Finding the Lost Images of God


The theme of God’s relationship with his chosen people is expressed and explained in numerous ancient word pictures throughout the pages of Scripture. Without an accurate grasp of the historical and social contexts that originally housed these images, however, modern eyes and ears can gloss over these profound biblical revelations and fail to hear their timeless teaching. Even worse, readers can wrongly understand what such images communicate about God and about the people of God, misusing the Bible by imposing ...

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Finding the Lost Images of God

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The theme of God’s relationship with his chosen people is expressed and explained in numerous ancient word pictures throughout the pages of Scripture. Without an accurate grasp of the historical and social contexts that originally housed these images, however, modern eyes and ears can gloss over these profound biblical revelations and fail to hear their timeless teaching. Even worse, readers can wrongly understand what such images communicate about God and about the people of God, misusing the Bible by imposing modern assumptions upon it. Timothy S. Laniak provides the necessary background for accurately understanding the Bible’s images of God and of his people, tracing seven image pairs from Genesis and Exodus through their climax in Revelation. This complementary approach reveals a rich and multifaceted relationship between God and the people he loves and calls into his service. Finding the Lost Images of God draws on archaeology, ancient texts, anthropology and personal narratives to bring deeper understanding of the Bible’s imagery to students, pastors, lay leaders and other Bible teachers.

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Meet the Author

Dr. Timothy S. Laniak (Th D, Harvard Divinity School) studied in the Middle East and worked as a missionary in Europe and Asia before taking his current position as professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. His writings reflect both his passion for studying Scripture and his scholarly approach to social anthropology. Laniak’s works include: While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, Shepherds after My own Heart, Shame and Honor in the Book of Esther, and Esther in the Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther volume of the New International Biblical Commentary series.

Gary M. Burge (Ph D, King's College, Aberdeen University) is a professor of New Testament in the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College and Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois. Gary has authored a number of books, including Who Are God’s People in the Middle East? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians; John and Letters of John in the NIV Application Commentary series; The New Testament in Antiquity (coauthored with Lynn Cohick and Gene Green); and the first three volumes in the Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series, The Bible and the Land and Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, and Encounters with Jesus. Gary specializes in the Middle East, its churches, and its history in the Hellenistic period.

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Read an Excerpt

Finding the Lost Images of God

By Timothy S. Laniak


Copyright © 2012 Tim Laniak
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-32474-4

Chapter One

The Divine Architect and His Temple

* * *

URBANIZED CIVILIZATIONS across our world are marked by the presence of monumental architecture. Imagine New York City without the Empire State Building or Paris without the Eiffel tower. Our children spent their early years in downtown Boston, where, from our rooftop, they learned to identify Fenway Park, the Hancock Tower, and the "Pu" (Prudential building), one of my oldest son's first words. With its changing colors, the Citgo sign in Kenmore square was always the most interesting.

In our day mammoth city structures are often monuments to human enterprise and architectural creativity. By contrast, colossal architecture in the distant past stood as a tribute to the kings who designed them and to the gods they believed had inspired them.

Central to the architectural vision in the ancient civilizations of the Fertile Crescent was a sense of unique connection between the human and divine realm. The construction of an urban temple-palace complex began with the identification of a unique intersection between heaven and earth. There would sit a divinely certified regal-ritual city. Even in remains uninhabited for millennia, you can hear the sounds of sacrificial animals in their temple stalls, smell the delicacies from the marketplace, and see the magnificent royal gardens. Cities were the symbolic center of human life even for those who lived in remote rural areas.

Ancient near eastern kings designed and built the primary buildings, making them public and sacred, not private and secular. Their blueprints were thought to come from heavenly revelations. Laying foundation stones was a ritual. The culmination of a temple-building project sparked communal joy and invited divine inhabitation. These cultural details color the biblical account of creation and the shrines that God chose to inhabit.

A Design-Built Universe

As the bible's drama begins, God is at work building a universe. Prior to creation, the earth was formless and empty (Gen. 1:2). The Architect began by organizing both space and time, placing boundaries between light and darkness, between the waters above and below the earth's sky, between the sea and dry land, and between night and day. Then God populated these various domains with plants, lights, and creatures, climaxing with the creation of humans to rule over all the earth (1:26). God was pleased with his "very good" creation, and at its completion he entered a permanent "rest" (1:31; 2:2).

This account of creation may be familiar to us, but have you ever considered it as an account of architecture? As a cosmic building project? Other passages of Scripture abound with images of construction. Look at what the psalmist wrote about the Lord's act of primordial creation:

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.... You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth. (Ps. 104:2 – 9, emphasis added)

God declared, "My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together" (Isa. 48:13).

The divine architect challenged Job's finite knowledge by peppering him with rhetorical questions:

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb ... when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place. (Job 38:4 – 10)

Nestled in these references to construction — marking, measuring lines, footings, cornerstone, doors, and bars — is a striking image of singing stars and joyful angels. God's cosmic creation was accompanied by a delighted chorus of heavenly hosts. Wisdom, pictured as a person, recounts this exuberance in Proverbs 8:

I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. (Prov. 8:27 – 31, emphasis added)

These passages amplify the Genesis account of creation and explain God's positive assessment of his work and his following repose. The wise architect with well-crafted plans deliberately executed the creation of the world without help. His creativity stunned a celestial crowd of spectators. The "show" continues too for those of us who stop in wonder.

I once led a mission team of Malaysians into the jungles of northern Thailand to construct a mission building. My experience as a carpenter made me a likely choice, but my knowledge of building was limited to my own experience in the United states. We built with 2x4s and 2x6s made of teak! The tribal villagers, whose own homes were made of bamboo and straw, lined up along the newly framed floor, looking on with amazement. Like the angels, they were spectators, expressing their awe as they watched a colossal building project. A building whose plans came from afar. A building that would endure, in their minds, forever.

The Earth as God's Temple

Ancient royal texts reveal that the first chapter of Genesis is not only a building story; it is a temple-building story. The Sumerian ruler Gudea recorded a detailed account of a temple he built in the ancient city of Lagash, showing homage to its patron god Ningirsu. In response to a divine building plan, Gudea enthusiastically set out to collect wood and precious stones, and to build it in the proper place. "It being the right field, he laid the measuring cords [on it], drove in stakes at its borders, and checked [the measurements] himself. it was cause for rejoicing for him." The gods then settled into the sanctuary, and Gudea and his people feasted for seven days.

Gudea's temple-building account is typical among ancient near eastern compositions. These texts speak of commissioning, preparation, praise, dedication, and blessing. In the scripture references we have surveyed, we can draw an intriguing parallel between Gudea's work and God's activity of building; each portrays direct, personal involvement and pleasure.

The idea that God built our world as a temple for himself is reinforced through some fascinating and unmistakable correspondences between the construction of a physical tabernacle and God's creation of the world. The tabernacle instructions in exodus 25 – 31 and the construction descriptions in chapters 35 – 40 are laced with allusions to the first two chapters of Genesis. Moses was fully aware that the tabernacle was meant to be a carefully designed and sanctioned microcosm of the world God built and inhabits. It was a second divinely conceived building project, reminding worshipers that the whole world is God's sanctuary.


Excerpted from Finding the Lost Images of God by Timothy S. Laniak Copyright © 2012 by Tim Laniak. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Series Introduction 9

Preface 13

1 The Divine Architect and his Temple 17

2 The Divine Artisan and his Images 37

3 The Divine Farmer and his Plantings 53

4 The Divine Monarch and his Regents 71

5 The Divine Warrior and his Army 89

6 The Divine Shepherd and his Flock 109

7 The Divine Patron and his Household 125

Notes 141

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