Do you like modern art? I don’t. But the imagery in the Bible is often like modern art, isn’t it? This is because of the cultural differences in our mindsets.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first…like a lion, the second…like an ox, the third…with the face of a man, and the fourth…like an eagle in flight…each…with six wings…full of eyes all around and within
My dad came with me to Israel in 2002 and we went to the Biblical Resources Center (BRC) which at that time was in Jerusalem. One of their staff asked our tour group, “Do any of you have a favorite tree?” Each in our group told of different trees that were their favorites. They chose for sentimental memories attached to each type of tree, or for appreciation of their beauty and/or strength. Then my dad said he liked the maple tree, “because it gives maple syrup.” And the BRC staff member said, “That’s the answer I’m looking for.”
With our Greco-Roman ancestry, we inherit a cultural mindset that focuses very much on the appearance of things. We like beautiful gardens, scenery, homes, cars, clothes, physical appearance, furniture, etc. But in Israel, even today, they appreciate things for their usefulness.
The BRC staff lady’s favorite tree was the olive tree, which is the same as the common favorite in Israel today. An olive tree is so useful and was especially so in Bible times. Back then, they burned oil for light by crushing olives (Exodus 27:20). They also anointed with the same oil (Luke 7:46), used this oil for medicine (Luke 10:34) and cooking. The pits, when crushed, had enough oil left in them to burn for heat, and the ashes after burning could be used to make soap.
Their cultural mindset significantly affects the Bible’s imagery. In the above example, the four living creatures were full of eyes likely because they see everything, or at least in all directions. One was like a lion probably because that’s a king in the animal kingdom. Another like an ox because of its strength. The fourth like an eagle possibly because it could fly swiftly.
Can you find the words omniscient or omnipotent in any version of the Bible? I don’t think so…. These are adjectives describing God, but it’s the Greco-Roman mentality to use adjectives. The Hebrews use verbs or even metaphors which imply verbs. From the Old Testament: God is our rock (enduring, unchanging, a sure foundation) and our shepherd (our guide, protector, provider). He’s our fortress (defense against the enemy, security, where we flee to), and he’ll cover us with his wings (because wings don’t just fly, they protect their young ones). In the New Testament Jesus is the door (the only way to enter God’s kingdom), the vine (see next week’s blog for more), the bread of life (life-giving, sustaining), the good shepherd (not a bad shepherd), and the way/truth/life.
Did you ever try to draw the “beautiful” woman described in the Song of Solomon?
Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing…. Your temples…are like the halves of a pomegranate.
Doves were the picture of innocence so they were used in sacrifice. Her eyes were innocent. Black nomadic tents were made from goat hair, so her hair was probably black. Sheep first shorn and washed look whiter than normal, meaning her teeth were white. Pomegranates are filled with seeds, so possibly her temples were filled with the seeds of ideas, thoughts showing intelligence.
The next time you feel the imagery of the Bible is weird, think again. See if this logic makes it fit better.
I tried to find the above picture where I believe I purchased it, from Dreamstime, a while after writing this blog to give due credit. But I can’t find it online anymore.