I love the scriptures collected into what we call “the Bible” for all sorts of reasons, but one of them is that they are just so true. And I don’t mean only in a Revealed Truth esoteric sort of way but in a very down to earth, matter of fact sort of way.
I recently finished reading a book of historical fiction about the Jewish resistance at Masada (more here and here) following the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70. It was a pretty good read as far as a book-that-you-know-from-the-start-will-end-with-a-death-pact-in-which-close-to-1,000-men-women-and-children-die can be a good read…
It’s not a book I’d really recommend to anyone, but the good I got from it was a more lively sense of the world in which Jesus lived and the early church developed. It can be hard sometimes to get a sense of people from ancient history as real human beings, but when we have that, it can enrich our reading of old texts, including holy ones.
The other thing I gained from this book was related to a book I read a year ago about an earlier historical figure — Cleopatra. I wouldn’t call it a great read either, but it extended my conception of history stretching back in time; Cleopatra was a generation or two before the events at Masada.
Reading a book full of details about her life and world helped me realize just how far back history goes. It’s easy for our sense of time to get lost in the numbers, but this can be restored to some extent when we’re given enough context on which to hang important names and dates.
Reading a book which related tangentially to Cleopatra’s story (although ruling in Egypt, she had designs on what we know today as Israel) further added to my appreciation of the depth of history, if you will. We humans have been up to the same sorts of things for longer than it’s easy to comprehend…
Another place where we can find a reminder of this is in the Bible itself. Here are some bits that I’ve read recently that stick out for their earthy wisdom, as true to today as it ever was.
First, from right around the time of or shortly after the events at Masada:
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain… Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share….that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
And then from even further back in history, long before Cleopatra:
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
If you find honey, eat just enough—
too much of it, and you will vomit.*
Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor.
Like a broken tooth or a lame foot
is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.
Like cold water to a weary soul
is good news from a distant land.
Like a muddied spring or a polluted well
are the righteous who give way to the wicked.
It is not good to eat too much honey,
nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep.
Like a city whose walls are broken through
is a person who lacks self-control.
*Were there childish exclamations of glee when my siblings and I realized that this was in the Bible? Maybe. 😉