach from Biblical and Systematic Theology”, Studia Biblica et Theologica, (March 1971).