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In our everyday language we frequently use symbols to convey more complex deeper ideas in simple words. For example we might say that someone is “as cunning as a fox” because the way in which a fox moves to capture its prey brilliantly describes the way some people get what they want by very careful and devious actions.

So it is not perhaps surprising that symbols, symbolism and correspondences form a very important part of the language of many ancient sacred scriptures and especially the Bible. In these writings symbols of deeper spiritual ideas can be found not just in the words used but also in the people and events described. Three examples of word symbols in the Bible now follow.

Water

Water is essential for daily life. We drink it when we are thirsty and need refreshing and we wash ourselves with it when we are dirty. But it can also be dangerous. Water that is contaminated is not safe to drink and flood waters and tidal waves can damage and kill. All these different uses of water occur in some way in the Bible but what is the deeper and spiritual symbolism of water?

To answer this we need to think about our inner spiritual world and what can refresh and cleanse us. And the simple answer is ‘truth’ because, when we take in new true ideas our minds are refreshed and when we apply these ideas in our daily living our inner being is cleansed.

In John’s gospel there is an account of Jesus being offered water at a well by a woman from Samaria but Jesus instead offers her water that brings eternal life – the ‘truth’.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Trees

Trees occur in the Bible right from the beginning with the ‘Tree of Life’ in the Garden of Eden described in Genesis and again in the Holy City New Jerusalem described in Revelation. And in between all sorts of trees are described including olive, cedar, palm, poplar, apple, oak, pine, willow, bay, fir, juniper, myrtle and almond - so many different trees of varying height and shape and use.

In the world around us trees are a beautiful part of our landscape whether in new leaf in Spring, or in the wonderful colours of Autumn, or in the silhouettes of Winter. Whatever the shape or size or spread of a tree it always grows upwards towards the light and away from the earth. Some trees like oak are incredibly strong and resist high winds without bending. Others like the silver birch are extremely flexible and move gracefully as the wind blows. And all trees bring forth some form of fruit.

What a wonderful symbol trees provide of how our perception and understanding of what is good and true can grow from being very down to earth to reaching lofty heights of spiritual insight. Sometimes our understanding of truth is tremendously strong and able to resist any wind of change that surrounds us. And at other times our understanding is more flexible and changes to some extent as we reflect on and respond to the world around us.

Lambs

Picture a field in early spring with sheep grazing on the grass and tiny new born lambs struggling to their feet with the help of their mothers. It is a beautiful and inspiring scene and one which is drawn upon repeatedly in the Bible. Right from the earliest times Biblical characters like Abraham look after flocks of sheep. Later David grows from being a shepherd who takes great care of his sheep to becoming King. The most well known Psalm 23 starts with the words – “The Lord is my shepherd…”. John the Baptist describes Jesus as “the Lamb of God” and Jesus describes himself as the “Good Shepherd”. Finally in Revelation there are repeated visions of the Lamb.

From all this there can be no doubt that something more than just an animal is being described by the word ‘lamb’ – surely it is also a spiritual symbol.

The peaceful pastoral picture of new born lambs presents a wonderful image and symbol of how true innocence can be born and grow in our inner spiritual life. But this innocence needs protection otherwise it can be easily lost or killed – so we need to also act as a shepherd and ensure that other more dangerous parts of our inner character do not destroy it. Then innocence, pictured by the lamb, can take centre stage in our spiritual life.

        For an introduction to the symbolism of animals click here:  Animal Symbols

 

Water, Trees, Lambs are just three of the many word symbols or correspondences in the Bible but events can also be symbolic. Flood waters can damage and destroy and this is pictured in the very well known story of Noah and the Flood. Spiritual symbols can have both positive and negative meanings. So although water symbolises truth this is only its positive meaning. Negatively it pictures the opposite of truth - falsity. So we can see the story of Noah as being about what happens spiritually when falsity gains such a hold that it acts like a flood destroying nearly all in its path. Although this story is a part of the early chapters of the Bible it also appears in similar form in other sacred scripture notably in the Epic of Gilgamesh, probably the oldest written story on earth.

Although some people may see the ‘flood’ story appearing in different texts as evidence that a real flood occurred thousands of years ago it is surely more important to see the common story as arising from the spiritual symbolism being used.

Another very popular story in the Bible, full of spiritual meaning, is the account of how the boy David defeats the giant Goliath and ultimately becomes the second king of Israel. To discover more about symbolism and personal meaning in the story of David click here: Discovering David

 

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote: "The knowledge of the ancients was a knowledge of symbols and images, through which they led themselves into a familiarity with spiritual matters; but at the present time this knowledge has been totally lost".

 

 

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