The Bible: an overarching motif

The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (1830 ...

The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (1830 painting by David Roberts) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We talked about the use of a motif a few weeks ago, looking at the motif of the barren woman.

Today we’ll look at a bigger motif that affected not only imagery in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well. And this motif is commonly used in Christian terminology today.

The exodus of the people of Israel, as described in the book of Exodus through Deuteronomy, involved a people in slavery to the Egyptian empire. God sent Moses to rescue the people and, after a series of miracles, the Egyptian pharaoh allowed the Israelites to go free.

Included in the story was the passover, the final event that finally secured the people’s freedom. In that story, God sent the angel of death to kill the first-born of each household. However, the Israelites were instructed to select a lamb and sacrifice it, painting the doorposts with the lamb’s blood so that the angel of death would pass over those houses.

That Exodus motif affected many Old Testament narratives, including the Exile when the Israelites were taken from their land to another empire and placed in bondage there. Would those people in exile – in bondage – experience another rescue to be brought out of slavery and back to their promised land?

The gospel narratives of Jesus’ life also reference the Exodus motif. For example, Jesus died at the time the lamb was slain in the Passover observation. Passover, of course, reminded the people of the original passover during the Exodus from Egypt.

In Jesus’ day, the empire was Rome and the people were in bondage again. The same questions as came during Exodus and Exile times would have been asked: would God send someone to rescue them from bondage and restore them to their promised land?

The Exodus motif features people in bondage to a great empire who are then rescued and restored to what God had planned for them. It’s a motif referred to many times throughout the Bible, a powerful overarching theme that offers hope to those in bondage.


Wise and not so

My younger brother was a high school wrestler, which made for an interesting lesson in the folly of letting siblings mature.

wrestlingHis first practice of the season came shortly before my visit home from college. We hadn’t seen each other in a little while and he wanted to get me caught up on things. I could tell he was jazzed about wrestling. And I wanted to re-connect, too.

“Here’s a new move I learned,” he said.  We were standing in the middle of the living room with a new carpet on the floor, a good thing as it turned out. “Watch.”

Watch wasn’t really the right term. Stand still and do nothing was a better term because he put one hand behind my neck, one behind my knee, and, whoosh, had me flat on my back.

“Pinned! Just like that. And it’s really easy,” he said. He had enough maturity, at least, to help me get back on my feet without first pressing his knee into my clavicle.

I wasn’t a wimp in the athletic department. I played basketball, softball, tennis, and flag football. I rode horses and faced thundering cattle. I was no fragile piece of china. But I hadn’t ever learned a wrestling move.

There are times when a polite retreat is wise. But I was a college student. Wisdom was like a tree in the mist. Sometimes I saw it, sometimes I didn’t.

I did want to be an attentive sister so I hung in there. “It worked pretty well.” I rubbed my shoulder where I had landed.

He grinned and I wondered when my tow-headed little brother had turned into this six-foot tower of muscle. “I’ll show you how easy.”

“Um, OK.” Remember the part about wise? Not so here.

He shook out his shoulders. “Easy to do. First you grab my neck.”

Yeah, OK, I got that. I had done that a few other times in his young life. Well, maybe not the back side of his neck, though. I tried to do it his way this time. We had matured, of course.

“Then you grab my knee,” he said.

I leaned down to replicate his move. Suddenly the walls of the room swirled around me and, with a thump, I was on my back again.

He grinned, dusting his hands off. “That is how you counteract it!

The Bible: The End of the Story

A well-written fiction piece will have an ending that hopefully deals with all the threads of the plot and subplot. A well-written nonfiction piece contains a conclusion that summarizes the points of the article or book.

Stories in the Bible also use the ending as a powerful tool to give the reader an interpretation of the preceding action.

English: Abraham Sees Sodom in Flames, circa 1...

English: Abraham Sees Sodom in Flames, circa 1896–1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, in Genesis, we meet Abraham and Lot, Abraham’s nephew. After their servants argue over where to pasture the sheep, the two men decide to part ways. Abraham allows Lot to choose first and his choice captures the lushest pastures.

But this crossroads begs for a sequel and we get one a few chapters later when Lot and his family are found living in Sodom. Abraham’s life, meanwhile, has blossomed into many spiritual and domestic blessings.

We also learn from the story of Abraham and Sarah,  who, after being promised a son, decide to take things into their own hands. Sarah presents her servant Hagar to Abraham as her substitute. When Hagar bears a son by Abraham, the resulting tension creates havoc for Abraham – and throughout Jewish history.

The end of the story reveals much about the character of those involved in the story.

Another example can be found in the book of Ruth, where Ruth risks herself by choosing a new nation and a new God. The ending of the story, where she marries Boaz and bears a son, shows the reward that was hers for her wise decision.

The end of the story shows Lot’s greedy decision led him on a path to an evil life. Equally, the end of the story reveals Sarah’s lack of faith in God’s promises and how her decision cascaded into problems.

And Ruth’s gracious love for her mother-in-law is endorsed by her happy ending.

The end of the story in the Bible helps the reader evaluate the characters and events of story.

It wasn’t the fish

You know how there are some statements that parents should never make? Like, I will never give my child cookies for breakfast. Or, I will always listen to my child. Or, I don’t like to go fishing.

When my kids were invited to a special group outing that included fishing poles and bait, guess who had to drive? MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I thought I could set up a chair at the pond’s edge, get out a book, and enjoy the late summer afternoon while all the children flung hook and bobber into the murky depths. Somebody else was the fishing expert.

Yeah, I volunteered to be a driver.

I had gotten settled in and read a couple of chapters when I heard my daughter shout. She stood on the dock, pole held high in the air, fish squirming at the end of the line.


She wanted me to bring the tackle box. I jammed the bookmark in place and marched through the thick grass to the dock.

“Look at my fish! We gotta get the hook out before it gets hurt.”

Sure. I set the tackle box on the rough wood the dock, flipped open the top, and gazed into the tangle of hooks, bobbers, weights. How did one get the hook out?

She sensed my confusion. Or just got impatient. I’m never sure which. “Grab those pliers, Mom.”

OK, I knew pliers. I lifted the metal tool and held it out to her.

“I can’t do that,” she said with a voice that sounded something like a jet engine starting up.

Like I could? “I don’t fish,” I said. Clearly a boundary was in order here.

“I’ll hold the fish and you get the hook out,” she said, gripping the squirmy fish in her nine-year-old hands.

Um, I don’t get hooks out. I stared at the fish, which stared back. This was no time for a “who blinks first” contest.

I drew a deep breath. Parenting involves courage more than you’d think. Extricating a hook from a fish’s mouth ranks pretty high on my “don’t want to do this” list but it had to be done. I stepped closer.

She squeezed the fish’s mouth open and I raised the pliers, trying to find the right grip. Stalling.

And I got hit in the face with a blast of pond water.

I wanted to blame the fish but I looked up then to see my young son standing a few feet away from me, holding a stained and wrinkled paper cup. An empty paper cup.

He stared at the fish while I stared at him.

Then he saw me staring and he shifted his weight. “I grabbed the cup from by the pond,” he said. “And I scooped up some water.”


“I didn’t want the fish to die before you got the hook out and I thought it might take a while,” he said with little-boy eyes cushioned in fat cheeks.

“So you scooped up the water and threw it in my face?”

He shrugged and tossed the cup down. “I missed him.”

There are some things a parent shouldn’t say. But one I still cling to is this: I don’t like to go fishing.

The Bible: laugh along

One of the unexpected aspects in the Bible is the laugh-outloud humor you can discover in various books.laughingArtist[3] (1)

An example comes from Daniel 3, where the king of Babylon – then the most powerful emperor in the world – decided to make a huge statue of himself and demand the people worship the golden image.

Notice, as we work our way through the story, the repetition of phrases.

King Nebuchadnezzar summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officers to come to the image dedication. Our author could have written “provincial officers” but he didn’t. Let’s see why.

The very next sentence reported that the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officers assembled for the dedication.

Then a herald announced the new decree: “As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”

Our author could have simplified the instrument list to “all kinds of music” but he didn’t.

This time, we read two sentences before being told that “as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”

Immediately astrologers denounced the Jews (who were in exile in Babylon at this point) and told the king, “Your majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, must fall down and worship…”

Try reading the story aloud and you’ll see how the repetition is similar to some children’s stories with a humorous rhythm.

Back to our story. A problem has arisen: there are Jews who would not worship the gold statue. So Nebuchadnezzar angrily summoned the three men (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) and demanded their compliance. He said, “Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good.”

The three Jewish men refused to bow down and face the king’s wrath. So, he had them thrown in to a blazing furnace but they survive.

And we read, “So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisors crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their head singed…” There’s the repetition of officials again.

To the reader, which ruler seems ridiculous and which seems powerful? Through the use of humorous repetition, the author of Daniel mocks Nebuchadnezzar by repeating titles and the list of musical instruments, painting the king as petty and preoccupied with meaningless details.

Meanwhile, God is portrayed as powerful and reasonable. No silly repetition is attached to his actions or those of the three Jewish men.

Through humor placed skillfully in the text, the author’s meaning comes through clearly. Which ruler is petty? And which ruler is powerful? The reader knows – after a few chuckles in midstream.

Uncle Walter’s trip home

After Uncle Walter had saved $4000 on his wife’s funeral, it was only fair that his daughters used the same tactic when it was time for his funeral.

SPEEDUP0512_1_KB_6292966-600x399Walter, age 93, died in Yuma, Arizona but had asked to be buried in Colorado – a trip of about 760 miles. When his daughters learned that the funeral home wanted $4000 to transport his body, they decided to do it themselves.

That’s what Walter had done when his wife died – and they could do the same for him.

But saving $4000 is not so easy.

Complicating the issue was that Walter had two rifles he wanted given to his grandsons in Monte Vista.

The two daughters, Pamela and Jane, piled into Pamela’s van with Walter and the rifles in the back and started out. They realized after a few hours that they were running late so they picked up their speed.

It wasn’t long before the flashing red State Patrol lights came up behind them and Pamela pulled over.

“Do you know what the speed limit is?” the officer asked when he got to the driver’s window.

With the speed limit sign sitting right in front of the van, Pamela had to fess up. “Yes, 65 mph.”

“I clocked you at 83,” he said. “What’s your big hurry?”

How do you explain that you have a body in the back and you need to get it to the funeral home by 7 pm? Well, Pamela gave it a try. “It’s my father,” she concluded.

The officer jerked away from the van, his eyes bouncing toward the van window but then he turned away.

Jane leaned across her sister to wave a note from the funeral home in Yuma. He glanced at the paper and then skittered back to his car.

“Do you think he’ll ask about the rifles back there?” Jane said.

They didn’t have any paperwork for the guns. They were traveling from one state to another with a dead body and two rifles. This couldn’t be good.

They both stared straight ahead, then, trying to look as innocent and inconspicuous as two middle-age women caught speeding down the highway in a van carrying a dead body could look.

The patrolman came back to the window, never looking at the back of the van. He tossed the warning into the front seat. “Go ahead,” he said, leaning away from the vehicle. “Be more careful, OK?” He nearly sprinted back to his car and raced away.

So the sisters pulled away from the shoulder of the road. “Dad,” said Pamela, “You got us out of a tight spot again.”

And saved them $4000 to boot.


Sooks, wigworms and ordinary days

I could have said this story happened on an ordinary day but there were no ordinary days with my youngest. Allow me to illustrate.

I was fixing dinner one evening when he wandered into the kitchen. He was about 5 at the time but pushing a step ladder up to the counter was no problem.

“What’s that,” he asked.

boy laughing“Hamburger patties.”

He tilted his head. “Can I call it ‘sook’?”

“Um, those are still hamburger patties.”

But for dinner that night we had sook on a bun.

Another day we went shopping. He carried a quarter and five pennies into the store and laid them on a shelf. As we were leaving the store, he discovered his loss and we had to backtrack in search of his loot. We searched long and hard but could only find the quarter and four pennies.

“We need to go.” I finally laid the law down.

He went, with a long face. “I’m going to miss that penny.”

Not long after that, he came to me with eyes drooping and mouth downturned. “I’m sorry. Mom.”


“I’m sorry, Mom, but I can’t fly.”

I did wonder how he figured that out.

We were eating  breakfast one morning when he announced over scrambled eggs, “Do you know what a Gurgler is?”

I had to admit my ignorance.

“They’re a machine that sucks down people and things.”

“Yuck,” I said.

“I hate to tell you this but if you meet one, you’ll die.”

“Oh, no!”

“But it’s OK because they live on the other side of the world.”


“Mom,” he said. “They’re on the movies.” I believe an eye roll was included in that comment but I wondered what movies he’d been watching.

He liked to help me bake so one day we stirred up a batch of muffins using a whisk to mix. Soon the batter stiffened and he lifted the whisk with the muffin ingredients clumped onto it. “Look! I have a lunk!”

He ate the lunk, too, after it baked.

Then came the day when he rushed into the kitchen, his arms flailing and his face red and hot. “Mom! Becky says I’ll get wigworms if I drink my potty!”

Um, I still can’t get the scenario figured out.

But I’ll bet it wasn’t an ordinary day, either.