Symbol and Substance

In reading the Bible, one can but be impressed with the part assigned to symbolism. Simile, metaphor, and allegory are here drawn upon to an extent that speaks for the consideration of the broadest, most humanly vital theme by a body of writers who were rendered imaginatively alert, intuitively perceptive of the omnipresent beauty of Truth. This is no less marked in the parables of Christ Jesus than in the prophecy of Isaiah. It is no less noticeable in the sayings of St. Paul than in the songs of David; and that symbols and figurative address were thus generously utilized makes it clear that while the poetic enrichment of expression was thus gained, the one purpose in it all was the illustrative use of the seen to awaken a right sense of the unseen.

A notable instance of this didactic method is found in one of the most dramatic events of the Exodus narrative. The spirit of rebellion so frequently shown by the Israelites had brought an affliction which is described as the bite of fiery serpents, and for its cure Moses was instructed of God to make a brazen serpent and put it up on a pole, so that all who would steadily look upon it might be healed. Brought up as slaves, and thus accustomed to commands which were to be obeyed without questioning, it is possible that some of the Israelites did not perceive the metaphysical meaning of the brazen serpent. To the many, however, it must have been familiar as a universal symbol, among the Egyptians, of the divine wisdom, so that they rightly interpreted God's command through Moses that they gaze steadily upon it if they would be healed. In any event, their obedience to the highest truth they could then grasp was counted to them for righteousness, and they thus found freedom.

Among the Churches
October 24, 1914

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