The Building Blocks of God's Truth
Words are used to convey ideas, but words can have several meanings, conveying different ideas. Take the simple word boot. It can mean a covering for the foot; a kind of torture rack for the leg; a compartment for luggage in an automobile; a place for attendants to ride outside of a carriage; a patch in a tire; a box that holds the reed for a reed pipe organ; a physical kick; a discharge from employment; something extra; a recent recruit in the navy. It is commonplace for us to use one word to mean different things. The same is true in the scriptures.
The ability to determine how a word is used is another key to understanding the Bible. One method is to observe the context in which it is used.
There is an old Scottish verse that is helpful in this regard.
When 'ere you lookFollowing the admonition of this rhyme will help us understand how words are used in scripture and what they mean.
Within this Book,
Five things observe with care.
Of whom it speaks,
To whom it speaks,
And why, and when, and where.
Moses (Deut. 32:1) says, "Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth."
Right away we have a clue that the language is not to be taken literally. The heavens do not have ears and the planet earth is not capable of hearing. However, we find in the context that Moses is commanded to write a song and teach it to the children of Israel (Deut. 31:19-22). This is restated after the song is delivered (Deut. 32:44,45). So Israel was the recipient of Moses' song.
The heavens in the natural sense rule over the earth and this is also true symbolically. The heavens symbolically represent ruling powers while earth represents people. The heavens Moses addressed were the elders and officers (Deut. 31:28) and the earth was the congregation or members of the tribes of Israel (Deut. 31:30).
We use language today in a similar way. We speak of a new entrant in the political ring as a rising star in the political heavens and many talented people are referred to as stars.
The following is a list of a few of the words that are frequently used symbolically in the Bible and what they represent.
The first rule applies here also -- first the natural, then the spiritual. And don't forget the context -- Of whom it speaks, to whom it speaks, and why and when and where.
water = people rivers = armies mountains = kingdoms fire = total destruction wine = doctrine day = thousand years dawn (morning) = resurrection earthquake = civil unrest fig tree/vine = nation of Israel lamp/light = knowledge arm = strength serpent = sin Egypt = darkness, ignorance Babylon = apostasy sheep = obedient followers vipers/goats = the wicked, disobedient sword = war horns = power fruit = good works Israel = spiritual Israel Jacob = natural Israel