2-2-1-5 God Adopts A Human Perspective
Because God answers foolish men according to their folly, there are many examples of God speaking of the false ideas of men as if they were true. We have just shown how He did that in speaking to Israel about demons. But there are other examples of this general principle:
- Ahithophel advised Absalom to attack and kill righteous king David without any more delay. Absalom refused this advice. The inspired record comments: “For the Lord had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel” (2 Sam. 17:14). Was it really good counsel? Not in God’s eyes. It was only ‘good’ for Absalom from a fleshly viewpoint. And yet the record speaks from Absalom’s perspective; it speaks of something definitely evil as being “good” within the context in which it was given. Thus the record here refers to men’s bad thinking as if it is correct.
- It seemed that the sword at Joab’s side accidentally fell out of its scabbard as he went toward Amasa to greet him (2 Sam. 20:8)- but it was on purpose, of course.
- Likewise, Jacob was smooth skinned, but he placed skins on his hands to deceive Isaac that he was Esau. Isaac “discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau’s hands” (Gen. 27:23). Were Jacob’s hands really hairy? No. He made them appear hairy, and this is the perspective the record adopts, without correcting it. It doesn’t say ‘Isaac didn’t realize, because Jacob’s hands seemed hairy’.
- Wicked men are called “righteous” because this is how they perceive themselves (Mt. 8:12; 9:13; Ez. 21:3,4)- God adopts their perspective through inspiration
- Joseph is called “the father” of Jesus (Lk. 2:48)- he only was from a human perspective
- 1 Cor. 1:21,25 speak of “the foolishness of thing preached” (RV)- not that it is foolish, but it is perceived that way
- Walking on the sea, Jesus “would have passed by them” (Mk. 6:48). I don’t suppose He would have done, because He was ‘coming unto them’, but this was how they perceived it- and thus the record stands written
- Was Jonah really asleep all through the storm (Jonah 1:5)? Wasn’t he pretending to be asleep, and the sailors swallowed it?
- “Whosoever shall keep the whole law [i.e. he thinks he keeps it perfectly and completely] , and yet offend in one point…” (James 2:10)
- “A cloud received him” (Acts 1:9)- surely it was a cloud of Angels not water droplets. But so it looked to them standing on earth.
- The “pillar of fire” was only “as it were the appearance of fire”
(Num. 9:15) but the record elsewhere speaks of it as “fire”, because
that’s what it looked like to the Israelites. The Scriptures speak
of how a pillar of fire was with Israel in the wilderness (Ps. 105:39).
But actually when it first appeared, it was described as “the
appearance of fire” (Num. 9:15). It wasn’t fire, it
appeared as fire. And yet it’s spoken of later simply as “fire”.
There’s no inspired footnote reminding us that, well, actually,
it wasn’t really fire. Likewise “the mount [of Sinai]
burnt with fire” (Dt. 9:15). The mountain didn’t catch
fire. But that’s how it looked to the Israelites from a distance;
and so that’s how it’s described.
- Mt. 13:12 speaks of what a man has, whereas Lk. 8:18 AVmg. More precisely speaks of what a man thinks he has. Matthew’s record adopts a more human perspective.
- John prophesied that the disciples would be baptized with fire (Matt 3:11); this was fulfilled by tongues of Spirit descending which looked like fire (Acts 2:3). Evidently this was not literal fire or else it would not have rested on the heads of the disciples. So the words of Matthew 3:11 spoke of how things would appear to the disciples, without saying so explicitly.
- Nahum 3:9 describes Nineveh’s power as “infinite” (Nah. 3:9). This is how it appeared from the standpoint of a Jew in puny Israel; ultimately, from God’s perspective, Nineveh’s power was anything but infinite.
- John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb “for joy” (Lk. 1:44). This is how she perceived it. But did the foetus really understand…? But the record adopts her perspective.
- “Though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them” (Am. 9:3). Of course nobody can really be hidden from God. But God adopts the perspective of the person who thinks he can hide from God. And then He shows him that of course he isn’t hidden. Likewise Jonah is recorded as fleeing from the Lord’s presence (Jonah 1:3,10)- there is no inspired footnote that says ‘Now of course you can’t actually flee from God’s presence, as David says “Whither shall I go from thy presence…”’.
- Ezekiel 28:3-4 says that the prince of Tyre was “wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee: with thy wisdom and with thine understanding thou hast gotten thee riches”. But this must mean that he thought he was wiser than Daniel, he thought that his wisdom had resulted in his riches. The king of Assyria had made the same mistake; and he was explicitly told by God that he was only a rod in God’s hand: “For he saith, By the strength of my hand (rather than God’s hand which held him) I have done it, and by my wisdom …I have robbed their riches” (Isa. 10:13 RV mg.). Later on in Ezekiel 28:13-14 we read words which have been much misunderstood as a result of failing to appreciate the way the Bible uses language: “Thou hast been in Eden…thou art the anointed cherub”. Seeing the prophecy is about the Prince of Tyre, this just cannot be literally true. What it means is that the Prince of Tyre blasphemously claimed to have been the Cherubim in the garden of Eden. Thus the Prince is spoken of as being the actual thing which he perceived himself to be, even though this was not true. In fact, throughout Ezekiel 28 there are subtle connections between the Prince of Tyre and sinful Adam in Eden – this was who he really was, in God’s sight (see v. 3,9 AV mg. 13,15,16, 17). God spoke to the Prince about his beliefs in the same way He spoke to Israel about their belief in demons. Yet another example of this kind of thing will be found in Ezekiel 13:18-20.
- God’s early plagues on Egypt were imitated by Pharaoh’s magicians. We can imagine their pathetic mimicry, e.g. of turning rods into snakes. Yet the record does not highlight how pathetic their endeavours were. When God turned all the Nile water into blood, “the magicians of Pharaoh did so with their enchantments” (Ex. 7:22). Their claims would have been almost comical; because all the Nile water was made blood, it was impossible for them to take some of it and turn it to blood. But the record does not record a word of this explicitly. Their false claims are recorded uncorrected – to bring home (to the sensitive reader) the power of Yahweh’s triumph over them.
- Christ was once asked why he ate with sinners. He replied: “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32). Christ is referring to the wicked Pharisees here as “the righteous…they that are whole”. Yet they were not righteous. Christ was speaking of them according to how they saw themselves.
- On a more innocent level, consider how God records Moses being found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who then (unknowingly) asks his mother to be his nurse: “The maid went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me…And the woman took the child andnursed it” (Ex. 2:8-9). Why not say ‘And Moses’ mother (not “the woman”) took him (not “it”) and nursed him (not “it”)? The answer seems to be that the record adopts the incorrect and ignorant perspective of Pharaoh’s daughter – although with no explicit statement that this is so.
- In like manner, Christ accused the Jews of rejecting John the Baptist (Matt. 17:12; Lk. 7:32-35), and on other occasions he commented on the fact that they had accepted his teaching, with the result that spiritually their house was swept and garnished (Matt. 12:44; Jn. 5:35). We can conclude from this that their appearance of accepting John’s message was spoken of by Jesus as if they had accepted it. Likewise Christ called the Jews both children of hell (Matt. 23:15) and children of the Kingdom (Matt. 8:12); the latter was how they perceived themselves. In Matthew 13:38 Christ speaks of the faithful as children of the Kingdom, and the wicked Jews as children of the devil. But never does Jesus explicitly explain to us his use of language. We are left to figure it out for ourselves through comparing Scripture with Scripture. The same goes for demons.
In a sense, if we feel something is true, then for us it is true. The Bible seems to recognize this in its use of language. Thus both David and Jesus said that God had forsaken and forgotten them (Ps. 22:1; 42:9). God did not do this; but they felt forsaken and forgotten, therefore in a sense God had forsaken them. What seemed true is recorded in the Spirit record, with no direct suggestion that it was untrue. Ditto for demons.
The disciples mistakenly thought that they had seen a ghost. Such things do not exist, seeing the Bible teaches that all existence is in a bodily form. Yet Jesus did not begin scolding them for their doctrinal weakness. Instead he calmly demonstrated the ridiculousness of such ideas: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Lk. 24:39). Jesus spoke about “a spirit” as if such a thing existed, even though he did not believe in it. By all means compare this with how faithful Jepthah spoke of the idol Chemosh as if he existed (Jud. 11:24). Thus Christ’s attitude here and in the entire demons issue is an indication of his personality: patient, positive, powerful, intellectually rigorous, hoping to win others round, not mocking or pejorative.
The Vindication Of Yahweh
There was a myth in Ezekiel’s time that the land of Israel was responsible for the misfortunes of those in it. This was not true, and yet God reasons with Israel, using the idea that was then popular, “Thus saith the Lord God, Because they say unto you, Thou land devourest up men, and hast bereaved thy nations; therefore thou (the land) shalt devour men no more…saith the Lord God” (Ez. 36:13-14). There was a common pagan notion that the sea was a great monster desiring to engulf the earth. Whilst this is evidently untrue, the Bible often uses this figure in order to help its initial readership to grasp the idea being presented; see Job 7:12 (Moffat’s Translation); Amos 9:3 (Moffat); Jeremiah 5:22; Psalm 89:9; Habakkuk 3:10; Matthew 14:24 (Greek text); Matthew 4:30. Assyrian mythology called this rebellious sea monster ‘Rahab’; and this is exactly the name given to the sea monster of Egypt in Isaiah 51:9.
Seeing that the Bible is inspired by God, it is impossible that the Bible is merely reflecting the pagan influences which were current at the time in which it was written. It must be that God is consciously alluding to contemporary beliefs, in order to show that He is the ultimate source of power; He is the one who controls the ‘monster’ of the sea, so that it does His will. God therefore corrected the fundamental error in these people’s beliefs, which was that there were forces at work in the world which were not subject to God’s control, and were therefore evil by implication. However, the Bible does not, in this instance, go out of its way to decry the folly of believing that there is a massive monster lurking in the sea, or that the sea is a monster.
Another example is in the description of lightening and storm clouds as a “crooked serpent” (Job 26:13; Isa. 17:1). This was alluding to the contemporary pagan belief that lightening and frightening cloud formations were actually visions of a massive snake. These passages do not expose the folly of such an idea, or attempt scientific explanation. Instead they make the point that God controls these things. Nahum 1:3 surely alludes to these ideas: “Yahweh hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet”. The attitude of Christ to the prevailing belief in demons is identical in this regard; his miracles clearly demonstrated that the power of God was absolute and complete, unbounded by the superstitions of men concerning so-called ‘demons’. Those who believe that the New Testament records of ‘demons’ prove that such beings do actually exist are duty bound to accept that the sea is really a monster, and that lightening is actually a huge serpent. This is surely a powerful point; there must be a recognition that the Bible uses the language of the day in which it is written, without necessarily supporting the beliefs which form the basis of that language. We have shown our own use of language to be similar. The Bible does this in order to confirm the kind of basic truths which are stated throughout the Bible – that God is all powerful; He is responsible for our trials; sin comes from within us. All these things can be made sense of by appreciating the greatness of God’s power to save. The so-called ‘higher critics’ are constantly unearthing links between the language of Scripture and the beliefs and conceptions of the surrounding cultures in which the Bible was inspired and recorded. There are understandable, once it is understood that the Bible uses language which may allude to local beliefs, but does so in order to make the point that Yahweh, the only true God, is far greater than the petty beliefs of men which would have been known to those who first read the inspired words, fresh from the prophet’s mouth.