What is your concept of God? Who is God to you? To some He is the Master of the universe while to others He is merely the "man upstairs". For some, He is the Creator while to others He is only the start of evolution. For some the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one triune God, while to others these are three separate beings who are only one "in purpose".
We find the same disagreements recorded about people in the Scriptures. In Exodus 32:4, Aaron took gold, fashioned it into a calf, and proclaimed to the children of Israel: "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt". Later in 1 Kings 12:28, King Jereboam would make a similar statement about the two golden calves he made: "behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt". However, we find a rather different concept of God recorded later in Isaiah 40. We find in verse 9 the statement "Behold your God!", but the descriptions that follow could not be more different than the gods which Aaron and Jereboam conceived.
If we are to get to know God by learning more about Him, how can we know the truth? As we compare the above passages of Scripture we shall find three facts that will help us in our study of God.
I. A Wrong Concept is Possible
As we compare the descriptions of God given by Aaron and Jereboam with the description found in the book of Isaiah, it becomes all too clear that these descriptions cannot both be true. Aaron likened God to a calf, but Isaiah 40:18 makes it quite clear that God cannot be likened or compared to anything. Therefore we are forced to conclude that one of these concepts of God must be wrong.
Even more unsettling is the fact that all three of these descriptions came from good sources. Aaron and Jereboam were not part of some heathen tribe from some remote jungle. No, they were part of the people of God. In fact, Aaron was going to be the high priest of Israel, and Jereboam was the king of Israel. Surely these great men could be trusted to have the truth.
The fact is that it is possible even for the child of God to have some false notions concerning the nature and essence of God. This should cause us to be very careful to make sure that what we believe is the truth. What happens when a child of God is confronted with the truth? Both Aaron and Jereboam were reproved, rebuked, and corrected for their error. Aaron got right but Jereboam did not.
II. A Revealed Concept is Prescribed
How is it that Aaron's and Jereboam's ideas could be so different from what is written in the book of Isaiah? Perhaps we should consider where they got their ideas. No doubt Aaron was influenced by his past life in Egypt. The Egyptians near Goshen had a bull cult where the bull was a symbol of fertility and strength. This is where many of us have picked up false concepts of God: the world. Having all lived in this world, we have all heard false teaching about God. We need to be extremely careful then concerning the source of our information. So where can we get the truth about God? The fact is that man is not capable of knowing anything about God unless God has revealed it to us (Job 11:7-9, Romans 11:33). Notice who is speaking in our passage in Isaiah 40. In verses 9-11 it appears that perhaps Isaiah is speaking since God is referred to in the 3rd person, but then we get to verse 12 and God himself speaks. Here is one of those great passages which testify of the inspiration of Scripture. Without any kind of transition, the writer slips from talking about God in the 3rd person to using the 1st person as if he were God. There could be no doubt in Isaiah's mind that what he was writing was the Word of God. This is how we know that the teaching about God found in this passage is the truth, because it came from God. If we want to learn about God, we need to study what God has revealed about Himself.
According to passages like Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:19-20, God has revealed Himself to man through His creation. In addition to these passages, we find God referring to His creation in order to show His greatness to Job beginning in Job 38:4.
B. The Written Word
The holy scriptures, the written Word of God, is perhaps the primary source of God's revelation of Himself to man. There are a number of ways that we can learn about God from His Word.
In the Bible, names almost always mean something. For example, in 1 Samuel 25:25, it is said of Nabal "for as his name is, so is he". The word Nabal means fool, and according to Scripture that is what Nabal was. How many names of God are found in the Bible? No doubt, God has revealed Himself to man through the names He calls Himself.
We can learn a lot about a person by observing their actions towards others. And this must be true of God as well. A proper study of God then would include a consideration of God's relations to His creation, especially man. For example, think of all that can be learned from examining God's dealings with the children of Israel in the wilderness.
One final source of revelation comes from contemplating the attributes of God. As E.H. Bancroft puts it:
The attributes of God are those distinguishable characteristics of the divine nature which are inseparable from the idea of God and which constitute the basis and ground for His various manifestations to his creatures. We call them attributes because we are compelled to attribute them to God as fundamental qualities or powers of His being.
The old Reformed theologians often classified the attributes of God into incommunicable and communicable. The incommunicable attributes belong to God alone, while the communicable attributes were characteristics which God imparted to man. Another way to categorize the attributes of God is to group them by absolute and relative. Absolute attributes are those characteristics which are independent of the connection with His creation, while relative attributes are those which involve His relation to creation. A.H. Strong is credited with the following schedule of attributes:
C. The Living Word
John 1:1 gives a clear declaration that Jesus is the Word. However, it is not a reference to the written Word of God that is used here. In John 5:39, Jesus said "Search the scriptures … they are they which testify of me". Jesus is God revealed in humanity. 1 Timothy 3:16 says about Jesus that "God was manifest in the flesh", and Colossians 2:9 says "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily". When Philip asked Jesus "shew us the Father", Jesus replied, "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father". We can learn a lot about God by studying about Jesus for He is God.
III. A Right Concept is Pleasing
We turn to a final fact drawn from the comparison of concepts about God which deals with pleasing Him. It is not hard to see that God was sore displeased with both Aaron and Jereboam for there faulty view of God. If it were not for the interceding of Moses, God was ready to totally wipe out Aaron and all of Israel (Exodus 32:10). As for Jereboam, not only was his posterity wiped out, but also he became the standard for all of the remaining kings of Israel as an example of a life not pleasing to God.
It should not be surprising to us then, that it brings great pleasure to God when we have the right understanding of His nature and essence. This is due to the fact that God is pleased when we have faith, which in this case is believing to be true what God says about Himself. Hebrews 11, the great faith Hall of Fame, says in verse 6, "without faith it is impossible to please him". Thus, we ought to give the more diligence to making sure that what we believe about God is what He truly has revealed about Himself.
The major emphasis of this lesson has been on making sure we have the right concept of God. First, as we study the Bible to learn about God, we need to keep an eye out for areas where our idea of God has been tainted by the false teaching of man. Then, we need to make sure that we trust what God has said about Himself to be true and meditate on how those truths should affect our lives. Lastly, it ought to be quite clear how important it is to have the correct, unpolluted, authentic version of the Word of God. For those of us who read English, this can only be the King James Bible!