Let there be Symbols

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Hermeneutics is the study of literary interpretation. The Bible is literature containing history, narrative, letters, gospels, apocalyptics, and poetry. Within these genres are analogies (Gen. 49:9), allegories (2 Sam. 12:1-7), hyperbole (Mt. 23:24), metaphors (Gen. 49:9), metonymies (Luke 16:29), symbolism/semiotics (Ex. 30:18), and miracles/signs.

 

In Gen. 1 we are introduced to chaos, order, day/light, night/darkness, time, seasons, symbols (“signs”), the sea, land, firmament, heavenly bodies, birds, plants, beasts, reptiles, cattle, trees, fruit, and so on, used throughout Scripture in a continuum of meaning.

 

Compare e.g. Gen. 1:14-15 & Rev. 6:12-14. The lights in the sky measure hours, days, and months, and light the world. If they went away civilization would cease, so God’s judgment of cultural collapse is symbolized by the heavens collapsing on rebels, used consistently for Israel, Joel 2:10, 31, Acts 2:16, 19; Babylon, Isa. 13:10; Egypt, Ezekiel 32:7-8; Judah, Amos 8:9, etc. God’s judgment described using a de-creation motif, Gen. 1:2; Jer. 4:23, but I’ve heard preachers say that the stars will literally fall to earth.

 

The “process” of creation is comprehensive refinement, delineation, increasing order; the template of the Dominion Mandate. “Do what I have done. Spread this garden over the whole world,” Gen. 1:26-28.

 

Man is a symbol or analogue of God. Our primary resemblance to God is our capacity for dominion over creation as God’s regents. All of man’s other attributes serve this end. God is Creator, man is re-creator. The Mandate was restated to Noah, Gen. 9:1-7, and the apostles, Mt. 28:18-20. This is innate knowledge, Ro. 1:18-20; Acts 17:28, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being [Epimenides].’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring [Aratus].’”

 

We suppress this knowledge however, and submit ourselves to other symbols, Ro. 1:21-25, by which we do not image God. Christ is the perfect icon or symbol of God, Heb. 1:3, the perfect man.

 

God describes aspects of Himself in human terms; eyes, Ps. 11:4, ears, Ps. 55:1, mouth, Dt. 8:3, tongue, Isa. 30:27, finger, Ex. 8:19 (compare Mt. 12:28 with Luke 11:20), foot, Isa. 66:1, etc. anger and jealousy, Dt. 32:21, hatred, Gen. 6:6, wrath, Ps. 2:5, love, Dt. 4:37, etc. God did not look around for analogies to compare Himself to, but made us and all creation to express and reveal Himself to man, that we might understand God and ourselves.

 

“Furthermore, God is often called by names which indicate a certain office, profession, or relationship among men. Hence, he is called bridegroom, Isaiah 61:10; husband, Isaiah 54:5; father, Deuteronomy 32:6; judge, king, lawgiver, Isaiah 33:22; man of war, Exodus 15:3; hero, Psalm 78:65; Zephaniah 3:17; builder and maker, Hebrews 11:10; husbandman, John 15:1; shepherd, Psalm 23:1; physician, Exodus 15:26,” -Herman Bavinck. Man is God’s agent in recreating, using the raw materials of the world.

 

We must understand natural symbolism because it points to aspects of God, Ps. 19:1; Ro. 1:19-20. Biblical symbolism interprets creation’s symbols for us to help us know God. Man, as the image of God, is also reflected in creation. God is like a rock, Dt. 32:4, so may man be, Mt. 16:18. God/lion, Isa. 31:4, man/lion, Gen. 49:9. God/sun, Ps. 84:11, man/sun, Jud. 5:31. God/Tree of Life, Pr. 3:18, man/Tree of Life, Pr. 11:30.

 

The primary symbol of God is man, the primary man is Jesus. There are four secondary symbols; animals, plants, inanimate things (rocks, water), and heavenly bodies. Man restructures these into secondary symbols. To glorify God using His creation, we must know what His natural and biblical symbols mean. God’s symbols have inherent meaning, while man invests his symbols with meaning for good or evil, e.g., a crucifix means one thing, an inverted crucifix means quite another.

Comments

Autumn Cote Added Mar 7, 2018 - 8:58am
Please note, it's against the rules to post more than one article to the site within a 48-hour period and to submit new articles to the site without commenting on the work of others.  
ChristianRepublic Added Mar 7, 2018 - 9:24am
Oh sorry, will happily refrain from swamping the site! I have been commenting though.
Autumn Cote Added Mar 7, 2018 - 9:32am
I just noticed your highly insightful comment in Tom Purcell's article...thank you!  One more piece of advice, to improve readability, I would add white space between paragraphs.  
ChristianRepublic Added Mar 7, 2018 - 9:39am
I though I was Autumn, it looked fine when I pasted it but when posted it ended up w/o paragraph separation. I'm persnickety about such things, won't happen again.
Autumn Cote Added Mar 7, 2018 - 9:42am
You can edit any previously submitted article.  Click my profile from the drop-down list when you click your name in the upper right hand corner.  It should be self-explanatory from there. 
ChristianRepublic Added Mar 7, 2018 - 9:47am
I just edited this article accordingly, thanks.
Autumn Cote Added Mar 7, 2018 - 10:00am
Great…it looks much better. 
 
One more thought, is there a way to write your articles without so many biblical references.  The average Writer Beat participant is not that religious and I think all those references are highly distracting from the point you’re trying to get across.  It’s also difficult to decipher when the words are your own versus when you’re quoting from the Bible. 
ChristianRepublic Added Mar 7, 2018 - 10:06am
Taken under advisement, thanks.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 8, 2018 - 11:02am
Insightful piece on God and the importance of symbolism and moreover, the importance of recognizing and understanding the meaning of  symbols.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Mar 8, 2018 - 5:08pm
My advice: Keep the bible quotes. A lot of WB participants are religious.
ChristianRepublic Added Mar 8, 2018 - 6:28pm
Taken under advisement, thanks.