This is what the Lord said to me: “Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck.”
Jeremiah 27:2 (NIV)
The language of God is metaphor. Remember metaphor from middle school English class? A metaphor is something which represents something else without using “like” or “as” (which would then make it a simile).
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 people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)
In other words, all that God made is a metaphorical expression of who God is. We can find Him by simply looking at the universe and all that is.
When Jesus talked about Himself He used metaphors:
- “I am the water of life.”
- “I am the bread of life.”
- “I am the light of the world.”
- “I am the gate.”
- “I am the good shepherd.”
- “I am the vine.”
- “I am the way, the truth, the life.”
Other metaphors are used in scripture for Jesus such as:
- “Word” or “Living Word”
- “Lamb of God”
- “Righteous Branch”
When Jesus instituted the sacrament of communion He said:
“This is my body.”
“This is my blood.”
God regularly gave the ancient prophets metaphors to convey His message. In today’s chapter, God tells Jeremiah to strap an ox yoke around his neck. An ox yoke is the crossbar placed around the neck of an ox to control it when using the ox for pulling a cart, a plow, or some other task. Jeremiah was then to tell the envoys of the neighboring kings who were visiting Jerusalem that if they will all become servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon they will be spared the humiliation of being defeated by him.
You have to imagine that for a second. A man standing there strapped to an ox yoke in front of these high-powered diplomatic envoys telling them that they are going to be oxen strapped to a yoke, so they would be strapped in servitude to Babylon. No wonder people thought him crazy.
Just yesterday Wendy and I were talking about a message I gave this past Sunday among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. She once again echoed what I have heard over and over and over again across the many years I’ve been a public speaker: “People love your stories.” I recall a client one time telling me “Just keep telling stories. You tell the best stories.” Stories are metaphors with a “moral” or a meaning larger than the story itself. That’s why Jesus told parables. When talking about God’s kingdom Jesus didn’t give dry lectures on systematic theology. He told stories about lost coins, scattered seed, lost sheep, a priceless pearl, and a runaway son.
Metaphors are powerful. Everything is metaphor. Metaphor is the language of God.
This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about another message I have to give in a few weeks. I’m thinking about a training session I have to present to a client’s Customer Service team tomorrow. I’m not thinking about the truths I want to communicate as much as I am the metaphors, the word pictures, and the life stories that will best communicate those truths.
After 40 years of public speaking I can tell you that people will quickly forget a list of dry bullet points, but they never forget a good story or word picture that made them feel something. The diplomatic envoys in today’s chapter could easily have tuned out Jeremiah’s words, but they would never forget the crazy man strapped to a yoke. When they returned to their respective kings you know that they said, “Oh king, I have to tell you about this crazy man we saw strapped to an ox yoke.”
Exactly. I’m reminded again this morning that if I want to be an effective communicator I have to continually hone my craft at wrapping my message in stories, word pictures, and images.
The language of God is metaphor.