Reading the Bible the Way Itís Written

Personification, Allegory, Parables and more

Isaiah 55:6-13, Personification of the mountains, hills, and trees
Isaiah 44:21-23, Personification of heaven, earth, mountains, forest, and trees
Romans 8:18-23, Personification of creation
Proverbs 1:20-33, Personification of Wisdom
Genesis 4:8-11, Personification of blood and the earth
Isaiah 47:1-4, 52:1-3, And finally, personification of Babylon and Jerusalem

Judges 9:1-21, A fable about plants
2 Kings 14:1-16, And another fable about thistles and cedars

Psalms 80:7-19, An allegory in which the vineyard stands for Israel
Ezekiel 17:1-10, An allegory in which vines and eagles are a complex political situation (vss. 11-15)
Mark 4:1-9, An allegory in which seed and growth are preaching and response (vss. 10-20)

2 Samuel 12:1-12, Parables, which vary a lot: hereís an Old Testament example from a prophet
2 Samuel 14:1-21, ... and a parable from a politician
Matthew 21:1-11, ... and a parable that is acted out
Matthew 22:1-14, ... and a parable thatís pretty gloomy

Matthew 13:33, 44, 47-48; John 6:48; John 15:1-5; Mark 2:18-22, Many parables are what we would call similes, metaphors, and analogies

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Isaiah 55:6-13, Personification of the mountains, hills, and trees (1/18/16)

Our new study on reading the Bible the way itís written begins our tenth year of ďReading Our Bible Together.Ē Some of us have been together from the beginning, and others have joined very recently. Some of us belong to the same congregation and Sunday School class, and others represent nearly every nation in the world. All of us are trying to better understand Godís word and his plan for us, his people.

Not all of the stories in the Bible can be read as factual reporting. We already know that in order to understand the writerís intent, we must learn to recognize history as history and prophecy as prophecy. This study looks at some of the other types of writing in the Bible. Only by recognizing how the writer is using language can we understand what he is saying. We considered punning names a while back; now weíre going to move on to personification. In personification, some creature or inanimate object is given human characteristics. Personification is usually fairly easy to recognize, because we know, for example, that mountains donít have mouths to sing and trees donít have hands to clap. Instead, they are a symbol of universal joy.


Isaiah 44:21-23, Personification of heaven, earth, mountains, forest, and trees (1/19/16)

Personification seems to be fairly common in the Bible. Here again, the heavens, the earth, the mountains, the forest, and the trees are all able to shout and sing for joy.


Romans 8:18-23, Personification of creation (1/20/16)

Personification is not confined to the Old Testament. Paul represents creation as a whole to be eager in waiting for the freedom that will come through Godís children. Creation has been in bondage and groans with the pains of childbirth.

Itís important to pull out Paulís meaning from his imagery. Yes, our sin makes us responsible for a great many of the problems suffered by Godís creation, and yes, our salvation will bring about the redemption of creation. But no, creation is not going to give birth to a little baby creation. Personification is used to give us a vivid and concrete picture of an abstract theological concept.


Proverbs 1:20-33, Personification of Wisdom (1/21/16)

Weíve seen that inanimate objects can be personified. Another common use of personification is to represent mental or emotional states such as wisdom, which we see an example of in Proverbs 1. Wisdom calls to us and encourages us to embrace knowledge and the fear of the LORD. She warns us of the perils of ignoring her. Sisters, donít get too excited that Wisdom is represented as a woman. So is Folly (e.g., in Proverbs 9).


Genesis 4:8-11, Personification of blood and the earth (1/22/16)

God, of course, knew what had happened to Abel, but he was giving Cain a chance to confess. When Cain refuses to confess, God personifies the earth and Abelís blood as bringing an accusation against Cain.

Oo, oo! A new television idea: CSI Genesis.


Isaiah 47:1-4, 52:1-3, And finally, personification of Babylon and Jerusalem (1/25/16)

I think the most common use of personification in the Bible is the representation of cities and nations as a person, typically a woman, but not always. Isaiah depicts both Babylon and Jerusalem as women, sharply contrasting them after the Exile. The nation of Israel is often personified as a woman in the Old Testament, both for good, as Godís bride, and for bad, as Godís unfaithful wife. In the opinion of many scholars, Romans 9 has an example of nations (Israel and Edom) being personified as men (Jacob and Esau).


Judges 9:1-21, A fable about plants (1/26/16)

When you hear the word ďfable,Ē you probably automatically think about ďAesopís Fables.Ē The ancient Greek Aesop wrote stories in which animals played the parts of people and the story pointed to some truth about life. The Bible contains one regular-sized fable and one mini-fable (which weíll read tomorrow).

You probably know Jerubbaal by his other name Ė Gideon. He had 70 sons (presumably by several wives). After his death, one of the sons, Abimelech, murdered most of the others and got some of his relatives to declare him king. His only surviving brother, Jotham, told this fable to the people who had made Abimelech their king. Plants play the part of people. None of the worthy plants Ė the olive, fig, or grape Ė would take the job, but the unproductive and dangerous bramble was happy to be king. Jotham is saying that in making Abimelech their king, theyíve chosen a man who is worthless and treacherous.


2 Kings 14:1-16, And another fable about thistles and cedars (1/27/16)

You know the saying, ďYou canít tell the players without a scorecard?Ē That is really true when youíre trying to read 1 or 2 Kings. At the time of todayís reading, the Jews are divided into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. The current king of Judah is Amaziah, son of the old king Joash. The current king of Israel is a different Joash, who is also called Jehoash, and who is the son of the old king Joahaz, who is also called Jehoahaz. Iím pretty sure Iíve got that right, but if you notice an error, let me know.

Anyway, Amaziah, who is a fairly small fish, gets full of himself and challenges Jehoash, who is a fairly big fish, to a fight. Jehoash doesnít want to fight, and he sends a message to Amaziah in the form of a tiny fable, vs. 9. The fable says that it isnít a good idea to makes demands of someone who is a lot bigger than you are. Amaziah wants to fight anyway, and they do. Amaziah loses.


Psalms 80:7-19, An allegory in which the vineyard stands for Israel (1/28/16)

In an allegory, just about everything stands for some specific other thing. Allegories are found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and weíre going to read three of them. Isaiah summarizes the history of the children of Israel in the form of an allegory. The vine is Israel, which God took out of Egypt to plant in the vineyard of Palestine. The spread of the branches and shoots represents their possession of the entire area. After they turned away from God Ė which I notice is not mentioned! Ė God allowed other nations to overrun and punish them. The broken walls represent the withdrawal of Godís protection, and the boar is an invading nation.

You have to be careful about two things in reading an allegory. First, donít try to read them literally. There was no vineyard extending from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean. Second, donít try to make them stand for something they donít. For example, this allegory isnít about vineyards in California being taken over by subdivisions.


Ezekiel 17:1-10, An allegory in which vines and eagles are a complex political situation (vss. 11-15) (1/29/16)

A ďparable,Ē in modern parlance, is a (usually) short story with a (usually) single theological point. There are a number of parables in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, that fit this definition. Biblical Hebrew and Greek donít have nearly as many words as English, however. Consequently, ďparableĒ in the Bible is used to describe just about any turn of phrase or non-factual story, from metaphors and similes through full-blown allegories. When you read a Biblical ďparable,Ē it helps if you can distinguish on your own whether weíd call it a parable (a single theological point), an allegory (everything stands for something), or a metaphor (a simple comparison).

God tells Ezekiel in vs. 2 that he should tell Israel a parable. Then Ezekiel tells what we would call an allegory Ė and we know itís an allegory because it is explained in vss. 11-15. It isnít what we would call a parable, because it has no theological point at all. Instead, itís a story about Judah, which is a vassal state of Babylon, trying to make an alliance with Egypt. ďThatís political suicide,Ē says the LORD. ďAnd you havenít been any more faithful to me than to your political overlord, so donít expect me to bail you outĒ (vss. 16-21).


Mark 4:1-9, An allegory in which seed and growth are preaching and response (vss. 10-20) (2/1/16)

Remember that ďparableĒ has a broader meaning in the Bible than in modern English. Hereís a great example. Verse 1 calls this story from Jesus a parable, but we would call it an allegory, because every little detail stands for a specific thing in the explanation, which follows in vss. 10-20. Having an explanation, especially when the listeners ask for it, is a dead giveaway for an allegory. What we call a parable Ė a short story with a single point Ė is so simple and obvious that an explanation is rarely needed or provided. In the Parable of the Sower, the seed is the word of God; we are the soils; and the birds, rocks, and thorns are the various difficulties that we might encounter that prevent us from responding and producing good works.


2 Samuel 12:1-12, Parables, which vary a lot: hereís an Old Testament example from a prophet (2/2/16)

Hereís a parable, short, sweet, and simple. Itís sinful and shameful for a rich man who has much to steal from a poor man who has little. David got it right away, and when Nathan said that he was the man, David got that, too. The thing about parables (by our modern English definition) is that they are easy to understand, and their application is obvious.


2 Samuel 14:1-21, ... and a parable from a politician (2/3/16)

The parable we read today does not have a theological point, but rather the political point that eventually there comes a time when you should let bygones be bygones, even when someone has been killed, for the good of the community. Absalom, King Davidís oldest son, had murdered his half-brother Amnon for raping Absalomís full sister (Amnonís half-sister) Tamar. David had banished Absalom, but his general Joab knew that David really wanted Absalom back. Joab makes up this parable and gets an old lady to tell it to the king. Just as David understood Nathanís parable, he also understands this one, and Absalom is allowed to return to Jerusalem.

Eventually Absalom leads a revolt against David and does a lot of damage to the kingdom, so probably Davidís first instinct was the right one.


Matthew 21:1-11, ... and a parable that is acted out (2/4/16)

Not all parables are written or spoken. Some are acted. The point of Jesusí actions was simple, like all good parables. The people were expecting a king, and they acknowledged that Jesus, the Son of David, was the one they wanted. Kings, however, ride mighty warhorses. Donkeys are for ordinary, humble people. Through his actions, Jesus said that the king whom God has appointed is humble and peaceable, not proud and warlike.


Matthew 22:1-14, ... and a parable thatís pretty gloomy (2/5/16)

The theological point of a parable can be grim. This one says that if you refuse the invitation to come into Godís kingdom, or if you merely pretend to enter, youíre in deep trouble. God will find someone else who will accept his invitation.

Matthew 13:33, 44, 47-48; John 6:48; John 15:1-5; Mark 2:18-22, Many parables are what we would call similes, metaphors, and analogies (2/8/16)

Jesus told some really short ďparablesĒ that we would call similes (ďis likeĒ) or metaphors (saying ďisĒ when it literally isnít). He also used analogy, i.e., telling a little story as an illustration, not as a story with a theological point. Matthew 13:33, 34, and 47-48 are similes; John 15:1-5 is a metaphor, and Mark 2:19-22 gives three analogies.

Jesus used all these figures of speech so that we can attach a new, difficult idea like the kingdom of heaven to an everyday, easy idea like making bread. That way, we have a better chance of understanding and remembering them.


More of the Way Itís Written
Personification
Songs and Letters

Copyright 2016, 2017 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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