Biblical Quizzes for Really Smart People
Quiz III--Movies II
Quiz VII--X rated
Quiz VIII--X rated
Quiz X- The Numbers
Quiz XXIX (Messiah)
Quiz XXX (Messiah II)
Quiz XXXI (Mess. III)
Quiz XXXII (Mess. IV)
Quiz XL--vivid images
Quiz LIX--weird doct.
Quiz LXV--doctrine II
Bible Quizzes for Smart People LXIII
Bill Long 2/27/07
There is no unified theme for today. Some of the verses talk about distress, and then one or two will connect to familiar Christian hymns. I will save treatment of some doctrinal verses until tomorrow.
1. "And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell."
Well, we don't have the most positive view of the tongue in this passage, do we? The author is conscious of the contradictory capabilities of our tongue--"with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God." Then he asks the question, "Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish waters?" The point he is trying to make is that the tongue, by being used for contrary things, somehow either violates the laws of nature or of our faith. It is as if he assumes that it ought only to be used for one thing: to bless God. But with all respect to this author, I think he is wrong. Does the fact that an automobile can be used for positive and destructive forces mean that the auto is bad? Does the fact that our hands build and destroy mean that we ought to lop them off? I think he is expressing frustration that the heart, out of which are the issues of life, is divided and therefore sends mixed signals to the various body parts.
But instead of lambasting the tongue, he ought to have examined the heart. It is the heart that is the fire. But even if the heart sends out contradictory signals sometimes (it burns hot and cold, as we say), that is no reason to get upset. We are people torn by various forces. We face so many difficult, confusing and unsettling realities that we, as it were, suffer from tourettes of the mouth--what comes out sometimes has little relationship to what we, in our better moments, want to have come out. I much prefer the author of Proverbs' approach to the tongue. It is more nuanced and thoughtful. I will write about it in my next "book" on this site, Lord willing. But, in the meantime, you have to deal with this Scripture. Where do you find it?
2. "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" Then several chapters later, the same author says: "Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you."
One of the old time Gospel songs that everyone knows who has dipped the foot into the deep rivers of African-American spirituality is, "There is a Balm in Gilead." I am listening to it in the background as I write. Here is the chorus and the first verse:
"There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged
And think my work's in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again..."
In Southern Nebraska there is a town named Gilead. Guess what? Yep, you are right. As you enter the town there is a little sign saying that there is a balm in Gilead. I have always wondered why no one lives there (I think the population is less than 100) if this is true... When the Israelis and others were engaged in various wars in 1967 and 1973, one person asked, "Is there a bomb in Gilead?" The meaning of this passage has been completely taken over by the Gospel Hymn. Indeed, there is a balm in Gilead, it teaches. We are not talking about the earthly Gilead; rather we are touching some kind of spiritual Gilead, a place in the heart, a region where there is healing from all the pain that weighs us down. We wish so much that there would be such a place. Sometimes, thankfully, we find it. Other times, however, the night is dark, the rain unremitting, the cold most frigidious, turning us into blocks of congealed ice. Would that the words were true more often! Ok, you need to find the Biblical verses. Where are they?
3. "All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full..."
This is a verse of despair, but it is grounded in observation of nature. Job also derived some of his despair from looking at nature. For example, in the great poem of anguish, Job 14, he contrasts the "hope for a tree" with the fact that humans just die and are no more. He sets it up like this: "As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again..." (14:11-12). Just so that you see that this isn't a "one-time deal" with Job, he shows again how nature gives us pictures of hopelessness: "But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stone; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth" (14:18-19). What is the lesson? Job obliges, "So you destroy the hope of mortals" (14:19). To me the quoted verse says that even though there is lots of energy and motion in the world, it basically leaves the world untouched. The rivers move along, sometimes meandering in the most sinuous and torturous turns, but sometimes also cascading down with unmitigated power, and they rush ultimately to the sea. But the sea, however tempestuous it is, however much it receives all this torrentuous flow, is not filled. This verse is a beautiful one because it allows so many possible interpretations, but the one I put on it today is a negative one--we can work all we want, throwing our spray and flinging our spume, and the sea still is not full. Why not just sleep through life?
4. "And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."
Speaking of traditional American hymns, "We are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" (oops, I gave it away!) is a favorite of many. It is based on this text, even though the ideas in the hymn are quite different from those in the text. The Biblical text emphasizes the ladder which connects the heavens and the earth. It is a ladder facilitating communication between Jacob and God, allowing Jacob to receive the message from God that when he dies his descendants shall be as numerous as the dust of the earth, spreading each direction from Haran. But, the hymn looks at the ladder in a different way. Rather than enabling communication with the divine, the ladder is something which we must climb in our toilsome way on earth. The chorus says it best,
"We are climbing Jacob's ladder,
We are climbing Jacob's ladder,
We are climbing Jacob's ladder,
Soldiers of the cross."
In the second verse the women sing, "Ev'ry rung goes higher, higher." The men chime in: "Makes the climbing harder, harder." Then all sing in a chorus, "Life's a journey on this ladder" (repeated 3X). Well, then you can add all kinds of verses if you want. But you get the idea. The ladder is the path on which we must journey in our way to God. The idea is pretty far removed from the Biblical idea, but that has never stopped anyone from doing anything. Where do you find the original verse?