In Here Be Dragons: Solomon, Bob the Tomato, and Classification

Laundry in My Basement, ca. 2007

Not much impresses my husband. For example, I am what you might call the lion of laundry in our home. Daniel is grateful. But not impressed.

For my part, I gave up trying to impress him a while ago. Well, last year. But you see my point: I could pull a muscle straining for the most impressive wife award.

Among the Lucky Few

He’s right, of course, in an Ecclesiastes 1:9 kind of way.

We are stewards of God’s impressive creativity, put here to work our world and subdue it (Gen 1:28–30; 2:15). For this reason, God equipped us with naming rights, what you might call a gift for classification (Gen 2:19). It shows off our royal heredity. Psalm 8:4–6 calls us second only to God himself.

For example, King Solomon describes plant and animal life as part of his royal wisdom (1 Kings 4:29–33), but he also points out: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). I might point out there’s always laundry in the basement. Same thing.

One becomes a profound believer in this truth around about the 15th time one listens to the Veggie Tales CD of Silly Songs. Nevertheless, Veggie Tales displays impressive creativity in teaching Scripture.

In one song, Larry the Cucumber teaches Bob the Tomato the trick of primate classification. “If it doesn’t have a tail, it’s not a monkey,” the cucumber sings, “even if it’s got a monkey kind of shape. . . . If it’s a nickel or a salad or a pillow—if it doesn’t have a tail, it’s not a monkey. It’s an ape.”

The tomato isn’t impressed.

The Lady at the Zoo Said It

He’s right, of course. We can become so obsessed with our own way of understanding the world that it’s nearly impossible to look through someone else’s grid.

For example, creature classification in the ancient Near East is about as different from our binomial nomenclature as the genus Panthera is from the suborder Serpentes.

Yet lions and snakes in the Bible overlap and at times seem to merge into an animal we’d call a dragon.* Everyone knows that lion is king of the beasts, top of the food chain. In the same way, serpent in the Old Testament is the “lion” of the dust and bird-of-prey is chief predator or “lion” of the air. When they are drawn together as a composite beast, for example on the famous Ishtar gate of Babylon, or with words for example in Job 28:6–8, they suggest a lion of lions, a dragon (the English renders it “lion’s whelps” or “proud beasts”). That YHWH God created such an impressive animal suggests his authority and power exceed impressive.

The ancients did not distinguish a clear line between our realms of reality and myth. When they left their homes, their centers of culture, they ventured not only into a wilderness full of physical threats, but also one of metaphysical terrors: chaos. Chaos was the waters before they drew back to boundaries God set at creation (Ps 104:6–9; Isa 45:18) and chaos threatened to roll back the order over which humankind ruled (Isa 13:13; 2 Pet 3:5–10).

It is through the wilderness that God calls his people out of Egypt (Jer 2:6). It’s through these forces that God summons humans to seek the dark stone of wisdom (Job 28:3, 20). Where even lions and eagles and snakes fear to tread, into the garden of God, the royal children of God must go and from it they must return home.

I am not impressed.

Let’s Find More

To apply Job’s poem, I’d have to let go of my basket of clean, folded laundry and everything it represents, allow for disorder in my house and the internal chaos which I try so hard to avoid, travel paths haunted by dragons to search out God’s wisdom, and return.

I dislike chaos, not to mention the discomforts of travel. I could pull a muscle straining for a prize that isn’t even most-impressive princess of God.

At least with the Veggie Tales, there was that night in the car when my daughter asked to hear the Monkey Song one more time before I ejected the CD. I found the track with one flick of my wrist and earned a (fleeting) look of awe from my husband.

But what’s so great about gaining wisdom?

Or am I so obsessed with my own understanding of the world that I cannot let go and look through God’s grid? Let alone be impressed by it.

.

*Many of the following ideas derive from Scott C. Jones, “Lions, Serpents, and the Lion-Serpents in Job 28:8 and Beyond,” JBL 130, no. 4 (2011): 663–86. Any mangling of his work is my own doing.

 

 


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