Archive for September, 2013

Who WAS That Guy?

Did you know that there are multiple “fools” in the Old Testament?  Well, I know there are many people who were foolish, but did you know that there are different kinds of fools?  In other words, our English does a poor job of translating the Hebrew meaning so we keep using the same word over and over again, even though the concept is different.

One of the reasons for this is plain old poor (or lazy) translation.  Another is a deeper and foundational difference between the two languages.  The Hebrew language creates pictures with their words.  They have several thousand fewer words in their vocabulary than we have in ours.  Each word captures a complete image instead of being a single element in a string of descriptors.  Sort of gives me goose bumps thinking about how much closer their language must be to the sound that actually created the earth.

So far as I can tell at the moment, there are at least five different fools in Proverbs.  In my recent study, I was grappling with one of them in particular, and in that grappling, crossed an important threshold in my thinking.  I became aware that I was tempted to do exactly what many of us do when we read Scripture.  We leave it in the abstract.  The person or action being described stays unknown and unfamiliar.  There is no picture, no comparison to anything we recognize or already know about.  We try to take those abstract yet terribly distant concepts and apply them to our lives.  But these efforts so often underperform our expectations.  Why?  I think one reason is because the concepts never come alive.

For us to really integrate what is being communicated, we have to enter into the world of word pictures.  Let’s take it out of the realm of Scripture for a moment and look at everyday life.  There are two tools continually used by the human mind to understand and relate to the world around them.  One of them is metaphor and the other is simile.  Both of these tools involve creating pictures.  When you use a metaphor such as “he’s a lion in battle”, you create a picture of how that man behaves on the battlefield.  You think of courage, strength, and tenacity.  He’s not actually a lion, nor does he tear the enemy apart with his teeth.  But we use the picture of certain characteristics associated with the lion to describe the man.   Similes are used even more often.  Think of this phrase: “he moves like molasses in the winter”.  You are trying to describe the friend I don’t know, and to bridge the gap, you create a picture of something I do know.  If you tell me he’s like molasses, I know EXACTLY what you mean.  I can imagine him oozing down the sidewalk, slowly, on his way to the car, with me impatiently snorting behind him because I am ready to GO already.  I know that if I am going to do anything with him, I will need to pad the appointment with an extra 10 minutes so he can toddle his way along and not make us late.  He will be one of those slow going people who make me practice patience.  I still haven’t met him yet, but your comparison made him real.  In both of these examples, there is a richer connection to the concept because of the picture created by the comparison.  These are the kinds of tools we need to use when we read Scripture.

So, in that moment during my study I realized that I couldn’t go another step until I knew what this fool was like.  Just like you described your friend by comparing him to molasses, I needed to understand this fool by comparing him to someone I knew.  There needed to be some flesh on his bones to make him real, breathing, and alive.  Who WAS this guy?

It took me two days to find him.  But find him I did!  In fact, I found him in a couple of places.  I found him in the form of an old boyfriend of my cousin (glad she didn’t marry him!) in a character from a favorite book, and in a couple of secular applications.  Given the condition of the world today, I am SURE he exists in a few other places too.  Now the story was coming alive.  I was beginning to see the Word as the language intended it to be – as pictures.

It takes work to do this.  While we often use comparisons in our daily lives, we are terribly out of practice using them to dig out the treasures of Scripture.  It takes time.  I camped on that one description for two days until I got the picture.  But has that Scripture ever come alive!  I can SEE it in real life.  I can feel it and taste it, and the exercise of finding it in the real world has made it a part of me.

What do you do when you read Scripture?  Do you take the time to find the comparisons that engage your mind and emotions, not to mention your imagination?  Do the stories breathe with the breath of real men and women, or are they two-dimensional words on a page?

There are always the times when God will ignite our spirits in a moment’s notice and we’ll feel the rush of heavenly insight.  But there is something significant to be said for the discipline of deepening our thinking process.  Those heavenly moments will be richer for it, and so will all the days, weeks, and months in-between.

(Still glad my cousin didn’t marry that guy!)

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