Certain phrases or expressions immediately set a context for us. “Once upon a time …” “On August 12th, 1984 …” “Mix one cup of milk into three cups of flour …” Yet, how proficient are we when reading biblical metaphors for conquest and blessing?
To get us started, listen to this taunt against the king of Babylon and his conquering power (Isaiah 14:3): “Is this the man who shook the earth … who made the world like a desert, who ruined its cities …” (Isaiah 14:16,17). In another passage God says he can protect against tyrants, who are characterized as being a storm and a blast of heat in a dry land (Isaiah 25:4).
What is the metaphorical language of conquest? When powerful human forces conquer, they shake the earth, unleash heat against the land and turn the land into a wilderness.
So, if this is the language of what man can do, how is God’s conquering power described?
When God used the Medes as his tool to crush Babylon, the Medes are portrayed as destroying the whole earth or the whole land, depending upon your translation (Isaiah 13:1,5,17,18,19). When God acts in judgment against a nation, he is metaphorically described as shaking the heavens, causing the sun and stars to go dark or fall, transforming fertile land into a desert, drying up water as well as sending unending raging fire against a city, the whole land or the earth (Isaiah 5:24-25; 9:19; 10:17; 13:1-13; 19:5; 24:4-7; 34:4-5; Jeremiah 4:22-29; 17:27; 21:12; 25:12; Amos 5:6,20). With humanity’s scarcity, wild animals infest the land (Isaiah 13:20-22; 14:23; 17:2; 18:6; 23:13).
If the metaphorical language for God judging a nation involves turning out the lights, how are God’s gracious blessings portrayed? As we might anticipate, the darkness becomes light as the sun shines much brighter (Isaiah 30:26; 42:16; 9:2). Good thing this is not literal! Furthermore, water quenches the thirsty desert bringing forth fertility as dangerous animals disappear (Isaiah 41:19; 44:4; 51:3; 55:13; 65:25).
Being sensitive to the language of conquest, judgment and blessing can enrich our understanding regarding the message the biblical authors communicated. Failure to understand contextual clues can send us down the wrong path. Imagine what could happen if we did not understand the literary genre language of, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …”
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