What Does God Look Like, and What Does His Presence Look And Sound Like? (Hint: If you aren’t thinking darkness, fire, whirlwinds, clouds, smoke and more…you might be surprised what the Bible says!) #69
Happy Monday, friends – hope you are all washing your hands, not touching your face, and – most importantly – starting your day with the Word of God! Thank you for joining us for the Bible Reading Podcast. Promo. Today’s readings include Exodus 20 (The Ten Commandments), Job 38 (God Speaks to Job out of the whirlwind), Luke 23 (The crucifixion of Jesus) and 2nd Corinthians 8. Though we aren’t focusing on 2 Corinthians today, one of the deepest and richest verses in all of Scripture is right there in the middle of chapter 8, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.2nd Corinthians 8:9
Today’s focus passages will be our Exodus AND Job passages, because both are applicable to our big Bible question of the day. Allow me to confess upfront, that our question of the day isn’t exactly fair, because the Bible doesn’t full describe the appearance of God, but it does often describe His surroundings, and that will be our primary focus of discussion for the first part of the episode. The second half of the episode will include some awesome Scriptures that describe the appearance of God. Let’s consider Job 38:1 first of all. All of the sudden, God is on the scene, and He is ready to call Job and his friends to account for their words. Surprisingly, God is in a whirlwind:
Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind. He said:Job 38:1
This is a very strange passage – strange for its suddenness, I suppose, and strange for the fact that God is IN A WHIRLWIND. We are given absolutely zero introduction or context here. Job and his friends don’t look up and see a storm forming in the distance, or anything like that…just – all of the sudden, God is there, and He is speaking out of a whirlwind. The Hebrew word used here for whirlwind is the word סַעַר sah’ -ar, and it means, tempest, storm, hurricane, or whirlwind. I suppose ‘tornado’ would be in the semantic range of the word as well. It is the same word used in 2nd Kings 2:
The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind …2 Kings 2 verses 1 and 11
11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire with horses of fire suddenly appeared and separated the two of them. Then Elijah went up into heaven in the whirlwind.
It is also the same word used in Jonah for the storm that God sent to turn Jonah back from Tarshish to Nineveh, and also in Zechariah 9:
Then the Lord will appear over them,Zechariah 9:14
and his arrow will fly like lightning.
The Lord God will sound the trumpet
and advance with the southern storms.
I believe it is fair to say that there is a strong association between God and this whirlwind (He will also speak out of it later in Job.) Do most people picture God’s presence as manifesting in a storm? Perhaps not…but here we are. God (sometimes!) abides in the whirlwind…but not always! Consider Elijah’s encounter with God (one of my favorite Bible passages!):
Suddenly, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” …11 Then he said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.” At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”1 Kings 19:10-13
God was not in the storm here, nor the fire, nor the earthquake, but in the soft whisper. Fascinating, beautiful, an a little unsettling, but in a good way, I think. Let’s turn to our Exodus passage – how does God appear in Exodus?
18 All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain surrounded by smoke. When the people saw it they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 “You speak to us, and we will listen,” they said to Moses, “but don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.”20 Moses responded to the people, “Don’t be afraid, for God has come to test you, so that you will fear him and will not sin.” 21 And the people remained standing at a distance as Moses approached the total darkness where God was.Exodus 20:18-21
There are a few verses in the Bible that just give me chills. The 1st Kings 19 passage is one. Revelation 12 (There was war in Heaven) is another. Matthew 7:23 (I never knew you – depart from me you lawbreakers!) is a third. Exodus 20:21 is absolutely in the mix as far as most chilling Bible verse. araphel – thick darkness, gross darkness, total darkness. God is here dwelling in a mountain surrounded by lightning, thunder, thick smoke, fire, and a terrifyingly loud trumpet sound. Just picturing what the Israelites might have seen in my mind’s eye is enough to produce at least a little of the shuddering that they felt:
16 On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him in the thunderExodus 19:16-19
So far, we have seen that God can inhabit total darkness (surrounded by fiery and smoky storms), He can inhabit a calm and gentle whisper, and He can inhabit a whirlwind. Pretty fascinating, I’d say, but we aren’t done yet! Isaiah saw a picture of the Lord:
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphim were standing above him; they each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies;Isaiah 6:1-3
his glory fills the whole earth.
Not a big description of God Himself (more on that in a moment) but we do see Him here on a lofty and high throne – and He is wearing a robe with a LONG train or hem, which is fairly interesting. So – it is reasonable to believe that when God appears to humans – He is wearing some kind of clothing. We learn some more about the appearance of God in Exodus 24:
9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Beneath his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself.11 God did not harm the Israelite nobles; they saw him, and they ate and drank.12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay there so that I may give you the stone tablets with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua and went up the mountain of God. 14 He told the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. Aaron and Hur are here with you. Whoever has a dispute should go to them.” 15 When Moses went up the mountain, the cloud covered it. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called to Moses from the cloud. 17 The appearance of the Lord’s glory to the Israelites was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop. (note! lapis lazuli is important, apparently, as Ezekiel sees God on a throne of lapis lazuli in Ezekiel 10) Lapis lazuli is a beautiful deep blue rock! (See below)Exodus 24:9-17
Also: God has feet! (Or at least, His appearance can manifest with feet) As well, as verse 17 shows us, God can also appear as if He is a consuming fire, or as if He is dwelling in a consuming fire. Likely both, as Hebrews 12:29 tells us, “For our God is a consuming fire.” I realize that we have not seen a very detailed description of the appearance of God yet – and there is a very good reason for that – but, believe it or not, the Bible does give us a good bit more about the appearance of God than we’ve seen so far. Let’s examine a few more passages, beginning with Exodus 34-35:
13 Now if I have indeed found favor with you, please teach me your ways, and I will know you, so that I may find favor with you. Now consider that this nation is your people. 14 And he replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 “If your presence does not go,” Moses responded to him, “don’t make us go up from here. 16 How will it be known that I and your people have found favor with you unless you go with us? I and your people will be distinguished by this from all the other people on the face of the earth.” 17 The Lord answered Moses, “I will do this very thing you have asked, for you have found favor with me, and I know you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “Please, let me see your glory.” 19 He said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name ‘the Lord’ before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But he added, “You cannot see my face, for humans cannot see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place near me. You are to stand on the rock, 22 and when my glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take my hand away, and you will see my back, but my face will not be seen.”…Exodus 34:13-23 and Exodus 35:4-8
4 Moses cut two stone tablets like the first ones. He got up early in the morning, and taking the two stone tablets in his hand, he climbed Mount Sinai, just as the Lord had commanded him.5 The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed his name, “the Lord.” 6 The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: the Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, 7 maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation 8 Moses immediately knelt low on the ground and worshiped.
What do we see here? Most importantly, we learn the character of God: Compassionate and gracious – slow to anger, and abounding in my favorite Hebrew word Chesed – faithful love! Punishing sin and maintaining love to a thousand generations…praise His holy name! (By the way, that is good news for us living thousands of years after Moses – God is still maintaining His love, because we have not yet exhausted a thousand generations since Moses) Two other things we learn: First, we learn that no human can see God face to face and live – this is very important, and it means that we will not have a full descriptive of God in the Bible. Second, we see God dwelling in the clouds again – and that is important. (Perhaps worth remembering: when Jesus ascended into Heaven, He ascended into the clouds…when He returns, He will return on the clouds of Heaven (Matthew 26:64). There is a very strong associating in Scripture between God and clouds!
Just a few more passages to go, and these passages will contain the most deeply descriptive words about God in the Bible. Let’s begin with Daniel 7:
9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place,Daniel 7:9-10
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was white like snow,
and the hair of his head like whitest wool.
His throne was flaming fire;
its wheels were blazing fire.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from his presence.
Thousands upon thousands served him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was convened,
and the books were opened.
Thus far, this is our most detailed description of God. Clothing white as snow, seated on a throne of FLAMING FIRE – with WHEELS OF FLAMING FIRE and the his hair, on His head was like the whitest wool. So – God does have a head, He does have hair, He does have feet. Further, we see a RIVER OF FIRE coming out from the presence of God. We often associate fire with Satan, and cartoons like to depict him ruling a fiery hell, but in the Bible fire purifies, and God is often seen in the midst of fire, and He sometimes appears AS FIRE. Satan does not rule from Hell – he’s not there yet. When he is sent to hell, it won’t be to rule, but to suffer. Our next picture of God comes from Ezekiel, and buckle your seat belts, because it is remarkable!
3 the word of the Lord came directly to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar Canal. The Lord’s hand was on him there.4 I looked, and there was a whirlwind coming from the north, a huge cloud with fire flashing back and forth and brilliant light all around it. In the center of the fire, there was a gleam like amber. 5 The likeness of four living creatures came from it, and this was their appearance: They looked something like a human, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings… 13 The likeness of the living creatures was like the appearance of blazing coals of fire or like torches. Fire was moving back and forth between the living creatures; it was bright, with lightning coming out of it. 14 The creatures were darting back and forth like flashes of lightning. … 25 A voice came from above the expanse over their heads; when they stopped, they lowered their wings. 26 Something like a throne with the appearance of lapis lazuli was above the expanse over their heads. On the throne, high above, was someone who looked like a human. 27 From what seemed to be his waist up, I saw a gleam like amber, with what looked like fire enclosing it all around. From what seemed to be his waist down, I also saw what looked like fire. There was a brilliant light all around him. 28 The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the likeness of the Lord’s glory. When I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking.Selections from Ezekiel 1
Did you see it – another whirlwind! Also – FIRE and CLOUDS AND LIGHTNING AND MORE LAPIS LAZULI! And, our clearest description of the appearance of God (or the likeness of His glory) yet: HE LOOKED HUMAN, but He gleams like amber. Fire enclosed His upper torso AND His lower torso. There was a brilliant RAINBOW like light all around God. This is a fascinating picture we are beginning to see. One more passage (and maybe a bonus one!) – this one from Revelation:
After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there was a throne in heaven and someone was seated on it. 3 The one seated there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald surrounded the throne.4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones sat twenty-four elders dressed in white clothes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder came from the throne. Seven fiery torches were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. 6 Something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal, was also before the throne…Revelation 4:1-6 and Revelation 8:2-4
Revelation 8: 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; seven trumpets were given to them.3 Another angel, with a golden incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand.
What an awe-inspiring picture we are given in Revelation of the wonder and majesty of God! Notice the trumpets (we heard those back in Exodus!) the lightning and thunder! The fiery torches in the presence of God! A sea of glass/crystal in front of the throne! Rainbow light – perhaps tinted green like an emerald – shining around the throne. And God Himself – the Ancient of Days – with an appearance like a jasper stone and a sardius (or carnelian stone.) There is a good amount of discussion as to what exactly John intended here, but my best guess is reddish crystals that swirl with other colors, as pictured below:
One last description of God to discuss, and this will be a great place to conclude this extremely long episode. Have you ever wondered what Jesus – the Son of God and God Himself actually looks like NOW – In His glorified form? Well – we have a wonderful, beautiful picture of that in Revelation, chapter 1.
9 I, John, your brother and partner in the affliction, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,13 and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. 14 The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow—and his eyes like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. 16 He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. He laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, 18 and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.Revelation 1:9-18