Similes. Analogies. Metaphors—they’re all over in human language. The easiest way to communicate abstract concepts is through concrete examples (that sounded really smart, didn’t it?😂) e.g. “Nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Or “He looked at her as though she was a lifeboat in the vast, empty sea he’d been stranded in.” Or “The supply truck finally appeared over the hill, and it was like dawn breaking, banishing the seemingly endless cold and dark with its much needed aid.” Have you ever been “so hungry you could eat a horse”? Horses are big, so you must be really hungry!
All that to say, from storytelling to everyday conversation, word pictures are EVERYWHERE. It’s an interesting duo, don’t you think? In this life, we are spiritual beings wrapped in material constructs, and in similar manner, we pair immaterial ideas with physical counterparts to help us better explain ourselves and understand each other. And you know what’s really neat? That’s how God teaches us about him, too!
I’ve been reading through the Old Testament prophets, which are chocked full of word pictures as God warned Israel of his judgement and told them of his future blessing. Pharaoh’s dreams in Genesis. Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams in Daniel. Ezekiel’s and Zechariah’s visions. They were all literal, visual representations of immaterial things to help the prophets understand and communicate what God was telling them.
In the New Testament, Jesus taught the Israelites through word pictures (parables) all the time! The book of Matthew ( chapter 13) recounts a plethora of instances when Jesus described the kingdom of heaven:
- Like a man who sowed good seed in his filed (v.24)
- Like a mustard seed (v.31)
- Like leaven (v.33)
- Like treasure hidden in a field (v.44)
- Like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls (v.45)
- Like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind (v.47)
Likewise, the Gospel is also described as a seed, and those who spread it as sowers, waterers, and harvesters. The Christian’s relationship with, dependance on, and responsibility to Christ is likened to a vine and its branches (John 15). Scripture is loaded with agricultural word pictures, which makes sense, since Israel was a hugely agricultural nation (I mean, how rich you were was measured more in livestock and fields than cold, hard cash).
Living an agricultural lifestyle here on the homestead has given our family a very personal experience with what Scripture says when it teaches spiritual concepts via agricultural examples.
The Gospel of burial and resurrection is beautifully depicted in the garden.
We sow seeds in hope that new life will rise out of the earth, just as Christ was buried and rose again, bringing new life with him! We may tend the plants, but it’s God who makes them grow, just like salvation comes from the Lord and not by works. Growing our own food has also been a very practical lesson in trusting and relying on God; believing in his goodness, faithfulness, and provision whether we get a good crop or lose the harvest; and counting our blessings.
We sow the seeds in hope, tend the plants with expectation, and harvest the fruit with thanksgiving, knowing it was a gift from God. We share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, nurture the conversation, and lead them to salvation, knowing it was a gift from God. But sometimes the plants don’t produce, and sometimes people reject the Gospel. Both cases are sad and disappointing (the latter infinitely more so), but neither is within our control or our responsibility. That’s God’s business.
Like children, we should trust in the knowledge, wisdom, and plan of our eternal father. Like sheep, we should follow the lead of our good shepherd. Like servants, we should go about the work of our lord.
And it just goes on! The Bible is replete with this imagery that is simple to grasp, because God knows us well and speaks to us in a way that we can understand—especially with his help, when we ask for it.
What other word pictures have you encountered in Scripture? Do you have a favorite? The poetry of the Psalms and Proverbs are full of them! What are any figures of speech/turns of phrases that you’ve heard or use? Some of them can be pretty poignant, and others absolutely hilarious!