Symbolic Language

Volume 7, No. 8

"What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof."
(Zechariah 4:2-3)

Symbolic Language

The Bible is filled with teachings that are expressed in symbolic language. This artist's conception of the prophecy from Zechariah 4 helps us to visualize how God has communicated His plan and purpose for this earth with word pictures. Many of these pictures are difficult to understand without some study into the use of symbols in the Bible; it is also important to compare Scripture with Scripture to see how these symbols are associated with the whole counsel of God.

The two olive trees are further defined in Zechariah 4 as the "two anointed ones". These trees are producing oil for the lamp stand. This should remind us of the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. The virgins are gathering and storing the oil which will be used for light when the bridegroom (Christ) returns. The two olive trees remind us of Romans 11, where they appear as symbols of the Jewish and Gentile believers.

In the symbolic prophecy that we are considering, Zechariah sees the vision after being awakened out of sleep. This provides us with the clue that this scene is post-resurrectional. Today, all true believers are storing up a supply of God's word, while they wait for the Bridegroom to return. After the resurrection, when the Kingdom of God is established in this earth, their oil will light the golden candlestick and the light of their teaching will help to lead people out of their present darkness.

"Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. (Daniel 2: 31-33)

"And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings ... And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear ...After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads... After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible." (Daniel 7: 3-7)

Nebuchadnezzar's Image

One of the better examples of the use of symbolic language in Bible prophecy is found in the writings of Daniel the prophet. The artist's arrangement illustrates the great metallic image of Daniel 2, along with the corresponding images of the four beasts in Daniel 7.

In the 2nd chapter, the king of Babylon dreams about a great image that will be destroyed by a stone striking its feet. In Daniel's interpretation of the dream, the king is said to be the head of gold, the first of the major kingdoms. The image shows the entire history of the world and its kingdoms. It concludes with its final destruction in the days of the toes. The stone represents Christ, who will return to set up the universal Kingdom of God on this earth at the end of the days.

Daniel, in his dream in chapter 7, viewed these same kingdoms of this world as beasts of the earth.

The important thing for us is to understand that we are living in the last days of these prophecies, -we are in the days of the toes, waiting for the return of Christ to set up God's kingdom. Read these prophecies and consider their symbols; they are a significant part of God's message to us, so that we will be ready when the day of salvation comes.

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20 NIV)

God's Invisible Qualities

Paul explained to the Romans that there was really no excuse for not knowing and understanding the will and purpose of our Creator. In this exhortation to the Romans, in chapter one, he provides us with an understanding that can be very helpful as we try to draw nigh to God. If we would only take time to look at the things that God has made, we would find an abundance of evidence and a tremendous amount of insight into the secret things about Him.

Many of the symbols that are used in the Bible are taken from the Creation. The sun, moon and stars, the trees, plants and flowers, the birds, fish and animals, the clouds, the storms, the dew and the rain, -all of these natural things and many more like them, are used the teach us about God and His plan of salvation for man on this earth.

Jesus, the son of God, used a similar approach in his teachings. He taught us the parable of the sower, We should notice the many types of ground that the seeds would land in, each effecting how they would prosper. Our hearts are intended to be good ground for the seed (Word of God). We are expected to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit to glorify our Heavenly father.

Jesus taught us to consider the lilies of the field, they do not toil, they do not spin, and yet they are more beautiful than King Solomon in all of his glorious apparel. He told us to look at the birds of the air; they do not gather and store their food, and yet God cares for and feeds them. We are encouraged to learn from this example that God will certainly care for us, and that we are of more value than many sparrows.

One of the major prophecies of the New testament period is the Book of Revelation. It would be nearly impossible to even begin to understand this prophecy without a knowledge of symbolic language in the Bible. The revelation introduces itself as a book that is presented in signs. Rev 1:1 "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John."

Take a good look around you at the wonderful things that God has created for us to enjoy. The trees, the flowers, the streams of water, the clouds in the sky, all teach us about God. Look closely at their characteristics and observe their workings. As we read the Bible, these observations will help us to understand more of these precious words of hope.

"And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me." (Genesis 37:9)

Joseph's Dream

It is from accounts such as the life of Joseph and his dreams that we learn more about Bible symbols.

In this account, found in Genesis 37:1-11, Joseph's father, mother and brothers are represented first as sheaves from the field and then as the sun, moon and the stars of heaven.

It was common practice at one time to consider the rulers of the family, a community, or a kingdom as the exalted elements of the heavens. If you read the dedication to King James, found at the beginning of most authorized KJV versions of the Bible, you will see an excellent example of how the political rulers of that day are spoken of as heavenly bodies.

Hear, O Heavens

Isaiah the prophet, speaking to the rulers of Judah and Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:2 said, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." His address to them was repeated in verse 10, further clarifying his application of the symbols of the heavens and earth. "Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah." Not only did he refer to the rulers of Judah as the "heavens", he also used additional symbolic language, calling them the "rulers of Sodom", because of their similar passion for sin.

It is important when we read about "heavens" in the Bible that we consider the entire context very carefully. Is it really talking about the dwelling place of God, -or is it referring the political powers? Many of the false teachings of Christianity, especially relative to heaven going, are rooted in a misunderstanding of the use of symbolic language in the Bible.