Who Is Like The LORD? (Part One)
For a little while now, I’ve had a constant refrain going around in my mind: “Who is like the LORD?”
This is a question that comes straight from the pages of scripture. It’s the declaration of the Israelites, rejoicing as they are rescued from slavery in Egypt:
Who among the gods
is like you, Lord?
Who is like you —
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
— Exodus 15:11
It’s the song of the Psalms, returning again and again in different words and different ways:
My whole being will exclaim,
“Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.”
— Psalm 35:10
It’s the cry of a people under attack, holding firm to the character of God even as their enemies close in around:
Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
— Micah 7:18
It’s the word given to a people in exile, inspiring faith that God will one day return them to their homeland:
Like a lion coming up from Jordan’s thickets to a rich pasture-land, I will chase Edom from its land in an instant. Who is the chosen one I will appoint for this? Who is like me and who can challenge me?
— Jeremiah 49:19
But what does it mean to say “who is like the LORD?”
As Andrew Wilson writes in his book ‘Incomparable’, we typically describe unknown things by comparing them to known things. To someone who has never eaten turkey before, we might describe it as a bit like eating chicken, only darker and richer. Or, to someone from the USA who has never heard of rugby, we might describe it as a bit like American Football, only without the padded shoulder guards.
The trouble is, the reality of God’s identity is so beyond our natural experience that comparisons fall short. We can say “God is powerful”, or “God is compassionate”, but inevitably, we’ll be drawing on our own experiences of power and compassion to inform our understanding, and applying those to God. Even if we’re making a conscious effort to amplify them as best we can to reflect the fact that God is so much more powerful and so much more compassionate than anything we’ve known or encountered, our comparisons will still fall short.
God transcends all our categories, eclipses all our classifications, overawes all our comparisons. His true nature is so far beyond our experiences that categories, classifications and comparisons fade into irrelevance. After all, who is like the LORD?
At first, this might be a troubling thought. Can we really know God, if all our comparisons fall so short? Can we really be confident in approaching a God whose identity is so far beyond our understanding? But it’s important to see that every time this phrase occurs in the Old Testament, its context and intention is always to bring comfort, courage or conviction to God’s people. It’s never to say that because God is so much more than we can imagine, He can’t be known.
In fact, it’s the very opposite! The question “Who is like the LORD?” is an invitation into:
- The identity of God: it’s a question that calls His people to press in more deeply, gaze more attentively, and explore more boldly the beautiful truths of of who He is.
- Relationship with God: it’s a question that reminds the Israelites that this God, in all His wonder, is and will always be FOR them.
This question always comes as good news into a moment of uncertainty or trouble for the community, and it always comes to bring assurance. Their fears might be as looming as large as the mountains — this God is so big that even the mountains are to Him like grains of sand. Their situation might be as dark as the most shadowy pit — this God is so radiant that even the night to Him is like day. Their enemies might be as numerous as the stars — this God is so wise that even the stars were crafted by His hands and are known to Him by name. And this God is FOR them!
That’s an encouragement for each of us to take hold of as well. Whatever life is looking like for you at the moment, whatever struggles you are facing or whatever uncertainty is lying before you, there is a God whose very identity utterly transcends the limitations of your experiences, your languages and your imaginations. He is so much more powerful, more compassionate, more generous, more just, more wise, more majestic, more beautiful, more holy, and more good than you or I can possible conceive; so much so that each of those words pales in dim comparison to the truth it is pointing to. And this God is FOR you!
What good news! What a God, what a King, what a Saviour!
But that’s not quite the end of the story...
When we arrive at the pages of the New Testament, this constant refrain, which has been scattered across the history and pages of the Old, falls silent. Someone comes along who changes everything, and a new question emerges, one we will explore in the second part of this blog (coming soon!)…
“Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” — Mark 4:41