Descriptions of the divine (small group Bible study)

Descriptions of the devineby Michelle Chapin

The Bible has many metaphors for God: father, vine, teacher, water, bride-groom, flame, and mother to name a mere few. This small group study explores five ways He is described: a shepherd, king, healer, warrior, and the Word.

Click on a week, below, to see an outline for weekly study.

Week one: God as a shepherd

“The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1)


See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm.
See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11)

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

This is clear from the meaning of “the shepherd” as one who leads to the good of charity by means of the truth of faith, here in the highest sense, since it has reference to the Lord, goodness and truth themselves are meant. (Secrets of Heaven 6426)

“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows (Psalm 23:1-3, 5)
”This means, in the internal sense, that he who trusts in the Lord is led into all the goods and truths of heaven, and overflows with the enjoyments thereof; "my shepherd" means the Lord; "green pastures" signify the understanding of truth and good; "quiet waters" signify the truths of heaven therefrom; "table" signifies spiritual nourishment; "anoint my head with oil" signifies wisdom which is from good; "my cup overflows” signifies intelligence which is from truths, "cup" signifying the like as "wine." "Green pastures" and "quiet waters," seem to be mentioned as if they were comparisons, because the Lord is called a shepherd, and the flock of the shepherd is led into green pastures and to quiet waters; but still these are correspondences. (Apocalypse Explained 375:34)

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17) This symbolically means that the Lord alone will teach them. “The Lamb in the center of the throne” symbolizes the Lord in respect to His Divine humanity in the inmost of heaven and thus in everything connected with it. “The throne” is heaven, and “the Lamb” is the Lord in respect to His Divine humanity. And He who is in “the center” of heaven and thus in everything connected with it is the only one who shepherds all people, that is, who teaches them. If a question is raised as to how He alone can shepherd all, be it known that it is because He is God, and because He is present in the whole of heaven like the soul in its body; for heaven, arising from Him, is like a single person. “To shepherd” means to teach because in the Word the church is called “a flock,” and the people in the church are called “sheep” and “lambs.” Therefore “to shepherd” means, symbolically, to teach, and the “shepherd” one who teaches. (Apocalypse Revealed 383)

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:11-16)

Discussion questions

  • In the Bible, God promises quite a few ways He will care for us as a shepherd. Has He fulfilled any of these promises in your life? How have you seen them fulfilled in the life of someone you know?
  • When have you been a “shepherd” (teacher/leader) to others in your life?
  • In addition to “shepherd,” Jesus is also described as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). How do you think this lamb/shepherd relationship works between Jesus and God? What does this mean for us in our lives?


Write a list of words that describe shepherds. Which words describe what you’ve experienced as God? Which words can describe you? Which describe who you want to be?

Week two: God as a king

“God is the King of all the earth” (Psalm 47:7)


Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." (John 18:37)

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.(Psalm 145: 1-3, 11-13)

Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty—He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24:8-10)

“Just and true are Your ways, King of the nations,” (Revelation 15:3) signifies that all things which proceed from Him are just and true, because He is the Divine good and the Divine truth itself in heaven and in the church. By "ways" are signified truths leading to good, and by "King," when speaking of the Lord, is signified the Divine truth, and by "King of nations," the Divine truth in heaven and in the church from Him; for by "nations" are signified they who are in Divine truths from the Lord. Hence by " just and true are Your ways, King of the nations," is signified that all things which proceed from the Lord are just and true, because He is the Divine truth itself in heaven and in the church. The Lord is called "King" in His Divine Human, because this is the Messiah, the Anointed the Christ, the Son of God; that "Messiah" in the Hebrew language is "Christ" in the Greek, and that "the Messiah" or "Christ" is the Son of God; that "Messiah" signifies both King and Anointed in the Hebrew language, is known. The reason why the Lord, as King, is the Divine truth, is because this is signified by "a king." Hence it is that by "kings" are signified they who are in Divine truths from the Lord. It is on this account that heaven and the church are called His "kingdom." Then His coming into the world is called the gospel of the kingdom. Heaven and the church are called "His kingdom.” (Apocalypse Revealed 664)

Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will see the land that is very far off. Your heart will meditate on terror: “Where is the scribe? Where is he who weighs? Where is he who counts the towers?” You will not see a fierce people, A people of obscure speech, beyond perception, of a stammering tongue that you cannot understand. Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feast, your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet home, a tabernacle that will not be taken down; not one of its stakes will ever be removed, nor will any of its cords be broken. But there the majestic LORD will be for us, a place of broad rivers and streams, in which no galley with oars will sail, nor majestic ships pass by. For the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us.(Isaiah 33:17-22)

They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. (Revelation 17:14)

“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne,” (Revelation 3:21) signifies that he who is steadfast to the end of life shall be conjoined with heaven where the Lord is. This is evident from the signification of "victorious," as being to be steadfast in the spiritual affection of truth even to the end of life; but here it means to be steadfast in a state of faith from charity, since charity is here treated of. This is what "victorious" means; because so long as man lives in the world he is in combat against the evils and the falsities therefrom that are with him; and he who is in combat, and is steadfast in the faith of charity even to the end of life, overcomes; and he who overcomes in the world overcomes to eternity, since man after death is such as his life had been in the world. This is evident also from the signification of "to sit with Me in My throne," as being to be conjoined with heaven where the Lord is; for "throne” signifies heaven, and to "sit with Me" signifies to be together with the Lord, thus conjoined to Him.
[2] In the Word the word "throne" is many times used, and in reference to the Lord it signifies in general, heaven, in particular the spiritual heaven, and in the abstract, Divine truth proceeding from the Lord, since this is what makes heaven.(Apocalypse Explained 253)

Discussion questions

  • What makes up a king? A crown? Wealth? Subjects to rule? How do the elements of king empower your concept of God?
  • What do you find comforting about the image of God as a king? What do you find uncomfortable?
  • Are there any similarities to the description of “shepherd” discussed last week? How is this shown in the passage from Revelation 17:14 above?
  • Describe a time you’ve experienced God’s kingdom in the world around you?


Close your eyes and think of an image of a perfect king, both fair and mighty. What do you find most powerful about your king? Strength? Wisdom? This week, when you find yourself in a moment you feel lacking of this quality, think back on the image of your perfect king. Say a prayer to the Lord, asking for that quality.

Week three: God as a healer

“For I am the LORD, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26)


And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. (Luke 6:17-19)

If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you. (Exodus 15:26)

“For I am the LORD, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26). That this signifies that the Lord alone preserves from evils, is evident from the signification of "to heal," as being to cure, and also to preserve from evils, for when "diseases" signify evils, "to heal" signifies a remedy and preservation from them, as also frequently in the Word. (Secrets of Heaven 8365)

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. "Who touched me?" Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you." But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me." Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." (Luke 8:43-48)

There were three reasons why faith in the Lord healed these; first, because they acknowledged His Divine omnipotence, and that He was God; secondly, because faith is acknowledgment, and from acknowledgment intuition; and all intuition from acknowledgment makes another to be present; this is a common thing in the spiritual world. The third reason was, that all the diseases healed by the Lord represented and thus signified the spiritual diseases that correspond to these natural diseases; and spiritual diseases can be healed only by the Lord, and in fact by looking to His Divine omnipotence and by repentance of life. This is why He sometimes said, "Your sins are forgiven; go and sin no more" (John 8:11). This faith also was represented and signified by their miraculous faith; but the faith by which spiritual diseases are healed by the Lord can be given only through truths from the Word and a life according to them; the truths themselves and the life itself according to them make the quality of the faith. From this it is clear that it was faith in the Lord's omnipotence that healed them, and that the same faith remitted, that is, removed, sins. (portions of Apocalypse Explained 815)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Discussion questions

  • What are qualities you want when looking for a doctor?
  • If God says He cares for us so well, why can’t He miraculously heal our ailments?
  • When was a time you felt “healed” by God?
  • Is it enough just to have faith, as the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment in Luke 8?
  • Do we need to accept God’s healing? What does that look like in our lives?


Close your eyes and breathe, meditate for a moment on the silence of the moment. What feels comfortable in your life right now? Where do you feel conflict? Where do you feel peace? Where do you feel turmoil? Ask God for the power to help heal your wounds, both physical and spiritual.

Week four: God as a warrior

“The Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3)


The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. “The LORD is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his arm he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. Your right hand, LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, LORD, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood up like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy boasted, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them. I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.’ But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:1-11)

“The Lord is a warrior” means that the Lord provides protection against all evils and falsities, which come from the hells. This is clear from the meaning of “warrior” as one who fights against falsities and evils, that is, against the hells, and overcomes them, at this point one who provides a person protection against them. For as shown already, the Lord alone fights on behalf of a person and protects him when he is under attack from the hells; He does so constantly, especially in temptations, which are spiritual conflicts. The Lord is called “warrior,” primarily because when He was in the world He fought alone, that is, all by Himself, against the hells, which at that time were for the most part open.(Secrets of Heaven 8273)

But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced their dishonor will never be forgotten. LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have committed my cause. (Jeremiah 20:11-12)

The LORD will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies. (Isaiah 42:13)

As regards combats and victories over the hells, the case is this. He who once overcomes them overcomes them perpetually; because through victory he procures for himself power over them, for in the same proportion he confirms in himself, and appropriates to himself, the good which is of love and the truth which is of faith, against which the hells afterward dare nothing. When the Lord was in the world He admitted combats of temptations into Himself from all the hells, and through these He made the Human in Himself Divine, and at the same time He forever reduced the hells to obedience. From this it is that the Lord alone has power over the hells eternally; and from Divine power fights for man. From this then it is that the Lord is called "warrior," and also a "champion."(Secrets of Heaven 8273:3)

Discussion questions

  • What do you find comforting about the image that God is a warrior on your side? What do you find uncomfortable?
  • We are told God is an all-loving God. Do you see that in this image portrayed of Him?
  • What does “zeal” mean to you? How has this shown up in your life?
  • What is similar with this depiction of a warrior with the depiction of a king we studied a couple weeks ago?


Think of a spiritual battle you’re fighting in your life, it could be an addiction, temptation to lie, tendency to quicken to anger, etc. Draw or print an image of a sword on a piece of paper. What would help you in your spiritual battle? Write those things down on the paper with the image of a sword. The next time you find yourself in the midst of that battle, draw on the strength of your sword and ask God to bless it.

Week five: God as the Word

“The Word was God” (John 1:1)


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. (Revelation 19:13)

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” (John 6:60-64)

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

However numerous the truths of faith are and however varied they appear, they are made one by the Lord, who is the Word, the God of heaven and earth, the God of all flesh, the God of the vineyard or the church, the God of faith and light itself, truth and everlasting life. The truths which make up faith are varied and to human sight appear different. For example, some are concerned with God the Creator, others with the Lord the Redeemer, others with the Holy Spirit and the way God works, others with faith, and charity, others with free will, repentance, reformation and regeneration, imputation, and so on. Yet they all make one in the Lord, and are made one by the Lord in human beings, like many branches on one vine (John 15:1ff). For the Lord links together scattered and divided truths, so to speak, into a single form, so that they present the appearance of being one and function as one. (True Christianity 354)

What the Lord speaks is called the Word of God, and that is Divine truth. The Word or the Sacred Scripture is nothing else; for in it all Divine truth is contained, but it is only before the angels that the truth itself in its glory is manifest in it, because to them the interior things of the Word, which are spiritual and celestial, become manifest and also constitute their wisdom. "The Word of God," therefore, signifies in the genuine sense Divine truth, and in the highest sense the Lord Himself who spoke it, for He spoke from Himself, or from His Divine, and what proceeds from Him that also is Himself. (Apocalypse Explained 392)

The Lord alone is in the inmost of the Word, and the Divinity and sanctity of the Word is from thence. The Lord's saying that all the Scripture concerning Him was fulfilled, signifies that all things which are contained in the inmost sense were fulfilled. The Word signifies the Divine truth. The Lord is the Word because He is the Divine truth. The Lord is the Word also because the Word is from Him, and treats of Him. And because it treats of the Lord alone in its inmost sense, thus because the Lord Himself is therein. And because in each and all things of the Word there is a marriage of Divine good and Divine truth. "Jesus" is the Divine good, and "Christ" the Divine truth. The Divine truth is alone real, and that in which Divine truth is, which is from the Divine, is alone substantial. And as the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord is light in heaven, and the Divine good is heat in heaven; and as all things in heaven derive their existence from the Divine good and the Divine truth; and as the natural world has its existence through heaven, or the spiritual world. (New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 263)

Discussion questions

  • This is one of the more abstract images of God. What are differences for you in the phrases “the Word OF God” and “the Word IS God”?
  • What has your relationship with the Bible been? How were you brought up to treat the physical book?
  • Have you ever turned to the Bible for guidance? What was that experience like?


Find a copy of the Bible. Pray for a moment about something you’re seeking guidance for in your life. Then open the Bible to a random page and begin reading. Is God speaking to you in this reading? If not, try again, or try at a later time. Do you feel God in this exercise?

*Quoted portions from the Bible in the passages by Emanuel Swedenborg have been changed to match NIV translation for clarity and consistency.


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Daily Inspiration

"To look upward to heaven is not merely to think about the things that belong to heaven, but to have these things as the goal, and to love them more than all other things."

Arcana Coelestia 7693