Giving to God the Things Made in His Image

 Last week when I was studying one way women reflect God’s image, a familiar verse caught my eye in a new way. It’s a verse we usually quote when talking about why you need to pay your taxes. A group of people came to Jesus asking, “Should we pay taxes?” hoping to trick Him into saying something that would get Him into trouble (Matt. 22:15-22). Jesus does answer that question, but it’s not the only thing He talks about in this verse. He uses their wicked attempt to entrap Him to teach a valuable spiritual lesson.

“Show me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought him a denarius.  Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?”  They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Matthew 22:18-21, NET

Jesus answered a question they thought would back Him into a corner in a way that left them marveling (v.22). Then on top of that, He gave them–and us–a deep lesson to ponder. The thing stamped with Caesar’s image belonged to Caesar. The things stamped in God’s image belong to God.

Made In His Image

When Jesus pointed out that we should give “to God the things that are God’s,” He isn’t just talking about paying God our tithes or owing Him things like worship, praise, and thankful offerings. We do owe Him those things (Mal. 1:6-8; 3:6-18), but the context here has to do with giving someone the things which bear their image.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27, NET

We are made in God’s image. We are what we’re supposed to be giving to God. Just as the coins stamped with Caesar’s face showed that the money circulating came from and ultimately belonged to Caesar, we’re “stamped” with God’s image. We come from Him and belong to Him.

Image of a man reading the Bible, with text from Malachi 1:6, WEB version: "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, then where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me?"
Image by Matt Vasquez from Lightstock

Owe Him Our Lives

Paul also teaches about the idea that we owe all of ourselves to God. “You are not your own,” he writes, “for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20, WEB). Here, the focus is on the service we owe Jesus as our redeemer–the one who saved us from death and now has a claim on our lives. We also owe Him and the Father service as our creator. We’re loyal to God and serve Him because “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20, NET). We belong to God and, following Him, our lives are on a path toward spending eternity in His kingdom.

 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.

Romans 1:1-2, NET

We would be dead–or we wouldn’t even exist–if it wasn’t for God. It’s reasonable and logical (G3050 logikos) to present ourselves to God as a sacrifice. Not a dead sacrifice laid once on an altar, but an ongoing, holy life devoted to following the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. That’s how we give ourselves–the things made in God’s image–back to God: by serving Him faithfully.

Image of a young woman reading the Bible, with text from Titus 2:14, NET version: "He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good."
Image by José Roberto Roquel from Lightstock

Everything is Already His

God has the right to demand anything He wants of us. And yet all He asks is that we give Him things that are already His. It is–as Paul said of us being living sacrifices–a reasonable request.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent”

Acts 17:24-30, NET

Here, Paul presents a reasonable case to the Athenians. They already worshiped an “unknown god,” so he uses that to introduce the one true God (Acts 17:16-23). They already know the writings of Cretan philosopher Epimenides and Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus, so the idea of being God’s created children ought to be familiar (NIV footnotes on v. 28). The big, stunning new idea here is that the “Lord of heaven and earth” is the only real God. He can’t be represented by “an image made by human skill” or contained “in temples made by human hands.”

People like to make gods in their own image. Much like the Greeks and Romans, we often imagine a God who’s flawed like us, or who needs something from us, or who does chaotic things without reason, or who could be swayed to do things our way if we could just find the right bribe. But that’s a backwards idea. God is the one who makes us in His image. We belong to Him and we need to do things His way, not the other way around.

Courage in Knowing

Sometimes, the idea that we belong to God and owe Him everything rankles us. Humanity’s independent spirit often rebels against the idea that we have a Creator to whom we owe our existence. It’s easier in some ways to believe that we just happened; the product of lucky chaos and millennia of evolution. But God reveals that He created us in His own image. We’re precious and we’re made for a purpose.

We can see owing all of ourselves to God as stifling, or as encouraging. Jesus modeled the latter response. In John’s gospel, we learn this about Jesus’s mindset going into the Passover right before His crucifixion.

Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.

John 13:1-5, NET

Jesus knew He was facing a horrible death. He also knew “he had come from God and was going back to God.” Though it’s different for us, we also know we’ve “come from God.” For Jesus, He was God already and had been with the Father forever before coming into this world as human. For us, we came into existence through the creative work of both Father and Son. We’re also heading toward God, though for Jesus He was “going back” and for us we’re looking forward to being there for the first time. Despite the differences in why we can say we’ve come from God and are going toward God, we can have the same focus Jesus did here.

Knowing we’re made in God’s image opens our eyes to marvelous truths and gives us courage for whatever we face in this life. We can love “to the very end” and keep following God’s will, knowing that we belong to Him and He cares for us. We know we are special to Him. We know He made us for a purpose, which involves looking fully like Him in the future if we follow Him faithfully now (1 John 3:1-3). We also know that we owe Him all of ourselves. We’re stamped with His image, marking us as belonging to Him and (if our lives are oriented properly) we’ll be giving ourselves to Him as well.

Featured image by Med Ahabchane from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “In His Eyes” by 1 Girl Nation

Helper: One Way Women Reflect God’s Image

There’s an infamous verse in the King James Version of the Bible with phrasing that sets some people’s teeth on edge. Here, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” We’ve sometimes read this as “help-meet” as if it’s all one word and is somehow demeaning women as nothing more than an assistant or something. Really, though, “help” and “meet for him” are two separate words and they mean something different than you might htink.

“Help” comes from the Hebrew word ezer, which we’ll be spending most of our time with in this study. “Meet for him” is an old Englishy phrase that means comparable to or suitable for. It’s from the Hebrew word neged, which speaks of something conspicuously placed before someone, as well as something beside or parallel to something else (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT] 1289a; Brown-Driver-Briggs H5048). For example, God commanded “read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (Deut. 31:11, WEB) once every seven years during the Feast of Tabernacles. His law is important, and so He wanted it placed before His people to regularly remind them of what to focus on.

Setting negad aside for now, let’s go back to the word translated “helper.” The really interesting thing about the word ezer is that with just one exception, it’s only used to describe women and God. The word shows up 21 times in the Hebrew Bible. Twice it’s used in Genesis 2 to describe women. Once it refers to God scattering away anything else His people might try to rely on for help (Eze. 12:14). All the other times, ezer describes God.

Image of people holding hands and praying, with text from Psalm 20:1-2, WEB version: "May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble. May the name of the God of Jacob set you up on high, send you help from the sanctuary, grant you support from Zion"
Image by Claudine Chaussé from Lightstock

Reflecting God’s Image

Right from the get-go, God makes it clear that He created both man and woman in His image. Though God is consistently described as masculine, both men and women bear His image and reflect who He is. We also have the same spiritual potential as “fellow heirs of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7, NET).

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27, NET

In addition to being made in God’s image, we’re also supposed to grow into reflecting His character. We don’t look or act exactly like God right now, but He wants us to in the future (1 John 3:1-3). God the Father wants us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” and “put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth” (Rom. 8:29 Eph. 4:24, NET). We’ve “borne the image of the man of dust”–we’re human, just like Adam and Eve– and now we should “also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49, NET).

One of our main goals as Christians is to become like God the Father and Jesus Christ. We’re already like them in a few ways since we’re made in their image, but we’re supposed to become more and more like them the longer we’re in a covenant relationship with them. Studying God’s character traits helps us understand Him better and it also helps us understand what we’re supposed to be like.

Image of people holding hands and praying, with text from Psalm 121:1-2, WEB version: "I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from My help comes from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth."
Image by Prixel Creative from Lightstock

The Lord As Our Helper

Most of the 21 uses of ezer are found in the Psalms . Here, the writers talk about God as their help. Often, He’s described as help and shield. He shows up as a helper when we need a deliverer to protect and save us.

Our soul has waited for Yahweh.
He is our help and our shield.

Psalm 33:20, WEB

But I am poor and needy.
Come to me quickly, God.
You are my help and my deliverer.
Yahweh, don’t delay.

Psalm 70:5, WEB

You who fear Yahweh, trust in Yahweh!
He is their help and their shield.

Psalm 115:11, WEB

There’s a lot of martial imagery here. It makes sense; the root word for ezar “generally indicates military assistance” (TWOT 1598). Yahweh is our shield and deliverer. The connection between helper and battle is even more pronounced when God describes Himself to Israel as “your help.” All of us who are honest will admit we need help, particularly the sort of help God provides. And look at what a powerful sort of help this is:

“You are happy, Israel!
    Who is like you, a people saved by Yahweh,
    the shield of your help,
    the sword of your excellency?
Your enemies will submit themselves to you.
    You will tread on their high places.”

Deuteronomy 33:29, WEB

In addition to God’s role as help being linked with protecting and fighting, it’s linked with happiness. When He’s talking to His people, He says they are a happy “people saved by Yahweh, the shield of your help” (Deut. 33:29, WEB). When they turn away from Him, He tells them, “You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your help” (Hos. 13:9, WEB). If we go against God, our help, then we face destruction. But when we stay close to Him, we’re safe and happy (Ps. 146:5).

Image of a smiling woman with her hand raised in worship with text from Psalm 146:5, WEB version: "Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh, his God"
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

Deborah’s Example

If we were just reading those verses that talk about God as help, shield, sword, and protector, we’d likely link ezer with God as a Warrior and assume helper is a masculine role. But God uses it for women at creation (Gen 2:18, 20). It’s not used to describe human beings in a positive way again, but we can’t dismiss this verse lightly. This is how God describes His intention when creating women. We weren’t afterthoughts because He forgot to create a female version of the human animal. No! He carefully sculpted man in His own image, then carefully sculpted woman from man (also in His own image).

We don’t usually think of women in the Bible as offering military assistance. One notable exception is Deborah, so let’s take a look at how she modeled God’s image as a help to those around her. You’ll find her story in Judges 4-5. She led Israel when King Jabin of Canaan was oppressing Israel. He’d been a problem for 20 years before God called someone to do something about it.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, judged Israel at that time. … the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh Naphtali, and said to him, “Hasn’t Yahweh, the God of Israel, commanded, ‘Go and lead the way to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? I will draw to you, to the river Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into your hand.’”

Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

She said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the journey that you take won’t be for your honor; for Yahweh will sell Sisera into a woman’s hand.” Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

Judges 4:4-9, WEB

Deborah and Barak went to war together, along with 10,000 men. It doesn’t look like she strapped on armor and fought, but she was there to help. King Jabin’s military commander Sisera met them with 900 chariots and an unnamed number of other fighters described as “all the army.” Israel won the battle decisively. Only Sisera escaped, and then only for a short time. He took shelter in Jael’s tent since he knew her husband had a peace treaty with Jabin, and Jael killed him by driving a tent peg through his head. Deborah and Barak’s victory song celebrates Jael for her military assistance (though I recommend not following her model today if you’d like to help someone). Also in this song, we learn more about Deborah’s role.

Warriors were scarce;
they were scarce in Israel,
until you arose, Deborah,
until you arose as a motherly protector in Israel.”

Judges 5:7, NET

There are some questions about how to translate this section, but it looks like Deborah arose as a leader and protector in Israel to fill a gap when other warriors and rulers were scarce. God used her as a help that the whole nation needed.

Women As Helpers

Image of two women's clasped hands with the blog's title text and the words "r we aid someone facing a spiritual battle, encourage someone to keep going, or stand up for what's right, we're modeling God's role as 'help.'"
Image by Jantanee from Lightstock

What about us today? Deborah is an Old Testament example, and the idea of women as leaders, protectors, and warriors might not seem like it shows up in the New Testament at first glance. But there’s actually quite a bit of evidence for women teaching, leading, and protecting in the church. Paul mentions several at the end of his Romans letter.

Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, so that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and provide her with whatever help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many, including me.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Also greet the church in their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my compatriots and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

Romans 16:1-7, NET (emphasis added)

Here, Paul mentions four women who played a key role in the church. Phoebe was “a great help to many” in her role as a servant or possibly a deaconess (“servant” here is the same word that’s translated “deacon” in 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). Prisca, also called Priscilla, and her husband worked alongside Paul, hosted a church, and taught God’s way accurately (Acts 18:2-3, 24-26; 1 Cor. 16:19). Mary worked hard enough for the church that Paul noted her in this letter. Junia is a prisoner for her faith, just like Paul was at this time. The Greek wording used here is ambiguous; either the apostles took note of her or she was considered an apostle (Misreading Scriptures with Western Eyes, p. 172).

We could turn to other examples as well, but that seems sufficient to show that women in the New Testament still help in powerful ways. In addition, we’re involved with fighting spiritual battles, just like every follower of God throughout history. For both men and women, you’re a warrior even if you never pick up a physical sword or strap on armor. God puts His own armor on you and arms you with the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit. Whenever we aid someone facing a spiritual battle, encourage someone to keep going, or stand up for what’s right, we’re modeling God’s role as a help.

Featured image by Jantanee from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Onye-Inyeaka (My Helper)” by Mr. M & Revelation (lyrics translation in comments on YouTube)