By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
The title of this article may seem perplexing to some, perhaps even offensive.
After all, how could God have a tattoo?
Tattoos are sinful right?!
No, actually they aren’t.
Oh, there are times in the Old Testament when God condemned certain KINDS of tattoos. For example:
Leviticus 19:27-28-27 You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard.
28 You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.
The passage which condemns the “tattoos” here also condemns shaving around the sides of the head. What is going on here?
If you will notice, Leviticus 19 deals with the pagan nations that are in the land of Canaan (Leviticus 18:24, 28). The “tattoos” are in reference to how the pagans worshiped their dead and tried to conjure their spirits to make them serve the living:
“These two verses prohibit cutting the hair162 on the side of the head or the beard163 and cutting the body164 either for the dead or with tattoo marks.165 These activities were practiced by pagans especially during times of mourning for the dead.166 The Israelites were not to emulate pagan practices in this regard since they maintained a sacredness for life and for the human body.” (Mark F. Rocker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary-An Exegetical And Theological Exposition Of Holy Scripture-Volume 3A, 7335-7342 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group)
Yes, God does condemn this kind of tattoo. However, there are other passages where tattoos are not spoken of as intrinsically evil.
Let’s notice some lessons from a passage in Isaiah:
Isaiah 49:15-16-15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.
Looking At The Hebrew And The Contextual Clues Of God’s Tattoo
Studying the Hebrew and the context of this passage is fascinating. One scholar has shed much light on the subject:
“The Hebrew word for “engraven” is chaqaq (קקח). This is an unusual word because it means not only “to imprint” or “to engrave,” but also “to imagine.” This word has its roots in the Akkadian language, and the only way to understand it is to consider an unusual practice of the women in the ancient Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were a warlike people, and when a young man reached a certain age, he would usually be inducted into the Assyrian army. When a son left home to go off to war, his mother would long for some token to remind her of her absent child— so she would get a tattoo….The mother would go to the local “tattoo parlor,” so to speak, and have her son’s name tattooed on the right palm of her hand. As I mentioned earlier, the ancients believed that one’s heart was found in one’s right palm. Thus, this token, or symbol, that she would have permanently tattooed on her right palm would be a reminder of her son who was off fighting a war for her safety. According to Assyrian beliefs, that token was as close to her “heart” as possible. Since the palm of the hand is one of the parts of the body that we see most frequently, each time she looked at this little token, she would think of her son. Of course, God does not have a physical hand, and He is speaking metaphorically when He says, “I have engraven thee upon the palms of my hands.”…What God is saying in this analogy is that we are closest to His heart, and He has a little token of us permanently “engraved” on His right hand as a continual reminder of us. He is imagining all the things He longs to do for us….The Hebrew word rendered “walls” is chamah (המח), which means “a barrier” or “a wall of defense.” God has permanently engraved us near to His heart, yet too often we set up walls or barriers to His love. The picture is that of a mother longingly reaching out to her child, but the child refusing to acknowledge her love. Yet she continues to have compassion on that child. Her child may even spit on her or curse her, but she will still long to reach out to him or her. Likewise, God longs for us and wants us to draw near to Him a million times more than we long for Him. So, keep the word chaqaq (קקח), “tattooed” or “engraved,” in your mind the next time you feel as if God is not there or has abandoned you. You have His assurance, “I will not forget you.” (Chaim Bentorah, Hebrew Word Study: Revealing The Heart Of God, 3374–3401 (Kindle Edition); New Kinsington, PA; Whitaker House)
God Often Portrays “Himself” As Male And As Female
While it is often not politically correct to point this out, several times in Scripture God points out that He is literally neither male nor female, and often figuratively refers to “Himself” as both male and female.
In several passages, God pointed out to the Hebrews that He is neither male nor female. Perhaps the clearest passage about this is found in the Book of Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 4:15-18-15 “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire,
16 lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female,
17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air,
18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth.
“The clearest teaching on this subject is found in Deuteronomy 4:15- 16: “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female” (NASB). In this way, imaging God as male or female is considered idolatry, suggesting strongly that the biblical tradition is against attributing gender to God. Despite the fact that Scripture often uses language for God that is suitable for a masculine person, God is not like a human male in His form or character.” (Ed Hindson & Ergun Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia Of Apologetics, 244-245 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers)
Other passages bear out the same truths:
Numbers 23:19 (International Standard Version)-God is not a human male—he doesn’t lie, nor is he a human being—he never vacillates. Once he speaks up, He’s going to act, isn’t he? Once he makes a promise, He’ll fulfill it, won’t he?
Hosea 11:9-I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, The Holy One in your midst; And I will not come with terror.
God is literally neither male nor female since He does not have a body.
“First, we have to understand that the God of the Bible, though called our heavenly Father, has no gender-He has no genitalia, no X or Y chromosomes. God is spirit (see John 4:24), and the mystery of His Person goes way beyond anything thing we humans can imagine. It is in that sense-in terms of His spiritual nature-that the Bible describes us as created “in his image” (Genesis 1:27). He is the Person from whom our “personness” is derived, both male and female. That’s not to say we should describe Him as androgynous. God created male and female genders; they don’t define Him. He created us “male and female” for a number of reasons, one of which was to express in the created universe some diverse elements that reflect His own character. So even while the Bible most often refers to God by masculine names and pronouns (such as “Father” and “he”), sometimes he is compared to a mother holding a newborn or to a hen guarding ing her chicks (see Matthew 23:37; Isaiah 49:15). (James Garlow & Peter Jones, Cracking Da Vinci’s Code, 180-187 (Kindle Edition); Colorado Springs, Co; David@Cook)
Now notice some other passages which teach us about God referring to “Himself” as a woman:
Psalm 123:2-Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us.
Isaiah 42:1414 “I have held My peace a long time, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor, I will pant and gasp at once.
Isaiah 66:12-13-12 For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried, And be dandled on her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Psalm 131:2-Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Hosea 13:8-8 I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs; I will tear open their rib cage, And there I will devour them like a lion. The wild beast shall tear them.
Matthew 23:37-O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
God Wants Us To Understand The Depths Of His Love
When we stop and carefully consider what God is saying here, we see that there is a depth to His love that goes beyond understanding.
Ephesians 3:16-19-16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,
17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—
19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
All through the Bible, God uses these illustrations and these figures of speech to help us understand the depths of the love that He has for us.
Using the illustration of the Assyrian tattoos in this passage, God seeks to help us understand the incredible love that He has for us.
Putting Up Our Walls
However, we are often much like the children of Israel. We try and put up our walls against God and His love and plan for our lives.
Sometimes we tell ourselves, “Well, I have done such terrible things that God will not forgive me.”
Or, “Mark, I have messed up so badly and so often that God is tired of dealing with me.”
Look at who God is addressing in this passage. These Hebrews had committed some terrible sins (Isaiah 1:5-23). Yet does God therefore say that He no longer loves them? Not at all! Even in His judgments, He loves them and calls them to repentance and cleansing:
Isaiah 1:18-18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.
Isaiah 43:25-I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.
Isaiah 55:1-2-1 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
No friends, there is no sin that is so great that God will stop loving you.
Beloved, please don’t put up walls between yourself and God. Instead, tear down those things which separate you from Him and turn to Him with all your heart.
The God of Heaven loves you so much that He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to die in your place on the Cross of Calvary to tear down the greatest wall-the wall of sin. You see, our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). Because of our sins, we earn the holy wrath of God and deserve separation from Him for all eternity in a place called Hell (Romans 6:23). Yet Jesus Christ bore the full wrath of God, tasting death for each and every person (Hebrews 2:9). He died for us, was buried, and three days later He arose (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
According to God, those who hear His Word (Romans 10:17), believe in Jesus Christ (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3), confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God (1 Timothy 6:12), and are united with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3-4) will receive the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and all spiritual blessings which are only found in Christ (Ephesians 1:3; Acts 2:47).
He calls upon us to be faithful to Him, even in the face of death (Revelation 2:10).
When we fall away as Christians and sin, He promises forgiveness to us when we repent of that sin and confess it to Him in prayer (1 John 1:7-9).
Why not turn to God today?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.