Author: Karl (Page 1 of 51)

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A metaphor is a figure of speech or a symbolic reference that refers to something else that is literal. For example, in the Bible L-thunder refers to a literal sound but it may also stand for the M-voice of God and, in that case, it is figurative, a metaphor. Other words in semantics that express figures of speech and are commonly used are metonymy and synecdoche. The latter is when the word for a part of something, such as “wheel” is used to refer to the whole thing, the car. Less commonly, it is when the word for a whole is used to refer to a part. Metonymy is when a word, such as “ride” is associated with the thing itself, the “car.” Metaphors “extend” the meanings of individual words and in that sense are descriptors intended to afford the original literal word a more formidable sense. For the most part, in this study I am going to concentrate mainly on describing something as literal (L) or metaphorical (M). without attempting to analyze the metaphors into subtypes.

A number of years (1980) ago two linguists, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, published a book called Metaphors we Live By, demonstrating that metaphor is a tool, a figure of speech,  that people use commonly in speech as they go about everyday life. It is reflected in how they talk about activities, thoughts, and their feelings. One of the metaphors they discussed lies behind the phrase “time is money,” such that what we do with a literal object like money can be metaphorically represented in time. As with money, we can spend, waste, kill and manage time, although we can’t literally find the object called “time.”

The conceptual framework of Pike in tagmemics has also helped in my thinking: what does the item contrast with, how does it vary, and how wide is its use and distribution?

The Bible is full of metaphors and nowhere are they more represented than in referring to Jesus, as in the Gospel of John. In the very first verse Jesus is called the “Word,” a metaphor that represents God’s presence. It is a synecdoche because the M-Word refers to Jesus, who is a part of the trinity. It is Jesus who was with God, was God, and existed in the beginning of time and created everything. Literally, the Word was Jesus and I therefore refer to it metaphorically as the M-Word.

Jesus is also the M-light and because of that he can give spiritual and true light to anyone in the world. But he is not the sun or the moon or the stars, so he does not provide L-light for us in the world. That is why he created the sun, moon and stars.

From the beginning of Genesis, we see light contrasting with darkness and find variations of natural and miraculous light in the Bible. Variations of natural light are found in words like daybreak, sunrise, sunset, moonlight, and so on. An instance of miraculous light occurs when an angel of the Lord visits Peter in his cell (Acts 12:7) as well as in other instances when angels appear. Artificial light is the result of torches and other lights.

The perception of M-light is part of God’s defining nature and is inherent in his Word and wisdom. The M-light of the L-Trinity is meant to illuminate the M-world, showing God’s glory and transforming people from M-darkness into M-light.

The M-Word, who is Jesus and part of the Godhead, becomes a literal human (1.14) and lives among other humans. John says that we can see his glory, but that must be the M-glory because it refers to a particular splendor of Jesus. The only “glory” we can “see” is represented metaphorically in Jesus, God’s Son, not in some literal halo or cloud. We see God as Jesus and in Jesus because God is a spirit, and we cannot see spirits (except in our imaginations). We need help to see God, and Jesus is that literal help. In the culture of the day, and in our culture as well, people claim to see “ghosts” or ancestral spirits, but Jesus is not one.

The “world” did not recognize Jesus and here the M-world stands for all the people that came in contact with Jesus. Those who believed on him became his M-children and part of his M-family. The “family” has a M-Father and an M-Son, who are, together, “God,” whom no one has ever seen (1.18). Of course, God is “real” even though we cannot see L-him or the L-Trinity. Therefore, talking about God requires metaphors.

The world (L and M) contrasts with heaven and, strangely speaking, we can be “in the world” but not “of the world.” We live L-human lives in the world, but we do not have to follow the temptations and sins of humans in the world. In God’s kingdom, His will be done in earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Or as the CEV translates it: “Come and set up your kingdom.” There is an L-Kingdom, but referring to it as a M-Kingdom helps us understand how “the kingdom of God is among you.”

John the Baptist referred to himself as the M-voice of a person shouting in the L-desert and he referred to Jesus as the M-lamb—the one who would take away the sins of the world. It was the M-lamb who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world, our sins.

The L-voice of God was heard by Adam, Moses, the prophets, as well as by the apostles and Christ himself. To some bystanders, the voice sounded like L-thunder (“The God of glory thunders, Psalm 29), and in Revelation 14.2, like mighty ocean waves. In both cases, this is a description of a M-voice. Likewise, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a M-voice that sounded like “the roaring of a mighty windstorm” (Acts 2.2).

John saw the Spirit come down “like a dove from heaven and stay on him [Jesus].” He could not see the Spirit; instead, he saw a L-bird representing the L-Holy Spirit. Nor could Nicodemus see the L-Holy Spirit later when the Spirit was exemplified as the M-wind. Although a dove is a real bird, it was not the Holy Spirit. It was a visible representation, a symbol standing for the Holy Spirit. We can say that the dove was a M-Holy Spirit.

Closely related to metaphors are similes, which use descriptive words, such as “like” and “as” to compare one thing with another. “He is as strong as a lion,” or “weak as a chicken” are examples. These are simply alternative ways of saying “He is a lion,” or “He is a chicken.” A simple lyric compares the two: 

Similes and metaphors
Are similar but nothing more
Than a comparison in different ways
Similes use “like” or “as”
And metaphors need none of that
They just say exactly what they wanna say.

A dove has become a a symbol, whereby it is used to refer to some feature that becomes related to it. The word “dove” may have various metaphorical meanings assigned to it, standing for peace or, in the example from John’s gospel, the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3.16: “After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.” See also: Mark 1.10; Luke 3.22 and John 1.32).

The word dove has therefore become a symbol to represent love, purity, hope, peace, freedom and associated ideas. The symbol is found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, paganism, as well as in military and pacifist groups. It is a well-known symbol and icon in Orthodox Christianity.

The Holy Spirit, also called the Holy Ghost, is the so-called third member of the Trinity and the study of it in theology is called pneumatology. Other names for the Holy Spirit in the Bible are Spirit of God (Genesis 1.1: And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters), Spirit of Christ (Philippians 1.19: “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance”), and Spirit of Truth (John 16.13: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.”)

With a synecdoche, as already mentioned, a word for a part of something refers to something itself. For example, “head” may be used to refer to the main leader or character, as in “She is the head of the company.” it can also refer to counting cattle or people. Another example is the word “trinity,” which refers to God in three persons or manifestations. In this case, the single word refers to the whole godhead.

Returning to the gospel of John, the famous verse of 3.16 says that God so loved the “world,” a name representing the people who live on this planet, which is often contrasted with “heaven,” referring to a place where God and his people and angels live. We cannot see either of these places but can refer to them as locations with inhabitants. Such references are metaphorical.

We read in John 3.19 that the “light” has come to our planet, obviously referring in this context to Jesus and the word contrasts with “darkness,” often used to represents evil and sin. The M-light shows what exists in the M-darkness,” namely the evil actions that are done in the “dark.”

In 3.39, John refers to the “Messiah” as the “bridegroom” and to baptized believers as the “bride.” The words L-bridegroom and L-bride refer to the male and female participants in a marriage ceremony, but in this context, they should be read as M-bridegroom and M-bride.

The term “Messiah” is loaded with meaning and is highly symbolic. He is the savior or liberator for the Jewish people, proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah (9.1) and referred to 24 times in the gospel of Matthew and 22 times in John. as well as in Mark, Luke, and Acts. The descendants of Jesus are referred to as descendants of the Messiah (Matthew 1.1) and Jesus himself is called the Messiah (Matthew 1:18).

Jesus has a discussion with a woman from Samaria at the well of Jacob and she is puzzled when Jesus says that he can give her “life giving water,” where the M-water is stands for L-eternal life. She thinks of L-water and uses the name of her ancestor “Jacob” to stand for all the prophets. Perhaps “ancestor Jacob” should be M-ancestor, semantically operating as a synecdoche. 

In verse 24 of chapter 4, Jesus tells the woman that “God is Spirit, and only by the power of his Spirit can people worship him as he really is.” God can be referred to as a L-Spirit, or as the M-Spirit, who has the power to enable people to worship Him. It is again the Trinity at work.

The disciples find Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman but did not question him about it. Instead, they believe he might be hungry and offer him L-food. Jesus replies that he has M-food that they know nothing about, but the disciples believe he is talking of L-food.

There are other instances of Jesus eating and when he eats with others, he blesses the bread as a reminder that not only is the M-bread from God but so is the L-bread, Jesus himself.

The contrast of eating is fasting, deliberately going without food in order to think about God and pray to Him. There is a L-fast, where a person goes without food, but there is also a M-fast, where a person waits for Jesus or the Holy Spirit in some manner.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, and later the disciples and Paul, we read of L-miracles, in the form of physical healings, and the casting out of demons. A miracle is something that takes place outside of the normal physical and natural possibilities. Sometimes we refer to something outstanding as a “miracle,” when we mean it would unusual, like the Texas Rangers winning the World Series, or when a truck just misses us on the highway.

A hallucination, dream or vision is not a miracle: such things are often unnatural and surreal, but they do not actually happen. We read of people who “die” and got to “heaven” and come back to tell us about it. However, no one has ever seen a person who makes such claims ascend into heaven like Jesus did, or what Paul wondered about when he went to the “third heaven.”

In John, chapter 5, a man who had been L-sick for 38 years kept trying to get into the pool of Bethzatha, but someone else always beat him to it. We aren’t told if people are actually healed when they get into the pool, but Jesus saw the man and knew he had been sick for a long time. He asked him if he wanted to get well, surely a self-evident question. Jesus didn’t help the man get into the pool, he simply told him to get up and walk. Jesus performed a L-miracle—we don’t know that the pool could accomplish miracles.

Jesus completed this miracle on the Sabbath and the Jewish authorities were not happy about it. The L-Sabbath was symbolic of the whole law—all its prohibitions and promises. Jesus had equated himself with God, who established the Sabbath and informed them that he was doing God’s work. He was equating himself with God the Father and it did not sit well with the Pharisees.

When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” this is not a difficult metaphor to understand. He is proclaiming that he is, like bread, providing sustenance for us to live. But when he says that people should eat his flesh and drink his blood (6.53ff) it is a stumbling block to listeners. How can they possibly eat his L-flesh and drink his L-blood? Jesus explains, in a round-about way, that he does not mean it literally. He is talking about his M-flesh and M-blood, his life and death. Only be living with Him and through his power can we obtain real life on this earth and only by believing in his L-death and L-resurrection can we live with him in heaven. The ancestors ate real angel’s food—manna—in the desert, but it did not give them eternal life. Jesus alone is the “real food” because he is the living M-bread that came down from heaven. We M-eat him and live, meaning that we believe on him and L-live forever.

Many of his followers “turned back” when they heard this teaching. They could not understand the meaning of the metaphors. Indeed, “flesh and blood” referred to stand someone alive, not someone who was dead. We will see Jesus in the L-flesh and we believe that we now can live by eating his M-flesh. Strange?, but not if you keep the semantics straight.

John, Chapter 7, speaks of Jesus and his L-brothers, although Roman Catholics get around the literalness by claiming these are half-brothers or M-brothers of Jesus, and that they are not literal sons of Mary and Joseph. Only in this way can Mary remain a “perpetual virgin.”

When asked, Jesus says that his knowledge comes from God, who sent him. Again, a heretical claim as far as the “Jewish authorities” are concerned. Jesus has appealed to the authority of his M-Father and this convinces the religious specialists that he has a L-demon in him. Jesus refers them to L-Moses and notes the fact that circumcision can be done on the Sabbath. Then why not heal someone then as well. “Does that make sense,” he seems to say, and, of course, it doesn’t to the Jews.

Jesus continues to teach, and in the Temple, he again asks the religious leaders if they realize the authority he is using to teach—again a reference to the L-Father. They are incensed and try to seize him, but he slips away again. They send guards after him because he claimed that where he was going (heaven) they could not go (7.34). The Pharisees hear him literally and think he must be going to some Greek area to hide out.

In Chapter 8, verse 12 (and 9.5), Jesus tells the Pharisees that he is the light of the world. Should we interpret that as M-light or L-light? I think it has to be metaphorical because when people of that day looked at Jesus, they did not see a halo or a luminous body, like appeared on the mountain when he was transfigured before the very eyes of his disciples. The glory of God does produce L-light that transcends what one would normally see. But here Jesus is comparing the M-light that he provides with M-darkness of those who do not believe and follow him.

Jesus appeals again (v. 18) and says that he is speaking and testifying on behalf of the “Father” and the Pharisees interpret him literally and want to know where his Father is located. Jesus replies that if they knew him, they would also know the Father and he repeats that he only tells them what he has already been told by the Father. More confusion on the part of the Pharisees especially when Jesus says that he is “from above” (v. 23).

The Pharisees are particularly offended when Jesus says that his teaching will “set them free” (v. 32) because they interpret him literally and think he must be referring to Abraham and claim that they are his descendants, and therefore they are not slaves. 

Jesus turns the tables on them and tells them that their “father” is the L-Devil, who is a liar. This must really provoke them because they had claimed that Jesus has a demon in him and now, if the devil is their Father, they are with the head demon. The Pharisees reply with a further insult: that Jesus is a Samaritan with a L-demon in him and that although Abraham and the prophets died, it is heretical to say that those who believe the words of Jesus will never die.

Jesus also announces that Abraham saw the time of his coming, which is again interpreted literally by the Pharisees. You are not even 50, they say, so how could you see Abraham?

The problem of interpreting the words of Jesus literally instead of metaphorically occurs again and again in John’s writings.

In Chapter 9, Jesus heals a man who is L-blind. The Pharisees investigate the healing and are not willing to believe that the man was L-blind. Later (v. 39) Jesus explains to the man that he came into the world to heal those who are M-blind and do not believe. If they were L-blind they would not be guilty and judged. Instead, they are M-spiritually blind.

The great view of Jesus as the M-shepherd occurs in chapter 10. The M-shepherd calls the M-sheep by name and tends the gate for them. He is in fact the M-gate as well and looks after the M-sheep pen as well. He also has other M-sheep (v. 16) that he will allow into the M-sheep pen. Jesus is again accused by Pharisees of having a L-demon (v. 20) and he is rejected. However, the sheep hear his voice and recognize him.

We read about Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, in chapter 11. Lazarus L-dies and Jesus tells his disciples that he is M-asleep, but they take asleep literally and want to go and wake him up! Then when Jesus tells them plainly that Lazarus had died, Thomas wants them to go and L-die with him. Did the disciples expect Jesus to die then as well?

Jesus waits and then after four days leaves for Bethany where Lazarus and his sisters lived. Martha meets Jesus and rebukes him by saying that if he had been there Lazarus would not have L-died—Jesus would have healed him. Jesus reproves her by saying that he is the M-resurrection, and that Lazarus will L-live again even after L-death. He then brings Lazarus back to life, still wrapped in grave clothes.

We read of the anointment of Jesus at Bethany (12.12-19also recorded in Matthew 26 and Mark 14). A dinner had been prepared for Jesus at the home of Lazarus. Note that “dinner” stands for all that would be eaten so it is a metonym whereby the whole (dinner) stands for all the various foods that would be eaten.

Mary took expensive perfume and poured it on the feet of Jesus. Judas Iscariot complained and said the money for the perfume should have been given to the “poor,” a word that represents all the people who were lacking in some way. Again, the word is a metonym.

The triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus upsets the Pharisees to the extent that they claim (v. 19) that the “whole world” (clearly a metonym and hyperbole) is following Jesus.

Some Greeks come looking for Jesus and find Philip, who finds Andrew, and the two of them go to Jesus. What follows from Jesus is a short parable about a L-seed of grain falling into the ground and M-dying before it can produce grain. He compares this with M-hating one’s earthly life in order to have L-eternal life. The picture is of a L-life here on earth that becomes a L-life that is eternal, but the physical death here is metaphorical—it doesn’t refer to a natural death while we are on earth.

Jesus, in speaking about his own death, is replied to by a voice from heaven—a metonym for the literal person of God. He also again refers to himself as the M-light (v. 35) and how those who do not accept and believe in his light walk in M-darkness. The unbelief of the people is highlighted by quoting the prophet Isaiah who said that God had M-blinded their eyes and M-closed their minds so that they could not understand.

In John 13.2, we read that the L-Devil had put into the M-heart of Judas Iscariot the thought of betraying Jesus. Did Judas “think” with his “heart”? No, but that was (and is) a common way of talking about thinking. Thoughts take place in the configuration of the “brain,” and it is metaphorically the “seat” of our thinking. We have idioms like “to beat one’s brains” when we are trying to figure out something that is difficult. A person can be referred to as “all brawn and no brain,” meaning they have lots of muscle but not much thinking power. If we “pick someone’s brain,” we want to find out what they are thinking and if we are trying recall something lost in our own thinking we might “rack our brains.” These are idioms, figures of speech, that show how we believe the brain operates in our body.

When Jesus was about to wash Peter’s feet (13.6), Peter objected, seeing it as only a literal act. Jesus said that “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple” (v. 8). Peter does not grasp the metaphorical significance of what Jesus is doing and wants his body L-washed. Jesus replies that it is unnecessary and that all of the disciples, except Judas, are M-clean.

When Jesus says that “I Am Who I Am” he is speaking both literally—he is the Son of God—and figuratively—he is the one who shares and is the Father. It is another way of saying “I have always been who I now am.”

The disciples press Jesus to know who will betray him and he performs a symbolic act: he takes a piece of bread, dips it in the wine, and gives it to Judas. The L-bread and the L-wine—his M-body and M-blood—are represented in this act.

Thomas questions Jesus, who has said that there are many rooms in his Father’s house. Is Jesus speaking literally about a house and rooms? Various translations seem to treat it literally, with words and expressions like “dwelling place,” “abode,” “places to live,” and even “rooms to spare.” It seems to me that the Father’s “house” is a M-house and it has M-rooms. It is not one that we can easily envision without using our own cultural images.

Jesus also says that he is the “way, the truth, and the life” (v. 6) and most translations leave it literally as stated, although a couple use “road” or “path” for “way” and one adds “only way.” Because Jesus is referring to himself, these words are metaphorical figures of speech even when it is he literally—as a person—who provides these features.

The Holy Spirit is promised in 14:15-31, who is referred to as a L-Helper, L-teacher and one with L- and M-power, all attributes that are demonstrated later, especially in the book of Acts.

Chapter 15 employs several figures of speech: Jesus as M-vine, the Father as M-gardener, and believers as M-branches. The Father M-prunes the M-branches so that they are M-clean and can produce M-fruit. They can then M-remain in the M-vine. Any M-branches that do not produce the M-fruit are thrown into the M-fire and M-burned. However, when Jesus talks of believers having “joy” in him and being his “friend,” he is talking literally.

We have already noticed the metaphorical nature of “world” and it occurs again in vs. 18-24 when Jesus tells the disciples that the M-world (people who are not Christians) will hate them. They will be expelled literally from synagogues (16.2) and they will become objects of scorn.

Chapter 17 is mainly a record of the prayer Jesus had for his disciples: that they would be kept “safe” from the “L-Evil One” (v. 15) by the M-power of the M-name of the Father and that they might have L-joy as they continued to L-live in the M-world. He wanted the truth of God’s word to be the resource for their “dedication” to the Father. Jesus wanted the disciples to somehow see the M-glory that the Father had given him before the L-world was L-made. The result would be that the L-love the L-Father has for his Son would be transferred to the disciples as well.

This is a chapter in which we see the “M-heart” of Jesus, his deep emotional feelings toward the disciples and his desire for them to be “faithful to the end.” He knows the “M-world” will hate them and he wants them to be prepared and to extend the L-message of the Father’s L-love.

The remainder of the Gospel of John tells of the arrest of Jesus, his so-called trial, the denial of Peter, the crucifixion, resurrection, and his appearance to Mary Magdalene and the disciples. These are literal instances of the last period of the life of Jesus. He appears before the Roman governor Pilate, is sentenced to death, and dies a horrible crucifixion.

Even on the cross, we can see some metaphorical scenes: Jesus sees his L-mother and tells her that a particular disciple is her M-son. Then he tells the disciple: she is your M-mother and the disciple takes her to live in his home.

Joseph of Arimathea asks for and receives the body of Jesus and Nicodemus anoints it for burial. Jesus is buried in a special unused tomb- but three days later he is no longer there. When Mary Magdalene does see and recognize him, she wants to hug him, but he tells her that he has not yet returned literally to the Father. What does this mean? Is he referring to his new and glorified body that he will ascent to heaven in?

Later on Sunday he appears to most of the disciples and shows them his L-hands and L-side, making sure they know that he is the person they knew and not someone else. He then L-breathes on them and the receive the L-Holy Spirit. Jesus provides a special and personal revelation of himself to doubting Thomas and Thomas acknowledges him as “My Lord and my God.” (20:28)

Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus appears to seven disciples at Lake Tiberias and while there he meets Peter, and provides him with a special revelation of where and how to fish. The result is a miracle: 153 L-fish and a net that did not tear with all their weight. It was still not clear to the disciples who Jesus was, but when he eats L-bread and L-fish with them, their eyes are opened.

When Jesus has his discussion with Peter, he wants to know how much Peter really loves him. He tells Peter to prove his love by taking care of his M-lambs and M-sheep. He also prophesies to Peter about how he will die—probably L-blind and being led about by others.

John summaries the activities and miracles of Jesus with a grand hyperbole: “If they were all written down the M-whole world could not hold the M-books.” (21,25)


The Nursery Rhyme Genre, with Examples


According to Wikipedia, that venerable and revered source of all Internet and planetary knowledge, a nursery rhyme has its history in English plays that originated in the mid’16th Century. The publisher, John Newbery, issued a book of English collections before 1744 called Tommy Thumb’s Song Book, followed by Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book. Newbery’s stepson, Thomas Carnan, is credited with being the first to use the term “Mother Goose” for nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes comprise one sub-set of story genres.

Story Genres

A genre is a term used to classify kinds of literature and music. For example, “detective” stories comprise a genre that is different than “cowboy” stories. “Country western” music is different than “gospel” music, and so on. Of course, genres are often loosely defined, with overlap between them: a detective story genre may be mainly about cowboys and gospel music genre may include western themes. Literary genres include, for example, poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction and drama, each with sub-genres as well. Nursery rhymes are a sub-category of literary fiction.

Within a given cultural tradition, as in language groups of Papua New Guinea, stories can be categorized generically and individually. For example, the Kewa (of Papua New Guinea) use the words iti and remaa to represent folklore on the one hand and history on the other.[1] Oral societies provide their history by means of folk stories and folk history, for example, by means of genealogies and classifications, for example—blood v. marriage kin (consanguine and affine).

Stories are live representations that impress listeners more with their images than with their propositions. For example, “Mary had a little lamb” is a proposition, but “Its fleece was white as snow” provides the hearer with a mental image.

Stories are also idiomatic, i.e. they are told in the vernacular with cultural analogies and background information. They are therefore often imaginative, not just in the sense of say telling my granddaughter a story, but also in her mind as she forms mental images of Mary and the sheep. They also include particular themes, plots, sub-plots—“and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go.”

Although stories may be historical and built on what the teller views or represents as things that happened, nursery rhymes are purely fictional. Nevertheless, they are dynamic and can be converted into drama or song to represent various aspects of the story. They are often short and pithy, accompanied by animation, drama, and so on. Nursery stories are generally for the very young, but can be adapted according to audience backgrounds, such as for ethnicity or gender, and are often instructive, either directly or indirectly, with particular cultural applications and morals.

Nursery rhymes[2]

Nursery rhymes were composed for children and include poems, lullabies, finger plays and counting. Many rhymes are classic and therefore old, for example: 1) Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, 1731; 2) Goosey, Goosey Gander, 1784; 3) Jack and Jill, 1765; 4) London Bridge is Falling Down, 1744; 5) Mary, Mary, Quite contrary, 1744; and 6) Three Blind Mice, 1805. 

Other nursery rhymes may involve counting or singing include, such as:  7) wheels on the bus; 8) Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe; 9) Little miss Muffet; 10) Row, row, row your boat; 11) Itsy bitsy spider; 12) Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater; 13) Little Bo Peep; 14) Four and twenty blackbirds; 15) Pat a cake; 16) Little boy blue; and 17) Hey diddle diddle.

Because nursery stories are entertaining, they are sometimes told by professional storytellers. Although the intended message of a nursery story is not always apparent and may require interpretation, it will probably spoil a nursery rhyme to provide detailed exegesis—so consider many of them “spoiled” by me. However, even as a linguist, I am mindful that a child is not interested in the story’s semantics, pragmatics or theology, noting such things as actors, agents, settings, background and deixis.

Nursery rhymes can be ad hoc and provocative, whereby one story leads to another—a chain of imagination, such that a story acts as a “trigger” for another.

In summary, nursery rhymes combine various elements:

media, such as voice over, camera angle, and music scores

Such storytelling, by its very nature, gains various outputs:

discussion and consideration
decision and acting
replication or retelling
perhaps honor 
identity with teller or characters

In my versions of the Nursery Rhymes that follow, I have messed with the interpretations, just for fun. Of course, no actual animal or person has been harmed in the transitions. 

A Black Sheep

Abstract: Most sheep are white, but this one was not and he (or she, we can’t be sure) was quite special and clever. I am assuming that it is not racist to refer to a sheep as black and, as the story will show, black sheep were extremely smart and generally in charge of the white sheep. I will refer to the main character of the story as Blackie—again intending nothing sinister or bad. Black is simply the darkest achromatic visual value, although it can have social values as well. For example, if you are “in the black” it is much better than being “in the red”. In addition, the Ovis or Ovis aries clan of sheep have been known to control the wool trade, including dying, shrinking and other complex jobs, for a long time.

Key words: sheep, Ovis, Ovis aries, wool, cotton, bag, baa, sir

Baa, Baa, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy w
Who lives down the lane.

Some background of the story: Wool products were hard to get in the old days, that is, prior to 1733, so selling wool was a very good job to have. There is, however, a lot more to the story and my account will help to fill it out.

There were numerous merchants in those days trying to buy wool—they were known as Wooleys. When one of them would see a black sheep, it would immediately yell “baa, baa” because it thought that the words sounding like sheep language. And it was true that white sheep will stand around all day in the pasture saying just those two words.

In this case Wooley, wanting to get Blackie’s attention, yelled out “baa, baa,” thinking that the black sheep would yell “baa, baa” back and that they could then talk about wool and wool prices in Australia and New Zealand.

But black sheep are different, so Blackie did not say “baa, baa” back to Wooley. Instead it said “Yes sir”, twice, for emphasis, and Wooly loved what he heard because he loved to be called “sir.” In fact, he wanted to be called sir and would often say to the white sheep, “Stop saying baa, baa all the time and call me sir!” But the white sheep could not understand him, for he had never properly learned sheep language. Nor could they bring themselves to teach Wooley the language.

Blackie knew of course that Wooley wanted wool and he guessed that three bags full would be enough. So, he told him he had three bags for him and then he probably went too far—he stipulated who the bags were for. He said, paraphrased, “Wooley, you’re the big shot, the master, so you can have one bag, and your wife—the dame—she can have the other, but don’t forget that poor little boy that lives down the road, actually a small road, just a lane.”

Blackie should not have told Wooley who the wool was for. It upset Wooley because it made him feel selfish taking the first bag. And even though he would give his dame the second bag, he was not going to give that boy down the road any wool. Oh, he might have given him a sack full of cotton, but surely not a full bag of wool.

“Who do you think you are, telling me who to give the wool to?” said Wooley. “I have been buying wool for a long time and I should know who gets the wool and who doesn’t. My wife—OK—she will knit me a sweater, but that boy who lives down the lane throws berries at my horse and I wouldn’t give him a bag of wool. Like I said, maybe a sack of cotton, but not a bag of wool.”

This bothered Blackie, who had started out poor and on the other side of the lane himself. With luck and perseverance, he had become a wool seller. He wanted that little boy down the lane to have the same chance he had in life, so he said once again, “and one for the little boy who lives down the lane.” 

Wooley was mad—sellers are not supposed to tell buyers what to do with their money or products. He decided, according to legend, never to buy wool from Blackie again.

Blackie was not discouraged at all. He got to know the little boy down the lane and together they built a large wool shed and decided to pull the wool over Wooley’s eyes. They took three bags of cotton and waited along the road for Wooley to come looking for wool to buy. Remember that cotton was a lot cheaper than wool and if they could sell it at the same price as wool, they would make a lot of money.

And for the next few years that is what they did. How could they manage? Well, by then Wooley had so much wool over his eyes that he couldn’t tell cotton from wool, especially when it was packaged in wool bags. Without meaning to, he had helped Blackie and the boy down the lane become exporters of wool all over the world.

The moral of the story: Children should never say “baa, baa” to someone who might reply “yes sir.” And they should always examine their wool to make sure that it is not cotton.

[1] See, for example, my analysis of the classification of Kewa stories: “Two Kewa (Papua New Guinea) Story Genres” in Language & Linguistics in Melanesia 35:152-176, 2017.

[2] My main source has been: Best Loved Nursery Rhymes and Sons: including Mother Goose selections, with helpful guide for parents. Home Library Press, A division of Parents’ Magazine Enterprises, Inc. 1974 edition. There are 251 rhymes and songs in the book.


Since the writing of the Bible and, particularly in legendary and mythological works, scholars, prophets, and laypeople have made angels a subject of interest. Why are angels such a fasination to us (me)? In Colossians 2.18 Paul warns the Christians: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.” The “worship” of angels was a problem at the time, and it seems that authors have often gone far beyond what the Bible has to say about them—although it says plenty.

Some religions do worship angels, for example, they are discussed in Zoroastrianism and Judaism, as well as in Christianity and Islam. In Christianity angels and demons are generally conceived as celestial or atmospheric spirits, and it about those that I wish to learn.

We read about angels everywhere in the Bible—they are mentioned 290 times in the NIV, 326 in the NLT, 283 in the KJV, and 520 times in The Message. In the OT, Zechariah refers to angels 20 times—mainly in terms of how they are involved in judgment.

It is, not surprisingly, Revelation in the NT that is replete with angels. I was aware of their activities in the book of Revelation, but other Bible books that mention angels more than 20 times (in various versions) are Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah Matthew, Luke, and Acts.

In the OT, Leviticus, Esther, and Ruth have no angels in the stories, nor do most of the “minor” prophets. In the NT, Philippians, 1-Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Titus and 1-3 John also omit any reference to angels (as translated in the NLT). But I am sure those authors could write about angels if they wished but did not concentrate on them so much as on other matters. Sometimes they may refer to “messengers of God” and not use the word angel, so I may have missed some references.

Although we know that humans were created by God, we have no such record about angels. We don’t know when or how God created them. The first angel occurs in a story that finds Hagar, where it (named angels are male) gives her instructions (Genesis 16.7). Giving directives seems to be one of the main functions of angels because, after all, they are messengers for God. There are millions of them and there is every reason to believe that they are all busy with their duties. And they are all around us.

The next time we read about angels in Genesis there are two and they visit Lot one evening. He thinks they are simply strangers and offers them lodging and—the rest is history—Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by them, but they save the life of Lot (sadly, not his wife). In this episode, the angels appear like humans, although they are obviously different and beautiful because the men of the town come to Lot and ask for them—for homosexual purposes.

We also meet an angel in Genesis 22.11, when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, and the angel calls to him (from heaven) and tells him not to hurt the boy. That angel shows up in the nick of time, although God gives Abraham the highest praise for honoring his command to be willing to sacrifice his son—his only son. It foreshadows the sacrifice of God’s only son, Jesus. The angel was watching Abraham, so it cannot have been very far away, or it has better sight than humans.

An angel also helps Abraham find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24.7), the same boy an angel had rescued from death earlier. Then when Abraham leaves his homeland to strike out for a place that God will reveal to him, an angel leads him (Genesis 24.7). I think that many times angels led Joice and me when we were in PNG and, most often, we did not know or acknowledge it.

Abraham’s son Isaac married Rebecca, and she gave birth to Esau and Jacob. They were not nice to each other and Jacob tricked Esau into giving his birthrights to him. There follows a confrontation and Esau does not receive the blessing he anticipates because Jacob has tricked him and now has it. He therefore hates Jacob (Genesis 27.41).

Jacob has a dream while in Bethel and sees “the Lord standing beside him” (28.12). Later, in Genesis 32.22-32 he finds “a man” wresting with him and Jacob declares, “I have seen God face-to-face and I am still alive” (32.30). The “man” (presumably an angel) gets the better of Jacob and hits him in the hip, throwing it out of joint. Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel.” He  has several wives and many sons and there is some detail given about 12 of them. The story of Jacob’s encounter with an angel is repeated in Hosea 12.4.

The next person to meet an angel is Moses and it is as a flame coming out of a burning bush (Exodus 3.2). But it is God with whom Moses converses and God gives Moses miraculous powers. The story of Moses continues, and the Passover is so named because an “Angel of Death” (Exodus 12.23) passes over the firstborn of those who have their doorposts painted with blood.

Later, with the enemy pursuing them, Moses and the Israelites must cross the Red Sea. An “angel of God” moves in front of Moses and the Israelites and, with Moses, leads them safely across the sea.

The angel who has been leading the Israelites, changes position and moves to the rear (Exodus 14.19) and the pillar of cloud, offering cover and protection, moves with it. An angel continues to stay with them and leads them to a place prepared for them (Exodus 23.20). Moses is ordered to leave the place and the people but, again, the Lord promises Moses that an angel will guide him and give him victory over various tribes of enemies (Exodus 33.2).

There are no angels mentioned in Leviticus, but in Numbers 22 , when Balaam is supposed to meet the King of Moab, an angel blocks the road and Balaam’s donkey won’t go any farther. Balaam beats the donkey, which talks to him (Numbers 22.28) and the angel confronts Balaam about beating the donkey. If it had not been for the donkey stopping Balaam, the angel would have killed them both because Balaam was sinful in attempting a journey to see the King.

The only reference to angels in Deuteronomy is in the last verse of the Song of Moses (32.1-43) and other versions refer more generically to “nations” or the “heavens” worshipping the Lord. (In a later version of the NLT “heavens” is used instead of “angels”.)

Angels show up again in Judges, first in 2:1, where an angel goes from Gilgal to Bochim and reminds the Israelites how he took them out of Egypt to the promised land. Then, in the song of Deborah and Barak (5.1-31), an angel puts a curse on Meroz (v. 23). Angels have the power to bless or curse, according to the will of God.

In Judges 6, the people of Israel once again disobey the Lord and are confronted by the Midianites. They cry out to the Lord and an angel appears to Gideon (Judges 6.12) to assure him of the Lord’s presence and protection. Gideon calls him “sir” and asks why all this has happened. He is afraid and needs assurance. An episode takes place whereby the angel burns up Gideon’s offering and disappears. Gideon realizing it was an angel is terrified and says, “Oh. Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed! have seen the angel of the Lord face-to-face” (v. 22).

The 13th chapter of Judges introduces a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan. His wife, whose name is not given, has not been able to conceive but an angel visits her (v. 3) and assures her that she will have a son. The woman tells her husband that “a man of God” has visited her and that he looked “as frightening as the angel of God.” She didn’t ask him his name or where he came from, but she repeated the stipulations the angel had told her: the child should not drink wine or eat forbidden food and they should never cut his hair.

Manoah prayed that the angel (“the man”) would come back so they could question him. They wanted to know his name and he said “It is a name of wonder” (13.18). Manoah wanted to prepare an offering from him but while the offering was being cooked, he and his wife “saw the Lord’s angel go up toward heaven in the flames (v. 19) and that was the last they saw of him. But Manoah was sure that “we have seen God” (v. 22). His wife reassures him that, if that were the case, God would not have shown them what he did—a bit of a puzzling answer.

The background for the birth and strength of Samson begins with the visit of an angel. There are many stories in the Bible that emphasize the same thing: God gives angels supernatural power and they can pass it on to those to whom He wishes.

1 Samuel mentions an angel only once and that is to compare David’s loyalty to that of an angel (29.9), so it is obvious the writer knew about angels. His wisdom is again compared to an angel of God in 2 Samuel 14.17 and 14.20 (as well as 19.27). The scene in Chapter 22 in “David’s Song of Victory” (also in Psalm 18), refers to God flying “swiftly on his winged creature” (GNB). which is a reference to some angelic being. 

In 2 Samuel 24, we read of an angel of the Lord who “was striking down people” (verse 17), which causes David to confess that it is due to his sins, as shepherd, and not those of the “sheep.” We read elsewhere of “angels of death.”

Sometimes we do not learn the names of prophets who hear from angels: 1 Kings 13.18 is an example. The main character is simply “an old prophet” from Judah who warns King Jeroboam that his sacrifices are not acceptable to the Lord. The King tries to subdue him but finds his arm paralyzed and pleads with the prophet to heal him.

Later in the book of 1 Kings (Chapter 18) Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal and overcomes them. He goes on a journey into the wilderness where, tired and confused, he wishes to die. However, as he sleeps under a tree, an angel wakes him (19.5) and provides him with food. The angel instructs him to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria (2 Kings 1.3) and still later Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2.11).

God also uses angels to kill enemies. King Hezekiah finds out when 185,000 of his Assyrian soldiers are killed (2 Kings 19.35).

First and second Chronicles are mainly a repeat of what we read in Samuel and Kings, so angels are again mentioned and continue their destruction until the Lord stops them (1 Chronicles 21.15-16). David sees what has happened and he is “afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD” (21.30).

Angels are under the command of the Lord, and in Nehemiah 9.6 we read that “The heavenly powers bow down and worship you,” which certainly must include the angels.

Sometimes angels are called to appear before God, and for Job, the outcome seems disastrous. Satan is with the angels and God tells him to notice Job and the story of Job’s suffering and the questionable advice of his “friends” is one we know well. They tell him that God even “charges his angels with error” (4.18), referring to Satan no doubt.

In the long Job story, one “bystander” of those accusing Job is named Elihu, who is young and believes he has the answers for Job because his words are “sincere, and I am speaking the truth” (33.2). He challenges Job that “Perhaps an angel may come to his aid—one of God’s thousands of angels, who remind men of their duty” and in mercy the angel will say “Remember him, he is not to go down to the world of the dead. Here is the ransom to set him free” (33.23-24). We can question Elihu’s confidence because God has a different perspective and answer.

God answers Job out of a storm (Chapter 38) and he is not nice about it. He accuses Job of “ignorant, empty words” (verse 2) and in a long series of scathing questions shows Job that he is utterly incapable of understanding His mighty works. Even the stars sang with the heavenly beings (the angels) to show their joy in God’s creation.

Job concludes, fittingly, by saying “I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know” (42.3). That is my answer (to some degree) as well when I talk about angels.

In Psalm 8.5 we are reminded that we have been made “a little lower than the angels,” a verse that is repeated in Hebrews 2.7. But we are also crowned “with glory and honor.”

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 34.7: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” A similar promise is given in 91.11: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

David wants his enemies to be driven away, “like chaff before the wind” (35.5) and would be happy to have them on slippery and dark paths, with “the angel of the Lord pursuing them” (35.6). Obviously, he is not wanting the angel to help his enemies.

Psalm 78 contains a long series of incidents of how God has looked after his people, including having “destroying angels” (in some versions, called “messengers of death”) helping him (v. 49).The angels of the lord “do his bidding” (103.20) and they are commanded to praise God (148.2). People believed that a person had an angel, e.g., those who couldn’t believe that it could be Peter at the door in Acts 12.15. This is often the key episode for the belief in “guardian angels” and a “doctrine” pursued with great ambition by the Catholics.

Angels are not mentioned in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Song of Songs, in fact are not mentioned again until Isaiah 37.36 when an angel puts to death 185,000 Assyrians (also mentioned in 2 Kings 19.35). Isaiah, in reflecting on the Lord’s goodness, points out that it was He who saved them by using “the angel of his presence” (63.9). In other words, it was not simply an angel who saved them from their suffering, but the Lord himself.

Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel do not mention angels, but the book of Daniel records how an angel saved the three men thrown into the furnace at the command of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3.28), as well as how an angel shut the mouth of lions when Daniel was thrown to them (6.22). Ezekiel 28.14 does mention that he was “anointed as a guardian cherub” which seems to be a category of angels.

So what is a cherub/cherubim and how do they compare with the seraphim? I read on line that “Cherubim are angels that … first appear as the guards of the garden of Eden. They work on God’s wish. They have four faces, the faces are of different animals, and they use their wings to wrap their body.” On the other hand, Seraphim in the 6th chapter of the book Isaiah are described as serpents. They have spiritual powers, and they are devoted to God. They spend their days and nights in the praises of God. They have six wings, and they have the highest rank among the angels. They sit on the throne and pursuit the will of God.”

What about archangels? Apparently, they are of a higher rank than angels. One claim is that “A person can call angels for any personal help but he or she cannot call archangels for any personal help.” That would need more follow-up, but I leave it for now.

The minor prophets Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai and Malachi do not record anything dealing with angels. However, Zechariah makes up for the lack and mentions angels 20 times (in the NLT), all of them in various exchanges, beginning in 1.9 where asks an angel what the four colored horses mean. Zechariah is shown various visions and angels are involved in all of them (1.11-14; 1.19; 2.3; 3.1; 3.3-6; 4.1; 4.4; 4.11; 5.5; 5.10; 6.4-5). In 3.1-2 the prophet Zechariah sees the High Priest Joshua standing before the Lord and Satan is there as well. As at the beginning of the book of Job, Satan is there to bring accusations to the Lord, but in this case he is rebuked and condemned. 

Finally, summarizing the future deliverance of Jerusalem, we read “On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them” (12.8).

The New Testament begins (Matthew 1:20) with an angel visiting Joseph in a dream to tell him that the Holy Spirit will enable his future wife Mary to have a child and that the child’s name will be Jesus, a name given to Him by angels (Luke 2.21). The angel also tells him to take Mary to Egypt (2.3) and, after Herod dies, notifies him to take her back to Nazareth (2.19).

Angels must be formidable and frightening because here they tell Joseph, then later Zechariah (Luke 1.30) and the shepherds (Luke 2.9-10) not to be afraid. When Zechariah is puzzled and discusses the situation with the angel, he replies that his name is Gabriel (Luke 1.19), probably the same angel that spoke to Daniel (8.16 and 9.21). Mary also converses with Gabriel (Luke 1.

On the other hand, after the resurrection when Mary visits the tomb of Jesus she sees “two angels in white” who talk with her (John 20.11-13) and she is not afraid. Mary had communicated with the angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus (Luke 1.26-38). Many years later, when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus, she does not immediately recognize him (John 20.15-17).

It is no wonder that the shepherds would have been afraid: “a great company of the heavenly host appear with the angel,” which would have been spectacular and startling. The angels return to heaven (Luke 2.15), but the shepherds know what their appearance signals, and go to Bethlehem to see what is happening.

The story of the temptation of Jesus occurs in three gospels: Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13 and in each of them Satan quotes Scripture, demonstrating how it is possible to recite the Word of God for one’s own purposes. Satan tells Jesus to throw himself off the Temple and the angels will protect him (Matthew 4:6; Mark 1:12; and Luke 4:10), which of course is true but not what God wants. Jesus tells Satan that we should not put God to the test.

Angels will be active in the judgment, actually the “harvesting” at the end of the age and will “weed out” everything that causes sin (Matthew 13:39; 41; 49) and will gather “his elect…from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13.27 and also 8.38 and Matthew 16.27). When will this take place? Not even the angels know (Mark 13.32; Matthew 24.36).

At that final judgment Jesus will bring angels with him (Matthew 25.31). In fact, he could have called for them at any time, as when the disciples wanted to shield him from arrest, he could have asked the Father for “thousands of angels” (Matthew 26.53). We have already seen a “vast host” of angels—the armies of heaven—appear to the shepherds and then return to heaven (Luke 2.9-15), so we know there are plenty around.

Turning now to the book of Revelation: it is a special story and relates the activity of angels and the future order of the world. In this book, angels are referred to 79 times in the NLT, 77 times in the NIV and 72 times in the NKJV. The angels in Revelation are acting out their future roles—this is a vision of John—and it is often impossible to interpret their actions literally. For proof, go to commentaries on the book or listen to TV evangelists interpret it. They give us ideas, but the actions in Revelation are forecast and have not yet happened, so they are imaginary. I don’t know what many of the images stand for.

The book begins (1.1) with Jesus sending an angel to John with a special revelation. However, things get complicated immediately as the number seven begins to appear: seven stars, seven golden lampstands, seven bowls, and seven plagues. There are also seven churches, each with an angel assigned to it. Furthermore, the seven stars are seven angels, and each has a message for each church. The angels convey their messages to the churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, outlining their good points and their bad points. 

An angel carrying the seal of the living God appears (7.2) and tells the four angels, who “stand at the four corners of the earth” not to harm the earth. A scene follows (7.11) where all the angels are around the throne and they “fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshipped God.”

The seven angels are given seven trumpets, which they will use later, but “another angel with a gold incense burner” mixes incense with prayers and pours it on the altar for God (8.3-5). In the meantime, the seven angels have been warming up their trumpets and are ready to blow them. After each blown trumpet a catastrophe or extraordinary event occurs (8.6-10.7; 11.15) and God’s “mysterious plan will be fulfilled…just as he announced it to his servants the prophets” (10.7). T

John is instructed to take the scroll from the angel standing on the sea and land and eat it (10.9). John does so and finds it sweet to taste, but it gives him an upset stomach. Two chapters later war breaks out in heaven between Michael and his angels against the dragon (Satan) and its angels (12.7-9). Satan is defeated and then John sees another angel “flying through the sky” with the Good News of the Gospel now available “to every nation, tribe, language and people (14.6). There are actually three angels, the second shouting that Babylon has fallen and the third shouting warnings about a beast (14.8-9).

The beast puts a mark on the forehead or on the hands of people. They are doomed for the judgment that follows. A series of angels then swing their sickles to carry out God’s verdict (14.15-19).

There are more angels: John sees seven more and they will destroy what is left of the earth and its people with seven plagues (15.1-16.17). After the angels are finished with their destruction, one of them takes John to see “the great prostitute” (17.1). She is a woman “sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns” (17.3) and which has blasphemies against God written all over it.

The angel explains that the waters where the prostitute is located “represent masses of people of every nation and language (17.15). The scarlet beast and its horns “hate the prostitute,” which represents Babylon and it is destroyed (18.21) by a boulder cast into the ocean. 

Things finally get better and an angel tells John that those who attend the wedding feast of the Lamb will be blessed (19.9). An angel “standing in the sun” shouts to vultures to gather for the banquet (19.17). Vultures usually mean someone has died, so I’m not sure why they are here.

In the final episode John sees an angel coming down from heaven and it has the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain (20.1). Satan is thrown into the pit and one of the seven angels takes John to see “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21.9). It is the city of the new Jerusalem, and it is big and beautiful. For some reason, the angel decides to the measure the city and the walls are 216 feet thick and it is 1500 miles in every direction (including up).

In the end of his vision John sees the water of life flowing from the throne of God and it is there where his servants will worship—and they will see His face (22.4). An angel assures John that everything he has “heard and seen is trustworthy and true” (22.6).

John is overcome and falls at the feet of the angel to worship him, but is told not to because the angel is “a fellow servant” (22.9).

In 22.16 Jesus speaks and tells John that he has sent “my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.”

That is the end of the angels, but it is of course not the end of the story: Jesus has the last word, “Yes indeed! I am coming soon! (22.20). And we echo John’s words; “So be it. Come Lord Jesus!

Because this is a vision, which is much like a dream, the events sometimes seem out of order chronologically and the angels seem extraordinarily busy and even diabolical. They are not nice angels with wings and harps—replicas that I would hang on my Christmas tree.

There is no doubt that it is a book of warnings and calamities, with angels as the primary agents. I find it difficult to understand and most of us are content to skip to Chapters 21 and 22, with the streets of gold, no more tears, and so on. We are promised a “blessing” if we read the book, but probably best not to stay up late in a darkened room to ponder it.

Some things (but not all) about angels (not all references are given):

  • There are millions of them (Psalm 89.5; 103.21; Daniel 7.10; Matthew 26.53; Luke 2.13; Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 5.11)
  • They worship God (Deuteronomy 32.43; Nehemiah 9.6; Hebrews 1.6)
  • They come from heaven (Matthew 28.2)
  • They are special messengers (Job 33.23; Hebrews 1.14), sent by God (Daniel 3.28; Hebrews 1.7)
  • They are witnesses in God’s presence (Luke 12.8; 1 Corinthians 11.10; 1 Peter 1.12)
  • They can appear and disappear suddenly (Acts 12.10)
  • They are visible at times (1 Chronicles 21.16; 2 Samuel 24.17; Luke 24.23; John 1.51; 20.12; Acts 10.3; 12.3)
  • They can appear even as strangers (Hebrews 13.2)
  • They can change their appearance (Judges 13.6)
  • They look after “Little ones” (Matthew 18.10)
  • They may look after adults as well (Acts 12.15)
  • They may look after cities (Revelation 1:20ff)
  • They can blow trumpets (Matthew 24.31; Revelation 8.6)
  • They are not married (Matthew 22.30), which does not imply they are sexless
  • They provide comfort (Mark 16.6; Matthew 28.5; Luke 22.43; Acts 27.23)
  • They are strong (they roll away the stone at the tomb of Jesus—Matthew 28.2)
  • They protect (Exodus 23.20; Psalm 34.7)
  • They do miracles (Judges 6.21; Acts 5.19)
  • They pray (Zechariah 1.12)
  • They never die (Luke 20.36)
  • They speak and understand languages (1 Kings 19.5; Zechariah 1.9; Matthew 28.5; John 12.29; 1 Corinthians 13.1; Acts 10.4)
  • They give instructions (1 Kings 19.7; Acts 8.6; 10.22; Genesis 28.12)
  • They interpret (Zechariah 6.5)
  • They shout with joy (Job 38.7)
  • They are happy when someone repents (Luke 15.10)
  • They can speak to animals (Numbers 22.22-35)
  • They can control wild animals (Daniel 6.22)
  • They have special food (Psalm 78.35)
  • They can supply new clothing (Zechariah 3.4)
  • They escort people to heaven (or perhaps hell) Luke 16.10)
  • They will appear with the coming of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1.7)
  • They will preserve God’s people (Revelation 7.1)
  • Their face can morph into that of a human (Acts 6.15)
  • Satan can disguise himself as one (2 Corinthians 11.14
  • Some may not be trustworthy (a claim by Eliphaz in Job 4.18)
  • They seem to have a hierarchy (2 Samuel 22.6; Zechariah 6.5; 1 Timothy 5.21)
  • Some have sinned (2 Peter 2.4; Jude 1.6)
  • They can kill (Psalm 78.44; Acts 12.23; Revelation 9.15ff)
  • They can be angels of death (Hebrews 11.28; 1 Corinthians 10.10)
  • Their authority is limited (Jude 1.9)
  • They will not control the future world (Hebrew 2.5)

Therewith ends my study of angels—what an interesting and, in most respects, encouraging record of these awesome messengers of God.

Karl Franklin, January 2022


I have several favorite books of the Bible, but one of them is surely Hebrews. I had a class on it at King’s College  in 1952 and from that time on I have often read it. After Joice died, I looked at it in a new way, especially chapters 11 and 12. Hebrews 11 is the “faith” chapter in which we read about people who had faith and how we can think about it and have more ourselves.

In “ancient times” the people looked forward in faith for what God had in store and we also look forward in faith for what God has in store. We can’t see what is ahead any more than the ancients could—we all must rely on the faith God gives us to “know” what is ahead.

It takes faith to be sure of the things we believe and read in Scripture because, from the beginning to the end of the Bible, it is all miraculous and generally outside the realm of our experience. However, it is by faith that the ancients, as well as we who live now, won and win God’s approval. He could see that the ancient people of God understood—by faith—He created the world by speaking it into existence. He was the Word, and it was by means of His words that He manifested His power to create everything. This beginning in time Word is the same person—but not a person like us—who was Jesus, although He was not named Jesus at the time. Only later, when born of Mary did he have the earthly name of Jesus.

The first person we read about and who exhibited faith was Abel and he paid dearly for it. His brother Cain killed him because he was jealous of God accepting Abel’s sacrifice and not his. Abel, who was a shepherd, offered the “best parts” of a first born lamb, and Cain, a farmer,  offered some of his “harvest,” perhaps grain or vegetables that did not shed blood and were not killed as a sacrifice. One sheep was obviously more precious than some grain. The result was gruesome: Cain killed Abel and we have paid dearly for his murder.

As an aside, notice that atheists, who do not believe in God as the creator of the world, nevertheless believe in chance. They have complete (usually) “faith” in something which is random and which they can only examine in retrospect. They often claim that they cannot believe in a God who “allows” for example, the murder of a child, famine, floods and destruction of any sort. They can’t believe that God allows evil and yet they believe that “anything can happen given enough time.” And how much is “enough time”? It doesn’t matter, as long as one “believes” that chance can “produce” what it wishes, given enough time.

But back to Hebrews and Abel, who speaks to us even though he is “dead.” He speaks to us through the example of the gift he gave to God—a sacrificial lamb, which foretells us that the “Lamb of God” will satisfy God and be the way that the sins of the world will be paid for.

After Cain and Abel, there are numerous people mentioned in Hebrews 11 who demonstrate faith, but the first is Enoch. Somehow, he had enough faith that he did not die; he was simply “taken up” into heaven. Not his soul, but the man Enoch in flesh and blood, that is, with a body. Genesis 4.17 relates that Enoch was the son of Cain, who was building a city and named it after Enoch. Enoch “walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5.24). We don’t know why—many people walk faithfully with God and they live and die here on earth. Most people follow that course although Elijah got taken to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2), surely a dizzy way to go.

We expect people, for the most part (that is, excluding war, famine, flood, and so on) to die of “natural causes,” meaning disease and old age. But not always: Saul died “because he was unfaithful to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 10:13) and consulted a medium for guidance. We assume that Saul went to heaven, but we can’t be sure.

Another person commended for his faith was Noah, who found “favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6.8). He was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6.9). To walk faithfully, one must have faith and Noah demonstrated his in a most unusual way: he built an ark, knowing that God was about to destroy humankind. But his faith required him to wait until he was 600 years old (Genesis 7.6). He didn’t live a perfect life—sin happened with him when he was drunk—but he did last a total of 950 years (Genesis 9.29). Despite the faith of Noah, God did not spare the ancient world (2 Peter 2.5).

Abraham, who is referred to 235 times in the NIV, was the epitome of faith: In addition to all that is said about him in Hebrews, Luke and Paul refer to him often as an example of faith. Abraham is responsible for the many lineages that followed him, so much so that Luke writes about Jesus referring to a man as a “son of Abraham” (Luke 19.9) and Paul assures us that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4.3; James 2.23). Therefore faith, believing in God, counts as “righteousness.”

It is hard to say enough about Abraham: leaving for an unknown country at the prompting of God, becoming a father at an old age, offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, and being the “father” of so many descendants. Isaac is mentioned 129 times in the NIV, the same as Jacob.

There is not much said in the book of Hebrews about Jacob and Esau, sons of Isaac, except that Jacob blessed Joseph, one of his sons, before he died. The story of Joseph and his brothers is not mentioned as an example of faith, although Joseph is mentioned 248 times in the Bible, beating his father handily. 

Moses is the big man in the Bible, mentioned 803 times in the NIV and his faith meant more to him than “all the treasures of Egypt” because “he kept his eyes on the future reward” (26), which is something that all people of faith must do.

It seems fascinating that the harlot Rahab would be mentioned in this “roll call of faith,” However, when she sheltered the spies that Joshua had sent out, she gave us another example of faith. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that he two spies are not mentioned as having faith when they visited the house of a prostitute.

The writer of Hebrews is now in a hurry: he (or she) does not have time to tell of the faith stories of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, or the prophets. The are commended in general terms: they fought enemies and won; they did what was right; they killed lions and put out fires; they escaped from capture; they defeated enemies and foreigners and, somehow “through faith women received their dead relatives raised back to life” (35). One would like more explanation of who, when, where and why, that happened, but none is given.

There are more examples of faith, but the heroes are anonymous: they died under torture, refused freedom, were mocked and whipped, put in chains, stoned, sawed in two, and so on. They did all this “in order to be raised to a better life” (also 35). They demonstrated that they were not giving up their faith in God because He had an “even better plan for us. And here the writer of Hebrews includes those who have gone and died before the Jesus came but who would “be in company with us” and be made perfect (40).

All of these heroes are now part of a great cloud (throng) of people who have gone to heaven as witnesses to the power of faith in God. With them are our loved ones who followed Jesus faithfully, including my wife Joice. She, with them, are somehow “around us” (12.1), living out joyfully now what they faithfully believed. Imagine! Joice is with Abraham and Paul, Wopa Eka and Phil, George and Pat, and on and on and on it goes. So many that it would be impossible to count them, but they are people with names, not vague spirits floating around in the heavens.

This, then, is part of the great promise that I cling to with all the faith I have—and I pray earnestly to God for more! Seeing loved ones is not, as CS Lewis once maintained, an idle promise. In A Grief Observed (p. 37) he said “Unless of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There’s not a word of it in the Bible.” He says this because he believes that “The exact same thing is never taken away and given back.”

Lewis is of course trying to help us not to want heaven solely to see our loved ones: there is much more to heaven than that! I want to see Jesus and to worship God with all my being, but why would He exclude Joice from the pleasure of us worshipping Him together? That sounds more like hell!

The rich man and Lazarus saw each other and there was communication; Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus and there was communication; the angels see sinners repent on earth and there is joy and laughter; the thief on the cross went with Jesus to Paradise; and the faithful witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 11 “surround” us, as do angels. We are not alone in our journey to heaven, and we will be surrounded with friends, those who were faithful “witnesses” here on earth. It includes people we loved, knew well, or knew only in passing.

As Joice would often pray, “keep us faithful to the end.”

December 27, 2021


I was once listening to a a sporting event where the broadcaster said something to the effect that at least they weren’t “throwing in the towel” yet. He meant that they hadn’t given up and were still trying. Two other expressions that get across a similar idea are “they hadn’t been taken to the cleaners” or “met their Waterloo.”

Have you ever felt like “throwing in the towel”? It is an idiom that comes from boxing, when a losing fighter’s manager indicated defeat by throwing a towel into the ring. After losing an election, politicians often throw in the towel and try some other kind of career.

If you “take someone to the cleaners” you are swindling them in some way. You are taking advantage of them and relieving them of their money or possessions. Some etymologists suggest the phrase came from dry cleaners who examined the customers clothes for money and kept any they found. It seems more likely that if you take someone to the cleaners, you are the deceiver and robber and not simply the merchant who is cleaning the clothes. Perhaps you are a partner in crime (we all know what that means.) 

The phrase “meeting one’s Waterloo” is a bit more obscure. It refers to the 1815 battle outside the Belgian town of Waterloo in which Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated by forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington. The term Waterloo has therefore become synonymous with anything difficult to master. For example, one can refer to Armenian as having a “Waterloo of an Alphabet.”

I thought of times when I wanted to “throw in the towel” and quit—not pleasant reminders for me but true nonetheless. I have met my Waterloo at various stages of my life and, occasionally, I have been taken to the cleaners.

I was the Director of the Wycliffe and SIL International work in Papua New Guinea for several years, commanding a force of hundreds of missionaries and employees. Missionaries are determined, with strong-minded opinions, or they wouldn’t be working overseas in difficult situations. It follows that a few had negative feelings about the way I handled some issues. I became discouraged at such times, but never wanted to throw in the towel. Part of the reason was because Joice was always there with one hand on my shoulder to stop any such action. She encouraged me even if I met a “Waterloo.” We all need that kind of help.

Some of the disciples met their Waterloo when Jesus reminded them of what it meant to follow him. It was after he told them that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60). Those who “turned away” seemed to think Jesus was asking them to be cannibals and literally eat flesh and drink blood. Instead, Jesus was asking his disciples (and us) to figuratively eat and drink of him to such an extent that we need nothing else to sustain us spiritually. It is a “hard saying” but it is also the way to be “fed.”

I have been “taken to the cleaners” a few times, mainly by buying something that I had believed was an excellent product and of course necessary, but which turned out to be not worth my time or money.

One such instance happened right here in Waco. Our small lawn needed help and a lawncare “specialist” said he would take care of it for me. He charged me over $200 for installing a section of grass that was about six feet square. I was annoyed and tried to get him to reduce the cost or install more grass. However, he wasn’t interested and I was not going to “fly off the handle” or “blow a fuse” about the matter. 

There are many idioms to express how I felt and you can probably identify with some of them:

“to flip out,” be “mad as a hornet,” or “mad as a wet hen.” We can also “get hot under the collar,” or “blow a gasket.” Expressing thanks and kindness is the opposite and we don’t feel that way when we think someone has taken advantage of us.

In today’s idiom, I suppose we “loose our cool” but, regardless of how we express our emotions, they can betray our understanding of the Scriptures and keep us from loving God with all our heart, mind and strength. We might then legitimately want to “throw in the towel” instead of asking God for forgiveness and fortitude. Paul reminds us in Romans 7:24-25 of how we can get help: “What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Perhaps it is then OK to throw in the towel, if it is at the feet of Jesus.

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