The Bible’s Old Testament hints subtly in the direction of incarnation. Just one example: there may be no straight line between the book called Isaiah’s depiction of YHWH speaking in the dialect a responsive servant—’Behold, here I am!’—and the New Testament’s delineation of the risen Christ who at one time ‘took the form of a servant’. But between these two points lies at the least a winding path.
The Hebrew Bible’s occasionally daring portrayals of YHWH as a humble figure can take the slow reader’s breath away.
Unless they are read slowly, some pass almost unnoticed.
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17 ESV)
Here is YHWH the borrower, the one who is at least temporarily in need of funds from someone like me. This poor man standing before me with his hand outstretched is, in the figure, the LORD short on cash. He’ll repay me, that much is true. But not right now.
If I can summon up a bit of empathy, stir up a little philanthropic spirit to soften my hard heart, I am inserted into the divine economy as lender to the Most High.
I may feel the inevitable pinch of generosity when I myself sense no real surplus in my own account. This poor man cannot pay me back. In his honest neediness, he makes no promise to do so.
Yet YHWH the borrower keeps accounts and will, in his moment, ‘repay me for my deed’.
The Hebrew גמלו—’his deed’ in the version cited above—seems to hint not at direct repayment, dollar for dollar. Rather, YHWH will make whole the generous man or woman in an unspecified manner. ‘Be generous’, it seems we are taught, ‘and YHWH will take care of you’.
But before such calculations gather too much steam and levy their tax against our mental energy, we are asked for a moment to think more simply, more concretely, and more daringly: If I give freely to meet this poor guy’s need, I lend to my Maker who’s a little short at the moment.