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Sackcloth and ashes

Could Jonah be the most successful evangelist in the Bible?  In Hebrew the report of his sermon consists of 5 words.  And yet, in response, the 120 000 residents of Nineveh cover themselves in sackcloth and ashes and turn to the LORD. Sackcloth was the clothing of mourning.  Ashes were also a reminder of mortality.  […]

Daniel in the Lion's Den

The bible is all about dramatic reversals. Perhaps Mary said it best when she was told that the Mighty Christ would be born into her humble circumstances: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath […]

Thus saith the LORD

“Says who?” Children learn that phrase very quickly.  A sibling tells them to set the table.  What happens next depends entirely on the source of the command.  If the reply comes: “Thus saith mum!” things might just get moving. Hundreds of times the bible contains this phrase:  “Thus saith the LORD.”  Even when it’s the […]

Sour grapes

They looked so nice on the vine but the acid bursts into your mouth and you realise they are unripe. You spit them out proclaiming, “I didn’t want them anyhow!” “Sour grapes” has come to mean disparaging something you had previously desired – probably because you can’t attain it.  That particular meaning originates with Aesop […]

Can a leopard change his spots?

Can people change?  Really change? Aristotle thought so.  And here’s how he thought change can happen: “it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts the temperate man.” If you want to change, well then, perform righteous acts and you will become righteous.  It’s ancient wisdom.  But […]

No rest for the wicked

It’s the sort of phrase your cheery postman might say on his rounds.  “Must push on I’m afraid, no rest for the wicked eh?”  We all titter politely and on with our day.  Yet such levity is incongruous. This saying is the biblical equivalent of verses such as “these shall go away into everlasting punishment” […]

Seeing eye to eye

When we use this phrase it’s usually in the negative: “I’m afraid, we don’t see eye to eye on this issue.” Not seeing eye to eye is about disagreement and the very nature of the phrase communicates an inequality of stature, perhaps also of power. What would it take for two antagonists to start seeing […]

Unto us a child is born

I grew up with Summer Christmasses.  Mangoes for breakfast.  Cold meats for lunch.  Backyard cricket.  Swims and BBQs.  And I loved them.  But, biblically speaking, a summer Christmas is a contradiction in terms.  Christmas is not a celebration of our sunny circumstances.  Christmas comes in the darkness. That’s what Isaiah prophesied in chapter 9.  It’s a […]

Woe is me

What does a spiritual experience look like?  Warm feelings?  Groovy vibes?  Not if you ask Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 6 the prophet has the ultimate spiritual experience.  He meets the LORD: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train [i.e. […]

White as snow

“She’s pure as New York snow” says the song.  That’s to say – not pure at all.  New York snow is quickly sullied by the city’s grit and grime.  But, for the first hour or so, that white blanket covers over a multitude of sins. Isaiah the prophet knew a people whose spiritual condition was […]