Old Testament: Analysis Of Metaphors Used To Describe God

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In my opinion the Old Testament give an understanding of God and man and make evident to every man how a virtuous and compassionate God deals with mankind. Many of the psalms deal with situations in life or Sitz-im-Leben and describes the emotion and needs of the psalmist. They are therefore very useful for promoting our life of prayer. There are many metaphors used of God in the psalms and these are listed below:

List of metaphors used of God in the psalms

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In some psalms God is simply called Yahweh, for example, 116. 117. 120, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 130, 131, 133, 134. Yahweh our God in psalm 123, in psalm 129 Yahweh the righteous, psalm 132 the Mighty One of Jacob, and the God of Jacob in psalm 114.

As pilgrims neared Jerusalem for the great feast, they would sing the Psalms of Ascent (psalms 120-134). Going up to Jerusalem was something that brought great joy. Psalm 68:24-26 gives us a picture illustrates such a procession and reveals something about this joy.

“God, your procession can be seen,

my God’s, my king’s procession to the sanctuary,

with cantors marching in front, musicians behind,

and between them maidens playing tambourines”.

The psalms which Jesus himself used are psalms 113-118 and are called the Hallel psalms. The numerous metaphors used of God are ‘guardian of my rights’ in psalm 4, ‘my king’ in psalm 5, ‘my strength…my rock…my bastion…my deliverer…my shield…my horn of salvation…my stronghold…my refuge…my support…my lamp…the shield of all who take shelter in him’ in psalm 18, ‘holy one…my strength…the ruler of nations’ in psalm 22, ‘our help and shield’ in psalm 115 and ‘best help of all…my strength and my song…my saviour’ in psalm 118 and ‘my maker, my preserver…unchanging in the heavens…refuge and shield…guarantor of your servant’s well-being…saviour’ in psalm 119.

Qualities the psalmists attribute to Yahweh

The psalmists attribute numerous varied qualities to Yahweh. After reading the psalms I realise that their message is more than words alone. “There is, in short, the evocative power of the poem based on human experience, the message of the heart, the touching of intangibles, and the reaching for the incomprehensible”. Many of the psalms are characterised by an intimacy with God and a sense of his closeness. It appears that Yahweh is humanised in order to make him have pity and become involved.

He is conveyed as been very powerful “thundering from heaven” and “launching lightning’s”, he prepares the psalmist for battle giving him his saving shield, making smooth the way before him (psalm 18: 35-36). The psalmist perceives him as his pillar of support and the one who frees him “He rescued me, since he loves me” (Psalm 18:19). Yahweh is the psalmist source of light who brightens up his darkness and who prevents him from falling. The metaphor ruler of the nations is used to depict Yahweh. Psalm 30 says God has aided and healed him

“Yahweh, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me” This psalm has a happy ending, as 30 says God has aided and healed him

“Yahweh, my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me” This psalm has a happy ending, as Yahweh has turned his mourning into dancing, has stripped off his sackcloth and enclosed him in gladness. In psalm 77, ‘the Red Sea crossing is portrayed in terms of a triumph over the primordial “waters” by the God of “thunder” and “lightning” who passes through the “sea” without leaving a mark. Psalm 22 is concerned with Yahweh’s goodwill and virtue to Israel.

“In you our fathers put their trust,

they trusted and you rescued them”.

Psalm 22:2- “My God, My God why have you deserted me?” is an appeal that indicates dependence on Yahweh for help: its repetition implies the terrible state of the neglected one. In psalm 22:10 maternal imagery is assigned to God. The palmist sees himself as been placed on Yahweh’s lap at birth.

In psalm 4 God is depicted as a protector of the rights of the psalmist, one who comes to him as deliverer in time of difficulty and need, one who works wonders for those he loves, who offers joy to the psalmist and allows him to rest securely (psalm 4:8). The psalmist calls God “my king and my God” but he also perceives Yahweh as one who listens to him, one who defends, gives pleasure and whose support shrouds the psalmist like a shield (psalm 5). In psalm 13 the palmist questions God:

“How much longer will you forget me Yahweh?”

He thinks God has concealed his face from him but yet still he relies on Yahweh’s love, sees God as superior and believes his saving help enables him to rejoice. Psalm 18 displays numerous metaphors used of God. Here the qualities attributed by the psalmist to God are his saving power, his strength, his sheltering him as a rock- “a natural symbol of safety and strength”. He call God his bastion, his deliverer, his guard, his horn of salvation (horn is a sign of strength in the Old Testament) – a refuge and a stronghold. God is also humanised in psalm 18:6

“from his temple he heard my voice,

my cry came to his ears”.

The Hallel psalms (psalms 113-118) were used by Jesus himself. In psalm 113 Yahweh is seen as

“enthroned so high he needs to stoop

to see the sky and earth” (psalm 113:5-6).

And the person who elevate the poor from the dust and raises the needy from the dunghill. Psalm 114 portrays Yahweh as the ruler, and the God of Jacob before whom the ground should quiver. He “turns rock into pool, flint into fountain”. The triple duplication of the refrain in psalm 115 is very effective. The psalmist calls on Israel to put their trust in Yahweh, followed by the refrain “on him, or help and shield”. In psalm 116 Yahweh is depicted as one who listens:

“he bends down to listen to me

when I call”

It is clear Yahweh is sympathetic, benevolent and a saviour. Psalm 117 comments on the strength of Yahweh’s love and his everlasting faithfulness. Yahweh is expressed as protector, rescuer and the best help of all in psalm 118 and as teacher and a source of guide in psalm 119. In psalm 120 God is seen as the guardian and protector of his people. Yahweh is seen as creator, guardian and guide

“he guards you leaving, coming back,

now and for always” (Psalm 121:8). The Psalmist in 122 sees Yahweh as God living and present in the temple. Psalm 123 describes Yahweh as having his home in heaven God is described as creator and deliverer in psalm 124. Psalm 125 is a national psalm of faith “Yahweh’s protection of his ‘people’ is like that of the mountains round about Jerusalem”. The first line of psalm 126 is a reference to the end of the exile. Yahweh is described as “bringing the captives home”. In psalm 127 Yahweh is the builder and guardian without who mans labour is futile. In his goodness he offers sons who are described as “arrows”- a symbol of the protection that sons provide for the family. Large families were the ideal, which satisfied the command of Genesis to ‘be fertile and multiply and fill the earth’.

“Your wife will be a fruitful vine in your home,

your children like olive branches around your table” (Psalm 128:3). Yahweh’s blessing is prayed for in this psalm. In psalm 129 Yahweh is noted as the virtuous one who has crushed “the yoke of the wicked”. The qualities attributed to Yahweh in psalm 130 are forgiveness and loyalty. It is evident that he can be depended on. In psalm 131 there is an indication of trust as the comparison to a weaned child speaks volumes about the feelings of the psalmist.

“Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet

like a child in its mothers arms,

as content as a child that has been weaned”.

Psalm 132 deals with describing Yahweh as the mighty one of Jacob. Psalm 139 praises God for his excellent knowledge of the poet. He talks of the serenity of being in God’s care. God is the one who knows the psalmist personally.

“You know me through and through”. He is the one who will direct the psalmist no matter where he wanders

“If I flew to the point of sunrise…..

your hand would still be guiding me,

your right hand holding me”.

According to the psalmists, the main source of healing was God. Several psalms make reference to the agony of the human being who seeks Gods healing. They believed the ultimate power over life, sickness and death lay with Yahweh. Many psalms speak about the horrors of death when explaining illness. Psalm 18:4 says that the “cords of death encircled me”. Psalm 116:3 adds to this

“he has rescued my eyes from tears

and my feet from stumbling”.

God the healer is praised repeatedly for delivering the life of the psalmist from death.

In general it is clear through the metaphors used of God and the qualities attributed to him by the psalmist that Yahweh is presented to us as been a carer, a guardian, a protector, a saviour and above all close to his people.


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