Welcome to MOTIFS, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God's meaning in His pattern of usage.


Welcome to my ROLLED SCROLL study, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage. 

          RAINBOW

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.                                                                          

— E.Y. Young, Over the Rainbow

 

This song, written for the 1939 Wizard of Oz film, expresses an ancient longing for the divine, a yearning to fly off into the heavens of everlasting bliss glimpsed by every heart since Adam and Eve first lost the Garden. In biblical literature, the rainbow is a strong but seldom-used image, appearing in only four settings—twice in the Old Testament and twice in the New.

Of course every Sunday school student knows the iconic OT story of the Great Flood, when God drew the rainbow in the sky as an everlasting sign of His covenant to Noah—a reminder to all mankind and even to Himself that He would never again send such a deluge to drown out the earth (Gen. 9:13-16; read the full story in Gen. 6:1-9:17). We encounter the English word next in a description of the glory of God that surrounds Him like the radiance of “a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day” (Ezek. 1:28 NIV). But in both cases, the Hebrew word translated into English as rainbow—qesheth—more clearly refers to a military bow, and this concept of bow and arrow is used throughout the OT in connection with God’s judgment (e.g., Ps. 7:11-12; Ps. 77:17; Ezek. 5:15-16; Zech. 9:14; 2 Sam. 22:14-15). In other words, God set the prismatic arch in the clouds above Noah’s grounded Ark as though He were hanging up His bow at the end of a battle, putting away his weapon after His fury with evil had been for the time appeased, to be faced again in the end times before eternal peace (Zech. 14:1-3; Rev. 19:15; Rev. 20:6).

In the NT apocalyptic book of Revelation, the Greek word for both references to the rainbow is iris (bringing to the minds of John’s contemporaries, perhaps, the mythological goddess named Iris, said to be the personification of the rainbow and the messenger of Zeus to mortals—a bridge between divinity and humanity). John was taken into heaven; he envisioned a mighty angel robed in a cloud with a rainbow above his head, and the Lord Himself sitting on His throne encircled by a rainbow (Rev. 10:1; Rev. 4:3). The spectrum of hues mentioned here harks back to the OT descriptions of the vest worn by the Jewish high priest and also alludes to the foundation of the New Jerusalem—both garment and groundwork encrusted with twelve precious jewels (such as emerald, jasper, amethyst, topaz) signifying God’s matchless magnificence (Exod. 28:17-21; Isa. 54:11-12; Rev. 21:19-21).

All this talk of rainbows and gemstones brings up the subject of colors in the Bible, some of them taking on special meaning as they’re applied within the context of the narrative. For example, green is often associated with God’s provision through nature—of vegetation for food and pastures to lie in (Gen. 1:30; Ps. 23:2; Mark 6:39). God promised that those who trust in His steadfast love would flourish like green olive trees, but it was “under every green tree” that His faithless people worshipped idols (Ps. 52:8; Jer. 3:6). God, patient and merciful, yet warns of ecological devastation He’ll someday visit upon the earth in judgment (Rev. 8:7).

Another colour was mentioned by the Apostle Paul when he wrote of Lydia, whose business was dealing in purple cloth; as purple dye was a luxurious commodity prepared from rare molluscs found on the Mediterranean coast, and affordable only to the wealthy, it became indicative of royalty and strength (Acts 16:14; Dan. 5:29; Esther 1:6-7; Rev. 17:4). In mockery, the Roman soldiers dressed Jesus in a royal purple robe for His trial (John19:2-5).

Black illustrates God’s righteous anger, as in His chastising desolation of Jerusalem whose citizens’ fine white complexions were blackened like soot as their bodies shrivelled with starvation (Lam. 4:6-8). At times God comes in darkness like a black storm, or sends a rider on a black horse carrying scales of justice (Ps. 18:9-14; Isa. 50:3; Joel 2:1-2; Rev. 6:5). The day of the Lord’s victory over his enemies was “already but not yet” fulfilled at Jesus’ crucifixion, when a preternatural gloom fell over the whole land (Zeph. 1:15; Matt. 27:45).

In contrast to the black darkness of God’s wrath upon the guilty, His sustenance and forgiveness bring inner cleansing represented by the colour white. For example, the sweet manna He sent to nourish the Israelites on their journey was white, and the psalmist asked for God to wash him whiter than snow (Exod. 16:31; Ps. 51:7). Although a false whiteness is mentioned in the Bible (as when Jesus called the Pharisees of His day “whitewashed tombs” hiding putrification), yet the colour usually symbolizes purity (Matt. 23:27). At the Transfiguration Jesus shone “white as light” and—similar to His Father, the Ancient of Days—the Son is pictured in white as the Lord of glory (Luke 9:29; Dan. 7:9; Rev. 1:13-15). Angels appear in white as well (John 20:12; Acts 1:10). The victorious redeemed ride white horses, and heaven’s residents in pristine linen receive new names written on white stones (Rev. 19:14; Rev. 3:4-5; Rev. 6:11; Rev. 2:17). Believers are “refined, purified, and made white,” and robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb to remove all stains (Dan. 11:35; Rev. 7:14).

The starkness of red or scarlet often stands for the blood necessary in expiation, foreshadowing the final blood sacrifice of the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world (Lev. 14:4-6; John 1:29; Heb. 9:11-14ff).

Come now, 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 become like wool.
(Isa. 1:18)

On the other hand, the harlot Babylon is described as sitting on a scarlet beast symbolic of the false religious system that will be in place when Jesus returns, and the scarlet of her clothing speaks of political power and riches further identifying Babylon with sin (Rev. 17:3; Rev. 18:15-20).  

Bluelinen,the colour of the sky synonymous with the boundary line separating sacred from profane, was worn by Jewish priests performing mediatory rites and (along with other colours) draped the portable Tabernacle furniture to shield the holy items from contamination (Exod. 39:1; Num. 4:4-7). Likewise, the curtains of the Tabernacle and subsequent Temple in Jerusalem were made of blue, scarlet, and purple twisted linen with cherubim worked in threads of golden embroidery, with the “veil” separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place—the very presence of God  (Exod. 26:31-34). This multi-coloured veil might well have reminded the Israelites of the covenant rainbow, or perhaps it spoke to them of the glory of God once so far off in His celestial home and now living amongst them (Exod. 40:34). It was this veil—this barrier between the iniquity of man and the holiness of God—that was torn in half from top to bottom upon the death of the Man/God Jesus Christ, who’d become human to dwell among us (Matt. 27:50-51; John 1:14). Now mankind had free access to the presence of the Father through the flesh of the Son (Heb. 6:19-20; Heb. 10:19-22).

The colours of the rainbow—from the greening of creation to the shed blood of Christ—radiate throughout Scripture and reflect the grace of God in His promises, provision, and protection.

 

To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com

  

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Welcome to my ROLLED SCROLL study, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

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          CHAIR

 

Just about eleven o’clock, the door-latch was raised quietly, and in stepped the master. He threw himself into a chair, laughing and groaning, and bid them all stand off, for he was nearly killed—he would not have such another walk for the three kingdoms.

—Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

 

 

I love the passage in Wuthering Heights about Mr. Earnshaw’s long-anticipated arrival home, with the ragamuffin Heathcliff tucked into the folds of his greatcoat, and his family crowding around him as he sat down before the fire in his wingback chair in a posture of authority and rest.

 

This scenario of sitting down is played over and again throughout Scripture, too, with the furniture of the chair sometimes mentioned and other times not. Several words in the original Bible languages translate into English as “seat,” “bench,” “chair,” “throne,” and so on. We can group the occurrences of a person taking a seat, or sitting down, using the two broad categories of authority and rest.

 

Authority:In the Bible, the symbolism of sitting often carries the meaning of responsibility in a political, social, or spiritual sense. A high-ranking official might seat himself at the city gate—like Lot, who was visited by two angels at the entrance to Sodom before its destruction, or like a man of honour hobnobbing with the town elders (Gen. 19:1; Prov. 31:23; Ruth 4:1-2). Esther’s relative and a royal advisor with special privileges, Mordecai took his place at the gate of King Xerxes (Esther 2:19-21; Esther 5:1). Judges and priests sat down when they pronounced or instructed, and God sits as the ultimate Judge (Judg. 4:4-5; Judg. 4:9; 1 Sam. 1:9; 2 Chron. 19:8). One day we will stand before the bema (judgment platform) of the seated Lord to receive reward for works done in His name (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).

 

In Bible times people often sat, too, as they were learning; for example, Jesus implored His friend Martha—busily preparing food—to instead join her sister Mary at His feet and listen to His words (Luke 10:38-42). He Himself sat to teach—beside the sea, on the mountain, in the temple (Matt. 13:1; Matt. 5:1-2; Matt. 15:29; Matt. 26:55). As Jesus and His disciples reclined around the table (likely upon cushions or divans), He taught them lessons about humility in seating oneself at the lowest place, and about the New Covenant of His blood (Luke 14:7-11; Luke 22:14ff; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). He described the Kingdom of God as a banquet where the faithful sit at table (Matt. 8:11; Matt. 22:1-3ff; Luke 14:15; see also Isa. 25:6).

 

(As an aside, one of the Greek words for chair—kathedra—appears in the New Testament only three times, once in referring to the “seat of Moses” that was filled by the hypocritical Jewish teachers of the Law, and twice to the dove sellers’ “seats” overthrown by Jesus along with the moneychangers’ tables in the temple [Matt. 23:1-3; Matt. 21:12; Mark 11:15]. The subsequent development of this word kathedra is historically interesting: the Latin phrase ex cathedra came to designate the validity of instruction issuing from the “throne”of the papal chair—a doctrine challenged by the Protestant Reformers who believed in Scripture as authoritative over church tradition.)

 

The throne in Scripture signifies both human power and the kingship of God. For example, Egyptian pharaohs and Babylonian rulers sat on a royal dais (Exod. 12:29; Jer. 43:10). Solomon’s ivory-and-gold chair was known for its splendour, and the Lord is pictured as sitting on His throne with the host of Heaven surrounding Him (1 Kings 10:18; 2 Chron. 9:18-19; 1 Kings 22:19; Ps. 7:7; Ps. 113:5). The throne of David on earth will one day be occupied by the Lord Jesus Himself, who will reign in peaceful sovereignty over the whole world and finally put an end to the “church-versus-state” debate as He rules truly ex cathedra (1 Kings 2:33; Isa. 9:7; Isa. 16:5; Luke 1:32). The Son now sits exalted beside the Father’s throne in heaven, as we see in Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days as well as in the gospel narratives (Dan. 7:9-14; Matt. 19:28; Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:62; Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69). Paul expanded on the royalty of King Jesus and our future place in His enthroned glorification (Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 3:1).

 

The writer of Hebrews compared the never-ending work of the Jewish temple priest (who stood to administer his earthly service day after day) with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ (who sits, His work completed forever):

 

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven . . . Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . . (Heb. 8:1 and 12:1-2 ESV)

 

The biblical picture of the seated Christ symbolizes His ultimate religious and royal authority as the Prophet, Priest, and King foretold throughout Scripture.

 

Rest: In the Bible, sitting represents not only authority but also rest. Current society loves leisure, which often bears little resemblance to the rest prescribed throughout Scripture. We know how to work and how to play, but we often neglect the tranquility of “sitting down on the inside.”

 

The concept of rest harks back to the first book in the Bible. In the beginning, God worked vigorously in creating the world, and then He sat down and put His feet up; that is, He “rested” (Hebrew: shabath or “sabbath”; Gen. 2:1-3). But Adam and Eve’s fall into sin caused the restlessness of all mankind, and so in Moses’ day God instituted the covenant sign of the Sabbath, marking Israel as God’s chosen people and reminding them that He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and was leading them to their future home of rest in the Promised Land of Canaan (Exod. 31:13-17; Deut. 5:15; Gen. 12:1, Deut. 3:18-20). They could depend on Provider God, for this rest is a matter of ceasing from human endeavour and worldly striving:

 

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength (Isa. 30:15 ESV)

 

The beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders. (Deut. 33:12 NIV)

 

 

We, too, find this restful peace with God—this “sitting down” at the table of fellowship with Him—when we come to Him through Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:12-14). Then we can rest from anxiety, for God has promised to meet our needs and give us internal restfulness when we cast our cares on Him (Isa. 26:3; Matt. 6:25ff; Phil. 4:6-9; 1 Pet. 5:7). Jesus calls to us:

 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:28-29 ESV)

 

The blessing of a peaceful, joyous relationship with God comes to those who refuse to “sit in the seat of scoffers” and instead meditate on God’s Word (Ps. 1:1). This Sabbath rest of relationship promised to the Israelites can be ours, as well, if we soften our hearts to hear His voice urging us to cease from our own labours and trust instead in the work of Christ on the cross (Heb. 3:3-11). Moses instituted the sacrificial system of the high-priestly offerings for the sins of the people, who longed to be “at home” in the Promised Land (Heb. 10:11-14). But Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice as Great High Priest ushers us today into the Sabbath rest of His presence—where, because of His free gift of salvation, we can come boldly before God’s throne to be eternally seated in heavenly places with Jesus (Heb. 2:6; Heb. 4:16; Rev. 14:13).

 

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To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

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These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.

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Welcome to my ROLLED SCROLL study, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

 

 

 

                    HOUSE

 

“ ‘My grandmother,’ I said in a low tone, ‘would have said that we were all in exile, and that no earthly house could cure the holy homesickness that forbids us rest.’ ”

—G.K. Chesterton, Manalive

 

 

I’m awaiting the upcoming movie adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s 1912 novel Manalive, premiering this summer. Chesterton was the subject of my graduate thesis a decade ago, fascinating me with his ability to invest images with symbolic meaning. The spiritual theme of “finding home” played throughout his writings—not surprising, given the influence of Christianity in his literary development.

 

The Bible, too, is rich in word pictures relating to house and home, including terms such as dwelling place (or resting place, or place to return to), family (or dynasty, or household), human body, tent, tabernacle, refuge and sanctuary, the Church, Heaven, and many analogous expressions. Our contemporary English tendency to distinguish “house” from “home” is not evident in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the Bible using the words interchangeably.  

 

Let’s begin with the story of Creation, when God “laid the foundations” of the earth, intending to fill it with inhabitants—His household—made in His image (Gen. 1:27-28; Isa. 48:13; Eph. 2:19). Adam and Eve were evicted from their home of the Garden—that is, from intimate communion with their Creator—now just tenants in the fallen house of the broken world (Gen. 3:23-24). This loss was followed by God’s nomadic curse upon their murderous son, Cain, and the tendency of mankind’s fugitive heart has been to restlessly wander from the home of God’s presence ever since (Gen. 4:11-12; Isa. 53:6).

 

The generations following that first human family grew increasingly corrupt, so that God—whose own abode was in heaven—looked down upon His footstool of the world and decided to do a thorough housecleaning (Isa. 37:16; Isa. 66:1-2; Gen. 6:5-7). He sent a great flood to sweep away evildoers, but saved Noah and his family in a houseboat that carried them over the waters of destruction, settling them securely in the land once more (Gen. 7:7; Gen. 7:23; Gen. 9:1). But again and again the earth’s residents challenged God’s claim on them, until He called out a people of His own from the pagan world, promising Abraham (who left his homeland for a new home) that Israel would become a great nation, a great name, and a great blessing to all people (Gen. 12:1-3; Heb. 11:8-10).

 

Further to that, God made a covenantal promise to Moses of a new homeland in Canaan,

 

a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.  (Deut. 8:7-8 ESV)

 

The Israelites sought this homeland with God in their midst, for on Mount Sinai, along with the Ten Commandments, He gave Moses a blueprint for the portable Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting, a “house on earth” for God to indwell (Exod. 25:8; 1 Kings 8:29). God accompanied them but—after forty years of wandering homeless in the desert before crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land, through centuries of His faithful provision and loving discipline that sometimes included exile from their homeland—the idolatrous children of Israel continued to wander away spiritually from their eternal Father, who was their “dwelling place” (Jer.13:10; Deut. 33:27).

 

Then Jesus left His heavenly home and came to reside on earth—God’s presence no longer a vaporous Cloud of Glory in the Holy of Holies but now a flesh-and-blood man “tabernacling” among us (Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1-3; John 1:14). In Christ the whole fullness of God dwelt bodily (Col. 2:9). But though Jesus made His earthly home in Nazareth, He wasn’t recognized there; as He said when His neighbors took offense at His teaching, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matt. 13:57 ESV). Jesus taught His disciples that as a father welcomes his prodigal son home, so too does God, our eternal Father, welcome the vagabond home into the embrace of His holy presence (Luke 15:21-24). Jesus not only showed us the way, He Himself became the road of our homecoming to Heaven, where He is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-6).

 

But for today Jesus promised that He would make His home with us, because we are God’s temple where His Spirit dwells; Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (John 14:23; 1 Cor. 3:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20;  Eph. 3:17-19). One day the nation of Israel will know the indwelling Spirit and fully reclaim her status as God’s family, but presently the corporate Church makes up the household of God (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26; 2 Cor. 3:3; Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15). In proper relationship with God’s Son, we the Church become the house of God ourselves (Heb. 3:3-6).

 

Perhaps you and I will still be alive when Jesus returns in the clouds to gather all believers together with Him in the air and takes us to our eternal residence (1 Thess. 4:17). But in the meanwhile for the rest of us, the day is coming when the tents of our human bodies will be plucked up in death and no longer house our souls; then we’ll “put on” our heavenly dwelling with the Lord (Isa. 38:12; 2 Cor. 5:1-8). We’re each instructed to let the Word of Christ (the truths of the Bible) dwell in us richly, as the Person of Christ (His Holy Presence) dwells in our hearts through faith (Col. 3:15-16; Eph. 3:17).

 

In this way, our hearts become Christ’s home and, simultaneously, we find our home in Him—our exile ended, our holy homesickness cured. The beloved Anglican prayer sums up our homecoming in Christ:

 

Father of all, we give you thanks and praise that, when we were still far off, you met us in your Son and brought us home. (Church of England, Common Worship)

 

 

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To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

 

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.

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Welcome to my ROLLED SCROLL study, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

 

 

          ROAD

 

“‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’”

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

 

In the 1950s, Tolkien wrote one of the world’s greatest fantasies when he took Frodo and Sam from the Shire to Mordor and back again. His trilogy follows a long line of journey tales; consider Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the ancient Greek myth of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. In fact, to “step into the Road” (as Tolkien’s Bilbo put it) is a literary theme found over and again in the stories of the Bible.

 

The biblical road started out at Eden’s gates: God, having banished Adam and Eve from the Garden, placed cherubim to block their way back to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:23-24). The word “way” here literally means road, distance, journey, or manner. Thus began humanity’s trek down the dusty road of life that ends in death, for—as God said to them and to us—“You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).

 

The picture of a physical path was soon more concretely painted in the narrative of the upright widow Tamar who, waiting by the road to Timnah in disguise, was mistaken as a prostitute by her father-in-law, Judah—their ensuing child Perez a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ (Gen. 38:13-15ff; Matt. 1:3). Ever gracious, God delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh’s tyranny, leading them on desert tracks, accompanying them through the wilderness with cloud and fire, sending an angel before them to guard them as they tramped towards the Promised Land (Exod. 13:17-21; Exod. 23:20). Yet time and again they disbelieved Yahweh, who went “in the way” before them, and they refused to walk “in His ways” (Deut. 1:32-33; Deut. 6:14; Deut. 28:9; 1 Kings 2:3). This idea of walking in the ways of God adds meaning to the tangible noun “road” and implies moral choice: Would God’s people take His road or follow after idols?

 

Balaam was an occult practitioner who loved the wages of wrongdoing; the Lord blocked his road, giving his donkey a human voice to chastise its owner (Num. 22:22-24; 2 Pet. 2:15).When the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, the harlot/ heroine Rahab (another in Christ’s human bloodline) saved her family from destruction because she followed the instruction of the Israelite spies to keep out of the streets (Josh. 2:19; cf. Josh. 6:23). Old Eli found the streets a dangerous place as well, meeting his death as he sat by the battle trail watching for the Ark of the Lord (1 Sam. 4:13). Deborah prophesied against Barak: “The road on which you are going will not lead to your glory” (Judges 4:9 ESV). This negative idea is reinforced by David who, praising the Lord for deliverance from the hand of Saul, described crushing his enemies and stamping them down “like the mire of the streets” (2 Sam. 22:43). Other prophets, too, cast a negative shadow on the roadway as a place of wailing and mourning, of worthless throwaways—the dirty, forsaken, blind, and dying (e.g., Isa. 15:3; Jer. 14:16; Lam. 4:14; Mic. 7:10).

 

The street symbolizes not only idolatry and wayward seduction, but also public prophecy and godly praise (Jer. 44:17; Ezek. 16:25; Jer. 11:6; 2 Sam. 6:16). One walks the road of spiritual life, choosing righteousness or wickedness (Ps. 1:1-6). God distinguishes the right way from the wrong and—like a shepherd—leads and guides in paths of righteousness (Ps. 16:11; Ps. 17:4-5; Ps. 23:1-3). He takes faithful travellers onto the heights like sure-footed deer, for the instruction of His Word lights the pilgrim’s footsteps (Hab. 3:19; Ps. 119:1; Ps. 119:105).

 

Wisdom personified raises her voice in the streets; likewise, the adulteress calls out (Prov. 1:20; Prov. 7:10-12; Prov. 7:25-27). One must morally choose between straight and crooked paths, between devious and upright ways, for God sets before us the way of life and death, and our destination depends on our choice (Prov. 3:31; Prov. 4:10-15; Prov. 8:32; Jer. 21:8).

 

Old Testament prophecy tells us that one day Jerusalem will be fully restored, her streets resounding again with the rejoicing of young and old (Jer. 33:10-11; Zech. 8:4-5). This sense of expectancy regarding the “new thing” springing forth (Isa. 43:19) is heard as well in Isaiah’s foretelling the coming of John the Baptist:

 

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa. 40:3 ESV)

 

These prophetic words of Isaiah are echoed again in all four Gospels, and indeed John did herald Jesus Christ, whose trek down the dusty road to the Cross was about to bring eternal life. Jesus continued to use the literary image of the road. He called His disciples—“Follow me!”—on the costly journey as He trod the sod of Galilee, teaching and healing those by the wayside and in the marketplaces—the despised and broken and sinful now made whole (Matt. 8:22; Matt. 4:23; Mark 6:56). It was into the hard road of discipleship that Jesus would send His followers to be persecuted, fleeing from town to town (Matt. 10:23; Mark 6:8).

 

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemned the self-righteous hypocrisy of those who publicly prayed in the streets in order to earn man’s praise (Matt. 6:2). He included the illustration of the road as He taught through parables about the broad and narrow ways leading to destruction or salvation, and about the seed fallen along the roadside for the birds to eat (Matt. 7:13-14; Matt. 13:4). Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem upon the back of a donkey colt traversing a route spread with cloaks and branches, lined with a crowd shouting in praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:8). He then infuriated the Pharisees with the story of the king who prepared a banquet and sent to the highways and byways and crossroads for the blind and lame—the disrespected now the only ones welcomed as honored guests (Matt. 22:8-9).

 

The road figures in much of the historical narrative of the New Testament. After the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus appeared to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus, and then blinded Paul on the Damascus Road (Luke 24:13-15; Acts 9:2-3). A zealous persecutor of those who belonged to “the Way,” Paul now waited at a home on Straight Street for Ananias to restore his sight, then took the road to Ephesus, preaching boldly and working miracles (see Acts 19). Meanwhile, Philip approached an Ethiopian court official, parked in his chariot on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and told him the Good News about Jesus (see Acts 8). To a culture dependent upon walking to get anywhere, Jesus’s declaration would have been profound:

 

I am the way [literally, road], the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV).

 

That is, Jesus claimed to be the very road itself, our passage to God.

 

Practicing the character qualities of our salvation listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7 gives us spiritual muscle to run in our Christian lives and not stumble out of fellowship with God, for

 

we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,by the new and living way that he opened for us (Heb. 10:19-20 ESV).

 

We travellers through the world are equipped to walk straight and run well the race set before us (Heb. 11:13; Heb. 12:1; Heb. 12:13). As sojourners and exiles on the path of this world, we’re exhorted to follow the way of truth and righteousness rather than running riotously like Cain and Balaam (1 Pet. 2:11; 2 Pet.2:2; Jude 1:11). Someday we’ll stroll on heavenly streets of gold in the New Jerusalem, and again taste of the fruit of the Tree of Life so long ago blockaded against our parents, Adam and Eve (Rev. 21:21; Rev. 22:2).

 

To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.

 

 

 

 

                                          

                                           

          LAMB

 

Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow;

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go . . . 

This nursery rhyme, first published in 1830, was inspired by a true incident of a Massachusetts schoolgirl who had a constant companion in her pet. The lamb is a cultural icon for innocent compliance and vulnerability; for example, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film “Lamb to the Slaughter” appropriated the theme of victimization, and an October 2011 article in Forbes magazine coined the term “the lion lying down with the lamb” to illustrate an economic point—both phrases originating in Scripture (Jer. 51:40; Isa. 11:6). 

Liturgical tradition has for many centuries included the symbol of agnus dei (“Lamb of God”) in formulaic chant and religious art, but tracing the biblical usage of the word for oneself can be personally enlightening. Certain pictures come readily to mind: the Good Shepherd gathering the lambs into His bosom; the prophet Nathan’s parable of the lamb, which convicted David of murderous greed; Jesus sending His disciples out into the world as lambs into the midst of wolves (Isa. 40:11; 2 Sam. 12:1ff; Luke 10:3).

But an exciting redemptive theme emerges when we look a little more deeply.

Of course, the nomadic Hebrews depended on sheep for meat, milk, and wool. For this reason we see hundreds of biblical references to the animal, beginning with the story of Abel—history’s first murder victim and keeper of flocks—who pleased God by his faith but suffered his brother’s jealous rage (Gen. 4:2; cf., Heb. 11:4). However, the explicit employment of the word “lamb” (as distinct from the greater category of “sheep” or “shepherd”) first appears later in Genesis, when Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from his herd as a gift to seal a treaty agreement, securing his legal right to dwell in the land God had provided (Gen. 21:28). 

From that point on, God’s gracious provision becomes the characterizing factor of the image, as evident almost immediately in the testing of Abraham’s faith, when God instructed him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as a burnt offering:

Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, “My father?” He said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Gen. 22:7-8).

And God did indeed provide a “ram” (male sheep), caught by its horns in a nearby thicket, as a substitutionary sacrifice (Gen. 22:13).

Next we read of Isaac’s son, Jacob, greatly prospering due to his genetic manipulation of his father-in-law’s flocks and the direct intervention of God (who soon thereafter renamed Jacob “Israel”—father of His chosen people; Gen. 30:40; Gen. 32:28).

The very next mention of a lamb in the Bible is in the context of the Passover, a pivotal event in Israel’s history. The Jews, long enslaved in Egypt and crying out for their freedom, had watched as nine plagues wracked the country. Now Moses instructed each Israelite family to kill a lamb and eat its roasted flesh, then sprinkle its blood on the household doorposts to provide protection from death when God killed their captors’ firstborn in the final plague, which “passed over” the Israelites (Exod. 12:3-5ff). The Lord delivered His people to freedom, and thereafter—throughout the Old Testament in a continuous and elaborate cycle of sacrifice—a year-old male lamb without spot or blemish acted as a substitution for sin, its flesh consumed by the people for sustenance, its blood thrown against the altar for atonement (2 Chron. 29:22).

But God despised the persistent rebellion of His children and eventually told them that He “did not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” offered in hypocrisy. Instead He wanted “obedience” (that is, positive volition accompanying informed willingness) and a contrite heart (Isa. 1:11; Isa. 1:19; Ps. 51:16-17). In a picture all red and white, He spoke through His prophet Isaiah to promise a coming redemption that would once-for-all satisfy His demand for the shedding of blood necessary for forgiveness:

Come now, 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 become like wool.  (Isa. 1:18)

The prophesied Servant-Messiah was further described by Isaiah:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  (Isa. 53:7)

Seven centuries later the Saviour-Lamb was announced clearly by John the Baptist in the early words of his gospel, as he one day watched Jesus walking towards him:

“Behold [calling special attention] , the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  (John 1:29)

The religious leaders, steeped in Old Testament tradition and Scripture, would have known exactly what John meant in referring to Isaiah’s description: Jesus was Messiah—the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and of the whole sacrificial system. Indeed, it was during the Passover that they crucified Him—perhaps during the same hour that the blood flowed from the lambs being slaughtered for the yearly festivity on the Temple Mount.

Then, after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the words of Isaiah about the lamb led to slaughter—read by the Ethiopian eunuch sitting in his chariot on a desert roadside between Jerusalem and Gaza—were expounded by Philip to bring about that court official’s salvation (Isa. 53:7-8; Acts 8:32-35).“He is our Passover Lamb,” Paul declared, and Peter reiterated that Christ was the “Lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19).

Most New Testament occurrences of the image of Christ as the Lamb occur in Revelation—the culmination of all biblical books bringing to a conclusion every prophecy in a grand unveiling of Jesus as Lord. Someday all creatures “in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” will raise their voices in praise to the worthy “Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). This heavenly scene is very different from the scenario to happen on earth during the end times, when God’s enemies will “make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them” (Rev. 17: 14).

Meanwhile, the Church—the Bride of Christ—must today prepare herself for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, for Jesus is coming to take us to our wedding feast with Him (Rev. 19:7). In the closing act of God’s Word, all believers—whose names are written in the “Lamb’s book of life”—will worship and serve the Lamb on the throne of God forever (Rev. 21:27; Rev. 22:1-3).

To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

                             These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.

                                         

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Welcome to my ROLLED SCROLL study, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

          HEART

Geppetto carved Pinocchio out of a piece of enchanted firewood that came from a tree the old man had engraved, many years before, with the initials of his one true love enclosed within a heart. I think that’s illegal in most parks nowadays! But whether sprayed as graffiti or tattooed onto flesh or inserted into an email, the symbol of the heart unmistakably represents the cultural message of love.

 

In the Bible, the word “heart” (OT leb, NT kardia) appears more than 800 times, its meaning much broader than our current understanding of the heart as, primarily, the receptacle of feelings. Instead Scripture speaks of the heart in reference to the core of the whole personality—the seat of emotions, intellect, will (making up the “soul”), and spirit (the capacity to relate to God).

 

Emotions: The heart is the storehouse of our feelings. Recall how the hearts of Joseph’s brothers trembled in fear when they discovered money hidden in their sacks, implicating them in theft from Egypt’s royal coffers (Gen. 42:28. See also Job 37:1; Isa. 35:4; 1 Sam. 4:13; John 14:27). Isaiah drew a picture of God’s mothering comfort that caused hearts to rejoice, and Jesus continued this maternal theme in promising His disciples a future joy like that attending birth (Isa. 66: 13-14; John 16:21-22). The writer of Ecclesiastes didn’t deny his heart any pleasure and, indeed, God satisfies hearts with food and gladness (Eccl. 2:10; Acts 14:17). Hearts can be filled with murderous rage, bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, lust, and other evil passions that defile (Matt. 15:19; Rom. 1:24; James 3:14). Alternately, the heart’s sexual desire can be pure; praise and merriment are sometimes vices (as attended Samson’s downfall at Delilah’s hand); and anger is a virtue of God’s heart necessary to His holiness (Song of Sol 5:2-4; Judg. 16:23-25; Matt. 22:7). Our hearts can be troubled or find rest (John 14:1; Luke 24:38; Col. 3:15). Paul, who bore sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart, also told of the heart’s capacity for compassion, kindness, and selflessness in regarding others’ spiritual well-being (Rom. 9:2; Rom. 10:1). He admonished us to make room in our hearts, throwing them wide open to other believers so that the saints would be refreshed (2 Cor. 7:2-3Philem. 1:7). Above all, love is to rule our hearts, as the first commandment and Jesus’ own dictum demand (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-39). So we see that the heart represents emotions; yet, in the New Testament, the heart predominantly refers to the intellect.

 

Intellect: The heart is where thinking happens. (The word for “brain” isn’t even found in the original Bible languages, and “head” is used in reference to the skull or to indicate a position of authority or submission). It is, therefore, the heart that reasons and perceives (Mark 2:6-8). The heart is able to understand what the eyes see and ears hear, and can remember or disregard the truth about God (Deut. 29:2-4; Deut. 8:3-5; Deut. 4:9; Deut. 8:14; Deut. 9:4; Job 22:22). King Solomon prayed for a heart (that is, leb, often translated as “mind”) able to judge between good and evil (1 Kings 3:9; 1 Kings 4:29; see also Job 38:36). To his ruination, prideful Haman thought he’d outsmart his godly enemies and told himself (transliteration: “said in his leb”) that he was about to be honoured (Esther 6:6). Others were likewise intellectually misled by their arrogant hearts (Deut. 7:17; Matt. 24:48; Rev. 18:7). Both Daniel and Jesus’ mother, Mary, temporarily stored in their hearts the secrets God revealed to them (Dan. 7:28; Luke 2:19). Knowledge, wisdom, and prudence, are all activities that take place in the heart (Prov. 2:10; Prov. 8:12; Jer. 3:15).

 

The intellectual functioning of the imagination also dwells in the heart—which God warns is deceitful and so damaged by sin that it’s able of itself to blind us, and is untrustworthy as a source of truth, for “out of the heart come evil and incorrect thoughts” (Jer. 9:13-14; 1 Cor. 2:9; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21). But God hasn’t disregarded, or left without His influence, the intellectual functioning of our hearts; first we recognize that He exists through logical observation of nature and the code of ethics He’s etched upon every human heart (Rom. 1:20-21; Rom. 2:15). Next, rational study of God’s written Word helps us  “set our minds on” (or “live by” or “think about” or “understand,” depending on the translation) the things of the Spirit (Rom. 3:2; Rom. 10:14; Rom. 8:5). It is with our hearts that we learn about and then believe for salvation in Jesus as the Living Word (2 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10). God invites us to know and serve Him wholeheartedly with our minds (1 Chron. 28:9).

 

Will: The heart’s feeling and thinking, then, are accompanied by volition—that is, the conscious act of choosing, intending, or resolving. (It’s important to remember that we cannot  apply our will without our intellect.) The heart decides what actions to take in such matters as finances, love, and leadership (it came to Moses’ heart, for example to leave his princely chambers and visit his enslaved brothers) (2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Cor. 7:37; Acts 7:23; cf., Exod. 2:11). The heart contrives wicked plots like Simon the Sorcerer’s bribe or Ananias and Sapphira’s lies (Acts 8:20-22; Acts 5:4). The heart’s priorities show up in the person’s actions, for sincerity and purity are produced in a willing heart and evil intention yields its own fruit (Eph. 6:5-6; Matt. 5:8; Luke 6:43-45). The heart can be stubborn or full of integrity, hardened like the heart of Pharaoh or receptive to truth (Jer. 5:23; Ps. 101:2; Exod. 4:21; Col. 3:2). The will of the predisposed heart might be corrupted by Satan or persuaded by God (John 13:2; Rev. 17:17). A person’s character is formed by life choices; David (a “man after God’s own heart” who willfully kept God’s commands) was anointed king despite his unlikely appearance, for “the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; 1 Sam. 16:7). Even the heart of God wills and plans, disclosing His purposes to us as He executes His intentions (1 Cor. 4:5; Jer. 23:20).

 

Spirit: The human spirit yearns for divine meaning, and the heart is where God meets us. Often the idea of heart or spirit is parallel to attitude, our habit of thinking that results in an orientation towards a subject. At first, without the light of the Gospel of Christ shining in hearts that are darkened and dull and blinded by the god of this world, we are spiritually perishing (2 Cor. 4:6; John 3:16; Rom. 1:21; Acts 28:27). In this natural state, we tend towards sklerokardia (from which we get the English word “cardiosclerosis”) as unbelief and ignorance prevent spiritual growth (Matt. 19:8; Mark 10:5; Mark 16:14; Eph. 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:14). God rejects the hypocrisy of religious formalism as the answer to our spiritual dilemma, for true faith is an attitude of the heart (Isa. 29:13; Deut. 10:16; Rom. 2:29; Rom. 10:8-9). God reveals Himself to our hearts through relationship with Him; He opens the heart to spiritual truth, cleanses our hearts, and calls us by His Son to be His children (1 Cor. 2:9-10; Acts 15:9; Acts 16:14; Eph. 1:18; Gal. 4:6). The heart that hides God’s Word within avoids sin, obeys God, honours Christ, is established in holiness, and is fruitful (Ps. 119:11; Rom. 6:17; 1 Pet. 3:15; 1 Tim. 1:5; Luke 8:15).The heart is convicted, tested, and sealed (1 Cor. 14:24-25; 1 Thess. 2:4; 2 Cor. 1:22). It is into our hearts that God pours His love by the Spirit, and from pure hearts that we are to love one another (Rom. 5:5; 1 Pet. 1:22).

 

Beyond doubt, the symbol of the heart so extensively employed in the Bible offers a comprehensive picture of the nonmaterial, inner aspects of the individual, and none of these categories can be separated from the others. The heart accommodates emotion, intellect, volition, and spirit, and is where personhood comes together. “Love” is a constant attribute of all four aspects: Our hearts feel love, think lovingly, choose to love, and spiritually experience love. The apostle Paul prayed that God might strengthen believers through the Holy Spirit in our inner beings, and that Christ—who roots and establishes us in love—would dwell in (that is, “be at home in” or “be at the very center of”) our hearts, so that we’d have power to grasp (with our whole selves) the immensity of Jesus’ love for us (Eph. 3:16-19).

 

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To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

 

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.

Welcome to my ROLLED SCROLL study, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

      SNOW

In the 2008 drama/thriller Transsiberian, an American man and woman travelling on a train from Beijing to Moscow enter the world of drugs and murder, the whole film set in a snowscape as deep and depressing as any Canadian winter I’ve ever lived through. Perhaps my southern neighbours enjoy the flurry they might receive around Christmas, enough for the kids to build a snowman that melts dreamily away. But digging one’s way through drifts after a January blizzard to start a frozen car engine is too often the nightmarish reality for those living above the 49th parallel, so that snow for many northerners has come to symbolize frigid misery.

 

But the culture of Bible lands and times offers a different perspective. Scripture mentions snow about two dozen times—and no wonder, in that hot and arid region where a snowfall was as newsworthy as the feat of a valiant man killing a lion (2 Sam. 23:20). Snow did glisten from far-off mountaintops and crags in Lebanon, and is recorded as having fallen on the heights near Shechem—refreshing in its coolness (Ps. 68:14; Jer. 18:14; Prov. 25:13). But several early occurrences of the word “snow” in the Bible are applied in negative descriptions of diseased and leprous skin, and a disappointed Job referred to the inconstancy of his “friends” in terms of their being undependable as snowmelt that swelled the spring streams but dried up in the summer’s heat (Exod. 4:6; Num. 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27; Job 6:15-16). Snow is an enemy of the homemaker responsible for the comfort of her family, and is a disruption as unfitting in summer as honour is unfitting to a fool (Prov. 31:21; Prov. 26:1). 

 

A more positive pattern of the image emerges as we read on in the Bible. First we see God’s all-encompassing power: He alone is the master over creation, even telling the snow to fall from the great storehouses of the sky, giving snow like wool and scattering hoarfrost like ashes (Job 37:6; Job 38:22; Ps. 147:16). Snow and mist and stormy wind fulfill the Creator’s Word (Ps. 148:8).

 

Not only God’s power but His provision is indicated by the Bible’s reference to snow, which both washes and feeds us. The snow coming down from heaven at the Creator’s command waters the earth, its fleecy whiteness synonymous with purity and inner cleansing (Job 9:30; Ps. 51:7; Lam. 4:7):

 

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isa. 1:18 ESV)

This physical moisture upon the earth also causes seeds to sprout for the production of bread, and as author-God uses cleansing of the exterior body as a prelude to explaining cleansing of the interior, so He compares the action of feeding our mouths with feeding us spiritual food. As snow affords physical life, God’s Word goes out into the earth to bring about spiritual life through its cleansing and nurturing action (Isa. 55:10). Biblical literature, then, seems to compare snow with God’s Word; the purification and nourishment afforded by snow also picture the washing of the Word and the nourishment of spiritual life.

 

Indeed, a further connection between cleansing and eating might be made by looking at the metaphor of the wedding feast (signifying entry into God’s presence), for which the guests must be properly attired or suffer rejection (Matt. 22:11-14). At the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Bride (that is, the Church) is described as wearing “fine linen, bright and pure,” having been “cleansed by the washing of water with the word” and presented to Christ “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish” (Rev. 19:7-9; Eph. 5:26-27 ESV).

 

Finally, the eschatological occurrences of the image of snow in Scripture point to the deity of Jesus. Daniel, in his end-times vision, described the “Ancient of Days” (Almighty God) with hair like pure wool and clothing as white as snow—wool and snow synonymous with holiness (Dan. 7:9). An angelic messenger wearing snowy-white robes and sent from the presence of the Father heralded the resurrection of the Son (Matt. 28:3). In the book of Revelation—the climax and conclusion of all prophecies—Jesus Himself is described in terms paralleling the purity and eternity of the Ancient of Days, with hair “like white wool, like snow” (Rev. 1:14). Jesus—both Living Water and Sacrifical Lamb, source of all cleansing and spiritual nurture—will finally and eternally be revealed to all and glorified as God. Then every knee will bow to Him and every tongue confess that He is the all-powerful Lord, and we—cleansed and forgiven—will dine together at His eternal table of fellowship forever (Phil. 2:10-11; 1 Thess. 4:17).

 

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To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.

 

Welcome to my blog, ROLLED SCROLL, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

                STAR

              

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight . . .

Why is it that, since antiquity, mankind has wistfully looked upwards for answers to the human dilemma? Take the Greeks, who sought wisdom in the skies and assigned the fate of mortals to the whimsy of the gods and goddesses of Olympus.

 

Unlike ancient mythologies that invented astrological systems to predict and explain our destiny, the biblical record honours human longings for the divine by introducing us to the Starmaker Himself. An overview of the Bible’s use of star imagery can be arranged under the categories of creation, covenant, and the coming of God to man.

 

Creation: In the beginning, God set in place the stars that to this day flash forth His transcendent glory (Gen. 1:16; Ps. 8:3; Ps. 148:3; Job 22:12). He alone stretched out the heavens, for

 

He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south (Job 9:9 ESV).

The Hebrew patriarchs saw God mirrored in His celestial handiwork. Joseph, for example, dreamed prophetically of the stars, and David praised God’s enduring love displayed in the brilliant night sky (Gen. 37:9; Ps. 136:5-9). Job spoke of the morning stars singing as angels shouted for joy at God’s laying of the earth’s foundations (Job 38:7). The Creator and Maker is radically different from lifeless idols fashioned by the pagans after the star-gods; through prophets He warned His people against the idolatry of “stargazing” (Amos 5:26; Deut. 18:10-11; Dan. 4:7; Isa. 47:12-13). After all, Jehovah was the One who created the stars and called them each by name (Isa. 40:26; Ps. 136:5-9; Ps. 147:4).

 

Covenant: After displaying His existence in the firmament through creation, God further revealed Himself to the Jewish people with two special covenants. In the first, He promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5). In a second covenant, God came down from above and met Moses on Mount Sinai to promise that Israel would be His treasured possession (Exod. 19:5-6). Yet even as the finger of God etched the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone for Moses on the mountain, the sons of Jacob on the plain below were worshipping the Golden Calf—believed by some to represent a god of the skies or an astrological figure (Deut. 9:9-11; Acts 7:43). Again and again God’s chosen people broke relationship with Him, but a third covenant was on its way—a new day was dawning (Mal. 3:7; Mal. 4:2).

 

Coming of God to man: An interruption occurred in the writing of Scripture; for four hundred years, no prophet was sent by God to the Jews. Then God’s revelation of Himself took a drastic turn when He sent us His Son—Someone from beyond the heavens to walk upon the earth! No longer was God satisfied to reveal Himself only in creation and covenantal Word. This coming of God to man in judgment and mercy is illustrated again through star imagery, beginning with prophecies early in the Bible that bear eschatological overtones (regarding the “Day of the Lord”).

 

The biblical Day of the Lord (or Yahweh) refers to a time of judgment with a temporal aspect (wars or natural disasters taking place at the time of writing) as well as a future fulfillment to culminate at the return of Jesus Christ, when the entire world will quake and great disturbances in the sky will attend God’s execution of His divine wrath (Amos 5:18-20; Joel 2:31; Rev. 6:13; Rev. 8:10-12). For an example of this judgment, the Israelites facing the military aggression of the mighty Moabites were assured victory in a prophetic statement that had a two-part implementation: “A star shall come forth from Jacob” spoke of victory in their current war as well as final victory in Christ over the confusion and turmoil of spiritual death (Num. 24:17; Matt. 2:2). This already-but-not-yet tone is echoed in Isaiah, who employed the picture of the star in several of his oracles (used again in the New Testament), forecasting the fall of God’s enemies in that day, as well as in a future-to-us day when stars will dissolve during catastrophic events as God judges or delivers the people of the earth (Isa. 13:10; Isa. 34:2-4; Matt. 24:29). The Lord, who “fixed the order of the moon and stars,” promised Jeremiah that someday His law would no longer be relegated to Moses’ stone tablets but would be written on human hearts and minds—a prophecy fulfilled through Christ in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33-37; Luke 22:20). Ezekiel lamented the darkness of the ninth plague against Pharaoh, when God covered the heavens and darkened the stars, in a description that sounds, again, like the cataclysmic signs to accompany the Day of the Lord (Ezek. 32:7Luke 21:25). Daniel, too, used star-lit imagery in speaking of this future day of purification, resurrection, and restoration (Dan. 12:3).

 

The star is used to symbolize people, as well. Paul wrote that believers will shine like the stars forever and ever, each a “star differing in glory” (1 Cor. 15:41). Apostate teachers in the church are “wandering stars” for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 1:13). The seven stars Christ now holds in His hand are leaders of churches under His care (Rev. 1:16; Rev. 1:20; Rev. 2:1; Rev. 2:28; Rev. 3:1). Lucifer, who planned to rise above the stars, became himself a star fallen from Heaven, and twelve stars represent the twelve sons of Jacob (Isa. 14:12-13; Rev. 9:1; Rev. 12:1).

 

One of the most recognized New Testament icons, the star appears yearly to us today as we decorate our Christmas trees. The original Star of Bethlehem brought the Magi from the East to worship the King of the Jews (Matt. 2:7-10; foretold in Num. 24:17and Isa. 60:2-3). This baby Jesus, born in a stable two millennia ago, is the Lord of glory, the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star (Rev. 22:16). In the coming of Christ we find all covenants fulfilled; in Him we find ourselves a new creation. We need no longer gaze at the stars above in wishful thinking, for now

 

we have the prophetic Word made more sure . . . a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in [our] hearts (2 Pet. 1:19 NASB).

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To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

          These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.

 

Welcome to my blog, ROLLED SCROLL, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

 

          PERFUME

 Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.

—Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”

Several years ago, I visited a perfumery museum in southern France housing glass flasks and wooden vats and antique copper stills that retained the breath of essence from long-ago steeping of blossoms collected in the surrounding fields—roses and lavender, mimosa and jasmine. To this day a whiff of French cologne carries me away.

Scent is a powerful stimulant, and it’s little wonder that God appeals to the olfactory system when drawing us into His Word. The earliest Bible stories tell of camel caravans bearing exotic-smelling cargo from Arabia and Asia and Africa for barter and peace offering: herbs and spices, leaves and bark and “tears” of tree resin, seeds, fruits, and flowers (Gen. 37:25; Gen. 43:11). People of the Near East placed high commercial value on these wares, worthy of a king’s treasury (2 Kings 20:13; Rev. 18:11-13). In fact the Queen of Sheba, overwhelmed by King Solomon’s wisdom and wealth, honoured him with the greatest contribution of spices ever made to Israel’s trove (1 Kings 10:10). Esteemed guests would be sprinkled with fragrant waters of hospitality as a token of friendship, then feast on banquets aromatic with anise, cumin, and the cinnamon-like cassia (Ps. 23:5; Matt. 23:23; Isa. 28:25-27).

In everyday life, perfume was used largely for medicinal, funerary, and cosmetic purposes, prepared by male and female apothecaries who formed a guild during the restoration of Jerusalem (Neh. 3:8; 1 Sam. 8:13). Scented salves using the pungent Balm of Gilead (obtained by “wounding” the balsam tree) and preparations incorporating the minty hyssop were prescribed for cleansing wounds and curing eye infections, and often symbolized spiritual healing as well (Lev. 14:2-7; Isa. 1:4-6; Jer. 8:22; Jer. 51:8; Rev. 3:18). Bodies of the deceased and their linen grave clothes were customarily treated with infusions; in fact the presentation by the Magi of royal myrrh to young Jesus prophesied His eventual death and burial (2 Chron. 16:14; Matt. 2:11; Luke 23:56; John 19:38-39). On a lighter note, Ruth splashed on eau de toilette before her first date with Boaz, and Esther underwent a year-long aromatherapy session in preparation for the world’s greatest beauty contest (Ruth 3:3; Esther 2:12). And we can almost sniff our way through the romantic poetry of Solomon (Song 1:3; Song 3:6; Song 4:10; Song 7:8; Song 7:13)!

Pragmatics and aesthetics aside, Scripture uses the image of perfume to illustrate proper worship of a holy God. It starts with Noah exiting the ark with his family and his zoo to offer a burnt animal sacrifice, the first of many sacrifices throughout the Old Testament, and its odour rose to the heavens to please the Lord (Gen. 8:18-21; Exod. 29:18; Ezek. 16:19; Ezek. 20:41). Jacob awoke from his ladder dream and propped his stone pillow up as a memorial pillar, daubing it with scented oil in gratitude for God’s grace (Gen. 28:18). Soon after, God gave a recipe for this sacred anointing oil to be used, along with pure incense, during tabernacle worship in setting apart people and objects for His special use (Exod. 30:22-38; Exod. 37:29). He declared His chosen people, Israel, acceptable as a sweet savour brought out from among the nations (Ezek. 20:41). For generations scented smoke hovered above the Ark of the Covenant and billowed out from the Holy of Holies in a miniature replica of the Sinai cloud of God’s Shekinah-glory, until one day during the “time of incense” an angel announced that the priestly prayers of the ages were coming to fruition (Luke 1:8-13). The old was giving way to the new.

The Messiah was born in a cave and laid in a manger surrounded, I’m sure, by the heady musk of freshly cut straw (Luke 2:7). Not only myrrh but regal frankincense was presented to the child Jesus—one of the ingredients in the holy oil used in worship and prophetically bespeaking His salvific deity (Isa. 60:1-6; Matt. 2:11). Near the end of Jesus’ short life of ministry, at a dinner given in His honour, in an act of devotion Mary bathed His feet with costly nard poured from an alabaster jar, the ambrosia filling the room in a picture of the sacrifice the Lord’s Anointed was about to make upon the cross of crucifixion (John 12:1-3; Acts 10:38; Luke 4:18). A branch of hyssop—brushed over Passover door lintels and cast upon the slaughtered red heifer and symbolizing salvation—carried a sponge of wine vinegar up to Jesus’ lips as He suffered (Exod. 12:22; Num. 19:6; Heb. 9:18-19; Ps. 51:7; John 19:29). Thus the Great Physician became our healing Balm of Gilead; our High Priest cleansed our sins as with the hyssop of His mercy, giving  Himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God on our behalf (Eph.5:2).

Our fitting response is to continually offer the “sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” (Heb.13:15 ESV).  The heavenly creatures will someday bow before the Lamb, holding golden bowls full of the prayers of the saints, a burning incense ­­­going up before God (Rev.5:8; Rev. 8:4). Not only sacrifice and prayer, but we Christians ourselves emanate the bouquet of holiness as we spread the savour of godly knowledge, for we are the pleasing aroma of Christ and the fragrance of life (Ezek. 20:41; 2 Cor. 2:14-16).

 

Hardly what one might describe as wasting our sweetness on the desert air, Mr. Gray!

 

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To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com.  

 

 

Welcome to my blog, ROLLED SCROLL, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God’s meaning in His pattern of usage.

 3. WIND         WIND 

The East wind lifted Mary Poppins and her parrot-headed umbrella aloft for deposit at Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, where she stayed until the weathervane changed direction. The imagery of wind blows throughout literature and art: G.K. Chesterton’s Great Wind tore across England “like a wave of unreasonable happiness”; the heroine of Chocolat arrived on the winds of the carnival, the wind of emotion inside her “tugging . . . with its relentless imperative”; and Botticelli in Birth of Venus depicted Zephyr’s breath carrying the goddess across the sea.

The motif permeates Holy Scripture as well, two oft-used words—ruach (Hebrew)and pneuma (Greek)—variously translated as “wind,” “breath,” and “spirit.”

Wind is invisible yet physically powerful, and represents God’s characteristics as well as adversity and mankind’s fickleness. God created and rules the winds, keeping them in His storehouse and sending them out to do His bidding—as messengers of mercy or scorching judgment (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 104:3-4; Jer. 51:16; Ps. 148:8; Ps. 11:6; Ezek. 13:13). A strong wind blew a dry path through the Red Sea for the salvation of the Israelites, then turned to drown the enemy army (Exod. 14:21; Exod. 15:10). Under testing of his character, Job’s house collapsed in a storm arising in the night, and the Lord hurled a gale after Jonah fleeing His holy presence (Job 1:19; Jon. 1:4). Human activity alone is a meaningless chasing after the wind, and sin can sweep us away in a gust (Eccl. 1:14-17; Eccl. 5:16; Isa. 64:6). Ungodly kingdoms have been and will be uprooted and divided by the four winds of heaven, chased like chaff and scattered by storm (Dan. 11:4; Isa. 17:13; Isa. 41:16). The disciples of Jesus marveled that even the winds and the waters obeyed the Him, and without the Word of God to anchor us today, we’re tossed about by false teaching and doubt like waves upon the wind-whipped sea (Mark 4:41; Eph. 4:14; James 1:6).

Breath–the wind of life—warms the first pages of the Bible, for God breathed His Spirit over the face of the waters and breathed life into Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:2; Gen. 2:7). By His breath all was created—from the foundations of the earth to the hosts of heaven (Ps. 18:15; Ps. 33:6). He brings the dead to life; in Ezekiel’s vision, the dry bones were fleshed out and the breath of God revivified His people (Ezek. 37:9-10). What a contrast to lifeless idols that cannot breathe—and to us humans ourselves, whose physical lives are but a mere breath, as temporal as mist on a cold morning (Hab. 2:19; Ps. 39:5; James 4:14). When God takes away the breath of our lungs, we die and our bodies return to the dust, our souls to be judged by the breath of God’s lips, by the “sharp sword” that comes out of the mouth of Christ (Ps. 104:29; Job 34:14-15; Isa. 11:4; Heb. 9:27; Rev.19:15). But this breath of eternal judgment is stayed for those who’ve trusted in Christ’s payment of sin’s penalty on the cross, for the third translation of ruach and pneuma (“spirit”) demonstrates divine mercy.

Spirit emanates from Father and Son, invisible as wind and warm as breath. The Holy Spirit, present at creation, was breathed out again by Jesus upon His disciples, and ushered in Pentecost like a rushing mighty wind (Heb. 11:3; John 20:22; Acts 2:2). Through this same Spirit—blowing where He pleases—God regenerates fallen humanity in bringing birth from above (John 3:6-8). The Spirit of truth goes out from the Father and proceeds through the Son at the behest of Jesus, making Him known to us (John 15:26; John 16:12-15). This knowledge resides in the God-breathed Scriptures, the very words of God Himself, written by men who were carried along like ships with sails full of the wind of the Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). This living Word—this “sword of the Spirit”—also abides in believers, accomplishing what God pleases as the full revelation of Himself, for in the Scriptures we have the mind of Christ (Eph. 6:17; John 5:38; 1 John 2:14; Isa. 55:11; 1 Cor. 2:12-16).

The complex biblical theme of wind/breath/spirit blows cultural expressions of art and literature out of the water! The spiritual truths of God are knowable to us through His living, breathing Word. The Bible is one of many books we might read, but it is the only Book that reads us.

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To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder.