Monthly Archives: June 2011

Behold the Lamb of God


Lamb of GodWestboro Baptist Church (which is picketing some churches here tomorrow), says that God is really angry and He hates the vast majority of mankind. With the exception of a few “elect” (and Westboro members are few in number indeed, about 70, mostly from one family containing a disproportionately high number of attorneys), God hates us so much that He can barely wait to send us to hell and watch us fry for all eternity.

One shouldn’t have to ask … but I will anyway: Is this an accurate picture of what God is like? When you look at word pictures of God in both Old and New Testaments, do they paint a picture of an angry, vengeful, hateful, spiteful God who created us but was so taken aback by our sin that (except for a few choice, predestined elect) He can hardly wait to torture us for all eternity?

I think today’s word picture addresses that question quite nicely. If you were an angry, vengeful God and you wrote a letter trying to communicate in word pictures what you were like, which would you choose?

a) Fire-breathing dragon or other godzilla-like monster who burns entire villages or squashes buildings without thinking about it

b) Stampeding rhinoceros, blind with rage, who mindlessly mows down all that stands in its way

c) An innocent lamb, soft and tender, laying without bleating before the upraised knife of the slaughterer

Let’s look at which word-picture God selected for Himself …

Genesis 22

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

Exodus 12

3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household …. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.

Isaiah 53

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.  7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

John 1

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

1 Peter 1

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Revelation 5

6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb ….

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

This Ain’t No Ordinary Lamb

This last passage is the most interesting of all to me, because here the description of the Lamb begins to depart somewhat from the soft, cuddly animal we all know and love. Seven horns and seven eyes? No ordinary Lamb here.

And in Revelation 6 this Lamb begins to open a series of seven seals, with frightening judgments being poured out from each upon an unbelieving humanity. The final few verses of chapter 6 sum up the extraordinary scene:

15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

This Lamb, slain before the foundations of the world, somehow becomes something truly more terrifying than Godzilla. This Lamb who was silent before His oppressors now executes God’s wrath against the sin of a fallen humanity that spurned His blood.

But the good news is in the next chapter:

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

The Lamb slain, blood applied to the doorposts in the shape of a Cross, has become our salvation. The wrath of the Lamb is against sin; but the love of the Lamb is for us!


What, me? A leper?


My primary intent for this blog is to investigate scriptural word-pictures of Jesus. But there are lots of different and very interesting word-pictures in Scripture, and two weeks ago in our young adults Bible study of 2 Kings, I think we stumbled across one of them.

Four lepers, looting the camp of the Arameans

Four lepers, looting the camp of the Arameans

In chapter 7, we found ourselves in the walled city of Samaria in the midst of a terrible siege by Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram. The Israelites inside Samaria were so hungry they were cooking and eating their own children. It’s hard to imagine a famine so severe that the head of a dead donkey was sold for about two pounds of silver. (Silver is currently selling for about $292/pound … so imagine paying nearly $600 for a dead donkey head! You’d have to be pretty darned hungry.)

In the midst of this siege, the prophet Elisha prophesies one day that the very next day, the siege would be ended and food would be plentiful. The prophecy seems so preposterous that no one really believes him. But late that night, the encamped Aramean soldiers in the besieging army are awakened to a terrifying noise, the thundering sound of hooves and chariots. They assume Israel has hired a mercenary army of Hittites and Egyptians, and flee in terror, leaving their stuff strewn about the path of their terrified departure.

Meanwhile, four lepers are sitting outside the walls of Samaria, a city which has heard nothing of any of this commotion and assumes nothing has changed. Reasoning among themselves, the four lepers say, “Okay, enough of this. Let’s go give ourselves up to the Arameans. The worst they can do is kill us; if we stay here, we’re dead anyway.” But when they arrive in the Aramean camp, they find nothing but tents empty of soldiers … and full of all kind of plunder, free for the taking.

From the first tent (of many) they come to, they eat and drink their fill, then plunder silver, gold, and clothing. They then move on to the second tent, and start in.

But the plight of their hungry fellow Samaritans weighs heavily on their minds. Conscience-stricken, they say: “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

So the four lepers — so outcast from Samaritan society that they are apparently not even allowed to stay inside the safety of the city walls — go to the city gates and inform its officials of the bounty they have discovered.

I’ll let you read the end of the story for yourself … but it may have already occurred to you (as it occurred to us) that the four lepers and their discovery are a rather unflattering word-picture of we as Christians, God’s people. Scripture says we are “aliens” in this world, sojourners only, outcasts of a sort. As such we have found a great treasure … the grace and mercy and forgiveness of the Cross … but while we are enjoying this blessing, a not-so-blissfully unaware world slumbers onward toward oblivion, gnawing on donkey heads and boiling their children.

We have a choice. We can horde the good news all to ourselves, for personal gain and our own ease and enjoyment, or we can take the risky and costly move of going back into a starving world and sharing the Good News (for that’s exactly what the Gospel is, good news for the perishing) with those who hold us at arm’s length. They may or may not believe us; most of the Israelites didn’t believe the lepers, and it wasn’t until a contingent sent by the king returned to confirm the truth that a stampede ensued.

But what happens if we horde the good news to ourselves, if we ignore the cries of a dying world? The lepers could have done so, but not only would they be violating their conscience in the knowledge that their countrymen were dying, they also (interestingly enough) feared punishment if “they were overtaken by daylight.”

And rightly so. Can you imagine how angry you would be if you found out only too late about the bounty that awaited just outside the city gates?

Jesus made it clear what our job as Christians is: to go into all the world and make disciples of all people groups. To share the Good News! He alone is responsible for the outcome. Our job is simply to share.

I’m not sure exactly what it means for us as Christians to be “overtaken by daylight” and caught plundering the bounty that God intended for all mankind, but I don’t like the sounds of it.

I once heard a Christian aptly described simply as “One beggar, showing another where to find bread.” As I look at these four lepers, I realize the description fits.

What’s Eating Your Shade Tree?


In the last couple of blogs I’ve taken a look at tolah, the Bible’s crimson worm, which I believe is identified in the Old Testament as a type of Christ because of its self-sacrificial provision for its young and other characteristics discussed last time.

So, in addition to Psalm 22, where does the crimson worm show up in the Old Testament?

One interesting place is in the book of Jonah. We all know the story. God sends a reluctant emissary to the nasty and brutish people of Nineveh to warn them of impending judgment. After a detour in the belly of a large fish, Jonah ends up in Nineveh carrying out God’s command to warn the city of the wrath to come. He then retires to a nearby hillside to await the fireworks.

An interesting twist occurs when the people of Nineveh, from the greatest to the least, actually pay heed to his warning, and repent in sackcloth and ashes. Our gracious and merciful God relents of the warned-about judgment and spares the city.

Back to Jonah, sitting on a hill near the city, waiting for fire to fall. Upset that God has relented, he has expressed his anger, as we read in Jonah 4:1-3 …

“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

God’s response, in verse 4, was simple and patient and to the point: “Is it right for you to be angry?”

It’s interesting that Jonah suspected all along that God might cave and not smack the Ninevites. Why did he suspect this? I think it’s because God has been gracious and forgiving to him. He is getting to know what God is like. He’s not the mean old man the uneducated and ignorant might take him to be. Scripture says God is, to the contrary, “longsuffering and kind.” So much so that Jonah now feels that, as the prophet who warned of destruction, he is in an awkward spot.

So, for a reason I’m not sure I completely understand, other than the fact that we know he’s pouting and angry, Jonah goes off to one side of the city to sit atop a hill and wait. Why? God has already relented. Perhaps he thinks God will choose: him or the Ninevites. “Just let me die.”

This would be baffling except that it strikes a resonant chord somewhere deep within me. So often, when I’m angry and feel wronged, I have a tendency to think self-destructive thoughts. “My wife doesn’t appreciate me. How would she feel if she knew she made me so depressed I crashed this car into a tree? Surely she’d be sorry then that she was so insensitive.” Like small children, we adults certainly know how to pout when we’re mad.

What happens next is almost funny. Sad, but funny. Jonah, who says he’s ready to die, actually gets quite uncomfortable sitting in the sun. (No doubt his skin was bleached by the inside of the fish, and that has to make a sunburn itch.) So Jonah, who earlier in the story was quite ready to die, now seems fairly appreciative when “God provided” a nice leafy plant “and made it grow up over Jonah” to shade his head from the scorching sun. (Hmmm … death suddenly doesn’t look quite so romantic, does it?)

But then, in one of those annoying object lessons which life so readily gives out, Scripture says, “But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

For years I passed over that statement, “God provided a worm …” But, guess what the Hebrew word for “worm” is in this sentence? Tolah.

It is often said that one of the things God is so good at is “comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable.” It’s amazing how quickly Jonah took that leafy green plant (which God provided) for granted. And, of course, once again, he was mad.

However, this time I think the object lesson began to sink in. The final verses of Jonah’s story read:

“But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

There are so many lessons in this story. First, it’s interesting how God describes the Ninevites. Their spiritual poverty and ignorance is so great they “cannot tell their right hand from their left.” And we wince (for Jonah) with the irony of God’s not-so-subtle little addendum: “and also many animals.”

Reminds me of O Brother, Where Art Thou? — “No, not the livestock!”

The second lesson is aimed right between Jonah’s (and our) eyes. Even though we don’t deserve everything that we enjoy, that God blesses us with, to make us happy and comfortable and healthy, we still get so attached to them that we come to see them as “rights.” We think, I have a right to food, and medicine, and shelter, and clothing, and fundamentally to be happy and free. God has provided all those things we enjoy, but we take them for granted. Did Jonah say “thank you” for the leafy shade plant?

Tonight I watched a fascinating video called “More Than Dreams.” It presents five true-life case studies of Muslims to whom Christ was sent, through dreams which revealed Him to be the answer to their prayers.

I found it interesting that in each case, their lives were not simply made better. To the contrary, they were cast out by their families, rejected by their societies, abused, scorned, some even suffering attempts on their lives. Their immediate shade, their comfortable circumstances, were destroyed by the newfound reality of Christ in their lives. But a deeper blessing awaited each — a connection with the One True God who had been drawing them to Himself.

We are certainly comfortable. So comfortable that God may choose to provide the Crimson Worm to destroy all that shades us from the truth and expose us to the nitty gritty realities of life. But Jesus didn’t say, “I come that they might be comfortable.” No, He said, “I come that they might have life, and more abundantly.”

Are we willing to let God reclaim the the shade and become truly uncomfortable, if that’s what it takes to make us into the kind of people we need to be?

A Worm, and Not a Man


The bodies of the female coccus illicis affixed to oak stems. The bright crimson coloration is evident.

The bodies of the female coccus illicis affixed to oak stems. The bright crimson coloration is evident.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Psalm 22

“But I am a worm and not a man …” Shocking words, considering the fact that Psalm 22 is a Messianic psalm, or one that foretells the advent, life, and death of the Messiah. I always wondered, Why would Jesus say, “I am a worm, and not a man?”

The Hebrew word for worm in this verse is “Tow-lah” (or “Tolah”). This word, and variations of it, appear in numerous places throughout the Old Testament, and refer not to worms in general, but to a specific flying moth-like insect: Coccus illicis in the Latin.

These Latin words bear the unusual meaning: “Crimson — it is finished.” It refers to a specific worm (also known as Kermes) which infests a certain variety of oak tree (the Kermes Oak) in the Middle East. This infestation (by female members of the species, or cochineal) had a specific benefit to Middle Eastern culture. Pregnant cochineal cement their bodies to the wood of the Kermes oak, with a protective shell on the outside and the eggs of their young on the inside. Cochineal are  bright crimson in color, so these shells would be scraped off the wood in large quantities and crushed into a brilliant crimson dye for dying wool garments.

This crimson substance was also used in ancient Middle Eastern societies as an antibacterial agent, as a cleansing agent to purify those ceremonially unclean (because, for instance, they came in contact with a dead body).

The male Tolah is a rather unremarkable moth; but there are two other interesting things to note about the female member of the species:

  • Unlike the male, she does not fly. Her grub-like body is not attractive in any way (to any but the male Kermes, to be sure) and so non-insect-like that the ancients actually thought the cochineals were plant matter rather than insects.
  • She sacrifices herself for her children. As the eggs hatch inside that protective shell, they consume their mother then burst forth through the shell to escape. The brilliant crimson fluid runs down and stains the wood of the tree.
  • After the cochineal has accomplished her objective, her body dries to a white husk. These husks eventually float down off the wood of the oaks, filling the groves with the appearance of snow.

So Christ, in the Messianic Psalm focusing on His suffering, His passion, compares himself to one of these worms. Affixed to the wood of the cross, His blood ran down and stained it crimson. But the result of his sacrifice was that our sins were washed “white as snow.” In so doing, He secured for His children new and eternal life.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Isaiah 1:18

Professor Zohar Amar from the Temple Institute dissolves a single Crimson Worm in a glass of water and shows the dye that results.

Professor Zohar Amar from the Temple Institute dissolves a single Crimson Worm in a glass of water and shows the dye that results.

Follow this link for a very interesting Jewish site documenting a modern-day revival of the practice of gathering crimson from Coccus illicis.

Coming up: We will examine what can be learned from other appearances of the crimson worm throughout Scripture.

Word-Pictures of Jesus


Female coccus illicis, the crimson worm.

The body of the female coccus illicis, or crimson worm, contains a brilliant scarlet pigment used to dye wool.

The more time I spend reading, reflecting upon, and studying the Bible, the more I discover that it is absolutely full of fascinating word-pictures that help us understand more fully who Jesus was and is … and who, in turn, His Heavenly Father is, the God who created the universe.

For, Christ told His disciples in very plain language: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Scripture tells us that He is the image of the invisible God. Jesus came to make known to us what God is like.

I’ve decided to name this blog “The Crimson Worm,” because one of the most fascinating word-pictures in the Old Testament used to depict Christ was Coccus Illicis, or (in the Hebrew), Tow-lah … the Crimson Worm.

In coming blog posts I will discuss exactly what the Crimson Worm is, and what it reveals about Jesus. But this will be only the beginning of a series of biblical word-pictures designed to help us get to know God better.

I also invite you, through your comments, to submit your own word pictures that we may discuss. What scriptural metaphors or similes have been valuable to you as you have grown in your understanding of God?

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