Because God is spirit and doesn’t have a body like ours, it’s necessary for Him to condescend to explain Himself in terms we would understand. This is called an anthropomorphism. For example, when we hear, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry,” Psalm 34:15 we understand that it means He is omniscient and He hears their prayer.
The term comes from the Greek words, anthropos, meaning man, and morphe, meaning form. Man is made in God’s image in terms of personality; we have a will, emotions, etc. God, in Jesus, took on our form. There are many verses in Scripture that speak in terms of God having human form; with feet, hands, mouth, heart, eyes, and voice. The Israelites were prohibited from making images in any form; since God is spirit.
Once we realize that God doesn’t have body parts like we do, we need to try to look beyond the literal and see the figurative image it’s trying to convey. I was thinking today of the verses about the finger of God.
In the following verse, “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.” Ex. 8:19 the finger of God seems to relate to work of God in judgment, when He brought the plagues on Egypt.
We also see the finger of God when He personally wrote the ten commandments on tablets of stone. “And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” Ex.31:18 This shows His personal interest in this important event. The Law is sometimes called a transcript of His holiness. By revealing to us that we can’t keep the law, we see His holiness in contrast.
Jesus also mentions it, in relation to his miracles. “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Lu.11:20 They didn’t believe the miracles proved He was God and the promised Messiah, so it was a judgment on them. The finger of God, in this case relates to His power.
I think the most interesting time the term is used, is when a woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus. In this case, it was no longer an anthropomorphism, since God had now taken a human body and lived among us.
“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” John 8:2-11
Here, once again we have God writing with His finger. What did He write? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but based on the response of the scribes and Pharisees to what they saw Him write, I would guess He was again writing the ten commandments, reminding them they hadn’t kept them. Convicting them of sin. Perhaps He wrote, “Thief”, “Liar”, “Adulterer”, “Murderer”. Beginning with the eldest, they dropped the stones and walked away.
Since He silenced the critics who were hoping to place Him in a quandary about the law, He again dealt masterfully with them, as only the God Who created the law can do. By pronouncing judgment in this case, forgiving the woman who, according to the law, deserved to die, He proved Himself to be the Lawgiver, Who was able to forgive without being unjust. How did she get away with her sin? Because He would soon pay the price for it. That’s how God can justify the ungodly, and yet remain just, Himself.
In this narrative of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, we see the finger of God relates to His power to forgive and His personal interest in this situation. We also see His ability to pronounce judgment in this case because He is the Lawgiver, and His humanity because He did not pronounce judgment from Heaven, but from earth, in the actual circumstance.
So we see from these verses that God can convey so much meaning about Himself and His character by using things that are familiar to us, much like we adjust our teaching of deep truths to the age and understanding of our hearers. He is a gracious God and a patient teacher.