Friday, February 15, 2008

Yahweh Rides the Storm

One of my favorite things about the Bible are the poetic images of God. Take this passage from Psalm 18:

7 Then the earth quaked and trembled.
The foundations of the mountains shook;
they quaked because of his anger.
8 Smoke poured from his nostrils;
fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
9 He opened the heavens and came down;
dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
10 Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew,
soaring on the wings of the wind.
11 He shrouded himself in darkness,
veiling his approach with dark rain clouds.
12 Thick clouds shielded the brightness around him
and rained down hail and burning coals.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded
amid the hail and burning coals.

This poem pictures God riding to the rescue on storm clouds. It also pictures him riding a "mighty angelic being," a cherub. That doesn't make a lot of sense if you're thinking about one of these:

But when you learn that a cherub looks like this, it makes more sense:

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that God has never thrown a leg over a cherub, seeing as how he doesn't really have legs (we'll leave the incarnation out of the discussion for the moment). But this is a poetic picture of God, not a theological description of his attributes. A lot of people don't like poetry. There are a lot of Christians who probably don't like the idea that God would present a picture of himself with poetic language; why wouldn't he just come out and say what he means? One answer is that poetry speaks to that potent but neglected part of our self, the imagination. But I'll leave that argument for another time.

One of the cool things about OT poetry is that every now and then, the poet rips off some imagery from the other religions in Canaan and redirects it to Yahweh. In fact, Psalm 18 could be an example of that. Baal was a storm-god; "the rider on the clouds" was one of his titles. But the psalmist claims that image for Yahweh, the God who revealed himself in a storm at Mount Sinai. And this isn't the last we see in the Bible of this image. One of the fundamental apostolic teachings is that this image will be enacted in real life; Christ, the Son of Man, will return riding the clouds. What is now only imagined will occur before our eyes. It's what God does, which makes him a darn good poet.

This rant inspired by a post on IVP's Addenda & Errata entitled "Yahweh's Bath Toy."

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