What is God like? In our study last week, we began a series of studies that will close out this season of bible study. In this series of studies we are taking a look at who God is. Last week, we studied about God being our everything – the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the First and the Last. The Lord is the sovereign ruler over all things, whether we know of those things or not.
So, when we study about the Lord and we learn that God is Almighty, we may begin to wonder about His character – what is He like? Some think that God is a harsh and cruel God – they will say that He is unfair. This thought comes from the idea that some people have because they look and see what others have or do not have, and they believe it to not be fair.
What I want to do in this week’s study is take a look at the character of the Lord so that we can see what God is like. I believe that God is often mischaracterized and so I feel it is of great importance for us to look at and see (understand) God. To do this, we are going to dive into scripture which will include some of the parables that Jesus taught.
The Character of God
The first place I want to begin again this week is at the Creation itself. Keep in mind what we learned and studied last week – God is constant. The writer of Hebrews said it best when they wrote that Jesus, the Lord, is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). So, what this means to us is that who God was yesterday, He is today; what God was like yesterday is what He is like today and will be like tomorrow. God does not change.
Shown in the creation
I want to start at the beginning for us because who the Lord was at the beginning of our time is who He still is today. In the beginning, the Lord created the heavens and the earth. Now, when we take a look at creation as it’s shown to us through scripture, all of creation was created for the purpose of serving mankind. What do I mean by this?
One of the first parts of creation that we see is the creation of light and with the creation of light, we are told that the lord divided the light from darkness and called light Day and darkness He called Night (Gen. 1:3-5). Now, that doesn’t sound like much but the day and night serves to our scheduling and how we mark things, right?
We are later told that the Lord created the lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night, and for them to be for signs and seasons, for days and years (Gen. 1:14-15). Scripture tells us that the Lord made two great lights: the greater light to rule (the sun) and the lesser light to rule the night (the moon). God made the stars also, is what we are told (Gen. 1:16).
Now, many of us don’t really think much about these things, but all of these things are responsible for life on earth. We require sunlight in order to sustain life. Speaking of sustaining life, we see that the Lord seeded the earth so that it would bring forth grass, herbs, fruits, and more seeds (Gen. 1:11-12). Even the moon plays a role with the shifting tides it creates, the maintaining of the earth’s rotation, and the ebbs and flows it creates in the earth’s rotation which is responsible for the seasons.
When the Lord was finished with His creation, He looked at it all and saw that it was good. The Lord then created man and He placed man in the garden to enjoy the fruits of His creation. God, I want you to understand, created this creation for us – to serve us. So, from the very beginning, I want you to see that God was caring and loving. The Lord did not place mankind into a mess of a world – His creation was very good in His eyes — it was perfect.
The Lord is merciful
God was loving and caring towards mankind before we, mankind, was even formed out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). So if the Lord loved us and cared for us that much before we were formed, how much more would He love us and care for us after He formed us?
The Lord’s love for mankind is shown to us immediately in the garden. At the first, we are shown that man wanted for nothing in the garden (Gen. 2:15-16). The only thing that man was commanded not to do in the garden was to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Now, as we know, man disobeyed the Lord and sinned (stood in opposition) against the Lord. So, how did the Lord respond to this disobedience? Was He angry? Was He upset? Again, some believe that the Lord is a harsh and a cruel God.
When the Lord visited the garden, I want you to know He knew very well what had happened – He knew that they had sinned. Adam and Eve tried to hide from the Lord because they feared His response – they felt that the Lord would be upset with them. Now, I will suggest to you that the Lord was certainly not pleased with Adam and Eve.
We know this because the Lord said to the woman, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). To Adam, the Lord said, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:17-19).
Yes, the Lord was not pleased that Adam and Eve had disobeyed Him. Would you be happy with a child or your children if they disobeyed you? I cannot imagine that you would be. However, what separates a good parent from a bad parent is that they don’t leave their child in a hole of punishment.
Though the Lord punished Adam and Eve by sending them out of the garden, we see that the Lord still cared for them. Before banishing them from the garden, the Lord made tunics and clothed them (Gen. 3:21). The Lord did not send them naked out naked into the world – He provided and cared for them. So, even in their wrongdoing, God still loved them and showed mercy.
Faithful to mankind
I would say that this moment in the history of man’s relationship with the Lord set the precedent for the Lord being a God of forgiveness and mercy. As John wrote in his first epistle, the Lord is both a faithful and just God (1 John 1:9). Even though you and I may error, the Lord is still faithful and forgiving of those that love Him. Why is this the case? Because the Lord loves us.
Something that I pointed out in our study last week is that though the Lord sits on His throne, He watches over and keeps those who are poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at His word (Is. 66:1-2). God constantly watches over His children. As Moses said of the Lord, God is always near to us and He will never leave nor forsake (forget) us (Deut. 31:8).
Now, does this mean that the Lord is going to accept our sins against Him? Absolutely not. We know that the Lord is faithful to us because instead of abandoning us when we have trespassed against Him, the Lord will rebuke (correct) us. We see in scripture that the Lord will get on us and correct us when we have trespassed against Him. The two best examples of God rebuking us can be seen in both Saul and David, two kings of Israel.
David considered himself and Saul, who was king before him, to be the Lord’s anointed. When Saul went against the Lord with his unlawful sacrifice, God rebuked him (1 Sam. 13:7-15). This was a moment where Samuel could have heeded God’s correction, but he continued to act wickedly in defying the Lord to the point where he began to spare enemies of Israel (1 Sam. 15:1-11), and even acted with all manner of wickedness towards David. The Lord dealt with Saul justly as the throne was taken from him and given to David because Saul did not heed God’s rebuke (1 Sam. 15:16-23)
When David committed his great sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then having Uriah, her husband, placed on the front lines of battle to die, God rebuked him (2 Sam. 12:1-13). Unlike Saul, David immediately repented of his sin and corrected himself. Had God not offered his rebuke, there’s a chance David might have continued to act as if he had not sinned at all. Though, I do believe David’s heart would not have allowed him to do so.
David’s heart was a heart that was for the Lord. Let us remember that David is the one who said, “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1). Even though he was a man after God’s heart, David was still rebuked and even suffered greatly for his wrongdoings.
The writer of Hebrews said it best. “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? (Heb. 12:7)” We know the Lord is a faithful God because He acts in a manner where He constantly shows He cares about us and cares for us. If the Lord was not faithful to us, He would have left mankind to itself a long time ago.
Compassionate to Mankind
If you were to ask me what the Lord is like, I would tell you that God is compassionate. The Lord is sympathetic to all that we go through and He diligently works to help us in all manner. When we are in need, the Lord provides. The best showing of this in scripture occurred when Jesus fed the five thousand (Matt. 14:13-21). Scripture states that multitudes had followed Jesus on foot and when Jesus saw the great multitude, He was moved with compassion and healed their sick and fed them.
As we know well, Jesus summed up the Lord’s compassion for mankind when He said that the Lord loved the world and gave the world His only begotten Son so that nobody would perish to sin (John 3:16). There is one parable in particular that Jesus gave that I want to focus on because I believe it speaks to the Lord’s compassion for mankind.
Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers
In the synoptic gospels, we will find Jesus’ parable of the wicked vinedressers. For the purpose of this study, I will go with Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 21:33-46) but this parable reads the same in both Mark and Luke’s gospel as well.
In this parable, Jesus speaks of a certain landowner that planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it (Matt. 21:33). This vineyard, Jesus also tells us, had a winepress and a tower – so it was well furnished and also well protected.
The parable that Jesus was giving was figurative in speech and was representative of the Lord and His heavenly kingdom. You see, the certain landowner represents God and the vineyard is representative of His heavenly kingdom. We know this bit of information from what Jesus says at the end of this parable, though, at first glance, we would not think that the vineyard is a representation of God’s heavenly kingdom.
We might think this because Jesus tells us that the landowner leased the vineyard to vinedressers and went away into a far country. Does this mean that the Lord leased heaven and went away? Absolutely not. When we think of heaven, we often think of it as just a place. However, when Jesus taught of heaven, He said that heaven is like treasure (Matt. 13:44); heaven is like a beautiful pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46); heaven is like a dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50); heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (Matt. 13:52).
I love Jesus’ speaking of heaven being like a dragnet. A dragnet is a large net for catching fish and many fish of different kinds end up being caught in this net. There’s good fish that get caught up in the net and, at the same time, bad fish end up getting caught in the net as well. The fish that is good for eating is kept whereas the bad fish are tossed away. So, heaven isn’t just a place, heaven is also those that will occupy the kingdom.
The vinedressers in this parable, therefore those that cared for the vineyard, were representative of Israel, the people. When vintage-time came, the landowner (God) sent his servants to the vinedressers in order to receive fruit from the vineyard (Matt. 21:34). The servants, in this parable, were representative of the prophets in Old Testament days.
Sadly, Israel wasn’t producing any good fruit, and was given over to wickedness. The vinedressers, we are told, beat servants, killed, and stone them as well (Matt. 21:35). Many prophets were killed for testifying and prophesying of God. For example, during the days of Esau, Ahab and Jezebel were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of prophets. Prophets were killed because they spoke against the sins of Israel.
Jesus tells us in the parable that more servants were sent and were treated in the same manner (Matt. 21:36). Then, the landowner sent his only son to the vineyard, believing that his son would be treated differently. However, they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him (Matt. 21:37-39).
At the end of this parable, Jesus posed this question: When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those [wicked] vinedressers (Matt. 21:40)?
Now, by our logic, we would suppose that the landowner would have done to the wicked vinedressers in return what they had done to his servants and even to his son, right? We would think that way because that is how we would likely feel. Jesus dropped the figurative speech and said plainly to the Jews, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matt. 21:43).
The vineyard, the heavenly kingdom, was opened up to all people. Anyone bearing fruit of the vineyard (heaven), whether Jew or of another nation, can occupy the vineyard. Let us remember that the Lord is faithful and just, so those who are wicked vinedressers will not be allowed to occupy the vineyard.
This parable, I believe, encamps all of the Old Testament and God sending HIs only begotten Son. This parable summarizes the Lord’s compassion towards mankind. After the first servants were killed, the Lord could have given up on the vineyard and the vinedressers, but He did not. The Lord moved with even more compassion to send more servants and then sent His only begotten Son.
What is God Like?
God is mercy, forgiveness, compassion – God is love. If you were to ask me what God is like, I would share with you what Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4-13).
Paul wrote, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Again, God is love. Paul defined love according to how the Lord is in His love. So, God is kind. God does not envy and does not think nor act wickedly. The Lord also does not rejoice in iniquity, which is why He is so tough on us and offers us so much correction.
Paul then said, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” (1 Cor. 13:8). Some may believe that the Lord fails, but God never fails. If you were to ask me what God is like, I would tell you that the Lord is a diligent worker out of that place of compassion. The Lord works diligently so as not to fail you and me.