“The Earth Is My Footstool”: God’s Feet and Our Walk
The Lord’s declaration through his prophet Isaiah (Isa. 66:1) reminds us that the foot is used quite commonly in figurative expressions. Indeed, the foot is used in many different ways. A parent who pays for his child’s education is said to “foot the bill.” The foot can indicate that which is opposite. The foot of the bed is at the opposite end of its head. A serviceman’s footlocker sets at the foot of the bed. The foot of the statue points to its base, while the foot of the mountain stands at the opposite end of its peak.
The foot occurs in many idioms expressing human relationships or situations. When a man is said to have “feet of clay,” it is acknowledged that he is fallible. To be on a “firm footing” is to enjoy a stable position as in business or a personal relationship. If we “get off on the wrong foot,” we are placed in an unfavorable position. An employee who is “given the foot/boot” is discharged. Someone who “plays footsie” with another person or a given situation is having an intimate relationship, perhaps flirting with disaster. Someone who is “foot loose,” however, is unattached.
If we “put our foot in our mouth,” we blunder by making an embarrassing or troublesome remark. “Putting one’s best foot forward” signifies doing one’s best. To “put one’s feet to something” is to act on the basis of prior information or convictions. “Getting a foothold” on a problem secures a firm basis for solving it. If we “put our foot down,” we make a firm decision with regard to something or someone. To “follow in one’s footsteps” is to emulate another’s example or occupy his/her former position. To “leave one’s footprints” is to provide an example or an impression.11
Likewise parts of the foot also become employed in everyday speech patterns. If we “cool our heels,” we wait for a time but if we “kicked up our heels,” we indicate that we had a lively or merry time. A storm that follows another occurs “on the heels of the first one.” A person who is “under someone’s heels” is under another’s stern authority. Calling someone a “heel” can indicate that we think of him as an unscrupulous person or cad.
The toe is also used in figurative language. To have “a toehold” on a situation may indicate a person’s entry into it. If we “step on someone’s toes” we offend them. If we “toe the line,” we follow set guidelines or orders and if we are “on our toes,” we are mentally alert.
“My Feet Have Followed His Steps Closely”(Job 23:11)
Many of the figurative uses of the foot noted above are also found in the Scriptures.12 Thus as the children of Israel were camped before Mount Sinai, Moses “built an altar at the foot of the mountain” (Ex. 24:4).13 A portion of the southern boundary line for the tribe of Benjamin “descended to the edge (lit., foot) of the hill country near the Valley of Ben Hinnom, located in the Valley of the Rephaites to the north” (Josh. 18:16). Pharaoh used the expression “hand or foot” in emphasizing Joseph’s total authority over “all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:43-44). By foot a narrator can intend the whole person.14 For example, the prophet Ahijah tells Jeroboam’s wife, “As for you, go back home. When you set foot in the city, the boy will die” (1 Kings 14:12). Obviously more than the foot of Jeroboam’s wife would enter the city!
Setting Foot In/On
“You caused my feet to stand in a wide place”(Ps. 31:8, MT).
We often hear remarks such as, “I wouldn’t set foot in that place!” Like the English idiom, “setting foot in” can also signify entering a place in the Bible. The author of Proverbs warns, “Don’t set foot too frequently in your neighbor’s house, lest he become weary of you and hate you” (Prov. 25:17). It is a wise person who knows when not to “drop in” at a neighbor’s house, or not to overstay his welcome at a friend or relative’s home. Job spoke of those who work in mines as laboring in places “forgotten by the foot” (Job 28:4, MT) and where “proud beasts have not set foot on it” (Job 28:8). Traveling on a previously unknown road can be expressed as proceeding on a way where one has not gone with his feet (Isa. 41:3, MT). Even a lifestyle may be expressed in this way. Thus the wise father warns his son against throwing in his lot with sinners; rather he should withhold his “foot from their paths” (Prov. 1:15, MT; cf. 4:14).
The idiom “setting foot on/in” can occur in both positive and negative contexts. Should they love the Lord and walk in all his ways, God assured Israel they would possess the Promised Land: “Every place you set your foot will be yours … from the River (that is, the Euphrates) as far as the Mediterranean Sea” (Deut.11:24). The “treading of the land” can signify possession and dominion. On the other hand, Israel was denied possession of Edomite territory for Esau’s sake, “Because I am not giving you any of their land, not even a footprint” (Deut. 2:5).
“They fall at my feet”(Ps. 18:38).
An important use of the foot image can be found in figures of speech implying victory or conquest. In an exaggerated boast the Assyrian king Sennacherib (721-705 B.C.) declared, “With the soles of my feet I dried up all the rivers of Egypt” (2 Kings 19:24). This statement is simply pompous propaganda, however. Although Sennacherib’s annals record eight military campaigns, no mention of his penetration into Egypt is recorded. This feat remained to be accomplished by Esarhaddon (671 B.C.) and Ashurbanipal (667, 663 B.C.). The boast may have reflected Sennacherib’s future intentions, which apparently were an “open secret” to God. Indeed, God knows the innermost thoughts, desires, and intents of men (Pss. 44:21; 139:2, 23).
This image can be seen in the victorious conqueror’s putting his feet on the neck of his vanquished foes. In the biblical record, after their defeat at the Battle of Gibeon, five Amorite kings of the land fled to the Cave of Makkedah. When the forces of Israel arrived at the cave, they brought those kings before Joshua. Then Joshua summoned all the army commanders and instructed them to “come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings” (Josh.10:24).
When the coming Christ “stumps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful” (Rev. 19:15), the long-awaited fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to David’s heir that he would “put your enemies under your feet” (Mt. 22:44; cf. Ps. 110:1) will be realized. Similarly, Isaiah predicts that one day Israel’s enemies “will bow down to you and they will lick the dirt on your feet” (Isa. 49:23).
“I fell down at his feet as though I were dead”(Rev. 1:17).
Closely related to the above idioms depicting conquest or victory is the ancient Near Eastern practice of falling at or bowing down at the feet of another. The practice was a mark of submission to authority. Many of the texts record instances of such submission. In many cases, however, the language appears to be merely idiomatic, reflecting standard diplomatic reporting. A few examples will illustrate. From the records of ancient Mesopotamia we learn that the Neo-Assyrian king Ashurbanipal frequently speaks of the submission of his enemies as “kissing his feet.” For example, he boasts that the Elamite king Tammaritu “kissed my royal feet and smoothed (brushed) the ground (before me) with his beard.”15 A similar idea occurs in the texts of ancient Egypt. Thus the victory hymn supposedly coming from the god Amon Re to Thutmose III declares, “I have felled the enemies beneath thy sandals.”16
In a Phoenician inscription discovered at Karatepe the royal servant Azatiwada boasts, “In places where there were evil men, gangleaders, … I, Azatiwada, placed them under my feet.”17 The Ugaritic goddess Asherah bows down at the feet of the god El “and does him reverence.”18 Correspondence between royal officials and the king often contains a statement of the official’s prostration before the king. Thus an unnamed Ugaritic official greets his king with these words: “Seven and seven times I fall at the feet of the king, my lord.”19 Such diplomatic protocol is typical of this type of correspondence, whether addressed to the king, the queen, or even individuals. Indeed, the language could become quite flowery at times. Note the following cases from the Amarna texts of ancient Egypt:
To the king, my lord, my Sun-god, my pantheon, say: Thus Shuwardata, thy servant, servant of the king and the dirt (under) his two feet, the ground (on) which thou dost tread! At the feet of the king, my lord, the Sun-god from heaven, seven times, seven times I fall, both prone and supine.20
To the king, my lord, my pantheon, my Sun-god, the Sun-god of heaven: Thus Widia, the prince of Ashkelon, thy servant, the dirt (under) thy feet, the groom of thy horse. At the feet of the king, my lord, seven times and seven times verily I fall, both prone and supine.21
If such practices and the idiomatic speech associated with them were so widespread in the ancient Near East, it could be expected that the people of the Bible would likewise act and speak in this way. And so they did. For example, in order to save her wicked and foolish husband from David’s vengeance, Abigail goes to David with a generous gift and in full submission to him “bowed to the ground, falling at his feet” (1 Sam. 25:23-24). Confessing her husband’s wickedness, she reminded David of his God-given destiny to be king over all Israel and suggested that if David were to slay her husband Nabal, it would weigh heavily on his conscience (vv. 30-31).
Both submission and authority can be felt in many cases. For example, Esther recognizes that King Xerxes alone could counteract the plan of wicked Haman to destroy the Jewish people: “Esther again spoke with the king, falling at his feet. She wept and begged him for mercy, that he might nullify the evil of Haman the Agagite, which he had intended against the Jews” (Esth. 8:3).
Not only submission and authority but also reverence can be intended. When the Apostle John saw his beloved risen Jesus, he reports: “I fell at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive--forever and ever--and I hold the keys of death and Hades!’” (Rev. 1:17-18). Here the Lord Jesus is pictured in the familiar biblical motif of the right hand marking identity and or intimacy. In so doing he identifies himself with John and not only assures John that He is the ever-living Lord but the One in whom the issues of eternity are found.
What a blessed reunion that must have been—heavenly Master and earthly disciple together again. He who lay on Jesus’ bosom (Jn. 13:23) now lay at his feet in full recognition of his deity and in humble reverence to his Redeemer. Herein perhaps we may see a fore-gleam of that day when “every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7) and every believer “will be like him, because we will see him just as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). May each of us so live in reverence to the Lord and in loving submission to his authority that one day we may hear him say, “Well done” (Lk. 19:17).22
“A Thick Cloud Was Under His Feet” (Ps. 18:9)
With all of this background, it is not surprising that God would reveal himself in human terms as having feet, particularly since the people of the Old Testament were active partakers of the world around them. But does God really have feet as we do? The pivotal text is found in Exodus 24:9-11.
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself. But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites; so they saw God, and they ate and they drank.
Taken at face value, these verses seem clearly to indicate that God has both hands and feet.23 In gaining a clear understanding of the meaning of the text, however, it must be kept in mind that the Scriptures contain distinct statements that no man has seen God at any time. God himself told Moses, “No one can see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). The Lord Jesus declared: “No one has ever seen God, the only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known” (Jn. 1:18). Therefore, Paul could rightly affirm that God is one “whom no human has ever seen or is able to see” (1 Tim. 6:16).
Therefore, what Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders saw was a description of God in human terms. Such cases are instances of the attributing of human characteristics to God. To be sure, it was God appearing in royal splendor before his people (a theophany). Yet the text says nothing concerning the essence of God himself. What better way could God find to communicate himself to mortal man in all his limited human imagination? Such seems certain as well from the choice of names used for God here. “It is not stated ‘and they saw YHWH’, using the name that belongs specifically and exclusively to the Lord All-glorious Himself, but only and they saw the God [̉Elōhīm] of Israel, … nor is there any reference to the likeness itself that they saw, but only to what they saw beneath God’s feet.”24The description in this passage is reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision of the living creatures: “Then there was a voice from above the platform over their heads when they stood still. Above the platform over their heads was something like a sapphire shaped like a throne. High above on the throne was a form that appeared to be a man” (Ezek. 1:25-26).25
In these cases as well as others God simply shows himself in a form most readily understandable by man. In this way you and I can begin to grasp something of the indescribable glory and works of God.26 Since in the case of Ex. 24:9-11 the focal point of what the Israelites beheld was the base of the appearance, the term “foot” would take on a double significance both as part of the anthropomorphic description of God and as the lower part of what was seen.
In the inspired record we are not confronted with a deity who is revealed as merely a super-human being as commonly conceived by the ancients. Therefore, we can be assured that other passages in the Scriptures dealing with God’s feet contain similar imagery, though often of an elevated nature. For example, the psalmist (Ps. 18:9) portrays God as parting the heavens and coming down with “a thick cloud … under his feet.” The prophet Nahum declares, “He marches out in the whirlwind and the raging storm; dark storm clouds billow like dust under his feet” (Nah. 1:3). Ezekiel predicted that the future Temple in Jerusalem will become God’s residence on earth, “the place for the soles of my feet” (Ezek. 43:7). The Ark in the Temple was also portrayed as God’s footstool (1 Chr. 28:2; Pss. 99:5; 132:7), as was Jerusalem (Lam. 2:1), and the earth (Isa. 66:1; Mt. 5:35; Acts 7:49). Activities associated with the feet also are picturesquely ascribed to God. He “marches on the heights of the earth” (Am. 4:13; cf. Mic. 1:3) and “treads on the waves (lit., high places) of the sea” (Job 9:8).27
What do all of these passages regarding God’s “feet” tell us? Such texts are not without meaning. When we read that the storm clouds are like dust under God’s feet (Nah. 1:3), we understand that he is the possessor and Lord of the natural world. As such he who is the Divine Warrior is able to use the thick clouds under his feet (Ps. 18:9) as weapons in his mighty arsenal.28 When Ezekiel (43:7) describes the Temple as the place for the soles of God’s feet, he indicates that it will be the appointed place par excellence where God is to be worshiped (cf. Deut. 12:10-14). But it also stands as a reminder that God is sovereign. God’s treading upon the waves of the sea (Job 9:8) testifies to God’s creativity and divine rule over the nations, while his treading upon the high places of earth adds the further thought that as the mighty Divine Warrior, he can descend in judgment against the world (Am. 4:12-13).
Thus each of the figurative contexts dealing with God’s feet carries distinct meaning that transcends ordinary language. But there is more! They also carry truth in the sense that the meaning conveyed in each of the contexts points to truth—truth that is revealed elsewhere in the Bible. Thus the picture of the clouds as “under God’s feet” reinforces the biblical truths of God as Creator and Controller of the universe (Gen 1:1) and of planet earth in particular (Ex. 19:5; Ps. 104). His use of the storm clouds and his treading of the high places of earth are in harmony with the scriptural teachings that although God transcends the universe he created, he is present in its activity (Ps. 115:12-16; Mic. 1:2-4).29
Moreover, God “is the sovereign Lord of history, nature, earth and its peoples. He acts, He conquers, and judges.”30 The description of the Temple as “under the soles of God’s feet” (Ezek. 43:7) or as “God’s footstool” (1 Chr. 28:2), and of Jerusalem (Lam. 2:1) and the earth as “God’s footstool” (Isa. 66:1) are in harmony with the scriptural record that the Lord is the sovereign king and ruler of all (Pss. 24:7-10; 29:1-10), and Israel’s king in particular (Isa. 41:21; 43:15; 44:6). The picture of God putting Israel’s enemies under his people’s feet and of making Messiah’s enemies a “footstool for your feet” (Ps. 110:1) supports the truths that God is faithful to his people (Isa. 49:1-7) and will be active in bringing earth’s history to its climax in accordance with his purposes for the distant future (Isa. 46:9-10).
The figurative language relative to the foot noted in connection with God is often applied to Jesus Christ. As the promised Messiah he puts his enemies under his feet (cf. Ps. 110:1 with Mt. 22:44; Acts 2:35; Heb. 1:13; 10:13). Such passages testify to the truth that Christ is Israel’s promised Messiah and Lord (Acts 2:36). As the Divine Warrior he is also the final vanquisher of death (1 Cor. 15:25-27) and triumphant conqueror of all rebellious and sinful forces as he “stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful” (Rev. 19:15). These latter two passages testify to the truth of a realized redemption in Christ’s finished work on Calvary. They are also a reminder of the truth that Christ, the Divine King, will judge sinful men and nations.
The Believers’ Feet
“Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet” (Ps. 119:105. MT)
An appreciation of how God inspired the biblical writers to use such imagery in reference to God is surely important. Not only do such texts detail truths about the person and work of God but, as creatures made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), they remind us of our responsibilities to live in accordance with the high standards that God expects of us.
Thus preserving sound spiritual judgment and discernment will give a sense of security to the believer, for his foot will not stumble (Prov. 3:23). Nor will his feet become ensnared, for God will be his guide and protector (Prov. 3:26). Spiritual integrity and security for God’s people come by humbly giving glory to God so that their feet do not stumble (Jer. 13:15-16). In similar sentiment the psalmist exclaims, “You deliver my life from death. You keep my feet from stumbling, so that I might serve God as I enjoy life” (Ps. 56:13).31
The wise person’s pursuit of spiritual maturity and moral purity is enhanced by making level paths for his feet and not deviating from them (Prov. 4:26-27; cf. Ps. 26:1-2). Indeed, the faithful believer’s feet will not stray from God’s path (Ps. 44:18, MT). Such a course of action may even help assist others to keep from spiritual or moral failure (Heb. 12:13). As well the believer should control his anger so as not to “give the Devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27). It is especially true that the believer is to direct his footsteps in accordance with God’s Word (Ps. 119:133). In sum, it may be said:
Obedience to God guarantees that one’s feet will not slip (Ps 17:5).
for God is said to guard the feet of his saints (1 Sam 2:9). This is related to the desire for feet to be on level ground (Ps 26:12; Prov 4:26; Heb 12:13) in a spacious place (Ps 31:8) on firm ground (Ps 40:2) and guided by the lamp of God’s Word (Ps 119:105).32
Some texts using the foot, however, warn of the failure to meet God’s standards. The slipping feet can signify failure or ill success (Pss.17:5; 38:16), anxiety (Ps. 94:18), or wavering faith (Ps. 73:2). The psalmist pictured his distress as being trapped in the watery deep, “where there is no place to stand” (Ps. 69:2, MT). Sinful behavior can also be described as someone having proud feet (Ps. 36:11, MT), or as feet that trample the pasture or muddy the water of the underprivileged of society (Ezek. 34:18-19).
The godless are depicted as those who do not restrain their feet (Jer. 14:10, MT). They are the ones whose feet rush to sin (Prov. 1:16; Isa. 59:7) or evil (Prov. 6:18), or are “swift to shed blood” (Rom. 3:15). Their lives are characterized by walking in falsehood and feet that hurry after deceit (Job 31:5). But Job’s friend Bildad observed that wicked individuals will have their own plots backfire against them: “His own counsel throws him down. For he has been thrown into a net by his feet … A trap seizes him by the heel; a snare grips him” (Job 18:7-9). The feet of the adulteress are typical, for they have feet that “go down to death” (Prov. 5:5). Particularly odious are those who fellowship with us yet “lift up their heel” against us (Jn. 13:18, Grk).
Unfortunately, habitual sinners deliberately turn their back on the knowledge of the truth and keep on sinning. In so doing, they trample the Son of God under foot, thereby earning the certain judgment of God (Heb. 10:26-31). Such individuals are described as lost sheep (Jer. 50:6) that Christ came to save (Mk. 10:45; Jn. 10:11). Therefore, because of mankind’s lost condition, the Bible teaches us of the necessity to have busy feet—feet that bring good tidings, especially of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Such feet are described metaphorically as beautiful feet (Rom. 10:15).33 Indeed, in God’s mercy the promised Messiah has come to banish spiritual darkness and “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:78-79). One day Israel, too, will “know my name” and will welcome the beautiful feet of the messenger who “announces peace, a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa. 52:6, 7).
Beautiful feet have a past, present, and future significance. In earlier days a messenger heralded the good news of Nineveh’s defeat (Nah. 1:15). The news of Nineveh’s fall and that of Assyria meant that the threat of Assyrian invasion would never again trouble God’s people. In a future day “an oppressed Israel shall be freed at last from oppressors and invaders, and its people shall not only hear the message of the Lord’s salvation but also experience the everlasting serenity that comes with His presence in royal power in their midst (Isa. 52:1-10).”34
Paul later builds on the theme of the message of good news by pointing out that Christ’s finished work challenges all believers to bear the good news of salvation in Christ to a perishing mankind:
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How timely [or beautiful] is thearrival [Grk, are the feet] of those who proclaim the good news (Rom. 10:13-15).
Thus “beautiful feet” have a present, yes timeless, significance. May we each have “beautiful feet” that carry us to bring the good news of the gospel to a lost and needy world. Frances R. Havergal put it so simply and so well when she wrote, “Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.”35
Wrapping It Up
“You… Kept My Feet From Stumbling” (Ps 116:8)
What have we learned about God’s “feet?” What does the revelation of God as having feet mean to us as mere mortals and believers in particular? We noticed in our earlier discussions that God’s “feet” underscores the fact that God is the sovereign possessor and controller of the world and its history. Furthermore, he has assigned the final consummation of earth’s history and the judgment of all mankind to Jesus Christ.
We also saw that those who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior are to have “beautiful feet”—feet that bear the good news of salvation in Christ to a lost and unbelieving world. For lost men, women and young people face the danger of a great final judgment. True enough! But texts relating to the “feet” of God tell us more. The activities associated with God’s “feet” also serve as an example for believers to act in such a way as to reflect God’s character and actions.
Although God is said to walk on the vault of heaven (Job 22:14), that the dark storm clouds billow like dust under his feet (Nah. 1:3), and that he treads upon the waves of the sea (Job 9:8), he also is portrayed as walking on earth. Thus he walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8, MT).
He also “walked” about in the Israelite camp in order to protect them and give them victory over their enemies (Deut. 23:14). God assured the Israelites that if they would follow his decrees and keep his commands, he would “walk” (or be present) among them (Lev. 26:12). God’s presence among his people not only guaranteed them safety and success but provided the opportunity for his people to sense his love, concern, and desire for fellowship with them. Indeed, some righteous men of old were even said to “walk with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24; 6:9).
The image of God walking amidst his people serves as a reminder to people that he is ever present, and is a witness to the activities and even the thoughts of mankind (Isa. 66:18; Ps. 113:4-6). Therefore, people, especially believers, are to walk “before” or “with” him humbly (Mic. 6:8, MT) faithfully (2 Kings 20:3, MT) and blamelessly (Gen. 17:1). This means walking in accordance with the standards of the Word of God (Ezek. 18:9, MT). If they do, they may live in security (Prov.10:9, MT) and peace (Isa.57:2), and they will be able to meet the tasks of everyday life (Isa. 40:31). They will proceed in the way of understanding (Prov. 9:6) and walk in wisdom (Prov. 28:26). Moreover, as those who serve the sovereign Lord of the universe, believers are to be submissive to him (Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 1:17), worship him (Job 1:20; Ps. 95:6), and conduct themselves in accordance with the high standards (Prov. 8:20) that God has set (Deut. 8:6). This involves living lives of moral purity and growing spiritual maturity (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:8-10; cf. 2 Pet. 3:18).
Perhaps the best known Old Testament text concerning the walk of the righteous believer is found in Psalm 1:1-3:
How blessed is the one who does not follow (MT, walk) the advice of the wicked,
or stand in the pathway of sinners
or sit in the assembly of scoffers!
Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;
he meditates on his commands day and night.
He is like a tree planted by flowing streams;
it yields its fruit at the proper time,
and its leaves never fall off.
He succeeds in everything he attempts .
The psalmist reports that the blessed man avoids the downward spiral of bad associations (cf. Prov. 22:24-25). He who is pictured as walking in the advice of the godless could soon find himself having common cause with open sinners and worse, jointly participating with those who actively oppose the things of God. As the apostle Paul points out, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33).
The man who instead takes full pleasure in God’s words and standards is he who worships the Lord and therefore is blessed (Ps. 89:15). He can find prosperity and true spiritual success. Indeed, this kind of believer possesses genuine faith. Intellectually, he has put his complete trust in the Lord; emotionally, he finds constant delight in the Lord; and volitionally, he commits his entire live to him. Therefore, he can rest securely in God’s providential care and leading (Ps. 37:3-7).
From the New Testament we learn that such a life is fully available to all in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:6). Jesus himself declared, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). Thus believers walk not in spiritual darkness (1 Jn. 1:6) but in the light (Eph. 5:8). By abiding in Christ we find our way through this sin darkened world illuminated by God’s revealed truth (2 Jn. 4; 3 Jn. 3-4). Indeed, we need no longer walk “according to the flesh” as we once did in unbelief but rather we can walk “according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). We can now live so as to please the Lord (1 Thess. 4:1). For we walk in his presence, observe his commands, and live according to the pattern that Christ has left (1 Jn. 2:3-6). “As long as the Christian walks ‘by faith and not by sight’ he is to endeavor to please his Lord (2 Cor. 5:7ff.). He must continually be re-examining ‘what is pleasing to the Lord’ (Eph.. 5:8ff., 15), so that he may conduct his life in a way that corresponds with his calling (Eph. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:12; Col. 1:10).”36
What a comfort it is to know that as believers in Christ we truly are able to “walk” in a worthy manner. We can walk in the light of God’s revealed truth (1 Jn. 1:7) and in the reverential fear of God (Neh. 5:9, MT). All of life at last makes sense; we can enjoy the grand life that God intends for mankind (Eph. 2:1-10). Life now takes on a purposeful goal toward which we “run” (1 Cor. 9:24-26; Phil. 3:12-14). And for those who achieve that goal, living faithfully before the Lord, there is the fond hope of joining with the faithful who lived in ancient Sardis, to whom the Lord promised, “They will walk with me, dressed in white, because they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4).
Thus what was stated negatively for the blessed man of the first psalm can also be observed from a positive perspective. The Christian believer who walks in the Lord (Col. 2:6-7, Grk) and in accordance with Christ’s commands (2 Jn. 6), and stands firm in the Lord (Phil. 4:1) and in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13), will as an overcomer one day be granted to sit with Christ and reign with him (Rev. 3:21; cf. 2 Tim. 2:12). But before that grand day, believers need to have feet that carry out the first two positive principles of walking and standing. It means that they must walk as Jesus walked or as the Apostle John expresses it, “The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked”(1 Jn. 2:6). To be sure, we presently walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). If we walk uprightly along the course that he has set for us, we can have the constant joy of the warm fellowship of the Lord’s presence (2 Cor. 6:16).
We have spoken at some length in the previous pages concerning such activities of the feet as spiritually walking and running for the Lord. Nevertheless, there are times when the feet must stand for the Lord. That standing may be passive or active. At the Re(e)d Sea the Israelites were told, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD” (Exod. 14:13). Thus they would be delivered from the pursuing Egyptians. So it is that at times we simply need to stand in awe (Ps. 22:23) of God’s working (Job 37:14; Hab. 2:1). Yet it is often the case that believers are to take an active stand for the Lord. Thus Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians, “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
In the succeeding chapter Paul returns to the need for standing firm in the faith and in so doing points out that there is a corresponding need for watchfulness and strong courage: “Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). The phrase “men of courage” is a particularly interesting word. This Greek word occurs only here in the New Testament but it has a rich spiritual history. It appears often in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), especially with some accompanying word meaning strong. The terms together thus indicate strong or good courage.
Moses urges Israel and Joshua in particular to “be strong and courageous. Do not fear or tremble … for the LORD your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you” (Deut. 31:6; cf. 31:23; Josh. 1:6-7). As Joshua assumed full command of all Israel, they swore their allegiance to Joshua and urged him, in turn, to be a courageous leader (Josh. 1:16-18). Later, in the campaign for Makkedah Joshua gave charge to his army with similar words (Josh. 10:24-28). Still later Hezekiah similarly encouraged his forces in the face of the invasion of the feared Assyrian king Sennacherib (2 Chr. 32:7).
This injunction was used not only of physical courage but also of that spiritual resolve that puts God and his Word first in the life. Thus the Lord solemnly charged Joshua to pay attention to “all the law” (Josh. 1:7-8). David challenged Solomon with putting God and his Word first in his life so that he might do God’s work with good success (1 Chr. 22:11-13; 28:20). David knew well by experience that such was the proper course for life, for only by so doing had he been blessed with God’s protection and deliverance. Accordingly, he could exclaim,
Where would I be if I did not believe I would experience
the LORD’S favor in the land of the living?
Rely on the Lord!
Be strong and confident!
Rely on the Lord! (Ps. 27:13-14)
Love the LORD, all you faithful followers of his!
The LORD protects those who have integrity
but he pays back in full the one who acts arrogantly.
Be strong and confident,
all you who wait on the LORD! (Ps. 31:23-24)
In encouraging the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:13) to “show courage; be strong,” Paul was drawing upon a charge portrayed boldly throughout the course of Old Testament history. The believer’s challenge, then, is to conduct himself in his Christian life in such a manner that God’s will, God’s Word and God’s work that he has been given to do become his all-consuming resolve.
Perhaps no finer example of that basic commitment of the whole life to Christ can be found than in the second century Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp. Ancient tradition has it that Polycarp was born toward the end of the first century and had been the disciple of the beloved Apostle John. He was to become the foremost teacher and spiritual leader of the church in Asia Minor.
During the persecution of the church in the mid second century, Polycarp was at length apprehended and led into the stadium at Smyrna before a howling mob and the Roman proconsul. The Roman official urged Polycarp to renounce Christ by saying, “Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent, say ‘away with the atheists.’” Polycarp turned to that lawless crowd and, waving his hand at them, cried out, “Away with the atheists!” And, turning to the Roman proconsul he boldly testified, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant him (Christ) and he has done me no wrong. How, can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
The source of his courage is not difficult to find. Tradition reports that as Polycarp was led into the stadium amidst the deafening din of the bloodthirsty throng, a voice from heaven said to him, “Be strong, Polycarp, and act like a man.” Such he had done and so he was to do further, for before that day had ended, the life-blood of Polycarp lay spilled on the ground. Although condemned to being burnt at the stake, the grisly deed was finally concluded only by stabbing the aged servant to death. Through it all Polycarp had been “a real man.”37
In the critical years that lie before the church of our day some of us may, like Polycarp, be faced with being “real men” (that is, courageous believers) in the face of martyrdom. Certainly most of us will face testings of various kinds frequently in our service for Christ. But whether it be in perilous times or in the normal course of our lives before God, may we resolve so to live as to keep God’s will, honor his Word, and walk faithfully before him. May we be courageous believers, for only then can we be assured that God will be with us wherever he calls us to serve.
The hymn writers remind us that whether walking, standing, or sitting, ours is to be a faithful, productive, and growing experience in Christ:
“Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee”38
“Stand up, stand up for Jesus, Ye soldiers of the cross”39
“Sitting at the feet of Jesus, O, what words I hear him say!”40
11 The foot and related terms also occur in several technical expressions. Thus in architecture an enlarged foundation or base, known as its footing, is designed to distribute the weight of a structure and thus prevent its settling. In literature the placement of stressed syllables in a poetic line is measured in “feet.” Ionic feet consist of two long or two short syllables (a major ionic foot) or two short together with two long syllables (a minor ionic foot). Foot can also designate a unit of measurement. Not to be forgotten is Carl Sandberg’s well-known description of fog as “creeping in on little cat’s feet.” See C. Sandburg, “Fog,” in American Poetry and Prose ,ed., 3d. ed., vol. 2, Norman Foerster (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947), 1317.
12 For the widespread use of foot/feet in figurative expressions in the Old Testament see F. J. Stendebach, “regel,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, eds. G Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry, vol. 13 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 317-22.
13 Unless otherwise noted, all citations are taken from the Holy BibleNew International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
14 The use of a part of something when the whole is intended (or vice versa) is called technically a synecdoche. The use of two contrasting parts to express totality or a whole is a type of synecdoche known as a merism. The previous example of “hand or foot” is just such a case (cf. Ps. 139:2): “You know when I sit down and when I get up.”
15 David D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria, vol. 2(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927), 303.
16 James H. Breasted, ed., Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 2 (London: Histories and Mysteries of Man Ltd, 1988), 263.
17 Franz Rosenthal, Azatiwada of Adana, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3d. ed., ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 654; see also K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Azatiwada Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, eds, William W. Hallo and K.Lawson Younger, Jr., vol.2 (Leiden: Brill 2000), 149; H. Donner and W. Röllig, eds., Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften, vol. 1(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1966), 5, #26, lines 15-16.
18 H. L. Ginsberg., “Poems About Baal and Anath,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3d. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 133; see also Michael D. Coogan, Stories from Ancient Canaan (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), 99-100.
19 William F. Albright, “The Amarna Letters” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 484; see also, Hallo and . Younger, Jr., eds., vol. 3 Context (2002), 104.
20 Albright, “The Amarna Letters,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 487.
21 Ibid., 490. Such examples could be multiplied many times over and can be noted in the various lexicons, word studies and texts dealing with the ancient Near East and the Old Testament.
22 A further example comes from the early church at Jerusalem. There the apostles authoritative position was recognized when the believers “who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:34-35). Authoritative position and its attendant responsibility could also be expressed as being “under the foot/feet.” Thus the psalmist reports man’s God-given authority over and responsibility for the natural world by observing, “You appoint them to rule over your creation, you have placed everything under their authority” (lit., “feet”; Ps. 8:6).
23 Exodus 24:1-11 bristles with textual, compositional, and theological problems, which have often been discussed. These are not the object of this study, however. For details, see George Bush, Notes on Exodus, reprint edition (Minneapolis: James Family Christian Publishers, 1979), 57-66; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, reprint edition (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1974), 310-15. For verses 9-11, see Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 124; Walter. C. Kaiser, Jr., More Hard Saying of the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 88-90; E. W. Nicholson, “The Interpretation of Exodus XXIV 9-11,” Vetus Testamentum 24 (1974): 77-97; “The Antiquity of the Tradition in Exodus XXIV 9-11,” Vetus Testamentum 25 (1975): 69-79.
24 Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, 314.
25 See also Ezek. 43:1-3; Dan. 7: 9-10, 13.
26 Millard J. Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985], 268) expresses it well: “There are, of course, numerous passages which suggest that God has physical features such as hands or feet… . It seems most helpful to treat them as anthropomorphisms, attempts to express the truth about God through human analogies.”
27 All three texts have been understood as referring to the back, that is, of God’s enemies much as in Babylonian mythology. See Marvin J. Pope, Job, The Anchor Bible(Garden City: Doubleday, 1963), 69. Although such need not be the case in any of these three texts, it is interesting to note that in drawing upon Ps. 110:1 Christ is portrayed as performing a similar act as His enemies (Mt. 22:44). Here, too, mythological associations need not be present, for the idiom is common enough in idiomatic expressions implying conquest and/or victory over one’s enemies.
28 See the description by Konrad Schaefer, Psalms, Berit Olam(Collegeville, MN; The Liturgical Press, 2001), 42. For the Divine Warrior motif see Tremper Longman, III and Daniel G. Reid, God Is a Warrior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).
29 On the other hand, Stendebach (“regel,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 321) points out that when Exodus 24:10 “describes only what is touched by God’s feet,” it “emphasizes God’s transcendence.”
30 Kenneth L. Barker, “Micah,” in Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 50.
31 See also Ps. 116:8-9.
32 Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman, III, eds., “Feet,” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 280.
33 See the NET note for full details.
34 Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Chicago: Moody, 1991) 46.
35 Frances R. Havergal, “Take My Life and Let It Be.”
36 G. Ebel, “Walk,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 945.
37 Citations taken from “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,” in The Apostolic Fathers, 2d ed., ed. Michael W. Holmes; trans., J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989).
38 Frances R. Haverga Take My Life, and Let It Be.”
39 G. Duffield, “Stand Up for Jesus.”
40 “Sitting At the Feet of Jesus” (Anonymous).
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)