Metaphor: Concentric Circles

There’s more to be explored with the concept of circles. Previously the exploration was about how each letter of the alef-bet exhibits some aspect of circularity, because the alef-bet is an illustration of the cyclical wheel of the Word.

Naturally, we can’t condense the complexity and majesty of God down into a simple shape, but for the sake of illustrating a concept, let’s consider God the Father to also be like a huge circle encompassing the totality of everything that exists. The Messiah is like God the Father, and is God in kind, part of the same family, so they have the same shape. If both are represented by circles, what is the relationship between the two?

Note first Heb 1:3, which says that the Messiah is: “upholding all things by the word of his power…” Not “the power of his word”. His power is words. Back up a verse, and we get the phrase “by whom also he made the worlds”. In Genesis we know that God spoke and creation happened, and multiple times we see the Messiah described as “the Word”. Everything that was created was made through the Messiah, so his circle also encompasses everything that exists.

Scripture also makes it clear that in old times, many of the prophets and righteous men whose experiences were recorded for us spoke directly with God, but at the same time, God the Father has never been seen or heard directly by anyone. Who did they speak with? One who speaks as God yet is not the Father can only be the Son, the Messiah. In those times, from our perspective, in the simplified representation as circles, it would be as if both circles were the same size, with the Messiah completely overlapping and hiding the Father from human sight.

When the Messiah was born as a man to be the Redeemer of humanity, he voluntarily gave up heavenly glory for a time to pursue that critical mission. After he was resurrected again by the Father, he was not restored back exactly to what he had been before. Instead, he was resurrected as an example of what faithful humanity will become – a perfected spirit being, like God in nature, but not equal to God the Father.

His circle still encompasses everything, because he still has more power and authority than any other living being except for the Father. And the Father’s intent is for all to be placed under the Messiah’s authority in the end, as 1 Corinthians 15:28 says: “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” The Father is the ultimate authority and encompasses the Son like concentric circles. No longer is the Father hidden, because the Messiah came to reveal Him to man. Both can be known by those who seek them.

If the Messiah is an example of what God’s people will become, then that means that resurrected humanity can also be represented by smaller circles within the larger circles of the Father and the Son. Some circles will be larger than others, indicating authority over more. As the parable says, “…because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17) The master in the parable goes on to give another servant five cities, and so on. Prophecies such as Ezekiel 37:34 indicate that King David will be resurrected and given rulership over Israel again, and the twelve apostles will judge the twelve tribes, according to Matt 19:28.

So that means that authority in the Kingdom of God could be represented something like this:

Of course, physical humanity might be represented as mere pinpricks, with authority over nothing.

Metaphor: Life as an MMO

Have you ever played an MMO? It stands for “massively multiplayer online” and usually refers to online role-playing games where many people simultaneously access and interact with the game world and with each other. Many of these aren’t very conducive to spiritual thinking because most are based on the standard setup of a role-playing game as one where the user fights opponents to increase in power. Some are more peaceful, being puzzle-based or story-based, and some don’t have any fighting at all. But the concept of a simulated multi-user world can actually be used to explore some spiritual concepts.

The inspiration for this topic began with Matthew 10:30, which says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Most commonly this verse is understood as God knowing how many hairs you have on your head in total at any given time, and that is certainly very likely. But what if it also implies that each hair is given a number? The difference is between having a single number as an aggregate count, versus having a listing of each hair individually. Are we splitting hairs yet? Continue reading

Metaphor: The Wheel of Scripture

In some sense, circles are the most perfect geometric form. They are infinitely symmetric, and they mysteriously take up area based on a transcendental number (pi) that can’t be calculated exactly. There are so many things that are naturally circular that they lend themselves well to metaphor and comparison.

Oddly enough, the word “circle” appears only a single time in Scripture:

Isaiah 40:22: [It is] he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof [are] as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

There are two more verses that use the same Hebrew word (chuwg) but translate it a bit differently.

Continue reading

Metaphor: Anointing with Oil and the Name

Oil in general has many different uses, from common cooking and food preparation, treating ailments, aromatics and infusions, anointing and purifying, fuel for lights, etc. Oil is mentioned many times throughout Scripture, often specifically as olive oil, as that was commonly used throughout the Middle East. Olive trees grow very well in that area of the world, perhaps better than most other plants that yield useful oils in large quantities, so the pressing of olives into oil became a common trade very quickly.

Olive oil is very versatile partly because of its mild flavor; many other oils have stronger flavors or other chemical properties that make them less suitable for some uses. Somehow the oil has a milder flavor than the fruit itself – many people who do not care for the strong taste of olives may happily use olive oil in their food and salad dressings. If necessary, one could live on cakes of nothing but flour and olive oil for quite some time, as Elijah and the widow woman and her son did in 1 Kings 17.

The general word in Scripture for oil is shemen (H8081), with 193 occurrences in 176 verses. It is often specifically olive oil, as that was commonly used throughout the Middle East. However, the sacred anointing oil of the temple was a complex infused version with a specific recipe described in Exodus 30:23-25.

Like other pure liquids, such as water or honey, pure oil is excellent for cleansing or purifying. Genesis 28:18 is the first use of “oil” (shemen) in Scripture, and the first description of anointing something: “And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.” Jacob consecrated the stone he used for God by anointing it with oil.

Anointing people came later, such as in Exodus 30:30 where Moses is told to anoint Aaron and his sons as part of the priestly consecration process: “And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that [they] may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” Exodus 29:7 gives us a definition of how it is done: “Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour [it] upon his head, and anoint him.” The word for “pour” here is the same word used back in Genesis when Jacob poured the oil on the stone, so anointing is simply pouring oil on top of something for the purposes of consecrating, honoring, or purifying it.

The numerical value of the Hebrew word shemen (oil) is 390. This splits into 10×39. One interesting thing is that the number ten corresponds to the letter yod, which has as its primary theme that of the hand, which is used to perform anointing, and its grammatical theme that of possessive. And the number 39 is the value of the phrase that translates “The Lord is one” from Deuteronomy 6:4 (6+4 = 10): “YHVH echad“. That verse is the beginning of the passage that is also called the Shema, after the first word of the verse (shama’), which translates to “Hear”.

Furthermore, the first two letters (shin + mem) of both shemen and shama’ spell shem: this is both the name of one of Noah’s sons, the one that was the progenitor of Abraham and all of the Israelites, and the general word for “name” in Scripture, including God’s Name. In fact, Ha’Shem is a common Jewish way of referring to God – but it literally just means “the Name”. Also note that the original Hebrew version of Moses (Mosheh) is spelled with the same letters as Ha’Shem but in a different order. Therefore, the letters of both Ha’Shem and Mosheh have the same sum: 345, and the same ordinal sum: 39.

What does all this mean, then? It means that purifying by anointing with oil is a physical representation of putting the name of God on the recipient. The value of shemen as 10×39 thematically corresponds to “my name“. When an elder anoints those who are ill, he is to pray over them in the name of the Lord, as in James 5:14: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…” When Moses anointed Aaron and his sons with oil, he was sharing his authority and responsibility to act before God on behalf of the people for law-giving and sacrifices.

These days most people trust in modern medicine more than in the power of God to heal, so that anointing, if it is done at all, is treated as a purely ceremonial and spiritual act. Certainly there is much to be said for the prayer of healing from a righteous man. However, oil can also have a physical benefit to the body, particularly if it is infused with herbs or essential oils from plants that correspond to the ailment, and so in some cases this anointing may have been a dual blessing to the recipient. More on this idea at another time.

Metaphor: Violence of Bears

Popular culture gives us a number of friendly bear characters, such as Yogi Bear or Pooh Bear, that talk and are generally silly. However, even if they belong to a smaller species, live bears are all quite dangerous animals, especially females protecting their cubs with strong maternal instincts. Scripture shows that both male and female bears can be dangerous though, particularly when hungry. Why else would a major competitive sports team have chosen to name itself after the bear?

The first instance of the Hebrew word for the bear, dov, is found in 1 Samuel 17 when David is describing the animals he fought when defending his flock of sheep. David killed both lions and bears to save the lambs they hunted for food, giving credit to God for delivering him and them from danger. The bear is mentioned three times in this section, always as an animal attacking or trying to steal from the flock.

This begins the pattern of uses for bears; there is no positive mention of bears in Scripture. The best mention of the bear is in Isaiah 11 as a millennial prophecy about the changed nature of animals in the Kingdom of God. However, it is mentioned as eating peaceably with a cow, so it’s a backhanded compliment at best because the implication is that it was previously dangerous and can only be at peace with an herbivore once the world is at peace with God.

Continue reading

Sermon Snippets: Psalm 1 and the Water of Life

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…” So begins the first Psalm, which is another very reasonable place to begin memorizing portions of Scripture. So many psalms are made into hymns and other songs anyway that there are undoubtedly verses that are within most people’s minds already, just as there are many common figures of speech that are originally from scripture.

This psalm well illustrates several major themes that permeate scripture, particularly the collected Writings of Wisdom (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc). A comparison between the righteous and the ungodly is easy to see, various aspects of which can be seen much later in some of the parables in the Gospels.

Continue reading

Metaphor: Sweeter than honey

Honey is one of the sweetest natural foods God has provided us, so it is no surprise that in scripture, it is used as a comparison of sweetness. However, modern society has no conception of the true value and use of sweet things because cheap sugar has been made so abundant. People want ever sweeter foods and then refuse to eat things that are truly nourishing, having lost their taste for them. So something that is extremely sweet can also be a temptation.

The first mention of honey (Gen 43:11) is as a gift along with the “best fruits in the land” plus spices and nuts, all delicious and desirable foods. Twenty times it is used in the phrase “flowing with milk and honey,” describing the land of Israel. In those days, honey or anything sweet would be a very rare treat, so a land flowing with it would be a desirable place to live indeed, in great contrast to arid Egypt.

It has one non-obvious property that makes it even more valuable not just as a delicious food, but as a useful remedy for wounds: it is antibacterial. It is the only food that can be left unrefrigerated and even unsealed, and it will not grow moldy or decay in any way. Ancient honey from Egyptian tombs thousands of years old has been recovered and found to still be edible. It is therefore useful as a sterilization agent in wound dressings, as well as an ingredient in preserved foods for travel.

Continue reading