The Bible utilizes allusion so well that so that we often forget the familiar phrases are allusions.
An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to a place, person, or event. Allusions engage the reader and often help the reader remember the point of the passage. A writer using an allusion often can make the point simply and directly.
A modern-day example: “After that line, his nose should have grown like Pinocchio’s.” We remember the story of the wooden boy whose nose grew whenever he told a lie.
Some familiar biblical allusions include:
“He was a Good Samaritan yesterday.” This refers to Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan.
“She turned the other cheek after being insulted by her co-worker.” This one refers to Jesus’ teaching about forgiving rather than taking revenge.
“You are a Solomon when it comes to decisions.” We remember King Solomon, who prayed for wisdom.
But the Bible also contains more complex allusions which we, reading with modern-day glasses, don’t recognize at first.
An example is the story in Exodus about the baby Moses placed in a basket on the Nile River. The word translated “basket” is the same word translated “ark” in the Genesis account of Noah. So those reading Hebrew would recognize the allusion in the Moses story as referring back to Noah and his family being saved in the flood.
The Noah story involved a renewal of creation while evil was pushed back. So the allusion in the Moses story reminds us of the new beginning as Moses, the future rescuer of Israel, was saved from evil intentions. Moses would one day lead the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery.
His rescue from the Nile was reminiscent of Noah’s rescue from the flood. The allusion to Moses’ basket/ark helped readers capture the idea of God’s new beginning.Another example involves Joshua, who followed Moses as commander of the nation of Israel. The night before the Israelites prepare to circle Jericho the final time, Joshua stands alone outside Jericho when a man confronts him and orders Joshua: “Take your shoes off your feet, for the place you stand upon is holy.”
That command is the same wording given to Moses when he first encountered the burning bush in the wilderness. God called Moses to a mission: freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
Joshua is now called, as Moses was, to lead the Israelites. Moses brought them out of Egypt. Joshua will take them into the Promised Land.
As we read the exact phrasing used to call both Moses and Joshua, we understand that this is God’s mission. Joshua is, in a sense, the second Moses, God’s chosen leader.
Allusions deepen the meaning of narratives in both biblical texts and in our own writing. We can learn from the intricate allusions we read in the Bible.