The Bible: vivid imagery

Vivid imagery able to carry several layers of meaning allows a writer to add depth to their work. The Bible illustrates that principle well.

English: Bnot Ya'akov Bridge over the Jordan R...

English: Bnot Ya’akov Bridge over the Jordan River near Jacob’s Ford, Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, water is a powerful term in the Bible both literally and figuratively. Biblical stories were set in the Middle East, where water was scarce and drought often threatened life.  Water, whether from rain or wells or springs, was vital.

Including water in a narrative added a life-giving element. In Genesis 2, four rivers ran through the Garden of Eden, producing a lush garden of trees and life-sustaining plants which revealed God’s abundance.

Water was also used as a cleansing agent. Israelites were taught to do ceremonial cleanings of themselves and various elements of worship to present themselves clean before God. The idea of such cleansing is carried forward in Christian baptism. Baptism also carries the idea of death and re-birth, as explained by Peter in his first letter. Water showed God’s righteousness and how we fall short.

In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God hovered over the water and it was clear that God was not birthed from the water, as some ancient myths stated, but that he created and controlled it.

When the Israelites left Egypt, they miraculously crossed the Red Sea to escape the approaching Egyptian army. When they entered the land, the waters of the Jordan River were also held back so they could cross. In both cases, the water revealed that, if God could hold back rivers and seas, he could keep his promises.

In the time of Kings, when both the king and the people had abandoned God, God asked the prophet Elijah to pray for a drought. Three years later, God brought water from a fist-sized cloud. Water imagery carried the message of God’s power and also his ability to capture the attention of his people.

Jesus walked on water and turned water into wine. He was the Creator commanding creation. The use of water illustrated his lordship over creation.

The ancient Israelites depended on springs or wells to provide much of their water. They welcomed rain and saw both the water from wells and the water from the skies as showing God’s provision to them.  That imagery appeared in Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. He offered her living water there, a powerful image of eternal life and the provisions of God.

For many ancients in the MIddle East, water represented chaos, sea monsters, and forces opposed to God. Psalm 74:13-14 recounts a story about God defeating the monsters of the water, demonstrating his power.

Imagine the story of Jonah from this perspective. Jonah was thrown into the sea to appease God’s wrath and experienced a type of death before God saved him. The water imagery provides a vivid image depicting such themes as retribution and redemption.

One image – water – carried powerful meaning for the original reader and for us as well. Narratives that include water reveal the nature of God. He is the Provider, the Creator, the Protector, the Conqueror – seen through the use of water imagery.

That’s a lot to get from one image but rich imagery makes writing deeper and more powerful.


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