The old saying "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water" always made we wonder if there were a whole lot of "bath water" incidents leading to babies suddenly disappearing as the bath water circled the drain. Silly as it seems now, these little sayings can present a reflection of something which is not reality - can they not? Whenever mom prepared "hot dogs" for supper, did you ever look for the dog? When someone told you they got "creamed" in their baseball game that day, did you wonder if it was whipped cream? We use words to express meaning oftentimes differently from the primary meaning of the words. But....when God tells us he threw out the old plan and set up a new one - there is no mistaking what he means here. Yet, there are some "word pictures" he uses to describe how this new plan functioned.
I'll throw out the old plan I set up with their ancestors when I led them by the hand out of Egypt. They didn't keep their part of the bargain, so I looked away and let it go. This new plan I'm making with Israel isn't going to be written on paper, isn't going to be chiseled in stone; this time I'm writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I'll be their God, they'll be my people. They won't go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They'll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They'll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean. (Hebrews 8:7-12 The Message)
First of all, let's just settle a few things up front. Word pictures are something which convey meaning. When a word picture is used, it lends a "graphic" impression to the thought being expressed. Going back to my first word picture presented about the baby and the bath water, the thought is for us not to consider every failure as having nothing worthwhile in it. Even a failure has some redeeming feature - some lesson. What the word picture reveals is that in trying to rid ourselves of the worthless stuff, we can inadvertently get rid of some of the good stuff if we aren't paying attention.
Second, researchers have proven that word pictures actually help our brain to work faster - processing the idea a little quicker. It drives us to look for the meaning behind something. I think this is the main reason God uses so many word pictures in scripture - to help us get the point quicker, without having to expend a whole lot of energy just listening to words. The picture actually portrays the thought in a way which engages our emotions and the emotions help to "lock" the idea in our minds.
In looking at our passage again, let's look at a couple of the word pictures portrayed:
- The new plan isn't written on paper, nor chiseled in stone, but carved into the lining of the heart. We all grasp the idea of a pen scrawling on paper, producing some semblance of a story. We also get the idea of a hard object like stone being unaffected by the pen - a chisel is needed. What is behind every chisel - a hammer. Why does the stone need a hammer and chisel - it is hard. Now, take this word picture and allow it to expand your imagination. The paper we carry around with us is affected by time, is it not? I possess a couple "first edition" Sugar Creek Gang books. They are tattered by time and the pages are brittle with age. As they have yellowed, they are harder to read, fragile, and fading ink makes it difficult to see the original form of the image on the cover. Thinking of the stone which is chiseled, I turn to the idea of a pretty big bolder which does not lend itself well to being "portable". In fact, it is also pretty cold, impersonal, and just downright rigid. God's old plan - the Law - was chiseled in stone. I wonder if this was a "sign" of what God already knew about Israel - starting out well, dedicated to his service, but in time drifting into service which revealed nothing more than hardened hearts (much like stone)? They were "rigid" in their practice of religion - keeping rules / regulations - but without the personal attachment to their God. Paper and stone did very little to ensure people obeyed what was written, did it? So, God needed a more "reliable" means of establishing his new plan - the human heart. In affecting the heart, he assures allegiance. What better way to convey meaning than to paint the word picture of our "heart" being the place he writes his promises and his assurances of grace?
- The idea of learning about God at a special school, or by buying a book outlining the easy steps to follow seems a little silly, but it conveys big meaning. We have a tendency to want God in five easy steps, don't we? Let's get this "God thing" into a nice, easily understood, pretty package and tie a bow on it. We want the "steps" to follow because we don't want to deal with uncertainty. God is quite the opposite - becoming all things for all men. He is experienced by all - in the way we each need to experience him. No two experience him the same - yet he is the same God. We cannot find a formula which defines how we grow close to God - it happens in the discovery of him in a personal way.
- Last, the concept of a slate being wiped clean is presented as a word picture of forgiveness. Grace is the "eraser" God holds in his hand - as grace passes over the slate where all our sins are recorded - it is wiped clean. Not even a tell-tale outline of the sin remains. We "get" this one because we all have seen the ability of the eraser to eliminate the "former image" of what was once on the slate. God's grace "erases" the "former image" we each possessed - that of a sinner, condemned and unclean. In the passage of grace over our hearts, we move from being "written upon by sin" to being open to be written upon by grace!
Don't pass by these word pictures, but allow them to begin to engage your emotions. In the engaging of your emotions, God will use those emotions to ignite the reality of his word within your heart. So, God...paint us a picture!