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Metaphors of Deity — Properly Understood

An old Jewish prophet once wrote: "the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings" (Malachai 4.2).

The careful reader will notice that the prophet refers, not to a son (male offspring), but to the sun — that celestial orb that pervades gas and heat.

Years before, Balaam had spoken of a "star" coming "out of Jacob" (Num. 24.17); Isaiah envisioned "a great light" shining upon those who walk in darkness (9.2); Zacharias, father of John the immerser, in his messianic prophecy, alludes to the "sunrise from on high" (NASB) who "has visited us" (Luke 1.76, 78), providing light and life to those who presently sit in darkness and death (v. 79; see also 2 Pet. 1.19).

These references are clearly couched in metaphor. Ultimately, Malachai and his prophetic peers spoke of Jesus Christ, the true sun, who pervades life, light, and spiritual healing.

A Clarification

It is natural to assume that these metaphors are sequentially inspired — that is, according to natural law (cf. 1 Cor. 15.46); first, the physical, then the spiritual.

We are prone to assume that the sun, for example, derived its power, glory, and significance first, independent of spiritual import, and, afterward, the prophets merely borrowed from its existing radiance and splendor, comprehending therefrom a meaning not originally intended at its creation. But this is not so!

Earthly metaphors, when applied by scripture to deity, must always be understood as inferior shadows reflecting a deeper, pre-existing reality (cf. Heb. 10.1). Here is a case in point:

Of himself, Jesus said: " I am the true vine" (John 15.1). Jesus' point is this: he does not merely borrow features from the vine to apply to himself; rather, the vine has borrowed its essence, characteristics, and significance from Jesus. The vine was built on the pattern of Christ (cf. Heb. 1.2-3)!

In him, "all things consist" (Col. 1.17; sunistemi, stand together). He is the true essence of all created things, including the vine and the sun. As the vine is merely a reflection of the true fruit-bearer (Jesus), so the sun was created to display the splendor of the eternal giver of light and life. Hence, Jesus is the true sun — while the physical sun is merely his silhouette.

The sum of the matter is this: everything in this universe was made to teach us about God — his existence and glory (cf. Rm. 1.20). Accepting the reality of the sun compels us to accept the reality of God. Indeed, everything everywhere speaks to us daily, from the rising sun to the glowing moon, for there is not a place in existence where nature's message of sacred reflection is not spoken (cf. Psalm 19.1-4).

All that remains is whether or not we will develop the wisdom and humility to hear what our surroundings are constantly trying to teach us.

"But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain to you.

Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this,

in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?" (Job 12.7-10).


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