What’s in a Metaphor Anyway?

May 30, 2016 at 11:56 AM

Memorial DayFirst, I would like to take a moment to pause and remember what millions of soldiers, nurses, doctors, and other military personnel have done so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms we enjoy here in America. While I understand that many wars have been fomented by maniacal dictators (likely encouraged by powerful Elite who have gained tremendously from their profiteering off of these wars), the bravery of men and women throughout past generations (and currently) cannot be under or overstated. The ones who have fought, been injured, or even died must be remembered and respected.

My father served during WWII. He always told me that he hated the war and he did not personally see much fighting, certainly not as much as many of those who were literally dumped onto the beaches of Normandy and elsewhere and almost immediately lost limb, life, or both. I cannot imagine what it was like to be there, to face death every moment of every day, to see your buddies standing or running right next to you fall after being hit, dead before they hit the ground.

For the most part, Hollywood has provided us with a very sanitized version of the brutality of war. We don’t understand it. We can’t thoroughly experience it without actually being there. Millions of men and women have experienced it and their lives were forever changed. We benefit from their courage, their patriotism, and the knowledge that fighting against people like Hitler was absolutely necessary. It is simply too bad he wasn’t taken out before he gained the momentum he gained, but there are probably reasons for that, but I’d rather not sound too conspiratorial.

The brave men and women who served America, fought, became injured, and even died should always be remembered for what they gave. Unfortunately, many may have gone into eternity without knowing the very God who created them and to whom they would answer for their own sin. This should remind us that we need to do everything possible to tell everyone around us that this life comes to an end one day. If not through war, then through other means, but end it will for everyone.

I take my hat off to those who served and the greatest thing I can do is to remember that death for all of us, comes way too quickly.

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milkhoneyMoving onto today’s subject, I want to talk about metaphors and how they should be taken as we read God’s Word. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly in a few recent series I’ve written, there are people who belong to groups like Dominionists who arrive to their particular set of beliefs through the process of allegory. They take a handful of Scriptures and wrongly apply a meaning to those verses that goes beyond God’s intended meaning in order to attempt to prove that Jesus can only return to this earth in final triumph after Christians gain the upper hand in society. Once this is accomplished, then Christ’s Kingdom will be established, allowing Him to return. The arrogance of this mindset is numbing for its obvious problems, yet those who hold this view see not arrogance, but humility on their part. They fail to realize for instance, that God does not need our help, but has simply chosen to allow us to be involved. This in no way negates His supremacy or His complete sovereignty over all things, but Dominionists do not see it that way.

At the same time, while Dominionists often see sections of Scripture allegorically, the same accuse other Christians of taking the Bible too literally. They say that people like me take the Bible literalistically and not even recognizing allegory or metaphor when it is clearly in the text. This is completely untrue, but there’s no getting arguing with some of these folks.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s look at a few portions of Scripture that clearly use allegory or metaphor yet in doing so, still have one meaning and that meaning should universally be seen.

In Exodus 3, we see the phrase “milk and honey” used to describe the Promised Land several times. In verses 8 and 17, the descriptive phrase “milk and honey” is used by God to Moses.

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

Now, anyone reading these two verses (or the 22 other uses of the phrase throughout the Old Testament), would never actually come to believe that the Land flowed with literal milk and honey. The phrase is actually a metaphor for something else. It is flowery language used by God to paint a mental picture. I suppose that someone might try to argue that when God said “milk and honey,” He actually meant “milk and honey.” But most would agree that this would be a foolhardy thing. So what does it mean?

We generally accept the received definition of “milk and honey” as a metaphor meaning all good things — God’s blessings; and that the Promised Land must have been a land of extraordinary fertility. The phrase “flowing with milk and honey” is understood to be hyperbolically descriptive of the land’s richness; hence, its current use to express the abundance of pure means of enjoyment.

Most intelligent people would understand God’s use of the phrase “milk and honey” to mean “the land’s richness.” It would lack nothing. The Land would be able to support fully all the people of Israel with all their animals. There would be no want. Is that reasonable? Of course it is.

If I say that I understand the Bible literally then, does that include the use of metaphors or am I not being honest with myself? A metaphor clearly is not meant to be taken literally, is it? No, it isn’t. However, in general, the meaning of each and every metaphor is meant to be taken literally. When I read these verses in Exodus 3, what I am looking for here is the intended meaning that the metaphor represents, am I not? In this way, I am still seeking the literal meaning of the text, aren’t I?

Were the Israelites right in thinking that the land was quite rich when God used the term “milk and honey”? Was it okay for them to conclude that all their provisions would be met while living on the Land (provided of course, they continued to worship and obey God), or was God merely exaggerating? I think most would agree that their expectations related the Land God was giving them were quite accurate and did not rise above God’s intended expectations. In that way then, they understood the meaning of God’s language about the Land flowing with “milk and honey” quite literally.

We use metaphors and allegory all the time in regular speech. The only time that communication can and does break down is when having a conversation with a person on the Autism Spectrum (depending upon where they are on that spectrum). They may not appreciate metaphors at all and may end up confusing them. They may tend toward understanding language in purely literal terms. If that is the case, then using metaphors will only create communication problems.

For instance, if I said, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” we certainly understand the literal meaning of that sentence, wouldn’t we? We would understand the person making that statement to be saying he/she was very hungry. The use of hyperbole emphasizes that fact. Sure, they could simply say, “I am very hungry!” but it’s not quite as colorful as using the horse example. By the way, you’ll notice I used the term “colorful” in that last statement yet when a person speaks, their words are completely invisible. You cannot see what they are saying and words don’t come out in certain “colors.” What is meant by the use of the term “colorful” then? It simply means more exciting as opposed to sedate or pedestrian. It’s “colorful” because it helps paint a mental picture.

I have been accused on too many occasions by Dominionists, Reformed, Covenant, and Preterists alike that I am not consistent in my claim that I understand the Bible literally. I’m very consistent in it. What changes is their definition of what it means to understand the Bible literally.

We all know you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. It’s the same with trying to prove that you are very consistent in your literal approach to Scripture even though they’d prefer not to believe you. To those people, it’s pointless to debate or argue.

Entry filed under: christianity, eternity, israel, Judaism, Life in America, Political Correctness, Politically Correct, Politics, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: , , , , , .

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