Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Significance of the Divine Posture of Sitting and Standing Portrayed in the Bible

I have been asked to comment on the divine posture of standing and sitting that appears in the Bible. When we normally think of God, I guess we tend to think of him as being seated on a throne. My guess is that a king sitting particularly expresses the authority and majesty of the king in question, and that this applies to God as well. Yahweh sitting in 1 Kgs 22:19 goes together with the phrase on his throne. It speaks of Yahweh’s authority and sovereignty over all things, including (in the context) his authority over kings like Ahab. In Isa 6:1, Yahweh sitting definitely expresses his majesty. This is clear from the context: notice the connection of Yahweh sitting with the phrase high and lifted up. It is definitely emphasizing the majesty of God’s kingly authority. But sitting can also convey the idea of the exercise of authority in conducting war and executing justice against the enemies (Ps 110:1; Rev 19:11), as well as the idea of victory accomplished (see Rev 3:21). With victory accomplished, it’s a bit like the Messiah (who has been seated for a while) can finally relax and put his feet up ... on the enemies who have become his footstool!

But the Bible also describes instances of God standing. What is the significance of God standing rather than sitting? My initial thoughts are that standing up in public space is often a pragmatic posture connected with the purpose of being seen and heard clearly when speaking. Relating this to God, the idea behind God standing is that standing is the kind of posture that is appropriate for a judgment or proclamation of some kind (see Neh 9:3-4; 2 Chr 20:20; 24:20; Luke 5:1). This fits in with my suggestion regarding Ps 82:1, that the parallelism in this verse links God’s standing with his function as a judge (see “I Said You Are Gods”: The Meaning of Psalm 82).

God is actually recorded as standing a number of times in the Scriptures. He stood to give a special promise to Jacob (Gen 28:13-15); he stood to proclaim the meaning of his name to Moses (Exod 34:5); he stood to indict Aaron and Miriam for sin (Num 12:5-9); he stood to call Samuel and to deliver a word of judgment against the house of Eli (1 Sam 3:10-13); he stood (in a vision) to speak a word of judgment against Israel (Amos 7:7-9). But the key verse for understanding the significance of God standing is Isa 3:13-14:

“The Lord has taken his place to contend; he stands to judge peoples. The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people.”

Here the idea of the judge standing is seen to mimic the posture of the accuser in court. So God stands when he is acting as a judge, bringing accusations and delivering judgments.

But the New Testament suggests that God can also stand in order to give encouragement. In Acts 23:11 God appeared standing in a vision in which he encouraged the Apostle Paul to be bold in his testimony to the gospel. This idea also seems to be confirmed by Paul’s words in 2 Tim 4:17:

“But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.”

The Lord can stand in order to stand alongside of his people, to give them encouragement and strength.

What then is the significance of Stephen’s observing Jesus standing at the right hand of God in Acts 7:55? I will explore that in my next post.

1 comment:

John Thomson said...

Good post. Thanks Steven.